Art Dundee Music

Beethoven, Dvorak and a Con Brio

Last night I had the joy of attending a concert by the RSNO (Royal Scottish National Orchestra).   It was a beautiful and throughly enjoyable evening….I offer the following reflections….

  1. Dundee’s Caird hall is a wonderful setting!


  1. I love the rituals at Classical concerts – its so traditional….three encores, don’t clap in between movements…don’t be too enthusiastic – although the lady in front of me was ecstatic after the Emperor….
  2. The RSNO is one of Scotland’s great treasures – and should be publicly funded…the Scottish government sometimes fund rubbish – funding the RSNO is essential otherwise how will Dundee plebes like me get to hear such great music?!
  3. I think I should be a conductor! Cristian Macelaru was wonderful….although he reminded me of the comedian Michael McIntyre in his appearance and energy.  Actually now that I think about it, maybe there a lot of similarities between being a conductor and a minister!
  4. Orchestra’s are so against modern culture!  How can dividing people into first and 2nd violin be anything but divisive?!  And why so binary gender – men dressed in tails, women in dresses?
  5. Christians get everywhere!  It was good to meet a violinist (and reader of this blog!) from the Tron….

This is the 5th although not by RSNO…

7. Beethoven’s ‘Emperor is one of the greatest things ever done by humanity.   I love the grandeur of the whole thing, but especially the sublime beauty of the second movement.  Paul Lewis, as the concert pianist, was so gifted….I had a great view of his hands on the piano….incredible to watch…and to hear.



8. Dovrak’s symphony no.7 is not as well known as it should be.  I actually thought the RSNO played this better than the Beethoven.  It was really handy to have the notes so that I could understand what was going on….the Second Movement is described as “peaceful and prayer-like, a gently flowing clarinet melody creating a mood of cloudless calm”.   It certainly was – and I loved the horns and cellos.   Dvorak was a Czech nationalist/patriot and that comes across in the music.  In my head I connected it with   Anthropoid – Film of the Year!



9.  But….it was not all great.  We began the concert with this piece of modern music.


It was dreadful.  It is described as  an “exercise in fury and rhythmic insistence”.  It lacked harmony and rhythm.  Its only mercy was that it was short – ten minutes.  Whereas I would pay money to hear Beethoven and Dvorak, you would have to pay me a considerable amount to go to a concert with this!   Actually I was glad to hear the contrast… and indeed modernism are well summed up by Widmann’s piece, and indeed much of contemporary society is.  Its a transient piece, whereas Beethoven and Dvorak are much more transcendent.  Con Brio means with brilliance….thats no use if you don’t have substance and beauty as well!


  1. Hi David – I’m going to have to respond to this with my thoughts but don’t have time at the moment. In the meantime I would merely comment that not everybody loves Leonard Cohen 😉

  2. Cohen: grotty student bedsit, music. Music to be collectively “down” together, but at the same time uplifting. Where are they now? Part of the sountrack of a life of a different me. I was nearly in then, but now I’m definitely out, but fully in, looking forward not back. Don’t listen to it now, but still have worn out vinyl. now unplayed. Can still sigh a tune or two. Not sure if many in church would relate to it, of any generation.

    Some jazz is more comprehensible and affecting to me, than classical, but then I always was without class. church

    There you go, I didn’t want to go there…..Suzanne takes you down….so long Mar….. Like a bird on a wi… Tis your fault Roddy. Must revert to my Elder brother mode.

  3. Okay, I’m back…..

    I’ve only been to a few football matches in my 50 years on earth. I used to enjoy playing footie when I was a wee boy but lost interest around the age of 12. On the rare occasions when I have found myself in a football stadium I spent more time watching the crowd than the match – I found them fascinating and much more entertaining than what was going on down on the grass. But I know that this is most likely because I don’t follow football closely – I don’t “get it”. I know that there are skills on display that I don’t appreciate and a history and culture that the fans are engaged with that are totally lost on me.

    I’ve been a music lover and amateur musician for many years now and 2 or 3 Beethoven pieces would be amongst my Desert Island discs. That said, I struggle with some of his late String Quartets and I suspect you might too. Bach is for me, “The Master” in the history of music but some of his choral works don’t grip me at all and I can’t see what all the fuss is about (B minor mass, St Matthew passion…..). I love Led Zeppelin, but they had some dirges and duffers. Mahler did nothing for me until I was about 35 when I suddenly heard him properly. I first listened to Stravinsky’s “Rite of Spring” on an old radiogram (remember them?) when I was about 13 and it remains in my top 5 classical pieces. It is a masterpiece of transcendent art but caused a riot at its premiere in Paris in 1913 because the audience thought it “dreadful”.

