I will freely admit that I never was widely exposed to classical music. While I attended a private old boys school, was taken to the ballet and plays as a lad and at one point did in fact count myself a student of the violin, classical music has never been something that I have paid attention to in any great way aside from brief forays with Gorecki’s Symphony of Sorrowful Songs, and Mozart’s Requiem.
Now, I have always appreciated classical music and like most people who have been exposed to popular culture in the last hundred years I can hum movements from Vivaldi, Beethoven and Grieg as well as anyone even without knowing exactly what I’m doing. Vivaldi’s Four Seasons is associated with sunshine and green grass which of course is due to the fact only Spring is very well known. Beethoven’s Ode to Joy, which interestingly is the current European Union’s anthem, is the only non-chopsticks song that I can play on the piano. And Grieg’s Morning mood will forever be linked to birds flying over a green meadow and subsequently chocking in plumes of toxic smoke thanks to hours spent playing Day of the Tentacle in my youth.
In any case my points are that classical music is part of the very fabric of our modern time and secondly that I have not listened to a lot of it.
That is until a few days ago when I started throwing on a random selection of classical pieces on when I have been cooking dinner. This was for twofold purpose, one to expand my experiences of western culture but also, ever the romantic that I am, I feel the music instils the food with a sense of quality even if it is little more than stored chemical energy in hastily prepared carbohydrate, protein and lipid mixtures.
So as all this was playing in the background I heard from amongst the piano and strings a voice.
‘Thought that life was just for fun, those days are gone’
I couldn’t shake it, these words kept on cropping up in my head. Now, despite my attraction to Symphony of Sorrowful songs I was not unhappy today, these words simply appeared and then, as I finished my meal my refuelled brain kicked in: ‘ALL BY MYYYYY SEEEEEEEEELF’
My god! Could it be!
I rushed to the stereo and discovered Rachmaninoff’s No 2 playing, and it was unmistakable. The melody was definitely the same melody of that well known anthem to loneliness. Had I discovered a long lost plagiarism? Was Rachmaninoff the original singer of this well-known Celine Dion cover? The answer to both, as any true fan would know, is no.
Turns out, that Eric Carmen who originally penned ‘All By Myself’ directly lifted this piece from Rachmaninoff thinking that it was in the public domain. It turned out it wasn’t and the singer went on to pay his due royalties to Rachmaninoff’s estate, however the true point in this tale is the excitement that coursed through my body when I thought I had discovered this link. This impossible tiny link between a well-known modern song and the inspirational song from 70 years earlier from one of the great composers, not quite impossible it would seem.
I had thought I was finding something new, and though it was not news to any of Eric Carmen’s many fans, nor probably of devotees of Rachmaninoff that excitement was mine, and it was new for me.
And so while these classical songs are old, there is still much to discover, for while the world may have moved on, it is for you to decide when something has lost its ability to surprise and excite and to bring you sense of wonder.