Interview stories

World map

I note that there are several related stories on ‘ere about interviews.

This one features a young hopeful applying for a position in the Music Department at Cardiff:

Shifting the scene to a prison, this story may or may not be true:

Branching into “world music”, this one certainly is:

as is this fine story about Esa-Pekka Salonen’s interview for the LA Phil, exposing a mindset that is still common in both WAM and Daoist ritual studies:

Salonen

“The undisputed master of” * the interview is of course Philomena Cunk, as in her programmes on

Cunk

Seriously though folks, I discussed issues in fieldwork interviewing/chatting here, following Bruce Jackson.


* In homage to I’m sorry I haven’t a clue; with “master” serving as a gender-neutral term until someone comes up with a good substitute…

Anagram tales: a roundup, with wacky index

Here are links to our initial selection from the magnificent anagram tales by Nicolas Robertson. They group neatly in three trilogies—first, Mozart operas:

followed by

and

The visions emerging here make up a kind of Esperanto fiction—it’s most rewarding to follow the gnomic texts with the aid of the explanatory stories. Here’s a general introduction by Nick himself:

The anagram stories Stephen Jones has been resolutely issuing arose from a specific combination of circumstances. First, amongst professional classical music singers, the 80s and 90s were a high point for tours, residencies, and CD recordings, all of which furnished extended periods of having to sit patiently around—time used in various ways, crosswords, knitting, books and magazines; there were not yet smartphones or iPads, had they already existed it’s unlikely that these texts would ever have developed.

But in 1984 I had been introduced to the work of Georges Perec and the Oulipo, which added to my early enthusiasm for Mots d’heures: gousses, rames and an appreciation of word games of various sorts (though I never enjoyed or was much good at Scrabble, oddly: I think it was the element of competition which spoiled it). Such games had a much more serious aspect for me (as indeed, to a hugely greater extent, they did for Perec), through their function of creating “potential literature”—Oulipo is “Ouvroir de Litterature Potentielle”, freeing up through constraints. Having always been keen on writing, I nevertheless had found myself unable, every time I tried, to write imaginative fictional narrative; what began as a collaborative pastime (many anagrams, and certainly the best ones, were deduced by colleagues, once I’d proposed a source text or name) gradually morphed into a generator of unlikely yet rigorously underpinned stories.

As to the process, during recording sessions etc. I collected from volunteers and compiled my own anagrams, which I then joined up in whatever form of narrative appeared possible, permitting myself any old punctuation but always (the few exceptions are noted in the text) sticking rigorously to the sequence of repeated anagram matrices, with the same letters repeated each time, never overlapping nor transposing—no cheating for effect (however tempting). At first that was as far as I thought of going, but it soon appeared that there was another level of interpretation waiting to be exploited, the “potential literature”, and I spent some months, or even years (in the case of Lili Boulanger and Johann Sebastian Bach) extrapolating the story I felt the anagrams were perhaps telling.

In addition to the nine Steve has published, there are six more which survive—several were wholly or partly lost during the course of time and specifically in a fire in our house in Portugal which destroyed most of my papers (and books) in 2009: the survivals are in great part due to Steve himself, and Charles Pott, a notable contributor, who had kept copies, backed up by a handful I’d managed to consign to the internet (most of the stories also predate the days of web-based email).

These other pieces are:

  • Israel in Egypt (anagrams only, stitched together but without parallel text, 1989)

  • Die Entfuhrung (sic—no umlaut, nor the missing ‘e’ it would represent) / Aus dem Serail (introduction + anagrams only, 1991)
  • Salzburg (introduction + anagrams of Beethoven’s Leonore/Beethoven’s Fidelio + story, 1996—probably the most substantial piece of the whole run)

  • Alceste (raw anagram list + anagrams + story, 1999)

  • Merano (intro + raw anagram list + anagrams + story + epilogue, 2000)

  • Oslo (raw anagram list + anagrams + sort of story + epilogue/more story, 2000).

These last two were envisaged as being integral parts of my reactions to the celebrations at the time of the 250th anniversary of Bach’s death, and the many concerts in which I took part during that year. The last anagram piece I wrote of this sort (there’s since been an acrostic anagram sonnet for Fernando Pessoa) was indeed Johann Sebastian Bach, compiled between 2000 and 2021. There’s a hope that the complete set may eventually interest a publisher…

I still can’t write (and don’t believe I have written) fiction. I was just following where the letters led me.

Nicolas Robertson, August 2021.

* * *

[SJ:] With my penchant for zany indexing (see here, and here), I can’t resist compiling a selective general index of some of the more striking people, places, and themes that adorn the plots so far (just the anagrams, not the extrapolations!), and allowing characters to mingle freely after being trapped within the bonds of the individual stories that generated them. In the absence of page references, you can have fun working out which tales the entries belong to.

196.

index 1

 

197.
index 2 

198.

index 3

199.

index 4

Nubile gorilla

Anagram tales 6: Lili Boulanger

guest post by Nicolas Robertson

For a general introduction to the series, see here.

