Friday, 27 March 2009

Mr Beethoven lives upstairs

"There's a madman upstairs!" says a young lad writing to his uncle about a nutcase neighbour who makes a lot of noise."Send Mr Beethoven away, I beg you !" cries the boy. It's a little Freudian considering that Beethoven's own nephew felt exactly the same way.

Long before the advent of DVD, or even CDs, there was a series of cassettes and LP's for kids by Ann Rachlin, called "Fun with Music". Highly recommended as the series was not in the least dumbed down. Each piece is well written, and has something intelligent to say, even if you aren't six anymore. Better than many programme notes these days ! Or the awful Naxos "composer books" series. Rachlin did a "Happy Birthday Mr Beethoven" which was pretty much on the same lines as the DVD - Beethoven seen thru a kid's perspective. "Did you know that Beethoven's favourite food was macaroni cheese? Or that he took a shower standing in a bowl, throwing water all over himself - and the floor?" It's documented too, though you might not read that in Grove. Rachlin's series are still available, so check out the website if you know any kids. Bookmark it for birthdays and Xmas !

My favourite in the series was the one about Mozart's childhood, Mozart the Miracle Maestro, very well researched, but presented in such a way that kids become fascinated with the 18th century. "A small boy who hated sloppy kisses!...A miracle in a cathedral in Rome!...The mystery of the Dark Stranger...Wolfgang's journey through Europe with his sister". In fact, and this is a TRUE STORY, one five year old, visiting Mozart's birthplace in Salzburg, piped up, "that's Mozart's sister!" looking at her portrait. She'd recognized the picture from a children's book and knew the story from Ann Rachlin.

And there are excellent ones on Handel and Haydn, indeed, two on Handel, which should be required listening for people who don't get the baroque. Rachlin's Handel's Firework Party resonates with kids who know London. It is a godsend if you get stuck with kids in the car in Central London traffic. "Fireworks that backfire...Traffic jams in 1749...Sword fights on London Bridge...Road rage in horse-drawn carriages." One minute the kid is having a tantrum, the next it's transfixed by proper music, not pap. The performances are pretty good, LSO, Mackerras etc. Again, Naxos pabulum it ain't.

Google Ann Rachlin for details. The series also includes ballets and orchestras and "stories" like Lt. Kije. Extremely good introduction to music even if you're not a kid.

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