My Kind Of Music

Christopher Fowler
  The first piece of classical music I ever remember hearing was Mozart’s Horn Concerto No.4 at the age of 7. I know it was this because our headmistress had it played every Monday morning at the start of school assembly in the Invicta Infants School, Blackheath. This was followed by ‘Jupiter’ from Holst’s Planet Suite and ‘Fingal’s Cave’ by Mendelssohn, a piece of music I still can’t listen to without feeling vaguely seasick. Our first school concert outing was to ‘Peter and the Wolf’ double-billed with ‘The Young Person’s Guide to Orchestra’. I don’t think any British kid of my age managed to avoid it, whoever they were. At my next school we were invited to join the opera group, and I made nightly appearances as a dancing villager of the club-footed variety in a shrill production of Smetana’s ‘Die Verkaufte Braut'. ‘Rather overreaching for 14 year-olds’, thought my mother, ‘all those breaking voices.’ I still love it. The school used to regularly knock out a more-than-adequate ‘Barber of Seville’, although this was considered a bit too populist by the teachers. In many ways their repertoire and stagings were more adventurous than the English National Opera’s. In the eyes (and ears) of classical music lovers, my tastes have always been philistine; Offenbach and Gilbert & Sullivan over Wagner, anything Eastern European or South American over Italian. I even like those albums of popular so-called English Light Music pieces from composers like William Walton that used to go down well on old radio programmes. There aren’t too many operas I truly find find joy in, let alone like (although Verdi is exempt from this listing and I have a soft spot for Donizetti). Yet for some unearthly reason I found myself in Verona at the amphitheatre watching ‘Tosca', hoping for some Damascene conversion that would turn me into an opera lover. I tried to keep an open mind, but couldn't help feeling it was two hours and forty five minutes of my life I’d never get back. Actually it turned out to be four hours, as rain stopped play half a dozen times. The first classical concert featured the music from '2001'. The first rock concert I went to (carrying my little brother on my back) was at Wembley and starred Elton John, the Eagles and the Beach Boys. The second was Supertramp. Forgive me if I don't get excited about Harry Styles. Developmentally I got stuck at soundtracks, and became fascinated by the pilfering of classic themes for emotional moments. Even now a cluster of notes can turn me into an emotional wreck. Morricone, Barry, Mancini, Hermann, Steiner, Zimmer, DeVol and others all do the trick. Now I find myself abandoning music. One by one my passions are dropping away. I tell myself it's the result of my illness, but it's more than that. Music (even the cheap stuff I like) has the power to disturb and haunt me, and right now I am fighting to stay strong, but perhaps as this thing comes to an end I will play some Beethoven, and a little nachtmusik from Mozart and Kachaturian's Gayane Ballet Suite. And I still love Supertramp.  


Roger (not verified) Sat, 03/12/2022 - 22:34

In reply to by anonymous_stub (not verified)

I've been too deaf to listen to music for forty years after I fractured my skull - well, no, I didn't - someone else did, but you know what I mean - but I am sometimes ambushed by pieces I Ioved - the Tallis Fantasia, Beethoven's Violin Concerto, the Goldberg Variations and so on - and suddenly realise what I've been missing. Large aged men bursting into tears in public causes embarassment all round.

Cece (not verified) Sun, 04/12/2022 - 00:44

In reply to by anonymous_stub (not verified)

My mother played Peter and the Wolf for us kids when she needed a break. It always put us to sleep and we all still love it. I have to add that I never liked Supertramp and I still get the bends from hearing them! Thank you for many happy years for me, reading your Bryant and May series.

Brooke (not verified) Sun, 04/12/2022 - 05:20

In reply to by anonymous_stub (not verified)

Men in tears upon listening to music would be a hopeful sign.
Plato warned us. Music has its own (moral?) laws, is powerful stuff and can make people unstable. And that's why I listen to music all day.

Roger (not verified) Sun, 04/12/2022 - 05:37

In reply to by anonymous_stub (not verified)

On the other hand, your mention of Mozart’s Horn Concerto No.4 revived memories of Flanders' & Swanns' version:

I once had a whim and I had to obey it
To buy a French Horn in a second-hand shop;
I polished it up and I started to play it
In spite of the neighbours who begged me to stop.

which still doubles me over.

Jo W (not verified) Sun, 04/12/2022 - 06:51

In reply to by anonymous_stub (not verified)

Music is playing around this house most of the day. I can’t stand silence, if necessary I’ll hum to myself. I turned on the radio at ten to six, on low, so as not to wake the Kraken. It’s too quiet round here on a Sunday morning.
Of course, the wrong sort of music can annoy me intensely, as Galton and Simpson wrote for Steptoe and Son, “music don’t only soove the savage breast, it gives you a bleedin’ ‘eadache as well”
Love to you both, X

Jo W (not verified) Sun, 04/12/2022 - 06:53

In reply to by anonymous_stub (not verified)

Forgot to say, men should cry and let it all out, keeping it bottled up hurts like hell!

