Friday, June 03, 2005

The miracle of music

I slept badly last night. Nothing serious, but a cold seems to be developing and my body rythms simply wouldn't settle . It was one of those nights when you just know sleep isn't going to come (and they get more frequent the older you get).
So at 6 o'clock I got up and went down to my study. It was a glorious late spring morning. Brilliant sunshine and cloudless deep blue sky. The dew sparkled on the lawn as though thousands of tiny pearls had been miraculously scattered on the grass overnight. I turned on BBC Radio 3. At that time they broadcast a sequence of low cost and usually undistinguished recordings of live concerts culled from other broadcasters. But for today serendipity had arranged a broadcast of an orchestral sequence put together from Wagner's The Mastersingers. The Prelude to Act 3, followed by the Dance of the Apprentices and Entry of the Mastersingers, and finally the Act 1 Prelude. The orchestra was the Oslo Philharmonic conducted by Rafael Fruhbeck de Burgos.

Now there are two opposite poles in my musical life, Bach and Wagner. The importance of Bach has been expressed no better than by author, cyclist and fellow pilgrim Anne Mustoe (see my post Lux Aeterna and not Ligetti) in her wonderful book Amber, Furs and Cockleshells ......

"For me, there is music, and then there is Bach. Bach is transcedent. He is the sun, whose light blots out the feeble rays of other composers. There are many whose music I enjoy, but I would throw their entire opus on the bonfire to save one fugue of the divine Bach."

Bach is a saint. The purity of his music is like taking crystal clear water from a cold spring. But we cannot live on spring water alone. So sometimes I turn to other refreshment. If Bach is a saint, Wagner is the magician creating spells from his intoxicating brew of magic, evil, and yes - sometimes purity. For some drugs, alcohol, the latest iPod, a new SUV or a round of golf can take them to a higher plane. This morning the Prelude to Act 3 of The Mastersingers took me there.

The B Minor Mass, the Goldberg Variations (which was composed for an insomniac) and The Mastersingers are not great music. They are not serious music. They are not works of art. They are not about life. They are life, and they are miracles. Thank God they are available to us, and thank God we can appreciate them.

Footnote from Pliable - and thank heaven for public service broadcasters whose serendipitous programming triggered this post. (If I had put on a CD it cetainly wouldn't have been Wagner, more like Couperin). There are a number of great blogs by PBS broadcasters linked from On An Overgrown Path including Alan Brandt , Richard Friedman, and David Duff

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Richard Friedman said...

You know, this for me has always been the great value of radio, and it is sadly decaying rapidly. I know people who are downloading their entire CD collections to their iPods. My problem with this is that I know all the music in my CD collection already. What I want is to be surprised the same way you were by some thing coming at me totally unexpectedly. Even if it is music I already know.

I recall driving down the 880 freeway from Oakland to Silicon Valley once, flipping on the radio and hearing Vaughan-Williams Lark Ascending -- in the midst of terrible traffic -- and it was probably even raining -- the effect was so overwhelming I nearly had to pull over. Not that Lark is such great music (and it is so overplayed) but I was not expecting it, nor the flood of memories and emotions that it triggered. (Memories mostly about the 2 years I spent in London in the '70s).

The great thing about radio is not knowing what you'll hear next.

Sadly, here in the US classical music (especially the modern kind) has almost disappeared from radio. But, as you have pointed out, it is thriving on the internet. And Radio 3 needs full praise for its ever widening scope. Otherwise, I never would have heard of Oumou Sangare, or The Necks.

Henry Holland said...

We have two classical stations here in Los Angeles. K-MZT (K-Mozart, ugh) is hideous--awful reams of crap from hack Yuppie wallpaper music purveyors like Telemann, 1 movement from a symphony only etc. KUSC is a lot better but they still leave something to be desired. While their playlist is much broader, I think they can be summed up by their programm "Modern Masterpieces". Now, when I first heard this I thought "Great! Now I'll be able to hear the REAL 3 B's: Boulez, Birtwistle and Berg instead of *shudder* Haydn and Brahms *shudder*!" No, what they mean by "Modern" is: we'll just push stuff like La Mer and the Nielsen 1st as "modern" but if we absolutely must play something written since The Beatles broke up, it must be minimalism.

Very disappointing.