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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


Mendelssohn - Octet For Strings

You could say that one thing which links all of the composers you’ve selected is that they were all fucked up, or is this merely the lot of artistic types in general?

Are these composers fucked up people? Yes but an awful lot of artists are fucked up people. It’s a terrible cliche, which happens to be fairly true. 19th Century artists do seem to have been particularly susceptible to religion, venereal disease and drugs though. I made a film about this called Victoria Died In 1901 and in fact we even had a commercial for laudanum in it. A lot of those architects discussed in that film appear to have suffered from tertiary syphilis. You can tell apparently. I talked to a doctor who is very big in that world about the effects it has on the brain; it creates very peculiar ellipses and repetitions. You can see those patterns in certain works of architecture and I suspect one sees it in music as well but, you know, I’m very much at home with Victorian architecture in a way I’m not at home with any music because it’s never impinged on my life to the extent that it does at the moment. Before two years ago I would go for months without listening to any music and now I listen to it every morning and frequently play things while I’m writing as well. I could never do that with rock & roll or pop music. But Dvorak is a different matter… I suppose in a way this is insulting to Dvorak because it’s just turning his work into lift music but you know [laughs] I’m unapologetic. This piece of music makes me feel like I’m 17 again. Mendelssohn was 15 when he wrote this but it’s not because of that. It’s because of the sheer feeling of ‘I have all of life before me’ that you get from it. It’s wonderful. But this is the very specific joy of being 17. Not 16. Not 15. Not 18. It particularly reminds me of the clothes I wore when I was 17. Very high tab collars, black plastic macs from Millets and Cuban heeled boots. What were my ambitions when I was 17? I don’t think I had any! I didn’t look into the future and think I want to be this or that but then I met this actor called Charles Collingwood who has now been in The Archers for thousands of years - he plays Brian Aldridge. I met him on a train, going from London to Salisbury. He was at RADA at the time and I thought, ‘That sounds pretty good.’ So I applied to RADA and to my amazement I got in. But before that when I was 17 I didn’t have any particular ambition beyond going to the next party. I loved parties when I was 17.