As the light faded yesterday afternoon and another wet day drew to its conclusion my mind was left thinking about water. I had to clear the bathroom for the builders who begin installing a new one today.
This morning it is still raining, I have been out into town and I am now wet, well damp at least and the builders are here talking about hot and cold water. How appropriate then to listen to the French composer Claude Debussy’s evocative piano piece Reflets dans l’eau (Reflections in water). It speaks of calmer if melancholy watery moments but the music, played loudly through headphones minimises the sounds of plumbers’ voices calling each other to turn on the hot, no, not the hot, no sorry I meant the cold. You got that? the cold. It also sends the sound of hammering into the middle distance.
I am breaking the rules of course in my History of Music project where I am not allowing myself to hear anything that was written after the date that I have got up to so far. At the moment I am in mid 1863 and getting ready for the sad deaths of two of my other favourite composers Rossini and Berlioz who have just written their last major works. Their deaths are not exactly compensated for by the early works of Anton Bruckner or the middle period symphonies of Nils Gade. So Debussy it is today….a Debussy holiday which is the first holiday this year since my flirtation with Mahler’s Third during the summer. Before that, I have had the occasional holiday with Rahcmininov and the English composer Edmund Rubbra but mostly I have stuck to my own unrelenting rules.
I know I could have played Handel’s Water Music, maybe I will later, but Debussy is so good at conjuring up the climate in Northern Europe and I am in self-indulgent mode.
Who better to play it too than the great Italian Arturo Michelangeli (1920-1995), one of my all time favourite pianists who always had the instinct, tough and unsentimental, as well as the technique for this music. It does rain in Italy too you know…as I remember from a soggy November in Venice.
Michelangeli made a sensational recording of Debussy’s Images (Buy it now if you don’t have it already because it has just been remastered onto CD).
Michelangelo’s playing is also appropriate this week as he, like most of the builders in my experience, didn’t always turn up when he said he would. He was a moody introspective and reclusive man who when he did condescend to play for us, simply blew away all his competitors.
Just look at him here, if any classical pianist was “cool” then certainly Arturo Michelangeli was.