August 2022 Books Monthly Review of books and stories magazine - on the web 24 years...
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The back page... this month - classical music...


Contents: The Front Page | Fiction | Fantasy & Science Fiction | Children's | Nonfiction | Nostalgia | The Silent Three | The Four Marys
Growing Up in the 1950s | Pen and Sword Books | Living with Skipper | Acker Bilk Album Sleeve Notes | The Back Page | Email


Previous Back Page and other features (Click on the links below):
DECEMBER 2021 - Enid Blyton's Little Noddy
JANUARY 2022 - The Whiteoaks of Jalna
FEBRUARY 2022 - Leslie Charteris's The Saint
MARCH 2022 - The Passion Flower Hotel
April 2022 - The Tiger Comic
June 2022 - Jeff Lynne's ELO
July 2022 - Knockout Annual

The year is 1958 and I've just returned from the city of Gloucester after listening to a gramophone record recital of Beethoven's Fifth Symphony. 


...In 1958 I was nearly twelve years old and Dad was going into the city to a gramophone record recital and asked if I would like to go with him. Anything to do with music was my "thing" so I jumped at the chance. "We're going to the Guildhall," he told me, "and it's quite likely we'll have to stand." That was OK by me. Being invited to accompany my Dad anywhere was OK by me - I worshipped him and the chance to stand in a hall and listen to music with him was thrilling. The radio was always on in our house, except for when I got out the wind up gramophone and played some of the 78rpm shellac records we had in our collection. In those days, the BBC was well organised. For comedy and fun, there was the Light Programme. For drama and more serious stuff, there was the Home Programme. And for classical music and Greek tragedies, there was the Third Programme. We listened to Mantovani, to Henry Hall and his Orchestra, to the Billy Cotton Band Show, to the Bob Miller band, and to record request programmes such as Childrens' Favourites, Two Way Family Favourites and Housewives' Choice. Then there were music programmes such as Friday Night is Music Night (as though you weren't allowed to listen to music any other night). This was the domain of Henry Hall (I'm Henry Hall and tonight is my bath night, we used to say).

On Saturday mornings Brian Matthew played the latest folk and skiffle records. And two weeks of every year in the summer, Housewives' Choice was broadcast from the Earl's Court Radio Show, and you would occasionally hear an Elvis Presley record, or Ricky Nelson, the Everley Brothers, and Bobby Darin. But for the most part, the BBC did not play pop records. For that you had to tune in to frequency 208m and find Radio Luxembourg. And then, the early sixties, the pirate radios began, and there was wall-to-wall pop music played by geniuses such as Kenny Everett, who introduced the people of Britain to the joys of the Beach Boys and Queen. Dad's classical music ended with Beethoven. His absolute favourite was Bach, but he did like some Beethoven, mainly the symphonies. Anything later than that, and he was simply not interested. Beethoven's Fifth Symphony is the one with the stupendous opening that reminded everyone of the recently finished Second World War, because of the morse code that spelt out "V" for victory. I was not familiar with it in 1958. although later that year, in the school Christmas concert, I played second violin in the orchestral arrangement of the final movement by Harold Laud, my school music teacher. That was the last concert in which I took part because the following year I became embroiled in the matter of being groomed and then abused by my peripatetic violin teacher, and my violin days were over. I turned to the guitar, taught myself the basic chords and played along to my new LP records by Django Reinhardt and Lonnie Donegan.

We took the bus into the city and walked from Kings Square round to the Guildhall, which, from memory, in 1958, was opposite Gloucester City Library. The audience was exclusively male, and I didn't see anyone at all who was not a grown up. Added to that, 99% of them, including my Dad, smoked. Looking back, I realise that I spent the first sixteen years of my life in a house in which everyone except me smoked, and I guess I must have been well used to it. Even visiting uncles and aunts smoked - it's a wonder I survived! From the age of sixteen, I abhorred it. I was invited to try it for myself but I declined. Why would anyone want to put something so vile in their mouth and then set fire to it? It made no sense at all to me. I have never smoked and find it utterly repellent. But in 1958, I stood with my Dad at the back of that smoke-filled hall and listened, enraptured, to Beethoven's FIfth Symphony. It would probably have been a recording, on 78rpm discs, by  someone like Otto Klemperer, I imagine, knowing what I know now about the recordings that were available back then. I don't know if the Workers' Educational Association was up and running in 1958, but this would have been a genuine attempt to educate the masses in classical music, and Dad wanted to go, and I loved it! I decided that my very next record purchase would be of Beethoven's Fifth, and a short while later, when Woolworth's introduced their very own record label, the Embassy record label, I grabbed a ten inch LP, paid for it, and made my way home to play it. Everyone in the house loved classical music. We used to listen to Promenade concerts on the Third Programme, and Mantovani and the other BBC regulars often played light classical pieces in their programmes. I heard an adaptation of Hugo Alfven's Swedish Rhapsody on Children's Favourites every other week, and then there was Sparky's Magic Piano, which featured something by Chopin.

