The Hidden Soul of Harmony

RIP Sir Neville Marriner.

The very first LP of classical music I listened with any regularity was a random gift award received in the mail by my mother for a joining a food club (or something). Neville Marriner conducted The Academy of St. Martin-in-the-Fields in Handel, Vivaldi and Telemann.


In a twist worthy of Anthony Powell, the Handel G major Concerto Grosso that opened the disc would go on to be even more familiar to my ear when I started working for Mark Morris many years later: Mark uses the first two movements as an overture for his justly acclaimed masterwork L’Allegro, il Penseroso ed il Moderato.

(Here’s something the general public probably doesn’t know: the Morris Dance Group dancers have a fabulous kind of “jazz” or “hip hop” original choreography they perform behind the curtain, warming up to the Concerto Grosso before the curtain rises and the Morris dance proper begins.)

As a kid I listened to the Handel side a bit but the Vivaldi/Telemann side was the one I would play over and over. I realize now how important this experience was to me. With this Vivaldi Concerto in B Minor for Four Violins and Concerto for Two Trumpets in C the basic message of Western tonal harmony couldn’t be missed.

You are in B minor! The nearby chords are E minor and F sharp major! Then — look out — you are in D major!

Or: This is C major, motherfucker! This is a scale in C major! This is how you harmonize each of the notes of a scale in C major! But, careful, here comes an F sharp, so we are gonna tonicize G major!!

It’s good music, and I still like listening to it, but what it taught me was most important. The LP has never been reissued on CD, but a generous soul has uploaded these uplifting tracks to YouTube. Gotta say, those natural trumpet players on the C major concerto are pretty damn swinging (at 33:46).


Later on — I’m not ashamed to admit it — I also learned a lot from the hit movie Amadeus with a soundtrack conducted by Sir Neville Marriner. Thank you!