The Emperor

Here I am, catching up on an old edition of Radio 4’s Soul Music, the one about Beethoven’s Piano Concert No 5 in E-flat Major, better known as The Emperor.

Most of the time, I’d prefer to listen to modern music, but sometimes an old classical piece will take my fancy.

Beethoven is probably my favourite classical composer, I love all the symphonies, especially the odd numbered ones .

But this piano concerto has so many fantastic melodies: it’s quite sad, or melancholic, which matches my mood at the moment, a cold, grey, murky April day. It doesn’t feel like Easter all.

Many years ago, I heard some of the music in the movie Picnic at Hanging Rock – and this film is referred to in the Soul Music programme. By association, and because it’s such a lovely, moving film, I could not pass up the opportunity of visiting Hanging Rock itself, when I went to Australia in 2002 to see the total eclipse of the Sun. (Scroll down to read an exclusive excerpt from my journal which is currently no longer available elsewhere on the internet.)

Soul Music – The Emperor

This Wikipedia entry describes the concerto in a much more technical way than I’m capable of doing.

My own Picnic at Hanging Rock, 2002.

On the train to Woodend, a bloke saw my t-shirt and said “London? Have you been to London, then?”

“Well, yeah, I live there.”

“Oh, I always wondered what the food and veg was like there.”

“It’s alright, if you’re careful where you buy it.”

“Oh,” he said, as he turned away to look out of the window.

His name was Bernie, if you’re interested!

Anyway, once we got through the industrial north of Melbourne and out into the country, it was lovely. I was worried about the 100% cloud cover though – but the small patch of blue sky spread by the time we got to Macedon.

Woodend is the closest town to Hanging Rock, a small place, but with wide streets so it was still quite hard to cross the road – just too many places to look.

I bought a picnic at a great little bakers: sesame seed rolls with cheese, lettuce, tomato, cucumber, beetroot and alfalfa. Guess how much? Two dollars each. Ace! Over the road the cycle shop, where John, the proprietor said I was a bit early. Well, I had got the first available train! I could have the hire bike only when they’d moved a lot of stock out onto the pavement, as the hire bikes were right at the top, at the back. Very handy.

It was a 21-gear mountain bike with front suspension.

And it was a surprisingly short, and easy ride to Hanging Rock itself, which does feel eerie. It looks like an ordinary hill to start with, but
then you realise, there are bare rocks showing through.

I walked to the top, and by this time I was a bit hot and sweaty from the ride of course. Having the bag on my back wasn’t ideal, but you don’t get panniers on a mountain bike.

There was a party of school children, in bright blue uniforms. I resisted the temptation to ask the teachers whether there were any students they wanted to lose…. the film Picnic at Hanging Rock was about a party of
school girls, on a picnic, some of whom go missing… But then I realised that these teachers probably get fed up with such stupid comments!

The Sun was getting hot now too, and there was no longer a cloud in the sky. The birds
and cicadas were the only sound when feet stopped crunching.

Some of the rocks and features have been given names, such as The Eagle, and of course the Hanging Rock itself which does look like it’s suspended in mid-air.

The views were spectacular, Mt Macedon to the south, and the plains to the north. There were some sheer drops too – one is called Lover’s Leap – but I didn’t get too close to the edge.

At the ‘summit’, I listened to the teachers talking about the volcanic activity in these parts, and the lichens which give the rocks their various different colours. There are dozens of plant species which are unique to these parts.

I started on the path going down, and I thought it was quite difficult in places, having to squeeze past rocks and climb down 2 or 3 feet at a time.  They’d never let mere tourists do serious climbing like this at home, I thought. Eventually I got to the point where it was too far to get down to the next level, about a 5-foot drop. I couldn’t even hear the school party any more… I realised I must have gone off the proper path ages ago. I was lost. Damn – all this way to Hanging Rock at last and I’m going to die here… Just me and the Sun and not a lot of water. I figured I had about 4 hours to go. I wondered whether John would mind having to come out here to get his bike back.

What a twit, I thought, getting lost at Hanging Rock. The only way out was to go back up again, which wasn’t easy with that 2-tonne bag on my back. But I got there eventually, looked around for the ‘proper’ path – and really couldn’t work out how I’d missed it the first time! Phew! I would live to see the Eclipse, after all!

