So began my musical career, as a listener. I soon took advantage of a newly opened public library only yards down the road to join their fantastically new and extensive record library. And I eagerly ate up Beethoven, Mahler, then Sibelius, Shostakovich, Bach's amazing St Matthew Passion, the eccentricities of Berlioz, the purity of Bruckner, the invention of Nielsen. Discovering Radio 3, my encounters expanded. I heard a season of Rubbra symphonies in the early Eighties and have loved his symphonies ever since. I discovered Bartók, Walton, and strange noises, such as Xenakis.
Listening to classical music is a journey, not a state, an activity, not a meditation. Music is not a background noise. It's something you bring into the foreground of your experience, by engaging with it, by doing some work. Only recently have I come to listen properly to Schumann, Haydn and, especially, Bach, and begun to get that sense of rich, deep satisfaction that I first encountered more immediately as an adolescent in Mahler. I'm aware that it's easy to fall back on quasi-mystical, pretentious language when trying to talk about one's experience of classical music, but that shouldn't stop us trying. We don't talk about music enough. As someone who's never felt he's had the technical language at his fingertips, I feel all I can do is talk about it in whatever English I have at my command. I want to emote about how I feel. After a concert, I want to grab people by the lapels and tell them how lucky we are as a species that, out of all the hundreds of billions of us who ever lived, one of us managed to come up with the Goldberg Variations. But I don't, because that's not the done thing. So instead I mention that the cafe downstairs does some fabulous chocolate éclairs.
From a dazzling speech that captivated the Royal Philharmonic Society Awards on Tuesday by award-winning writer and broadcaster Armando Iannucci, who argued that we should stop being scared of expressing what great works mean to us. The full speech is important, read it via this link in today's Observer.
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