GILBERT KAPLAN: Welcome back to “Mad About Music” as we open our fall season with my guest, the former Prime Minister of Australia, Paul Keating.
He entered Australian politics in 1971 when he was just 25 – elected to the country’s House of Representatives. Twenty years later he became Prime Minister. Known for his bold ideas but also for his combative style – once described in the press as a “political killer with a sharp, venomous tongue.” But behind all of this is a man whose love of classical music has been a driving force throughout his life. Paul Keating, welcome to “Mad About Music”.
PAUL KEATING: Thank you, Gilbert. Very nice to be here.
KAPLAN: You know, in preparing for this show, I naturally read some newspaper articles about you, and they often mentioned classical music, but describe it as one of your hobbies. So I’d like to start by asking you just how important is music in your life?
KEATING: I couldn’t carry on without it. I find that it is a source of solace and inspiration and as we go through the sort of mundane things of life, you can dip into the intellect of these truly great people – both composing music and performing it, and you can fill your soul.
KAPLAN: How often do you listen to music?
KEATING: I’m a listener; I’m not an occasional listener. I find it very difficult to do something with music in the background. In fact, I can’t do something with music in the background. I always have to listen. So, what I normally do, I block out about six hours on a Saturday afternoon. I generally begin about 2:00 in the afternoon and finish about 8:00; but I’m always finishing on the big symphony, and after eight the neighbors, you wear the neighbors down, so I don’t press my luck past 8:00 p.m.
KAPLAN: That’s amazing.
KEATING: Yeah. I have six hours but I start off on some songs, or a violin concerto, or some encore pieces by Fritz Kreisler or, you know, something I was playing last week, I was playing Fritz Kreisler, playing in 1929 the Mendelssohn. There’s just a kind of lyricism that comes with that middle European feeling, you know? It was not something I had played for years, but there it was, and I thought, how good is that?
KAPLAN: Wonderful. So that’s quite extraordinary. You actually play music non-stop for six hours on a Saturday afternoon.
KAPLAN: That’s one hell of a concert.
KEATING: It’s a concert and in the end you have the big grand hit, you see. And why not?
KAPLAN: You know, for someone who is so devoted to classical music, I suppose it’s only logical, we would want to know how did you first come to classical music?
KEATING: Well, this is interesting because most people wouldn’t remember, because we all drift into music and musical taste sort of consciously and unconsciously. And it’s hard to pin in time when something happens in your life. But this I actually can because it was my twelfth birthday and I was on a bicycle with a friend of mine, and we returned to the friend’s parent’s home. And as we came in, this chap’s father had playing Richard Addinsell’s Warsaw Concerto which I had never heard before. But I was so taken with the rhythm of it, I said to him, rather because I was young, “Would your dad mind putting that on again?” And he said, “oh, no.” Dad was thrilled. Dad put it on again, and it turned out it was a World Record Club recording. I don’t know whether you know this label, the World Record Club in the United States. So I bought it subsequently, and it turned out that the Warsaw Concerto was the second side, and the first side was Moura Lympany doing Rachmaninoff’s Second Piano Concerto. That’s really where I began. I started with this short piano concerto written for film, the Warsaw Concerto. But that was the beginning for me -- a wonderful piece of music, a wonderful piece of music.
KAPLAN: An excerpt from Addinsell’s Warsaw Concerto, the BBC Symphony, pianist Jean-Yves Thibaudet with Hugh Wolff on the podium. The first selection of my guest on today’s edition of “Mad About Music”, the former Prime Minister of Australia, Paul Keating. I’d like now to turn to the role of music when you were Prime Minister. When Jimmy Carter was on our show --- he was actually my first guest --- he revealed that he kept music on non-stop at the White House --- so much so that congressmen used to complain they couldn’t hear him on the phone. As Prime Minister, did you play music in your office?
KEATING: No, never music in the office -- only at home. But I did most mornings, most mornings. After I do the newspapers, I start about half past six. By about eight I’d have done the major papers. So I rang the office, gave them a few instructions, and then from about eight to nine, I’d fill up my soul for the day. So I’d go to something that suited me at the time, that I had a feeling for at the time. You know, it could be anything, you know? It could be anything, but I’d start, and then I’d move up on a couple of things. I could never do more than about 40 or 50 minutes, but it was enough.