Prelude—SJ
This is Nick’s longest treatment so far in this series, almost a novella—subsuming the Middle Eastern conflict, Free France, the Cathars, Jacques Brel, a furniture-making course, the UNESCO football team in Lagos, an organists’ outing, and Nubia—with a moving dénouement. See also my own tributes to Lili and Nadia.

* * *

LILI BOULANGER
French composer (1893–1918), younger sister of Nadia (1887–1979). Concerts and recording, 1999, with the LSO and Monteverdi Choir, directed by John Eliot Gardiner (who studied with Nadia).

Boulanger CD cover

192 anagrams, in strict sequence, of the 13-letter matrix, followed by an explanatory ‘story’, in whatever language came to hand.

This is no.11 of the anagram pieces I composed between 1989 and 2002; it’s the first, I would say, in which I attempt to go beyond a strict mapping of anagram/story, and venture into some narrative of my own. In my overall introduction to the series, I explain why it was precisely my inability to do this (write a freehand story) which lay behind my adoption of anagrammatic ‘automatic writing’. My excuse is that the scenes glimpsed elliptically in the course of the anagrams suggested to me larger panoramas, which I needed to explore more extensively to be fair to the letters’ fragmentary vision.

So for the Albi section in particular I resorted to some autobiographical material (and a fable from the Panchatantra), and for Lille too, where I was also influenced, in a generic way, by a story of J.L. Borges, as well as by the art nouveau heritage of the town itself.

The reader will judge better than I can the success of this strategy. I can’t regret deploying the associations which the anagrams themselves germinated, but the results leave me a bit ill at ease.

There’s another, quite distinct, circumstance to be taken into account with ‘Lili Boulanger’. I had completed the anagrams by the end of September 1999 (as indicated in the present text). The accompanying story took longer, and was put together over a period of a few more years, mostly during periods of work in London or on tour, though I believe it was substantially done by 2002. At any rate the whole piece had been completed, but only partially typed up (and put on a floppy disc) by 2007—and only up to the end of the Lille section of the story. This was the truncated part I had the wit to send to myself in an email: not all such accounts were web-based in those days. Our fire in Portugal in early 2009 destroyed not only most paper documents but also all floppy discs and CDs, as well as the computer itself and its hard disk.

Thus the final narrative sections, all after the Lille episode, have been reconstructed from memory during the last few years; they lack some of the detail which I know I had tracked down, specifically in Nubia and Egypt, but are as true to the original aperçus as I could manage.

* * *

LILI BOULANGER
   “O Rubin! Illegal! Ali’ll—” [BenGurion].”Ill…?” AlOur Begin“Lo, ‘Bulgar’ Eli!” – I?
   “OlàIrgun libel,” begin our Al, “Lil’ El Al lingo…”
I rub liberal gun oil, a billionLuger, bare loin. I gull Rabin: “Loge! Ulli! Liban grouille, Ulli Legobrain.” Ulli anger boil.
   “U… obligé!”
   “Iran’ll bull IRA legion.” I? I’ll ogle urban guerrilla. “NB oil, Ali, oilbungler, oil’ll ruin bagel…”
   “Liban gloire!” Ul… Leila gun brio! Luger—bon, I’ll –
Aï!

* *

Iron Gaulle: “Lib – ”
Gaul libre? Loin. Berlin IOU gall; nul Albi gloire, Albi grenouille labouring, illGaul—in Loire (blub)—la Loire! linger… No Gaul lib (il gain boule rill), all blue origin. Gr… beau lion ill. I long Brel, lui, à l’agile Libourne, Brel, la gui’nol. I—I, Raoul Belling—lui, Brel, a lingo: I unlog braille, I null Albi ogre, Balin. Le roi Lug! Lui!

Noble grail.

LB pic 1

[GRAIL? NI!!]

* * *

   “Boulle?”
   “All Gobelin, Rui. Burin goal, ille, ruling lobelia.”
   “Elgin—blur a loi?”
   “Ol’ Elgin burial.”
   “Ai! Gullible, Ron?”
   “Gullible on air. No liberal. Ugli?”
Glen: “Oil o’ Blair, ‘u’ regional bill, Blair, lounge li…”
   “Ug. ‘Lionel’ Blair…”
B.O.

