Saturday, January 19, 2008


Tapping away at my keyboard the other day, I caught Simon Rattle's Desert Island Discs selection. As I've often commented (as recently as December 07, in fact), this is comfort listening, but it's always better when the interviewee has a passion for music intertwined with observations on their life - rather than the notes forming little more than an incidental backdrop. What it also illustrates is how early and relatively fixed our musical foundations turn out to be. In Rattle's case, Mahler rather than the Beatles. Perhaps that's the reason I rarely find myself particularly surprised by the subject's selections. Predictable or exotic, personal or PR-oriented, there is frequently an indefinable congruence between the appearance of the person and the sound world that sustains them.

My own selection changes somewhat over the years, but not radically so. Sometimes I like to throw the cards up in the air a bit. But some features have to be there. I will always have something by Michael Tippett (the Ritual Dances from The Midsummer Marriage or The Rose Lake, his last major work), Olivier Messiaen (probably Turangalila, though I might end up with Quartet pour le fin du temps), G. F. Handel (one of the Organ Concertos, or Ode to St Cecilia) and Harrison Birtwistle (The Last Supper, when they record it) - the composers who, for various reasons, have ingrained themselves most strongly on my psyche. Then again, Ravel's Piano Concerto in G is a must; the Poulenc Organ Concerto a powerful contender, Shostakovitch's heart-rending Tenth Symphony too, and Bartok's Second Violin Concerto (my introit to 'modern music', as my father once put it when trying to dissuade me from buying it at the tender age of 12).

But hang on, that's one over the limit of eight already, and no space yet for Miles Davis (In a Silent Way), Yes (Awaken, or Ritual from Tales from Topographic Oceans), Allan Holdsworth (something from Secrets), The Smiths (Cemetery Gates from The Queen Is Dead, or Stop Me If You Think That You've Heard This One Before from Strangeways Here We Come), Suzanne Vega (Gypsy from Solitude Standing), Hugh Masekela (Coal Train from Waiting for the Rain), Andy Sheppard / Steve Lodder / Nana Vasconcelos (Where we going? from Inclassifiable), Fripp-Sylvian (the exquisite Damage live), or k. d. lang (Constant Craving, of course).

It really is a daunting task. But fun. And like life itself, never quite complete...

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