Yesterday my wife and I went to the Proms at the Albert Hall in London to see a concert performsnce of “West Side Story”. I have seen it three times now and have come to s conclusion: West Side Story is arguably the finest musical work of sheer genius of the 20th Century. Including everything aside from pop music. It encompasses a string of besutiful, moving melodies, sophisticated dissonances, complex Latin rhythms, end even tritones in the melody. And it has a story that parallels that of Romeo and Juliet, with brilliant lyrics by Stephen Sondheim. I had tears in my eyes almost throughout.
Leonard Bernstein was indeed a genius. It made me realise that modern serious music hit the railway buffers somwewhere near the beginning of the 20th Century, and is still languishing there, by and large. It is bare, sparse, repetitive, unimaginative and unemotional, having abandoned melody as old hat (I have a reputation for wild generalisation!) It has been musicals, of which West Side Story, Guys and Dolls and South Pacific are among the most enjoyable, that have seized the public’s imagination and made deep impressions. Music should go to the heart, the emotions, sparking the imagination and leaving you moved and your mind dancing.
Unfortunately, the geniuses left the field, and the musical genre has degenerated. However,I am told that “classical” music composers are gently moving back to melodies, some of which can be hummed. We need music that takes your mind up and away from the tawdry news and culture, the third rate canned music, and modern self-absorbtion, not to mention the ubiquitous cellphone!