Monday, 6 September 2010


Driving in London can be, to put it mildly, a somewhat aggravating experience, which is why I try to a: avoid it if possible, and b: tend to listen to the less, shall we say, psychotic bits of my record collection (or the radio) in an attempt to lessen the frustration levels of driving in our beautiful but wildly haphazard maze of a city. Well I had no choice in the matter, as some of the tools I needed for todays industrial lunacy are not allowed to be carried on public transport*.

So drive I did, and I do believe that there must be some sort of fuckwits convention occurring today, given the level of general ignorance and random insanity that I witnessed and occasionally dodged this afternoon. But, just for once, none of it annoyed me, and not just because of my vastly improved mood and outlook, but also because I flicked the stereo onto BBC Radio 3, and heard the first notes of what is undoubtedly one of the most wonderful pieces of music ever composed, Berg's Violin Concerto**, and I knew no matter how apallingly anyone drove, no matter how many times I was cut up by some badly-suited prick in a Mercedes, BMW or Audi***, that while the sound of that achingly beautiful piece filled the van, I was immune.

Because it's an amazing piece of music. It manages to infuse the often forbiddingly dissonant world of serialism with a breathtakingly elegiac lyricism, bridging the avant-garde and traditional tonality in a completely seamless manner which very few other pieces can match, not that dissonance is absent, or that the clashing timbres that the orchestral music of the post-Schoenberg lot were so fond of don't occasionally erupt with great power, that's all in here, but, because of the astonishingly precise way they are employed and arise in the course of the piece, the care taken over the balance of the instrumentation, the pacing, rhythmic shifts and sheer dynamics, it never becomes overly strident, the 12-tone process never overwhelms the emotional impact.

Which is what floors me about this piece of music. I'm probably fussier about orchestral/chamber music than almost anything else, I mean, no other spectrum of music contains a period of over 150 years where I hate almost every single fucking thing I've ever heard from that era§, and no other musical arena is so hidebound by rules, conventions and hierarchy as the classical world, three things which you've probably guessed get my goat a bit, but I digress. The emotional density of this track, the amount of meaning it manages to convey through it's luminous textures is massive, and moves me in a way that only Messiaen§§ can match in this sphere of music. It's a piece deeply infused with great love and compassion, a profound sadness and a huge amount of joy, and the sonic promise of transcendence in it's glorious end. It's a life in sound, stunningly realised.

*Best not to ask.

***What is it with people who drive German luxury cars in this country? Do you get a special arsehole license with the car?

§Classical and a large proportion of the (particularly early) Romantic period. Can't fucking stand it. You can't begin to conceive of how much I loathe Beethoven. And Mozart. Everything I hate about music neatly encapsulated. At least it got good again when Debussy, Ravel et al turned up for the party.

§§OK, I'll give you Morton Feldman too.


  1. Internationally, people who drive Audis are fucking pricks. I think you get served a snort of coke, a light fluff and some Italian porn every time you sit down behind the wheel, just to put you in the mood to ride pedestrians'/cyclists'/smaller cars' asses.

  2. I reckon you might have hit the nail on the head there Spliffe. Also, the phrase "a light fluff" has just made me spit coffee out of my nose.