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Is Townshend today's Purcell?

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Messages: 1 - 20 of 47
  • Message 1. 

    Posted by kleines c (U2241124) on ,

    Following an entry on the Radio 3 Blog, I listened to 'Baroque and Roll: Townshend on Purcell' on BBC Radio 4.

    At the end of the programme, Pete Townshend referred to a conversation with the playwright, Jeff Young, during the writing of 'Lifehouse' for Drama on 3 in 1999.

    Jeff compared Pete to Purcell, suggesting that he was the modern-day Purcell. The programme suggested that 'The Who', with its rock operas, was the true inheritor of the classical tradition in Britain.

    On the BBC, there is a very clear segmentation between different genres of music, so one would expect to hear Purcell (baroque) on Radio 3, whereas Pete Townshend and 'The Who' (rock) would normally be at home on Radio 2. Yet is Townshend today's Purcell?

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  • Message 2

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    Posted by Rumbaba (U13744896) on ,

    is Townshend today's Purcell?  

    In a word, 'no'

    Pete wrote, 'I hope I die before I get old' back in 1965 (My Generation - The Who). I think I know what he meant now.

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  • Message 3

    , in reply to this message.

    Posted by Voorzitterpl00ky (U14098185) on ,

    Jeezz,what next,the influence of Mahler on Freddie and the Dreamers.

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  • Message 4

    , in reply to this message.

    Posted by preciousroseofsharon (U6935180) on ,

    The playwright mentioned by Pete Townshend was not Jeff Young but John Fletcher.

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  • Message 5

    , in reply to this message.

    Posted by kleines c (U2241124) on ,

    My mistake, preciousroseofsharon. My sincere apologies to all! I forgot the name, and googled online for the name of the playwright:

    Listening again, I can confirm that John Fletcher was named on the Radio 4 Programme this afternoon:

    " ... I should also thank my old friend John Fletcher who worked with me on a substantial earlier draft for this BBC play, eventually retiring in frustration, telling me that I kept changing my mind. I simply enjoyed what had become a habitual process of exploration. I certainly enjoyed his company. One thing John did deliver for me was my sense of myself as a complete composer. At one time he compared me to Purcell, because of my quintessential Englishness rather than my skill with choristers, but it gave me the confidence to pursue the chamber orchestral drafts which were completed by Sara Loewenthal and Rachel Fuller and appear in the play - my first orchestral composition." 


    As for Rumbaba, I guess that it should be pointed out that Purcell died pretty young. There is a sense in which although rock music was meant to be anti-Establishment, and anything but classical music, just like the great Romantic composers of the nineteenth century, 'The Who' may one day be accepted into the classical canon. Who knows?


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  • Message 6

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    Posted by Rumbaba (U13744896) on ,

    I listened to the programme and it all sounded a bit bogus. Pete Townsend wrote some classic pop songs; 'My Generation' was the first record I ever bought and it still sounds great. The more pompous and less in touch with his rock n roll roots Pete Townsend became and the more seriously he took himself, the less interesting the music became; 'Tommy' is full of filler.

    A good parallel would be Stephen Foster, who wrote a lot of classic popular songs e.g. Camptown Races, Oh Suzannah, etc. His attempt to be taken seriously as a composer was a miserable failure.

    So Pete, go out on tour, play the old hits, stick to what you know and do well (actually, that's what you do anyway, isn't it?). Leave the 'Who influenced by Purcell'nonsense to some sad Phd student who doesn't understand either Rock n Roll or classical music.

    What next, Johnny Rotten and 'Mahler was a big influence' ?

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  • Message 7

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    Posted by elderberry (U13512571) on ,

    Wed, 28 Oct 2009 10:30 GMT, in reply to Rumbaba in message 6

    'Tommy' is full of filler. 

    I'm glad it's not just me that thinks this. The Who presents an enigma to me, part of the time they are unparalleled in their field, the rest of the time I couldn't care less.

    I enjoyed the programme, but couldn't work out why it was on R4. To be fair, Townshend did not come across as at all pompous, and simply stated his admiration for Purcell, and influence by him, rather than suggesting he himself was anything special.

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  • Message 8

    , in reply to this message.

    Posted by birdonthewire (U7703603) on ,

    kleines c - I agree - yes, music is still compartmentalised with differing channels for different types of music on BBC radio, but many people today, like Townshend, appreciate many different genres of music.

    As a musician he is bound to be influenced as much by Purcell, since he loves the music, as by rock and blues, and these influences are seen in his work. He is not the first rock musician to deploy classical influences in his work either.

    Obviously people can decide whether or not they like certain aspects of his work - preferring My Generation, say, to Tommy,but as a creative person he obviously feels a need to explore different things. Besides , he cited how he used Purcell's influence in some of his most popular songs - besided the more ambitious 'rock operas'.

    You're right to say that future generations may regard Townshend's work, and other 'pop' artists with the same reverence we now bestow on the 'classical'. This has already happened to a great extent.

    When modern, youth oriented 'pop' began in the 50s, it was derided and seen as inconsequential, but now musician such as Townshend and The Who, The Beatles, Bob Dylan, Morrisey, etc., do have critical respect - and are featured prominently, and their work taken seriously, on arts programmes and in 'broadsheet' reviews.

