Friday, April 30, 2010

I was young and foolish then

... I feel old and foolish now
(They Might Be Giants, "Lucky Ball and Chain". Hey, wow, that's two TMBG references in post titles this month!)

Recently I came across what you might call a log book of music I'd heard on the radio. This would have been early 1993, I think, and the radio station in question was FM3, the precursor of Lyric. The information in the copy book consists of the title of the work and an indication of whether I liked it or not; no performer details included. There's 120 entries - I'm not sure how long the process lasted - and most of them are single movements or relatively short full works. Why did I keep this log? I can't remember! I suppose the main impulse was to find great music I hadn't heard before. I hadn't been listening to classical music for very long at that point, so my horizons certainly needed broadening. The plan wasn't to have the book get put away and be rediscovered 17 years later.

It makes for intriguing and, yes, at times embarrassing reading. There was a lot of music I didn't like, as my tastes still reflected what it was that had first drawn me to classical music: tuneful orchestral music, exciting climaxes - your Grieg piano concertos and your Beethoven's Fifths and your valkyrie-related rides. What new works impressed me then? Roussel's Bacchus and Ariadne, Rachmaninov's Isle of the Dead, Schoenberg's Gurrelieder, Hindemith's Symphonic Metamorphoses, Prokofiev's Alexander Nevsky, Shostakovich's 1st violin concerto, Janacek's Glagolitic Mass, Dukas's La peri... well, you can see a trend there. So it isn't surprising that boring old Mozart and Haydn didn't have much chance. I didn't like Haydn's Creation, for goodness' sake! Though in fairness I did enjoy his trumpet concerto, and the first movement of Mozart's Piano concerto no.20 instantly became one of my favourite pieces of music. Other works that failed to impress me included Debussy's La mer (though I liked his string quartet) and Elgar's Serenade for strings, which I remarked was "unpleasant".
I wasn't much of a listener of chamber music then, though I enjoyed quite a bit of what I heard. Baroque music proved very hit-and-miss. I loved the last part of Bach's Christmas Oratorio and the violin/harpsichord sonata BWV1016, but I really didn't like the Orchestral suite in B minor or the first Brandenburg concerto. Interestingly, I didn't hear many Baroque composers - no Handel or Vivaldi at all. Whether what I heard was typical of FM3's output at the time, I don't know.

This all seems to bear out what I believe about how difficult it can be to get a novice interested in classical music. At the time, I had rather narrow tastes, and I wasn't entirely happy going outside my comfort zone. Listening to Mozart didn't make me love Mozart; almost the opposite, and works like the Piano concerto no.20 seemed to be just the exceptions proving the rule. It was perservance, curiosity, access to a good music library, and some recordings that seemed just right that made me appreciate Mozart. Would those recordings on their own have done it? Probably not; it wasn't Mozart Time then. So it's hard to offer generic advice about what a novice should listen to - so much of it will fall on deaf ears. But I do remember around that time feeling occasionally a little dispirited that my comfort zone was (relative to the range of available music) quite small, while not knowing how to extend it. Fortunately I was able to keep gently pushing at the boundaries and feel my way into genres and eras that I'd previously dismissed. But it was a long process. And one that's still going on... 17 years ago I liked some music by Howard Ferguson... better check him out...

No comments: