Thursday, June 10, 2004

Epiphany time

Since my fellow music-bloggers are doing their musical epiphanies at the moment, I thought I'd do some too.

It's not easy, because I learned most of my music rather subconsciously. My father, who was a neuropathologist, lived for music when he wasn't at work and used to have BBC Radio 3 on all the time, from 7am onwards. So over breakfast before school I'd probably have absorbed the Dvorak Czech Suite, a Mozart concerto, a Haydn symphony, usually conducted by Dorati - ah, those were the days! - and a piece or two of Debussy or Saint-Saens. I've always been fortunate in having a good aural memory (though I'm fairly useless on visual imagination) so the BBC provided me with a basis for My Life Since Then that has proved more than a bit useful.

Dad also used to take me to the Conway Hall chamber music concerts on Sunday evenings, where I got to know the string quartet repertoire, plus various piano quintets, a trio or three and the Ravel Introduction and Allegro. The latter must have made a big impression because I have a vivid memory of watching Marisa Robles and being transfixed by the sounds she was conjuring out of the angelic contraption under her hands. I still adore the piece. The Conway Hall has a text on its proscenium arch that says TO THINE OWN SELF BE TRUE. Interesting contemplation material...

More vivid still, however, was something I once heard in the car coming home from the Conway Hall when I was eight. We'd come out from some string quartet performance, got in the car, Dad of course switched on R3 - and out poured the most astonishing sound. A soprano singing passionately in a weird language. An oboe; throbbing off-beat strings; and then a horn melody that transported me to a world I didn't know existed. It was the most beautiful thing I'd ever heard, bar nothing, and I was left (so they told me) speechless.I already loved Tchaikovsky ballet music, but I'd never heard of Eugene Onegin. This was the Letter Scene. Now, however much I enjoy my French stuff, however far I travel to see Korngold's Die tote Stadt and however often I sing through the whole of The Magic Flute in my mind, there is still no opera dearer to me than Eugene Onegin.

I sometimes wonder what my father would think of Radio 3 today if he was still alive.