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  • Message 9

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    Posted by Rumbaba (U13744896) on ,

    Pete's manner was fine on the show; it just sounded a bit like false memory syndrome to me.

    I recall there was a track on 'Tommy'sung by
    Keith Moon playing 'Evil Uncle Ernie'. I wonder if Pete includes that in the set list thse days?

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  • Message 10

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    Posted by anna - HOST (U2219604) on ,

    here's the link in case you missed the programme:



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  • Message 11

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    Posted by Portly (U1381981) on ,

    All musicians pinch ideas from other composers' work.

    I went to the Paul McCartney gig in Liverpool last year, and Paul showed how he based the song "Blackbird" on a famous chaconne by J.S. Bach.

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  • Message 12

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    Posted by kleines c (U2241124) on ,

    Here is MartinaAlien's concurrent thread about 'Baroque and Roll: Townshend on Purcell' on 'The Choice is Yours' message board of BBC Radio 4:

    As part of BBC Radio 3's Free Thinking Festival, Portly, Matthew Sweet chairs a discussion in front of an audience at the Sage, Gateshead, in which Grammy Award-winning composer and music producer William Orbit reflects on his understanding of the world of sound, and shows us how we might hear things in a new way.

    "Orbit is most famous internationally for his innovative collaborations with Madonna and Blur, as well as his best-selling modern dance adaptation of Barber's Adagio for Strings. But he has a surprisingly wide range of interests. In a recent event for Radio 3 he set Alfred Tennyson's In Memoriam, read by actor David Thewlis, to a contemporary elegiac piece of music."

    In direct answer to my own question, Pete Townshend (and 'The Who'), just like Paul McCartney (and 'The Beatles') will be remembered as part of the musical 'Zeitgeist' of the latter half of the twentieth century. It is interesting to see how Pete was inspired by Purcell, and Paul was inspired by Bach.

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  • Message 13

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    Posted by max joe (U2445124) on ,

    Hmm... Listened to the programme, but was not convinced. The Purcell connection sounded a bit pretentious to me, but Pete always was a bit that way inclined. His pop hits, however, were terrific.

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  • Message 14

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    Posted by 1650Keele (U13471364) on ,

    Yes, I find this rehabilitation of Townsend via poor Mr Purcell a bit iffy to say the least!

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  • Message 15

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    Posted by Hugh_Mosby-Joaquin (U7370829) on ,

    Could I ear echoes of baroque opera whilst listening to 'Tommy'? Well, perhaps so....
    ...Would I have made that connection had I not heard Pete Townsend talking about his 'early music' years and the part Purcell played in them? ..possibly not.
    But fascinating, the program was, nonetheless.

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  • Message 16

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    Posted by LifeOnMars (U14077638) on ,

    Paul showed how he based the song "Blackbird" on a famous chaconne by J.S. Bach.  

    What chaconne was that?

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  • Message 17

    , in reply to this message.

    Posted by Princess Anne (U7991547) on ,

    Isn't it based on the 'Bouree, in e minor' from the lute suite in that key?

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  • Message 18

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    Posted by Lawrence Jones (U4805414) on ,

    Message 13

    Hmm... Listened to the programme, but was not convinced. The Purcell connection sounded a bit pretentious to me 

    Did Purcell suffer from B.O. or flatulence?

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  • Message 19

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    Posted by 1650Keele (U13471364) on ,

    Re: message 3 <what next,the influence of Mahler on Freddie and the Dreamers.>

    Better: the influence of the early castrati on Gary Glitter?

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  • Message 20

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    Posted by Lawrence Jones (U4805414) on ,

    Message 3

    Jeezz,what next,the influence of Mahler on Freddie and the Dreamers. 

    To be fair to Mr. Townshend, I recall listening to an edition of the late Derek Jewell’s ‘Sounds Interesting’ on Radio 3 (years ago) when Mr Jewell made a reference to the influence of Purcell within his (Mr. Townshend’s) music. One reason I remember it well is because Mr. Jewell used to pronounce Mr. Townshend’s name as ‘Townchend’. I’m not musical, but I’m pretty certain that I can detect a little bit of Purcell in ‘Love, Reign O’er Me’ [1]. I wasn’t too sure why the programme played an extract from Baba O’Riley [2]. I can detect Terry Riley’s influence within the intro[3] – and I’m also aware of the other influences, but not that of Purcell.

    As a northerner, I loved discovering the character of working-class southerners via The Who’s music. I think ‘Dogs’[4] [5] is one of the most beautifully romantic southern songs that I’ve ever heard in my life. This certainly isn’t a song about getting a woman into bed as quickly as possible. Few vocalists could ever achieve the perfection of Mr. Daltrey’s when he hits that note at the end of: ‘Ceptin’ you little darling’.

    I must say that I really enjoyed listening to this programme. Thank you Ms. Raphael :)

    P.S. Sorry if this is off topic, but did anyone here attend the 1970 Isle of Wight festival when The Who gave an absolutely stunning rendition of ‘Shakin’ all over’ (at about 0200hrs)?







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