Saturday, January 18, 2014

Stars in the gutter, classical music and tea

Another wrapper from the archives.

To answer Stella's question about classical music, I must first admit to being largely unmusical.  I am tone deaf. But this does not mean that I don't like classical music. My appreciation goes back to school days, when Beethoven,, Mozart, Wagner even, were on the menu prompted as much by fellow pupils as by teachers. Pop music didn't exist then, so perhaps I was lucky. American musicals such as Oklahoma and Annie Get Your Gun were easy to leave behind. You do not, I  found, have to be musical to enjoy great symphonies and choral works. A school friend took me to the Albert Hall to hear Bach's St Matthews Passion. Although chamber music was a regular item at school concerts, it was Robbie who later introduced me in a proper way  to Beethoven's late quartets. I am still being prompted  and reminded by friends. The Schubert Quintet is a recent instance. I don't know where precisely my love of Mozart's Clarinet Concerto came from it it has always been a favourite.  I could go on. In later life I have had little difficulty in enjoying The Beatles but was never able to love The Rolling Stones. Joni Mitchel is a favourite, Leonard Cohen too,  but I find that I tire easily of much music that is easy to listen to. Great pieces of classical music for me however bear endless repetition.

Jeremy Irons reading  of Eliot's The Four Quartets on the radio this afternoon in a brown monotonous voice sends me to sleep. It takes a strong cup of PG tips to wake me.


Stella said...

Lovely that two Canadian artists have made your Favourites list.....Maybe on everyone's list. Do you sit down, undistracted, to listen to your music? Every day CbC Radio presents to me a good dose of classical music with lively and knowledgeable commentary.........lost on me for the most part......I am easily distracted and never stay with the piece. No time like the present to embark on a program of concentration and appreciation. off to the CD collection!

Roderick Robinson said...

Stella: Length is often the big discourager. Many turn away from this kind of music when they learn that Bruckner wrote a symphony that lasted over an hour and that Wagner's opera, Die Meistersinger, endures for five hours plus. Both those works are for later, perhaps never at all. There is no shame in having a life which forces music to make its case more pithily. So why not a Chopin nocturne or étude on the piano (sometimes no longer than a pop tune), or a song by the guy who wrote five hundred songs, some of which can squeeze your throat and bring you close to tears - Schubert.

In fact Schubert has written the perfect song for you, An Die Musik. Not only is the tune beautiful but it has a narrow range and when you've heard it a few times you can sing it yourself as I do in the wonderful acoustic of our kitchen. It helps me through the washing up. Better still, look up the English words: this is Schubert's tribute to the art of music and how it protects us from "the grey hours".

And we're not finished yet. The song is quite slow; and slowness rather than speed is often a better test of a singer's abilities. It can be sung by sopranos, tenors and baritones. I have just checked it out on YouTube and straight away there are versions by some of the world's greatest singers: Dietrich Fischer Dieskau, Felicity Lott, Janet Baker, Lucia Popp.

You won't be risking too much of your busy life: it lasts less than three minutes.

See what you think and let us know. Most important, if you don't like it see if you can tell us why. Not everyone goes for the human voice to begin with (it wasn't what got me hooked). We may be able to pick something else that's short and tuneful, and that meets your preferences more directly.

Sorry to pre-empt your blog, Joe. But Stella's request brought out the John-the-Baptist in me.

Lucy said...

Thanks for the heads-up about the Four Quartets; back home now and at leisure to sit and get it on Listen Again in front of a sunny window. I've been looking for good readings aloud of Eliot, not an easy thing to find. I thought he was pretty good, occasionally sounding a bit portentous and self-consciously sonorous. And he was slow but I was happy about that as I needed time to take them in and reflect a bit, and overall it was good to reacquaint myself with them, certain passages in particular.

Unknown said...

Robbie, Stella Thanks for your premption. I like it when conversations like this arrive. Like Stella I still count myself as a learner and one where all music is concerned. I shall sooner or later, as I usually do, follow Robbie's prompts and reminders.

Lucy May be the fault was mine and not Jeremy Irons'. But I miss Eliot reading his own stuff. i deeply love the poems meanwhile and set I suppose the highest standards.

Stella said...

Thank you for taking the time, Roderick, and giving me such a good summary and prompt. I have only just read your post on Monday morning and later today will get down to the business of Chopin and Schubert. On my only visit to Paris, a companion led us to Chopin's grave at Pere la Chase (well, also jim Morrison) so it is fitting that I make him my entry point. Stay tuned!

Beth said...

Stella, as you sample various classical pieces (the radio if a great place to begin - I am fond of Radio Budapest) you might pay attention to what sorts of music grab your attention and/or emotions: symphonic works, chamber music, piano, vocal solos, opera, choruses, works played by particular instruments. My husband, with no classical background, really can't abide most symphonic pieces but is surprisingly open to opera...we're all different and it's better to begin by identifying some "likes" and building around them. Happy listening and good luck!