    I discovered jazz and blues through my schoolday classical music studies and put up with family jibes about “that rubbish you’re listening to/playing”. Much of my spare time at the moment is taken up with transcribing and learning blues piano from the 30’s – 60’s; that stuff that “is so depressing and all sounds the same” (give me strength). Radiohead… depressing and all sounds the same. I have never come across a band with so much talent gifted to each and every member of the band and to such tremendous effect. Many serious musicians out there seem to agree if the number of covers is anything to go by. And yet the majority of the population couldn’t bear them for more than 30 seconds.

    I need to thank you for introducing me to the films of Terence Malik. I think it was “To the Wonder” that you reviewed. These films are right up my street, but again, many would find them “boring and weird” or at least “pretentious”. Perhaps dreadful?

    My dream job, when I was thinking of these things in the 80’s would have been Film Composer. I wonder if you have seen Kubrick’s “The Shining” – the soundtrack for that film, as with many horror films is what makes it work. Much of it was by Gyorgi Ligeti, another great Eastern European composer but from the 20th Century. Kubrick also used his music in “2001: A Space Odyssey”. There aren’t many who would settle down with a dram and get the headphones on to listen to Ligeti (like me) but oh boy, they “get it” when they go to the cinema and have to watch through their fingers with hair standing up on the back of their necks!

    So, must good music have “substance and beauty”? Substance, yes, I’ll give you that. But beauty? Must it all be beautiful? Should all art be limited to Michelangelo, Constable, Rembrandt et al? Does the art of Picasso, Dali or Moore have no value, purpose or meaning? I deliberately leave out Emin, Hirst and friends; their art, as with others of their ilk, is so much “Emperor’s new clothes” and is reliant more on the commentary used to justify it than on its inherent worth. “I’ve called this piece “Meditation on the unbearable lightness of being”…..blah blah blah”. I’ve heard it said that it is the fact that they have thought of it that makes it great. Ah…..I see……(?!).

    There are Emins in the musical world, but on my first listening to Widmann he does not appear to be one of them. He is new to me (thank you). I found “Con brio” on Spotify (I’m so with it now) and have listened to it twice. “Well done”, you say! It was on an album along with Beethoven’s 7th & 8th but I didn’t take much notice of that. On first hearing it was clear to me that this was some sort of homage to “Beetroot garden” (my old piano teacher told me that one 😊) as their are various snatches of his symphonic music in there. There is some very interesting orchestration and textures, especially from the flutes and percussion. The orchestra must have really enjoyed learning and preparing this for the Caird hall and other venues. It is a pity that the audience was not as impressed as those in Munich on the recording I listened to – someone can be heard saying “Bravo” or “Jah Vohl” at the end (couldn’t quite make it out but it definitely wasn’t “I’m going”). Fairly raucous applause too…..

    Beethoven’s 3rd was met with some consternation at its premiere but is now regarded by many as the greatest symphony ever written. Contemporary critics in Mozart’s day described his music as
    “too strongly spiced”; “impenetrable labyrinths”; “bizarre flights of the soul”; “overloaded and overstuffed”. Modern folks see his output as the epitome of classical music with “lovely tunes” (not many with Ligeti, I’m afraid). Personally, I’m not a big fan, except for his Requiem mass.

    “Con brio” was described as “an exercise in fury and rhythmic insistence” and yet you say it lacked harmony and rhythm. Radiohead’s music will also lack harmony and rhythm in the ears of many but their intelligent use of harmony, and rhythm in particular, is why I listen to their songs over and over, without tiring.

    At the end of the day, it’s partly about taste. I have never been drawn to the music of Pink Floyd, Manic Street Preachers, Bob Dylan (Nobel prize winner for literature – deary deary me, but a couple of good songs) or Leonard Cohen (careful, careful….). I think it’s because they are firstly poets and secondarily, musicians. I’m not big on lyrics. But I do like the odd bit of poetry – if you can, have a listen to James Macmillan’s “After the tryst”, based on William Souter’s slightly naughty poem. MacMillan is in my view our greatest living composer and this wee solo violin piece is beautiful if you have the “ear to hear”. You could also try his Strathclyde motets (Dominus dabit…). Some of his music you would find dreadful, however. His accessibility varies quite a bit.

    Many’s a Charismatic or liberal would find the average Free Kirk sermon “dreadful” (and maybe they should be!) and likewise their reading of Jonathan Edwards or Calvin. You couldn’t pay them to read that stuff (they would have my sympathy with some of Edwards!). Some people can’t tell the difference between a Malt and a blended but I reckon you can probably distinguish between a 12 and a 18 year old Bunnahabhain…..

    Slàinte mhòr

  4. And before anyone else brings Hitler into it…..I know he also occasionally received raucous applause in Munich 🙄

  5. I really think it’s a pity the late Townes Van Zandt missed out on the Nobel Prize for Literature.

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