Peter T (not verified) Sun, 04/12/2022 - 09:31

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We saw Carmen in the Arena of Verona - it stopped raining just long enough before the performance for the place to dry. It is my most relatively enjoyable of my experiences of opera. Thanks to the huge stage and army of performers, it was, for this philistine, rather like a Breugel painting: never mind appreciating the quality, feel the quantity.

Granny (not verified) Sun, 04/12/2022 - 11:51

In reply to by anonymous_stub (not verified)

The reason I don't play music is that it makes me cry, anything I like makes me cry, I feel better keeping my emotional corsets on.
I do not like silence but my hearing aid has Bluetooth!! Wonders of science, so I play books and films all the day long.

Ace (not verified) Sun, 04/12/2022 - 13:33

In reply to by anonymous_stub (not verified)

For shame. No mention of the stage work of England's own, Benjamin Britten. Surely you've seen 'Peter Grimes' and 'The Turn of the Screw.' -- two of the very best of the genre. I've had the good fortune to hear some of the great voices of our time, but have long thought that the performance of an opera audience is often more entertaining than the action (other than the singing) on the stage. Now --- anyone can yell 'Bravo!' and applaud, as etiquette dictates, after an aria, an ensemble or an act --- but the true opera buff can run through an entire cast by gender and number ('Bravo!' 'Brava!' 'Bravi' 'Brave,' along with the -issimos and -issimas) and often rapturously applauds at will --- especially if a singer has paused, almost imperceptibly, to take a breath.If you thought the four hours you spent waiting for Tosca (spoiler alert) to fling herself over a parapet was excessive, try to sit through an uncut version of Wagner's 'Die Meistersinger von Nürnberg' at roughly six hours.without visions of a pint and a loo dancing in your head. Does wonders for bladder control.

A Holme (not verified) Sun, 04/12/2022 - 14:17

In reply to by anonymous_stub (not verified)

Two wonderful Supertramp songs are 'Give a Little Bit' which I feel would make the dead dance and 'If Everyone was Listening' which still makes me cry. The power of melody.

Brooke (not verified) Sun, 04/12/2022 - 14:40

In reply to by anonymous_stub (not verified)

An old, unimaginative nonwhite opera lover, I agree with Ace's comment about Britten's Peter Grimes. Act II hits hard with the worship service and then the women expressing their lives governed by men and the sea. Britten is great but so is Slater. The magic of the librettist.

BarbaraBoucke (not verified) Sun, 04/12/2022 - 15:00

In reply to by anonymous_stub (not verified)

Emotions take energy. That isn't always a negative experience, but it is a reality. Va Pensiero from Nabucco and Au Fond du Temple Saint from The Pearl Fishers always cause some tears to fall. On the other hand, Rossini's La Gazza Ladra can boost my spirits.
Take care of yourself Mr. Fowler. That is the most important thing.

Brooke (not verified) Sun, 04/12/2022 - 16:11

In reply to by anonymous_stub (not verified)

During the pandemic I emailed a link to the Royal Opera Chorus singing Va Pensiero to a friend. He burst into tears, called me to say that strangely he felt better.

Helen+Martin (not verified) Sun, 04/12/2022 - 21:52

In reply to by anonymous_stub (not verified)

Should I be sad or glad that I don't know Supertramp (other than their name) at all?
I wonder if the radio version of Die Meistersinger I heard back when CBC radio carried The Metropolitan Opera on Saturdays was cut. It wasn't 6 hours, I know that. Maybe they just didn't say so. It did have a second intermission, though, so we would have had the Opera Quiz

Ace (not verified) Sun, 04/12/2022 - 21:54

In reply to by anonymous_stub (not verified)

When you mention music from '2001' and soundtracks as part of your music appreciation 'development,' you remind me that what you no doubt heard at that first classical concert was not something from the original score Kubrick had commissioned. As a notable man about cinema, you probably remember that Kubrick had provided composer Alex North ('Spartacus,' 'Dr. Strangelove') with a number of 'evocative' classical pieces (including the now iconic Strauss, 'Thus Spake Zarathustra') as a guide to what he was looking for in a soundtrack. North had his own ideas --- good ones if you listen to the subsequent recording of his work --- but not apparently good enough for Kubrick who went with the classical pieces instead. As much as I enjoy the North effort, I think Kubrick made the right choice in the end.

Cornelia Appleyard (not verified) Mon, 05/12/2022 - 11:16

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On the subject of Britten, if you feel inclined to listen to seasonal music, his Ceremony Of Carols takes some beating.

Joan (not verified) Mon, 05/12/2022 - 13:58

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The only Opera that I remember seeing was Carmen, sung in French when I was a teenager. It was an experience that I will never forget, all that blood and thunder appealed to me when I was 18.
But speaking of music, we had to March into school, two by two to music every morning, and it was often It’s a Long Way to Tipperary. Sometimes The Yellow Rose Of Texas, I have often wondered why those tunes were picked. Of course we had no idea where Tipperary was!

