YEAR OF WONDER: Classical Music for Every Day - Clemency Burton-Hill

As we (Emily over at KnightofAngels and myself) finished our buddy read of the complete Sherlock Holmes canon just before Christmas, we were looking for a new project and we found Clemency Burton-Hill’s Year of Wonder: Classical Music for Every Day.

I love music and I’m excited about this.

However, there is no chance that we will be able to listen to a piece (and most of Burton-Hill’s selections are short) every day and discuss it. So, we are planning to listen to three pieces each week.

Let’s see how it goes.

From what I can tell from the very first piece in the book, there is no way I am only going to listen to the piece (specific movement etc.) selected by the author – I’ll follow that rabbit hole and listen to the whole work for quite a few of the selections because, while Burton-Hill’s goal is to introduce classical music to new listeners, I’m already a convert, even tho my listening habit has been rather casual and without any rhyme or method of investigating further into the pieces.

Nevertheless, Bach’s Mass in B minor (the authors first selection is “Sanctus” from this work) is impressive. I’m also a bit of a Bach fan… (I may skip any Wagner that the author may have selected, tho.)

Also, I have no intention to comment on every piece or on our listening progress every week, but I believe there will be a new post on every Friday.

A few words about the book, Burton-Hill does give a brief introduction to the pieces and composers she selected but the introduction is casual and very brief. It really is all about the music and getting people to listen to a wide variety of classical music.

From what I can tell, she also hasn’t picked the most famous pieces of the works she’s included, which I think is rather lovely and makes her selections a bit different from the various “Best of” album compilations.

There are 366 recommendations in total in this book, literally one for every day, ranging from pieces by the medieval Hildegard von Bingen to contemporary classical music.

In the author’s own words:

“So, know this: what lies ahead is not some white girl with a posh name telling you that you ‘should’ listen to classical music every day in order to somehow become a better, smarter or more classy person. I have no interest in making you feel ashamed because you have never heard of some of these composers or their music – why on earth should you have done? Nor am I trying to stealthily replace your Real Housewives or Love Island habit, or whatever else you might be into, with this stuff. You do you: there is no reason why classical music can’t happily coexist in a mixed cultural diet.

What I am determined to do, though, is to extend a hand to those who feel that the world of classical music is a party to which they haven’t been invited. I want to open up this vast treasury of musical riches by suggesting a single piece to listen to every day of the year: by giving it some context, telling some stories about the people behind it, and reminding you that it was created by a real person – probably someone who shared many of the same concerns as you, who wished to express themselves and happened to do so through this particular sequence of musical notes. It’s really important to remember that music does not exist in a vacuum: it requires listeners, audiences, witnesses in order to come alive; to be heard, to be felt. And that’s you!”

I do like that premise. Does it justify buying the book, tho?

It is too early to tell, but given that the introductions and background to the pieces are very short, I would say no…because it is essentially a list of music, which the reader needs to source him/herself (no links to recordings etc.). Thank goodness for YouTube!

However, I love the concept of the book and I think it would make for a great challenge for some people and provide a decent companion and guide to the context of the pieces.