Pete Bettess - Music
Pete Bettess Personal


I like listening to music, although I have no musical talent whatsoever. I am an Englishman and in Sir Thomas Beecham's words 'The English may not like music, but they absolutely love the noise it makes.' My favourite composer is Beethoven, closely followed by Brahms, Elgar, Nielsen, Vaughan-Willams.

Beethoven. As I explained above, what I know about music could be written on a small postage stamp. I can only write about what I feel about music. To me Beethoven's music is revolutionary and profound. I find it immensely virile, masculine and energetic. To me it is a huge change from earlier music. Many experts say that Mozart is at least as good as Beethoven. Well I listen to Mozart, and I mostly enjoy it. But Beethoven simply takes me into new worlds that Mozart and Haydn never dreamt of. One of my first exposures to classical music was Beethoven's Fifth Symphony. I suppose that most people who enjoy classical music can say that. But I still listen to the same work today and I am still bowled over by its power, freshness and originality.
Carl Nielsen I find a wonderfully humane composer. The autobiography of his childhood entitled simply My Childhood, moved me deeply. The episode in which the horse, Samson, at the brickworks, gets injured and has to be shot, had me in tears. And in general I am not touched much by the plight of animals. But the entire book recounts his early years with a profoundly affecting directness and simplicity. His symphonies are all very exciting and stimulating. I remember listening to the early broadcast Nielsen's first symphony, on the BBC Home Service, before we had Radio Three. Cooke pointed out the sudden wrench at the start of the first movement, where Nielsen in effect starts the symphony in the wrong key. I had to listen to the symphony many times before I got the point, but what an amazing and original effect. And the originality goes on through all the six symphonies. It took me even longer to like the sixth symphony, Sinfonia Semplice, but who could fail to be persuaded by the wonderful tune in the fourth movement of the third movement Sinfonia Espansiva?
Elgar. I am English. To me Elgar and Vaughan-Williams are the most English composers. If they were poor composers I would still love their music because it speaks to me of my country and my origins. But they are not poor composers. In my view they stand comparison with any of the 'great' composers. I cannot understand why English composers are underrated in comparison with foreign, and particularly German composers. I like Schubert's songs for example. Winterreise is a marvellous work. But I do not find it superior to Vaughan-Williams's Songs of Travel, his settings of R.L.Stevenson's poems, and because it is in English it is much more immediate to me. 'I have trod the upward and the downward slope'. What a wonderful poem and what a simple, moving and affecting setting by VW. The Fantasia on a Theme of Thomas Tallis is also a favourite work of mine.

I love the Wagner Operas, especially the later ones and some of my favourite moments are the opening of Rheingold, the Rainbow Bridge, the Funeral March in Gotterdamerung, the Liebestod in Tristan and Isolde, and the Prelude and Grail scenes in Parsifal. I am currently developing an interest in the minimalist composers. I like Philip Glass's Low Symphony, and his opera Akhnaten. But my favourite minimalist piece by a long way is John Adam's Nixon in China. My favourite numbers in it are Chou En Lai's speech at the dinner and the Target Practice and Bayonet Dance. 'The Red Army showed us the way'. I also like some of the other John Adams pieces, like The Chairman Dances, and A Short Ride in a Fast Machine, which was apparently inspired by a hair-raising trip in the his brother-in-law's ferrari. I am listened recently to The Death of Klinghoffer, but I don't like that so much, and am disturbed by the use of such a topic for an opera.

Some of my favourite moments in recorded music are as follows:

Kathleen Ferrier in the farewell at the end of Mahler's Das Lied Von der Erde, Toscanini's Beethoven's first symphony, played by the BBC Symphony Orchestra, (especially the third movement, with its breathtaking arpeggios)(Click here to play the third movement),the slow movement of Mahler's Sixth Symphony, the prelude to the Second Act of Nielsen's opera Maskerade, Elizabeth Schwarzkopf, in Richard Strauss's Four Last Songs, Janet Baker in Berlioz Nuits d'Ete, Bax's Third Symphony, the epilogue, especially in the version played by Barbirolli and the Halle in 1943, the slow movement of Busoni's piano concerto, any of the Beethoven piano sonatas, especially played by Artur Schnabel, my favourite being the Waldstein, with its exquisite transition from the slow movement to the final movement. Any of the Carl Nielsen songs recorded by Aksel Schiotz, a singer with a most beautiful and evocative voice. All the songs, which are newly available on CD, are exquisite. I particularly like Den milde dag er lys og lang,Jens Vejmand, Irmelin Rose, Underlige aftenlufte and Sommersang, (Click here with its marvellous rippling accompaniment. (Click here to play Sommersang) The songs are folk like and very approachable. The final movement of the Cesar Franck Sonata in A major for violin and piano. I once heard an account on radio three of someone who was occasionally allowed, as a Japanese prisoner of war, to listen to an old scratchy 78 record of this work. He described it as like a happy marriage, with the two instruments sharing the theme, one in front and then the other, and intertwining and complementing each other. I thought it was a wonderful description of a marvellous piece.

I know hardly anything about jazz, although I listen to Jazz Record Requests, on Radio 3 on Saturdays. Some jazz pieces that I enjoy are: Bob Crosby's Digga Digga Do, Sydney Bechet's Blue Horizon, Louis Armstrong's The Peanut Vendor, Tommy Dorsey's Indian Love Song and Artie Shaw's Clarinet Concerto.

`The thoughts which are expressed to me by music that I love are not too indefinite to be put into words, but on the contrary, too definite.' Felix Mendelssohn.

Radio Three

I used to listen to Radio Three a lot. Radio Three was a revelation to me when I was a student at Imperial College , London , in the 1960s. In those days it was the Music Programme. Classical music, all day long, was a wonderful experience. In those days the music was arranged mostly on a concert basis. There would be a chamber music concert, a symphony concert, or an opera. And there were serious talks, often in the early part of the evening. But nowadays Radio Three has degenerated into a kind of Housewives Choice approach to classical music. It is a shadow of the programme that it used to be. So much peak time is given over to jazz and to World Music. The latter is simply puerile pop music from round the world. It has nothing in common with western classical music. The Late Junction programme epitomises everything that is wrong with Radio Three. I have no problem with people liking jazz and World Music. I just think that they have no connection with classical music. World Music, in particular, has much more connection with the pop music of Radio One. It is, in fact, pop music from round the world. I find it amazing that the BBC has an Asian radio station, for a very smail number of Asians in the U.K. And yet for the entire corpus of Western music, about four centuries of music, created by some of the greatest ever geniuses, we are forced to share a channel with jazz and world music.





Page last modified May 23, 2014