Thursday, September 17, 2009


"With love's light wings did I o'er perch these walls; For stony limits cannot hold love out."

Romeo and Juliet Fantasy overture by Tchaikovsky.There is no other piece of music that I’ve listened to as often. The main reason being I studied it as part of my leaving cert (similar to A-Levels or SAT's for all you non Irish readers) music exam. I managed to complete a 2 year music course in 1 year. I’m still not sure how I did it; all I remember about this period was lots of tea and seeing sheet music in my dreams.

I wasn't a big fan of classical music mainly because I was forced into learning the piano at an early age. I know ‘poor me’, right? I now realise how lucky I was to get the chance to learn. So with 13 year’s experience playing piano I started the course. The nun who taught music was an absolute bitch and was completely obsessed with music. Let’s just call her Sister Staccato. I know some really obsessive music geeks but they have nothing on this woman. She thought about very little apart from music. She taught classes from 7am 6 days a week and we would hear her humming as she roamed the school corridors late at night. I don’t think she ever slept but I digress.

A few difficult months followed: studying composing/advance music theory and listening to the pieces whilst following the scores. To familiarise us with the piece Sister Staccato would point out the different parts of the score corresponding to Shakespeare’s masterpiece. After a while I would drift off and let the music conjure images in my mind. She may have been a demon in a habit but she was a brilliant teacher and made me realise how bloody difficult and enormous a task composing a piece of music is. Or the level of responsibility that comes with it.

The work is based on three main strands of the Shakespearean story. It went through 2 radical revisions before the piece we know emerged. Tchaikovsky was blasted by European and Russian audiences when it debuted but there were some fellow Russian composers (known as ‘The Five’) who recognised Tchaikovsky’s talent. Upon hearing the piece Vladimir Stasov declared “There were five of you: now there are six!”

It was years before people realised how special it was. The theme at 8.32 has been mangled by countless adverts and featured in films but when placed in the overall piece it’s truly beautiful. It became one of my favourite pieces and opened my eyes to the power of classical music. Despite thousands of replays it has never lost its power and is one of the few pieces of music that actually makes me dizzy; the parts at 6.08 and 12.25 make my heart race.

I dare you to put 19 minutes aside to plug some headphones into your computer (there is quite a bit of detail you’ll miss without headphones) and listen to this in full.

Painting: Lord Leighton


nursemyra said...

That's a beautiful image you've used. I've never seen it before

Anita said...

You know, I'm always sorry I sold on that score with all my scribblings in it. As for Sista Soul there...she left a sort of dual legacy. Disdain and inspiration.. or somewhere in between!

Green of Eye, Sharp of Claw said...

Anita: i know, i wish i'd kept my stuff as well. Her teaching inspired me but that woman had an acerbic, bitter tongue at times. I wonder where she's at these days, is she still alive?

Related Posts with Thumbnails