Stravinsky: The Firebird
'This was the first piece of music I remember falling in love with. I heard it on an LP that belonged to my mother and I think what I liked best at the time was that it was based on a fairy tale. It was music which told a story. As I went on to become a story-teller, that means a great deal to me. At the beginning the music takes you deep into a dark and dangerous wood and the first appearance of the Firebird is astonishing; you can almost hear this spark of light igniting. That has strong parallels with the spark of inspiration that you always hope for when you’re struggling with the uncertainties and doubts of trying to write.' Read the biography of Igor Stravinsky.
'A companion piece to The Firebird in the way it conjures up a gloriously unfamiliar and exotic world. It doesn’t just tell a story; it’s actually about story-telling. Scheherazade is a woman who saves her own life and those of others by telling stories. She confronts and triumphs over cruelty and madness and her voice is represented by the hypnotic, sexy sound of the violin. It’s dazzlingly colourful and compelling.' Read the biography of Rimsky-Korsakov.
JS Bach: Goldberg Variations
'Whether or not the story is true of these being devised as a distraction for sleepless nights, I suffer from insomnia myself and find that listening to the Goldberg Variations imparts something of Bach’s total conviction in the grace of God and creative order. It’s a sequence of dropping golden notes bringing peace and tranquillity, a sense of ultimate balance. I listen to this music, particularly as played by Angela Hewitt, almost continually when I’m driving in London and sanity often hangs by a very thin thread.' Read the biography of Bach.
Chopin: Barcarolle, Op.60
'I write about musicians quite often in my novels – people playing music, people listening to music. It’s a way of entering into someone’s state of mind. This piece makes me think of a nightingale singing. There’s a rocking, lilting feel to it, a sense of being held, of pain being made bearable, and it seems to me to be essentially about love in its profoundest sense. There’s a conversation within the music, a search for love and happiness.' Read the biography of Chopin.
Couperin: Les barricades mystérieuses
'Having played the piano in an unremarkable fashion until I was about 14, I took it up again two years ago and am finding curious analogies between pianism and writing. After all, they do share similar hand movements. This was written for harpsichord but again, I love Angela Hewitt playing it on the piano. The title is wonderfully enigmatic – what sort of barricades? It’s woven through with unexpected harmonies and there’s a constant pulsing movement towards an ultimate bliss or satisfaction which is finally achieved. It’s healing music, like the Bach.' Read Couperin's Wikipedia page.
Interview by Henrietta Bredin.