I grew up in the days when you were either a Beatlemaniac or a Stones fan, and I admit to having been a bit of both (typical Libra). But when university loomed and I shared lodgings with others, I had a bit of a conversion. I spent my first year glued to Radio Caroline as it bobbed illegally in the North Sea, with its constant plugging and adverts in Canadian accents for Russian-sounding watches, interspersed with Pentangle, Simon and Garfunkel’s Bookends LP, Jethro Tull and others, but in my second year I discovered Beethoven.
It was a fellow-student with a set of the piano concertos that started me off. Pop was fun, jazz was fun too, but classical seemed richer, deeper and wider, and from that time on I’ve mostly been exploring its main streets and byways.
Twelve years ago we moved house, and my vinyl went to Oxfam. In the years since, CDs and downloads have more than caught up with my old collection and expanded it into composers hardly acknowledged by us non-specialists before the CD revolution made them easily available.
Whatever music I write to has to be familiar—in other words, I must have played it a few times before I can settle to writing alongside it. The collection grows, however. In the last few weeks I’ve added Koechlin’s haunting piano suite Les Heures Persanes (a composer I knew nothing about until hearing an excerpt on the radio), the Brahms piano quartets that are playing now and Mozart’s Sinfonia Concertante K.364, a piece which makes me want to cheer every time I hear it. The Mozart I had years ago but somehow never got around to replacing it until recently, and it returned to the fold like an old friend.
It doesn’t matter if it’s relaxing or bracing, so long as I’ve already heard it a few times. I’ve written while listening to Schubert, Schumann, Vaughan Williams, Bax and Elgar, to piano music by Villa-Lobos and Mompou, to Debussy, Ravel and Poulenc, to the symphonies of Martinu, to Philip Glass, to Beethoven’s string quartets and Bach’s 48 Preludes and Fugues. The music never loses its magic.