By David Worboys • 18 May 2023 • 10:48
(c) Royal College of Music; Supplied by The Public Catalogue Foundation
Music is the art of sound that expresses ideas and emotions through elements of rhythm, melody, harmony and colour.
Yehudi Menuhin said: “I can only think of music as something inherent in every human being – a birthright. Music coordinates mind, body and spirit”. According to Anton Bruckner: “it is better to listen to music and not understand it than to understand it and not listen to it”.
Like many people, I was first exposed to music through nursery rhyme jingles sung by my parents or played on the radio. At school, I was a fan of Doris Day and Bing Crosby before becoming aware of some of my father´s classical music.
From the mid-fifties, for me, it was all New Orleans and Traditional jazz, from the records of Jelly-Roll Morton and Louis Armstrong to Chris Barber and Humphrey Lyttleton, and jiving in the ubiquitous jazz clubs. I still love this music but it is rarely performed today by anybody under 95. Then followed Bill Haley, Jim Reeves and the Rolling Stones, Johnny Cash, Hank Snow, Dean Martin and Leonard Cohen.
As the sixties dawned, I began to discover classical music through Viennese waltzes and the symphonies of Tchaikovsky. At first, the melodies were the attraction – before I discovered the “hidden depths”.
Music is one of the senses that anchors us to past situations, whether pleasant or not – rather like the fragrance of a special perfume, a movie or the sound of an air-raid siren. When I heard of the assassination of President Kennedy, I was taking a break from my studies and listening to Claudio Arrau playing Beethoven´s third piano concerto. While I was buying my first property, I was frequently listening to records of Hank Snow and the Sergeant Pepper album. In both cases, the event and the music are permanently linked in my mind.
Popular music follows fashion and tends to be ethereal. People, especially the young, tend to follow the American way which is first adopted by the UK, and then Europe, before spreading throughout the world, except where it is not permitted. Young people in China, Japan, India and Indonesia prefer Western hits to their own traditional music.
Classical music transcends language, cultures and fashion to reach the universal spirit common to all of us. Its roots lie in the imagination of European composers, many of them German and Austrian. But some of the great interpretations of these works are performed by musicians and conductors from China, Japan and the Americas, whose own traditional music is very different. This illustrates how the music of Beethoven is for the benefit of all of us – not just Germans; not just Europeans.
There are recent theories that listening to classical music can reduce stress and blood pressure, improve the quality of sleep, boost memory and even manage pain. It can also bring enormous pleasure.
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