The 12 Discs of Christmas, Scheherazade Opus

Jazz may be an ill-defined musical term, but it’s pin-point precision compared to “Classical”, which people talk about all the time and which seems to mean anything written for an orchestra not in your own lifetime. My first serious girlfriend loved the baroque period – Bach, Pachelbel, but most of all Vivaldi. She had probably a full dozen versions of the Four Seasons. I can certainly appreciate those guys, especially Bach. The Brandenburg Concerto in #3 in G isn’t a connoisseur’s discerning choice for the best-evah Bach, but it’s my favourite, edging out the indispensable Toccata and Fugue in D Minor that’s haunted organs for 300-odd years. The only gesture I can make in the realms of the obscure-but-good is Leopold Mozart’s Toy Symphony, which is delightfully unusual. For similar reason, certain Chopin pieces are etched in my mind forever. But my generally preferred period is a little later, in the late 18th and early 19th centuries: the Romantics.

I think what appeals to me about the Romantics is that there is a synthesis of music and story. I tend to find, say, Mozart and Beethoven, beautiful but abstract. I think the clue is in their terribly inventive names for their pieces. Compare “Oboe Concerto in C” with “An American in Paris” and you get the gist pretty quickly about the change at least in my perception between the groups that sandwich the Romantics. To an extent, this naming is artificial, and some of the works with clinical names have become known by what’s almost an affectionate nickname instead, conveying the sense of drama inherent in some music. Nonetheless, my favourite suites are all evocative in name and in movement: Peer GyntPeter and the Wolfthe 1812 Overture, Carnival of the Animals, and Pictures at an Exhibition. Musically and imaginatively these all take me with them somewhere, though whether the “Hut on Fowl’s Legs” that I see conjuring Baba Yaga is the same as Modest had in mind there is no way to be sure.

The king of these suites is undoubtedly Scheherazade by Rimsky-Korsakov. Partially that’s by design, and partially it’s an association, and I think there isn’t a piece of art loved by anyone anywhere that doesn’t have a mix of these two things. Scheherazade was the musical accompaniment to an Al Qadim game run by one of the teachers at my first high school. It was my first real glimpse into the world of roleplaying as I’d now understand it, though in practice I’m sure we did more hacking and slashing than high concept drama. When, more than a decade later, I ran my own modestly successful Al Qadim outing for the Vic Uni Games club, this was the soundtrack for that too – which is now in turn more than a decade ago. At the slightest chord from the score, I am transported into the world of 1001 Arabian Nights, as I both read it an experienced it. Art that transcends reality: what’s a better endorsement than that?

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