Brian Micklethwait's Blog
In which I continue to seek part time employment as the ruler of the world.Home
Brian Micklethwait on Big Things blocked by the trees of Southwark Park
Carolyn Mohr on The ups and downs of English
Michael Jennings on Big Things blocked by the trees of Southwark Park
priscila on The ups and downs of English
Simon Gibbs on Wedding photography (4): Preparations
6000 on Bookshops as Amazon showrooms
Darren on Bookshops as Amazon showrooms
Michael Jennings on Wedding photography (2): Signs
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Most recent entries
- Cats without tails are not scary
- Big Things blocked by the trees of Southwark Park
- Wedding photography (4): Preparations
- Bookshops as Amazon showrooms
- Reflections on a strange coincidence involving an Android app and a malfunctioning bus stop sign
- Feynman Diagrams on the Feynman van
- Rothko Toast
- Wedding photography (3): Technology as sculpture
- And another posting from my smartphone
- Posted from my new smartphone
- Google Nexus 4 photos
- Wedding photography (2): Signs
- Wedding photography (1): The superbness of the weather
- A Fleet Street lunch
- So painters also used to “take” pictures
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Category archive: Classical music
It is now Monday afternoon, but the end of my Thursday Odyssey is hardly yet in site.
My next stop was at Gramex, where second hand classical CDs are on sale, in particular abundance during the last week or two, as it happens.
The BBC is making a big fuss of LPs just now. Fair enough. LPs had a huge influence on the music being created at the time. Pop music was transformed, for a while, by the album, as was Pop Art, the album cover being a new arena for graphic fun and games of all kinds. Remember all those concept albums?
I just about do, but for me, Pop etc. was a parallel universe. I never disliked it, in fact I admired and admire it very much, and I like occasional pop tracks hugely. Pop is hugely better than recent “classical”, classical being basically a museum now. But despite all that, then as now, I still preferred and prefer classical, and for all but a few vinyl-obsessed classicists, the LP was never more than a means of reproduction, a window to look out at the classical garden, and a very ropey one at that what with all the clicks and scratches, particularly during your favourite bits. Classical music was a going concern long before recordings of any kind existed, and classical LP graphics never amounted to much more than pictures of the musicians, fancy ye-olde typography and/or kitschy chocolate box type landscapes. So when classical LPs were replaced by classical CDs, little was lost and a universe of distraction-free clarity was gained. CDs, certainly classical CDs, after a brief interlude of euphoric demand-driven bonanza profits, quickly got cheaper than LPs if you knew anything about how to buy them, on account of them being so much cheaper to make and distribute.
At first, people thought CDs would eventually disintegrate, but actually what was disintegrating was the CD players. CDs last for ever, provided you are minimally careful. Certainly mine all have, the only problem CDs being the ones that were scratched when I bought them. Crucial to the cheapness of CDs is that you can buy them second hand with reasonable confidence. On Amazon, sellers are terrified of a bad rating, and in shops, you can search out scratches for yourself. Often a shop will let you buy and try, and return if it is too much of a mess. Often what looks like a mess plays just fine. (The trick is to realise that scratches often don’t matter, provided they point towards the middle, as it were. The ones that go with the groove, sideways, because they seriously interrupt the one stream of digital stuff, are the killers.)
So for me, classical CDs were love at first sound. I keep wondering if I may soon stop buying them, but the sort I continue to buy, second-hand at Gramex or (more recently) from Amazon, continue to drift downwards in price.
Here is what I bought at Gramex on Thursday:
I paid only eight quid for those. And the one on the left is a double, which I have been looking for cheap for quite a while. Look for them on Amazon, here and here, and you discover (today anyway) that you would have to pay more like thirty quid for those. Plus, there is no postage to pay if you buy them in Gramex, like there is with Amazon. The cheaper the stuff you like to buy, the more that matters.
Which, along with the exercise I get from going there, is why I keep returning to Gramex. Boss Roger Hewland knows exactly what he is doing. He knows all about Amazon, and regularly checks prices there so as to go below them. He buys big collections for about one quid per CD, often within a minute of looking at them. He then piles them high, sells them cheap, and turns over his stock fast. He knows that getting four quid for something he sells in two days is a better deal for him than getting a tenner, but a month later. And he charges more like one quid for less desirable CDs, just to get rid of them and to make it worthwhile for his regulars to keep on visiting.
