Let’s get something straight before we begin: I know f*** all about Stravinsky (riot at his second gig; invented modern music?) and less about classical music in general. I’m not a complete monster – I can take Beethoven’s Ninth, but given the choice I prefer Lady Gaga. I can’t offer any sort of informed opinion of whether the Philharmonia Orchestra’s version is better than any other rendition, provided it still has that neeneeneeneeneedihdahdidah bit in the middle that I love so much. I just bought it because I really f***ing love how it sounds. It’s got all the power and beauty of my favourite rock records, which doesn’t surprise me in the slightest because half of them bloody sampled this in the first place.
I knew the pieces from Fantasia and enjoying them on YouTube – not really the best way to experience this sort of music! – and the first playing on CD is a revelation. Not bad for three quid.
Flicking through the CD’s leaflet here, something catches my eye:
If in the end Stravinsky’s music seems rather emotionally detached for some tastes – it perhaps comes as a surprise to learn that one of his favourite composers was the arch-Romantic Tchaikovsky – this only serves to underline his insistence that ‘music is, by its very nature, powerless to express anything at all, whether a feeling, an attitude of mind, a psychological mood, a phenomenon of nature, etc … If, as is nearly always the case, music appears to express something, this is only an illusion, and not a reality.’
I disagree with all of the above! It’s absolutely no surprise that Stravinsky is a fan of Tchaikovsky, because I would instinctively place them together. It’s no more of a surprise than to google Sufjan Stevens and find that he’s a massive Stravinsky fan, which is why I view his Age of Adz as a lighter companion to Foetus’s HIDE.
Stravinsky, Tchaikovsky, Kodaly, Bartok and Holst are the only pre-rock composers I’ve ever listened to for pleasure – precisely because it is not emotionally detached; or at least I am not unattached to it. If it’s just the illusion of a genuine emotional response, it’s less cutting an onion and more like a kick to the gut. I find it impossible to believe that you could create that kind of response without feeling anything yourself. It would be like Michael Curtiz trying to argue that Casablanca isn’t actually trying to express anything – that your tears and laughter are mere accident.
The biggest reaction from me is, inevitably, for Rite of Spring. I always liked it better than Firebird – its intensely rhythmic dissonance is basically metal for orchestras. The Augurs of Spring in particular should be effortless enjoyment for, say, any fan of early Metallica. (I’m sure that’s heresy for fans of classical music, but to the initiated, it’s a route in – a sonic rosetta stone for those of us who don’t know our bassoons from our elbows.)
I think that’s what it comes down to for me: I’m hearing Spring Rounds and thinking “f***ing hell, that’s a great riff!” Yes, the woodwind and strings are eye-wateringly gorgeous in their pretty flourishes, but it’s the sheer ferocity of those unrelenting rhythms that makes it so compelling. Ritual Action of the Ancestors is my favourite part – though for some reason I remembered it being faster than it is here, but I definitely love how it’s performed: less plodding, more crushing.
The Philharmonia Orchestra are apparently the most recorded in the world (so I’m guessing they don’t suck), but I’m really pleased I bought this, and for the right reasons. A lot of people end up buying something classical because they think it makes them more sophisticated or intelligent or cultured or whatever, and not because listening to it makes them feel like something is reaching inside them and tugging hard. My eyes are watering listening to this, but it’s a good feeling. I’m … moved. Stravinsky would be horrified.
Trivia: John Williams heavily samples the augurs bit in his Jaws theme.