Limelight talks to Russell Torrance about this year’s strong contenders, Puccini’s emotional manipulation, and the passion of the tuba.
Voting is now open in this year’s ABC Classic FM Classic 100 Countdown, the theme of which is all things to do with love, heartbreak and passion. Nominations have poured in and now listeners can cast their vote on the final selections. Voting is open until Sunday May 21, and you can listen in over the weekend of June 10 – 12 to hear what’s made the cut.
Limelight caught up with ABC Classic FM presenter Russell Torrance to chat about this year’s Classic 100.
Voting on the Classic 100 opens today – which works do you think are the strongest contenders?
There are a few massively obvious choices that have to be in with a chance of making the Top 10 – they’re the ones that spring to mind immediately. Rachmaninov’s Piano Concerto No 2 or the Paganini Rhapsody; or something from a Puccini or even a Mozart opera. But that’s what’s so fascinating about a vote like this – particularly when you’re talking about something so utterly subjective as Love. I wouldn’t be surprised if something we just hadn’t considered ended up getting a lot of votes. Takes JS Bach for example – he’s not top of my list of ‘romantic’ composers, but there’s something pure and energising about his music that isn’t a million miles from that feeling of being in love.
Are there any surprises in the nominations?
I didn’t expect to see so many works from the mid to late 20th century. For example, I’m looking now at a bunch of choices by Philip Glass. I associate his music with modern life, technology, being in a city – not with love. But then – that’s just my point of view. Again – it’s so great to get our listeners’ perspectives on what counts as music about Love.
While this Classic 100 is about passion, it’s also about heartbreak – which works do you find the most heartbreaking?
Well I could give you any number of moments in Puccini operas. He was an expert at manipulating our emotions and pulling our heartstrings, particularly at tragic, poignant moments. Liù’s death scene in Turandot is my favourite – for want of a better adjective!
But for me, the most heartbreaking music comes from the composer and his/her life. One of my all-time favourites is Mahler’s Tenth Symphony. At the time, he’d just found out that his young wife, Alma, had had an affair. The last movement, in particular, is dripping with the anguish he felt. Apparently, the handwritten score is covered in messages to her – one reads, “To live for you, to die for you!” Heavy stuff.
Nominations could be in any kind of classical music – how do you think depictions of love have changed across the history of music?
It’s funny how there’s an ebb and flow of what’s acceptable and palatable throughout music history. Take Monteverdi, for example – some of his madrigals and moments in opera are saturated with lust. No holds barred! By the time you get to Mozart a couple of hundred years later, romance is cloaked in refinement and respectability. It’s definitely there in buckets – just not as obvious. And then a lot of music in the 19th century was of course driven by romantic love and the emotion was expressed freely. I don’t know where that puts us now – maybe the late 20th and early 21st centuries have been about reacting to that outpouring of romantic love from the likes of Wagner, Berlioz and Puccini.
Do you think there is a musical genre that does love particularly well?
Well it depends if you’re talking about music that depicts love, or makes you feel romantic yourself. They’re not necessarily the same thing. If it’s depicting romantic love, then I think opera beats all others hands down. But with regards to music that makes you feel romantic – that’s trickier. One of the pieces of music that makes me feel the most romantic is the third movement of Brahms’ Symphony No 3. I don’t know whether it’s a personal association from way back that I’ve forgotten about, but it just makes me feel all those feelings that don’t have a name. Symphonic music that doesn’t have an obvious romantic association attached to it makes it easier for you to come up with your own associations.
What about heartbreak?
Again it’s got to be opera. For the simple reason that a human voice can express heartbreak like no other. The dramatic context that opera provides gives you that extra element too.
Is there a musical instrument you find more passionate – or less passionate! – than the others?
Well clearly it’s the tuba. Actually I’m joking – I’m a tuba player myself and there’s nothing too passionate about 40kg of metal tubing. Aside from the human voice, the piano springs to mind. So many pieces of music I associate with romantic love, feature the piano – I could name you a dozen piano concertos, for example, that fit the bill straight off the bat. But there’s also the cello – listen to the Swan from Carnival of the Animals, or the extraordinary few minutes of Elgar’s Cello Concerto, and you get the picture.
What do you hope listeners will come away with, over the course of the weekend?
I think that the reason that all of this music means so much, often a long time after it was written, is that it makes us feel human. It expresses the highs and lows of being alive and being a human, and to be carried on that wave is one of the best feelings around. And if we’re focussed on that most vital and enticing of human emotions – love – then it just makes it even better. So whatever you’re doing over the weekend of June 10 – 12, however you’re feeling, whatever is going on in your life or those around you: I want this music to make you feel human, and 100 feet tall.
To cast your vote, visit ABC Classic FM.