More and more regular shops won’t or can’t think like this, and in the face of online selling are just folding their tents, to be replaced by gift shops, restaurants and coffee shops. The latter two being what I did next.
First I went to Marie’s Thai Restaurant, a minute away along Lower Marsh from Gramex, and had my regular chicken and cashoo nuts with rice and a glass of orange juice, and then killed some more time in a Cafe Nero, while continuing to read about Tamerlane, in a book I recently bought for four quid in a remainder shop. He was born. He deceived. He tortured. He slaughtered. He conquered. He died. His vast empire immediately fell apart amidst further slaughter. What a pointless monster. Read about all that and tell me there’s no such thing as progress.
Coffee shops do puzzle me a bit, though. How to do they pay their rent? The morning and lunchtime rushes I suppose, which I avoid.
When journeying across the river to Vauxhall, as I often do, I now tend to take the bus, in fact I have been doing this ever since I got my Old Git Pass.
Which means that I have tended to miss out on shots like these:
The circumstance which caused me to shun the bus, despite the extreme coldness of the weather, was all the drama to do with the – see immediately below - cranes.
The Shard one reminds me that I have been watching a lot of Wagner on DVD lately, specifically Gotterdamerung (add double dots to taste). Operas like Gotterdamerung bring out the worst in European stage directors and stage designers. They tend to set the thing, not in the mythic world indicated by Wagner, but in a modern aircraft hanger, space station, hydro-electric power station, typically rather run-down or collapsing.
The architectural clutter in the foreground is provided by a piece of New Brutalism that is now being demolished. Reinforced concrete sometimes looks at its most dramatic when they are trying to remove it. It really puts up a fight, doesn’t it?
Indeed. My own happy new year was delayed by illness. During New Year’s Eve and for a lot of today, I was ill (which meant that I had to pass on all this). But then, late this afternoon, quite suddenly, I switched from being definitely ill, to recovering. I am not fully recovered, still having the remains of a head ache. But I am nevertheless in that state of post-illness contentment that comes from knowing that I definitely am recovering.
So, I am now having a happy new year, and I hope that my small band of regular readers having been having a happy new year also.
I am now listening to this (that’s YouTube sound only) over the top version of the Blue Danube on the piano, played by the wonderful Ben Grosvenor, on the radio. Lovely, albeit mad. (Lovely because mad.) Later I will record the Vienna New Year’s Day concert from off of the telly, with its superb music and its vomit-inducingly kitsch-ridden ballet dancing. The visuals being because I like to watch conductors and orchestras at work. I can just not watch the balletic ghastliness.
Well here I am watching England v Scotland in the Rugby World Cup, and so far it’s been almost all Scotland, maybe because it’s raining and they love that. Only after about half an hour have England started to do anything. Parks has landed two tricky penalties into the wind, with the second one being adjudicated with the help of television. A first, apparently. And until just now, Wilkinson was on 0 and 3. 0 and 3. Wilkinson. It’s now 1 and 4, with Scotland leading 6-3, but if England can’t rely on Wilkinson, then as all their enemies (i.e. the rest of the world) say, what do they have?
The scrum seems to be a perpetual bore, with all this “touch” pause “pause” pause “engage” nonsense from the ref, which (a) seems to go on for ever, and which (b) still falls to pieces. However, this time, it is only the England scrum that is falling to pieces.
Drop goal from Dan Parks, and at half time it’s England 3 Scotland 9. Where was Parks and his drop goaling when Scotland were playing Argentina? Can England pull themselves together and win this? My understanding is that if they don’t win, they’ll be in the strong, otherwise Northern Hemisphere half of the draw, and after losing to Scotland won’t frighten anyone there, except themselves.
If Scotland win, but without the bonus point from winning by eight points (or whatever it is) or more, they won’t go through at all. So at least England might take Scotland with them into nowhere land.
They’re showing the England scrum giving away penalties. Not pretty. It’s all looking very much like Rugby is Only A Game.
There’s just been a great tackle by Tui … langi? Followed by some England attacking down the left. Better. But Scotland are doing well at the line-out. England back on the attack. If they can keep hold of the ball they look a threat.
Another scrum, more grief for England.
