Please nominate, as a Comment below, a piece of music (or more than one if you wish, of any genre or style, as fun or as serious as you like) that you feel is appropriate to this pandemic period – whether for titular or narrative reasons, or through the sheer nature of the music itself, because it resonates with our predicament, or offers therapy or escape, or is a beacon of what a creator can say through great music.
My contribution (please read on) is intended as light-hearted, no more than responding to a name – i.e. given we are currently required to wear face-coverings in many circumstances, I thought of Roger Sessions’s score for The Black Maskers (1923; Suite 1928), but a click away, below, as recorded in this instance by Walter Hendl and the American Recording Society Orchestra, 1952: worth a listen on its own terms anyway.
Given that I feel incensed at the vile antics of the most disreputable prime minister I can ever recall, I clearly need music that brings blood pressure down, reduces the heat that is coursing through my veins and takes me to a much calmer place. So make room for Arvo Pärt’s Spiegel im Spiegel. That will still be around long after one particular individual has quit the stage.
OK. I am going to be serious to answer a serious question at least to my mind.
Failures by our elected politicians and members of our society thwarting laws passed to protect us all ( ie non wearing of face masks on public transport) leads me to a piece of music that similarly threatens our wellbeing with its overwhelming sense of hidden forces that can erupt at any time and indeed do near the end. A cataclysmic event that carries all before it and, through a lifetime of conjuring similar events though with slightly less potency, allows an ending that offers hope. A work that has an overbearing tendency to the minor key somehow resolves into the major in the final bars. Even that can be heard as a grudging acceptance of our own mortality but with the slightest note of optimism.
Surely a perfect metaphor for today.
Tapiola by Sibelius.
A landmark masterpiece as relevant now as when premiered in New York in 1926. A true guide through the perils of our lives.
At the risk of turning this into a sort of ‘Desert Island Discs for a Pandemic’, how about Bernstein’s “Age of Anxiety”, Schubert’s “Unfinished” Symphony or Messiaen’s “Quartet for the end of Time”?
Beethoven’s Seventh Symphony, in the greatest performance ever recorded – Franz Konwitschny and the Leipzig Gewandhaus
I’m glad that somebody else has been drawn to Konwitschny’s reading, which is for me the stand-out performance in an otherwise average cycle. Old school and traditional in the best possible manner and what cumulative power! Not of course the right approach for devotees of small ensembles with an etiolated string sound. But a great Seventh nonetheless.
I find myself drawn more and more to the music of Bruckner for solace, in particular Claudio Abbado’s outstanding final recording (Bruckner 9) with the Lucerne Festival Orchestra – quite the best I’ve heard.
I’m with George and Bruckner (particularly as I’m working on Bruckner 5 at the moment – and am bowled over by Celibidache’s Munich recording at every turn). But, for me, Bach is the answer. As soon as it became clear (end March?) that I was going to have a long sabbatical it was Bach that I wanted to be thinking about. I know you’re really talking about recordings, Colin, but for me it has been sitting at the piano, reviving my minimal skills and learn a Prelude & Fugue from the 48. Private, contemplative and profoundly reassuring that ‘all shall be well, and all manner of things shall be well’.
Thanks Russell, glad to read your admiration for Celibidache; and, for the record, I am not talking about recordings, although that is the most likely carrier, more it’s the music however experienced by any one person. Good luck with the 48. Colin
One piece I have found especially comforting in these times is Bright Sheng’s BLACK SWAN- his “re-imagining” of Brahms Intermezzo Op. 118 #2. His orchestral fabric is radiant, warm and hopeful, in a landscape of exquisite melancholy.
When one wants to assess, in hope, Humanity’s value within the Universe, one only has to dip into the works of Joseph Haydn. Having chosen Haydn’s Masses and two Te Deums in C for pandemic listening, in Musical Opinion, I now suggest his Piano Trios, for their almost continual delight, good humour, and compositional brilliance. It is difficult to pick out one, among so many splendid pieces, especially the middle and later ones. However, I choose to mention the Allegro finale of the Trio in A, HXV, No. 18 (Oh for a few names!), because its sheer infectious gaiety never fails to make me laugh. It is better than a large G and T with ice and lemon, for raising the spirits.
If I may, I will quote from the slightly later English writer of satirical novels of conversation, Thomas Love Peacock, in this case from Headlong Hall. Four characters are discussing the new fashion for ‘English’ gardens, with regard to the picturesque and the beautiful. Says Mr Gall, ‘I distinguish the picturesque and the beautiful, and I add to them, in the laying out of the grounds, a third and distinct character, which I call unexpectedness.’ Pray Sir’, says Mr Milestone [the landscape gardener], ‘by what name do you distinguish this character, when a person walks round the grounds for the second time?’
Well, Haydn’s ‘unexpectedness’ is fresh every time, even when it is known and keenly anticipated. This is the mark of his genius, and of his continuous ability to bring delight and joy – and a tonic in the time of a pandemic.
The Piano Trios I listen to are contained in the Philips boxed set, with the Beaux Arts Trio, and the flying fingers of that great pianist, Menahem Pressler.
Haydn does it for me too, especially the amazing symphonies, each one a surprise, so many brilliant ideas and numerous moods.
Schumann’s Fantasie in C major op. 17 in the wonderfully wistful sensitive hands of Richter and the new Hyperion recording of Howells ‘Missa Sabrinensis’. But for spiritual enlightenment that’s difficult to beat – the new Somm recording of Ian Venables’ ‘Requiem’.
If I may contribute to my own post. Having been hopefully no more than tongue-in-cheek with Black Maskers, this Sunday morning I needed some spiritual nourishment. Vaughan Williams’s Fifth Symphony was calling to me, so I turned to Sir Adrian Boult’s London Philharmonic Decca recording, made in December 1953 in Kingsway Hall, engineered by Kenneth Wilkinson. Let’s just say it, written during World War II, hit the spot: music of wondrous beauty, depth of soul, and solace. That CD also includes VW’s Pastoral Symphony (No.3), equally claiming of the heartstrings and tear-ducts. Colin A
Arvo Part said of his Credo “It was as though I had bought myself freedom, but at the cost of renouncing everything and being left completely naked. It was like turning the new page in my life. It was a decision, a conviction in something very significant.” Of course, that was an intensely personal comment about what this work meant for him and his own personal development. Our world will never be the same and it is a matter of wonder and deep concern in equal proportions as to how!
Haydn’s Symphony No 45 (Farewell) was written for his own and his orchestra’s personal political reasons, but ignoring those I hope it is not an allegory of our times in terms of the public performance of orchestral music.
What a great selection!
Ideally , I ‘d go for Tapiola but as that ‘s already been suggested I’ll offer the Seventh Symphony of Sibelius – dignified calm in a threatening environment. Colin Davis and the LSO get it just right in their 1994 recording.