Thursday, 2 December 2010

My Kind of Music (1)

A post title lifted from The Solitary Walker. I've been reading through his series of posts about his favourite music and felt moved to emulate it. I often post here about music: usually, however, I write on a "bobbing cork" basis, about something I'm preoccupied or involved with at that moment. I thought it would be a good idea to go back and ask myself what it is I like in music and why.

What do I like? I had a friend many years ago, a sax player, who always maintained that it was the duty of all musicians to take an interest in all music. He had a point. However, I can definitely identify preferences!

I was lucky in that I went to a very musical school. Not only did it provide the choir for Lichfield Cathedral (I wasn't in it), but also pupils were expected to play an instrument if they possibly could. Break-time practice was compulsory, and the school orchestra played at assembly on Saturday (yes, Saturday) mornings. I had a violin shoved under my chin, but had not played it long when the double bass player left. Mr Broadhurst felt my collar as I left chapel one morning: I was the tallest violinist. Did I want to play the double bass?

Playing easy arrangements of classical music in the orchestra (I particularly remember Sullivan's Iolanthe Overture) meant that I had my ears tuned to its language at an impressionable age. In my early teens I raided the local record library and discovered Twentieth Century classical music. I was well and truly hooked on it, particularly Michael Tippett and Stockhausen.

From the very first notes of Michael Tippett's Second Symphony I was mesmerized: I was in the presence of something  intoxicating and full of surprises. How come I'd never heard of this man? You can keep your Benjamin Britten, I thought (I didn't think at all about popular music then). This is where it's at!

The picture is of the same LP cover as the one I found at the library. I have always envied the man his music room (although not his wartime experience of imprisonment).

I can't find it on the internet in a form I can embed into this page, but if you go to Schott's excellent Tippett sound sample page and scroll down to Symphony No 2 (Allegro Vigoroso) you can hear a generous sample of it for yourself. There's loads of bits of Tippett to explore there, too. The earlier music (like this symphony) is the "easiest" to listen to; the later is great too, I think, when you get your ears round it. By the time he wrote his Third Symphony, his sound world was beginning to get more demanding.

As I said, I agreed with my sax player friend, and I regret not listening to more popular music at the time as well. I had to catch up later (and more of that later, if I keep this series going!). I also regret not getting into jazz more when I was younger.  However, I don't regret jumping into the "deep end" of classical music, and I've loved Tippett's music with a passion ever since. I now have two copies of my own of that Argo record - just in case one gets scratched.

In the unlikely event of you liking this piece and wanting a recording of it, go for the Colin Davis/LSO  version discussed here: it's far more exciting than the version conducted by Tippett himself. That version is just too slow! Who can blame him? The music is fiendishly difficult and it was recorded live.


Titus said...

I love a series! Intersting post, Dominic, and even if it's not my thing, your appreciation is clear and described. And that is a cool room!

The Weaver of Grass said...

How well I remember those early double bass days - particularly "Bright the vision that delighted" your first Saturday morning hymn when you were deemed good enough to play at assembly. Happy days!

Kat Mortensen said...

I had a listen and the Symphony #2 makes me think of the soundtracks of John Williams. I know my husband would love this; I'm going to have to introduce him to Tippett. I also liked the Suite in D. Thanks for sharing your enthusiasm for this artist.


Totalfeckineejit said...

It's always good to hear of other people's passions , nice one Mr Riverrun.


Dominic, what are you saying about Brittan? You are joking of course!I recently went to a concert of his Auden poems - lovely they were. And then there's his Midsummer Night's Dream which I enjoyed a couple of years ago and then, oh I could go on ... I always rated him the best British composer of the 20th century. Please tell me I'm not wrong.

Dominic Rivron said...

Titus: It gets cooler. I *think* it's a room in an old windmill.

WofG: gdebcedddccbaad, bgddcbag, gbccddg.

KM: Pleased you like it. Did you listen to the Fantasia on a Theme of Corelli? That's a good one, too. Got used as the music to the film, Akenfield.

TFE: Thanks for dropping by.

GW: Britten? Pah! :) To the tune of Guantanamera:

One Michael Tippet,
There's only one Michael Tippett.
One Michael Ti-ppett,
There's only one Michael Ti-ppett.

Seriously, I think Britten is good, too: A Midsummer Night's Dream is a masterpiece.

I think we've lived through an era in British music not unlike the 16th century, when musical life was peppered with first-rate composers. Personally, I think the best of Tippett is among the best music written anywhere in the world in the Twentieth Century. I'm thinking of the Vision of St Augustine, for example.