The HIP village

May 23, 2017

On Saturday night, on a Saturday afternoon impulse (I heard it mentioned on ABC “Classic” FM at about 4.30pm), to Angel Place to hear the Australian Romantic and Classical Orchestra.  The title was “Unfinished Romance.”

ARCO is a rechristening of the trendily lower-case and alpha-numeric “orchestra seventeen88,” “established in 2013, by Richard Gill AO, Rachael Beesley, Nicole van Bruggen and Benjamin Bayl.”

Richard Gill was billed to conduct.  I hesitated because of Mr Gill’s propensity to educate.  I wondered if I should keep my phone on to run a stop-watch on his chats to the audience.  He’s not known for his shyness when it comes to this sort of thing.

As the lights came down on an empty stage, Nicole van Bruggen came to a microphone to announce that Gill was indisposed and that the concert was to be conducted by guest concertmaster, Jakob Lehmann.  Rachel Beesley would step up to her usual spot as concertmaster.

That wasn’t all Nicole wanted to talk to us about. She wanted to welcome the orchestra’s sponsors; and also the audience.  She mentioned the 10,000 flyers that had been distributed (a sobering thought: whilst level 1 of the City Recital Hall was reasonably full, levels 2 and 3 had not been opened: perhaps there were 500 of us there).  She reminded us of the next concert, in September.

That is to be one of those “smaller ensemble” concerts.  ARCO is far from the only “orchestra” which keeps itself before the public by presenting concerts of this sort.  I think these are a bit of a swizz but I can understand why they do it.

Back to last Saturday’s concert.

In the first half Fiona Campbell was vocal soloist for a Rossini set:

The Barber of Seville: Overture and Rosina’s opening recitative and aria, Una voce poco fa and Io sono docile;

The Italian in Algiers (this is the conventional translation of the title but more accurate is The Italian Woman in Algiers – “Italian” is crucially gendered): Overture and Cruda sorte! Amor tiranno! and

From Cinderella, Angelina’s (=Cinderella’s) final triumphant recitative and aria, Nacqui all’affanno and Non piu mesta.

Originally the HIP movement made claims for itself a bit like those of Protestants in the Reformation.  If we can strip away the accretions of performed tradition and the distortions of evolved musical instruments [analogy: Catholicism, purgatory, sale of indulgences, etc], we will get back closer to the music as originally conceived [analogy: apostolic church].  What we hear will be more true and more “authentic.” [GOD]

Now the claim seems more limited: the instruments themselves and their sounds will offer insights to the music that a modern instrument performance cannot.

It’s a wise reformulation.  Certainly for the Rossini it would be a moot point which is more authentic: a concert performance of overtures and arias, or an actual staged performance, with a (modern instrument) orchestra which knows its way round Rossini, even if through a glass darkly of the Chinese whispers of accumulated tradition. (Why stop at one metaphor?)

So I didn’t find the Rossini really gave me a HIP epiphany.  Of Fiona Campbell’s arias, the best for me was the one from Cinderella.  It can’t be a coincidence that this is the role she has taken on the stage.

Which is not to say that it wasn’t all very enjoyable, despite some oboe mishaps.  The early instrument sound I most enjoyed was the bassoons – I love that buzz.

I’m not sure though where I would place Rossini in the Romantic pantheon.  Judging from Kater Murr, ETA Hoffmann would not have found a spot for him there.

The second half featured Schubert’s Unfinished Symphony preceded by his very early (even by Schubert’s standards) Overture in C minor for strings.  Let’s pass over the Overture;  the Symphony yielded all sorts of revelations.  I was most impressed by the minatory trombones but the whole was distinctively poetic. The gleaming beauty of the final chords moved me to tears.

On its website ARCO republishes an interview with Ms van Bruggen from Fine Music. The opening gambit is: “It takes a village to raise a child, what does it take to raise an orchestra?” It’s a nice question.  My own feeling is that an orchestra is a village – which rather short-circuits things.  Venue, musicians, audience and repertoire all need to come together.  Otherwise, in Thatcherian terms, “there is no such thing as society” – and there won’t be.

Orchestras and ensembles come and go.  Orchestra Romantique a few years ago turned out in retrospect to have been a vehicle for Nick Carter which did not survive once he moved on.  The great success story in Australia of this sort has been the Australian Brandenburg Orchestra, but it took a few years from 1989 when the orchestra was established.  The big breakthrough for them was probably in 2000 when Angel Place opened: now they give their program there a phenomenal six times with two more performances in Melbourne and another in Brisbane.  This obviously makes assembling and rehearsing the ensemble much more sustainable.

