Archive for May, 2011

Et in Arcadia ego

May 25, 2011

Last weekend I was here, somewhere between Casino and Tenterfield, in the Northern Rivers hinterland.

These are said to be tank traps, left behind after World War II near a crossing by a north-south road of the river (not, in fact, the river pictured above) which my hosts referred to almost without exception as “the mighty Clarence.”

Four hands good…

May 19, 2011

I’ve been to a few concerts which I haven’t noticed here. This is just a catch up and not necessarily a comprehensive list.

I went to the first three concerts for this year by the Australia Ensemble.

The first, featuring the Grieg violin sonata, a brace of Grainger numbers (with an elastically scored ensemble for some), an arrangement by Ian Munro of Ravel’s Mother Goose Suite and the Siegfried Idyll was pleasing. What a wonderful morning Cosima Wagner must have woken up to that day. It is probably just as well she heard it played a second time as there is a distinct possibility she slept through the beginning – which is, indeed, part of the premise and design of the work.

The second, with the theme “Theatre in Music: Surrealist Dreams and Sydney Harbour Anecdotes” was a bit of an anticlimax. In this concert, the element of dance (well, one dancer) was introduced. Probably I was sitting too close for the dance and the scenario for the Conyngham just felt lame. Schoenberg’s Pierrot Lunaire was astonishing, and not simply by reason of my incomprehension of it. The dancer was not so restricted by the scenario, but it was hard to spare much attention for the him when so much was going on elsewhere, and especially Fiona Campbell’s delivery of the text.

The third concert was a return to form. The highlight was an additional item, a string quartet movement by Richard Meale (more a solo for violin with accompaniment by the others), added in his memory but also as a way of rounding off the earlier avant-gardism of his Incredible Floridas, which was the main first half item and closer.

The second half was a late Beethoven string quartet. These have a somewhat forbidding reputation and on account of that P, with whom I usually go to these concerts, gave her ticket up. D came in her stead. From time to time I shut my eyes. Was I dozing off or blissing out? Recourse to the hip flask at interval had not been to an extent which would normally lead to the former and over all I favour bliss over somnolence as the explanation. It was simply so delicious to think that this music was being played just in front of me. Sometimes I shut my eyes when listening to a recording and allow myself such a little fantasy but in this case, it was true!

This month I’ve been to the SSO’s Mahler “10” and 9. The “10” was preceded by a newly commissioned concertante work by Matthew Hindson for 2 pianos and orchestra. There was a bit of a projection problem for the pianos once the lids were both off, and the orchestration in the first movement seemed full of intricate detail which just wasn’t getting through. The second movement was better, though the ending (where both pianists joined at one piano in a kind of symbolic self-epithalamium) was corny. The “10” was worth hearing. The first movement made me think of that rather conversational style from the introduction to Capriccio or, indeed, the Siegfried Idyll.

The 9 was on the very anniversary of Mahler’s death, and Mr Ashkenazy made a short speech about that. At the end there is a kind of apotheosis of the swung dash – well, I mean the turn which is usually so notated. There is a certain signification of this figure to mean either grandeur or eloquence which I think of as coming from Schumann and which Mahler himself employs as a grandiloquent flourish. By the last four notes in the viola section at the end the turn had turned. It felt important to know where it had come from, and also important not quite to know where it was heading.

With the Mahler 9 we had an elastically scored relatively early Mozart piano concerto.

In between these, on Monday, I went to hear Pascal and Ami Roge play in the SSO piano series. I was wary of this even before I went: in my experience piano duets, whether on one or two pianos, are more of a participant activity than a spectator sport other than in domestic circumstances. That’s a view I reach reluctantly, because I have enjoyed playing piano duets and (less frequently, owing to the logistic requirement) two piano works. The problem is that there is a tendency for there just to be tooo many notes and they are all piano notes. The bits which broke through this to make engaging music which matched what we otherwise get in this series as a rule were mostly the bits where there were fewer notes. Hence the title of this post.

