Sunday, May 14, 2006

Classical music, the love of my life

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 Bart├│k, 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 ├ęclairs.

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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4 comments:

Berend de Boer said...

Ah, great piece.

But on Mozart: try listening to it when played on original instruments, i.e. period specific. That did it for me. Bach's music isn't sensitive to the instrument, but Mozart's music is in my opinion.

Rod... said...

This piece catches the spirit and intensity of discovery and the desire to share those riches - cor blimey... edging into the quasi-mystical/pretentious etc - but it can't be helped... we have to risk that to communicate...

Henry Holland said...

Excellent stuff from Mr. Iannucci. I suspect I have more technical explanations at my fingertips about music than he does--I studied composition briefly and still fool around writing songs--but one thing he wrote about--how he wants to talk about the concert after--reminded me of something.

I was on a German opera trip and I went to Frankfurt for a production of Schreker's glorious Der Schatzgraber. I was walking back to my hotel after a blazing performance, just feeling really glad to have gone to the performance. All of a sudden, this man starts talking to me in German. "Ich keine spreche Deutsch nicht sehr gut" I said. Somehow, between his bits of English and my appalling German, we managed to convey to each other what a great night at the opera we'd had.

I like this bit from the movie version of E.M. Forster's Maurice (it's not in the book):

Lord Risley: Music is the highest of the arts. It needs no reference to the figurative or corporeal, therefore it is the closest to death.

solitudex said...

Well written! It's truly the most amazing feeling to be totally immersed in those masterworks and being in a state of profound wonder.

=)