There has always been a core of enthusiasts who turned up at every vocal or instrumental recital of Western classical music that was held in Karachi. Most of the time, it was the foreign cultural missions like the Goethe Institut, the Alliance Francaise, the British Council, the American Center and Friendship House that played host. Sometimes concerts were held in hotels or private residences, invariably to packed houses. Whenever Chopin, Lizst and Beethoven were on the programme, Edwardian ladies who belonged to an album world of Bible, lace and gramophone appeared to come out of the woodwork and turned an educated ear towards the vocalist or recitalist. A former governor of Sindh, Mr Kamaluddin Azfar, who was a great enthusiast of both sub-continental as well as Western classical music, and promoted both at the Governor’s House, once asked me if I would draw up a list of 10 instrumental works which would serve as an introduction to a young couple who were keen on familiarising themselves with the genre.
I didn’t think I was really qualified to do this even though I had been the unofficial music correspondent of Dawn for over 30 years, and suggested the names of a couple of my Parsi friends who would have done a far better job. But the governor insisted it should be I and nobody else, and lightly chided me for my excessive modesty.
I wished he had instead asked me to give him a list of 10 of the early classics of Latin American music of which I had a huge collection. In fact, I wanted to show him what an old Panchgani school friend, the late MU Haq, father-in-law of former slain governor of Punjab Salmaan Taseer, had written in the late, lamented Star newspaper which came out every day around noon. The article started with a tribute to the exceptional batting skills which I displayed in a crucial cricket match between St Peters and another boarding school in which I scored eight runs in two and a half hours while MU Haq scored a double century in half the time. But then, he also wrote that I had the largest collection of Latin American music in this country and that there was little I didn’t know about the early music of Mexico, Argentina and Cuba. However, that day classical music was on the menu and I did my best to put together a list.
Now, compiling a file for people who have probably been weaned on the music of Beatles and Rolling Stones wasn’t going to be easy. Nevertheless, I thought I would give it the old college try. I could have straight away dropped them in at the deep end by introducing them to the overture to William Tell by Gioachini Rossini. But as there was a strong chance they might have headed for Native Jetty and jumped off the bridge, I dropped the idea. An American friend, who had just gotten back from a trip to Vienna, said, “Why don’t you give them light music, beautiful music, lovely melodies, pure schmaltz if you have to, the type they played on the radio when they wanted to put you to sleep?” That’s how I arrived at the following list: 1) Nocturne Op 9 No 1 by Frederic Chopin; 2) Etude Op 25 No 1 (Aeolian Harp) by Frederic Chopin; 3) Sonata Op 13 No 8 in C Minor (Pathetique) by Ludwig van Beethoven; 4) Meditation from Thais by Jules Massanet; 5) Bacarolle from the Tales of Hoffman by Jacques Offenbach; 6) Romance on a theme by Paganini; 7) Caprice Viennois by Fritz Kreisler; 8) Claire de Lune by Claude Debussy; 9) Scheherazade by Rimsky Korsakov; and finally 10) The opera La Traviata by Giuseppe Verdi.
Published in The Express Tribune, January 31st, 2016.