KAPLAN: I thought you might have said Wagner, because I read that as Prime Minister, if you faced a fight with Parliament, you’d start out early in the day at home playing Wagner very loud, you said imagining the gods hurling bolts of lighting. Is that true?
KEATING: That’s it, that’s it. [Sings] Throwing the thunderbolts like Zeus! Throwing them around at the opponents!
KAPLAN: So that’s true. You did do that?
KEATING: Oh, yeah, yeah, sure.
KAPLAN: Now, the former Prime Minister of Britain, Sir Edward Heath, has been a guest on this show, and he told a story of his winning a big vote in parliament. The vote was to become part of Europe. And afterwards, he said, he skipped all the celebration parties and went home to play Bach, alone, on the clavichord. Did you ever turn to music to help celebrate a political victory?
KEATING: Well, yes. A bit more grand than Bach on the clavichord. It was after I had won a national election in Australia, one I was slated not to win. The introduction music for the campaign and the campaign speech and then subsequently, for a victory dinner -- a very large one at the Parliament House at Canberra, Australia -- we did the “Jupiter Suite” from Holst’s “The Planets” and this has since become a kind of a standard within the Labor Party in Australia. The Labor Party in Australia of course is about the Democratic Party in the United States.
KAPLAN: All right. Well, that’s a big, big piece. I’m sure it boosts the audience tremendously. But now, let’s return to your music list where your choice is something much more gentle: Chopin.
KEATING: Well, let me say about the Barcarolle. When I was seeking in the Westminster system, which Australia has, a seat in Parliament, mine was safe for the Labor Party, and nobody under fifty years of age would ever be able to qualify for one. I was twenty and twenty-one and I used to go around the constituency. In those days there was a very deep division between the left and the right of the Labor Party. The left of the Labor Party -- way left of your Democratic party. And the right of the Labor Party would be sort of the moderately left of the American Democratic Party. And I was in the moderate left, and I would take a battering. I would take a terrible hiding almost every week. And I’d come back and the first thing I would put on would be the Barcarolle by Chopin, played by Claudio Arrau. It always kind of eased me down, you know. I’d come back, I would sometimes think I was amongst savages, and I’d come back in and I’d put this on. Next thing I’m in the world, the wonderful world of music.
KAPLAN: An excerpt from Chopin’s Barcarolle with Claudio Arrau on the piano. Music turned to by my guest, the former Prime Minister of Australia, Paul Keating --- turned to, he said, for relief after returning from a brutal battering he received on the campaign trail. When we return, we’ll talk about a composer that the Australian Press says is Paul Keating’s favorite.
This is Gilbert Kaplan with my guest, the former Prime Minister of Australia, Paul Keating. Now just before the break, we were talking about how Chopin provided something soothing after the brutal battering you said you were taking on the campaign trail. You know, “brutal battering” might also be words to describe some of the music of your next composer, Gustav Mahler. And here I break a rule because I don’t normally talk about myself on this show. But as you know, in 1994, I was invited to conduct Mahler in Melbourne and you not only came to the concert but hosted a dinner afterwards where in my view you delivered some of the most remarkably knowledgeable and lucid comments about Mahler. For me it was a rare experience to meet someone who was both passionate and who knew so much about Mahler --- who also happened to be a Prime Minister. So how did you discover Mahler and what is it about his music you find so special?
KEATING: Bruno Walter said of him, and you know Bruno Walter was his understudy and who he had – Mahler left a number of the great things, the Ninth Symphony and Das Lied von der Erde posthumously, the premiere. And he said, “Mahler suffered a psychic distress, and the suffering for the world was his and it was his search for solace and exaltation”. This, he said, encompassed everything he thought, did, said, and wrote. And something Mahler himself said, he said -- I got a quote here which I should use -- he said, “I hope I’ve expressed myself sufficiently clearly in my works, and that you can absorb the emotion and experience I embody without verbal explanations if you approach them with your inner eyes and ears open.” Now, I always have, and why I was interested in him was the solace and the exaltation, but above everything else, the poetic structure and the tonal imagination. Another quotation of his which I found very revealing, he said, “Creative activity and the genesis of a work are mystical from start to finish.” Get the word “mystical from start to finish, since one acts unconsciously as if prompted from outside and then one can hardly conceive how the result is coming into being. In fact, I often feel like the blind hen who finds a grain of corn.” In other words, he’s searching around, but of course, as we know, he’s touched because he finds the things unconsciously and mystically.
