Thursday, October 11, 2007

Music : My Top Dozen

I am adding a set of music choices to my profile, by using a similar method to that which I used when selecting my top dozen books. I have first turned to my favourite singers, composers and (in one case) orchestra. Then I have selected what I see as the best work from each of these. This means that no-one appears twice and that something which has appealed to me from outside my list of "favourites" is excluded. But no list can be perfect.

Whilst my list of books was shaped by my experiences from when I was 12, I was a late developer with music. My mother had attempted to turn me into a pianist by purchasing a piano and sending me for lessons immediately after I failed what were then known as 11+ exams. Despite 4 years of this, it was never going to work as there was no tradition of serious music (or otherwise) in our home.

There is another difference between my book list and my music list. Although my wife reads as regularly as I do, I doubt if she has read one of the books I listed. Yet in my music list her name crops up again and again on shared experiences. She also, of course, has her own alternative musical priorities.

1. Bob Dylan, "Blowin' In The Wind". Just after we became interested in Bob Dylan's music, Ann and I went to one of his concerts in Sheffield. I was around 30 at the time. Whilst the first part of his concert was full of the folk and protest music which had attracted us to him, things changed dramatically after the interval towards a type of rock and roll which has never grabbed me - although I can accept much of Dylan's version now. But "Blowin' In The Wind" is from what I see as the best side of Bob Dylan.

2. Joan Baez, "We Shall Overcome". Although Joan was part of the early Bob Dylan world, she retains more of the old folk and protest tradition. Given her musical abilities, she is therefore a continuing heroin. But it is only since I have retired that Ann and I managed to catch one of her concerts. Again In Sheffield. The song I have selected by Joan also allows me to give a plug a recent Bruce Springfield CD/DVD which has the same overall title.

3. Woody Guthrie, "This Land Is Your Land". The early Bob Dylan was influenced by the works of Woody Guthrie. So I was soon destined to discover the master of them all in this folk and protest field. "This Land Is Your Land" tells us what America could be. Just as Leadbelly's "Bourgeois Blues" paints the other side. These two singers worked together for it was the same wavelength.

4. Alec Glasgow, "The Socialist ABC". As Alec Glasgow came from the North East, I was bound to absorb his output. "The Socialist ABC" became my own party piece. My most popular performance being for a group of Young Socialists from Germany, who were visiting my home town on a twinning arrangement. It was also a favourite at a Labour MPs' Xmas meal at a pub near the Commons. Alec Glasgow's classical piece is, however, "The Tyne Slides By" - as is recognised as such by this Wearsider. Again, Ann and I saw him in concert in Sheffield.

5. Dominic Behan, "The Red Flag" (to its Irish tune). At Labour Party Conferences, Ann and I invariably went to an Irish evening run by the Workers' Party (although they used a cover title). Dominic Behan appeared at a number of these with songs such as his "The Leaving Of Liverpool". The evening wasn't completed until he led us in "The Red Flag". If anyone knows how I can get hold of a copy of him singing this, please let me know. The Workers Party also toured Ann and myself around Belfast at the height of the troubles, when I was over to address one of their meetings.

6. Johnny Cash, "The Gambler". Johnny Cash seems to have grown in my estimation over time. Whilst some of his early work are his classics, I also admire his later contributions which have shown me that age is no barrier - even to blogging. "The Gambler" isn't, however, one of his own songs, it is by D. Schiltz. It just seems to me to fit both Johnny Cash and his philosophy of life.

I now move into my interests in classical music. I have not deliberately kept this section separate from the above. It is just that my interests in classical music tended to come to me late in my life. Thanks to the lad next door learning to play the drums, in my mid 40s I turned in desperation to Wagnerian-style classical music in an attempt to muffle the sound. This led me into a new world. Not all of it noisy.

