Entertainment Music

Monday 20 August 2018

Classical music for every day of the year

Page-turner: Burton-Hill's book is a treasure trove for music-lovers
Page-turner: Burton-Hill's book is a treasure trove for music-lovers

George Hamilton

Clemency Burton-Hill is a name that may well be familiar to you as a frequenter of this space. A violinist, author and broadcaster, she's one of the faces of the Proms on television, and is to be heard regularly on BBC Radio Three.

One of the joys of being a music presenter is discovering just how much what we play can lift the spirit and enhance the experience of the everyday.

Her new book Year of Wonder celebrates what she describes as "music's capacity to explore, express and address what it is to be human".

Enthusiasm bounds from every page. In 12 chapters to correspond with each month, she moves one day at a time, suggesting a piece to explore. It's the creation of a super playlist of classical music.

She kicks off her year with some Bach, for he was, as she says, "the daddy: without him there'd be no jazz, funk or hip-hop; no techno, no house, no grime. He basically wrote the blueprint for everything that was to come".

The Sanctus from the Mass in B minor is what she proposes for New Year's Day.

As it happens, January 2 is my birthday, and she couldn't have chosen better for the pianist in me - some Chopin.

And then we're off, through familiar territory for sure - Beethoven's Ninth, Bruch's Violin Concerto, Brahms and Mendelssohn, marvellous Mozart from his Clarinet Quintet to his final symphony.

There are gorgeous nuggets throughout. On the entry for February 3, the author notes that this was the day in 1625 that the first opera composed by a woman was given its premiere.

La Liberazione di Ruggiero was the work that wrote Francesca Caccini into the history books.

She's by no means the only female to feature. The French composer Cécile Chaminade, Clara Schumann, Amy Beach and Ethel Smyth are all there, as is another English musician from just a little earlier in the 19th century. Alice Mary Smith boldly went where few women of her time would dare and wrote not one but two full-blown symphonies. She is commemorated on her birthday, May 19.

The piece that's proposed for today's date comes from an opera - Roland - by Jean-Baptiste Lully. Air, Deux insulaires is an intricately elegant Baroque diversion in 3/4 time. As to why it should be appropriate to October 7, there is no clue.

But this is just another aspect of the beauty of this book. There doesn't have to be a connection to the given date. Another day, another delight.

With this, as your vade mecum, your musical journey through any given 12-month will have provided a veritable treasure trove for your ears.

October 7, though, is a significant date in music, for today is 62nd birthday of the great cellist Yo-Yo Ma.

Among his many Grammy awards are those for pieces that feature in the book - the Brahms Cello Sonata in E minor, and two of the Bach cello suites for which he won Best Instrumental Soloist Performance (without orchestra) in 1985.

Fresh ideas in among many old favourites populate this impressive playlist that offers 366 suggestions in all - Rossini's Kyrie is in on February 29, the day he was born.

Year of Wonder published by Headline is out now

George Hamilton presents The Hamilton Scores on RTÉ lyric fm from 10am each Saturday and Sunday

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