KAPLAN: You know, I think of another quote that relates to that, where someone once asked him, how do you decide what to compose. He said, “I don’t compose. I am composed.”
KEATING: I am composed. That’s it. He’s fed. You know, he has another connection the rest of us I think do not have, you know?
KAPLAN: Now, I understand that your absolute favorite Mahler is Das Lied von der Erde, especially the final section.
KEATING: Yes, it’s a very poignant recording, this one by Bruno Walter, done in 1936. He recorded it just six weeks before the Anschluss and heard the acetate discs back as an émigré in Paris. And he had Kerstin Thorborg, then probably the greatest mezzo, doing it with him. But as Mahler left the piece to him to premiere, posthumously, he is the one to listen to. And this is the greatest recording of it in my opinion, and the greatest singing of it. So, and of course, at the end of “Der Abschied,” you have Thorborg going into the “ewig” [sing]. It’s just amongst the greatest things ever done.
KAPLAN: The moving concluding moments of Mahler’s Das Lied von der Erde, “The Song of the Earth”, a work Mahler described as the most personal of all his compositions. Here in the historical live recording from 1936 to mark the 25th anniversary of Mahler’s death --- performed by the Vienna Philharmonic with mezzo-soprano Kerstin Thorborg and led by Bruno Walter. Music chosen by my guest, Paul Keating, the former Prime Minister of Australia. You know, I am struck by what you have to say about your musical selections so far --- how profoundly this music seems to touch you. So I’d like to further explore the power of music in your life. For example, do you turn to music to help you get fresh ideas, and if you do, what might be a good piece for that?
KEATING: I always turn to it for fresh ideas. Before I would ever sit down, to have a big afternoon of music, or morning, I always have the blank piece of paper beside me because I found as the music lifts you up, your imagination starts, you drop all the ropes and ties on your own imagination, and it starts running away from you. And you must get the ideas down because when you return out of it, a lot of these things you forget. So, I should think, well if Bruckner can do that, why can’t I do this? You know, you think of these wonderful passages and these wonderful structures, and you think and what I’m doing is so mundane, utterly mundane, you know? And I think, I write things down, things like, new things.
KAPLAN: All right, well let’s continue on with this inquiry. What about for consolation? Earlier you said that when you came home, you would turn on the Chopin Barcarolle because it was soothing. In general, do you turn to music after something has gone wrong or a personal disappointment?
KEATING: I turn to it all the time, regardless. But if something has gone wrong or things are not good, yes, you do go there. Of course, I do love particular conductors. And I like what they do with particular works because I love Klemperer. He’s an iconoclast. I just love Klemperer. And one of my early things was I got access to the EMI library. I used to manage a rock and roll band in Australia, and we recorded on EMI in the early 1960s, and so I got access to Walter Legge and the Philharmonia Orchestra and Klemperer’s product. And I had all of these LPs with “factory sample, not for sale”, stamped on them. And of course I had what is now the core of the EMI library. And one of the things I most loved was we had Klemperer doing Beethoven, and then the big scherzo movement in that and then I had him doing Bruckner’s Symphony No. 6, and then No. 5, you know, I just fell in love with Klemperer. And other conductors, like Mravinsky, the Russian conductor Mravinsky, Furtwängler, Dimitri Mitropoulos. The first Mahler thing I heard was the First Symphony conducted by Dimitri Mitropoulos. And, I think, the man who introduced Mahler to America.
KAPLAN: Indeed, well, certainly the first recording in America was with him and I guess the Minnesota Symphony. But trying to focus on a particular piece of music rather than the general idea. Let’s take something a bit more personal. If you were picking a piece of music to sort of set a romantic atmosphere, what would that be?
KEATING: Well, it may be – I just mentioned before Kreisler doing the second movement of the Mendelssohn, or it could be one of the songs of Korngold, for instance. I love Korngold songs, as I did the four songs of Strauss.