That’s an aspirational goal for ARCO.  First they will want to populate the second and third levels at Angel Place.  As the orchestra was mostly standing, the sound could well have been better on Saturday there than in the stalls.  On Saturday the audience still felt very much one of friends and supporters rather than the general concert-going public.

I hope ARCO can continue and consolidate.  The two things I wish for them at present are that they could (1) muster a larger string complement (especially more violins) and (2) put on more frequent orchestral-scale concerts.  Judging from the Schubert and reviews of their last concert’s Mendelssohn, the early German Romantic (say, Weber to Schumann via Schubert) could be a good niche for them to concentrate on.

Americana

May 17, 2017

On Saturday night with P and her husband, Xn, to the Australia Ensemble’s concert, titled “Americana.”

The program was:

Jennifer Higdon (b 1962): Smash (2006) for flute, clarinet, violin, viola, cello and piano

Aaron Copland (1900-1990): Duo (1970-71) for flute and piano

Antonín Dvořák (1841-1904): String Quartet no.12 in F major, Op.96 ‘American’ (1893)

[Interval]

John Adams (b 1947): Gnarly Buttons (1996)

Obvious odd man out at first glance is Dvořák – but is he really?  I thought of, in another country and another art-form, D H Lawrence’s Kangaroo.

First up, Smash was short, fast (it felt faster than the performance on Youtube) and furious.  I can’t say I was really crazy about it: it seemed pretty made-to-measure for the kind of piece it was – that probably represents my taste/mood on the day rather than any objective assessment of the skill of the writing.

After that, the Copland, all pensive and wide-open-space-ish, superficially reminiscent of similar stuff in Appalachian Spring, (and in a line which can be traced back to Dvořák)  unfortunately failed the cough test on the night.

I enjoyed the Dvořák.

Xn and I independently formed the view that the Copland might have worked better if the first half order had been reversed.

Gnarly Buttons in the second half was the big ticket item for the night, if only (but not only) for the size of the ensemble.  Roland Peelman conducted.  He also chose to make a little speech beforehand about America and the “fake tunes” in the work and “fake news” today.  I suppose a kind of aperçu was intended. To me it demonstrated nothing very much though it got one of those smuggish mild chuckles which jokes in music so often elicit.

GB is practically a clarinet concerto or concertino – a big play and it’s fair to say a triumph for David Griffiths .  There was a lot to absorb and I don’t know if I really managed to take it all in.  I think I was sitting too close to get it all in proportion.

I’m disappointed that this concert is not to be broadcast – Gnarly Buttons especially  was quite an occasion and were it not for recent ABC cutbacks one could reasonably expect that it would have been.

As it happens, Francesco Celata is playing GB at Carriageworks with the SSO later this year.  With luck I shall have another chance to hear it with some memories of last Saturday relatively fresh.

Ten years

May 12, 2017

It is ten years since the first post on this blog. Some kind of retrospective seems called for.

I had lurked on others’ blogs for years.  I probably caught the blogging wave just as it was about to recede.  As early as September that year I wondered if that was so as I saw blogs falling by the wayside.  That may have been more churn than decline, but by 2012 or 2013 other social media were clearly leaving blogs behind.  Now it is mostly the older and more fixed in their ways who persist.

2007 was the last glorious year of Howard-hating.

At the start I had a backlog of material to unleash on an unsuspecting and generally oblivious world. A number of those early posts continue to attract a steady trickle of attention.

The earliest of these is a post on my childhood choirmaster, who turned out to be a sexual abuser who killed himself in Indonesia in 2006 when confronted with fresh accusations.  At first, many of my fellow choristers were reluctant to concede that the man they knew and remembered gratefully could be the same person.  In the end the dots were pretty conclusively joined.  Other traffic to this post was probably looking for material about a “controversial” and notoriously tough WA chief detective who was murdered, allegedly as revenge for his shooting of a bikie.

The second is: Never fall in love with a prostitute.  Good advice but not always easy to follow.  I cited a Chinese proverb, 戏子无义 婊子无情, roughly “A performer is unrighteous; a whore is heartless.”  One rueful comment: “of course i know this saying but still fallen.”

Another is Are you Gay? Can you prove it?

