Classical music. Elitist, stuffy and boring, right? Wrong! In this memoir and unconventional exploration of classical music, Paul Morley seeks out the avant garde, the experimental and the surprising. His taste in the more radical works is to be expected (he was a founder of cutting-edge group Art of Noise and worked with Frankie Goes to Hollywood) and he laments the sanitised, soothing playlists of Classic FM and the like.
The subtitle of this book is How I Fell in Love with Classical Music (and Decided to Rewrite its Entire History). The author is well-known as a ‘rock critic’ but he was wondering what would be the last song he ever listened to and then realised how much music he’d been missing out on. This book explores his feelings about the composers he discovered and is packed full of recommendations, enough to keep you listening for years. It’s a very personal perspective but is informative too. He focuses on particular composers, such as Holst, Mozart, Cage and Eno. What I like the most is the idea that there are no boundaries between the different styles or genres of works, that there should be no big cultural divide between ‘classical’ and ‘pop’. It’s all music. Morley doesn’t define exactly what classical is. His writing on what are considered classical works is peppered with references to jazz, folk, rock and electronic music. Opera does have a section to itself, but I get the impression he has to work hard to love it, partly due to the ‘image problem’.
Despite the exciting ideas and playlists, I only enjoyed maybe 50% of the content of this book. Much of Morley’s writing about the music he loves is very wordy indeed. Whenever it got abstract and repetitive, I ended up skim-reading until I reached some music history or an interview or something that I actually understood. Occasionally, I feared that I wasn’t intelligent enough to understand what he was talking about, which ties in to the fear that many people have that they can’t listen to classical music because they don’t know or understand it. If you’re looking for an introduction to classical music, particularly the avant garde, then I don’t recommend this book, as the names, musical terms and descriptions won’t mean much unless you already have some knowledge and listening experience. If you want something more thought-provoking and are prepared for the wordiness, then give it a go.
Thank you to the publisher Bloomsbury for the advance copy via NetGalley. The book is available to buy now.