Term-time in Oxford has left little opportunity for much else recently, though I have enjoyed sharing the music of Sibelius and Vaughan Williams with students. I’ve also been pleased to start to get a grip as a listener on Lutoslawski’s Concerto for Orchestra which is quite a tough work (an SACD on Chandos).
A listen to French composer Olivier Messiaen’s famous Quartet for the End of Time led me to his ‘chord of resonance’ (C E G Bb D F# G# B) which I used as the basis for a new piano piece. It has three parts and lasts about 14 minutes. I hope to add it to the Black Purple Blue piano pieces I sketched in January and release the music as a CD.
Led Zeppelin have been much in the news recently. A few weeks ago a story spread on the web that they were going to be subjected to a law-suit directed at ‘Stairway To Heaven’ on the grounds of plagiarism from Spirit’s 1968 instrumental ‘Taurus’. I wrote about this several years ago in an extended essay on ‘Stairway’ for Dave Lewis’ Tight But Loose magazine. Revisiting the story I incline even more strongly now in the negative – that the alleged borrowing has no real substance. But already I have encountered the idea which has spread that this law-suit has caused the delay of the release of the remastered Led Zeppelin IV. I’m pretty sure there is nothing in this at all and the release schedule was planned a long time ago.
As for the remastered albums (Led Zeppelin I-III) from the bits I’ve had a listen to I can say the CD versions certainly sound impressive, and anyone who has never owned these albums can certainly buy with confidence. The deluxe versions come with an additional disc of either live versions (in the case of the debut album) or studio alternate mixes, or one or two previously unreleased songs or covers. These make interesting listening, but are not compelling for the casual listener.
Listening to the band’s debut album the other morning, released in January 1969 and recorded in October 1968, it’s striking how much of a 1960s album it is, with clear reference points to a lot of 60s rock styles. This is not a criticism. I mention it because Zeppelin are generally thought of as a Seventies band. The arrangements on the first album have many fascinating and inventive details which are a joy to pick up. John Paul Jones’ organ intro for ‘Your Time Is Gonna Come’ always strikes me as the aural equivalent of summer sunlight bursting through opened curtains, a sharp contrast to the subterranean murk of ‘Dazed and Confused’ (which, if you’re familiar with their 27 minute live versions, seems to positively zip by here). ‘Your Time’ of course kicked off the second side of the vinyl.
The additional CDs demonstrate that Zeppelin were not the most prolific of creative teams in terms of quantity of material. This sounds a strange thing to say of a band that released five classic rock albums in as many years from 1969-1973, and it should also be remembered that they spent a huge amount of time on the road. Clearly there is almost nothing left over in the vaults. Also factor in the cover versions and various blues borrowings and this aspect increases. But it must also be said that whenever you play a Zeppelin borrowing next to its original the degree of transformation of that material is always staggering. For this, they can be forgiven much.
It will be very interesting to see what Jimmy Page has in store for the next three releases, and hopefully he will expand Coda to include the various odd things which do belong with I, II and III that have been omitted so far (like ‘Hey Hey What Can I Do’)
Part two of my long feature on ‘Stairway To Heaven’ is published in Dave Lewis’ long-running Zeppelin magazine Tight But Loose. You can order it from the tbl website. Dave has recently published a very detailed colour account of the band’s final tour in Europe in 1980 as the book Feather In The Wind. He is currently planning a revised second edition of his book Then As It Was on the band’s two gigs at Knebworth in August 1979. If you’re interested in Zeppelin’s music and career his books are essential.
The first part of my 10,000 article about Led Zeppelin’s ‘Stairway To Heaven’ is now available in the Zep magazine Tight But Loose. Editor and writer Dave Lewis continues to do sterling work in chronicling the band’s history and the careers of its individual members. Here’s a link: http://www.tightbutloose.co.uk
… or to be precise, the Kensington Orchestra who, a couple of weeks ago, gave a terrific concert in London. What drew me was two of my favourite pieces of music unusually linked on the same bill: Stravinsky’s ‘Symphony in Three Movements’ and Vaughan Williams’ third symphony (‘Pastoral’), along with a short third piece I hadn’t heard before, Martinu’s ‘Memorial to Lidice’. The Martinu made an immediate impression – a colourful and humane work on a terrible historical subject (the Nazi eradication of the town of Lidice). Martinu’s star has been rising of recent years, and his sixth symphony is a firm favourite of mine. The Stravinsky piece may have a questionable grasp on what a purist would consider true symphonic form but what drive, colour, melody and invention! It is another example of how, despite his reputation as a dissonant and shocking modernist, Stravinsky’s music is full of intriguing melody. It was great to hear the Vaughan Williams live again – his pastoral symphony is one of the great works in any medium inspired by the First World War. Evidence again that his symphonic cycle is so remarkable – 9 symphonies that sound unmistakably his and yet each forges its own world. And you can pick them up in a box-set for about £20 these days. I should mention that a couple of Vaughan Williams previously unrecorded pieces are being released this year, including his choral setting of Swinburne’s poem ‘The Garden of Proserpine’ (published in 1866). I wrote something about it on the CD sleeve and also in the current issue of the RVW Society Journal.
I’ve noted also first reports of the new Fleet Foxes album. Their debut made a big impression and I’m looking forward to hearing the new music.
On the home front, I’ve completed a piano quartet of about 15 minutes, and unexpectedly sketched a violin sonata whilst working on something else entirely. Sometimes you just have to follow wherever the ideas lead.
It looks like the long article on ‘Stairway To Heaven’ is going to appear in two parts in the next two issues of the magazine Tight But Loose. See the tbl website for details of subscriptions, etc.
Greetings to everyone who has recently registered for this blog.