Yet another is Rice Queen, Potato Queen.  In that post I took advantage of the strong opinions on both of a young overseas student from Malaysia, Je.  Daniel, Je’s not much older Australian boyfriend, took offence on Je’s behalf.  Not that Daniel disclosed that he was Je’s partner when he did so, but it wasn’t hard to work out.  After Je returned to Malaysia (which was a condition of his scholarship), they split up.  You could read all of this on the internet in those days and I am amazed to find you still can.   Daniel (who according to Je was the dumper) is still a quite the keyboard warrior.  Je stopped posting in about 2010.

I published a number of other posts on gay/asian/in Australia topics at that time.  It’s hard to tell because I am now totally out of any “scene,” but my feeling is that this is an area where, gradually, the cultural/racial/sexual frontier is smoothing out and the terms on which it is crossed are becoming more equal.  There’s still a way to go, though.

Meanwhile, in terms of the racial border and who is crossing it, if you see two men, one “East” and one “West,” out and about, D and I reckon they are more likely to be gay than not.

Caveat Solicitor is a not very interesting post which whose title nevertheless exerts an attractive power.  If you come up against the one you are likely to be looking for the other.

Pussy porn was brazen and quite-successful-for-a-few-years click-bait and my first post featuring my cat.

I wrote a post on Geoffrey Leonard, a self-avowed “boy-lover” who courted fame and (with a bit of help from A Current Affair) found it. This led to his conviction and imprisonment in 2008 for a self-published and internet-published book which was held to include child-abuse material by reason of his reproduction of an edited police fact sheet and edited police statements of 2 boys whom he had been convicted of abusing in 1989.  (The sentence was imposed concurrently with a sentence for possession of since-deleted child pornography on his computer to which Leonard pleaded guilty.) This post still attracts attention because Leonard has become a kind of internet cult figure.

Two later posts on the Guardianship Tribunal (now a division of NCAT) and the NSW Public Trustee and Guardian still attract attention because so many people are caught in the toils of one or the other or both, generally when a family member (usually a parent) becomes incapable by reason of age. In my opinion the Tribunal is far too ready to resolve any intrafamilial conflict by conferring powers on the Public Trustee, which is surprisingly expensive and apparently almost totally immune from any effective oversight.

These posts all still get readers because (apart from “Pussy Porn”) they meet some otherwise unanswered niche demand of one sort or another.

Early on I also indulged in an orgy of self-dislosure on the themes of jobs I have had and homes I had previously lived in.  Since then I have remained in the same job. I have yet to bring things up to date in relation to my last two homes.

I suppose I could try to identify my own favourite posts.  That depends on my mood and probably requires too much context to determine.  Instead I shall confine myself to one generally neglected post.  This, based on a Court of Criminal Appeal judgment, retells an almost comic and possibly fantastical story of one night in the Eastern suburbs of Sydney when a bunch of Arabic drug dealers decided to muscle in on the turf of young Yuri Mogilevsky.  I changed the names in the post to protect the Mogilevskys who had meanwhile found themselves in hotter water with the police after moving to greener pastures in St Ives.

I’m a bit disappointed this story hasn’t made it onto the small screen.  My favourite bit is where (as Yuri claimed) one of the gang putting the heavy on him said: “I’m going to enjoy killing you … I’m Palestinian, do you know what we do to Jews.”  Some hapless Irishmen were drawn into the events as well.

When I started this blog I identified my interests as “in no particular order: law, music, opera, gay issues, and China.”  After working off a bit of initial steam, I haven’t said so much more about “gay issues” and I haven’t ended up saying much about China.  I was last there in mid-2014.

That’s partly because, in order since then my cat, my stepmother, my father and my aunt have died.  It is a matter of privacy rather than disrespect to the latter three that the cat’s death has had more coverage on this blog.  He would have turned 20 last month:

P1050719

This retrospective would not be complete without also remembering my friend and onetime housemate, S, who only went to operas if they were set in Egypt and included female nudity.  This March it was five years since he took an early mark at the age of 45.

On the road

May 7, 2017

P1050635

A spot I’m fond of.

The view from the road (which may be more informative for the cognoscenti):

P1050636

 

Adrian Ashley of the House of Cooper

May 3, 2017

One day, Adrian answered a knock at his front door.  He was seized by two men.  Adrian said they were assaulting him; they said they were policeman (which, though in plain clothes, they were) arresting him on a bench warrant for failure to attend court in relation to a charge for possession of cannabis.

