For my birthday a couple of weeks ago, with the help of some birthday money, I treated myself to this complete Naxos set of the symphonies of Anton Bruckner.  I’ve finished listening to the whole set, but I’ve been doing so mostly on trains traveling to and from work.

I have come to the conclusion after my traversal of 11 CDs of Bruckner that some music should not be listened to on trains.  This set is one of them.

The reason is that Anton Bruckner quite likes dramatic contrast in his symphonies.  So the music ranges from very, very quiet to tremendously loud, with lots of brass.  And there’s not much warning when the volume is going to drop or rise.

Some of the times you hear it coming, but a lot of the time, you can be listening to a quiet bit, and then next thing you know, the entire brass section comes blasting in.  Then, on the other hand, you can be in the middle of a rousing brass moment, and then it all drops away to just a few strings playing pianissimo (“very quietly” for music heads, who seem to only think in Italian).

So what has that got to do with trains?  Well, what it means is that if you’re on a train where you have a certain level of not-so-ambient background noise, listening to Bruckner sounds like this – several minutes of almost inaudible sounds which could be the strings playing pianissimo or else it could just be the sound of the train.  Certainly there’s no melody to be heard anywhere.

And then, out of nowhere, a massive brass fanfare will begin which almost sends my ears ringing and drowns out all other noise . . .

So, from a first listen, I can tell you that the brass moments of Bruckner’s symphonies are quite spectacular (and quite loud), but that I think I will have to sit down somewhere with less ambient noise to give a proper review of his music.

2 thoughts on “Not Suitable For Listening To On Trains

  1. There’s a band i like called Mogwai who do a similar thing (although in a very guitar based way). The song will start incredibly softly, then suddenly transition into thundering guitar and keyboard parts, a couple of times in each song. I had to stop listening to it on the bus.

  2. I have the same set and I can wholeheartedly recommend taking time out to listen to it at home. Just send the wonderful Rachel and the equally wonderful Shelby into town on a shopping spree and relax with some of the most glorious music ever written! Make sure no washing machines, dryers and dishwashers are going, because they’re going to bleep at some point and destroy the magic. Enjoy!

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