22 April 2011

April Come She Will

A glorious day, although I imagine the people running the Maidenhead 10 were a bit warm. I completed my monthly IP podcast for March and rewarded myself by going for a short run - my first for a long time, and my injured foot stood up to it. I was worried that I had set back the recovery last weekend with my six-hour walk, but it seems to  have recovered. Not a fast run, and I stopped a couple of times to receive and send emails and to take a phone call. A good feeling, to be a runner again. But I will feel unhappy tomorrow when I see the Compton 40 competitors coming through the village - I was so looking forward to giving it another try.

Also a very good feeling to be up-to-date with the podcasts, with the  new marketing deal set to be launched very shortly.

01 April 2011

Don't sing no more sad songs

Yesterday we spent the evening at the launch of the programme for the Cheltenham Music Festival, followed by an agreeable but slow dinner with a group of people who have become our good friends in the last twelve months. Somehow I find myself discussing Mahler symphonies with two people who are far more knowledgeable than I am - one of them, indeed, a professional composer.

They have recently been to a performance of the Sixth in Symphony Hall in Birmingham - I check with them that it is indeed the one with the huge mallet in the last movement. I saw this performed at the Proms, I don't know how many years ago - and who was conducting? Rattle? Haitink? Perhaps someone else altogether.

The Eighth comes up as a topic of conversation also for the good reason that it's teh BBC Music Magazine cover disc this month - and I am trying to persuade the others that the magazine gives its readers challenging listening. The Eighth is however dismissed as unrepresentative of Mahler's output - the only one of his symphonies that can be called "life-affirming". He was, I suggest, having a good day when he wrote it. And the opening "Veni, Creator Spiritus" certainly gives me a lift - I tried it this morning. On reflection, though, the Fifth - the Mahler symphony I know best - might plumb the depths in the first movement (and perhaps the second) but everything gets resolved by the fifth movement, doesn't it? I must listen again - BBC Music Magazine obligingly gave me the Fifth a few years ago, so I don't need to dig out my 2-LP version by Karajan and the BPO on DGG. One thing about Mahler though: you don't play his music as background.

So, I am asked (with the rider that it's a really banal question), what composer's music to do I most like to put on? When I consider it, this has changed over the years - and the CD in the player isn't necessarily by whoever I'd call my favourite composer. Whose music I want to listen to changes from day to day, hour by hour - minute by minute, even. The other day Dvorak's Serenade for Strings came on the car radio: I played the LP (with Tchaikovsky's on the other side) daily in my last year at University, hardly ever since, although I could still remember it almost by heart, humming along as I drove. And there was a time when Dvorak would certainly have been the first name to come to mind when asked who was my favourite composer.

Perhaps this just demonstrates that it is indeed a daft question. There are so many possible candidates. Bliss? Mahler? Debussy? Ravel? Venables? I heard Bantock's Sappho on Radio 3 this week and loved it, but Bantock isn't going to become my favourite composer just because of that, not even for a few minutes. Neither is Messaien ever likely to be my favourite composer, although the Quartet for the End of Time is likely to be the work I'd like on my desert island should I ever have to declare my preferences on that radio programme (failing that, Turangalila) - and for similar reasons my book would be by Solzhenitsyn, either The First Circle or, to keep me going longer, The Gulag Archipelago. Great art coming from awful circumstances (which is why I'd go for the Quartet rather than the symphony). But perhaps those are not my favourite works, either.

The one thing that matters is that I have something uplifting, life-affirming (if that's not exactly the same thing). Which I think a Mahler symphony can be. Where's that CD of the Fifth ...