More than a shiver down the back…and a question….

Playing on BBC Radio 3 at the moment is a recording of Sibelius 2nd Symphony by the BBC Scottish Symphony Orchestra conducted by Robert Spano. Spano is a young (b1961) american conductor whom I have never knowingly come across before.

This is a great reading of the symphony so far…. tugging at my emotions as it should. I will surely look for Kullervo conducted by this man.

I love the orchestral works of Sibelius. My earliest memories of hearing any are of The Swan of Tuonela heard in music lessons at school. I loved the idea of and English Horn (oh yes , I’m English) representing this sacred bird that swims around the Island of The Dead.

Then something happened to me that opened up a whole world of music of (for me) deep spiritual beauty.

As yo may know I was sent off to a state run boarding Grammar School. Our dormitories were ex WWII Nissen Huts. Cold in winter and hot in Summer. My parents moved away from Norfolk and so I spent my Half Term Holidays with my grandmother at Wells next the Sea in Norfolk. Oh those wonderful, wide open, huge Norfolk skies!

One day, it must have been a Sunday, I was in her kitchen and listening with half an ear to Desert Island Discs with Roy Plomley. ( Only a Briton would come up with a format for a programme in which a celebrity is interviewed and asked to choose eight gramophone records to take onto a Desert Island on which they would be marooned and then at the last minute be asked to choose only one out of the eight).

I suddenly heard the interviewee for that day say, Well, Roy, If I am to e marooned on a  Desert Island then I must have something to remind me of Northern winters. So I have chosen Sibelius 2nd Symphony”

And out of the small kitchen radio came the most exquisit music I had ever heard and I stood and wept and wept, I didn’t know why then and I still don’t know,  fifty years later.. but as the music reaches its climax I weep even now.

Phew…it does it just about every time…. I cannot think of another composer whose music affects me like that… in any genre.

Someone asked me why I love the music of Sibelius so much. I thought that it is because it sounds, to me, so English.  A few years after that I was listening to the radio and ready to record a Sibelius concert when the good old BBC played a tape of an interview with the great man himself. I didn’t understand a word but he was apparently being asked who he thoguht played his music the best> “The English.” was his reply.

Now the question;

Do you have one piece of music that affects you as deeply and for no explained reason? or Am I just plain odd?

Do you want to listen? Here is a link to a good BBC programme about the work. It works here with Real Player.

Sibelius Symphony No.2 BBC Discovering Music

Young Jean Sibelius in Vienna c1891

Towards the end of his life. What strength.


6 Responses to “More than a shiver down the back…and a question….”

  1. Conrad Says:

    David, I have no particular piece, but my daughter’s involvement with a marvelous high school choral group – good enough that some composers use them to premier their works – changed my entire relationship to classical music. I commonly find myself listening and tears rolling down my face now. I can’t explain it quite, but it is though a part of my brain has been turned on and wired directly to my emotions. I also can’t explain it, because it seems that part of my brain is not the part that “explains.”

    I was struck by this beautiful post of yours with the congruity with advice given in one of Hesse’s books to one of his main characters that his challenge was to learn to appreciate the symphony played on an AM radio. This is a post with layered meaning for life.

  2. Ursula Says:

    Yes, Magpie, the power of music. What you have written with such blunt honesty has me nearly in tears myself.

    I grew up in a household immersed in classical music. As early as aged eight my father would sit me down and ask me who I thought the composer was. For a young girl a little tough at times. Though taught me well.

    You have raised a most wonderful subject with your question; my mind is reeling and I have to rein myself in as not to explode the capacity of your comment box.

    There is a Christmas song (don’t laugh) which, without fail, makes my tears fall every single time since I discovered it about ten years ago. It’s to be played at my funeral (let’s hope I won’t die in June) and transports me back to my earliest life when standing underneath my grandmother’s candle lit Christmas tree. Yes, Magpie, we are in Shirley Temple land now, complete with cute curls. I can’t believe I am admitting to this in a public place.

    “Desert Island Disks” (apart from Alistair Cooke’s “Letter from America” and BBC 4’s”Today” programme) was one of my first treasured discoveries when I moved to England. Since most of those packed off to the Pacific have already lived a few decades I have always wondered how on earth they are able to reduce their life to eight pieces (and, as you say, then have to choose THE ONE). At least I know what my luxury would be.

    Oh, Magpie, when was the last time someone mentioned Sibelius to me?


    PS If it’s ok with you – and once I have worked out how to do it – may I put a link to this post of yours on my – and other blogs?

  3. Magpie11 Says:

    I seem to have touched a couple of spots with this one….

    There’s not much for me to say…

    feel free to link away… If it’s really worth it.

    The thing about wiring up the brain…it’s a mystery that is in the process of being solved by scientists. I doubt if the knowledge will ever detract from the wonder of it all… But, when it comes down to it, all we are is a bundle of chemicals. A complex bundle ordered in some way but still chemicals.
    One memory of listening to music as a child is of getting into trouble for trying to read the labels as they spun at 78 rpm playing Django Reinhardt and Stephan Grapelly or listening to THE 1812 overture on Two Way Family Favourites and waiting a) for the canons and b) for the de-de de-de de-de dum de dum and so on! Sometimes The Ritual Fire Dance was on the tyurntable and I was told how to imaging the fire flickering out with the last few notes and then watching the flame on the oil stove used for cooking flickering when the wick was turned down.

  4. Rummuser Says:

    Yes. It is a Hindustani Raga called Bhairavi, which is an early morning raga and the song which is most popular for that raga is Babul Mora. It is a song composed by Bahadur Shah Jaffar, the last Ruler of Awad, and is a newly married bride singing farewell to her father as she gets into the palanquin. My favourite singer, Bhimsen Joshi, inevitably sang it at about 5 in the morning after a night long music extravaganza every year in Pune for the Bal Gandharva Music Festival.

  5. Magpie11 Says:

    I’m sure that I have a recording with that particular Raga on it some where. Tell me does it matter what tal (is that the correct spelling?) it is played in? That has always been a mystery to me…

    One of the things I love about Northern Indian music is the always seems to open the mind to the rest of the performance…

    Do you know Indo Jazz Fusions? John Mayer and Joe Harriott were the originators..

    Joe was a West Indian saxophonist who had a large effect on “free jazz” as a style. John Mayer was a musician composer trained in both western and Indian Classical music. memories from College Days.

  6. Rummuser Says:

    Depending on a particular mood in which the tune is sung, the tala can be different, but once the raga has started, the raga remains the same till the end though the tempo will change. Yes, the Alaap is when the raga is expounded the framework created. Yes, I have heard a lot of fusion music with both Hindustani and Carnatic musicians jamming with jazz performers. Ranjan is more into it and attend live programs which are very common in Pune. Our home plays host to quite a few of them.

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