01 August 2014

Im Abendrot

There is something particular about a late-night train. The fluorescent lights are unmercifully harsh and industrial. The passengers are tired and often at least a little under the influence: and they have no understanding of train etiquette, most of them, because they are occasional, not twice-daily, users of the thing. Several messages over the loudspeakers have failed to persuade the girl in front of me that she should not use her mobile phone in the quiet carriage, though to be fair to her the “train manager” did say only that calls should not be taken in Coach A, and she seemed to be initiating them, so a literal interpretation would excuse her. (Any statement from a railway announcer must, however, be interpreted purposively.) To be fairer still to her, I could see from her reflection in the window that she was in tears, so I was not about to ask her to desist from telephoning.
With noisy, unruly trainmates, I needed to immerse myself in some relaxing sounds. The trouble was, after an evening at the Proms which had included Four Last Songs, it was hard to think what might be acceptable from the limited choice on my Blackberry. Not Lindisfarne or Elvis Costello, that was clear, nor Cheryomushki. But I found I did have the perfect choice: Four Last Songs. I think I’ll get through it twice before I get to Didcot, but there’s no harm in that. Better still, on this BBC Music Magazine CD, the soprano (who to my shame I cannot name) is much more audible than Inge Dam Jensen was in the Royal Albert Hall this evening. (The clip I found on YouTube features Renée Fleming.)
Years ago, so much happened during my train journeys that I wrote enough almost to make a book out of it. Perhaps it’s because I don’t travel so often now that the flow of tales has dried up, but I don’t meet people like the ex-accountant who made his living laying fibre-optic cables in Azerbaijan, or the gothic lady who provided intimate services for gentlemen. Perhaps it’s just as well. Perhaps it is connected with getting older, and I was reminded this evening of one of the effects of advancing years – in my youth I just didn’t “get” Four Last Songs, although I loved much of Strauss’s music (and perhaps just didn’t know those pieces that I didn’t love). On Facebook once, Claire Lindley mentioned that she was playing in a performance of the piece, and seemed unenthusiastic: I commented that one had to be of a certain age to appreciate the Songs. What that age is, I don’t know: it probably varies from one person to another, and I would never presume to tell anyone what it is, or might be, for them. Evidently Claire had reached it. In my case I think it must have been about 45, which means I have been enjoying the Songs for many years now. In that same BBC Music Magazine live recording – and now in a couple of live concerts too. There’s an interesting topic to explore: the relationship between the appreciation of Four Last Songs and mid-life crisis. You can’t have the first without having experienced the second, I reckon.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Goose bumps hearing Four Last Songs, check, mid-life crisis, check!:)