By the Musical Way #4


Sometimes orchestral players are required to wear costumes appropriate to the period of the music they play. Thus, a programme of music by W.A. Mozart leads to wigs for the men, hoops for the ladies and any number of stockings, garters and fancy waistcoats. It is charming for the audience, irritating for some of the players but above all, it is ironic. Ironic?

Yes, it’s ironic because the costume matches the music of the 18th century but in an ‘up-to-date’ concert, the costume is about 100 years behind the times. Why do orchestral musicians wear black, the dreariest of shades? It is alienating – a sort of faux-respectability akin to the Victorians covering the legs of their furniture in case men became aroused through glimpsing a castor.

Classical music will always attract audiences but traditional practice seems to alienate its patrons rather than nurture them. A little informality: colourful clothes; the conductor chatting with the audience; welcoming applause between movements if the audience is so minded. All this would be like the collapse of the Berlin Wall. There’s a smidgen of evidence that the old ways are losing their stranglehold. Can the CCSO help to accelerate that trend?