Ladies and Gentlemen!
Welcome to The Dayglo Salon, a virtual Oasis from the usual vulgar and obnoxious noise upstairs. Yes, the Dayglo Disco is off limits for now, and has been given over to our annual Strictly Come Dayglo Comps.
But look, we'll have to be out of here by 5:00, as an enormous team of ancient seamstresses will be taking over the Salon, since Strictly will be using even more tulle, bows, frills and general flouncery than ever. So, while the calm lasts, let's bring on someone most marvelously well suited to our soiree - invitations only (and please remember Virtual Boris is at hand to eject any Salonistas sans invites). Applause please: direct from BBC Radio 3 a Broadcaster of impeccable credentials, we welcome straight from this morning's Classic Collection and Essential Classics -- the latter alittle like our Top 10 -- since 2007 Sarah has been asking The Great and The Good to choose their classical favourites -- an astonishing line up of everyone from Mike Leigh and Terry Waite to Fiona Shaw, Branford Marsalis, Hugh Bonneville ... oh, hundreds of 'em. All very grand, with one glaring exception -- the Prop will be featured sometime near to Xmas. Oh well.
Anyway, we couldn't be more thrilled to have with us, someone who really knows what's what with music, and an interviewer of exceptional ability and a good egg to boot -- Ladies and Gentlemen - the charming and glamorous and very brainy MS SARAH WALKER!
Like many broadcasters, Sarah Walker was born in the South Yorkshire town of Barnsley. She learned the piano from an early age, mostly using her skills to improvise satirical songs about teachers and to perform on her own pretend radio shows (recorded on cassette; there was one listener). Sarah studied music at Royal Holloway College where she met her future husband, the jazz musician Martin Pyne, and together they travelled around the south east of England in his red Daihatsu van at 45 mph, listening to a wide range of music from Al Jarreau to Boulez. Sarah is now a presenter for BBC Radio 3 where she enjoys welcoming a wide range of guests onto the morning show, Essential Classics.
Here's my top ten, in no particular order:
I met my husband Martin through Britten’s oddball and seldom-performed opera, Paul Bunyan. Some bright spark thought we should do it at college, with an ever-diminishing cast of bewildered singers, two pianists and a percussionist (my husband-to-be). All the singers took multiple parts -- I was a Western Union delivery boy, a tree, a party goer, and a member of the Quartet of the Defeated: sad souls who had all killed themselves after failing to realise the American Dream.
I love harpsichord used in pop records. The sound conjures up the few distant memories I have of the 1960's - I was born in 1965 - I remember bell bottoms, girls carrying guitars, and men with lovely long hair. The nostalgia of this song really speaks to me. It also has an amazing vocal by Ray Davies whose voice has an enormous range, technically and emotionally. Saw him perform solo once, in the mid 90's, and he was still doing scissor jumps.
How I wish I'd paid more attention to Kate Bush when I was in my teens, and could have used some female inspiration. I mistakenly thought she was “rockers' totty”, the token woman they allowed into their denim and patchouli world. When she brought out her album Aerial in 2005, I was finally old enough to listen and appreciate her music properly…and I now think she's a genius! Joanni is my favourite song from Aerial - I like the way the vocal line hovers, out-of-time, above the throbbing accompaniment. There's an air of tension, as if the horses are about to charge.
Hugh is a British composer and former member of the highly influential Scratch Orchestra* (founded in 1969, around Cornelius Cardew). He's the brother of the actor John Shrapnel, and as their colourful surname suggests, they're descended from the guy who gave his name to shrapnel itself. Hugh's music is grounded in the real world - especially in places he loves, such as his local Ladywell Fields (he's a south Londoner). I've played this track at three family funerals: it's music that calms and soothes, rather than arousing poignant memories. Funerals are poignant enough without music twisting the knife. *There's a New Zealand link here! Wiki say: New Zealand artist/musician Philip Dadson was amongst those at Morley College who were in the foundation group for the Scratch Orchestra and, after returning to New Zealand, established a NZ Scratch Orchestra in 1970, which evolved into the group From Scratch in 1974.
One of the works I studied for A level music. It's true that the more you study a piece, the more you love it (or is that just true for classical music?). I remember at college, students used to argue over which was best, the Ravel or the Debussy string quartets…a very studenty thing to do. I think the Ravel is prettier, the Debussy a bit darker. Hard to choose between them, but I bonded with this one. It brings the string quartet into the modern world - Debussy makes the archetypal classical form and medium really work on his terms.
One of Purcell's amazing ground basses. You hear the same, flowing bass line repeating throughout, though what happens on top is entirely unpredictable. I learnt to play this at the piano in my teens, left hand bass line with right hand chords, and sing the tune, and I credit this with improving my musicianship by about five hundred percent.
My Dad had just one LP - Dvorak's Greatest Hits. There was a brief phase in my childhood when we'd listen to this together, and I seem to recall that the Furiant was the first track. I was fascinated by the way the theme changes from major to minor - I didn't understand what was changing at the time, but I could hear some subtle manipulation which I loved. It's a piece that's full of illusion - the time signature is confusing in a good way, too.
I once had to play bits of this on Handel's own harpsichord in an English museum, for a TV programme. The director made me do it over and over again, as they do, and I think I nearly broke the harpsichord judging by the look on the curator's face. I love this piece - E major has never sounded more juicy.
Surely the most mysterious piece of all time, with its plangent melody in the “tenor” range of the piano. In my mind, it's music for an imaginary cabaret act of almost indescribable strangeness.
A new discovery for me, thanks to the proprietor of Two Paddocks who requested the version by Anne-Sofie von Otter on my BBC Radio 3 show, Essential Classics. I love Anne-Sofie but I think I prefer the original, as it reminds me of the 1960's, a time when I was all safe and snuggled in my pram. The official Essential Classics introduction would go something like this: “Brian Wilson's song has some surprising harmonic inflections, and the chromaticism in the melody adds a subtle expressivity.”
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