7. Smetana, "Ma Vlast". Vltava from Ma Vlast is the first classical work which bowled me over. It also got me away from just listening to concerts in Sheffield. Ann and I were in Prague when we first heard the works of Smetana and another favourite Janacek in concerts. This included a move into opera with his "The Cunning Little Vixen" and also Verdi's "Aida".

8. Wagner, the climax of "Tristan and Isolde" with Waltraud Meier singing. I only hold this on a DVD, but have seen a fine performance by Waltraud Meier as Ortrud in Wagner's Lohengrin at Covent Garden. My serious introduction to the work of Wagner arose via the writings of Bryan Magee (see my book list). I read Magee's short, but fine "Aspects of Wagner" when I had only heard bits of the relevant music. But when in 2000, Magee produced a lengthy book on Wagner entitled "Wagner And Philosophy" I felt that I had to get some Wagner under my belt before I could read it. Ann and I were then off to see "Rhinegold" when in Berlin. And I soon moved to a CD and DVD collection of Wagner's Opera's which give me a full coverage.

9. Chopin, "Prelude in D Sharp Major op 28, No 15 (Raindrop)". In 1839, Chopin went to Majorca with George Sand and her children. They ended up in a former monks' cell in the winter dampness of Valldemosa. Some claim that he wrote "Raindrop" there. I like to think this is true. Valldemosa is great in the summer and Ann and I have visited it several times. We also had a fine evening with the Chopin Society in Warsaw, when Ann grabbed us the best seats to watch the pianist perform.

10. Beethoven, "Fidelio Overture, op 72". "Fidelio" is Beethoven's only Opera. It is as good an Opera as you can find and shows that one can hold to noble sentiments and be brilliant. It isn't only the devil and Wagner that have all the good tunes. Then I went on to listen to all that wonderful piano playing of Beethoven by Daniel Barenboim, whom (of course) Ann and I have recently been to see conduct at the Proms.

11. Mendelson, "Symphony No. 4 in A Major, op 90 (Italian)". I like the version on CD by Giuseppe Sinopoli conducting the Philharmonia Orchestra. Whilst in Vienna, Ann and I saw the Ballet based on Mendelson's version of "A Midsummer Night's Dream".

12. West-Eastern Divan Orchestra, "The Ramallah Concert" conducted by Daniel Barenboim. The establishment of a youthful and highly talented Jewish and Arab Orchestra by Daniel Barenboim and the late Palestinian writer Edward Said shows how music can heal and further tolerance and understanding. The DVD of the performance in Ramallah could not be more telling. The music is by Mozart, Beethoven and Elgar. You will see from above that I am a fan of Beethoven. Whilst Elgar would always make it into a larger squad of mine. Yet although I listen to numbers of pieces by Mozart, I would not normally select him. Barenboim once explained as to why I feel as I do. He said that Mozart was "childlike, but not childish". I think that it is the childlike quality which leaves him in my reserve team. The piece in the Ramallah Concert draws upon the skills of those playing the oboe, clarinet, bassoon and horn. It is a fine contribution - but to me an expection to the rule on Mozart.


Imposs1904 said...


you can download Alex Glasgow's 'As Soon As The Pub Closes' here.

Harry Barnes said...

Darren; It was worth another listen. Hope others will pick it up. But as with most of his songs I have it handy on CD and don't know how to iPod.

The Art of Criticism said...

JIWON: Just in case… Daniel Barenboim does NOT participate in Bashkirova’s West-Eastern-Divan-Orchestra 2008, and therefore, will NOT appear in Prom 38-39. If you want to know WHY, please visit my blogs. I’ve been running two blogs since January: (Music-blog) and (Knesset-blog)
If you click (My Request to Barenboim), you will find anything you want to know; about what has been happening to Barenboim since mid-90s. These blogs are now open to public, so if you think it’s valuable enough, please tell all your friends to visit these places.
I am not a normal spammer. If anyone spreads false information about me, without finishing reading ALL my writings, I will take everything into the legal case. Thanks.