My computer has resumed alerting me in the bottom right hand corner that ‘You may have a virus.’ I used to ignore such warnings as irritants. Now I’m finding them as a rather tasteless reminder of a world I no longer recognise.
Attracted by the buzz and almost insatiable appetite for all things cultural, Josef Haydn paid a couple of visits to London in the 1790s. Back then, although the largest city in Europe, its expanse covered only a few square miles with a population approaching one million. London has now stretched to over 600 square miles with a population of nine million.
We may think it crowded now, but the density levels would have been fairly insufferable. The Industrial Revolution, the last period in history (and, as it happens, the first) to have made so major impact on our whole way of life, was in full flow. It was the age of steam, mechanisation, textiles – and burgeoning worldwide trade. And London’s air, I imagine, would have been polluted with the effects of coal burning. It would doubtless have been horribly malodorous.
Were Haydn in a position to drop by now, he would be struck by two things, one to his delight, the other to his dismay. His small and tubby physique would now be the beneficiary of the cleanest air the capital has ever known; but the main attraction of his first visits, London as the cultural hub of Europe (yes, including Vienna) would be conspicouosly absent. Theatres, museums, concert halls all empty.
If I could have imagined when I started writing these musical musings that I would ever come to number 104, for that is where we are now, I would have known instantly the composer and the piece.
Haydn. Symphony 104. But what I could not have known is how appropriate that would be. For Haydn’s 104th symphony is called The London.
Everyone is being affected negatively by this hideous disease in one way or another. I make no comment that isolation for those who entertain us is better or worse than anyone else, but since my focus here is solely classical music, this post is dedicated to them.
Here is the final movement of the symphony, played by The Norwegian Symphony under the direction of Steven Isserlis. It is marked Spiritoso, which I don’t think needs translating. Listen to the unbridled exuberance of the melody, the majesty and buzz￼ of London at its heart – and then look at the joy which shines from an ensemble sharing the music, not just with each other, but a live audience. A joy which is now on hold.
It is reminder of the bond that music can bring. And, not a moment too soon, will bring again.