If you ever listen to Classic FM for five minutes, you’re sure to hear a plug for this book. At first I disliked it, because it breaks all callmemadam’s rules of biographical writing. It’s full of ‘I am certain that’, ‘no doubt’, ‘he/she/they would have’ etc. No! The only place for the biographer’s fancy is in a fictionalised life and I’m not keen on those, either. I was also slightly insulted to have explained to me the extent of the Holy Roman Empire and who Goethe was. But come on, be fair. Suchet’s book is not intended to be a work of scholarship; he didn’t even want to write it, asking who needed yet another book about Mozart? Classic FM persuaded him that there was a need for a book written in an accessible style to appeal to CFM listeners, which is what he has produced.

His qualifications are: a great love of Mozart and (I didn’t know this), an Honorary Fellowship from the Royal College of Music. He’s also trawled Mozart scholarship extensively. The result is a readable account of Mozart’s life, with liberal quotes from the many letters written by Mozart’s father Leopold and by Mozart himself. (If anyone is going to be upset by discovering that the revered genius was also a filthy minded potty mouth, they’d better not read this.) You can’t help but be drawn in by the tales of the travels Leopold Mozart undertook with Wolfgang and his sister Nannerl. The gruelling conditions of travel in those days! The terrible illnesses suffered by both children! Could it have shortened Mozart’s life? Probably not, since Nannerl lived to old age.

The book is lavishly produced, with many coloured illustrations. The contemporary pictures of the young Mozart seated at a keyboard with his little legs dangling are strangely touching. Quite rightly, you finish the book in a suitable state of awe and wonder at his astonishing genius, ‘God given’ according to both Leopold and Wolfgang, and a saddening sense of what was lost by his early death. It’s hard to read about the end of his life without a tear. The 225th anniversary of his death falls in December 2016.

I was sent a copy of this book by Elliott and Thompson.

In other news, this is the only book I have finished this month. The sole reason for this is that I never want to get back to A Footman for the Peacock and am only reading it in bed. I must finish it and find something I actually want to read.


Aug. 15th, 2016 08:11 am

Trio is a gentle, elegiac meditation on grief, carved into the bleak, rugged moorland of Northumberland … A book to be read carefully and savoured.’ (Clare Morrall)

Cornflower said she hadn’t ‘read a work of fiction as good as this for quite some time.’ and wrote a review of it which I can’t better. Mrs Miniver’s Daughter was awake all night reading it. Now I’ll join in and say, Read this book! I started it one evening and finished it the next, although I was enjoying it so much I didn’t want it to end. It’s beautifully written and draws the reader in from the start. The descriptions of landscape, weather and wildlife are as good as you'd find in a book dedicated to the subject, yet here it’s just background. I loved the school scenes, almost William Mayne-like in their believability. Above all, I loved the musical theme, including the hymns sung at school, which were strangely touching. If any of the pieces played by the eponymous trio are unfamiliar, you want to hear them now, so as to understand the powerful effect they have on the characters. Music is central to the characters’ lives and as we learn later, love of it is handed down through generations.

I suppose this book would be classed as ‘middlebrow’. Huh. So-called literary authors could learn a lot about the craft of writing from reading this wonderful book. Now I have to seek out everything else Sue Gee has written.

Look away now all purists who only listen to Radio 3 and anyone for whom the word ‘popular’ is a term of abuse. To mark the twentieth anniversary of its Hall of Fame of favourite music chosen by listeners, Classic FM has brought out this Ultimate book, written by Darren Henley, Sam Jackson and Tim Lihoreau with illustrations by Lyn Hatzius. I thought I’d better write it up today, as Easter weekend is when the countdown begins, with the top choices revealed on Monday.

So what do you get when you buy or borrow this large, lavishly produced book? First, the aggregated list of the top 300 pieces of music picked since the Hall of Fame began. Then, potted biographies of the composers on the list, with comments on the chosen works but nothing about the rest of their output. There are recommended recordings and a list of ’25 Recordings You Should Own’. The full page illustrations are very striking; I had trouble picking a favourite.

The chart (what else is it?) has some surprises. Mozart comes in at #3 with his Clarinet Concerto. Beethoven’s ‘Emperor’ Piano Concerto is #4. But you have to get right down to #37 before J S Bach makes an appearance with the Concerto in D Minor for Two Violins. God is thirty seventh; what kind of taste is that?:-) There’s a lot of film music on the list, with John Williams featuring several times. I was pleased to see that The Warsaw Concerto (from the film Dangerous Moonlight) is included, as well as more modern works. I might have hurled the book from me in disgust had there been no Purcell but luckily he does get in.