Adrian called out to Izabella-marie, who was in the house.  She phoned Keith for help.  Keith talked on the phone to the police but was ineffective in dissuading them from taking him to Newtown Police Station.  Keith (and maybe Izabella-Marie) went to the Newtown Court House.  Keith’s account of what happened there is as follows:

(18)   We [Keith] went into the court room, where the presumed magistrate (her office/title was undisclosed) was made aware that We believe the Man called by Adrian may be under false arrest due to the fact that due process of law to which Adrian was deprived and was not followed, as such the officers may have committed assault, abduction and kidnap in company without warrant.

(19)   One [Keith] was asked by the Magistrate if we wanted to apply for bail.

(20)   We made her aware that we wanted him released immediately due to the failure of the police officers to follow due process of law.

(21)   The Magistrate then asked “Mr Cooper” if he wanted bail? One informed her that Adrian was not a Mister as this is a military title and that he is not in the military and that the man known as Adrian uses no titles.

(22)   The Magistrate said “bail is refused” and left the court, knowing we were there to get Adrian released as we believe the Police officers may have exceeded the alleged authority which would be misfeasance of their office and therefore also committing a wrong/tort in their private capacity under common law.

On 26 April Keith went to the Supreme Court seeking a writ of habeas corpus for Adrian’s release.  He said (to paraphrase):

  • Adrian was a loyal subject of the Queen who believes the St James Bible to be the only law and has not consented to be governed by the laws of this state (having delivered a declaration to that effect to the police);
  • Possession of cannabis could not be a crime, citing Genesis:
    “And God said, Behold, I have given you every herb bearing seed, which is upon the face of all the earth, and every tree, in the which is the fruit of a tree yielding seed; to you it shall be for meat.”
  • The arrest was unlawful because (1) the police did not have the warrant with them; and (2) because it was effected violently.

None of these points succeeded before Justice McCallum, sitting as the duty judge.  As the application (which was procedurally irregular in many respects) had been brought outside usual sitting hours, she dismissed it and reserved her reasons, now published as Application of Adrian Ashley of the House of Cooper [2017] NSWSC 533.

As to the Genesis argument, McCallum J couldn’t resist a bit of judicial humour (at [10]):

The point might have been made in response to the petitioner’s [Keith’s] submission that, according to those words, if it is God who supplies cannabis to man, it is for nutritional rather than recreational purposes.

but seriously, folks:

In any event, I took the view that the matters contended for by the petitioner would not afford a defence to an offence against ss 10 or 23(1)(c) of the Drug Misuse and Trafficking Act1985 (NSW), which prohibits the possession of cannabis in a number of forms, regardless of its origin.

She held that is not necessary for police to be in possession of a warrant to effect an arrest under it.

The “Hutt River Province” argument was manifestly hopeless.  As she concluded [these numbers should start at 24]:

  1. I did not think it was reasonably arguable that the applicant’s [Adrian’s] affirmation and proclamation were effective to relieve him of the constraints imposed upon him by the law.
  2. Unsurprisingly, the petitioner concluded his submissions by citing Magna Carta (version not identified).
  3. After hearing from the applicant at length, I formed the view that no reasonable basis for a writ of habeas corpus was disclosed and, indeed, that the application was manifestly hopeless. In that circumstance, I did not consider it appropriate to grant the relief sought or to make orders for any further step to be taken in the proceedings.
  4. I wish to record that, during the hearing, I informed the petitioner on a number of occasions that it remains open to the applicant to make a release application under the Bail Act 2013 (NSW). The petitioner appeared to reject that proposition, evidently taking the view that a release application is only appropriate in circumstances of lawful detention, whereas he contends the applicant’s detention is unlawful. The petitioner’s view is misconceived in that respect and he potentially does the applicant a disservice in adhering to it. It is to be hoped that the applicant is aware of his entitlement (notwithstanding his stated position of eschewing the benefits and privileges conferred upon him by the State) to bring a release application under the Bail Act. Any such application is likely to be better received without the embellishment of insistence upon medieval modes of address or ill-informed incantation of God’s law and Magna Carta.

Oh, everything is so civilized in the Supreme Court, even if it is only on the surface.  Of course it didn’t get Adrian out of gaol.  Nevertheless, Justice McCallum heard Keith and allowed him to make his application at length, outside normal court hours, and even gave a little bit of judicial advice.

I wonder if things were all so sweet when, next morning, assuming the police delivered him up, Adrian was brought out of the cells to appear before Magistrate Greg Grogin at the Central Local Court.

Maybe they weren’t.  The charges in the Local Court are listed for mention on 11 May, again at the Central Court, which is the one set up best to deal with people already in custody.