KAPLAN: All right, one final musical connection, and it’s something I ask all my guests, and it’s personal. Have you thought at all about the music you want played at your funeral? Many, many people have.
KEATING: I’ve never really thought about that. Well, if I did, let me off the top of my head, say, I’d have something from the Resurrection Symphony, I think, some Mahler -- probably something from the Das Lied, “Der Abschied”. And I just love from the German Requiem of Brahms, now that lovely simple tune [sings], you know, and that great solo piece, which was done in Klemperer’s recording by Fischer-Dieskau, [sings]. Now don’t ask me the name, but I’d have that in the funeral somewhere.
KAPLAN All right, so, you’re somebody who obviously can make decisions right on the spot. All right, we now turn away from funerals and come to something more upbeat, and we come to that portion of the show we call the “wildcard,” where you have a chance to pick some music different from classical music, the opera. And I think since you mentioned you managed a rock band, I see we’re heading in that direction.
KEATING: Oh yes, I love 12-bar blues. I suppose my favorite of all of those is Gladys Knight doing that “Midnight Train to Georgia” [sings].
KAPLAN: I’ve never had a guest who can sing everything he’s playing before!
KEATING: And the lovely little harmonies that come in with it, you know [sings]. And it’s got just such a wonderful rhythm, but it’s got of course the black feeling of the 12-bar blues. The blues; the black feeling of the blues.
KAPLAN: An excerpt from “Midnight Train to Georgia,” Gladys Knight and the Pips, the “wildcard” selection of my guest today on “Mad About Music”, the former Prime Minister of Australia, Paul Keating --- who once actually managed a rock band. When we return, we’ll explore whether great politicians have an artistic temperament.
This is Gilbert Kaplan with my guest, the former Prime Minister of Australia, Paul Keating. Let’s return to the connection between politics and music. Do you feel that great politicians with all their, shall we say performance requirements, have an artistic temperament?
KEATING: I do feel this. The great political leaders have the instincts of artists. This was true of Churchill. There’s a logicality to what you do, and always trying to do the greatest things, not the second-best things; always heading for the most sparkling outcome. So I always believe in leadership there are only ever two ingredients: imagination and courage. Just take President Obama. Somewhere in there, you see, that guy’s got the mysticism about him – he can see past the ordinary things. We will find in him, we don’t know yet, the psychology of an artist. Now, I’ve always had it, I think. Without it, well, put it this way, I completely restructured the Australian economy on the back of those composers.
KAPLAN: What a charming example of the power of music. Now I’d like to ask you about your experiences with your colleagues when you were Prime Minister. Were there many politicians with whom you could share your love of music?
KEATING: No, not really. I think one of the sad things about my colleagues, few of them had an inner life. And I think without an inner life, you can’t really give out the big stuff. You get snowed down by the minutiae of things, by the ordinariness of things. You need the inner life to spring out of it and very few of them have it, sadly.
KAPLAN: All right, then, let’s come back to music and your inner life, and continue on your musical selections list, and I see a Korngold song is up next.
KEATING: Well, Korngold, a much underrated composer, of course he went to the United States, and then started, amongst other things, composing film scores which of course he did very successfully. And this kind of damned him in the eyes of the purists, but he was amongst the last great composers; contemporaries with Schoenberg, Shostakovich, etc. And his songs, of course, are rarely played. But the recording label Chandos rerecorded the four songs sung by Linda Finnie, and it has all the quality that Strauss’s third song has, it’s that sense, that greater mystical sense.
KAPLAN: “Moon You Rise Again” from Korngold’s “Lieder des Abschieds”, “Songs of Farewell,” sung by Linda Finnie with the BBC Philharmonic under the baton of Sir Edward Downes, a selection of my guest, Paul Keating, the former Prime Minister of Australia. You know, thinking about how much music cycles – and we can say recycles -- in and out of your life, which composer is getting your attention these days?
