When I younger – perhaps 11 or 12 – I had mildly autistic fascination for composers and books on music. I was encyclopedic in my knowledge about composers and their famous works – with a special bent towards 20th century musicians.
What was odd was that I hadn’t actually heard much of their music. My parents weren’t really into music that much. But I was fascinated by their names, by their iconic pictures and by the snippets of their scores that featured in books. The beginning of L’Après-Midi d’un Faun. The famous pounding of The Rite of Spring. They looked so beautiful and exciting.
It was an almost totally pictorial. textual romance, I probably would have been scared to death by Le Marteau sans Maitre if I’d actually heard it but the score! the beautiful notes like secret codes frozen into the paper.
It was pretty redundant knowledge. No one in Lee-on-the-Solent shared my fascination with these things. It would be another 2 or 3 years before I could get a record-lending library card from Gosport Library and borrow LP and chunky boxsets from their very eclectic classical music shelves. (All the Britten operas, Schoenberg’s Gurrelieder, Stockhausen’s Gesang der Jünglinge!). And then I would tape them into my Sony Walkman and listen to Turangalila on my cycle ride to school. By that time I was listening to the Beatles and Talking Heads too. Monteverdi Vespers on the way to school. The Queen is Dead on the way back.
The autistic love of the pictures came back to me last week, when my Mum and Dad gave me a box of music books they’d saved from the Church Fete. There was a Encyclopedia of Music that I remember from those days. I loved the photos. They’re so iconic. Schoenberg: so odd with his pop-eyed stare. I’ve never seen any other pictures of Debussy apart from this one with the watery eyes and faun-beard. And best of all – Rossini: lipless and laughing, sitting back after all those operas to a life of tournedos and port.