My sister Jean specialised in Chopin - she was very good on the piano, and she also used to play Schubert's Marche Militaire to a very high standard, Jean often went to classical concerts in Cheltenham Town Hall (where I saw Acker Bilk and his Paramount Jazz Band twice), and I well remember her coming home from a performance of Beethoven's Violin Concerto by the great Alan Loveday and raving about how good it had been. A year or so after listening to that record recital of Beethoven's Fifth, we were on holiday in Hornchurch with Auntie Ivy, Uncle George and one of their daughters, Sylvia (with whom I was madly, deeply in love) and went to Hornchurch, a short ride away, to visit with Auntie Florrie (my favourite aunt), Uncle Stan and their son Colin, who was studying to be an engineer, and also had an amazing collection of LP records. He and my Dad shared a common interest in engineering, but when it came to music... Colin put on an LP of West Side Story, followed by an LP Of Holst's Planets Suite. Dad hated both! I lapped them up, and made a promise to myself to widen my musical horizons. I bought EP 45rpm records of composers such as Rossini, and an LP of Gershwin's Rhapsody in Blue, as well as other Beethoven symphonies, such as the Sixth, which we had heard at the cinema whilst watching Fantasia - Uncle Ernie had taken us to a massive, grand cinema in Cheltenham - Dad was still at work, so was unable to come, he wouldn't have liked it anyway!

Afterwards, Uncle Ernie made us a cheese soufflé, which neither I nor Mum and Jean had ever experienced before - it was absolutely delicious, and rounded off a brilliant evening. Whilst my main musical interests remained fairly narrow: Acker Bilk, Bobby Darin, Django Reinhardt and the Beatles - these were the LP records I collected and played at every opportunity - there was still a part of me that wondered what else I was missing in the way of classical music, but it wasn't until I met my future wife Wendy that my horizons suddenly widened dramatically. Her dad had a three LP set from Readers Digest entitled The Festival of Light Classical Music. It turned out to be anything but "light", and introduced me to composers such as Ravel, Brahms and Wagner. Now I was in the mood to listen to anything and everything classical. Trad jazz was shelved, as were Django and Bobby Darin. I bought myself a copy of this same three LP set and listened, night after night after walking home from Wendy's, to Wagner's Siegfried Idyll - it was the greatest piece of music I had ever heard, and I needed to hear more and more Wagner. And Brahms. Ravel - not so much. Just the one pieve by Ravel interested me - the Pavane Pour Une Infante Défunte. Bolero was OK, but it was not something I wanted to hear over and over again. For Christmas one year I asked Mum to buy me Rimsky Korsakov's Scheherezade, which was awesome.

Every birthday and Christmas heralded a new classical musical discovery... and then, in 1968, the film, 2001: A Space Odyssey happened. We all went on an excursion to London to see this amazing new film in Cinerama, and I discovered, simultaneously, the joys of Johann Strauss I and II, Richard Strauss, and Gyorgy Ligeti. Taken out of the context of the film, Ligeti's pieces are not what I would ordinarily sit down and listen to, but the Richard Strauss! A few months later, a second LP featuring music "inspired by" 2001: A Space Odyssey appeared in the music shop, with, amongst other pieces, the suite from Richard Strauss's Der Rosenkavalier. I didn't realise that this was an opera until later, but nevertheless, someone bought me a highlights LP and my love affair with Richard Strauss began. I bought a three LP set of Brahms, Sibelius and Rachmaninov. I bought Stravinsky, and Vaughan Williams, and Bruckner, and a complete set of Wagner's Ring Cycle. I discovered Shostakovich... And then, in the early 1970s, there was that Earth-shattering, ground-breaking Easter performance from Ely Cathedral of Mahler's Resurrection Symphony by Leonard Bernstein with the London Symphony Orchestra, and my classical music horizons were stretched beyond belief. By this time, we were into CDs, of course, and I found a brilliant performance of Mahler's Eighth Symphony conducted by the great Zubin Mehta, which took me to new heights of adoration. Nowadays, I have the brilliant performance by Sir Simon Rattle, which I prefer to all others... I remember racing home from work one evening to watch the inaugural concert to open the new Birmingham Symphony Hall, again by Sir Simon, this time performing the Resurrection Symphony. I now have at least three recordings of the Resurrection, including a DVD of that Bernstein Ely Cathedral version, which is unbelievably good! We still "discover" new pieces from time to time, thanks to Classic FM, pieces like Taverner's The Protecting Veil, and Gorecki's Third Symphony. There is so much beautiful music in the world, and if I had to choose eight pieces for a Desert Island Discs list, I would have to include Howard Shore's incidental music to the Lord of the Rings trilogy. Mahler's Eighth, Bruckner's Seventh, Shostakovich's Seventh, Beethoven's Third Symphony all make me cry with joy. But then, so does Jeff Lynne's ELO concert Wembley or Bust... they all send a shiver up my spine, as the late, great Kenny Everett used to say. Music plays a massive part in my life, I'm happy to say, and I'm so glad that I didn't close my mind to anything like my dear old Dad did!

The small print: Books Monthly, now well into its 24th year on the web, is published on or slightly before the first day of each month by Paul Norman. You can contact me here. If you wish to submit something for publication in the magazine, let me remind you there is no payment as I don't make any money from this publication. If you want to send me something to review, contact me via email at and I'll let you know where to send it.