Unfinished books 3

April 30, 2017

This is the third post in a series.

Another book I salvaged from my parents’ collection is Australia Felix, the first volume of Henry Handel Richardson’s trilogy, The Fortunes of Richard Mahony, in an edition published as a Penguin Modern Classic in 1971.  My copy is a 1977 reprint.

Obviously “HHR” finished it;  I couldn’t.

Part of my problem was that it is a story which, from the outset, one knows will not end well.  I always have difficulty with these: King Lear, Otello. are two examples which spring to mind.  Yet I am happy to go to operas, where, God knows, a tragic ending is often enough a given, so that cannot really be the problem.

Another is that first-half-of-the-twentieth century realism is not, for me, a high point of literary history.  Even the discovery of a new word within the first three lines – “uprights and tailors” – a word which I have been unable to find in a dictionary but which presumably refers to tailed timber cross-struts – was no consolation.  As far as I got, it all seemed so dreary.

Yet I suppose I could overcome that.

Meanwhile, squatting over my reception of the work is a xxviii page introduction by Leonie Kramer.  Kramer’s work on the sources of The Fortunes of Richard Mahony was, if truth be told, her only substantive academic work.  The rest was energy and politics which are not congenial to me.

To her protégées, and they were many, Kramer was an inspiration; to my crowd when I was a student in the English department at Sydney University she was an unloved and unwelcome reactionary.  Just one of the counts against her was that she had complained when Dennis Altman was invited to speak about homosexuality to medical undergraduates at UNSW, including one of her children.

I still cannot work out how a Professor of Australian Literature thought it right that she become a member of the board of Western Mining; let’s not get started on her role in the push for demutualization of the NRMA.  Though she disdained feminism, she was a useful conservative female figurehead.

Enough.  The woman is dead now.  I should try to get over her, but it may take a bit more time.

I’ll hold on to my copy of Australia Felix a little longer in case the cloud lifts.

 

 

Unfinished books 2

April 25, 2017

back end cartload

This is the second in a series.

Amongst the books I have salvaged from my late father’s house is a copy of George Johnston’s last book, A Cartload of Clay.

My copy is ex the YMCA library in Sydney.  A pristine date due slip and loan card in an envelope pasted inside the back cover suggest it was never borrowed from that library.  The front page bears the name of a colleague of my father’s, with whom he lunched practically every day when they were both at work (I joke that he was “the other man”).  Judging from another, pencilled note “1st ed. $1” he bought it second-hand.

Published in 1971, this the third instalment of Johnston’s “David Meredith” trilogy, following My Brother Jack (1964) and Clean Straw for Nothing (1969).  I heard My Brother Jack read (abridged, obviously) as a serial on ABC Radio some time in the early 70s and later read it and Clean Straw for Nothing when I was about 16. I surely also read Cartload of Clay then, if only out of completism, though I have no real recollection of that.  I was probably too young to get what it was on about.

The trilogy is autobiographical – David Meredith is Johnston, subject to the usual fictive rearrangements. Cressida is his second wife, Charmian Clift.  Johnston and Clift returned to Australia in 1964; Clift committed suicide on the eve of the launch of CSFN.

Cartload follows a day when the widowed Meredith sets out on a “practice walk” up the street to the church where his daughter is to get married.  Like Johnston, Meredith has lung problems.  He doesn’t get far.  Taking a breather at a bench by a bus stop he meets various local characters and dozes off and his mind wanders – to an interlude in wartime Kunming – an affair and his friendship there with the poet Wen Yiduo; – to a trek on the Tibetan plateau with a photographer friend who later fell off a mountain when stepping back to take a picture; to his time in Greece; to his return to Australia and his encounters with the younger generation; to the suicide by Cressida with the stock of barbiturates he had kept by his bed to do the deed for himself; to his childhood in Elsternwick – revisiting a subject already dealt with in My Brother Jack, but now treated with less scorn.

It is hard to see how the novel could have finished other than with the death of David Meredith.  In the end, Johnston beat his character to it and the book was published unfinished.  There is a good introduction by Sydney’s Mr Literature of the day, John Douglas Pringle.

I realise that I am pretty much exactly same age that Johnston must have been when he wrote this – he died just two days after his 58th birthday.  I am sure this makes me more receptive to its themes than I can have been when 16.

I’ll squib the duty of a literary critic just as I do of a musical one: I don’t profess to say what the book is about  (as if a novel can be reduced to a syllogism).  There are some quaintnesses of period (the Youth generation; women) but also much that is resonant to me – poetic even.  I have enjoyed reading it.

