what would your eight Desert Island Discs be? (Optionally, also pick a book and a luxury item.)I'd been meaning to do DID ever since I saw hollymath's excellent post on the topic, and then I wasn't sure I wanted to do it in December because it's the kind of thing that takes thought to do well. But I'm going to give it a go anyway, it's not going to be as polished as it would be if I hypothetically actually went on the show, but I'll have a go at 8 pieces of music.
My list was pretty obviously going to end up being
all western art music, as hollymath put it; there is no pop music whatsoever that I like well enough to go on liking it if I'm stranded on an island with only eight tunes available, and I have near zero knowledge of any non-western music. When I've considered the question in the past, my instinct has always been that I want one disc and 8 books, because I would lack for something to read far more than something to listen to. But I'll do it properly for the sake of the game here.
I'm not enough of a music buff to have particular favourite recordings of these, most of the time I have pieces I like and I just picked up whatever recording happened to be available cheap in the days when you bought CDs from shops. And anyway, now it's 2014 and you're getting links to whatever I can find on YouTube.
- Stravinsky's Rite of spring is definitely my first. It's the first piece of music I ever got into and is interesting enough that I would actually want to listen to it on repeat until someone rescued me. The story with this is that my dad basically gave up listening to music at all when he married my mum, who is deaf, so there wasn't really recorded music in my home growing up at all. The exception was on very long car journeys, particularly when we were driving to west Wales for our summer holiday. And mostly we listened to collections of songs that we could sing along to, a lot of Flanders and Swann and a Liverpool group called the Spinners, but occasionally there was actual concert music. So I got into and loved the Rite before I had enough of a classical music education to understand why it's subversive. The first version I could find on YouTube is a bit pretty for my taste, I really prefer my Stravinsky more intense and less polite, but anyway, I said I was going to do this quickly (and for the same reason not try to find a representative excerpt of what is a long work).
- Bach is basically compulsory, but which Bach? There's pretty much nobody who can equal Bach for music that gets more and more interesting the more times you listen. I think I'm probably going to be obvious and go for the Toccata and Fugue in D minor, though I'm tempted by the cello suites (if I could only pick which one), mainly on the grounds of preferring cello music over organ music in general, or the French suites, because I've played some of them (badly; more on this topic to follow), but again, doing this in a hurry I haven't got time to go through and figure out which one to choose to represent the work.
- Since I passed over Bach's cello stuff, I'll pick a cello piece to represent Dvořák; I have a CD of Yo-Yo Ma and Itzhak Perlman playing a bunch of lovely cello versions of my favourite Dvořák music. I think this is from that exact recording: Slavonic dance 2 in E minor. I know people are snobby about Dvořák, but I found his stuff good to listen to when I just liked the pretty sounds, and I still like him as a more sophisticated listener, (even the dreaded New World Symphony), and this I think would stand up to being stuck on the island.
- I considered putting in Tallis' Spem in alium because I have been trying for years and years to get my head round it, and what happens is I keep feeling uncomfortable until the CD moves on to some Tallis piece that isn't that. And I feel that loving everything of Tallis' I really ought to take the time, stuck on my island, to get my head round SiA. But it's also kind of a cliché, the sort of thing that everybody pretends to be into in order to demonstrate their sophisticated tastes (*cough* Christian Grey). So I'm going to put Byrd's Mass for five voices in this slot instead. That's another thing I would really like to listen to enough to really know.
- I had enough exposure to stuff like that as a teenager to really latch on to Pärt when I first heard his stuff, and again, I'd really like to take some time listening to him properly and really getting it into my head. Have a Magnificat, though again it's really hard to pick exactly which to represent him.
I had about 10 years of piano lessons, and I was never very good at all, but learning to play some piano really gave me an appreciation of music I could never have got by just listening, and I can't regret it at all. Indeed I am sort of hoping to acquire a piano and relearn some of what I used to be able to do, at some point in my life. Playing piano gave me enough insight into Bach to have a feel for both his mathematical side and his soul-piercing side and how they combine, but also got me into baroque music more generally, and that's very much my favourite genre. I was also very very fond of Scarlatti, and if you're picking only 8 pieces you can't pick Scarlatti over Bach, but still, I sort of regret not having room for him in this list.