Sudden realisation of tragiC situation of Mendelssohn

May 15, 2011

Who can this person be?

1 January 1869, somewhere in striking distane of Lucerne, turned 31 the previous Christmas, has dedicated self to share burdens of life with a Friend, addresses two children abandoned for that Friend’s sake…

Yes, it is

[If you look Closely, that Copy has an intrigueing provenanCe – I bought it as a disCard from the Con library [sorry about the paste around a reCalCitrant “C” key, inCidentally]].

But back to our diarist’s New Year’s Day [for a more legible pdf version click here]:

It’s the point about half way down the 2nd page where things start to get a little bit spooky as the inner demon is demonized.

Making a fair copy of the second act of Siegfried and completing his essay on the Jews, indeed.

Birthday tribute to Georges de la Tour

May 3, 2011

Not his, silly – mine!

I had a birthday recently. D procured this.

(Alternative title: [self-]”portrait” with cake)

It cheered me up.


May 1, 2011

I shocked myself on Friday night by watching some of the Royal Wedding on the television.

It was the end of a difficult day. I was weak and vulnerable. I had ridden through the rain to meet D and the cat at the vet’s and then not changed out of my wet clothes before I had taken a teeth-chattering chill.

D grew up under the benevolent eye of Chairman Mao and certain ingrained principles against feudalism run deep. His curiosity was limited to the fashion aspects: he thinks fascinators like Julia Gillard’s are a bit rude to your neighbour on the fascinated side. After a little bit of the arrival of guests and later the bride and an overview of the outfits sported, he would have no more of it.

My interest was musical and marginally ecclesiastical. The royals themselves, as opposed to the splendour they could command, were perhaps the least of it. My interest didn’t extend to watching the whole thing, just to keeping an eye on when the better musical moments might be.

I missed the beginning, so I missed Parry’s I was glad.

I squirmed (as did the happy pair – well, they certainly fidgeted a bit) through a chunk of sermon. The archbishop was extolling the soul-enhancing qualities of marital love as the epitome of selfless love for another as a result of a solemn commitment undertaken – I take this to be an updating of the guff at the front of the BCP which says that one purpose of marriage is to enable us to understand the mystical union of Christ and the church. He seemed to be stressing the importance of the formal commitment as almost a practical necessity – as if sticking together in mutual unselfishness cannot be done unless there is such a solemn pact. I wonder if, after I went back to whatever I was doing otherwise, he went on to explain why only heterosexual Christians should be vouched such instructive sacramental good fortune.

As I watched the dean officiate and the director of music direct, I recalled that Westminster Abbey is a Royal Peculiar. That is relevant to how Lord Jauncey of Tulichettle was appointed to determine whether Martin Neary, who was responsible for the music at Diana’s funeral (which I rather think of as the last episode in this particular ecclesio-royal saga) had been (in lay terms) unjustly dismissed as organist of Westminster Abbey shortly afterwards. The cause for this dismissal was that Neary and his wife had set up what in essence was a labour hire company which purported to engage the adult members of the choir as freelancers for the outside-Abbey commitments such as tours, recordings and the like. This was an arrangement of benefit to the singers and the abbey alike, but apparently not quite Kosher from the point of view of the deductions (including national insurance contributions) which should have been made had the singers been directly employed by the Abbey as usual. When HMI (the revenue) started sniffing around, the powers-that-be summarily hung Dr Neary out to dry. They discovered (or said they discovered) that without telling them the Neary’s had also been accepting engagements on behalf of the choristers – necessary if the whole choir was to be engaged, you might think, and that the Neary’s had in effect been paying themselves (relatively modest) management fees for this extra work. This, the Abbey said, was a secret commission. That’s a sackable offence, and the sort of thing you can be sacked for pretty well summarily.

