I first really discovered the joys of classical music in our busy kitchen… Taken to the point of irritation by my noisy and restless kids, a dose of classical music in the ear both blocked them out and lifted my humour immensely.
Above the fracas, I found solace – iPod on – listening to a collection of classical greats on ‘shuffle’ mode. One, I half recognised – but suddenly found myself very much liking. So I googled it. It was Saint-Saens Symphony No 3; aka his ‘Organ’ symphony.
Pursuing my quarry, I googled Saint-Saens the man. Poor him. Recognised as a prodigy and polymath, he is damned with the faint praise of ‘not having come up with anything genuinely new’. Just a synthesiser of the best of others and somewhat ‘derivative’. Oh dear.
I was briefly tempted to back off. But having enjoyed his ‘Carnival of the Animals’ – at the occasionally wobbly performance in which my daughter was a ‘balletic bird’ one year, I stiffened my resolve. So what if he wasn’t original, Saint-Saens improved my Sunday mood, so I stuck with him.
Next stop a classical music website to see which of the myriad versions of Symphony No 3 on iTunes might be worth a few quid. Who? Er who else but Charles Munch, of course, composing the Boston Symphony Orchestra in 1957. Fat chance of finding that, I thought. But sure enough – and not too pricey – the original RCA recording is in the iTunes store. So I bought it.
First major shock – it crackles throughout. Clearly recorded on vinyl, it’s a thumping rendition, but it crackles and pops like our old wooden Marconi record player once did when I was a kid. Bit of a shock to the ‘Digitally remastered’ system, but I warmed to it. RCA really should buy a new record deck though.
Next I googled the ‘story’ behind the composition and instead stumbled across a full length video of a US college orchestra playing it. So I had a watch…
By now an aficionado of Symphony No 3, I know it should not be shorter than 35 minutes, nor exceed 40. The best bit, from whence the organ magisterially enters the stage, is about seven and a half to eight minutes from the end.
And watching it on my iPhone I discovered an innovative thing Saint-Saens does get some credit for – some cutting-edge ‘four handed’ piano playing. The beautiful tinkly piano which follows the organ is achieved by two people playing the same ‘old Joanna’ at once. Who’d have thought it. Stunning.
Not since my son’s favourite Tom and Jerry cartoon playing Edvard Grieg (above), have so many fingers simultaneously tinkled the ivories in our house. And he made me chuckle by recognising Grieg’s Piano Concerto in A minor the other week, announcing – ‘That’s Tom and Jerry!’
So there you have it. From irritation through initiation to ‘relevant complexity’ in less than a day, with some of Csikszentmihalyi’s ‘flow’ en route and even some shared family learning via Tom and Jerry – the next step was a memorable trip to the Royal Albert Hall to enjoy Saint-Saens live with my little Miss.
Perhaps for the first time I ‘got’ classical music. Myriad, sounds, stories, instruments, conductors, orchestras, halls, versions, performances and emotions – never mind composers – all bring to life truly ‘relevant complexity’. No wonder it took my mind off noisy offspring.
Alex Ross brings the people and personalities of a century which transformed classical music to life.
Harold Schonberg does exactly what he says he will and brings great lives to great life.
For more, follow this blog or click ‘updates’ in the menu to the right and add your own recommendations via ‘comments’ below.