Far, far too hot today, the kind of weather that makes you want to do nothing but sit around consuming cold drinks and do as little as possible. I spent much of the day in the garden, finishing an article I have been writing for another website, but I also took my favourite walk this afternoon, out along the disused railway at the end of my road into the countryside. I took my iPod, as I usually do, but as I began the walk I span the wheel looking for something suitable to listen to, something I might be able to write about tonight. My general apathy towards doing anything at all meant that I went through most of the playlists unsatisfied with anything I found, but being a Sunday, and being aware that I haven’t written a classical music post in months I settled on one of the many recordings of Mahler’s Ninth Symphony that resides on my iPod, on this occasion the BBC Symphony Orchestra’s recording under the direction of Bruno Maderna. It is only this evening as I lazily look at the sleevenotes to find the recording date I noticed that it was in fact recorded the day after my date of birth, back in 1971.
So walking along the old raised up railway line, the sun beating down on me, slightly concerned that I didn’t put on any sunblock and was only wearing a thin t shirt, generally lacking energy, the power of Mahler’s music really shook me. It shouldn’t be a surprise of course. I have listened to this particular composition, via various different recordings more times than I can even begin to imagine. I’m not a big fan of symphonic music, much preferring the intimacy of chamber composition, but in the case of Mahler this is turned on its head. The sheer OTT emotional pull of Mahler’s final finished work always grabs me, throws me metaphorically in the air, lets me drift slowly to the ground as that final movement shivers to its end. This afternoon I walked, my head lifted, eyes transfixed on the sky, and my recent obsession with the red kites that swirl in circles, eyes scouring the ground for prey. their quite magnificent splendour fits nicely with Mahler’s symphony, from the rousing strings of the opening movements to the circular melodies of the middle sections. With the music playing loudly in my ears I found my steps getting lighter, bouncier, the music pulling me on faster, my tiredness temporarily forgotten.
Some days, when my brain is in the same gear as my apathetic body only something like Mahler will do. I think my attachment to romantic music like this in recent years has replaced an earlier need to return to pop music every so often. I know how this symphony goes, from movement to movement, bar to bar. I can hum along, find comfort in the familiarity of the music, take a brief respite from the challenge of improvisation’s uncertainty.
I struggle to analyse how and why I enjoy music like this, which seems so often to fly in the face of my normal everyday listening experiences. I used to deny myself these romantic escapes, or belittled them, rarely discussing them publicly. These days, as I get older I enjoy these moments a great deal. A walk in the countryside on a sunny Sunday afternoon has to be better soundtracked by a Mahler symphony than by some austere improvisation. Tonight as I sit by an open window flicking insects from my laptop’s screen as I try and cope with the humidity Derek Bailey’s guitar strums quietly behind me. A time and place for everything.
Normal service resumed tomorrow