Anagram tales 5: Missa Solemnis
guest post by Nicolas Robertson
For a general introduction to this remarkable series, see Noon? Gad—vini!
Setting of the Mass, by Beethoven; soloists, Monteverdi Choir and Orchestre Révolutionnaire et Romantique, directed by John Eliot Gardiner, performances in various European cities, 1994.
Sequence of 92 anagrams followed by a parallel text (composed at the same date).
* * *
“Melisma, sons, is some sisal sin. M-minims, o lasses? Ass loses minim, ass in LSO mimes. Lo! ‘Messias’ in MS: me main loss is S. Simeon’s Missal.”
Noam smiles, “Is S-Sionism Mass ‘El Al’—is MS Simeon’s?”
“O, Missal in mess! Lone, I miss Mass. Missa ‘no smiles’!”
* * *
“Massie’s slim, no? I’m no less mass, I slam emissions, males’ missions, I mess men’s soil, Islam, Simeon, SS…”
“…SS means…” – is Milo –
“Means Miss Lois!”
“SS! – “
“MALE SIONISM,” slam Sion’s misses, “Mole in SAS.”
“Miss? Salem, Miss??”
Miasm’l session: Salome ‘Miss Sin’, lemon Isis, mass lissom Messina, anis, slim; Moses (Solesm’ Sinaï MS), Amos (“missiles ’n Mosesism nails Limies”), Samson’s Messianism, Sol (“less Miami, sons!”); M—Moses is slain!
* * *
Lemnos is a miss. Selim’s maisons… “Mil s/Sâone, si, Ms...”
“Minos ass, Selim. Smiles, moans, is Somali mess. Sin!”
– Emma iss sinlos?? –
“Sins?” – Emma. “Soils lessons Mimi ’as.” (Mimi’s lessons: animal mess. So is loess.) “Imam’s sins!”
“Amis, lessons! Minimal mess, so is…”
“Is seminal, Moss!”
sss…! Aliens, Mom! I …
“Alien? Moss?? MISS SOAMES!!!”
“Miss nil. I’m Nils Soames, son.” (Smiles, assim.)
“ ‘Miso’ Simnel, SAS.”
“Si?” (Silas Simmons, ’e…)
“SIMMONS, lassie. Esso mini, m’lass?”
“Esso maims” – Nils.
* * *
“Some snail, Sims?”
“Miss semolinas. Less Mosiman‟, is slim seasons. I’m seismal.”
Simon: “ ’s molasses sin?”
“I’m sinless, mimosa…”
Mason’s smile is simian, Mo’s less. Mason’s is miles, miles on; Sam’s is aimless.
“No!” – Miss Melissa Simons, Islam nose, Miss ‘I’m Miss Sloanes’. Slim men’s oasis. (Limn oasises, Ms. Simons, Melissa…)
“Siam melons, sis?”
“Melons mi ass—is lemons! Assisi moles…”
“Sam’s mini-sole’s semi-salmon, sis.”
Sam misses loin, misses ma’s lino.
Alone, miss Miss.
* * *
ACTING CLASSES (ON THURSDAY AFTERNOONS)
The students appreciated the familiar style of their professor, iconoclastic as he was and at home in any period of musical history:
“Look, guys, you can fall into a pretty thorny error if you go on spinning out your melodic lines on one syllable –
“Y-y-” (he has an occasional slight stammer) “You want some advice about white notes, girls? Only the sort of donkeys who mark time in the back desks of symphony orchestras need that. Look, here’s really something: I’ve seen the manuscript of Handel’s Messiah, and it’s in German! But that’s nothing beside the Saint-Simon partbooks, lost now alas.”
One of the professor’s friends, the philosopher Noam Chomsky, shows a hitherto unattested interest in musicology, and combining disarmingly friendly attention (poking a tiny and good-hearted bit of fun at the stammer) with incisive grasp of the matter asks,
“Are you telling me the p-parody mass “Oh, for the wings of a dove, Oh, to home may I roam‟ is in the Saint-Simon codex?”
“God knows, the sources are all jumbled up. I seem to be the only one who’s noticed this lacuna, and it’s no laughing matter, it’s as if there were a whole Missa Solemnis out there up for grabs…”
* * *
Fade to a cricket match in the 70s, where a popular sporting figure, in this case an Australian swing bowler (unless it’s the unfairly neglected Scottish novelist), turns out to serve as but a peg on which to hang an array of prejudices, thus:
“I put it down to build. I weigh about the same as him, though it may not look like it, and I too hate the idea that we men have some divine right just because we give out instead of taking in, and that’s the way it is and so on… And anyway, I like to queer our pitch a bit, I mean, we’re sentenced by the Koran, the Bible, Mein Kampf…”
“You know what’s going to happen if you touch that topic,” warns a man called Milo.
