Friday, August 17, 2007

A wonderful summer of music

Over the last month or so I've been regularly attending the BBC Proms at the Royal Albert Hall and yet again what a wonderful season it has been so far. My first time at the Proms was last year. After many previous years of watching the Last Night on TV and latterly watching some of the other Proms, I decided I really ought to go. I love classical music and the Proms has deepened and broadened my appreciation of the different styles and composers. This year I've tried to deliberately choose concerts which contain pieces which are both familiar to me and others that are new.

Last night's Prom featured three works. It opened with a piece I had not heard before, Grieg's awesome Funeral March for Rikard Nordraak. Grieg wrote the piece as an immediate reaction to the death of his friend and contemporary Rikard Nordraak who died from consumption at the tragically young age of 24. Apparently Grieg arranged the piece in various forms for a military band and brass and percussion but last night was the full orchestral version.

The second work last night was Grieg's equally impressive Piano Concerto written when he was just 25. The piece was accredited with putting Norway on the musical map and was famously sent up by Eric Morecombe who played 'all the right notes but not necessarily in all the right order' in a Morecombe & Wise Christmas Show.

The second half of the concert was Walton's First Symphony. I am becoming a fan of Walton's music although he seems to be one of those composers who is often forgotten. Trying to find recordings of his work to buy seems to be about as impossible as finding that proverbial needle in a haystack. Walton, who died in 1983, I think was one of the finest British composers of the twentieth century and I particularly like his coronation anthem, Crown Imperial and the Spitfire Prelude & Fugue from The Battle of Britain. The First Symphony is an interesting piece, the programme notes describe it as being 'convulsed with emotion' and it was written during a turbulent time in Walton's love life. A passionate relationship with Baroness Imma Doernberg had come to an end influencing much of the first part of the work, whilst a new love affair gave Walton the inspiration to complete the final movement. The piece was rather grandly described by Sir Henry Wood, founder-conductor of the Proms as the 'world coming to an end, its dramatic power was superb...' Indeed it does sweep the listener along and I have never seen such furious and sustained playing of the timpani!

One of the things I love about the Proms, apart from hearing great music being performed by the world's finest orchestras and soloists, is the fact that it is a great leveller. Everyone comes to the Proms, young or old, rich or poor, from all walks of life and background. I am sure there are many there who are experiencing classical music live for the first time while others are passionate about their music and know the pieces intimately. But I love the fact that the Proms is for everyone, not just classical music aficionados. You don't have to understand the technical side of the music or really anything about the structure and form of music to enjoy it - I certainly don't! It's nothing more than a blissful couple of hours being entertained, taken on journey that is often in the experience of the Proms I've been too, emotionally intense both uplifting and sombre, moving and inspiring. Its wonderful and long may the Proms continue!

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