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Baker's Dozen

Tour De France: Jonathan Meades Selects 13 Exercise Bike Classics
John Doran , March 6th, 2019 09:44

After a recent serious illness, writer and documentarian Jonathan Meades was prescribed 30 minutes a day on an exercise bike. He tells John Doran about his 13 favourite pieces of classical music to accompany his regimen


Tchaikovsky - Sextet Souvenir de Florence Op70

Is there something about the small chamber piece that suits exercise?

I think perhaps there is. I’ve been doing this exercise at home every day now without fail for two years. After I had the major heart operation I was sent to the gym at the hospital. I arrived at 8am and there were just lots of old people smoking. Real snoutcast stuff. And they seemed to just come to the gym to have a smoke and have a chat with one another. It was very lax. I asked them what exercise I should be doing and they had no idea. And it was at this point that I remembered that I had bought and discarded an exercise bike some years previously, so I exhumed it and started pedalling away. I listened to the Stones (late Brian Jones up until the time the podgy one, Mick Taylor, joined) but it didn’t work; there are too many shifts in register and speed. Obviously you get that in quartets but you also get an integrity; you don’t get these total departures from the spine that runs through the work.

How important are the biographical details of the composers? At the end of the day is it important whether Tchaikovsky was homosexual or not?

It doesn’t interest me. It’s not unreasonable to think about the tastes of writers because many writers draw so much on themselves but music is not so much directly an expression of a particular sexuality, a particular attitude towards money, a particular attitude towards pacifism, a particular attitude towards gardening or whatever. Things may be implicit but they are not explicit. So I find the whole Ken Russell industry pretty dubious. Hammy biopics are not really my thing. I think art makes for very bad cinema because cinema is an art in itself. It’s the same with television although the people who run television don’t realise this. I don’t think that the biographies of the composers are that important any more than the lives of the artists. The lives of the writers are a bit more relevant but not that important. Elgar galloping across the Malverns… so what? I’d sooner see the Malverns without the horses and without the actor pretending to be Elgar.