Beethoven, give me a break

5 Apr

BeethovenI’ve learned rather a lot about myself in my efforts to give our unborn child a few cultural experiences in the womb.

In my more pushy parent moments I have actually debated speaking to the poor baby in French before remembering that even the French can barely understand my painful North London attempts at the accent.

So instead I have decided to focus my efforts on a more classical education for our firstborn and turn my attention to music.

I soon discovered that I know a lot less about classical music than I realised. I had assumed, with a sort of middle class complacency, that while I might not be able to hum Mozart’s 59th symphony in E minor off the top of my head, undeniably I would know it when I heard it.

I played the piano for the best part of 10 years with unwavering mediocrity, and I was convinced that the experience was enough for me to have absorbed via osmosis a subconscious working knowledge of various composers and their genres.

This was soon dashed when Bump and I tuned in to Classic FM on the way to work one morning. A whole new world, where a single piece of music can last up to 15 minutes and the presenters say things like “I have yet to interview anybody who did not love and adore the music of Shostakovich” in their links.

This has simply never been an issue for me in my 12 years as a professional journalist. I have not once had to deal with an angry editor screaming: “it’s great that Steve Jobs was so fucking candid about the future of Apple and touch screen technology but what, in the name of arse, are his thoughts on Shostokovich?”

On classic FM the adverts promise things like “2 hours of your favourite waltzes” on a limited edition CD. Two hours! It took me an entire afternoon on Google to find just one that I recognized, and how can that possibly be considered a favourite when I have nothing to compare it to? Somebody call the Advertising Standards Authority.

The undeniable truth is that the only classical music I have ever been truly (or at least memorably) moved by is Beethoven’s Moonlight Sonata, which I can still play blindfolded on the piano and which is in my humble opinion the most beautiful and haunting piece of music ever written.

If you have a few moments listen to this – I defy you not to be stirred by the mournful lilts and breathtaking key changes. It is as close to perfection, for me, as music can be, and I am so glad that it has not (yet) ended up promoting car insurance.

So I decided to expand my classical horizon and breed a virtuoso at the same time by investing in the genre and forcing myself to discover more Moonlight Sonatas to imbibe like the proverbial man in the desert presented with an oasis of water.

The best way to do this, I figured, was to go for the 21st century mix tape and buy a compilation. Consequently the baby and I are currently working our way through Simple Classical Gold. I am ignoring the fact that the packaging boasts “4 CD’s of classical favourites” with that infuriatingly unnecessary apostrophe… and the baby is ignoring pretty much all of it.

The only tune on all four albums to elicit the smallest of responses so far has been Vivaldi’s Spring part of the Four Seasons. I’m not surprised. Most of the tracks take minutes to get going and many of them never do. I crank up the volume and strain my ears to hear some mournful lonely trumpet and then deafen myself when, defeated, I flick the radio back on just in time for a bit of Lady Gaga.

I must be more MTV generation than I care to admit. Wonder what the baby’s excuse is.

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8 Responses to “Beethoven, give me a break”

  1. almost witty April 5, 2011 at 8:22 pm #

    I am told that while in the womb, the baby loved musical theatre and The Walking Dead – anything that his mother liked and would get her heartbeat racing. However nowadays it takes repeated mp3s of Vivaldi’s Four Seasons and Beethoven’s Ode To Joy to get him to sleep.

    I remember when crooning Lady GaGa songs at him was enough.

  2. Callum April 5, 2011 at 8:35 pm #

    I’m the dad of an 8-week old and like classical music as much as any other type. Although I haven’t put together a programme of listening for him, my own personal favourites are (in no particular order): Mozart’s Requiem, Handel’s Coronation Anthems, Bach’s cello suite No 1, and any Schubert or Schumann songs, especially when performed by Dietrich Fischer-dieskau

  3. Callum April 5, 2011 at 8:36 pm #

    …or Ian Bostridge. I can also definitely recommend Radio 3 (lunchtime concerts and Breakfast are the most accessible bits of output on weekdays) over Classic FM! No ads trying to flog you life insurance for starters.

  4. Indulgenta April 5, 2011 at 8:59 pm #

    Has anyone ever asked a baby what it wants to listen to? I bet they love disco – a little KC, some Earth, Wind and Fire. I mean, how many children post-womb like classical? What makes anyone think they like it beforehand?

  5. zskdorset April 5, 2011 at 8:59 pm #

    Thank you! I haven’t really explored Radio 3 – I had assumed it was too advanced for mainstream beginners like me but I willnow give it a go. I’m really not that thrilled with Classic FM it has to be said. You see Callum – you even have favourite performers/conductors! i have a long way to go.

    Andrew – I’m surprised Vivaldi gets your son to sleep, it’s one of the liveliest pieces on that CD collection of mine… i guess you never know what’s going to work 😉

  6. zskdorset April 5, 2011 at 9:09 pm #

    Indulgenta – ah but it’s about broadening horizons… baby will no doubt discover disco on its own! And of course it will have fond memories of our long car journeys together listening to interminably quiet classics 😉

  7. Erin April 6, 2011 at 6:28 am #

    I didn’t have a programme of listening so much when I was pregnant, but as I worked at Southbank Centre at the time Elliot had quite the concert diary in utero! I was also playing in an amateur orchestra (cello) and he particularly loved the first movement of Mendelssohn’s First Symphony, which I also love though it’s one of those lesser-known things that probably only amateur orchestras ever play.
    I think someone has disproved the whole ‘classical music makes babies smart’ thing, but personally I want Elliot to love it because I love it.
    I would suggest Mozart’s Sinfonia Concertante for solo violin and viola, heart-rendingly beautiful stuff, Brahms Symphony No.4, Haydn Cello Concertos (any of them!) and if you really want a reaction, I bet Shostakovich Symphony No.4 would do it… I love it but it is not a popular favourite. Look stuff up on YouTube, it’s a good resource for hearing things a bit before you decide to buy it.

    Once the little person is born, definitely go see some music live! Wigmore Hall does a great series called For Crying Out Loud for babies under 1, it’s good fun. I went through and listed it all out on my blog when Elliot was tiny and I had time to research these things… Hope it helps!

    • zskdorset April 6, 2011 at 8:18 am #

      For Crying Out Loud sounds perfect – I’ll be there once jnr arrives 🙂

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