Here is an extract – omitted yesterday on account of ANZAC day.

Meredith discovers he has bitten his fingernail down to the bleeding quick:

Meredith fingernails I

Meredith fingernails II

That is in chapter 14.

Chapter 16 starts with Meredith sitting at the bus stop:

“If at this stage you were to imagine the scene as being presented on the stretched-out oblong of the modern cinema screen it would be most interesting to visualize it through whatever is the opposite to a zoom lens; the retreating viewpoint, that is, soaring higher and higher like an escaped balloon, focused at the figure of Meredith huddled lonely and solitary on the mundane suburban bus seat…”

to the point where he is just an invisible speck amongst “the drab red expanses [of red tile and red brick and …cement and asphalt], now from our great altitude resembling a parched desert.”

16.1 Meredith

End of chapter 16

There’s something a bit overbearing, like an old-style newsreel voice over, about the second person address in this chapter, but I love how the fingernails come back into it.

One funny thing.  Johnston’s final home was in Raglan Street, Mosman – thinly disguised in the novel as Inkerman Street, “Northleigh.” I cannot imagine that I knew this before I looked it up in a biography of Johnston also salvaged from my father’s house, but as I read the book I already had a distinct picture in my mind of a street in Mosman and the bus stop where Meredith pauses. It wasn’t the exact street, but it was pretty close.

Unfinished books 1

April 23, 2017

KMurr

D is out of the country at present.

D sometimes complains that days, even weeks when he is here can pass without any substantive conversation from me.  Nevertheless, whilst he is away I find I have more time to read.

Inspired by Daniil Trifonov’s performance of Schumann’s set of pieces Kreisleriana, I decided to track down their literary namesake – ETA Hoffmann’s literary alter-ego, Kapellmeister Kreisler.  Hoffmann first adopted this character as a journalistic pseudonym in about 1809, but he reached his greatest fame through Hoffmann’s final work, Lebensansichten des Kater Murr  – translated as The Life and Opinions of the Tomcat Murr together with a fragmentary Biography of Kapellmeister Johannes Kreisler on Random Sheets of Waste Paper .

Yes, that is the Hoffmann of the Tales of Hoffmann, author of the story on which The Nutcracker is based, and famous in music history for an equivalent to Schumann’s “Hats off, gentlemen” welcoming of Chopin’s genius when, about 20 years earlier, he acclaimed Beethoven’s Instrumental Music (in a review of Beethoven’s Fifth Symphony) as the apotheosis of romanticism.

It is popular sometimes to mock the insularity of Americans who know little of countries outside the USA, but it is no less shocking to contemplate the literary insularity of the Anglosphere when you realise how little presence there is in English of a writer such as Hoffmann.  Most of what little the University of Sydney library has is confined to its stacks (as so much is these days) and a visit to Abbeys bookshop in town proved fruitless.

I have read two of Hoffmann’s shorter stories in the original German. That was when my Deutsch was in better nick than it is now.  Fortunately, Penguin Classics published a translation by Anthea Bell of Kater Murr usw in about 1997.  It was obviously a labour of love on her part.  I doubt if it has been a great commercial success for them.

Gratifyingly I was able to track down a copy in the City of Sydney Library.  It is marvellously easy to order a book to be delivered to the branch of your choice.  Public libraries are wonderful things.

The conceit is that Murr, a tomcat of literary pretensions (he has surreptitiously learnt to read and write by carefully observing his original master, Abraham) has written his autobiography.   By the time of writing this, he is living with Kappellmeister Kreisler.  He has adopted and treated as scrap paper an account of Kreisler’s life (in fact, more like a gothick novel featuring Kreisler) and left pages of it as if used as blotting paper amongst those of his manuscript.  Accidentally, according to Hoffmann (describing himself as the editor) the printer has printed everything, with the result that sections of Murr’s narrative are interspersed with sections of the story of Kreisler.

Murr’s account is continuous, subject to these interruptions – that is, with one exception each extract takes up from where the last left off; the extracts of the Kreisler story are discontinuous and in some disarray – Murr, the “editor” tells us, seems to have torn up some of the paper or used it for something else.

A cat’s life is short, so periods which in a human biography would be designated in  years are designated in months, such as “the apprentice months.”

On occasion, Murr mixes with dogs.  In this fictive world, dogs are cats’ social betters. Murr lives in fear of them even when they befriend him.

