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Prom 44: Beethoven 6

August 21, 2008

All credit to Beethoven for Symphony No.6. Not only did he craft a work which deftly illustrates a Germanic pastoral setting when he’d lost his hearing, but it’s his work which took me on a suitably escapist journey as I trudged my familiar route to work.

Like the Fifth, Seventh and Ninth, the Sixth symphony is a shameless crowd pleaser. Instantly recognisable, easily listened to and frequently player, it often runs the risk of acquiring the tag of “elevator music”.

Ilan Volkov’s direction of the BBC Scottish successfully made that description redundant and in so doing made my usually overbearingly dull journey to work intensely satisfying. A pair of noise-cancelling headphones undoubtedly helped as I listened to my special PVR recording of Prom 44.

It was a sunny day as I walked to Hither Green station. What better way to listen to the calming first movement with it’s fluffy white clouds and rolling countryside ? I started thinking about my first year at college. Buy the score and listen to a recording of it, I kept thinking to myself. Make sure you know the symphony inside out before you start term. (Sometimes thoughts of my own conscientousness make me feel physically sick.)

Listening to the symphony as loudly as I did on the train this particular morning signposted a number of reasonably interesting things.

First, how very like Dvorak some of beethoven’s symphony string writing can sound; Second, that Beethoven really knew how to write for the clarinet (and similarly Prom 44’s clarinettists really know how to render a suitably pastoral theme); Third (and most important of all), the work is perfect for softening the visual impact of a carriage full of tired looking commuters. It was also pretty effect at drowning out the inane conversation had by the teenager plastered with unsuccessful make-up who sat next to me all the way from Hither Green to London Bridge.

I’d completed the entire symphony by the time I got to WHSmith at London Bridge. It was a marvellous performance with some unexpected twists making for a refreshing show.

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