Why should you read this book (or at least, look at it)? Everyone loves a list to disagree with and this one is a genuine representation of popular taste in classical music. It’s a useful basic reference book. You will almost certainly find some music mentioned here which is unfamiliar and may be worth exploring. ‘What is number one in the Hit Parade?’ I hear you ask. The people’s choice is Rachmaninov’s Piano Concerto No.2 in C Minor.
Many thanks to Elliott and Thompson for sending me a copy of the book, which I’ll be referring to again, I’m sure.
not a poll )
Everything was gloomy yesterday evening. Then I watched Sir András Schiff play Bach’s Goldberg Variations. Only on BBC4 would you get seventy five minutes devoted entirely to one man playing one piece on the piano. To say it was sublime is an understatement; I knew as I was listening that I couldn’t begin to appreciate the complexities of the music. It’s available to watch again on the BBC iPlayer.

A rather good little piece in The Guardian here.
Could it be more miserable? I got up at six in the dark and could hear rain dripping off the roof. It’s still pouring. The bright spot is that Radio 2 is playing Elvis and the Beatles all day long. I can’t make out whether or not it’s supposed to be some sort of ‘which is best’ day (pretty silly, if so) but it’s all based on charts i.e. Elvis’s fiftieth best-selling track followed by The Beatles’. You guess which I’m enjoying most and then pick your own favourite.

[Poll #2021099]

Yup, I’ve already decided that I won’t read a better book this month than Romantic Moderns, which I enjoyed more than any novel I’ve read recently. I’d been wanting to read it since it came out (2010), so I snatched it off the ‘just returned’ shelf at the library when I saw it there. It begins particularly beguilingly for me:
Toller Fratrum is a small village in Dorset … Beside the farmhouse and a clutch of other stone buildings is the tiny church of St. Basil.
Yes! I’ve been there! Toller Fratrum is at the back of beyond, up a steep winding hill and quite hard to find. The point of visiting the church is to see the ancient font, which John Piper photographed in 1936. If you make the pilgrimage today, you will see his name in the visitors’ book, helpfully (not) marked in biro. Church crawling was a passion which Piper shared with John Betjeman.

The book is subtitled ‘English Writers, Artists and the Imagination from Virginia Woolf to John Piper.’ It sets out to show how artists and writers moved from bleak, minimalist, international modernism, advocated by the art critic Roger Fry and constructed by le Corbusier and others, towards an English art which was both modern and romantic. It was a battle between ‘concrete and curlicues’, between dogmatists and those they saw as traitors.
Artists who had previously felt compelled to disguise themselves as avant-garde Frenchmen were now to be found on English beaches sheltering their watercolours from the drizzle. Anthologists … collected up the verse of eighteenth century parsons …There were church murals, village plays, campaigns to save historic buildings. There were Paul Nash’s megaliths, the erotic dramas of Graham Sutherland’s landscapes, Vita Sackville West’s old roses at Sissinghurst, Edward Bawden’s copper jelly moulds, Bill Brandt’s photographs of literary Britain, Florence White’s regional recipes.
The war intensified all this, because of a desire to record what then existed in case it should be destroyed.

Was this trend a betrayal of modernism?
Was it a betrayal of the modern movement to be in love with old churches and tea-shops; … Is Auden any less a ‘modern’ thinker because he wept with nostalgia while writing a devoted introduction to a selection of Betjeman’s prose?
These are Harris’s themes, explored in detail and with a wonderful command of sources. The book is also beautifully illustrated.

It’s interesting that today people flock to Sissinghurst and other National Trust properties and that Paul Nash, Edward Bawden and John Piper are so much admired. No doubt many writers and artists currently see this as retrograde; the English typically wallowing in nostalgia instead of creating a Brave New World. No doubt a researcher of the future will write a book about it. I’m not qualified to review this book as I’m no art expert; nor am I a worshipper of Virginia Woolf , and there’s an awful lot of Woolf in Romantic Moderns. Even so, I can’t recommend it highly enough.

From Continual Dew by John Betjeman, 1937
According to Spotify, my most played artist is: Bob Dylan. There’s a surprise.
Their categories are odd. This is the breakdown.
I’ve listened to: 30% Folk Rock; 21% Singer-Songwriter; 17% Merseybeat (what?); 17% British Invasion; 17% Folk.


My poor old piano has moved house, been shoved from room to room and generally mistreated. I've been meaning to get it tuned for simply ages. This morning, I heard a piece on the radio, thought, 'I can play that!', did so, winced, and at last got round to phoning the piano tuner. Amazingly, he said he could come this afternoon so I'm now slightly poorer but have a piano which doesn't hurt the ear.