You have to wonder if there were other antagonisms at work between the dean and chapter and the Nearys, and whether, but for those antagonisms (or the desire to wash their hands of the dodgy tax and national insurance aspects), the Abbey could and would have stuck by him. Instead he was sacked. The Nearys appealed to the Queen as visitor Lord Jauncey was appointed to advise the Queen in her her. He said the dismissal was OK.

This is the key bit (emphasis added):

For some three and a half years Dr and Mrs Neary ran a business whose principal income earning assets were the lay vicars and the choristers. They derived profits from this business in the shape of fixing fees and surpluses on events involving the choir. They did not tell anybody in the Abbey what they were doing. They disclosed to no-one there that they and not the Abbey authorities were entering into some contracts on behalf of the choir. The fact that the Abbey authorities had all the information which would have enabled them to find out about the contracts, had they been so minded, does not alter the position. Dr Neary sought an increase in salary for Mrs Neary without mentioning that she was already receiving substantial sums by way of fixing fees. [… -one other example]. By these activities and their silence during this long period they were in clear breach of their duty of fidelity to the Abbey. They used their position as Organist and Music Department Secretary to make secret profits over a prolonged period and they entirely failed to inform the Abbey authorities of what they were doing, notwithstanding the fact that there were ample opportunities so to do and no good reason for not doing so. I consider that this conduct was such as fatally undermined the relationship of trust and confidence which should have subsisted between them and the Abbey. I am therefore satisfied that the Dean and Chapter were justified in summarily dismissing them.

The nub of it is in the italicized bit and the conclusion about the undermining of the relationship of trust and confidence. If you read the rest of the decision carefully you will see that the Nearys were still hung out to dry, albeit reluctantly. That’s because, despite some wonderment at the chapter’s apparent and (to my eyes) studied incuriosity about whatever arrangements the Nearys had set up, in the end it was accepted at pretty much face value. The Nearys were sacked for not telling the chapter things which it seems they may have thought it was best for the Abbey and all concerned that the chapter not know and which the chapter certainly showed no particular desire to know.

Well, that’s just a base (in the Marxian sense) reflection on the beautiful music and the people making it. I’m prepared to forgive a lot for the sake of the music.

It was Parry’s big day out. Apparently Prince Charles is rather keen on Parry – it’s just the sort of Tory-Englander last-night-of-the-Proms taste that you might expect him to have and not an enthusiasm that everybody shares. Not only did we have Jerusalem (to words by Blake, of course) but also “Blest Pair of Sirens” to words by Milton. Neither of them a notably royalist poet.

As ever, it was clear that there was quite a lot of talking in the congregation while this piece was being sung. I hate that but it is pretty universal during the signing of the register and of course the music would have been much less distinctly audible to almost everyone there than it was to us on the television.

I shocked myself even more when Gordon Jacobs’ arrangement of “God Save the Queen” gave me that warm inner glow that only true comfort music can create. I notice that the Queen herself, quite properly, didn’t join in singing this. I guess it is a bit like singing “Happy Birthday” on your own birthday (unless, of course, it was [unresolved subjunctive-ish mood alert] also someone else’s).

After the service ended, I kept watching the procession back to Buckingham Palace for a little while. My favourite bit was when the Duke of Edinburgh launched himself up into his and the Queen’s carriage in quite an alarming way. He seemed to be having rather a torrid time once he was up manoeuvring himself within the carriage and into his place, and the BBC coverage tactfully (or so it seemed to me) switched to another shot altogether.

Some of the “traditions” which were being talked up in the commentary and the presentation were based on as few as one previous iteration (eg, “the kiss” on the balcony of Buckingham Palace).

The spectacle was undeniably entertaining. Maybe I shouldn’t be surprised I was so easily sucked in. It was faintly ridiculous that Julia Gillard attended. Quentin Bryce was more than sufficient representation for Australia.

If I thought the wedding really had anything serious to do with Australia, I might have withstood its allure more firmly. I find it hard to imagine or credit that in 20 or 30 years (assuming Prince Charles lives to 80 or 90) we in Australia will owe our allegiance to William V.