JAmugMy name is John Abbott, a technology analyst now based in London. I studied Music at the University of Keele in the late 1970s/early 1980s and went on to do an MA in Modern English Literature at the University of London. After two years working at the Performing Right Society, I switched careers to technology, first becoming a technical author, then a journalist and after that an analyst. I am one of the founders of The 451 Group. I lived in London until 1998, then moved to San Francisco (where my son Oscar was born in 2003), staying there until 2005. Now I live with my family in a small village in West Berkshire, back in the UK. I’m a member of the Oxford Bach Choir. Please contact me at john.abbott@451research.com.

This is just a place to note things I’ve heard on the radio, at concerts or anywhere else, and to try and discover how they work. Because I can’t analyze whole works in a concise post, I’ve been attempting to highlight the inner workings of just one or two aspects of a piece of music that make it interesting to me. On the whole I’m not posting direct links to the music – which is generally easy to find on YouTube, Spotify or elsewhere on line – but I have created a Spotify playlist here. Not everything is available on Spotify and in those cases I do try to provides some pointers for other sources. I like all sorts of music (though I don’t actively seek out new music as much as I used to) from classical (including contemporary classical) to jazz and pop music. I’m not claiming that everything I cover here is a masterpiece, and that a three minute pop song can be compared to a full length symphony or string quartet – just that these things are good – or at least interesting – of their kind.

I’m particularly interested in the British Symphony, and have now posted a chronology on this site. An obscure field, perhaps, but there were many hundreds composed (circa 670 listed, November 2013), most of them now forgotten and rarely (if ever) performed. However, the CD era did see the revival of a number of works in recorded form. The peak period of the British Symphony occured during the 1940s and lasted right through to the 1980s, later than many people realise. But there are examples on the list as early as 1802 (Samual Wesley, Symphony in Bb) and as recent as 2013 (Peter Maxwell Davies, Symphony No 10). Over time I will add more details to the list about the individual works. There is also a composer listing, with biographical details and work lists. Comments, additions, corrections etc. all very welcome.

As for the blog, I’m be including occasional feature slots, which I’ll tag in categories and on the posts themselves: So far we have:

Fifty Modern Classics – I’m gradually working through the list put together by BBC Radio 3’s Hear and Now. It’s not a ranking, but a list of works chosen by 50 people from the contemporary arts world spanning the period 1950-2000. Only one piece per composer was allowed. The list I’ve put together is already annotated, but the blog entries will look more closely at the individual pieces, at least 17 or which I don’t yet know.

Late Masterpieces – I’m intrigued by the idea of how age and experience affects musical composition in all genres (see Edward Said’s book On Late Style). One intriguing example in the classical field is Saint Saens, who lived long after the musical tastes of his prime changed, but continued to compose. Edgard Varese told him to his face that he was an “old fossil”, but in fact his late works are among his most interesting.

Musical Authors – Composers who became better known as authors, such as Paul Bowles, Anthony Burgess, Bruce Montgomery/Edmund Crispin and Ezra Pound, plus various non-fiction works on music and the relationship between poetry and music.

Lost Chords – Music that might have been. Scan the opus lists of many composers and there are gaps: lost works, unpublished or suppressed manuscripts, projected works that were never completed, published works that were initially performed but later withdrawn. What, if anything, is left of them today, and if restored what would they add to our knowledge of the composer? (The core of this section comes from a proposal I once submitted to the BBC as a series of radio documentaries).

The Listening Post – I find lists of works with brief annotations a useful way of getting a grasp on a particular category of music (or set of pieces by a single composer). they can be a spur to further listening. I’m gradually building something along these lines for the British Symphony, but will also include the occasional annotated list within regular posts.