As we enter the second week of Lockdown here in the UK with the majority of us now staying at home, I have spent a lot of time thinking about ways in which I can keep my choirs entertained during this period. One of things some of my choirs have started sharing is their 8 ‘Lockdown Discs’ following the format of the popular Radio 4 Show Desert Island Discs. Essentially it asks for 8 music tracks, a book and a luxury. Since I’m never likely to be on the actual show, here is my contribution.
In no particular order (other than the last choice…)
Johann Sebastian Bach – Cello Suite No.1 in G Major (BWV 1007)
JS Bach wrote a total of 6 Cello Suites between approximately 1717 and 1723 whilst he was in charge of music in Kothen. As usual in a Baroque musical suite, after the prelude which begins each suite, all the other movements are based around baroque dance types. The cello suites are structured in six movements each: prelude, allemande, courante, sarabande, two minuets or two bourrées or two gavottes, and a final gigue.
The prelude of Suite no.1 is perhaps the best known and whilst I don’t know very much about Cello music, there is something evocative about the opening and I always imagine it being played in a large empty space such as a deserted Cathedral at night. So for me this piece has become very synonymous with Lockdown.
Joseph Haydn – Trumpet Concerto in Eb Major
This concerto, often cited as Haydn’s most popular concerto was written in 1796 for his long-time friend Anton Weidinger. Anton Weidinger developed a keyed trumpet which could play chromatically throughout its entire range. Before this, the trumpet was valveless and could only play a limited range of harmonic notes by altering the vibration of the lips. Haydn therefore took on the challenge to write something for trumpet which made use of the new found abilities of the instrument.
To be honest, Weidinger’s first attempts at drilling holes in a trumpet were fairly rubbish and the sound quality wasn’t great. However, by the 1830s (by which time Haydn was nearly dead) the valve trumpet came along, which is the variant of the instrument which is most popular today.
I first came across this piece when studying music A Level – it is obviously an important piece for the reasons outlined above. It’s also got a damned good tune. If you don’t know it, you should!
Stacey Kent – The Ice Hotel
‘The Ice Hotel’, was written by Jim Tomlinson & Kazuo Ishiguro in 2007, for Stacey’s Grammy-nominated album ‘Breakfast on the Morning Tram’.
Stacey Kent is undoubtedly my favourite contemporary artist and in my humber opinion the best jazz singer in the world today. I first came across Stacey when I was invited to a concert at The Stables in Milton Keynes way back in 2003. In fact I have been making the pilgrimage to hear her there every year since – on my 30th Birthday in 2005 she even dedicated a song to me courtesy of a friend of mine who had contacted her manager. The thing is I was so emotional at the time that I can’t actually remember what the song was!
It’s also interesting to note that Stacey says this of her first meeting Kazuo Ishiguro:
I was listening to Kazuo being interviewed on Desert Island Discs, in 2002, with my husband Jim, as I’d read The Unconsoled and The Remains of the Day and was a huge fan. So I was shocked when one of the records he picked was mine. It was amazing and I wrote him a thank-you letter saying how thrilled I was, and we started corresponding by email.
She goes on to say how they met up for lunch and then Jim Tomlinson (Stacey’s husband) had the idea they should write a song together. And this is one of the first of that collaboration.
Johann Sebastian Bach – Christmas Oratorio (BWV 248)
The Christmas Oratorio was written for use in Church during the Christmas and written for that period in 1734. The Christmas Oratorio is in six parts, each part being intended for performance on one of the major feast days of the Christmas period. The piece is often presented as a whole or split into two equal parts.
Bach expresses the unity of the whole work within the music itself, in part through his use of key signatures. Parts I and III are written in the keys of D major, part II in its subdominant key G major. The music represents a particularly sophisticated expression of the parody technique, by which existing music is adapted to a new purpose. Bach took the majority of the choruses and arias from works which had been written some time earlier.
I first came across this piece whilst studying music at GCSE. I remember the Head of Music at Cranleigh, David Hansell, also my organ teacher and good friend to this day, saying that when he conducted this work he got to the end of the first movement (Jauchzet, frohlocket!) feeling . And then took up the baton again to continue for 3 more hours of the best music ever written.
