Monday, January 20, 2014


People follow musicians the way we follow wine estates, for the rapport of their terroir with the varietal - the composer - and sometimes under the influences of the vintage - the epoch, whether in society at large or in critical opinion. I hope I have made it plain - I’ve probably been remiss in this - that it would be a matter of serene indifference to me, what the season had been like, if certain wine estates had declared a vintage, and presented themselves to the candid assessments of our world.

When I was even more undeveloped than at present, a scrawny student of law in New Haven, Connecticut - which is to say, a passionate partisan of rustic walks in the neighborhood of Litchfield - there was a great vogue in Gustav Mahler. Sir Georg Solti had literally lifted the lid from that cauldron, and there were many who had rushed in, but this uproar had only chilled me off, as all vogues do. But I had read very widely in the Mahler literature, I had felt drawn equally to his austerity and his bombast, his humour and his passion. We had his shadows, Shostakovich and Britten, to reinforce this impression.

So I sent out for the 7th, with the Chicago Orchestra but with Abbado conducting. I have to say, that some years later I heard these same Chicagoans in San Francisco, but with Solti, in Sir John Barbirolli’s signature symphony of Mahler’s, the 5th. I believed then as I do now, that music can not be more magnificently played. But it was Claudio Abbado’s recording of the 7th, which had not been the first I had heard, that already had made of me an unreluctant listener to what someone unlike me is saying. How, by the way, do you do that?

Later, in my small experience, there were two corroborative epiphanies. The world had said, we now have Simon Boccanegra, with his recording from La Scala. Oh, please. We had Verdi. 

Still, as I wrote to a couple of youngsters of longstanding regard today, there came a time when the symphonies of the greatest lyric imagination of the 19th Century were recorded in bulk, yet again, but under Claudio Abbado with a difference which no one disputes. The 1st Symphony of Franz Schubert, in his way of seeing it, cast a light upon my world which will not go out. In music, too, the most radiant charisma is modesty. In time, as in the case of the very least flappable of our wine estates, this will be extremely plain.


  1. If one were in the market for an MP3 of the Symphony No. 1, don't waste your time on iTunes trying to find it as conducted by Abbado. There IS a box set of all of his symphonic work for less than it costs to buy a venti coffee from Starbucks five days in a row. But then what would I drink while listening to Schubert?

    1. Now, here you go, just as a reader, trying to ensnare me in a tour d'horison of the cycles intégrales of a substantial composer, for the price of this bun of a posting. Won't hear of it. Change your drinking habits, would be my advice; or your reading habits. I don't rule out the happy thought, they may be the same thing. :)