Barbican Centre, London

Barbican-Centre-London-915pxI’m going to have a pretty London-centric summer this year (I’ll be working a lot in South Kensington, and I guess I’ve already had more than my fair share of adventures so far this year) and it was getting me down a little that I might not be seeing any new exciting places for a few months. But then I remembered that actually there’s quite a lot of great cultural places here in London that I haven’t written about yet, and have been taking a little for granted. So I think it’s about time I reminded myself just how lucky I am, and just how much I love going to the Barbican. Continue reading

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Calling for Carl – Cycling to Nielsen places in Copenhagen

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My friend Eli has recently embarked on a fantastic, envy-inducing adventure and moved to Copenhagen for 6 months. Her and her husband have taken the chance to move to a new city, learn a new language and experience a different culture. You can read about her adventures on her blog, Living Danish-Eli (and if you look closely you might be able to spot me). Their whole adventure has given me a lot to think about, but first of all I had to think about that I wanted to do when I went to visit them this spring. Continue reading

Národní divadlo – Opera in Prague

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I’ve been having quite a lot of adventures this year, and all of a sudden it’s been several months since I’ve written anything. I also went freelance a few months ago, and the positives are that I have much more time for travel. The negatives mean that what was previously a nice hobby feels like working for free in my spare time (by that I mean writing, not going on holiday!) Not all of my recent adventures have been musical, but so far this year I’ve managed to squeeze in trips to France, Denmark, Sweden and the Czech Republic. Continue reading

Brahms – Symphony No 3

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Seriously, I love Brahms. I went to music college and realised I had played all the solo clarinet works by Brahms after six months and decided that that would do (yes I am boiling down what was actually quite a difficult time into a vaguely amusing anecdote). At university I got pretty obsessed with reading all the letters between Brahms and Clara Schumann. I have seen his glasses in a museum. I have very much enjoyed listening to these recordings of him (potentially) speaking and playing the piano.

It is also worth noting that I don’t just love Brahms musically, but I am not the only one….

brahmsIt’s acceptable to have a crush on a man that is 150 years older than you, right?! I mean, look at these eyes! Anyway, I’ve now played all of his Symphonies and they are an absolute joy, even if they also rip your heart out. I’ve played a mixture of first and second parts when I’ve played these symphonies and both parts are completely gorgeous and engrossing to play. I’m hoping at some point I’ll get to play the alternative parts in future. Anyway, here are the notes I wrote about his Third Symphony for this time around.


Brahms is often referred to as one of “the three Bs” of classical music, alongside Bach and Beethoven. But for Brahms the power of Beethoven’s musical legacy was too much to bear and the weight of the Beethovenian standards he set for himself meant it took Brahms 20 years to write his first symphony. Fortunately, his three other symphonies each took only about a year. Music critic and Brahms enthusiast Eduard Hanslick described his Third Symphony as ‘artistically the most perfect’, and it was immediately successful after its premiere in 1883.

When Brahms was writing his Third Symphony, he was a confirmed bachelor who had just reached the age of 50. He had taken for himself the motto ‘Frei aber froh’ (Free but happy). Translated into music, this motto becomes the motif F-A-F, and this opens the symphony in a powerful statement. However this soon gives way to flowing passages in the winds, though the motif appears again as this opening section repeats. The layers of yearning in the music build up, until the movement ends with a more settled repetition of this opening motif.

The second movement, something of a melancholy intermezzo, opens with solos in the woodwinds supported by the strings. There is stillness that blossoms into beautiful but churning passages, a glimpse back to some of the drama of the first movement, but the stillness wins out. The yearning continues in the third movement which is full of mournful beauty. The melody introduced by the cellos has a singing quality that is taken and developed around the orchestra to eke out every possible emotion from it.

The final movement returns to high drama, at first suppressing the tension and excitement until it has to burst out across the orchestra. The drama plays itself out until the it dissipates, and the symphony draws to a peaceful and restful conclusion.