), pianist Ian Pace, a former student at Chetham's who has launched a high-profile petition calling for an independent inquiry into a culture of abuse in music schools, describes how, in the light of recent events, he has been forced to "re-evaluate those times". He explains how such events have triggered "an almost frantic piecing together of memories". Is there a danger that such re-evaluation might encourage the interpretation of benign past experiences through the prism of contemporary sensitivities?
Didier Gazelle, strongly refuting accusations of abuse levelled at his deceased father, Belgian pianist Marcel Gazelle, points out that "times have changed", that "what was acceptable 50 years ago is now considered as an offence". He testifies that his father "always showed great affection for his pupils"; that nobody at the time, including his mother, "was thinking this was evil". He asks, "Where is the limit between affection and sexual abuse?"
Certainly, the definition of what constitutes abuse is being broadened to such an extent that there is a danger of eliding a range of relatively trivial (if sometimes unsavoury) behaviours with serious molestation. Pace, speaking to Classical Music magazine, concedes that behaviours that arouse his concern, such as "psychological, emotional and other abuse", don't "necessarily translate into direct criminality". But what exactly does "psychological abuse" consist of? An ever-widening definition can mean demonising important if unfashionably rigorous educational practices. When cellist Michal Kaznowski condemns a "very harsh teaching environment in those days" and others talk of "sadistic teaching methods" and "cruel and humiliating criticism", it is not clear whether these are any more than subjective reactions against a type of pedagogy they personally disapprove of.
I was a ballet student for 12 years from the age of 4, and there is no denying that my teachers were unsentimentally critical, used their hands to push my body into shapes and postures it was reluctant to adopt and demanded a relentless, repetitive practice regime. Were these cruel, sadistic taskmasters or committed tutors? In fact, those teachers who instilled discipline and dedication were inspiring mentors who got the best from their students and commanded great loyalty and affection.
Ironically, the very popularity of such mentors is now being smeared with innuendo. What should be a proud boast, that many specialist schools engage world-class performers as instructors, is now ridiculed as allowing "monstrous egos" to cultivate "entourages of adoring young students". Composer Lord Berkeley of Knighton says that abuse can "flourish" because of "the extreme vulnerability of pupils . for whom the teacher may be some sort of guru".
We lose all perspective if, like Pace, we blame today's crisis on the way the "artistic temperament" of Beethoven, Liszt or Wagner has legitimised "traits of narcissistic self-obsession" and "ruthless competitiveness". To suggest, as he does, that a "culture" of sexual abuse derives from solo performances that involve "deeply intimate emotions" and "entail a seduction, captivation and bewitchment of one's audience" implies that the only anniversary 2013 might be remembered for is the date the music died.
Claire Fox is director of the Institute of Ideas.