My summer school teaching is looming, so I will soon be engaged with preparing some new material, including the music of Sibelius and Nielsen. At present, I’m teaching the music of Brahms, and exploring the British music scene in the early C20th as a way in to the art song of Peter Warlock (1894-1930). And I have just completed the fifth month of my symphony-a-day ‘symphathon’.
My research time this year has been taken up researching the earlier music career of Marc Bolan and that has been very interesting. I have a pretty clear idea of the themes nd the scope of the book. Exploring some of the musical equipment used in the late 1960s has been fun too. A new double CD Best of T Rex called For All The Cats has just appeared and I can recommend it to anyone not familiar with T Rex. The first two-thirds of the second CD in particular captures the enchantment of his earlier songs.
Creatively, I’m stockpiling song ideas for an album. Not sure when I’ll get a chance to record it.
I’ve just finished reading a book called The New Shostakovich by Ian MacDonald, first published in the late 80s and since revised and reissued. MacDonald is well-known as the author of one of the best books on The Beatles Revolution in the Head. The book is a harrowing account of the terrible conditions under which Shostakovich composed his 15 symphonies. It raises many interesting points about music and meaning, and music and irony / satire. I was struck by this passage: ‘By reserving the right to project our private meanings on his music, we distance ourselves from the very life impacts that Shostakovich, far from seeking to evade, met head-on and made the subject of his work. To the extent that we turn art into whatever we want it to mean, we forfeit the chance of being changed by it.’ MacDonald then quotes someone saying of the effect of the Eleventh Symphony: ‘The poetics of shock. For the first time in my life, I left a concert thinking about others instead of myself.’