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Beethoven piano sonatas

This summer holiday I'm planning on listening to the whole of the Beethoven sonata cycle. Not in order. One a day. 

So far I've done the Waldstein, Appassionata and Les Adieux - all of them named sonatas but not the most popular ones (I'm guessing, for no scientific reason, that the most popular ones are the Pathetique and the Moonlight). 

Why am I doing this? You may well ask. One reason is this series of podcasts, http://www.theguardian.com/music/classical/page/0,,1943867,00.html, hidden away on the Guardian website. It must be at least five years old, but in this series Andras Schiff, who was about to give the entire cycle on the South Bank, introduces each piece to a live audience, often in great detail. It was a superb way to leverage myself into the pieces. 

But a better reason is that the entire cycle is so full of invention, beauty, power and hints of the future development of Beethoven's style that it's unmissable. 

Keep an eye on Twitter for what I'm listening to today!

Early Stroll Songs - thinking about Betjeman

Early Stroll Songs is a new song cycle by Richard Barnard. I've commissioned it to go along John Rutter's cycle Shadows (which, like Early Stroll Songs, is scored for guitar and baritone) and it's going to be performed on October 11th 2016 in St Georges, Bristol. 

Richard has recently sent me the full score, so I'm now able to start thinking about the songs as a set and to begin considering how to perform them and keep a narrative through them.

To some extent the narrative side of things is quite easy as the lyrics - all of which are actually tweets, sometimes two in a song - have been chosen to go through a year. There's autumn, winter, spring and summer, so it should be easy enough to keep involved in the tale. 

But now I've started to look at them in more detail I can see some other 'hooks' I might use to keep people's attention. 

One is a surprising number of references to horses. But more consistent, more telling and more difficult to pin down is the tweets' intense attention to the little details of other people's obvserved lives. I've decided that in places, it reminds me of the documentary films that I used to watch when I was a teenager (I've just found one, called Beside the Seaside, which is exactly what I mean - John Betjeman is the narrator. View it here. I just have, and the start is fantastic - VW Sea Symphony with some great footage). Boy, they knew how to make documentaries in those days when every inch of film, quite literally, was valuable. 

Not being too fussy about it, tweets are the same. You don't have the luxury of great resources, and every little nuance counts. A small observation holds the weight of a universe; a well-chosen rhyme or metre speaks volumes. Ian's tweets have all those things, and much more. 

Meanwhile Richard's music has an amazing diversity. Punchiness, lightness, melody and poise, imagination and some cheeky references to well-known pieces. 

This is going to be a mighty addition to the repertoire. I am very happy that I'm going to have the responsibility of premiereing it, let alone having commissioned it!

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