LULL

Nigeria. Rogue ball: 1–nil. Eli blur in goal. Lor, il a bu! Nigel (Nigel A. Burillo):
   “Rolling, ’e, il a bu gill in Euro lab.”
   “Bull—ale origin. Ale or gin.”
   “I – 
   “Bull!”
Gin—rue Balliol“Lo, binge lair,” lu our ill Belgian, Raul. “Gill, Niobe?” Niobe all girl, ‘u’, nubile gorilla. “I lug renal boil, I rung ill (Ebola), oiling rubella, ill—large bunion.” O, gullible air! “Ill, lurgi—o bane! – I blur galleon…”

* * *

I go urban Lille, au boring Lille. Rob Lille gal in our Lille bang. I uni Lille Garbo—ubi Lille organ?
L … Laure – boiling –

* * *

NUBIA
‘El Grillo’. Onager. Bill, lui, air lounge.
   “Bill?”
   “Ali, Reg? Bullion!”
   “Lor’!”
   “Ubi Agnelli?”
   “Gerona. Ibi Lull.”
   “Go—Iberian Lull? Olé, a bullring! I – I’ll bug aileron.”
   “Ignore Bill.”
Lua. “I’ll ignore.” Blau, la lune, Rio glib. La lune 
   “Gil, biro.”
   “Nebula ?”—oil girl Gillian Rouble. “Leo, Libra, Gil nu?”
   “Bon, girl! Eulalie?”
   “Gloria in blu’, lo!”
Alluring bile. “Banlieu, ol’ girl. A billion gruel.”
   “O, gruel in billabong!” Allure“I lie—Goan Lilliburlero! Lug in Bali!”
Ego all in blur, I, N. (‘Boileau’), grill brill. Louange? ?? “Oi! Ungrillable! Bali rouille n.g., N.R.!”
   “Aiolibulge!”—Lou. “Bengali rill. Gibier?”
   “Nul.”
   “Allô allô?”
Lune. Big rig, blue lilo. I ranunlabel oil rig.
   “Oi!”—Niall, bugler. “U – ”, Ollie blaring, “lo urinal bilge.”
Niall bougre, il, ignoble liar, lui, nubil, allegro, unlilo a gerbil (all Brie), oil gnu, ill Boer. In Gaul, longer alibi.
Lua…

* * *

   “Ole Bull,” I grin. Nubia—Rogé, Lill, “urbane Lill,” I go. Nullo GabrieliIona. Lulli, Berg.
‘Go, Liu’ (‘Li’l Abner’), our lag Bellini—lo, Bellini ragù! Io liberal lung. Bing, Elli—(Raoul!)—Luba ‘il Re. I long Gillian Loeb, urbell on ‘Liguria’. L. Borgia nulle. I, lorn…
Lua. Liebig le loi…
   “Brian, lug our ale billing. ’lo, Lilian Grube!”
   “’lo!”
I? I brung—alleluia!—Bollinger.

* * *

Böll: “Gin, Luria?”
   “Beluga.” Blini lager lou’.
   “Niro, Lil?” (e.g. Lil in labour).
   “Illiber’l guano.”
   “Brillig!”
   “Âne, Lou. Llaregub loin,” il gribouille. An alien lour, glib.
   “Lo, B. Luini glare!”
   “B. Luini allegro—Luigi, noballer.”
   “ ‘Lear’ bingo—Ulli?”
   “ ‘Blau, ill, Goneril – ’ ”
   “ ‘– Regan, boil’ ” (I lu)
   “ ‘I boil lung…’ ”
   “ Lear??

* * *

Nile log burial… bull religion, boiling laurel; bull, or—ii!—angel. Gabriel? No, lui, Logi, Belial—run! L…lo, Ariel bulgin’ (‘Ariel’: lu ‘goblin’, il a goblin lure), ‘l’Aiglon’ Uriel belabouring ill Lili 

Blue organ. INRI—gall—o blue Eboli lira lung.
Un albergo, Lili… urbillig, alone. Rouge bilan, Lil.

Lo, un Lili Grabe.
Burial.
Lil gone.

London, July–September 1999.

LB grave

* * *

No doubt I wasn’t the first,” wrote David BenGurion in his (unpublished) memoirs, “to wish that my similarlymotivated colleagues would stay on the right side of the law. WasnMenachem a case in point? How could we wish to give more ammunition to the Arabs? Yet the ethos of the group, the sensation that all were against us, militated against openhandedness. When I tried to draw their attention to this, I was met by precisely the sort of prejudiced stereotyping which should have proved my point. But under conditions of war, it seemed to us, the niceties of human discourse were dispensed with. I was called a selfstyled Balkan priest, while another comrade thought even that was too good for me, that my Spanish exile was causing me to slander the underground movement, and that I stood, by now, for little more than a sort of Broadway inflightmagazine Zionism…”

I was reading this as we sat in the control room, Rabin, Ulli the Lebanese Israeli, Ali the Israeli Arab. I hitched up my shorts so that the lubricating oil we used so plentifully wouldnstain the cotton, and carefully anointed my revolver. I knew it was the most reliable weapon we had, a gun in a thousand, and couldn’t resist teasing the others, who drew from lower down the armoury.
   “Wotan’s sidekicks! Vous ne comprenez pas that Lebanons up in arms, you buildingblockhead?” Ulli seethed, I could tell, but he knew he couldnt let it out openly.
   “Th… thanks for the news.”
   “Khomeinis mullahs will make the Irish cohorts look like dairy cows…” I wasn’t interested in the subject any more. I was looking at a ‘Wanted’ poster on the concrete wall, of Leila Khaled. I couldnt decide if she was attractive because of herself, or because of what she did, shirt halfopen, Uzi at the ready; but I couldnt keep my eyes off her. What was it that gave us this fascination with leftwing (exclusively leftwing, mind—if thats what they really were—no neofascist ever got a lookin on this melancholy rollcall) activists, women and even men, Ulrike Meinhof, Andreas Baader—never a hero, actually, but Holger Meins, JanCarl Raspe, Astrid Proll—Patty Hearst wasnt serious, she was a sort of John Travolta convert 
– I smelt a terrible smell of burnt oil, and realised that Ali was warming up vegetable oil to use as a substitute for the proper gun lubrication, which he’d probably siphoned off to put in his jeep. I wouldnt complain about this, we all did it, except that he reused the oil in the bakery, and as a result the pretzels tasted dreadful…

