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#YourDesertIslandDiscs – a miracle of moss and music

Dr M’s twin loves are plants and music and although his posts here focus on plants here is a  musical contribution.

This month Lauren Laverne launches #YourDesertIslandDiscs BBC Radio 4’s invitation for the general public to tell about a piece of music they have turned to in the recent lockdown weeks, and the story behind the choice. 

Dr M submitted his choice:  Beethoven’s sonata opus 111, the second movement, and although it didnt make the final cut (broadcast 6th June 2020) here it is!

Dr M says: Despite the tragedies all around us, there are positives too, for example people are noticing and enjoying nature more these days, and there are many other silver linings, or “little miracles” all around, possibly just waiting for to be stumbled upon.

This particular little miracle has a botanical slant too (no surprise, it’s Dr M afterall!) a little miracle of moss and music! 

Dr M was visiting his mother when lockdown UK happened, and as a result he was able stay on and shield her safely and also share the joy of nature as spring blossomed in garden and countryside with a myriad flowers, insects and birds.

One day Dr M decided to take his mum out on a sanity drive to enjoy the local countryside.  Taking the main road and turning off down a narrow lane they wound along past the river, through farmland and a tiny picturesque village, and into woodland with a stream running in the valley below.

Soon they happened upon a massive stone wall, all covered with moss amongst mature, leafless trees.

Dr M pulled over to marvel at the masterpiece of moss-strewn stones and trees and for some reason he switched the car radio on, he cannot say why, usually the sounds of nature and chance for a chat are sufficient, but on this occasion he switched the radio on.

It’s always radio 3 in Dr M’s car, this time it was Composer of the Week, a Beethoven anniversary edition with Donald Macleod and the pianist Jonathan Biss discussing Beethoven’s final sonata, opus 111, written towards the end of his life when he was stone deaf.

Opus 111 is Dr M’s all-time favourite piece of music, has been for years, but he wasn’t sure how his mum would react, she has a great love of music, but likes a good tune and opus 111 is tough in this regard, the melody is sparse and the second movement – a theme and variations – can be daunting to the uninitiated.

As Dr M listened to the discussion, he looked out of the window at the stones, the mosses and the trees and they sat in silence as Jonathan Biss talked about this extraordinary work, and then, after playing a few musical examples to illustrate his points, he set off with a performance of the whole of the second movement.

They sat there surrounded by nature and music. The piece unfolded slowly, it’s a long movement, variation after variation, by turns slow, fast, sad, angry, weird, wild & crazy, and close to the end the endless trills flowed out into that the car and out into the trees, the mosses, the stones and with accompanying bird song.

And after the final chord Dr M turned to his mum: “That was the most wonderful music I have ever heard” she said, “What was it?”

What was it? It was a miracle. We had shared a little miracle of moss and music! Amidst the trajedy of this pandemic and the plain weirdness of lockdown this was a shared musical experience to remember forever.