The Times

Music plays an important part in my life because it’s my way of finding another and better world than the one I often seem to find myself inhabiting. It creates a sort of barrier, a sort of wall separating me from the lunacy around me. If I’m in Iraq, for instance, I really want to have something around me which represents rationality and calm and beauty — and that’s what music gives me.
I’ve got very wide interests in classical music, but I suppose the music that I most enjoy is not very rational and not very calm! It’s Soviet music from the 1920s and 1930s. It’s absolutely the reverse of common sense and calm, but when I need calming, piano music by Tchaikovsky, Debussy or Ravel does the trick. I tend not to be particularly switched on by the music of the 17th and 18th centuries, except for Mozart, though I used to be.
When I first heard this disc of music for viol consort by the English composer Orlando Gibbons (1583-1625), performed by the Phantasm quartet, I was taken way back to university when I had a recording of some of these pieces. I don’t suppose I’ve listened to it in 40 years, but when I listened again — and it’s partly the performances and partly the writing — it had a purity that simply took me away from where I was and what I was doing. On Consorts for Viols the instruments are like angels’ voices. I was terribly moved by it and it’s certainly going to accompany me on my travels from now on.
I encountered it on holiday in a remote part of south-western France, in Gascony, where the internet hasn’t made much of an impact, and even making a call on a mobile requires a hunt for a signal. So when I discovered that I could get at the music by downloading it rather quicker than waiting for the CD to arrive, I thought I’d give it a try. We had a friend staying who is a Cambridge don and something of an expert in these things, so we went to, found the album and downloaded it to my mobile phone. I was seduced by the technology as well as the music.
I don’t have an iPod but I do have an Archos MP3 player which can carry hundreds of hours of music and I’m gradually filling it up. For example, I ripped all of Berlioz’s The Trojans in a few minutes and now I can listen to it anywhere — and still have about 78,000 other recordings. The wonderful thing is that if you suddenly find yourself on the Afghan border and nothing but a consort piece by Orlando Gibbons will do, there it is at the touch of a button



Sep 2004


John Simpson

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