Composers and walking

There’s no shortage of evidence to suggest that walking – especially walking in natural settings, or just lingering amid greenery, even if you don’t actually walk much – is associated with increased productivity and proficiency at creative tasks.

Walking and writing is a given, the walking artist is definitely a thing, and we’ve sighted some troubadours already, so it’s time for composers and walking…

The subject of #ramblings on 4 March 2010 was a proposed Gustav Holst Way in the Cotswolds. Gustav, whose family hailed from Latvia, was a walker, he was known to walk home to Cheltenham from London due to shortage of funds, and went on walking holidays with Vaughan Williams.

The Gustav Holst Way is now a reality – I’ll add any more composers and walking factoids to this page as I find them.

Composers who took a daily walk:

  • Beethoven – after his midday meal he embarked on a long walk, which would occupy much of the rest of the afternoon; as the day wound down, he might stop at a tavern to read the newspapers
  • Mahler – took a three or four hour walk after lunch, stopping to jot down ideas in his notebook; was a nature lover, took long walks in the country, keeping up a speedy tempo; see memorials (map | Vienna map, but note that while the State Opera has a Mahler bust by Rodin, there is no statue, just a street), summer locations: 1901-07 Maiernigg (by Maria Wörth), 1908-10 Toblach (aka Dobbiaco, South Tyrol); see also Alma (new book), not least Walking the walk with Alma Mahler; walking cure in Leiden with Freud: see Why Mahler pp207-, Walking with Freud on R3, book excerpt etc; p292 of Why Mahler: “When we trawl the information superhighway, each discovery must be treated with kid gloves, put on hold and worked into a larger perspective if the human mind is not to be atrophied to that of a firefly. Mahler offers breadth and depth to the thought process. In a speeded-up, homogenised society, he allows us to think that the individual mind can survive. He urges us to see the bigger picture, to listen to the unsaid. He continues the conversation. He makes critics of us all.”
  • Erik Satie – “he walked slowly, taking small steps, his umbrella held tight under his arm…endless walking back and forth across the same landscape day after day”
  • Tchaikovsky – believed he had to take a walk of exactly two hours a day and that if he returned even a few minutes early, great misfortunes would befall him

Sources: Daily Rituals (GdnSlate), Daily Routines and Rise and shine. July 2014: now as infographic.

Updates: somehow this list omits Schubert – here’s a post on Winterreise; see also Ian Bostridge on performing and analysing the thing, where s/p(l)ace is endless, empty, featureless, and not least his Schubert’s Winter Journey: anatomy of an obsession…in 1705 JS Bach walked from Arnstadt to Lübeck to hear the music of German-Danish organist Dietrich Buxtehude – coming in Dec 2017, R3’s Bach Walks with Horatio Clare (Spectator)…


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