Heather told us that she had three reactions to the invitation to present another programme (barely two weeks after her last one!): first, a sense of despair. Whatever could she come up with as an idea?
Then also the thought some of the traditionalists amongst us might have put our heads in our hands and sighed “Whatever Next?” as her last programme had been almost exclusively 20th Century music.
But – and this was a more hopeful Whatever Next? – what was favourite five years ago, two years ago, or even last week may not be favourite now. Leading to the question, whatever next? Musical interests evolve with what we come across over time, things we hear on the radio, concerts we go to – our meetings have been the means of introducing her to many new things.
So this is a programme of things Heather had been especially interested in just this year, since her last programme – things she had come across for the first time, or have rediscovered this year.
We started with something rousing. Heather had a CD windfall half way through last year. A Brennan machine is a music player with a hard disc that you can load your CDs onto in MP3 format so that it plays them all. A friend (in a major downsizing house move) got one, loaded up his CDs and then took the brave step (or foolhardy depending on the reliability of the technology) of getting rid of all his CDs. (Heather added that she wouldn’t have been brave enough). Anyway, he sorted out several he thought she might like and passed them on. So from her “new” second-hand CD comes Movie Brass, recorded by the Grimethorpe Colliery band.
Heather has this on her iPod, and if inspired to go on the rowing machine listens to this CD – music for exercise has to be bold enough to register above the hiss of the machine and her puffing and panting! And to take away the pain! We would know the tune: The Dam Busters, played by Grimethorpe Colliery Band.
That should have woken us all up – which was a bit ironic, because her next choice was a big contrast. Another of these second-hand CDs. Never used to have any trouble sleeping, but now sometimes she wakes in the night, instantly wide awake, with her mind going 19 to the dozen about nothing of any importance! The iPod to the rescue again. The next piece is so soothing it clears her mind beautifully. It’s not so long that she falls asleep in the middle, but by the end she’s usually ready to drop off again.
Agustin Barrios Mangore was a Paraguayan guitarist who lived from 1885 – 1944. He was heavily influenced by J S Bach. He was a great showman. This piece, La Catedral, written 1921, was his response to hearing Bach played in Montevideo Cathedral. It has three movements, which in total only last seven minutes so we heard them all. The opening prelude (possibly a later addition), the second (Andante) which portrays the inside of the cathedral, and the third (Allegro) contrasts it with the bustle of the street outside. The guitarist here was Franco Platini
The next CD was Penny Merriments, Street songs of the 17th Century. Bought when Rosalie had a wonderful stock of CDs at the Magpie Bookshop, just on a whim. Heather had never listened to it much, but revived interest this year because of an interest in Samuel Pepys. Last spring she went to the “Plague, Fire and Revolution” exhibition at Greenwich Maritime Museum. She brought along a book of the exhibition, which she had acquired to enable her to digest it in more detail. (We were able to have a glance at this during the interval.) For Christmas she had been given the BBC Radio set of 11 CDs, a dramatization of the Pepys diaries. Pepys was a real polymath: the son of a tailor, he witnessed the execution of Charles I, went to St Paul’s school and then Cambridge, and under patronage of his cousin Edward Montagu became an administrator in the Navy. He excelled at his work. He was also very interested in science, knew Hooke and Boyle, anatomy and medicine (he had an operation to remove gallstones and celebrated the anniversary of it each year). He was a member of the Royal Society and enjoyed debate with men such as William Petty who proposed a NHS, education for women and decimal coinage. He built up an extensive library; arts and theatre were very important to him.
Pepys wrote: “Music is the thing of the world I love most’ He played the flageolet, recorder, viol, violin and lute and sang too. This interest in Pepys had sent Heather back to the Penny Merriments CD, and we heard a couple of the songs he would have listened to and perhaps sang.
First the story of the Great Fire in 1666, London Mourning in Ashes, in which if you listen carefully you can hear the story of the way the fire spread, how King Charles was issuing commands and how the Duke of York even worked with a bucket in his hand (or perhaps that was Pepys engaging in a bit of royal flattery!) And then, as Pepys was extremely keen on female singers, Seldom Cleanly, a humorous ballad about a non-too fussy housewife.
Penny Merriments was performed by Lucie Skeaping, Douglas Wootton, Richard Wistreich and The City Waites.
“As new things catch our attention not all discoveries are fantastic, some are disappointing”. Heather read a newspaper review of a CD called the Lost Songs of St Kilda and had to investigate. She has not been (yet) to St Kilda, but has been to the Outer Hebrides, which seem like the edge of the world. St Kilda is a remote cluster of islands, rocky and largely barren, 40 miles beyond the Outer Hebrides. By 1930 the way of life there was becoming untenable as the population fell away, and the remaining inhabitants asked to be evacuated to the mainland. Among them was four year old Norman Gillies, who had been brought up on the island by his grandmother – his mother had been evacuated for hospital treatment earlier but died. Norman was posted to Suffolk in WW2 and met and married Heather’s mum’s sister, and lived in Chelmondiston where she grew up. He died two years ago, the last but one survivor of the original evacuation. So her family were all familiar with Norman’s telling of the story where his mother was taken onto a ship in village bay and waved good-bye to her infant son. [A further connection is that John Donald is a cousin of Heather’s mother.]
A volunteer at a Scottish care home listened to a resident called Trevor Morrison, who entertained fellow residents by playing the piano. He asked about the tunes he played. Trevor Morrison had been evacuated from his home in Glasgow to the Isle of Bute as a boy during the Second World War. There, he met a piano teacher from St Kilda. The teacher, (name now unknown), determined to preserve the music of his lost home, sat the boy down and taught him the songs of St Kilda. The volunteer recorded the music and they have been arranged by Craig Armstrong.
