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Lockdown Listening with Mervyn King

Portrait of Lord King of Lothbury in a garden

Our incoming Chair shares his musical highlights with us, including something a little different.


Beethoven: Seventh Symphony

The sheer energy and passion of Beethoven’s Seventh Symphony is irresistible. Described by Wagner as the “apotheosis of the dance”, it really is dance music. I find it very hard to sit sedately in a concert hall while it is played, but I suppose I shall have to try!

Bach: Brandenburg Concerto No. 4

As Michael Fuller wrote in his selection for lockdown listening last month, “Bach is so fundamental to everything. At once both simple and complex”. My favourite wedding present was the complete works of Bach. I am, therefore, prepared for a lockdown of almost infinite duration.

Bruckner: Seventh Symphony

The power of Bruckner’s symphonies is almost overwhelming.  Nowhere is this more true than in the Seventh.  A wonderful opportunity to enjoy every section of the Philharmonia.  What is it about seventh symphonies?

Mozart: Symphony No. 40

In September 1992, not long after I joined the Bank of England, speculation forced sterling to leave the Exchange Rate Mechanism (ERM) on Black Wednesday. Two days before, Alan Budd at the Treasury and I were sent to Frankfurt to try to persuade the Bundesbank that sterling should be allowed to stay in the ERM. As we arrived, thunder and lightning of a truly Wagnerian kind crashed overhead. Our diplomatic mission was not surprisingly unsuccessful. But my meeting with Otmar Issing, then chief economist at the Bundesbank, led to a lifelong friendship and regular visits with him and his wife to the Mozart Festival in his home town of Würzburg. The Festival is held in the Residenz where the Tiepolo frescoes provide the perfect setting for Mozart.

Beethoven: Violin Concerto

No explanation needed to justify this inclusion.  And no obligation for the soloist performing this wonderful composition to wear an Aston Villa scarf.

Sibelius: Finlandia

Few composers have written music so evocative of their native country – and, in this case, of its history – as Sibelius.  The Philharmonia has long had close connections with Finland, and when Esa-Pekka Salonen hands the baton over to Santtu-Matias Rouvali next year, that tradition will be in safe hands.  I should also add that my wife is Finnish.

Mozart: Don Giovanni

With time on my hands, I would like to include one opera.  But how to choose?  I was tempted to select Fidelio or La Traviata, but in the end how could I not add Don Giovanni to my list.  If we are to descend to hell, I would rather do it in the company of Mozart.

Haydn: String Quartet Op.64

If I were a player, I would want to spend a considerable portion of my time in a string quartet.  And what fun there is from listening to Haydn’s many compositions for string quartets.

Anat Cohen: Notes from the Village

And now for something a little different: Anat Cohen is a truly remarkable jazz clarinettist (she doubles on the saxophone).  Born in Israel, Cohen now is a star of the New York jazz scene where I was introduced to her by two remarkable men – the music festival producer George Wein (he played on stage at Dizzy’s to celebrate his 90th birthday) and the late Bob Pirie, a lawyer who knew everyone and who was reputedly the last person to speak with Robert Maxwell.

Gershwin: "My Ship" from Lady in the Dark

Finally, two songs sung at our wedding: “My Ship” from Lady in the Dark, music by Kurt Weill and lyrics by Ira Gershwin, sung by Anne-Sofie von Otter from the album Speak Low.

Ya pomnyu chudnoye mgnovenye

“Ya pomnyu chudnoye mgnovenye” (I Remember the Wonderful Moment), sung by Boris Gmyrya (in Russian, 2009); Mikhail Glinka based on a poem by Pushkin 2009.  In these difficult times, when memories of past times and hopes for the future hold us together, I leave you with the English translation of the Russian text: "I remember the wonderful moment.  Before me you appeared like a fleeting vision, like the genius of pure beauty.  In the anguish of hopeless sorrow, among the cares of the noisy social whirl, for a long time I heard your tender voice and I dreamed of your dear features.  The years passed by.  Restless gusts of storms dispersed my former dreams, and I forgot your tender voice, your divine features.  In remote and dark seclusion my days dragged by quietly without God, without inspiration, without tears, without life, without love.  The time has come for my soul to awaken: and now again you have appeared like a fleeting vision, like the genius of pure beauty.  My heart beats in rapture, and God, inspiration, life, tears and love have been restored”.