So, after all, I was caught unprepared. My antihero/heroine surprised us thinking about food. The sun caught her gun in the doorway, as, brandishing her Levant warcry, she pinned us down, nothis way, now that, and with an ache I admired her panache even as I struggled to release my own pistol, good, I thought, yes…
I wasnt in time.

* * *

“Non! Non!! NON!!!” Thats the de Gaulle some of us know, lhomme de fer, and perhaps its true that at certain points in history itmore important to be able to say no’ with conviction than to accept. Even so, saying no’ sets up a wall which must either be knocked down later, or sidetracked, or backed away from. If you say no, you should simultaneously be saying ‘yes’ to something else, to a wider freedom, not stopping halfway…
And France was not free. Far from it. It depended on German repayments, a bitter pill to swallow. Raoul Belling, grandson of the inventor of the electric oven, and dreamer of druidic dominion, descended the slope behind Albi cathedral, to the gravelled walkway beside the river Tarn. An early morning mist was lifting from the rivers surface, as if burnt off by the great Apocalypse of the cathedral screen which hung hot in his mind, and he winced at the thought of how Albis huge red longbrick towers now stood for nothing, their Cathar legacy of gnostic communion reduced to the status of the poor frog he saw in an eddy, struggling to breathe, clearly poisoned by some pollution in the river. In his mind, the narrow Tarn broadened to become an image of the Loire, that vast river which is, like its territory, ever changing, reflecting the sky, yet ever massively the same, pouring on between its châteaux and vineyard flanks—France!

Tears started behind Raouls eyes as he slowed his pace, to take in his thoughts… “But France is not free!”, Raoul cried. As he walked on, kicking furiously at clumps of grass by the riverside, he came across a driedup rivulet where heonce played boules, in a time now lost in an indigo fog of memory. He gritted his teeth, growled into the thickets. “Our fine lion couldnt overcome even a unicorn! Ah, how we need a Jacques Brel, who could pillory and glorify at once! ‘Ça sent la bière’, aussi le vin, it could be Bordeaux, Libourne on the shoulder of the Gironde” (looking out over Arcachon where Lili Boulanger went once hoping to restore her lost health)—but Brel presides over all, the pantograph of pantomime – .

Raoul remembered his visits to the Théâtre du Grand Guignol in Paris, in the Cour Chaptal in the 9th arrondissement: so close to Ary Scheffers house where Georges Sand and Chopin called, and to the little theatre where Alfred Jarry first threw Ubu Roi’ at an unsuspecting world—‘Merdre’, a fine opening line for 1896—and to the house where Nadia and Lili lived… Brel continues to speak for us, hadnt he written

On a détruit la Bastille
Et ça n’a rien arrangé
On a détruit la Bastille
Quand il fallait nous aimer

‘Aucun rêve jamais / Ne mérite une guerre…’ No, that wasnt the way. Hadn’t he also sung, in Litanies pour un Retour,

Mon Coeur ma mie mon âme
Mon ciel mon feu ma flamme
Mon puits ma source mon val
Mon miel mon baume mon Graal

That was it! ‘Le retour’, as of a King Arthur, waking up himself and his people—‘voilà que tu reviens’!

[Mais pourquoi moi, pourquoi maintenant, et.. où aller? (…)
Mais qu’estceque jamais jai fait d’autre—qu’arriver?’ – J.Brel, Jarrive]

“And this,” cried Raoul aloud, “is where we need our old woodland god, Lugh! Light, clarity! The striking of the midday sun into the forest glade!” Raoul, metaphorically booting out the inner infidel, aimed a kick at a broken pot in the grass verge, suddenly depressed again, knowing that light cant exist without dark, and unable to see his way from one to another, yet sure this was a worthy quest…

He didnt see, bound up as he was, the shard that hed kicked into the undergrowth. It might have born an unnerving resemblance to the Grail he so ardently sought… and it did carry the relic of an inscription which strangely echoed—or prefigured, so timeworn did the fragment appear—the motto of the Revolution.

There’s no way of ascertaining the original text of this lost inscription, but a tentative reconstruction might go as follows:

GAUL LION LIBRE ?
OUI, SI ÉGAL IN LOI, BRÛLEZ PAS DANS LE
FE
U ILLÉGAL—IN BROTHERHOOD
AND SISTERHOOD, ÔC!