In the visitors centre I bought some more water, and then I sat down outside to eat my lunch – my own picnic at Hanging Rock.

Back on the bike, I thought about cycling to Mt Macedon, but I have to admit, I gave up. The bag over my shoulder was uncomfortably sweaty, the Sun was overhead, the road was getting steeper and steeper. So I got not quite halfway and turned right instead of left, back towards Woodend.

It felt so good to be free-wheeling downhill, in the cooling breeze, and it was a very long ride, thank goodness it was downhill! I enjoyed that! It was a shame to miss the mountain, I’ll just have to come back again – a bit fitter! There’s a monument there, which is a huge illuminated cross, to commemorate the men lost in WW1, which is supposed to be visible from Melbourne, 50 miles away.

Back in Woodend, I found a second-hand book shop, and bought a copy of Picnic at Hanging Rock! I thought I ought to read it again! Sometimes parties of American women go in, and ask for a copy each!

I had an hour to kill before the train back, so I went back to the same baker, and had a coffee and the biggest deliciousest Danish ever – blueberry in the middle, and apple around the outside. Yummie!

I know, I know: too many exclamation marks! Sorry about that!!

Catch up

Well, I’m catching up on a bit of a backlog. Always will be, I suppose, since many of the shows I want to hear are on late at night.

But, as I write, Tuesday 14th February, 2.30pm, I’m listening to Robert Elms on BBC London 94.9. I’ve been listening to his show, on and off, for, crikey, it must be twenty years or so, since he first arrived at GLR. His knowledge of and interest in all things London are contagious. Today’s show, being on St Valentine’s day, include more love songs than he usually plays, but that’s OK.

Speaking of Robert Elms, it was he who introduced BBC London’s ‘Your Desert Island Discs’ show on the 70th anniversary of the Radio 4 programme devised by Roy Plomley. It featured eleven listeners and their choices of desert island disc with, in a couple of cases, a truly heart-breaking story. Robert himself said that one of the interviews was the hardest he’d ever conducted. The musical choices were interesting, I couldn’t have predicted any of them, I don’t think. I did wonder how he’d cope if one of the contributors had chosen a Beatles song. Robert’s notorious for his dislike of the Beatles, thinking they’re vastly overrated.

I listened to the Radio 4 ‘Soul Music’ programme that featured Gresford, The Miners’ hymn. This tune was written to commemorate the mining disaster in Wales in 1934 by a Durham miner. I was unfamiliar with the tune, but it is indeed very moving.

Last year, ‘Whispering’ Bob Harris compiled a series of 16 programmes to celebrate the 40th anniversary of the TV show The Old Grey Whistle Test. I downloaded the whole OGWT40 series with a view to listening to it while on holiday over Christmas. Well, I heard a few episodes, and I am slowly catching up on the rest! And very interesting it is too. There’s a nice mix of chat, replays of the original sessions together with newly recorded sessions. The latest revelation is Midge Ure’s new, acoustic version of ‘Dancing with Tears in My Eyes’. It’s no longer on iPlayer, but I’m sure it will be repeated sometime, probably on BBC 6 Music.

And finally (for now): I listened to Johnnie Walker’s Long Players – the one about Elton John’s Goodbye Yellow Brick Road. And I didn’t break down in floods of tears as I thought I might. Rather, I enjoyed Johnnie talking with David Hepworth about the album. Both Elton and Bernie Taupin contributed to the programme. But ultimately, it was wonderful to be reminded of what a great album this was. Yeah, some songs are better than others, of course, but after eleven years, maybe it’s time to listen to the whole thing from start to finish.

Radio 4 – Soul Music

Just a quick recommendation today. This is an occasional series on BBC Radio 4 which, despite being the nations’s speech station, produces some of the most interesting music documentaries.

In this series, each programme discusses a song or a piece of music with a particularly strong emotional impact.

This morning, I listened to ‘The Impossible Dream’. It was very moving, featuring a couple of very uplifting stories.

So in a slightly vulnerable state, it was very sad to learn that one of my neighbours has died. Just a few days after they’d celebrated their 63rd wedding anniversary. Wow.

Looking forward to hearing more Soul Music on Radio 4. I think I’ll catch up with Gerry Rafferty’s ‘Baker Street’ first, which was on a couple of weeks ago.

There are twelve or so programmes currently available here:
BBC – BBC Radio 4 Programmes – Soul Music