What a year 2018 has been.

As it draws to a close, I can’t help thinking about how we got from alarm over a third world war breaking out (and worse, a nuclear one) at the start, to a G20 Summit in Argentina at the end.

Even if we weren’t listening all the time and were tuning out every now and then (who can blame us for that) I’d like to ring out the year in musical terms. Though I agree the discordant notes in trade talks, climate change agreements and even NATO, weren’t exactly music to our ears.

So, we went from “fire and fury” and “rocket man” to peace overtures in a matter of months, if not weeks. After all the sound and fury, the world ought to be glad that furious molto allegro rhetoric gave way to more gentle andanté diplomatic talk thanks to some great harmonization from the East. Moon Jae-in of South Korea and Xi Jinping with some deft manoeuvres, managed to play mediators and chief interlocutors in the unfolding drama.

In fact, the Winter Olympics in South Korea proved the perfect stage for smoothing ruffled feathers. Kim Jong-un’s sister, Kim Yo-jong, proved an adept solo performer it appears, as she let the sympathetic strings take over. Or so it seemed to all of us. In fact, right now, there seems to be growing harmony in relations between the two Koreas, which is a good sign.

Speaking of South Korea, I had the opportunity this year to contribute to a Korean drama web series for a particular brand in an overseas market. It was a chance to learn more about South Korea, its youth and their obsession with beauty, and indeed its music, especially K-Pop.

Music is in the ‘ear and in the air

Back home, thanks to a good monsoon, the Indian economy seems to be humming along, despite abrupt disruptions in the form of demonetization and the introduction of the Goods and Services Tax (GST, which I shall for the purposes of this post, call the Great Symphonic Tax since it is meant to unite the country through a single indirect tax). Demonetization sounded not just the end of a movement – extending the musical analogy – it brought an end to the growth momentum that the economy had achieved with the metaphorical clash of cymbals.

We are now under the spell of drum rolls and bugle calls as the country heads to elections next year. And it is temple politics that rules the day, on the ground and in the air waves. From Sabarimala to Ayodhya, there is only one strident clarion call: that minorities should be crushed. And if that is not enough, we have had the unveiling of the world’s tallest statue this year to provide the ultimate crescendo.

But now, let us turn our attention to matters more dolcé. Real music.

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Claude Debussy, creator of dream-like music; image: Wikimedia Commons

This year marks the anniversaries of a couple of luminaries from the world of Western classical music. Debussy’s death centenary was commemorated on the 25th of March this year and Warner Classics has released a 33 CD collection of his complete music to mark the occasion. What’s more, there is a new biography of him that has been published and was reviewed by the New York Review of Books. Written by Stephen Walsh, who is better known for his two-volume biography of Stravinsky and published by Knof, Debussy: A Painter in Sound is appropriately titled for a man whose music has been described by many as dream-like and impressionistic. Reading the review, I made up my mind to listen to more of his music next year. In fact, my musical journey of Debussy has already begun.

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Leonard Bernstein, legendary director of the New York Philharmonic; image Creative Commons SA 3.0 by Allan Warren

Time flies, but in musical odysseys, it appears to go by in a flash. In October this year, the world of classical music commemorated another milestone. It was the birth centenary of Leonard Bernstein, the legendary conductor of the New York Philharmonic, who was born the same year Debussy died. Generations apart not just in age but in musical sensibilities and styles, their commemorations too were different. One went by quiet and almost unnoticed, the other flamboyant and extravagant. A sign of the times, perhaps.

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Ludwig van Beethoven, the great German composer; image Wikimedia Commons

While we will be commemorating the birth anniversary of Beethoven on 16th December, it is worth remembering that two years from now, in 2020, we will be commemorating the 250th birth anniversary of the great German composer. And as an advertising professional, I couldn’t resist sharing this:

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Image courtesy http://www.peanuts.com

While Beethoven’s Symphonies are celebrated for their rich tones and textures, full of the depth of classicism and romanticism, I also admire and love his Piano Sonatas. All 32 of them. Here they are, played by the virtuoso Daniel Barenboim.

And how can I wish you all a Happy New Year and share music as a gift in this post, without sharing this. (clue: a hope that 2019 will not turn out to be a roller-coaster of a year) 😉

Happy holidays all, and to more music in the New Year.

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