When the weather is wet, rugby is more of a lottery. Here in England we are having a first burst of truly hot (as well as cloudless) weather of the entire year so far. Hot weather is left wing. Have you noticed that?
England have just won a Scotland scrum! England attack. England knock-on. Too many England errors. But, another England turn over at the scrum. Better. Wilkinson misses a drop goal. He’s the weak link. I’ll say it again. Wilkinson is the weak link. Is this his last England game? Nevertheless, England as a whole look stronger. If they could just score a try. Not this time, England give it away and Scotland attack. Scotland nearly score! Scotland penalty, it’s good. Scotland need to win by “8 points or more” and now lead by 9.
Until today I was happy with England’s progress, and may yet be, if they can win this. Hey, Wilkinson puts over a drop goal! Scotland back needing more points. As I was saying, I was happy with England. Everyone moaned about their early wins, but at least they were wins. Argentina are hellishly difficult to beat, and England beat them.
Lots of displacement activity from me, rearranging CDs in CD shelves. Another penalty success from Wilkinson! England look threatening now. England 9 Scotland 12. If England can just scramble a win here, I’ll be back defending them.
What happens if it ends in a draw?
Another Wilkinson penalty attempt. Just short.
The England scrum seems to be working better now. The reason I’m unclear about the details of this game is that another of my displacement activities just now is listening to CD Review, where they’re comparing all the Bruckner 8s.
Penalty to England. If this goes over, it becomes 12 all, with minutes left. If it stays like that, then, according to my calculations, England will win the group. But, England go to the corner.
Ashton scores on the right! England ahead! “You can only feel sympathy for Scotland!” Well, I can think of a few other feelings I can feel. Hah!!! Toby Flood gave the scoring pass, a big miss-out looper. He seems to have made a difference.
No swallow diving by Ashton this time. Flood nails the conversion. Flood is looking very good. 16-12. That conversion means Scotland have to score a try, and, well, until now, Scotland haven’t done tries. We’re past the 80 minutes mark, the next stoppage does it. England win!
I have lots of recordings of Bruckner 8, but none of three the BBC has just recommended. Bugger.
So, it’s official. England are now the Germany of the rugby World Cup. They look rubbish in early games. But then the prettier teams knock each other out, and hey presto, a month later England are still in it. That’s what happened last time. I hope that happens again.
Apparently Tonga beat France. Hah!! (All the pool results so far are to be found here.) Looks like if Tonga could only have beaten Canada also, that would have meant France being out of it. I think. Antoine Clarke (pronounced Claire for the duration) won’t be happy.
Today I had a bizarre and rather troubling experience. I listened to a recording I had made of a single orchestral piece, performed at some point in a broadcast concert earlier this summer. My recording began, not with an announcement of what the piece was and who was playing it, but with the beginning of the performance itself. As it began, I was wondering what it was, what with the sound file being called 09081930.MP2 rather than anything more informative. That says when it was recorded (Aug 9 at 7.30pm), but not what it is.
I continued to listen to the piece. It was totally familiar, but what the hell was it? I knew I knew it, but I … did not know its name! Every note was familiar. I knew exactly what was coming next. I knew how it would end. I knew it, I knew it, I knew it. But, I did not know it.
Even more irritating was that, presumably because I obviously knew it, my recording of the piece ended with a snatch of truncated applause, rather than any further announcement of what it was and who had been playing it. What the hell was it?
After much further research of a silliness that I need not bother you with, I finally found my way to the programme of the event I had been recording. And all was revealed. Finlandia.
Finlandia, by Sibelius.
Finlandia!!!! This is one of the most famous pieces of classical music ever written, just about at the pinnacle of the classical pop chart. And what’s more, I don’t just know this piece, and I haven’t just known it for half a century, possessing an increasing number of recordings of it as the decades have passed. I fXXXing played in it when I was at Marlborough. I played the flute, and Finlandia has lots for the flutes to do, and I did it, week after week, and then finally at the end of term concert. Not long after that I got a recording of the piece (along with the Sibelius Violin Concerto - also wonderful) by Herbert Von Karajan, to hear how it should really sound, and listened to it over and over again with huge pleasure. Yet, until I had consulted that concert programme, I could not remember the name of the piece, or who had written it.
