30 Days: Music Tidbits

Because I can’t and won’t do the 30 days of novel writing that thousands of bloggers do each November, but nonetheless like the idea of doing something daily, this November I’ll post a tidbit on music each day, be it a mention of a book, a particularly engaging performance, a resource, or my blathering on about some personal music topic such as finally learning to practice after 40 years of playing the piano.

GerontiusTo start, a hurrah for the best novel on a musical topic I’ve encountered (and I’ve plowed through my fair share), Gerontius by James Hamilton-Patterson. The focus of the book is the trip that composer Edward Elgar took to Brazil–a real life journey but one that is mostly a blank spot in the Elgar biography. The author uses this mystery to great effect, subtly evoking the musings of an artist late in life reflecting and wondering what is to come. He also “brings you along” as the best travel writing can do (Jan Morris springs to mind) with vivid scenes of shipboard life.

It reset my sense of Elgar, taking me past my view of him as a complacent late Victorian, helping me see him as a searcher after a new music synthesis, no less than his revolutionary peers (though using very different tools). This reassessment was aided by going to Colin Davis’ vibrant performances of Elgar works with the Boston Symphony Orchestra including a performance of Elgar’s masterwork “The Dream of Gerontius.”

Here is mezzo Sarah Connolly singing “Softly and gently, dearly-ransomed soul” from one of those BSO concerts (a radiant performance, if dangerously slow for the chorus):