Edward Elgar – The Spirit of the Lord is Upon Me
After his international success with the Enigma Variations (1899) and The Dream of Gerontius (1900), Elgar was commissioned by the Birmingham Triennial Music Festival to write a new choral work. The result was ‘The Apostles’.
This anthem is actually the prologue from this Oratorio and depicts the disciples of Jesus and their reactions to the extraordinary events they witness. Just as for the rest of the libretto, the verses in The Spirit Of The Lord Is Upon Me have been assembled directly from the Bible by Elgar.
I have many good memories of singing this piece during evensong in my time at Royal Holloway, University of London back in the early 90s.
John Rutter – The Lord Bless You and Keep You
This may prove a dividing choice. Apparently ‘musicians’ aren’t supposed to admit liking John Rutter. But it has to be said he does usually write a good tune regardless of whether you think it’s all formulaic and derived from something which could serve well as a Grade 5 theory composition.
For me the defining moment is the Amen. If you ever need a conclusion to anything at all – just play the Amen from this piece.
Charles-Marie Widor – Organ Symphony No6 (Op42.No.2) – Finale
Widor composed the work, one of ten organ symphonies, when he was organist at Saint-Sulpice, a post he held from 1870. The church features a main organ by Aristide Cavaillé-Coll which inspired the composer who wrote “If I had not experienced the seduction of these timbres or the mystical attraction of this wave of sound, I would never have written organ music.”
As an organist I could have easily come up with 8 pieces of organ music but figured that would be quite dull for everyone else. It may come as a surprise that my favourite organ piece is not by JS Bach. But let’s face it that would be rather predictable – and anyway how do you pick the best of Bach’s organ works? ClavierUung III perhaps?
Anyway, despite Widor 6 being one of my favourite pieces of organ music I have only recently learnt it and am still hoping to perform it at one or more Cathedral visits this year – Lockdown permitting.
And finally, saving the best for last…..
Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart – Requiem in D Minor (K626)
Mozart’s Requiem was left incomplete at his death on December 5, 1791. Until the late 20th century the work was most often heard as it had been completed by Mozart’s student Franz Xaver Süssmayr. Wolfgang only ever finished only the “Introit.” The “Kyrie,” “Sequence,” and “Offertorium” were sketched out. The last three movements—“Benedictus,” “Agnus Dei,” and “Communio”—remained unwritten, and nearly all the orchestration was incomplete. Some say Mozart only got as far as the first 8 bars of the Lacrimosa.
For me, regardless of how much Mozart actually wrote, this is perhaps one of the finest pieces of choral music ever penned by the best composer who ever lived. One of my wishes is that it is, in some form, performed at my funeral, but only as far as Bar 8 of the Lacrimosa…
In addition to the 8 tracks you are also permitted to take a book and a luxury item. The book was the hardest thing to come up with.
Ideally I would take my 20 volume Grove Dictionary of Music and Musicians, but I suspect that might not be allowed as it’s more than one book.
So it would have to a book that I bought many years ago to accompany me on a visit to Gambia. The English Gentleman Abroad by Douglas Sutherland.
Dating back to the days of the Grand Tour of Europe, the premise is that the English Gentleman invented abroad. This book appears to my slightly odd sense of humour and is politically incorrect on every possible level, which is what makes it so wonderful. For those who don’t know the book here is a short excerpt from a chapter entitled ‘Conversation Abroad’.
The general rule that the Englishman at home would rather die than address a remark, even in a first class railway carriage, to a fellow traveller, is, by tacit agreement, abided by.
An even more firmly entrenched rule is that the closer a neighbour is in terms of geography, the less proper it is to indulge in any form of meaningful dialogue. Thus cheek-by-jowl householders who have lived next door to each other for quarter of a century would not consider that sufficient reason to raise their hats should they chance to encounter each other in the street.
Conversation between neighbours is only permissible in (a) times of national emergency like a rail strike or England threatened with having to follow on in the final test at the Oval or (b) a declaration of war. The exception to this is when abroad….
This was perhaps the easiest decision of all, I would take my Piano.