Sylvestra Le Touzel and Paul Jesson explore, via readings, what we do when we make music, from first steps through practice to public performance, and music from jazz to classical.
As the Proms season comes to its final week we feature a series of readings from Sylvestra Le Touzel and Paul Jesson considering what we do when we create, practice and perform music. The writers featured include Charles Dickens, Jane Austen, William Shakespeare, Philip Larkin, John Dryden and James Joyce. The music comes from composers and performers such as Bach, Mozart, Saint-Saëns, Keith Jarrett, Joni Mitchell, Sidney Bechet and William Alwyn.
Producer: Harry Parker
(Main image: Royal Albert Hall. Credit : Chris Christodoulou)
Timings (where shown) are from the start of the programme in hours and minutes
Marianne Boruch, 1950
Little Fugue, read by Sylvestra Le Touzel
That Music Always Round Me, read by Paul Jesson
Elizabeth Barrett Browning
A Musical Instrument, read by Sylvestra Le Touzel
For Sidney Bechet, read by Paul Jesson
Sonnet 128: How oft, when thou, my music, music playst, read by Sylvestra Le Touzel
From Bleak House, read by Paul Jesson
Lynda Hull, 1954
Lost Fugue for Chet, read by Sylvestra Le Touzel
John Dryden, 1631 1700
Alexanders Feast; or, the Power of Music (to celebrate Saint Cecilia's Day 1697), read by Paul Jesson
From Pride and Prejudice, read by Sylvestra Le Touzel
Philip Levine (1928 2015)
On 52nd Street, read by Paul Jesson
Andrew Solomon, New York Times February 9, 1997
The Jazz Martyr, read by Paul Jesson
Chamber Music, read by Sylvestra Le Touzel
G. K. Chesterton
Strange Music, read by Paul Jesson
Betterthan Music! For Iwho Heard It, read by Sylvestra Le Touzel
Producer's Notes: Making Music
The programme starts, as many children do, with Benjamin Britten’s The Young Person’s Guide to the Orchestra. Written in 1945, the piece is based on music Henry Purcell composed in 1695 for a performance of Abdelazar, a play by the pioneering woman writer Aphra Behn. Britten’s Variations and Fugue on a Theme of Purcell was first used in an educational film entitled Instruments of the Orchestra which had narration explaining the instruments and how they worked together. “The blowing instruments - some are made of wood. They are called the wood wind.” Marianne Boruch’s 1950 poem Little Fugue also concerns young people, a conductor and players, tackling a fugue - a composition in which themes are repeated and interweave with each other.
A prelude and a fugue follow from Bach’s Well-Tempered Clavier. This was a 1722 book of preludes and fugues which had the express purpose of being "for the profit and use of musical youth desirous of learning, and especially for the pastime of those already skilled in this study". There was one for each of the keys providing an exercise in playing in all twenty-four. This is the very first piece from book one: No1 in C Major.
Walt Whitman explores the idea of the interweaving lines that make music greater than the sum of its parts in his poem That Music Always Round Me taken from his 1900 collection Leaves of Grass. It’s not clear which piece of music he was thinking of but it could easily have been Haydn’s Missa pro defuncto Archiepiscopo Sigismundo also known as his Requiem. The Benedictus seems to illustrate the point perfectly.
Elizabeth Barrett Browning not only describes the making of music, but the faun god Pan making the reed pipe that makes it, in A Musical Instrument - the last poem written before her death in1861 and published posthumously by her husband Robert Browning. However it wasn’t the inspiration for Claude Debussy’s Prélude à l'après-midi d'un faune, which was, as Debussy said, “a very free illustration of Mallarmé's beautiful poem” of the same name.
Philip Larkin’s love of traditional jazz and the positive feelings engendered by the playing of a clarinettist are expressed in his 1954 poem For Sidney Bechet and in What Is This Thing Called Love we hear Bechet hold the notes that Larkin says make him feel the way love should.
The clarinet is also the instrument of the street musician whose playing For Free Joni Mitchell contrasts with her own cosseted way of making music in a track from her 1970 album Ladies of the Canyon.
