- 27 June, 2014
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I expect many of us spend more time in supermarkets nowadays scrutinising the contents of packets of this and tins of that. Never before have we been made more aware of the devil being in the detail, and the fact that we are what we eat. I started to wonder what my choices would be if I had to label pieces of music according to their contribution to auditory health. Any suggestions for a piece that contains ‘bad cholesterol’? How about ‘high on sugar’, ‘a reliable source of protein’ or ‘raises/lowers blood pressure’?
I decided a simpler option was to flick through the memory bank for works that packed a good supply of healthy fruit. First up was Prokofiev‘s 4-act opera The Love for Three Oranges (9.80181-82). I attended a performance of the 1988 production that Richard Lloyd devised for the UK’s Opera North, an experience difficult to forget: each member of the audience was given a card and, at various stages of the story, we were required to scratch a particular portion and sniff the smells that corresponded to the action on stage. Not all were immediately beneficial to one’s nasal well-being, but the audience’s concerted reaction certainly opened the airways. The March from the Suite that Prokofiev compiled from the score is probably the music most people readily associate with the work.
Grapes feature in Bob Chilcott‘s charming Aesop’s Fables (8.573158), reminding us how the Ancient Greek storyteller bequeathed us phrases that remain firmly in modern parlance. The Fox and the Grapes, for example, gave us ‘sour grapes’, a succinct handle for expressing the sentiment of the tale, whereby incompatible ideas are maintained simultaneously. Known as ‘cognitive dissonance’ in psychology, Chilcott gives us a far from dissonant listening experience in his setting:
A famished Fox saw some clusters of ripe black Grapes
hanging from a trellised vine.
She resorted to all her tricks to get at them,
but wearied herself in vain, for she could not reach them.
At last she turned away, hiding disappointment
‘The Grapes are sour, and not ripe as I thought.’
Naxos has an ongoing project to record the complete works of John Philip Sousa, the ‘March King’. He came to mind – improbably, you will be thinking – when I thought of peaches. Sousa didn’t spend all his creative juices on the parade ground. He was partial to operetta, for example, and left behind a significant number of works that weren’t inspired by four-square military drills, stemming instead from his youthful experience as a dance orchestra leader at the tender age of 11. He responded to each new dancing craze of his time, writing waltzes, galops, tangos, cakewalks and, with Peaches and Cream, a delightful foxtrot (8.223874).
Swedish composer Erik Nordgren wrote music for 17 films by Ingmar Bergman, one of the most influential film directors of all time. The two men initially enjoyed a close understanding of the inter-relation between composer and director, in the way that Eisenstein had with Prokofiev, Hitchcock with Hermann and Fellini with Rota. When Bergman married an Estonian pianist, however, a split occurred and Bergman subsequently scored his films with instrumental music by J.S. Bach, Mozart and Chopin. Prior to that, however, Nordgren’s score for the film Wild Strawberries (8.223682) came to be acknowledged as one of his best, as this extract from our fruit salad suggests.
Carols give us apples (Elizabeth Poston‘s Jesus Christ the Apple Tree) and cherries (the traditional The Cherry Tree Carol); pears are hard to find, save for the tenor Sir Peter Pears; bananas seem to be there (Yes, We Have No Bananas); and there’s a pineapple available in Charles Mackerras‘ ballet suite Pineapple Poll.
I drew a blank with one fruit, however, until I remembered Béla Bartók‘s flippant reaction to a piece that has come to be part of the established repertoire: Shostakovich‘s Symphony No. 7, Leningrad. Written during Hitler’s siege of the Russian city, the work has progressed from being a vehicle for war-time propaganda to a modern day orchestral show-piece. The opening portion of the first movement features a long, repetitive passage suggesting the slow but sure advance of an evil entity. Bartók was not impressed by the work and failed to understand why it was so popular. So he decided to send it up by parodying the repetitious theme in the fourth movement of his Concerto for Orchestra (8.571201), interrupting it with the most irreverent, classically-clad, trombone-toned raspberry.