For years, when [livejournal.com profile] huskyteer was having lessons, the piano was tuned regularly by a wonderful Glaswegian who always termed himself ‘Jock Cooper, the pianner chuner.’ He was one of those people with a natural ear, who could play absolutely anything. He used an aftershave which hung around the room for days afterwards. One of his favourite stories about his life in music concerned tuning the piano for a Peter Katin concert, ‘and Katin says, ‘Jock Cooper played Chopin and Chopin won.' Ha ha!’ I was sorry when he had to retire. The new man is very nice, though.

Don’t get any ideas about my piano playing: I’m rubbish. But it’s very good for me. A while ago, the last piano factory in England closed down. How sad is that?

This is fab

Oct. 7th, 2014 08:24 pm

BBC Music - BBC Music - #LoveBBCMusic - Tonight 8.00pm

I've watched it three times already. I can never get tired of this song.
Pete Seeger has died, aged ninety four. Not bad going. I daresay there are still people in the States who think he was a dreadful old commie. I prefer to think of him as a singer songwriter. I just heard Chris Evans say that he thought Where Have All the Flowers Gone? was written by Bob Dylan. Proof of Seeger's great influence, I'd say. My favourite version of any of his songs is probably Turn, Turn, Turn by The Byrds.


A time to dance, a time to mourn

Picture from here

A happy and peaceful Christmas to all.

No decorations for me yet, but it’s time to get out the seasonal china and the advent calendar. The calendar is last year’s but I won’t remember what’s behind each window so it will still be fun.

Every year, there’s a candlelit Advent service in the Minster church. It’s always packed and you have to arrive early to get a seat. The service always opens with this hymn as a processional.

O come, O come, Emmanuel!
Redeem thy captive Israel
That into exile drear is gone,
Far from the face of God's dear Son.
Rejoice! Rejoice! Emmanuel
Shall come to thee, O Israel.

Absolutely spine tingling. I love the Advent hymns, especially Of The Father’s Love Begotten and Let All Mortal Flesh Keep Silence.
Who doesn’t love Fauré’s Pie Jesu? Get in training for listening to lots more choristers this month.

I had a bad day yesterday, for various reasons too tedious to go into, but I was cheered up in the evening. First, I read a book I’d picked up at a charity stall earlier in the day; written for children, it’s one of the best books I’ve read for ages.* Then I watched a programme I’d recorded, Let’s have a party! The piano genius of Mrs Mills. How could Mrs Mills not cheer you up? Pre-Beatles, I was young enough to watch The Billy Cotton Band Show with my parents, which is how I remember Mrs Mills. I also liked Russ Conway, who I thought was lovely and greatly admired Winifred Atwell, another former star you never hear about nowadays. I was obviously too old for Bobby Crush when he came along; I had no idea who he was.

The theme of the programme is also a pet obsession of mine: that performers like Mrs Mills have been written out of musical history because they don’t fit with people’s idea of the sixties. She had albums in the charts for years! She recorded at Abbey Road, where she had a dedicated piano, specially tuned for her distinctive honky-tonk sound. It gives you a good idea of the musical overlap in those days to learn that The Beatles used the same piano on some of their tracks, notably Penny Lane. The piano is still preserved at the studios.

Most of the people interviewed were pianists themselves and they were all at pains to point out the technical difficulty of what Mrs Mills did and how well she did it. Typically, the BBC didn’t seem to have much footage left and we kept seeing the same old clips, mostly from The Morecambe and Wise Show. There are quite a few clips on YouTube and I picked this one because you can actually see her playing.

There was much talk of the decline of piano playing as pianos were banished from homes and pubs to make way for television sets. Nevertheless, Mrs Mills still has her fans. I found 113 singles/albums offered on eBay this morning. The album covers are so bad they’re good, collectable because they’re so kitsch. Click here to see young kingofthekeyboard playing the piano Mrs Mills style. How I’d love to be able to do that! I’d like to be the quiet, shy person at the party who can sit down at the piano and knock out any tune people ask for. We also saw young people reviving the pub singalong, with a vamping piano and customers roaring out Roll Out The Barrel like extras from In Which We Serve, then wondering how it is they know the words. Rick Wakeman pointed out that to someone of fifteen, this kind of music would be something quite new. Highly recommended and still available to view.

*Huck and her Time Machine by Gillian Avery
If I had my own radio show, I’d play this.
The SY6: We Make Hay

I got it from Liberal England
I have some neat new headphones and yesterday tried them out on Spotify. I know most people have moved on from Spotify but I still have the old free version and although I hadn’t used it for ages, my playlists were still safely stored. Almost. My favourite list is the one I call the LJ 100 and you can see it here.

Since I last listened to this great list, Bob Dylan has disappeared completely and Graceland is sung by Willie Nelson instead of Paul Simon. This is bizarre. Have copyright laws changed in the last three years? Luckily I was canny enough to sneak in a few Dylan covers and still comply with the rules of the meme.
Photo from the Telegraph
Lots more pictures here.

