Archive for Harpsichords

Music 101

Posted in Biographical, Music with tags , , , , , , , , , , on August 17, 2009 by telescoper

Regular readers of this blog will know that I’m a very laid-back kind of guy, unlikely to take an irrational dislike to anything or anyone and in possession of an easy-going and tolerant nature not disposed to any form of grumpiness.

However, I’ve decided to celebrate the fact that I’ve finished marking all my resit examinations by letting my hair down a bit and giving you a list of my musical pet hates. The title is an allusion to  George Orwell’s 1984, wherein Room 101 was a personalised torture chamber containing a prisoner’s own worst nightmare. Here I’ve confined myself to music. I was going to include rap but, as I said, I’ve decided to confine myself to music.

Brass Bands. I don’t mind brass bands – particularly colliery bands and the Salvation Army band – at Christmas or for singing hymns to, but I’ve put them on my list for the excruciating brass-band arrangements of classical or jazz that make my skin crawl. You wouldn’t want to play Jimi Hendrix on the banjo, and you shouldn’t let a brass band play Wagner.

Elvis Presley. His music was largely nicked from much more talented black musicians, and his inferior versions became popular simply because he was white and (when he was young) good-looking. He wasn’t even average as a singer. During his later years he became a monument to extreme self-indulgence and dreadful Las Vegas Kitsch, a bloated laughing-stock in a sequinned jumpsuit. I like a lot of Rock’n’Roll, but Elvis was the pits.

Brahms & Liszt . Where the majestic journey of the Germanic romantic tradition veered off into a tedious cul-de-sac. Turgid and impenetrable on the one hand, flowery and overwrought on the other. But what about Brahms’ German Requiem? I’m with George Bernard Shaw, who said that it was a work to be “patiently borne only by a corpse”. When invited to hear the work for a second time, he declined. “There are are some sacrifices which should not be demanded twice from any man; and one of them is listening to Brahms’ Reqiuem.” I could have added Schumann to this too, but then I would have lost the reference to Cockney rhyming slang.

Period Instruments My heart always sinks when I pick up a CD of a much-loved piece only to read the dreaded words “played on period instruments”. Read “played on inferior instruments (and probably out of tune too)”. Why on Earth would anyone prefer the buttock-clenchingly awful scraping sound made by a baroque cello or viola da gamba to a proper instrument? And as for the so-called “natural trumpet”, words fail me.

I’ve added this from Anton, which makes the point better than I could!


Barbershop Quartets Close-harmony singing can be wonderful to listen to – I’m a great admirer of Welsh male voice choirs, for example. However, the whining fake joviality of a Barbershop quartet is quite unendurable. Cut my throat with a razor rather than make me listen to one!

The Four Seasons I’m prepared to accept that Antonio Vivaldi might have written a reasonably competent piece of music in The Four Seasons. After all, he wrote so many little concerti that he’d be expected to come up with one half-decent one just by chance. The problem is that I’ve heard it so many times, in lifts, shops and, worst of all, at the other end of a telephone call centre line – and usually in very badly played versions – that I think I’ll commit murder the next time I hear it. And don’t get me started on Nigel Kennedy either.

Pan Pipes I dream of the day when it is possible to walk along a British high street without my ears being assaulted by faux Andean tootling to the accompaniment of overamplified muzak. Those guys may dress like Incas but they’ve probably never been closer to South America than Weston-super-mare. And do they think people can’t tell they’re miming?

Hector Berlioz Revoltingly overblown bombastic nonsense from a man whose ego exceeded his talent by as large a factor as you can find. My music teacher at School loved Berlioz, with the result that his vacuous splurgy ramblings were inflicted on me and my classmates lesson after lesson. The normally generous Giuseppe Verdi said that Berlioz “was a poor, sick fellow, full of fury against the world at large, bitter and spiteful.” Perhaps he couldn’t come to terms with his own mediocrity.

Folk Singers I like a lot of folk music, but don’t like English folk singers,  especially those that sing in a made-up west country accent and stick their fingers in their ears as they do so. If we have to listen to their irritating nasal droning, then at least they should have the courtesy to unblock their ears and suffer with the rest of us.

Harpsichords I could have included these under “period instruments”, but I think they deserve to be singled out for special mention. There might have been an excuse for playing a harpsichord in the days before the pianoforte was invented, but they should now all be destroyed to save us from the hideous plinky-plonky jingly-jangly noise they make. “Like two skeletons copulating on a tin roof” was how Sir Thomas Beecham described them, and who am I to disagree? Nothing was ever written for the harpsichord that didn’t sound better when played on the piano.

So there you are. That’s my list. If you feel like relieving a bit of stress feel free to add your own via the comments box. But please keep your contributions as measured and reasonable as mine.