Wednesday, 19 October 2011

Music For The Mind

After silence, that which comes nearest to expressing the inexpressible is music.

- Aldous Huxley
I have been thinking about how I could best write about my feelings on classical music, and in particular, the concert of Monday 17th October. I'd decided to go and do something I hadn't done in ages.. Listen to live classical music and forget about everything else. Not being as familiar with classical music as other things, mostly because I don't often go, I had to start off somewhere. This "somewhere" was Sergei Rachmaninov (Also known as Rachmaninoff to some). I didn't particularly know a whole lot about him, but he'd been mentioned in a book I like, (I'm happy I realized that. It shows books still influence me. That's awesome.) and I'd listened to some concert pieces on YouTube. Then I looked for upcoming concerts that would include him.

On Monday night, after having more less finished things that needed to be done, I went to St John's Smith Square, near Lambeth Bridge, and bought my ticket. The act of doing something alone and feeling good about it, along with the fact I'd only paid a small amount thanks to my student card made me quite happy. It was still early, so I went to get myself a latte, but that's not interesting, so I'll skip forward to the actual concert. (Too bad, really, I could have also told you about the really cute mouse I saw. Heh heh.)

"Kensington Symphony Orchestra under Russell Keable. Stephen Goss's 'The Shard'; Maxwell Davies's Symphony No 5; and Rachmaninov's Symphony No 2."

This was the description of the concert on the website. Now for the experience.

“Composer Stephen Goss draws on a variety of sources for his eminently listenable music. Despite the eclectic nature of his influences, which range from Beethoven’s late piano music to the films of former Python Terry Gilliam, Goss’s musical language comes across as brilliantly integrated….” - International Record Review, April 2008.

I took a look at Stephen Goss's website, where he says: "The Shard is a short orchestral piece based on the iconic skyscraper that is currently being built at London Bridge. It was commissioned by the Kensington Symphony Orchestra." This actually quite interested me, as I hadn't previously made the connection when looking up the concert, or whilst listening. However, I enjoyed the piece, and though I don't have much to say about it, it was a pleasant moment.

Maxwell Davies says, about his piece: "The Symphony is based on material from my youth orchestra piece Chat Moss (1993), but behind both pieces is a hidden source: two plainchants from the Liber Usualis - the 'Haec dies' Easter music and 'Domine audivi' from Habakkuk 3:3. The music of Sibelius, in particular its possibilities of self-generating form, was also central to my thinking, having recently studied and conducted Sibelius's Symphonies 6 and 7 with several orchestras. "

Since moving to the Orkney Islands in 1971, Davies' music often draws on Scottish themes. During his piece, I could imagine myself on hills, and though I've never been to Scotland, I could imagine the scenery, and my mind would take me back to my holidays in Cornwall and Wales, the closest I could come to Scotland. At the start, the music made me think of a ship in a storm, fighting against the waves. I could hear the wind and the gulls, then the crash of waves against the hull, and overall had a very powerful image. It then seemed to die down, and a sound like the plaintive cry of a bird could be heard, creating a sense of greatness, of vast lands and peace, not quite loneliness, but a definite sense of being alone. As described by the conductor, it often felt as if the string instruments were being drowned by the deeper, louder brass instruments, and the moments where they managed to come back to the surface very much added to the feel of nature and windy hills. Towards the end, the soft strings played on their own, and we were left with a strange sort of feeling, a mix of abandonment, isolation, but not so strong as to be sure whether it was really loneliness, or just aloneness...

Sergei Rachmaninov's Symphony No.2 in E Minor.

Composed of four parts:

I. Largo - Allegro moderato
II. Allegro molto
III. Adagio
IV. Allegro vivare

This was the piece I'd been waiting for. I wanted to feel what others had been feeling when listening, I wanted to be taken away by the music and feel only the notes. I was not disappointed, and I truly enjoyed the moment, though it is very difficult to explain exactly why. I have included links to some videos on YouTube. Of course it will not be the same exactly as what I listened to, as conductors conduct differently, but nevertheless it will give an idea of what it was like. It is interesting to note that Rachaminov suffered from depression at some point in his life. Interesting because after he recovered he wrote Piano Concerto No. 2 which was enthusiastically received at its premiere and has since become one of the most popular and frequently played concertos in the repertoire. The fact that even after being deeply saddened over the death of Tchaikovsky, and recieving brutally negative critisicm on his First Symphony he managed to overcome his depression quite impresses me. It often seems as if most geniuses, great minds or people of great talent have suffered or still suffer from this illness. I wish I could say more to do this piece justice, but all I can say is I truly enjoyed it, I felt as though the music was lifting me up, and I would recommend a night of classical music to anyone. I left feeling exhausted, with tired eyes, but emotionally... revived. I leave you now with this last quote.

“Music is enough for a lifetime, but a lifetime is not enough for music.”
Sergei Rachmaninoff



  1. Very nice - I agree that classical music is very refreshing. I find it hard to say anything coherent about it though except general impressions. Did you like the venue? I haven't been there.

  2. Hm, I have a couple of photos of the venue, it was OK I guess, and I also have trouble talking about it properly, that's why all I did for the Rach part was ramble about his depression... :p
    Yeah, I'll add the photos if they are nice enough.