KEATING: Well, I’ve become a great Bruckner devotée. Love Mahler, always sort of go back to him. But one runs in moods, and one of the current moods is Bruckner and Shostakovich. I went to St. Petersburg for the “White Nights,” and on a year or two ago on the centenary of his birth. I’m now very much caught up with Bruckner, and in terms of a great thing, that great last movement of the Eighth Symphony, conducted by Karajan. You know, I don’t like Karajan. I mean I don’t know whether Karajan was a Nazi or not, but I always say, “That old Nazi, Karajan.” But he was in his what they call “silver” period, or whatever it was, it was pretty good. And [sings] the piece starts off with that great mechanical rhythmic quality. But Bruckner has to be up there with Beethoven. Well, certainly, the greatest symphonist, I think, after Beethoven, and whether he tops Mahler is a matter for judgment. Let’s do Karajan, the last movement of the Eighth.
KAPLAN: An excerpt from Bruckner’s mammoth Eighth Symphony, the Vienna Philharmonic led by Herbert von Karajan, the final selection of my guest today on “Mad About Music”, the former Prime Minister of Australia, Paul Keating. All right, now just to round out this survey of your musical taste, we should discuss composers you just don’t connect to. Are there any?
KEATING: Not really. But I am in the romantic end of the repertoire. You know, I occasionally listen to Mozart. I listened recently to Symphony No. 36, a wonderful new recording. Bach and the Brandenburg Concertos not so long back. But I’m mostly down, starting Beethoven, Brahms, Elgar, Bruckner, Mahler, Shostakovich, you can put Vaughn Williams in, you know, perhaps the “The Lark Ascending” at the end.
KAPLAN: That’s right. What about music of today? Contemporary composers or music at least of the last fifty years? Do you listen to that at all?
KEATING: I think I’m probably guilty of not acknowledging, or being as enthusiastic about, contemporary classical recordings. A friend said once, if you had to come back in this world reincarnated as something else, what would you come back as? He said well a rat in the Prado [Madrid’s principle art museum]. So you can run around all night looking at the pictures. And I think I’m probably in the museum, too. But I’m in the musical museum. The fact is, where are the big tunes? Where are they? I mean, we’re not hearing. We just talked about Bruckner’s Eighth Symphony or the Ninth. Or Mahler? Take Mahler’s Ninth [sings]. Those opening couple of bars. Who is doing this now? Where is melody? There are all these excuses for the absence of melody.
KAPLAN: I couldn’t agree with you more. As our listeners know, I talk about this all the time, because there almost seems to be a law that it’s against the law to write a beautiful melody anymore. And contemporary music has many aspects of it that appeal to people. It can be riveting, it can be rhythmic. But I am of the Duke Ellington School myself and he says, “If it sounds good, it is good.” All right, we come to the final part of the show which I call fantasyland. And this is something I ask of all guests, so you get the chance at it also. I have a feeling I know where it’s going, but we’ll have to see. And the question basically is, it’s about musical fantasies. If you could be a star in the classical music world, what would you like to be? Conductor, composer, play a solo instrument? What would it be?
KEATING: A conductor, I think.
KAPLAN: I knew it was going there.
KEATING: I’d be in the game you’re in. You want to hear the whole lot come off the end of the baton. And frankly, I think I could do a better job than many conductors. You know, one of the things that surprises me about music is how a lot of these people have the technical skills to pull the music, to pull the sound, from the manuscript. But they don’t have the soul understanding within them to give you what the composer is offering you. Now, of course, the great ones do; the ones we all mentioned do. Many people do. Your Second is marvelous. You get it. But you see, so many ho-hum conductors, oh, how do you do? Oh ho hum. Oh yes, we’re playing Mahler’s Fourth tonight or we’re doing Rachmaninoff’s Isle of the Dead or we’re doing Piano Concerto No. 3. And they turn out this rather workmanlike but just doesn’t leave you with any excitement.
KAPLAN: Well, I don’t think anyone would ever accuse you of not leaving us with any excitement. You’ve got the right touch also, I think, for what we should come to expect from a conductor. I thank you for the compliment of my own conducting. Paul Keating, you have been a fascinating guest, and testimony, true testimony to the power of music in our lives. Thank you for appearing today. This is Gilbert Kaplan for “Mad About Music”.
“Mad About Music”
Gilbert Kaplan, Executive Producer
Heidi Bryson, Producer
Marcela Silva, Associate Producer
Leszek Wojcik, Recording Engineer