I’ve had experiences like this before, such as not recognising the Beethoven Violin Concerto when hearing Beethoven’s own version of it for piano and orchestra, or not recognising some famous pop tune, that I also knew I knew, when someone sang it. But this was truly bizarre.
This is not the end, but it now feels a lot like the beginning of the end.
I’m reading what I think will prove to be a terrific book, about The Fall of the Roman Empire by Peter Heather. Here is some of what Heather says about the massacre of the lost legions of Varus in 9 AD (pp. 46-47):
The massacre was the work of a coalition of Germanic warriors marshalled by one Arminius, a chieftain of the Cherusci, a small tribe living between the River Ems and the River Weser in what is now northern Germany. The ancient Roman sources describing the defeat were rediscovered and passed into broader circulation among Latin scholars in the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries, and from that point on Arminius, generally known as Hermann (’the German’) - the delatinized version of his name - became a symbol of German nationhood. Between 1676 and 1910 an extraordinary seventy-six operas were composed to celebrate his exploits, and in the nineteenth century a huge monument was constructed in his honour near the small city of Detmold in the middle of what is today called the Teutoburger Wald. The foundation stone was laid in 1841, and the monument was finally dedicated in 1875, four years after Bismarck’s defeat of France had united much of the Cerman-speaking world of north-central Europe behind the Prussian monarchy. The 28-metre copper statue of Hermann is mounted on top of a stone base of similar height, which itself sits on top of a 400-metre hill. The edifice was a reminder that the triumph of modem German unification had its counterpart in the Roman era.
The Hermann monument is actually in the wrong place. The name Teutoburger Wald was first coined for the forested area around Detmold in the seventeenth century, as people began to conjecture where the ancient battle might have taken place. Thanks to some extraordinary finds, part of the actual battlefield has now been identified about 70 kilometres to the north. ...
On the right there is the monument.
I regularly read in books about classical music that opera was central to rise of nationalism in Germany, and also in Italy. But that really drives that point home, I think.
Incoming email from and about Beachcombing’s Bizarre History Blog, which “tries to apply serious academic standards to the bizarre in history”, speculating that I might like it. I do.
I have waited until today before linking to this blog, on account of the fact that Beachcombing has a thing about cats.
Under that cat-egory (ha!) you will find a posting that began as an account of alleged dastardly behaviour by Johannes Brahms towards cats, and mutated into a posting about Richard Wagner’s dastardly invention of the original story. Brahms did not torture and murder cats for sport. Wagner, who had musical differences with Brahms, and who was an utter shit, made the story up.
I love the music of Brahms. Wagner also wrote excellent music (I think), especially (I also think) if you can screen out the often horribly ugly singing which is so often attached to that music, and he was a vicious anti-semite. But falsely accusing someone of cat-slaughter really takes the biscuit.
The twentieth century Russian composer Dimitri Shostakovich was much photographed, but I have never seen that photo of him before. It is on the cover of the latest (numbers 1 and 3) in the Naxos series of Shostakovich symphonies being recorded by the RLPO and Vasily Petrenko. Well, this CD has two covers. There’s an outer cardboard cover, bright blue, with a picture of Petrenko on it. And then there’s the regular cover, on the sleeve notes, inside the regular plastic CD case, which is where this photo is to be seen. Acccording the back of the CD, it is entitled: “Two days before the completion of the First Symphony, 28th June, 1925”. He looks chubbier than in all the later photos.
I don’t believe this photo has ever been used before on a CD or a record. Which is surprising. There’s a whole internet cat subculture, that will surely now spread the word of this CD. I got my copy yesterday, for even less than the usual Naxos bargain basement price, but have not listened to it yet. If it’s as good as people are saying, it’s good.
I have, on the other hand, listened to another recent Shostakovich CD, this time of his First Violin Concerto, done by Lisa Batiashvili. Outstanding. I especially like the contribution made by the conductor, Esa-Pekka Salonen. I heard Salonen drain all the excitement out of Beethoven’s Ninth at a Prom some years back, which was quite an achievement. But this time around, his icy perfectionism is perfect casting. And I also, not long back, finally found a cheap-enough-to-buy box of the Fitzwilliam Quartet’s complete Shostakovich string quartets. Outstanding again, and done with a similar icy perfection.
