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Stephen Barber

I took a degree in English Literature and then trained as a social worker, retiring in 2016. Classical music has always been part of my life. I play the piano and I used to play the clarinet, from which came an interest in wind instruments. The first recordings I knew were my father’s 78s of Beethoven symphonies and some Mozart and Brahms. The first two records that I owned were of Beethoven sonatas and Stravinsky’s Rite of Spring. I started learning about music from some volumes of Tovey’s essays which we had in the house, and I still turn to him. He basically taught me about music from Bach to Brahms. Not long after came Hartog’s European music in the twentieth century, which started me off on discovering more recent music. Then there was Wagner and I remember the excitement with which we greeted the arrival of each instalment of the Solti Ring.

It is difficult to convey how hard it was in the 1960s and 1970s to locate and hear recordings of recent and contemporary works. Vinyl LPs were fragile and expensive and composers now accepted as classics, such as Bartók, Stravinsky, the Second Viennese School and Messiaen, were hard to find. Now works such as Strauss’s Elektra, Schoenberg’s Erwartung and Berg’s Wozzeck are for me both examples of expressionist horror and also dear old friends. I have discovered early music and have a particular affection for Tudor Latin-texted church music, Jacobean viol fantasias and the French baroque.

Work pressures and the cost meant that I could not often go to concerts, operas and ballets, though, looking back, I seem to have gone to a fair number. However, BBC Radio 3 and recordings have always been the way I discover music and some of my favourite composers and works I have never heard live in the concert room. These include the Franck string quartet, anything by Chausson or Frank Martin and even some Beethoven symphonies and quartets. I am particularly drawn to works off the beaten track and, of course, for these, recordings are ideal.

Outside music I continue to be a student of English Literature and have a particular interest in the work of Charles Williams, best remembered as one of the Inklings circle around C. S. Lewis. I also attend classes reading Latin literature and some day will take up ancient Greek again.



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