Saturday, June 11, 2016

Human progress, old and new

Within living memory, hardly anyone had a television. My grandmother was one of many people at the time who got their first one to watch the coronation of Her Majesty, whose 90th birthday we are celebrating this weekend, as Queen.

When I was a boy, the TV was a chunky box in the corner of one room, which had about four channels available on a cathode-ray tube screen, drinking enough electricity to power an electric fire (and in consequence, of course, producing as much heat) to show a black and white picture on a screen of perhaps 16 inches.

As of today there are 48 inch High Definition wall mounted televisions for sale in Argos for less than £220 pounds - adjusting for inflation that's less than the cost of the far more primitive TVs available in the early 1950s and a small fraction of the price expressed as the number of hours someone on an average salary would have to work to earn it. And those TVs are not just limited to the broadcast channels (of which there are far more) - they can do things like access YouTube and other internet services.

This evening while we were tidying up the kitchen and living room, my wife suggested I put some music on. In the past I might have searched a record or CD collection, indeed being old-fashioned I still occasionally do. This evening I used the TV to pull a number of brilliant performances by the best musicians in the world from youtube of some of my favourite pieces, and when we had finished tidying up we sat down to watch some more of them.

This was the climax of our evening, a performance of the Mozart Requiem conducted by John Eliot Gardner at the Palau de la Música Catalana, Barcelona, in December 1991: and having watched and listened to it and enjoyed it enough to want do so, I can now take five minutes at my computer to post this link to it, which people using computers, smart phones, or a host of other digital devices almost  anywhere in the word can find and enjoy for themselves.



This requiem mass by Mozart, is, of course, the masterpiece which in Peter Shaffer's play and the subsequent film "Amadeus" Salieri commissions from Mozart to deliberately work him to death: this story almost certainly has no basis in fact although it is one of several legends about the composition of the Requiem and the idea that Salieri murdered Mozart has been the basis of classic works by Pushkin and Rimsky-Korsakov as well as Shaffer.

As I listened to this I contemplated how extraordinary the advances in human civilisation have been, not just in the two centuries since Mozart composed his masterpiece, but in living memory.

What wonders will our grandchildren take for granted if we can continue to progress at the same pace?

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