Following the restoration of the status ante quo at the Congress of Vienna, there was a crackdown against the student movements which had arisen and been while tolerated for so long as useful in the struggle against Napoleonic France.  Hoffmann, by then holding a day-job as a judge in Berlin, was involved in investigating these nationalist student fraternities with which he likely sympathised.  Murr joins a cat-fraternity until it is broken up and his friend killed from a dog-bite.  Some political satire appears intended, albeit obscure to me.

The plot of the Kreisler story revolves around a princely household in a former microstate which has been swallowed up by neighbouring states (probably a reference to the consolidations imposed by Napoleon). Whilst appearances of a court are maintained, it is all pretence with which the prince’s erstwhile subjects go along. The prince himself is satirized as a ridiculous figure much given to French phrases and punctilious in his observance of now meaningless aristocratic niceties.

To this “court” comes Kreisler after quitting a Grand-ducal Court where his art was not respected, true German art being overshadowed by Italianizing fashions – Rossini is amongst the resented. Hoffmann himself wrote an opera, Undine, favourably noticed by Weber, and spend some years in the theatre at Bamberg after he lost his legal job in the Prussian part of Poland as a consequence a Beethovenesque (cf Eroica) lack of respect towards the occupying French.

One Prince Hector,  proposed suitor of the ex-micro-Prince’s daughter, Princess Hedwiga, has designs on Julia, daughter of Madam Benzon, widow of a councillor at the little court and mother also of a mysteriously disappeared illegitimate daughter of the micro-Prince.

Kreisler loves Julia with echoes of the impossible artist’s love (OK, he is an “impossible artist” but I probably mean “artist’s impossible love”) which is the theme of Offenbach’s operatic adaptation of other Hoffmann tales.  Kreisler confronts Hector with a painting given to Kreisler by Master Abraham, Kreisler’s mentor and (if you can recall that far back) Murr’s master.  Set upon by a retainer of Prince Hector, Kreisler kills his assailant and flees to a monastery.

There is plenty of critical writing, much of which I have dipped into on the internet since reading the book, about the comparison between the self-satisfied Murr and the restless, mercurial Kreisler.  Whilst the general trend of this is to prefer the Kreisler narrative, even Murr encounters some of the difficulties and humiliations of an artist amongst society.

Gradually we learn that something terrible happened in Naples involving the Prince Hector, his brother,  and Master Abraham, of which the painting was a reminder.  The missing illegitimate daughter was murdered, and then there is the question of what has become of Abraham’s wife, whose psychic powers were an essential element of Abraham’s “Invisible Girl” trick.  She is supposed by him to be missing possibly dead; we we know she was abducted and imprisoned at the instigation of Madam Benzon by arrangement with the petit-Prince for fear she would expose their liaison and maybe she is the Papagena-like crone in Naples.

Master Abraham goes on the road and entrusts Murr to the care of Kreisler.  Presumably this is when Murr uses the Kreisler “waste paper” to write his life history and thoughts.

At the end of book 4, which is the end of the second published volume, Hoffmann as editor sorrowfully announces that Murr has died.  Some fragments by Murr survive, which Hoffmann hopes it may be possible to publish with the remainder of the Kreisler story in a volume 3.

Hoffmann himself died shortly after.

So no volume 3, which is pretty maddening.  All those dark gothic secrets unresolved on the Kreisler side!  I can accept the Murr material stopping so abruptly because suspense is not an element in that.

I haven’t really captured here the humour of the book and its charm: cats in novels are almost as good as on the internet.  Hoffmann, who is said to have had an actual cat, Murr, must have been a cat lover.  This endears him to me.

 

I think that I shall never see…

April 15, 2017

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A trinity of concerts

April 9, 2017

Last Saturday to the SOH to hear the SSO.  I met up with my friend and former student (though I don’t think I ever directly taught him in class), Db.

It feels as though Db and I go even further back than we actually do.  His PhD supervisor, M (who died relatively young in about 2001) was a close family friend and neighbour when I grew up in West Pymble.  M told Db a few anecdotes about my family which gave a perspective on that time which I would otherwise not have had.  And retrospectively going even further back, Db is now responsible for and from time to time travels to a scientific facility which is just up the road from the sheep station where my father grew up before WWII.

The program, conducted by Asher Fisch, was:

Dorman, After Brahms, 3 orchestral intermezzi
Brahms – Schicksalslied and Gesang der Parzen (with the Sydney Philharmonia)
Strauss, Alpine Symphony.

