12 June 2007

Bach, Beethoven and Bebussy

I have been listening to classical music on and off since I finished being a teenager. Sometimes I take a really big break, but we always get back together. Lately, I have really felt it is very gentle on my chakras and soothing on the nerves. It is much easier to be creative while listening to it too, particularly if I am writing.

When I think of Bach, I think of Pablo Casals playing the Bach Cello Suites. Until Casals popularised them, they were largely considered to be exercises in composition. The liner notes on my recording state that Casals practised these Suites for over 30 years before he consented to a recording of his performance being made. That means it sounds perfect to you or me. Suite No. 3 in C is the best.

The Bach Cello Suites are now standard in the repertoire of any cello virtuoso. So thank Casals and the emotive aural tapestry composed by Bach that is so full, yet subtle and supple.

Ludwig van Beethoven is another musical genius. You can tell because he was a pretty wacky guy by all accounts. Second, he was deaf, which is the antithesis of a life in music; unless you pause to consider that pure inspiration dwells in the silence which is the origin of all sound. Consider, ‘Erwachen heiterer Empfindungen bei der Ankunft auf dem Lande,’ which begins the 6th Symphony. The title sounds fairly painful, but that’s just the salient feature of Beethoven’s muttersprache. I don’t know for sure that smashing your self in the mouth with a pipe wrench will help you to speak German, but it’s probably a good place to start. Hey! I didn’t mention the war, did I? Seriously now, it means, ‘Awakening of cheerful feelings upon arrival in the country.’ Listen to it, and you can have those feelings in the city; for it is a mighty inhalation of clean, healthy air.


Beethoven’s 9th Symphony is his most famous work and continues to inspire. For sheer power and grace, it is the musical equivalent of driving the latest Porsche 911 GT3 Turbo to its limits. Unfortunately, as far as German creations go, I can only afford the CD. It is probably a little safer, but I still recommend you wear a seat built if you are going to listen too.

Claude Debussy composed Prélude à l'après-midi d'un faune after a poem by Mallarmé called 'L'après-midi d'un faune.' It is not even worth trying to appreciate the poem in English as, by all accounts, it is the apogee of French free form lyrical symbolism, and it loses more in the translation than anything we might possibly gain. Sacré bleur! To summarise, it’s your basic tale of Bacchanalian indulgence - which is to say it is about being wasted, but in the manner of the Ancient Greeks or Romans - so nymphs are involved. Let's not judge - there are not a great deal of legitimate employment opportunities for fawns. What can you do? It must be so hard shopping for clothes when you’re a goat from the waist down, but the rest of you is human. I guess a lot of mix and match is involved.

Anyway, Prelude to the Afternoon of a Faun is probably Debussy's best-known orchestral work. It’s exceedingly beautiful, sweetly provocative, and is a great way to appreciate the flute. Sounds best on a sunny day. In fact, it sounds just like a sunny day, albeit a fairly lazy one.

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