The changing popularity of accents

9th December 2009 | Books, Daily Life, Musings | 0 comments

Eva, Janice and me at the RFH

Eva, Janice and me at the RFH

Here are Eva Hoffman, Janice Galloway and me at the Royal Festival Hall discussing what it’s like to write about music and musicians. Janice got us all laughing, and it turned into a fun evening. We three speakers all said something about why we wanted to write about music; we read extracts from our books, I played four pieces of piano music, and the audience asked lots of questions.

There was an interesting digression on regional accents. Janice pointed out that Clara Schumann, the pianist who was the subject of Janice’s biography, had a strong Leipzig accent for which she was mocked in certain other cities when she was on concert tours. Somehow I had never thought of Clara speaking with a Leipzig accent, but of course she must have done. And in that light it was very amusing hearing Janice read from the book in her naturally dramatic Glasgow voice, which I shall now hear in my head every time I look at her books.

We discussed the fact that Chopin spoke foreign languages with a Polish accent, as Eva Hoffman does herself, and we agreed that it’s difficult to make your message straightforwardly heard if it’s delivered in an unusual accent. And then we got on to the BBC’s attitude to regional accents. Janice recalled that when she was young, she loved listening to classical music on the radio, but was very nearly put off for good by the exclusive upper-class intonation of the Radio 3 announcers, which ‘seemed to have nothing to do with her’. The BBC’s attitude has changed over the years, and now seems to have swung almost to the opposite end of the spectrum, with not only announcers but also performers with regional accents being rather in vogue.

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