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Baker's Dozen

Beauty From Trauma: Paul Mendez' Favourite Music
Paul Flynn , October 7th, 2020 08:40

Pop is all over Rainbow Milk, the Gordon Burn Prize-nominated debut novel by Paul Mendez. Here he tells Paul Flynn how a love of Marvin Gaye, Beyonce, Solange, Joy Division and Missy Elliott gave him a clearer understanding of his sexuality and racial identity


Leoš Janáček & Thomas Adès – ‘The Madonna Of Frydek’
Janáček was a Czech composer. He didn’t play the piano himself but wrote beautifully for the instrument. His work was full of longing. I think of him as the Czech Chopin. This song cycle is called On An Overgrown Path. The track I’ve chosen is the fourth part of that cycle, ‘The Madonna of Frydek’. It’s the most sublime piece of music. The chord sequence, the weight and breadth of it. People use the word ‘achingly’ a lot to describe music, not always correctly. But it’s apt here.

Thomas Adès is commonly believed to be the greatest living composer in the world. He is a conductor, composer and virtuoso piano player. He is incredibly gifted. And he happens to be my partner’s best friend, so I have seen a lot of his concerts. I saw him conduct Beethoven’s sixth and ninth symphonies at the Barbican. The thing that brought me to this piece was a solo piano performance of the Janáček cycle at Wigmore Hall two years ago. In that moment, I had never heard anything like it.

99% of the time I can find something in popular music – by that, I mean not classical – in terms of the emotional connection. But every so often, there is a moment where what is being presented to you by a classical composer is so perfect, so beautiful and so well-conceived that it becomes singular in your imagination. There is a chord in here where I feel like there are nine notes being played at the same time that, just for me, symbolize beauty and the potential for tragedy. It is an amazing moment.