Bittersweet sixteen

It’s doing the rounds on Facebook again, ten albums that mean something to you, that have stayed with you for a long time.

Black Sheep Boy – Okkervil River
Get Lonely – The Mountain Goats
Peter Grimes – Benjamin Britten
Cosi Fan Tutte – Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart
The Lieutenant Kije suite – Sergei Prokofiev
Alice – Tom Waits
Rook – Shearwater
Orchestral Songs (singer: Christian Gerhaher) Gustav Mahler
Schwarzkopf Sings Operetta (singer: Elisabeth S) – Various composers
The Bix Beiderbecke Gold Collection (soloist Bix B) – Various composers
Dinu Lapatti/Besançon Festival (pianist Dinu L) Various composers

These were mine – and yes, I know there are eleven.  So?  Rules are like etiquette.  Sometimes there’s a good reason for them, sometimes they’re artificial and don’t matter.  Also rules are there for learners.  Once you know what you’re doing, you can break them.

So I’ll add a few more – I couldn’t bother my Facebook friends, but I remembered several others that came into my mind when I was thinking about it, but had slipped by the time I was typing.

Hoagy Sings Carmichael – Singer songwriter Hoagy C, rather obviously. I love this album.
Benny Goodman’s Greatest Hits – yeah, I know, ‘greatest hits’ – but this encapsulates how I’d love to be able to play the clarinet, not as if it’s an instrument but as if it is an extension of me.
Requiem, Mozart – I know, Süssmayr finished it when Mozart died. That’s fine.
Tom Lehrer in Concert – come on, he’s got to be in here. I took the name of this blog from him.
Schubert: Piano Duets – played by Sviatoslav Richter and Benjamin Britten. A friend of mine gave me this, some years ago, and I love it.

This isn’t meant to be a list of favourite music, and there are many works that would certainly be in there if it were – but it is (and I may slip a few more in there quietly) a compilation of some of the music I turn to most often, for whatever reason.

There have been times when I couldn’t cope with too much extra emotion.  Such as when my mother was terminally ill and I was COPING, DAMMIT, COPING.  I didn’t appreciate at the time how anxious family and friends were about me, I was spinning those plates in a frenzy of efficiency.  Ronan wrote from university, lovingly solicitous, suggesting that music might be good for me.  I listened to two albums over and over again: Bix Beiderbecke and Prokofiev.  Why they hit the spot, I don’t know, but I could cope with them and little more.  It was in 1970 that my mother and I bought the Schwarzkopf record and it had the same effect – comforting and uplifting, but not too much – we needed some lightness.  It had the added advantage, to me, of introducing me to a way of singing, and after that I learned to love opera.

Dinu Lapatti is there for his courage.  Many people face their death with courage and grace, but it takes something else to pour all your fading strength into playing an instrument for the last time in concert and, if you didn’t know, you wouldn’t.  I’m not so sure about the wonderful Jussi Björling, who sang on stage, immediately after having suffered a heart attack.  He died the same year at the age of 49, and I’d rather he’d rested and maybe lived to sing on.

I absolutely adore Mozart’s operas, especially Cosi – I took my mother to it and she (really rather preferring favourite arias to the entire show) was rather shocked.  “That’s the most cynical thing I’ve ever seen!” she said.  I tried to explain, but not very well, Mozart’s deep understanding and acceptance of the way people are.  It’s not cynical, but it is worldly wise.

The Mountain Goats – after my mother died – and I cared for her to the end, she died in her own bed and I found her and checked that she was dead and phoned to tell the doctor in the middle of the night – I took more than three years to recover from what I later realised was a deep depression.  I was just pulling out of that when Ronan gave me Get Lonely, which I found startlingly negative at first.  But it grew on me – it was a time when I still was playing the same music over and over again.

And the rest – oh, there’s a story to tell with each one.  And I am thinking of more essential albums, but one has to draw a line and I’ve written enough for you to read on a Sunday night.  Besides, I’ve come up with a name for the post and I don’t want to spoil it.  Back to young Z tomorrow, I daresay.

3 comments on “Bittersweet sixteen

  1. Pontillius

    Cosi Fan Tutte was my partners favourite piece of music.She died ten years ago, and now I just cannot listen to it any more without getting upset. If I am in the vicinity of anywhere it’s being played I have to excuse myself and get out of range as quickly as possible. Stupid I know, but that’s me.

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  2. kipper

    Any version of On Top of Old Smokey makes me cry. It was a song my late Father used to sing often.
    My Mother used to sing Summertime by Rodgers and Hart or was it R. and Hammerstein. Hearing this makes me smile.,
    Somewhere Over the Rainbow by Israel Kamakawi’wole (sp?)

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