“Yeah. It means that girl Lois.”
“But you might not have fully appreciated her extreme views, and …” And sure enough, Lois and her defenders of the faith can be heard demonstrating in the street outside, brutally lumping pro- and anti-Semites together as, worst of all, MEN, rather surprisingly going on to suggest there’s an undercover agent in the élite armed forces, or is it that they propose that there should be one? I can’t say, but I do know that when clearly and politely asked if they will plump for graceful retirement to a borough known for witch-hunting they opt noisily for a mountain top nearer the crucible of contemporary world history.
And thus doing, leave the field to a lurid succession of febrile fantasies, seven veils hardly disguising the citrus flanks of the gorgeous goddess of the Nile, nor the ranks of the sinuous girls of Sicily, high on pastis yet still so slender… A variety of prophets give credence to a French monastery’s claim to own the holograph of the Ten Commandments, and to the theory that a hallowed legal framework plus a few bombs should be enough to keep the British in line. A strong man is seen to betoken a once and future king amidst the ruin of the philistines, and another king enjoins less vice—of the south-eastern US kind in particular—upon his progeny; but the fabric falls apart as we hear the stammered news that the lawgiver has bitten the dust, who now is the authority for any of this?…
* * *
Well, Greek islands are not always what they’ve been cracked up to be; for one thing, they may feature ‘houses’ built by a Cretan-Ethiopian Muslim polyglot who wrings his hands, is effusive in French about a thousand other developments which have apparently been runaway successes—and leaves you sadly disillusioned. You could call his conduct wrong, and that’s certainly what Emma does—who is she to talk? mein Gott—but she talks alright:
It’s such a shame , ‘t interferes with Mimi’s classes,” (though Mimi’s classes are a zoo, are in fact about as clean as mud) “actually I blame the muezzin.” And, on cue:
“My friends, come to catechism!” the elevated voice clarions, “little is the interference with –”
– WITH THE SEED FROM WHICH YOU SPRANG, YOUNG MOSS?? –
a whisper is heard, urgent, can the boy have seen right, can it be, o god mother believe him, the lad Moss is not what he seems –
“What, is Moss not one of us? Call the headmistress!”
“OK, calm down everybody, no, I’m not a woman, I’m in fact a man and have been all along, I’m sorry about the deception but it was necessary, as you’ll find out. Miss Soames was my mother, which is how I managed to fool you, looking so like her—and here’s my team, tough experienced men all.”
Here, Nils gives a sort of Portuguese grin, yes, that’s the one, and gestures to the men to introduce themselves, which they do with exemplary terseness, until it comes to Simmons, who when alerted to his turn asks Emma, “D’you still drive that old banger?” and has to be interrupted by his superior who reminds him shortly that carbon monoxide effluvia are known to be injurious. But then they’re off, on their perilous mission…
* * *
I can’t believe that they’re after me—as an ALIEN! O, I’m tired, I’m hungry—but that gives me an idea, here’s somewhere I can go to ground.
“What do you think,” they’re asking Sam, “escargots?”
“If someone’ll share with me.”
“And you?” I tell them I have a yearning for tapioca, but I’m one of those who think nouvelle cuisine portions an extravagance, given that I’m trying to lose weight. As a result, I admit, I’m volcanically starving. Simon wonders if raw cane sugar is bad for you, and is rewarded by virtuous invitations to ‘sin, flower’.
I watch the face of Mason, his atavistic grin, of Maurice, trying hard to keep up, of Sam, without compass bearing now, while Mason finds himself in some unfathomable future… The spell is broken, o bittersweet epiphany, by the arrival of Melissa, her semitic profile and Harvey Nichols clothes accentuating her availability only to those lean pale men who earn access to her fount… (O Melissa, unwed yet, tell how are these founts, describe your secret sources…)
“Like a slice of this Thai honeydew?”, Melissa’s brother asks her.
“Doncha honeydew me, this is a citrus fruit. My Franciscan insiders don’t lie…”
And those little flatfish Sam hoped were Dover sole?
“I’m sorry, Sam, what you thought were baby plaice were salmon fillets.”
I see Sam looking lost, longing for a good roast beef, longing for the dirty cracked floor of mum’s kitchen –
Left on my own, I realise that what I long for is her.
Lübeck – Duisburg – Vienna, June–November 1994/
Outurela, Portugal, May 2020