Ian R Macleod


Thomas Hardy

I can remember that I was rather put off by bucolic way in which Hardy’s books are sometimes presented until I read Jude the Obscure. In Jude, along with Tess of the D’Urbervilles, and many of his other Wessex novels, Hardy was able to turn the small, specific events in the lives of less than extraordinary people into something universal and great. As with Roeg, I love his willingness to incorporate the full range of life — love, hate, horror, beauty, God and the universe’s sheer uncaring stupidity — into his work. Despite the constraints of being a late Victorian novelist, you never feel when he’s at his best that he’s deliberately sentimentalising, nor pulling back.


Edward Elgar

I’ve always felt that a close affinity lies between Hardy and Elgar. Both were men from poorish backgrounds who took the classic structures of their chosen medium and transformed them into something fresh and new whilst exploring areas and emotions which remain quintessentially English. And then there’s that same underlying aura of exquisite sadness. The Dream Of Gerontius is probably his greatest masterpiece although his First Symphony, the Enigma Variations and his Serenade for Strings all run it close. Elgar’s Dream remains an enormously powerful piece of work — a vision of rising from death towards heaven by a man who ended up asking not to be buried on consecrated ground. Elgar’s also close to my heart geographically, living as I do now in Worcestershire, and sharing family connections which go back to Malvern where he grew up.


D. H. Lawrence's

 Sons and Lovers is the single novel I’ve read more times than any other. Lawrence combines the earthy and the spiritual in a way which, although much imitated, remains entirely his own. But, beneath his endless questioning, what shines through in his best work is his fascination with people, and his love of the world. As with no other work, I’ve come to live and breathe the characters and scenes in this novel as if I’ve lived them myself, but, when I return to it, there’s always something new to be found… 

Richard Strauss

Like Elgar, Strauss was a late Romantic, and overtly philosophical. But what I adore most about his work is the sheer beauty and unfettered emotion with which it resounds. I came to Also Sprach Zarathrustra through the obvious route of 2001, but it’s rare in the canon of instantly recognisable pieces never to have lost its power freshness. I’d rate the trio at the end of Der Rosenkavalier as perhaps the most beautiful piece of music ever written (Puccini has a couple of close runs), although I also love the start of that opera, which presents a delicious and amazingly explicit musical portrait of a couple making love, when it’s in the hands of the right conductor. But the one piece of Stress’s above all that I’d single out is Death and Transfiguration. A work of typically stunning over-ambition — a young man writing a tone poem about old age and death — it comes off, and always brings me to tears.


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© 2017 Ian R. Macleod
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