In Sonnet 128, How oft when thou, my music, music play’st, William Shakespeare, like Larkin, sees the playing of an instrument as provoking feelings of love - this time in a lover who watches the object of his or her affection playing a keyboard instrument, probably a virginal. Perhaps they are alone or perhaps the player is performing socially. This is the instrument Christopher Hogwood chooses to play John, Come Kiss Me Now composed by Shakespeare’s contemporary William Byrd.
That music making was very much a social activity is illustrated in a scene from Bleak House by Charles Dickens which was first published in serial form in 1852-3. Readers would have recognised the business of playing and singing party pieces and the popular melodies mentioned: Believe Me, if All Those Endearing Young Charms, an Irish ballad not much heard now and the rousing The British Grenadiers, a traditional march played here by the Royal Army Regiment which has survived considerably better.
Lynda Hull takes us to the dank streets and canals of 1988 Amsterdam in this extract from her Lost Fugue for Chet, about the brilliant, handsome jazz singer and trumpet player Chet Baker. Baker was famously ravaged by drugs but continued to make music despite this, or perhaps because of it, although the knowledge of his decline does add an extra poignancy to a song he made famous, Let's Get Lost, which the poem cites. It was also the title of an Oscar nominated documentary on Baker from the same year.
St Cecilia is the patron saint of music and John Dryden’s poem Alexander’s Feast; or, the Power of Music was written to celebrate that saint’s day in 1697. Henry Purcell, whose theme Britten borrowed for his The Young Person’s Guide, also wrote a St Cecilia’s Day tribute. His Te Deum and Jubilate in D is from three years earlier and we hear the Jubilate.
The making of music was considered an important part of a lady’s accomplishments in the middle class and aristocratic world so deliciously satirised by Jane Austen. In Pride and Prejudice, published in 1813, Lady Catherine de Bourgh extols the virtue of practice and tells Mr Fitzwilliam Darcy how often she has told Miss Elizabeth Bennet she will never really play well unless she practices more.
The world first heard Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart’s Overture to the Magic Flute at the opera’s premiere in September 1791, a matter of weeks before the composer’s death. In it the Queen of the Night and her attendants give the Prince Tamino, a magic flute which is able to change sadness into happiness, a key example of the power of making music.
Sometimes the place that music is played has a magic of its own. New York’s 52nd Street was the location of many of the jazz clubs that flourished in the 1940s and 50s. Philip Levine wrote On 52nd Street in celebration of the area as a fount of musical creativity, although the story in the poem is of a no-show by the seminal bebop pianist Bud Powell, another troubled jazz musician, in his case plagued by mental health problems. His bass player around 1960, Oscar Pettiford, can only sit and wait. Fortunately for us, Powell was able to make it to the recording of his own 52nd Street Theme.
The physical demands of making music can be literally heard in an extract from the Köln Concert, solo piano improvisations given by Keith Jarrett and recorded in Cologne in1975 becoming the best-selling solo piano album of all time. Andrew Solomon, who wrote widely on psychology, describes Jarrett’s technique in a piece for the New York Times in 1997 entitled The Jazz Martyr.
The harp features both in the opening poems to James Joyce’s 1907 collection Chamber Music, in which the making of music is once more linked to love, and in The Strange Music by G. K. Chesterton from a few years later in 1915. Here the listener must decide whether the love is for the instrument or something more metaphorical. They are set against the third movement Adagio, Ma Non Troppo William Alwyn’s 1954 concerto Lyra Angelica For Harp And Strings.
Emily Dickinson imbues the making of music with possibly a religious and certainly a mystical force in Better - than Music! a poem not published until 1945, nearly 70 years after her death.
Having started with the beginnings of music appreciation for children we end with a peak of music making ability: the former child prodigy Maxim Vengerov, who was winning violin competitions aged ten, plays Camille Saint-Saëns Introduction & Rondo Capriccioso Op.28……. “Now the scraping instruments - these are played with a bow or plucked with the fingers and are called the strings”.
Producer: Harry Parker""Added, go to My Music