And a translation might be: ‘Is the Lion of Gaul free? Yes, if equal in law, burn not in the illegitimate fire [we can take this to be a reference to the savage Languedoc persecution of the Cathars, and similarly, given the prominent role taken by women in the ‘heretical’ movement, complete the final phrase with the necessary implication]—unissezvous, frères et soeurs!’ and ending with the Occitane version of the initial northern French ‘oui’ (prudently moving these last unconventional words round to the unseen side of the vase). It may be surprising, but is certainly heartwarming, to find English mixed with French in this inscription from medieval southern France; testifying to a sense—an actuality!—of fellowship and elision of national (and regional, and linguistic—òc!borders at a time when everything seemed against them.

No one, to my mind, has explained better than Rudolf Steiner the precise application of the famous triad which this Albi fragment adumbrates:

Liberté—in thought
Egalité—in law
Fraternité—in economics.

Try jumbling up the categories (as do almost all modern societies): they dont work, you have chaos.

But there are those who prefer not to think about it, much less try to aim for it as a goal (or grail)even some chivalric orders dare not contemplate the true implications of their allegiance, preferring to dally in a shrubbery.

* * *

On the last day of the FurnitureMaking Techniques course we gathered in the piano nobile of the Musée CognacqJay. Rui, the Brazilian student, hadnt quite memorised the historical module, but it didnt matter.
   “Not marquetry, but tapestry,” I reminded himEngravings over there: look how the artist has directed the chisel point, to bring out the overriding floral motif.”
   “Monsieur –” broke in a French student. “Do you think the Parthenon marbles have the right to stay in England? Aren’t the legal grounds a bit shaky?”
   “Can’t you let that hoary subject lie?” retorted Ron, a blunt English student.
   “Oh, Ron, are you so easily taken in?”
   “When anyone’s listening. I dont believe in a freeforall, unlike the socalled socialist government, if that’s what you mean. Would you like an exotic fruit, by the way?”
   “That Blairs unctuousness is spread all over the Highlands,” interposed a Scotsman. “Devolution’s only of use to the welloff, people at home in smart salons, like him, the slim – 
   “Yuk. You make him sound like a mediacourting balletdancer.”
Oh, imagine the slight scent of his overheated body in the green-room…

* [alchemical pause] *

One of my less likely career moves was to take up an appointment as manager of the UNESCO football team in Lagos, West Africa. I remember all too well the only match for which I was (nominally) responsible. Eli, in goal, was totally pissed, and when by mistake the Nigerians knocked the ball towards him he reacted like streaked lightning and missed it. Opinions on the touchline were varied, if strongly held.
   “Hes been at the samples in the laboratory,” reckoned Nigel, a scientist of Latin American descent.
   “Rubbish,” I snorted. “This is just too many beers. Or spirits.”
   “Well, look…” Nigel tried to insist.
   “Rubbish!” I cried again. Didn’t he understand that individual drunkenness was infinitely preferable to the suspicion of misuse of official chemical supplies?
But as I remonstrated, I was suddenly flooded by the recollection of another summer’s day, in my college rooms in Oxford, arriving back from a lecture in the Classics Faculty, where my view of the beautiful Greek sculpture of Niobe had been interrupted only by the even more beautiful profile of the girl I hadnt yet dared to speak to, but surely, after Id poured myself this drink, I would  – I would  –
   “Youre drinking in your hidden memory,” Raul interrupted my bittersweet reminiscence, his sallow face unsullied by irony. He wasnt well, but he generally made nothing personal of it, in his unfluent Belgian English, as if it were merely a sequence of unpleasant things which might be happening to a mutual acquaintance. “You liked to have been Eric Gill, artist lover of fifty, Niobe, fifty times loved?” How did he know? But he didn’t see Niobe like I did, full of animal desirability and yet, somehow, on my social level.
   “My kidneys got a chronic abscess, I had to call in sick with Legionnaires Disease, my scarlet fevers suppurating, Im malade, Ive a great boil,” continued Raul. He looked so innocently surprised by all this! And then, suddenly, he burst out in horrified misery, “I am not well, I have a sickness, o curse! And I cant make out any ship that might carry me home…”

* *  *

This year’s Organists’ Outing was to Lille, in northern France. None of us knew much about it, except that it was a big, dull city. But as our interest was simply in the instrument in St M— Church, this hardly worried us.

For everybody else, thats how it remained, and perhaps remains to this day. But at threception when we arrived—verbena tea, almond biscuits—I found myself next to a dark French girl with a ringlet of hair hanging over her ear, which fascinated me. As we listened to the welcoming speeches, she removed a hairpin and shook her curls free. She put the kirbygrip on the table next to her namecard, which had a Lille address on it. The clip was of some matt alloy, and seemed to be shaped like a nymph, or siren, whose fingers, held above her head, merged back into the metallic matrix. Without understanding why I was doing it, and as she was looking in another direction, I took the card and the brooch from the table and put them in my pocket. Perhaps to prevent her having the opportunity to notice this, I asked her in a rush, when she next looked round, if she was going to the dinner after that evenings recital. She replied “Je préfère être seule”. Soon after, she left, without another word.

