Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Music to Bicycle By

So what's the best music to bike to? You know what I mean ... it's 6 am, and you're cruising down the open road; the wind is at your back, your legs feel like well-oiled pistons turning the cranks, and you're swiftly but silently cutting through the air like an arrow. It's so amazing that you feel you need some accompaniment.

Now that being said, one of the great joys of bike riding is that special kind of serene silence. You, the air, the road ... all joined as one with nothing but the gentle hum of the tires and the occasional accent of a shifted gear. But then all of a sudden, a tune pops into your head and it feels just right too.

So what are those tunes? What music fits so well for bike riding? It's a fun topic...

I'm going to begin with something so obvious, it's almost silly to mention. For anyone who has seen Breaking Away, you can't help but find yourself shifting into the electrifying musical gear that is the last movement of Mendelssohn's Fourth Symphony. It's from the scene where the main character is riding in the wake of the 18-wheel truck, building and re-building up his speed again and again to match the trucker, until he is racing ahead at an unbelievable rate. But this scene would be nothing without the music. And what music it is!! Fast, powerful, yet light as a feather ... clicking along with brisk string bows and staccato woodwinds. It truly matches the rapid cadence of a bicycle -- bright, swift; yet rich and full of meaning.

Here's a great box set that I love featuring all Mendelssohn's five symphonies, plus some overtures too (these photos are from both sides of the box and the booklet inside):

I got it a used cd store (as you can probably tell by the smudges on the cover), but while this is an old copy, it has been re-released by Deutsche Grammophon in beautiful new packaging. The London Symphony Orchestra and Claudio Abbado perform all these symphonies and overtures wonderfully. So if you like the Fourth Symphony, listen to the Third too. Its cool, bittersweet beauty always reminds me of an autumn morning ... and a late-season bike ride.

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