This is the voice of the Maestro, visiting New York in 1910 for the world premiere of La fanciulla del West (of which more soon, I hope...) [Please click through to see it on Youtube - 'embedding disabled by request'.]
I've been ingested by a Puccinian whirlpool since wandering into Torre del Lago the other week. It's not only because the rain today is "chukking eeet daahn" (as my Hungarian pals would say) a la Toscana. Something about the place, the personality, the sensuous luxury, the scandals, the glamour...it is all desperately and irresistibly seductive. I'm listening to such works as Madama Butterfly and La Boheme with new ears. Just when you thought you knew something backwards, you realise you never appreciated the half of it before.
It reminds me — in a very different way, of course — of the occasion on which I attended some masterclasses by Murray Perahia, during which he applied his profound understanding of Schenkerian analysis to prove that the whole first movement of Schumann's Piano Concerto is powered by the clash of the two notes in that first semitone that the piano plays. It was a revelation: almost like hearing the work for the very first time...
Moral of the day: simply knowing how a piece of music goes, even thinking you know it well enough to play it right through in your mind, is no guarantee that you have a clue about its inner meaning. And by the way, this is equally true if you are a performer. Or a critic... It's rather a humbling sensation, but also exciting — because you realise how much more there is to discover. The more we learn about music, the more there is to learn. Which is wonderful.
Here's some live music for today, from people who really do understand some inner meanings. In London, *run* to the Prom to hear Leonidas Kavakos play the Korngold Violin Concerto, with Mahler 7 and some valuable Schreker alongside it. Ingo Metzmacher conducts the Deutsches Symphonie-Orchester Berlin. In Gloucester, catch Philippe Graffin in the Elgar Violin Concerto at the cathedral, part of the Three Choirs Festival, with the Philharmonia under Roger Norrington, also including the glorious Tallis Fantasia by Vaughan Williams (but do remember, assuming this conductor makes the orchestra switch off its vibrato as he usually does, that there are plenty of recordings of Elgar conducting his own works which prove that such an approach has astonishingly little to do with 'authenticity'). I am off to Glyndebourne to see Hansel und Gretel...packing the wellies.
Jessica Duchen is a music journalist and the author of four novels, two biographies and several stage works. She writes regularly for The Independent and BBC Music Magazine. Her latest novel, Songs of Triumphant Love, is published by Hodder.
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