There was still an hour and a half to go until the recital. We would only meet the organist afterwards, so the others were setting out to discover a few Lille cafés. I took out the card from my pocket, and read the address. In Lille things work well, except the motions of the heart, and I was able soon to be walking down the street where she, perhaps, lived. (Though even amongst my colleagues, carefully ensconced in the centre, all did not necessarily go smoothly: one member of the group, directed aurally to the restaurant ‘Lutterbach’, spent an age trying to find ‘Le Tabac’.)

Heading, as I felt, away from civilisation, after many minutes I found myself in front of a stone porch, on each side entwined with carvings of bay trees. Above it I took in moulded forms of male and female figures playing, disputing, nymphs with locks cascading over their ears and gods priapically rampant, yet none quite touching another, always reaching… and as the evening sun hit the horizon and blurred my sight, a warm heavy summer rain started to fall, which began stealthily to wash away the details of the carvings in their soft sandstone, starting with the protuberances and ending with the eyes…

I looked at my watch and realised that I was far too late to attend the recital, where perhaps she was. I returned to the city centre, and took the night train back home. I would have put all this behind me, as a dream, but have not been able to forget that at one moment, as (already unmanned, stammeringin my mind) I was looking at her namecard ‘Laure…’, her wrist inadvertently brushed mine; and my skin still felt as if scalded.

* * *
NUBIA
The setting is northern Africa—desert wilderness mingled with the appurtenances of multinational oil extraction. Its night.

A lone cicada sounds across the landing strip (I think with nostalgia of Josquin). A wild ass trots across the floodlit patch in front of the terminal. I’ve come to meet Bill, who’s taken refuge in the only cool place, the airline lounge.

Bill tells us theres a delivery of gold ingots, asks where the Turin industrialist is. reply hein Catalonia, just where Ramon Llull worked—by a curious coincidence, on the transmutation of base elements into gold.

Bill, quipping about tauromachy but amused by the Lull connection, wants to keep an eye on all this, but we agree to leave him out of the loop. A great moon, blue at first, begins to rise over the airfield. A Copacabana moon, which somehow doesnt convince… I’m thinking hard as I go through the usual astrological banter with Gillian Rouble, perhaps not her real name, as she seems to be connected with Russian oil oligarchs. Some of her pithier expressions make me wonder why I ever fancied her (Eulali’s quite fun), but she turns the conversation round till I hardly know who I am (a French man of letters?) and am persuaded to set up the little barbeque we have, and prepare some fish fillets. However Ive failed again—hoping for praise, I’ve brought out as requested my special Indonesian garlic sauce, but it’s gone off, and everyone declares it inedible. Havent I any game instead? Non. The teasing goes on.

Desolate, I look out over the runway, where the moon is looming more and more. And in its blue light, I see something strange on the oildrilling tower: protective suits, an inflatable mattress—I need to change the labelling urgently, and sprint across the field.

Ive been spotted, alas, by Niall and Ollie, whose job it was, but who always exaggerate grossly when anything untoward happensAs I try to cover up whatever unnatural coupling is going on, we swap globetrotting repartee, in a game I think Im losing, but at least I may have avoided official disgrace. Wed get off more lightly in France…
I blame the moon.

* * *

Elsewhere in Nubia… discussions about the coming arts festival.
   “Lets think about the residential course,” I smiled round at the committeeHow about historical fiddle techniques in Scandinavia? And then the main programme: for our desert climate, something classical—Debussy, Beethoven, bourgeois excellence, piano recitals under the stars. We won’t have Venetian renaissance, thats being done in the Scottish Isles.”
   “But we could have French baroque?”
   “How about Expressionism?”
   “I think theyd like stylish musicals mixing Puccini and Broadway, a medley of Italian opera (we could sell pizza in the interval), singers who can let out to their hearts’ content…”
   “White Christmas?”
   “… and a couple of turns by our own stars ” I round up, “that means you, Elli, and Raoul, and to crown it the majestic Organosova.”
Its a fine lineup, for a first season, but Im just thinking of my lost girl, with whom Ichimed as if for the first time on the cruiseship over from Italy. She was no Lucretia, but…

The moon sailed higher. I considered the condenser rules in our homebrew store, and had a better idea. There was another girl, after all, and Brian to sort out the paperwork, and I’d a supply of—glory be!—champagne.

* * *

Notes on a meeting between the German writer [Heinrich] Böll and the Russian neuropsychologist A.R. Luria [unless it is the 16th-century kabbalist Isaac Luria, but the context seems to favour the former].