An amazon reviewer defends Alex Ross
Mozart might have become a criminal
Dawkins does better sound than God ever did
Alex Ross on Hollywood film scores
A down and up weekend
Only up to some random linkage and a little felinity
Unusual leg extension
An after-echo of the creation of the world - Burgon recycles Milhaud
How building St Peter’s Rome split the Catholic Church and how marzipan was invented in Luebeck
Scrounging Englishmen and stories too good to check
Alex Ross on Sibelius
Llyr Williams and Llyr Williams play Bach
MP3 Haydn symphonies
Ingrid Fliter has a problem with the piano
Our shortening atten … ooh look!
On Bernstein – and Previn
Handel in London – and an angelic tenor aria
“. . . and the air froze . . .”
“Dying is a fulltime business. You haven’t time to do a lap of honour.”
A little drunk blogging
On not seeing Schoenberg’s Variations for Orchestra
Leonidas Kavakos (and a pianist) at the Wigmore Hall
Further thoughts on Karajan’s conducting
Lang Lang crushes Yundi Li!
Cheap CDs and sopranos I’ve never heard of
Solo piano solace – John Lenehan
Mahler’s 9th in Vienna in 1938
Gramophone are putting their back catalogue of articles online for free
On classical music voice addiction
Nigel Kennedy’s amazing Elgar
Tea with CDs
Oddities and specialisms
Dominic Lawson on Herbert von Karajan
You tend to listen more carefully when something might go badly wrong
Sounding like a different country
Exciting posting about shelves
New classical music venue just down the road from Kings Cross Supplementary
The Rite of Spring sounds to me like technology rather than nature
Toshiba’s violin playing robot
Me talking about the great twentieth century musical divide
Eee PC and Brahms CDs
Pianists conducting themselves
The great DVD packaging clearout
Michael Jennings photos Disney Hall
Taking the recording studio into the concert hall
Humphrey Searle’s Hamlet is the worst Shakespeare opera ever
Photos - four transport - two artistic
At the dogs
Lots of links
Friends of Slava
How compulsion deranges the spreading of ideas
The Emperor Quartet at Conway Hall
Comparing classical music with modern architecture
Glenn Gould on the hereafter
The Joyce Hatto affair - no big deal
Cats and keyboards
He likes it - but does he understand it?
How Stephen Hough took a nap during a piano concerto (that he was playing)
The future of music
Harold C. Shonberg on how to perform Bach
Dutilleux piano music on Naxos
Other people’s photos (2): New architecture in Hamburg
Fixating on particular recorded performances
Back to the future with the virtuoso violinists
Superb Simon Hewitt Jones gig – and a couple of blogger gripes
Me and Alex talking Gilbert and Sullivan
What next for the virtuoso violinists? - Simon Hewitt Jones has some answers
More G&S - and some strange Times errors
John Holloway plays unaccompanied Bach on the baroque violin
The Pirates opens in New York
Sullivan and Grove find some Schubert diamonds
At least I got today’s obligatory posting done before midnight
Feeling Much Better
Heifetz on YouTube
Alex talks (clearly) with me (not so clear) about classical music
As if for the first time
All hail to the Rolling Stones assembly line
Samizdata cranks it out
A little transport history
Classical music Natalie
Alex is too busy - Sting records Dowland songs
Alex and Brian’s latest classical music mp3 – Saint-Saëns etc.
Zehetmair plays the Brahms
Alex and Brian talk classical music mp3 number two
Bartók outside South Kensington tube
Jeffrey Bernard is unwell but very entertaining
This month’s Alex and Brian mp3 about classical music
Debussy denounces Massenet but Puccini follows him
Beneath the treble line with the Voglers
Another mp3 - Alex and Brian talk classical music
Giving up rouge for Lisbon
Armando Iannucci on going to classical concerts - and me on not bothering
Sergei Khachatryan plays Shostakovich Violin Concerto 1
Charles Rosen on Richard Taruskin and on the socially unbound nature of some of the greatest music
Lazar Berman’s Rachmaninov 3
I don’t know the score
More about music bingeing
Thoughts on habits and on killer apps
Christmas with Bach’s 48 Preludes and Fugues
Thoughts after watching Abbado’s Lucerne Resurrection Symphony
The Elgar/Walker piano concerto and the future of “classical” music
This and that at 9.07am
David Zinman – Thomas Adès – Howard Shelley
Benjamin Nabarro and the Belmont Ensemble