However, after all that build up and explanation, just imagine the disappointment – they weren’t even songs, but the first half of CD were arrangements for piano only and so bland as to be boring. She was very disappointed.
But the second part of the CD was more interesting, with arrangements by different people, including Rebecca Dale. We heard two tracks off the second part of the CD, each named after one of the islands of St Kilda, but arranged by different people. Soay, arranged by Rebecca Dale, and Dun spoken and sung by Julie Fowlis (the only actual song on the CD). Heather has heard her sing live – she has a wonderful voice). Soay has a sense of place, the sea birds whirling in their thousands in front of the vast cliffs plunging down into the sea, where there is nothing else but sea.
Given a box set of Haydn’s London symphonies this year (Nos. 93 to 104), Heather has been working her way through them. She chose Symphony 102. Six of the 12 have nicknames: The London, The Surprise, The Miracle, The Military, The Clock, and The Drum Roll. They seem more attractive than those with just a number, and Heather got to know those first. So in defence of those with just a number, here was No. 102, the opening movement, labelled Largo/Vivace. It was played by the Dresdner Philharmonie conducted by Gunther Herbig.
To chill into the break, a CD, released in 2016, recorded by Royal Stockholm Philharmonic Orchestra under Hans Ek, featuring compositions of the E.S.T. (Esbjörn Svensson Trio), arranged for symphony orchestra and jazz soloists.
Heather heard a fragment on the radio and her ears pricked up as it had some had saxophone on it (although not this track), an instrument the versatile Heather has been turning her hand to for the past year. Esbjorn Svensson (born in 1964 in Sweden) trained in classical music and piano, but was also drawn to jazz. A pianist and founder of the jazz group Esbjörn Svensson Trio, he died in 2008, at the age of 44, in a scuba diving accident. The track we heard was called from Gagarin’s Point of View.
[When we had a chance to look at the book of the exhibition of Plague, Fire and Revolution which Heather had brought along and also Snapshots of St Kilda, which added to our enjoyment and interest.]
Heather started the second half with a download onto a memory stick from You Tube, as she had not been able to locate a reasonably priced CD. So this was played first to enable Ivan to set it up – but there was no problem in playing it.
It included her final “visual aid” – a book of music she had acquired from someone clearing their books (couldn’t remember when). It was a piece she had been playing quite a lot this year. Having looked up the publisher, Litolff’s, and the distributor, Enoch and Sons of London, the reference number on the pages would indicate that the book dates from 1896.
The piece was the Passacaile by Handel, from his Suite VII. Heather liked it for its structure and clarity. And now also because of an associated memory. At her church there were two organists, herself and Paul Benyon. They used to play organ and piano when both were there and developed a musical understanding: Heather on script, Paul improvising. Great fun, all unrehearsed. Unfortunately he now lives in Martlesham and goes to church there. One person who also enjoyed that was his late mother in law, whose funeral was followed by a Service of Thanksgiving at her church earlier this year. Thinking about something to finish with as a flourish Heather thought of this Passacaile. Before the service all she said to Paul was: there are 16 variations of eight bars in length, all following the chord sequence G minor, C minor, F, Bb, Eb, C minor diminished 7th, D7 and G minor. Shall we? Yes. It was bold, quite loud and a celebratory piece which Joyce would have loved. We heard a slightly more restrained orchestral version.
Heather bought a CD of Ravel’s piano concerto for the left hand in D Major and had not really listened to the one in G major much before. Then she heard the second movement on the radio, and in particular liked the ethereal piano passage which floats high over the orchestra about half way through. There was a realisation that she actually had this on a CD and has been listening to it since then. We heard the Piano Concerto in G Major, second movement Adagio assai. The soloist was Francois-Joel Thiollier, with the Polish National Radio Symphony Orchestra conducted by Antoni Wit.
Heather arrived at contemporary French composer Yann Tiersen by several different routes. First, a couple of years ago she bought a book of piano music because she wanted the two pieces it contained by South Korean composer and pianist Yiruma. It also had a couple by Yann Tiersen which was the first time she had come across him.
Secondly, You Tube often suggests little videos you may like, as it sees fit from other things you have watched. That was how she came to see a video clip of Yann Tiersen somewhat bizarrely playing a piano in a forest. All on his own. But she liked it.
Then her brother in law said she simply had to watch his favourite film and lent her the DVD. The film she could take or leave, but the music sound track was by Yann Tiersen. The film was Amelie, and she bought the CD, which to her delight has not only piano music but also accordion tracks – very French. We heard the final three short tracks from CD: Le Banquet, La Valse d’Amelie (piano version) and La Valse des Monstres.
Heather ended her programme with a contemporary composer of popular music. And where was she introduced to it? After hearing part played during a short period of meditation in church, although not this track. Obviously worked a treat – as instead on concentrating on what she should have been, she was wondering about the background music. So Robin Gibb of Bee Gees fame, writing in a classical style: a requiem inspired by the Titanic, written in 2012 – the centenary of the sinking. Titanic Requiem: In Paradisum. The orchestra was the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra.
In conclusion: the final Desert Islands Discs question – Which of all the choices would you save if you could only have one? Heather’s choice would be Mangore – The Cathedral. But next week it could be different….. “And so a final question – I wonder what new musical treats are in store for us in the coming year?”
Norman thanked Heather for her interesting programme and the research that had gone into it, although if that last item was Paradise, it was not really one he wanted to share with Mr Gibb!
Mike Fowle (author)
The references on this page are not meant to accurately link to the artists Heather mentions – but they should serve as a starting point – we don’t spoon-feed! (Trevor Lockwood)