Böll: “Will gin be alright?”
Luria: “Just give me caviar.” Yes, and no doubt pancakes, and several beers, that would be like him.
   “Have you seen any good films lately? And by the way, I hope Lilianas pregnancy’s going well.”
   “Gullshit is deposited most selectively.”
   “Wow,” Louishis secretary, exclaims. “Lewis Carroll, yeah?
   “You ass,” Luria groans, “it was meant to be Dylan Thomas, though admittedly not very close.” And he tries to settle his face into a Martian scowl.
Böll again: “Ach, Ive seen that look on a fresco in Milan!”
   “Luini’s too cheerful—I was thinking of an Italian with a crooked elbow.”
Böll: “There’s an idea—we could play Shakespeare consequences! Ulli,” (that’s me, the interpreter), “I’ll start.
‘Blue, ill, Goneril 
’ ”,
   “ ‘Regan, seethe’ ”, I read.
Luria: “ ‘Stewed tripe for me…’ ”
   “That’s not Shakespeare!”

* * *

LB pic 3

The world of the dead, in ancient Egypt, lay on the west side of the Nile: one moved towards the setting sun. And one moved by boat, of course, a boat carved or constructed out of wood. In other times, and places, rites might be associated with bulls and bull games (Minoan Crete), Pythian oracular mysteries (Delphi), or—oh! Hebrew, Mithraic or Christian angels. In this case, not the annunciating Gabriel, as were talking of a death. There are other forces, Loki, Baal, best to keep out of their way. Look, look… another mercurial spirit, Ariel, whom we think beneficent though he can have a demonic aspect—and now Gabriel’s counterpart, the summer archangel Uriel, who presides over Lili’s illness, plucking at her insides like the eagle at Prometheus’ liver.

But Crohn’s seems like a moon illness, a poor person spreadeagled on the crux of their own anatomy. Acrid as the bile given to the hung Christ (but Christ stopped at Eboli…). One can understand though why Lili Boulanger tried to turn to the sun in Arcachon (I did the same myself, seventy years later, hoping to salvage a disappearing love). However there was no cure even if you could pay for it, in any currency.

I can imagine Lili, in extremis, looking to find anywheraway, however simple, however cheap, by herself, knowing her account had passed into the red; but the trouble remained inside.

Lili Boulanger was buried in the cemetery of Montmartre. I have visited her grave, where she was joined by her elder sister Nadia over sixty years later, and I didn’t feel her presence there. I was glad, as that meant she is now everywhere.

Nicolas Robertson, London – Lisbon 1999–2021,
with acknowledgements to Charles Pott, Tom Phillips, Rachel Wheatley, inter al.

Boullanger plaque

Mimesis salons

Anagram tales 5: Missa Solemnis

guest post by Nicolas Robertson

For a general introduction to the series, see here.

MISSA SOLEMNIS
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.

Missa CD cover

Sequence of 92 anagrams followed by a parallel text (composed at the same date).

* * *

MIMESIS SALONS
   “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??”
   “SION!”
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.”
   “I’m Lomas.”
   “Ness!”
   “Si?” (Silas Simmons, ’e…)
   “SIMMONS, lassie. Esso mini, m’lass?”
   “Esso maims” – Nils.

* * *

   “Some snail, Sims?”
   “Semi-snail.”
   “Moss?”
   “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 lemonsAssisi moles…”
   “Sam’s minis?”
   “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.

Nicolas Robertson
Lübeck – Duisburg – Vienna, June–November 1994/ 
Outurela, Portugal, May 2020

Guest post: Cite not Faust

Mozart opera anagrams 2: Così fan tutte

Nicolas Robertson

For a general introduction to the series, see here.

Note—SJ
Even before Don Giovanni (here, with general introduction), this was Nick’s very first anagram foray to have a story attached, whose arcane fantasies already emerge fully-fledged—as with

tinto faucets, cute Asti font, scant Fitou…,

explained as

the taps and church vessels are running with red and white from the great houses, and lesser French appellations don’t get much of a look in…

* * *

COSÌ FAN TUTTE
Opera by Mozart; soloists, English Baroque Soloists and Monteverdi Choir, directed by John Eliot Gardiner, 1992—staged performances (stage direction by JEG) and Archiv recording.

CFT

 

The earliest case of an accompanying parallel text—an attempt at describing what I felt might be going on, while adhering literally to the anagram results—composed immediately after the anagrams (here a sequence of the same 12 letters, 100 times).

CFT urtext

From Er, text Urtext, Parma 1994.

TUTTI FONSECA: tinto faucets, cute Asti font, scant Fitou; et Tunis café tot.
Tofu.
Incest at Eton.
   “Tusa? If C.T. Fancutt’s toe”—I infuse tact to feint Tusa cot—“isn’t out, ‘facet tu’.”
   “Fine! Scott, a tuft at cosine?”
   “Tofu! Sine.” Tact. If stout, enact a fit Scot, tune fustian octet, cite not Faust, taunt soft ice (if Tesco taunt fat Tucson tie—satin, tofu, etc.) coast net.
   “Fuit ut canto?”
   “Tief. Sit, foetus can’t. Tin cat-foetus.”
   “Titan foetus…”
   “Cist ocean”—Futt.
   “Nice oast, Futt”—Titus Fen-Cato, i/c font. “Astute. Situate font—cut Ascot! Feint toucan, if test cat oft unites (cat oft unties?) teat’s function: eat, suc’, fit to Nic’s tofu teat…”
   “Est, tunc fiat, o Tuscan foe!”
   “Tit.”
   “Tief?”—to Tuscan Tito (US fan, etc.)
   “Teutonic saft?”
   “Ficta’s Teuton.”
   “No ficta,” ’e tuts. Tut! Sit on face.

