The fact that several of the reviews in the recent edition of BMS News cover CDs containing entirely or mostly music by living composers prompts me to write (yet again) to observe that the founding principle of the British Music Society was the promotion of music by British, Irish, Empire and Commonwealth composers who are deceased. The deceased qualification was included in order to ensure that a composer’s entire oeuvre may be considered, and that sufficient time had elapsed to enable an objective perspective on their achievement. A secondary consideration imposed an informal timescale boundary at around 1950. In 1979 when the society was founded, modernism in British music meant that little, if any music, was being composed at the time which fitted the society’s target genre.

Since the revival of a more “tuneful” (for want of a better word) approach to the composition of new music during the past 30 years or so, it has been suggested that the deceased and date qualifications be abandoned. I am implacably opposed to this, and I know that my position is shared by other members of the BMS. The society does not exist to promote the careers of living composers, however deserving—there are other organisations for this, in the UK and elsewhere—and I would strongly suggest that CD and concert reviewers be made aware of the fundamental qualifications.

As journal editor, may I assure those that share my position that during my tenure, the founding principles of the BMS will be adhered to in British Music.

Kind regards

Dr Ian Maxwell
Editor, British Music

Footnote by the BMS E-News team:  

  1. In the November edition of E-News, for example, three of the reviews were about music by deceased British composers and three reviews were about music by composers still living.
  2. The governing document of the BMS which can be found on the Charity Commission website states that the charitable objects of the society are ‘For the advancement of the education of the public in British music, with particular reference to promotion of music of British composers, Dead or Alive, past 1850, who do not have societies devoted to the promotion of music.’

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