I suppose music imitating nature isn’t a new thing. Whether intentional and explicit as in Beethoven’s pastoral or just through the patina of place and time - Shostakovitch perhaps - you can’t get away from it. Walking around New York City earlier this week, I had my headphones on, Nirvana playing as I walked purposefully down to the bottom of Manhattan to visit my favourite bookshop, Strand Books. Nirvana can make quite a noise, but even they couldn’t drown out the sounds of the city which layered themselves on top. The sound of illegal street sellers shouting in one direction and looking for the law in the other, the constant car horns sounded for a thousand reasons and none, music dripping from stores and the chatter of tourists excitedly spotting landmarks for the first time. In the end I gave up, removed my headphones and floated downtown on a jet lagged soundtrack of the city...and you know what, there were no cows, I heard no Sibelius but instead the rhythms and tones of the Gershwin piano concerto we were playing that night, seemed to drift in and out. Not surprising I suppose in this city of infinite possibilities.
I never really got Sibelius when I was a kid. I’m not the only one either. My mother in law has always loved his music, and repeated plays as a child, left my wife slightly traumatised by what has become known in our house as ‘that symphony with the cows.’ She was scared of it as a kid. In case your relationship with sound and visuals isn’t as vivid as my wife’s, the cows in question are the low grunts from the basses, tuba and bassoons that underpin the final movement of his second symphony. You’ve probably never thought of it before, but if you listen with a child’s ears, it does so
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