If the freedom of speech is taken away then dumb and silent we may be led, like sheep to the slaughter.

- George Washington

Friday, 19 March 2010

Desert Island Discs 6

Six already? Crikey, I have hardly started!

Today's offering is the first piece of classical music that I liked, independently of what anyone told me to like, or presented to me as 'good' music that I should like. In the context of the pantheon of 'Greats', Max Bruch will always be a minor composer. But that doesn't take away from the fact that he wrote some very good pieces. This is probably the most-played movement from his best-known work, the first Violin Concerto in G minor.

I first heard the piece as a record I borrowed from a girlfriend. She recommended it (well, it's very romantic) and I thought I would do it the honour of a quick listen before I handed it back. At the time I was playing in a band. There were only three of us - Neil on bass guitar, Ricky on drums and me on lead guitar. This limited us somewhat in what we could play (to say nothing of our very moderate talents as musicians), so we tended to play stuff that sounded OK with two parts and a rhythm section - Wishbone Ash covers, basic blues, Cream (and how I loved being the band's version of Slowhand), Free and Fleetwood Mac. Mainly chunky three-chord or 12-bar stuff that we could get away with in the clubs and dances that liked us enough to ask us back.

I had picked up the guitar after giving up on the piano at the age of 11. I could read music, if rather slowly, but I was never comfy with the piano. The guitar I got on with straight away. I learned about music through the guitar, so I got a good understanding of chord harmony from the outset, and I had good relative pitch as well. I found improvising quite easy, and while I never was what I would call 'good' on the instrument, I was more-or-less competent. The music I liked best was a strong melody set against a contrapuntal bass line, so bands like Free and Cream, with their very spare instrumentation, were what I listened to most.

And then came Bruch's Violin Concerto, with its soaring violin melody against a rich and sometimes contrasting background. I understood what the music was about straight away, in a way that I had never felt about symphonies or choral works. I listened to the record over and over again, taped it, gave it back, and then listened again. I think I still have that tape somewhere. I felt I knew what the composer was trying to say, and that was a first for me.

Familiarity breeds confidence, and having listened to more Bruch stuff (nothing like as good), I branched out into Bach (the Brandenberg Concertos were an early favourite), and then Mozart, Handel, Schubert and the rest. I think in those composers I found my metier; I have never liked modern Classical music very much, with the sole exception of Britten, as described in an earlier post.

The piece is in three movements. I have chosen the second, the adagio, as it is achingly beautiful. The way the violin and orchestra work together towards the piercingly sweet conclusion tugs at my heart every time I hear it.

Max Bruch, Violin Concerto No. 1 in G minor, second movement, adagio, played by Chloë Hanslip with the LSO, conducted by Martin Brabbins.


  1. My my Richard, your string playing has improved a bit since the imitation Cream days!

  2. Oh I just noticed it was Chloe with an umlaut playing solo! Must get my horrible varifocals seen to.

    Have a good weekend, N

  3. [blushes] Yes, I'm not too bad on the old fiddle these days! That Kennedy chap is asking for lessons again, but I just can't be arsed any more.

  4. Why does the Bruch Violin Concerto always get women weepy and erm, accessible?

  5. Does it? Golly, I'd better dust off that CD and get to work!


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