The first two of the Dorman pieces are based on/derived from aspects of late Brahms piano pieces, respectively Op 118 No 1 and Op 119 No 1.   I can’t say the Brahmsian spirit really struck me in the first one.  It seemed, in its orchestral version, simply too helter-skelter.  The second was closer to its original. Funnily enough, it was the third piece, claiming no specific Brahms model, which felt the most Brahmsian.

This was the SSO’s first performance of Schicksalslied and also of Gesang der Parzen.  For that matter, I’m not sure if we’ve had Nänie and the Alto Rhapsody is only infrequently done.

I had been particularly looking forward to Sl and GdP.  Both texts have rather similar themes, and even a metaphor in common of mortals’ destiny (as opposed to the Gods’) being like water falling downwards over Klippen (cliffs).  GdP (Goethe from Euripides; a song sung by the fates to poor old Tantalus) was grimmer.  They are both a reminder of a Hellenism which is definitely a bigger thing in German literary culture than English. I enjoyed them both, notwithstanding rather whiter-than-ideal tone at an exposed high and quiet tenor part of the Gesang

At interval Db reminded me that it was at the SOH that we had been to what he counted as his most memorable Strauss performance. That was on (if Ausstage be my guide) 13 September 1991. After taking part in a school concert in the Concert Hall, we slipped into about row C of the stalls for the last act of Der Rosenkavalier.  This was Stuart Challender’s last ever performance, three months to the day before he died.  You can only imagine what he must have been feeling when he conducted the bit where the Marschallin muses on the passing of time.

I’m afraid I didn’t really get into the Alpine Symphony.  I must have been in the wrong mood for it. There are definitely some bits which are a bit like the fight between Telramund and Lohengrin and which are only just music.  Until the final section, it just seemed so loud and fast.  I wanted to pause for a few more breathers on the way up the mountain.  The playing, however, was fine, and I’ve since listened to the broadcast on air and online and enjoyed it more.

On Friday, I went impromptu to Angel Place to hear/see the St John Passion – stirred by the rehearsal I had stumbled across the day before at St James King Street.  Inevitably in Angel Place the choir could not match the exhilarating power of its opening chorus when sung in an almost empty church the night before.  Whilst the church would have been less resonant when full and obviously its capacity is less than Angel Place, I wonder if they wouldn’t have been better off staying in the church – sticking the kids up in the back gallery with maybe a few in the choir stalls if they wouldn’t fit upstairs. Fewer people would have got to hear it  and yes those pews are not comfortable, but Angel Place is so expensive to hire that I imagine the financial outcome could have been about the same and there are other reasons – let’s call them authenticity for short – for keeping it in the church.

I was surprised at how few solo arias there in fact are.  Sally-Anne Russell was better suited to her second than her first.  I’m not sure that I have ever heard an unequivocally successful rendition of the second soprano aria, which may be more about the aria and its place near the end of work than the performers.

I find myself less in sympathy with the religious content than I would once have been. The St John is the more blood-libelly of the Passions (“If thou lettest this mango, thou art not Elias’ friend.”) At one time I affected to prefer it to the St Matthew, on account of its more punchy narrative, but now I suspect it would take the more elaborate stage machinery of the latter to sweep me past the Religion to my own higher sphere.

It was an estimable performance.  “You look exhilarated!” said the cloak-room attendant when I went to get my bag at the end, and I suppose I was.

On Saturday just past to UNSW to hear the Australia Ensemble.

The concert was entitled “Fantasy and Variations.”  The fantasy was a work for piano quintet by Carl Vine.  This was very effective without necessarily sticking its neck out very far.  I enjoyed it.

The remaining works all featured variations: the Carl Nielsen wind quintet; a Prélude, récitatif et variations for flute, viola and piano by Duruflé, and the Mozart Clarinet Quintet.  The Duruflé was a discovery to me: it’s only his Op 3 and it seems his only published chamber work, so I wouldn’t say it is really typical of him; it was quite lush.  The Nielsen is deservedly a classic.

I had been blasé about the Mozart in prospect.  It is a work which suffers a bit from over-exposure. But blasé was good because things could only get better once the quintet started. Although the clarinet is prominent – the opening movement is almost a duet between the first violin and the clarinet – what was really striking was the way that David Griffiths integrated himself within the ensemble as a whole.  It’s not the kind of piece where you stamp and shout at the end, but you know you have heard, at least in a performance like this, a masterpiece.

Of the three concerts, I enjoyed the Australia Ensemble’s the most.