One of the many things that annoys me (aside from not having the time to blog recently) is how the UK radio station, Classic FM (100-102 FM), underestimates its audience. At almost every ad break there’s a station ident promising more of the ‘relaxation station’; there’s always a gentle female voice calmly informing us that we have tuned to the station in order to relax and that some more relaxing classical music is on the way.
There is clearly far more to classical music than relaxation and yet Classic FM persists in this patronising myth that it is a station to gently lull you to sleep, or to listen to in a bath surrounded by candles, or to set the mood at a dinner party. This perception of instrumental music seems to be common to most classical radio stations, at least to the ones on iTunes Radio. Exceptions include Adagio.FM and BBC Radio 3.
I for one don’t listen to classical or otherwise instrumental music for the purposes of relaxation. Right now Strauss’ Don Juan & Don Quixote is blaring out, conjuring evocative landscapes and painting an emotional picture of the errant knight’s soul. But it’s not relaxing: the music jumps all over the place at an un-relaxing Allegro. Beethoven’s Symphony No. 5 is a masterpiece, known even among people who don’t enjoy classical music; its starting four notes is one of the most recognisable note combinations in the world. Is it relaxing? No, it suggests an air of defiance in the face of the torments of life. It is powerful, moving, angry, and requires some level of involvement from the listener. Mozart’s Requiem Mass is disturbing, deliberately evocative of death, manifestly not relaxing, and is brilliant. Even modern classical music is, at its best, antithetical to any form of relaxation: Philip Glass’s brooding minimalism, Hans Zimmer’s dark and stirring soundtracks, and John Williams’ bombastic film music.
There is more to classical music than bare relaxation and the implication that its lack of words somehow indicates less involvement on the part of the listener is patronising and fallacious. Appreciation of the music, a degree of emotional catharsis, pure aesthetic beauty, release from the Wheel of Ixion, that unique sense of an art form which transcends language and other human frailties: these are some of the reasons people listen to instrumental music. Classic FM needs to acknowledge these, read its Schopenhauer, and stop talking down to its listenership.