HR (not verified) Mon, 05/12/2022 - 15:12

In reply to by anonymous_stub (not verified)

This has been around for years, but just in case you missed it/have forgotten, type in 'O Fortuna - misheard lyrics'. The words themselves are wonderfully silly:

'This octopus -
Let's give him boots -
Send him to North Korea'

-and the drawings are a joy.

I find that silliness works better than music for me, but if you find both at once (as here) it's a bonus.

Chris Erickson (not verified) Mon, 05/12/2022 - 17:39

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One must not overlook The Rutles if a bit of silliness is what you enjoy along side a good pop tune.

Trace Turner (not verified) Mon, 05/12/2022 - 18:25

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I can't hear The Barber of Seville without seeing the Bugs Bunny and Elmer Fudd cartoon version in my head...even thinking about it makes me smile a bit

Jo Amey (not verified) Mon, 05/12/2022 - 21:23

In reply to by anonymous_stub (not verified)

I'm thinking about a playlist of songs as an accompaniment for reading Bryant and May books. 'Sultans of Swing' is going to be included as for me it encapsulates that world of missing a vanished London, carrying on anyway and just going down the pub. The Small Faces might make an appearance as well.

Helen+Martin (not verified) Tue, 06/12/2022 - 05:06

In reply to by anonymous_stub (not verified)

They used to say that you were a person of musical taste if you could hear the William Tell Overture without thinking of the Lone Ranger.

John Griffin (not verified) Wed, 07/12/2022 - 14:58

In reply to by anonymous_stub (not verified)

On playing RVW's Tallis:
Wife "OMG that is a disturbing, doomy piece. What do you want to play that for?"
Self: "For my funeral".
I have also tabled Hendrix "Purple Haze" and an excerpt from a piece by Finnish symphonic metal band Nightwish.
My wife hates "Dark side of the Moon" in its entirety, but remains an ardent Bolan fan.

L Anderson (not verified) Fri, 09/12/2022 - 18:25

In reply to by anonymous_stub (not verified)

Who is Harry Styles?

Paul c (not verified) Fri, 09/12/2022 - 19:21

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Funeral music - Going Underground by The Jam for me. I never could resist black humour.....

chazza (not verified) Sun, 11/12/2022 - 13:15

In reply to by anonymous_stub (not verified)

I like to listen to Devo whilst doing the housework; the dusting takes on strange unnatural purposes..
The Kinks and Ray Davies for Eastmancolour - tinged London nostalgia...

Helen+Martin (not verified) Mon, 12/12/2022 - 00:22

In reply to by anonymous_stub (not verified)

Please can I repeat the wonderful school story about the British national anthem. A primary age child was drawing a picture to illustrate the anthem and showed his teacher a drawing of a pair of shoes. She spoke carefully asking the child the background to his drawing. "It's the first bit, " the child replied. "You know, God save our grey shoes queen." I have always loved that one. I'm leaving.

Karen Babich (not verified) Mon, 12/12/2022 - 14:22

In reply to by anonymous_stub (not verified)

I agree that listening to music involves energy and emotion. On ordinary days, I do better when I listen to some music. I also understand conserving energy and brain power when necessary.

Excellent big brother, you, taking your sib to concerts. Supertramp! I had their live double album but never saw them play. I was a lucky sibling too: my brother gave me a lift in his car and a spare ticket to see ELO with him, and it was brilliant. (This was at the Chicago Stadium -- where, only a few years earlier, the Democratic Party held their national convention. US partisan politics, very domestic, but I understand that some of it made the news.)

I don't mind opera music, but that's probably because my parents' scant record collection provided my childhood sountrack for dancing etc. outside of the (US) radio. That included at three operas (La Traviata, La Boheme, and Faust), Harry Belafonte, Roger Miller, and Sing Along with Mitch, plus a couple of concertos and the Beethoven symphonies. Live opera can be a magnificent spectacle, but I can't imagine enjoying it if you don't care for the music.

I still like ELO, and Supertramp, and all the other great '70s music, plus a lot of what's come about since. There's no accounting for taste.

Wayne Mook (not verified) Tue, 13/12/2022 - 00:08

In reply to by anonymous_stub (not verified)

Logical Song was sampled in a happy hardcore/techno song by Scooter (German 3 piece, they have a good sense of humour - one of their tunes is going on about dancing when the MC says 'by the way how much is the fish? The tune is called 'How Much is the Fish?') of course being hardcore the sample sounds like Pinky and Perky singing. Which reminds me I keep meaning to read some of Davies (the Welsh poet they got their name from, not the band member.) poetry.

I used work with someone who hated classical music and asked, 'Do you really like that plinky-plonk music?' Put that way it was quite hard to answer.

Happily I grew up with many types of music so even now I like some of the new stuff, couldn't tell you what's in the throbbing 40 though.