It's through playing that I also learned to love the Romantics, Chopin and Débussy and all the obvious Russians. I'm going to pick two to represent that side of my musical taste, which doesn't leave this list very balanced, but never mind, if I'm stuck on a desert island I want choral polyphony and really good piano music, and I'll live without most orchestral or operatic stuff.
- Scriabin is the piano composer of my heart. I had a huge great album of his piano works, most of it way beyond my technical skill but I would spend hours and hours just to get a phrase right. Again, I can't quickly track down exactly my favourite piece from that era, Scriabin wasn't known for memorable titles. So have Piano sonata #1 in F minor, just as an example.
- And then there is Ravel. I didn't love playing Ravel as much as I loved playing Scriabin, but I played enough Ravel to be able to really appreciate listening to him, his orchestral works as well as his piano works. And I spent most of my sixth form attempting to learn his Sonatine, as my main displacement activity from A Level revision. I never got it to anything like performance standard, it was really too hard for me at that level, but at that point my dearly loved teacher and I weren't really shooting for any sort of ordered musical training, she was just letting me play what I loved. It's hard to describe how much good it did me to spend that time utterly obsessed with this one piece, I mean, I was playing other stuff too, there was always Bach for the sheer technical discipline, because Bach sounds so damn good iff you play exactly right, and pieces that were more within my actual competence. But the Sonatine, pulling it to pieces one note, one chord, one bar at a time, was a real formative experience.
- Finally, the one piece that I would pick if I got my wish and had one disc and eight books: Fauré's Requiem. The story with this is that when I was 12 I was waiting in the wings to play some minor part in my school's end of year performance, and I heard the senior choir singing the Sanctus from this and I suddenly understood why beautiful is different from the superlative of pretty. This I think was probably the era when Stephen Cleobury's extraordinarily musical daughters were running the school choir and it was much better than you'd expect from a random girls' school choir.
Anyway, the singing teacher was really impressed by the site of little pre-teen me completely transfixed by this amazing music, and that is part of how I ended up having singing lessons. In spite of her really good best efforts I never learned to carry a tune reliably, but I did learn a whole bunch of singing technique and the ability to appreciate choral music. And she let me practise a whole lot on Fauré, knowing how much I adore his music. When I was a student I went to every single performance of the Requiem I could find, and it's a piece of music that gets performed a lot, and I still love it with completely unreasonable passion. And Fauré is the reason why someone who isn't Christian and can't sing in tune has a disproportionate amount of sacred choral music among the very short list you're allowed for DID.
If I were just picking music I like, rather than over-thinking the desert island conceit, I'd probably want some opera, I guess some chamber songs other than Fauré, Schubert would be the obvious one, and of course some Mozart and Beethoven. But there's nothing in that lot that I like enough to want to listen to over and over again, so I'm afraid you get an unbalanced list.
The book is obvious: the only book I could live with if I had literally nothing else to read (which is almost more scary than not having an internet connection!) is The lord of the rings. My Dad read it aloud to us when we were really little, one of our ways of being obnoxious as kids was to run around the supermarket chanting bits of the poetry from it, I read it for myself first when I was about eight and didn't understand three quarters of it but loved it anyway, and I have kept rereading it every so often ever since and finding something new in it every time.
Luxury item: I think it would have to be my Mason-Pearson hairbrush. That's an object that doesn't wear out or require a power source, and being able to brush my hair properly every morning would make me feel human even if I was living in a hut and eating whatever I could forage. The hairbrush that was a gift from my Granny about as soon as I was old enough to brush my own hair, and which I still have now (along with an adult sized one), and it's the only style of brush that goes through my tangly half-curly hair without breaking or getting stuck.
And can I have opinions about the Bible which everybody gets for free so that you get book choices other than the Bible? I want one with all the traditional commentaries, (preferably in normal Hebrew print and not Rashi script), because apart from listening to the kind of music that bears repeating, I would want to spend all that uncommitted time properly studying Torah. And this is cheating a bit because I suspect no such Bible exists as a single volume, but if I can't have the whole Bible then just the Pentateuch would be fine.
[December Days masterpost]