I love music. I love playing music and I love listening to music. I also love putting on my walking boots and hiking across the Yorkshire Dales.

Together, these two passions keep my hands and my feet sufficiently exercised.

The word ‘symphony’ derives from the Greek ‘σύμφωνος’ (symphonos) meaning ‘sounding together’. Bring a large group of musicians together – an orchestra – and they will sound together harmoniously.

The word ‘pastoral’, on the other hand, derives from the Latin ‘pastor’, meaning shepherd. A pastoral life is essentially a solitary one, and that probably holds true for pastors with flocks less rural and more ecclesiastical.

Beethoven’s Sixth Symphony, the Pastoral, is one of the best-loved pieces of classical music in the repertoire. It is an appealing image, that of the temperamental composer enjoying solitary walks in the countryside around Vienna, jotting down ideas for his germinating masterpieces. In the Pastoral Symphony, Beethoven brings nature into the concert hall. It is a perfectly balanced musical tableau of gurgling brooks, birdsong, merry peasants, storms and thankful shepherds (so different from the fiery Fifth Symphony written at the same time). Never mind Johnny Cash, this is trailblazing country music.

Less well known is Vaughan Williams’s Pastoral Symphony, his Third, which is often assumed to be some Arcadian depiction of an idyllic English landscape. In fact, it was an elegy for the horror-stricken fields of France where the composer served in the Royal Army Medical Corps during World War I. Perhaps the title is ironic; it was certainly misleading.

War and peace, country and town, artists seem to thrive in an atmosphere of contrasts. Their conflicts and resolutions are the stuff of symphonies, musical journeys through the hills and dales of their composers’ souls. So it is that this blog, my ‘pastoral symphony’, is a sounding together of disparate interests, urban and rural, lofty and mundane, body and soul, good and bad.


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