January 2021 - Jessica Bruno
Piano Quintet in C minor - Vaughan Williams
I suspect my introduction to music was similar to a lot of people in the choir, certainly people of my sort of age. Both my parents are musical, my Mum is the daughter of a CofE priest and was raised with church music, my Dad taught himself guitar and was introduced to music by his (much) older sister who was listening to pop music of the 1950s when he was small. I was enrolled in music classes when I was about five, a couple of years later in the local church choir and a couple of years later again in a local youth orchestra. These are all experiences I'm incredibly grateful for now, they set me up for so many years of happiness in musical education, something I would eventually take all the way to degree level. Throughout my childhood and very young adulthood I was always in a choir or an orchestra or a group of some description, often quite a few at the same time. As I took in the various pieces, composers and genres my preferences became very clear. I am an intensely emotional person (although I may not always show it) and the lyricism and heartfelt nature of the romantic and modern periods always captured my imagination as well as those emotions.
I think I was seventeen when I encountered Vaughan-Williams' Serenade to Music. Sadly I was in the orchestra rather than singing, but that was my first real encounter with the composer who was to become my firm favourite. My first choice is straight from the era I love, written in 1898. With the first movement of his Piano Quintet in C minor Vaughan-Williams managed to somehow write a perfect expression of incredible joy and exquisite pain, moments of hurt and flashes of bitter despair in an ever-changing, almost manic style that yet somehow includes a serene beauty that can never settle, except perhaps at the end of the movement which manages to calm the fire of emotion, to regain control. It's a struggle I am all too familiar with. If my heart could write music and, unencumbered by rationality or confusion, put notes straight on to paper I think it would sound just like this. In this version the first movement ends at 9:38 and while the first is my favourite, the entire piece is very special to me.
Between You and Me (Broadway Melody of 1940) - Cole Porter
There is nothing in my life experience really that can explain why I have such intense passion for the popular music and film of the first half of the twentieth century. It was all done and dusted twenty five years before I was born. And yet I have a love for it that can easily overpower anything rational. For me this music is home, it's my blanket, my secret balm and one of the greatest sources of happiness I have ever known. If ever I need comfort I find it in a bowl of something sweet and an old musical, a Judy Garland film perhaps or something with Deanna Durbin. It's in Fred and Ginger, Dick Powell, Irving Berlin, Cole Porter, George Gershwin, Hoagy Carmichael, Busby Berkeley, Howard Hawkes, Betty Grable, Betty Hutton and the great, great Eleanor Powell. When I saw Broadway Melody of 1940 for the first time, as soon as it was over I had to watch it again immediately! The next night after work as soon as dinner was done I watched it again. There is such exquisite joy and beauty in this music and dance, a gushing passion and lyricism encapsulated by those soaring violins of 1940s film soundtracks. To me this is musical perfection, better even than Elgar or RV-W.
High Hopes - Pink Floyd
When I first started formulating this Desert Island Discs project a few people mentioned to me that this should be a story of one's life just as much or even more so than one's favourite music. In the intense struggle of trying to find a piece of popular music from the 1970s and 1980s from the vast list that have had such a strong imprint over many many years I keep coming back to High Hopes, for reasons that are uncomfortable more than a decade on, but cannot and should not be ignored.
Most of you know the decision I made at the age of twenty that changed the direction of my life forever. Overnight my days went from comparatively trouble-free and easy (on the surface at least) to being an immense challenge. As my hero April Ashley has said many times on the subject of transition, "I would always wish people three things – to be kind to yourself and to others. To be beautiful, on the inside, which makes you beautiful on the outside. And most of all to be brave, because you will need that." Nearly twenty years later things are so far improved from those arduous, painful early days and I don't for a second ever regret the choice I made, it's my truth if nothing else is, but to intentionally throw oneself into a world of abuse, of misunderstanding and misrepresentation, of derision, pain and violence in ways most people can't begin to imagine takes a toll. Back then my journey was a lot less mainstream than it is now. For the first three years I couldn't even leave my bedroom without the support of being on something illegal. If I was sober the fear would conquer me, the looks and comments, the threats, they would crush me. Every night I would lie in the back garden of the house I shared on Muller Road, stare up at the night sky while I was coming up having smoked whatever it was I was smoking for that particular day, and listen to High Hopes over and over again. I would look back at the easy life I had left behind, curse and hate on the world that had forced upon me this horrible choice, and wonder if, in choosing this one of the two roads laid out for me, I had made a terrible mistake.
Stick To Your Guns - Bon Jovi
I First started listening to Bon Jovi in the early 1990s when they were arguably at the height of their popularity and their songs were still coming out on a regular basis. But from what started with Tommy and Gina, Keep the Faith and It's my Life turned into the longest relationship I have had with anything or anyone in my life save my family and a teddy bear or two. I was seven when Keep The Faith came out. Three decades later Bon Jovi are still a big part of my heart.
Musically there is something about Bon Jovi that has always just clicked with me. When I performed the Baritone solo in Faure's Requiem with Noël Tredinnick and the orchestra of All Souls church (savage name drop, sorry not sorry) it was a Bon Jovi CD that was wrapped and presented to me as a 'thank you'. I took joy from delving deeper than the popular mainstream Bon Jovi releases, finding limited edition vinyl and collecting CD singles to unearth those tracks many people have never even heard of, back when Wikipedia and Spotify couldn't do the heavy lifting for me. In fact one of my absolute favourite Bon Jovi songs is a B-side. Edge of a Broken Heart was never on an album, it was on the other side of Always the CD single. While that is my favourite Bon Jovi song it's the album experiences that mean the most to me. Slippery When Wet and New Jersey are the two real heavy hitters, straight from an era ruled by tape cassettes and CDs I almost have to listen to them in the original order. It's an experience! New Jersey is my favourite album and the track I always look forward to in the lineup is Stick to Your Guns. It's also a great representation of the comfort and support the band has brought me over the vast majority of my life. So many of their songs have memories associated with them, some of them painful, some wonderful, yet what the music means to me has somehow always overwrought the memories. They have been there for me, Jon, Richie and Tico, and they always will be.
The Mandalorian - Ludwig Göransson
Science-fiction has occupied a huge part of my life, the combination of dreaming, social commentary, humour, mythology, technology and often a classical score resonates strongly. With such a combination what's not to love? My last project in my final year of university was a dissertation based entirely on the music of Star Wars, such was my fandom, and since Disney took over the franchise a few years ago a lot more Star Wars universe content has been released, in varying levels of quality.
Jon Favreau of Iron Man fame brought out the first season of The Mandalorian in 2019 which is, to my eyes, some of the best Star Wars ever created. Part and parcel of that is the amazing music by Ludwig Göransson. One thing perhaps Disney did right was the intros for some of their Marvel Universe serials like Daredevil (John Paesano) and Luke Cage (Adrian Younge), mirrored by Netflix' The Crown by Hans Zimmer. These are brooding masterpieces that with such amazing creative fusion evoque the times in history the originals happened, layered with the social and political content of the plots in musical form. This is one modern musical development that has made me so happy in so many ways and on so many levels. I find myself constantly humming The Mandalorian, even trying to analyse the instrumentation and arrangement, trying to pin aspects of the story to themes and to instruments in the way of Wagnerian Leitmotif as John Williams did with his Star Wars scores.
Desert Island Discs is a radio show first broadcast first broadcast on the BBC Forces Programme on 29 January 1942. It's now broadcast on BBC Radio 4 and hosted by Lauren Laverne. You can find more information here.