An evening with Lang Lang

Well, I spent an aimless evening tonight. Normally, I would be rushing about and doing this and that. However, tonight was an exception. Having done all that I needed to do by early evening, I was free to take things a little more easily by 6 pm. Thus it was that I began to flick through TV channels and found the BBC’s ‘Lang Lang Live at the Roundhouse’. (

Our homely guest lounge at Blenheim Lodge, one of my favourite places to escape to if I want to watch TV without one dog or another blocking my view with his or her tail!

The last piece that Lang Lang played was Liszt’s transcription for piano of Schubert’s ‘Ave Maria’, originally performed as ‘Ellens dritter Gesang‘ or ‘Ellen’s Third Song’. Composed in 1825 as part of his Opus 52, a setting of seven songs from Sir Walter Scott’s epic poem, The Lady of the Lake, Ellen’s song opens with the words of the Roman Catholic prayer, ‘Ave Maria’, as she calls to the Virgin Mary for help in duress. Lang Lang played the piece beautifully. He has the lightest of touch particularly in the higher range of the piano, and I enjoyed his performance of this piece of music immensely.

However, I have to admit that my favourite rendition of Schubert’s ‘Ave Maria’ is its vocal format. The soaring voice of a rich soprano or full-bodied tenor seems to me to make the song come truly alive. Over the past week or two, I have been humming this piece in my head or out loud. In fact, it has followed me just about everywhere. And I love it!

The serene Kentmere Valley, one of the less frequented areas of the Lake District, reminds me of the old time communities that I think of when I listen to music such as ‘Ave Maria’. It is no more than 20 minutes drive from Blenheim Lodge. (Photo by Dave Willis, courtesy of

I am not Roman Catholic and do not know the words of the ‘Ave Maria’. Thus my response to Schubert’s lovely music comes about purely from a naive listener’s viewpoint. ‘Ave Maria’ takes me out of myself and into another gentler world, where people are still old fashioned enough to openly embrace godly virtues, and a man’s word and handshake is his bond. In my mind are misty and vaguely Romantic or Impressionist images of almost idealistic tableaus, where life is far from the frenetic busyness of our computer age, and people are more honest, open-hearted, kind and caring of those around them than the ‘me’ generation of the 21st century.

Thus, Lang Lang’s piano playing afforded a little bit of television escapism for me tonight. I know of course that what I find beautiful in music might well be reviled by someone else since we are all different and have our own tastes in music. Nonetheless, isn’t it amazing that music written more than a century ago should still appeal to the public now as it did to its contemporaries in the 1820s?

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