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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


Beethoven - Quartet 13 op 130 + Grosse Fuge

What pleasure do you get out of exercising to what Joseph Kerman called “doubtless the most problematic single work in the entire literature of music”?

The ‘Grosse Fuge’ is a musicologist’s thing. People talk about how difficult it is to play it and there is a lot of debate about whether it should even be played directly after op 130 or not. I don’t find it moving in the way the third movement of 132 is moving. I think that is the greatest music ever made. When I hear this I have in my mind the Girodet painting ‘The Entombment Of Atala’, a scene from the Chateaubriand novel, and there’s something deathly about it. I don’t see the whole painting, just a polished brownstone tomb - which isn't even in the painting but it should be. My brain persists in putting a corner of Napoleon's sarcophagus in the painting. Maybe this has something to do with Beethoven's Napoleon obsession.

The first movement chills me and familiarity doesn’t tarnish it at all. As for ‘The Grosse Fugue’... I love it but I don’t have any kind of synaesthetic reaction to it, in the way I do to both the German dance in 130 and most of 132. That bit in 130 sounds like ‘Oranges And Lemons’, which is a complete departure from the rest of the piece - normally in string quartets you have integrity which makes them good for exercise.