Time Out with Bach

We have a pond outside the barn we are renting, and two days ago, in blissful warmth, I witnessed a truly amusing spectacle. It involved a couple of ducks.

For fear of frightening them away, I did not dare approach close enough to capture it on film. For a full five minutes, two of them, side by side and just inches apart, were dipping their beaks below the water and providing a display of perfectly synchronised feeding, their backs erect and feet flapping together. Each time they emerged together at exactly the same time, before simultaneously  resuming their coordinated display.

’A poor life this if full of care, we have no time to stand and stare.’

It was a scene of purest innocence. Mesmerising and joyful in its playfulness. A reminder that with all the anger around us, there are simple things on standby to lighten the mood and bring a smile.

Music can do this, too. I was tempted to share an angry passage with you today, but I will hold fire on The Rite of Spring for a little longer. It’s fabulous, dramatic, and outrageous; but it will not fulfill the much-needed escapist category.

For that we need the trusted hand of Bach. In particular, his Six Brandenburg Concertos. And, even more particularly, his third (and shortest).

If you’ve ever wondered where the title came from, it’s the dedicatee: Bach presented them to Christian Ludwig, Margrave of Brandenburg-Schwedt in around 1720. (Pub quiz trivia fact number 1.)

Number 3 is my favourite, not because of its brevity or familiarity, but because of its unalloyed optimism. It has three movements, the outer two separated by a couple of chords which go by the grandiose definition of a ‘Phrygian half-cadence’. (Pub quiz trivia number 2.) It’s best described as the sort of phrase you would set to ‘Amen’. Here it acts as a moment to pause and take breath before one last assault of exuberance.

This recording gets the brief right. You have to remember that there were no conductors at the time of Bach and these pieces were led by one of the players, in this case the blond guy third left. Eye contact is therefore essential and you do not need to be a body language expert to see how much these players are enjoying their task, some, perhaps, more than others, resulting in this exhilarating performance.

And perfect synchronicity, too.

So take time out today, spare yourself ten minutes by clicking on the image below for a palliative as good as any.




Another pair of trousers

I was chatting to someone about classical music the other day who said he enjoyed having it on in the background while he was working.


I’m sure what he said was true. It’s by no means an unusual way to express an interest in music, and many a time have I heard it said, but it does highlight the fundamental difference between hearing and listening. I could never put something on deliberately while having to concentrate on anything else: it’s just not possible to listen to any music of choice while trying, for example, to read, do a crossword, learn some poetry (very good for exercising the little grey cells, be it the verse of  Shakespeare or the limericks of Nash), or even write this post.

One of those activities will not get your full attention. Here’s the thing: to derive the fullest benefits of classical music, you do need to actually listen; not least because each time you do, you will notice something different, something you hadn’t heard before. And the observation of that alone is enough to enhance your enjoyment.

The human voice is the one instrument we can all play.  You can take it anywhere and it does not require another seat when travelling (although I can’t deny there are times when a number of us wish my father-in-law would leave it at the church door.)  If you doubt the ability of the human voice to bring solace and delight, and a whole lot more besides, I challenge you to hold that view after these few minutes.

I wrote about ‘trouser’ roles last time and here is another, this time a duet. The Grimm tale (somewhat literally in parts) of Hänsel and Gretel is well known, and it is virtually the only music, an opera, for which Engelbert Humperdinck (1854-1921) is known. (Not to be confused with the living singer of the same name whose big hit Please Release Me might have been a suitable soundtrack for the Leave campaign bus.)

Image result for engelbert humperdinck

(Check out those ‘taches.)

Warning. The attached clip contains exquisite singing, but viewers may find the wardrobe malfunction distracting. Kathleen Battle in the red looks like she has been dropped into something, only parts of which have inflated on impact. Frederica von Stade is her fellow American singer.

So having viewed the image, I can promise that you will miss nothing by averting or closing your eyes. This will enable you to listen to two glorious voices in the parts of Hänsel and Gretel, singing The Evening Prayer in which they call upon angels to watch over them while they sleep in the forest. The combination of these two takes some beating.

The opera was a huge success and the story makes it an ideal first opera for younger ears and eyes.

Let your ears really listen. There is no right or wrong reaction, no right or wrong visuals which come to mind. Whatever your response, I hope it is a pleasurable one.

click the image –