Earlier this year, I filled in an online opinion poll which included questions about ‘what events you will watch on TV this summer’. The Thames pageant? Check. The Olympics? No. Wimbledon? Check. The Jubilee concert? Nah, the one they did ten years ago was embarrassingly awful.

As it turned out, the Thames pageant, though brilliantly organised, was rather disappointing. Some sunshine would have improved it. The next day, in spite of my misgivings, I was seduced into watching the concert, mainly because I wanted to see Madness perform on the Palace roof. The concert was a triumph of age over youth. Rolf Harris was much better at continuity than all the comedians were. These people are used to performing on the small screen, not working huge crowds; nor did they seem to know what sort of joke would be appropriate for such an occasion. I started feeling sorry for Prince Harry for the constant ribbing he was getting. Rob Brydon and Miranda were the best of the bunch.

There are stars and there are superstars. The latter were: Tom Jones, Elton John and Stevie Wonder, who cleverly reworked Isn’t She Lovely to suit the Jubilee. I cried my way through Your Song and later through All My Loving. Poor old Paul, he can’t really sing any more but he only needs to stand there and be looked at, really. Rather an indignity for him to be introduced by that terribly unfunny man whose name I can never remember. Not only did he get Paul's name wrong (surely any fule kno that it was John who was called Winston?) but said he was the greatest influence ever on popular music, so ignoring the towering figures of Elvis and Bob Dylan. Pity Madness didn’t sing Baggy Trousers but I liked ‘one’s house’.

You learned a lot watching the audience, although we could have done with more shots of it. The entire royal family, it seems, dotes upon Elton John. Princess Anne likes Stevie Wonder. The Archbishop of Canterbury loves every single person in the world and knows the lyrics of all the Beatles’ songs. It was rather a damper to be told at the very end that the Duke of Edinburgh is in hospital. Tsk, I knew he should never have stood up on a boat for all that time in the cold and rain the day before. Prince Charles spoke well and it was surprising to hear the crowd shouting 'Philip!' I hope it pleased the Queen.

If, like me, you’d been up at half past five this morning (I’ve had enough of this) you could have heard most of the concert music reprised on Radio 2, in its original form. Heigh ho, I still have my vinyl albums of Elton John and Songs in the Key of Life.
BBC News - Influential guitarist Bert Weedon dies

Effort free posting with 'post to Live Journal'!

Levon Helm of The Band has also died. What a rotten day for music.
I had a weird experience on Saturday as I was driving to the market. I had SOTS on the radio and suddenly found that I knew every word of a song I swear I haven't heard or given a thought to since the sixties. It was If I Had A Ribbon Bow, the first single by Fairport Convention and I sang along merrily. It took me back in an extraordinary way, yet I can't remember why. Here it is; it takes a while to get going.

The singer is Judy Dyble, not Sandy Denny.

Ten Songs

Jun. 22nd, 2011 10:44 am
1. Reply to this post and I'll assign you a letter.
2. List 10 songs you love that begin with that letter (along with some way people can listen to them).
3. Post them to your journal with these instructions.
[personal profile] debodacious gave me an ‘S’.

Sumer Is Icumen In
I love this and it reminds me of our sweet girlish voices, hem hem, singing it at school.
Someone Else’s Baby, Adam Faith
Of course I have to have something by Adam. It’s still cute, all two minutes and twenty seconds of it.
Slow Train, Flanders and Swann
An extraordinary song which causes nostalgia in people who weren’t even born when the Beeching Axe fell. It makes poetry out of a list of names.
Scarborough Fair, Simon and Garfunkel
It was a toss up between this and Sound of Silence but for me the harmonies in Scarborough Fair are the quintessential sweet sound of Simon and Garfunkel.
(Can’t Get No) Satisfaction, The Rolling Stones
Someone *waves* was teasing me for loving this so much but it’s been the background to just about every party I’ve ever been to and still makes me want to dance.
Something, The Beatles
Written by George Harrison, who was rightly disgruntled that so few of his songs made it onto the group’s albums.
Shangri-La, The Kinks
Includes my favourite line: gone are the lavatories in the back yard. At the time, I just liked the song. Later on I marvelled that anyone as young as Ray Davies was when he wrote it could express nostalgia for times that were only just changing, while hinting that not all change was for the better.
Sad Eyed Lady Of The Lowlands, Bob Dylan
Far from being my favourite Dylan song but very beautiful.
Someone To Watch Over Me, Ella Fitzgerald
The kind of song I didn’t learn to appreciate until I was about forty, when I also realized that hey, Frank Sinatra is really good.
Set Fire To The Rain, Adele
There’s too much old music on this list so I’ve included my latest fave.

That’s it, and I’ve got another ten bubbling under, each just as worthy of a place.
Say the word if you’d like a letter to give this a go.



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