One of my current projects is to listen to all classical music, in order. Why? Because until now it has always been one of those things that has eluded me, and I don’t like the sensation of not knowing about something. I don’t like feeling stupid; and I don’t like people who pretend they are clever purely because they happen to know a very simple thing that I don’t. Yes, it’s to get more answers right on TV quizzes, that’s it.
So far, as of today, I’m up to Chopin, romantic era, first half of the nineteenth century. I skipped all the medieval and renaissance composers because when you’ve heard one Gregorian chant you’ve heard them all and it’s not as if those tunes come up very often. No, I stated with Monteverdi, who invented the chord sequence for The Farm’s ‘All Together Now’ and a thousand other pop songs, then did Purcell, Scarlatti, Vivaldi, Johann Bach, Handel, Carl Bach, Haydn, Salieri, Mozart, Beethoven, Schubert, Rossini. Berlioz, Straus and Mendelssohn. It’s what Spotify is for.
It wasn’t all entirely unfamiliar. I already love Bach’s stuff, it sounds like maths, and Mozart’s stuff, which sounds like people camping it up in powered wigs. Still haven’t quite ‘got’ Beethoven. But the revelation for me was Mendelssohn’s Hebrides Overture, aka ‘Fingal’s Cave’. I’ve listened to it about five times a day over the last few days. I’ve downloaded it. It’s just so extroardinarily brilliant; the way the melody summons up images of tranquil, wind-blasted rugged Scottish isles, before shifting into storms, all the time working around the same chord progression, before shifting back to blue skies, before repeating until the most devastating, dramatic climax. It’s one of those tunes you have to play again immediately after hearing it – only this time, slightly louder.