Monday, May 18, 2015

Up Close

Of all the great composers Haydn is the most open to abuse. The music is so straightforwardly attractive and accessible that it's fatally easy to use it as aural wallpaper, an attractive background against which one's mind can roam on other matters. I know I'm guilty of this. Over the last year or so I've tended to use my 2 CDs of the London Symphonies in this fashion, vaguely enjoying them and thinking that one day I really must listen hard.

Well, that day has arrived - or, rather, I've had a series of such days. I've taken to very intense listening to individual symphonies sometimes in between doing other stuff - like marking. And I'm using ear-phones, which is incredibly helpful in picking out the fine detail of the music. The results have been predictably exhilarating: what is superficially attractive turns out to be deeply engaging, charming, delicate, warm, funny, touching, richly complex and sometimes downright strange.

One characteristic has stood out for me: the way in which quite a simple, straightforward tune or arrangement that you're tapping your foot to or nodding along with, can suddenly, unexpectedly turn into something extraordinarily resonant and powerful. It's as if the composer is saying he can do something magical any time he wants, but would prefer to stay down-to-earth most of the time to allow us mere mortals to breathe.

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