* * *

I oft tan scout, I, Cnut, feast to toast fun, cite Sufi, Tao. Tent? C’è scant outfit. I, fast-toe Cnut, cut station effect: saint out (Saint ‘tuft’ Coe—cat’s often ‘uit’). Cue soft taint. Et toi, cast fun? Et tu, sicofant?? Canute’s fit to taunt foe’s tic, stint Coe tufa factions. Têtu, FNAC, tote situ (Sufi tote can’t fuse antic tot—fuse Titan cot? Tunic not safe). Ate soft… Cnut, I… I taste of… Cnut… nice, soft, taut…

* * *

   “SNCF—têtu, toi? Astute faction, SNCF: Tati et/ou fat Teuton (sic). Caution: test ‘f’—suf’ocate! Tint Sufi tent-coat, nice…”
Fast ‘tu’ to Count East, fit, cute stain, oft fist not acute.
   “Aft, tits! Ounce” (o fuc) “sent a tit faint. Suet cot, soutane-fit.” Ct.—COUNT—T. Fiesta, ictus often at coitus… “Fatten e’static futon!”

   “Sofa, Nutt. Cite Cato.”
   “Fuit. Sent soft Utica net …”
Fun Cato test! “It’s…”
   “… Tout fiancé!”
   “TU? Ott’s fiancé, of ice stunt? At?”
   “Tate. Stoic fun.”

ET TU, TOSCA?

– FIN –


It’s monopoly time in Italy and Portugal, the taps and church vessels are running with red and white from the great houses, and lesser French appellations don’t get much of a look in. On the other hand, an espresso and a chaser in North Africa follows naturally; there’s vegan food, and an atmosphere which reminds one partaker of goings-on at an English public school. He recalls the typical, bright-schoolboy talk in which he took part, with its characteristic blend of inside jargon, Latin and modern languages, higher maths and frank vulgarity:
   “Tusa?”—pretending charm to lull the well-known spark to sleep—“if Fancutt doesn’t pull his finger out, will you do it for him?”
   “Of course. Scott, will you do my maths prep for me? It’s cosines.”
   “Put your head in a bowl of quark. I can do without.”
More charm is needed. I’m a bit overweight, but pretend to be a tough caber-tosser , give an ‘A’ to the pompous house band, who’re making a fist at Mendelssohn, am careful not to show off my Goethe, and make fun of melting polar ice-caps—it seemed an ok thing to do, the supermarket heir in my dorm used to mock the kitsch dress-clothes of Arizona oil moguls who come visiting, as well as vegetarian protein and lots of other things too—and the huge nets they have to erect to stop the resulting icebergs.
   “Did I sing it right?”
   “A bit low. Sit down, you might as well, you’re not an embryo. Correction, yes you are, you’re a cheap feline embryo.”
   “A giant embryo, at least…”
Another boy, Futt, puts in: “And you’ve got thousands of spots!”
   “It’s a jolly nice oast-house your parents have got, Futt,” tactfully interposes a well-brought up boy who’s a server in chapel. “Really smart. If you get the church on your side, you don’t need to show off at the races! Pretend to be a South American bird, you’ll find pumas regularly give them milk—or is it takes it away? – ” (Fen-Cato’s going off the rails rather here) “ – you can get all the nourishment you need from the soya fountain in Nic’s health-food store – ”
   “Yeah, yeah. That’s the way it is, so that’s the way it’s gotta be, enemy of the Roman people.”
   “Idiot.”
   “Was it really too low?”—this to the ‘Roman enemy’, who’s a great supporter of the United States and all that entails—“Like some German fruit juice?”
   “The Germans invented the idea of putting in sharps at cadences.”
   “I d-don’t like that ’abit,” stammers a junior. The stammer is pathetic, and he drops his aitches, so we sit on his face.

* * *

[A stream of consciousness from a sometime Prince of Denmark]

I regularly used to give my Balliol cleaner a hiding, I hold a party just to raise a glass to the holding of parties, I quote from the Rubaiyat, Zhuangzi. I don’t like camping, there’s not enough protection. I’m a good runner, and I don’t like stopping, and none of this sportsmanship like you get from Seb, so holy and with his Tintin haircut, but I can tell you his Dutch cat often clears off at night! I’m against currency fluctuations in the ERM—what, Frenchman? You make fun of me? And you, smarmy Latin brute?? A King of Denmark can mock his enemy’s nervous twitches, he can withdraw money from Seb’s divisive volcano altitude training.

French bookshops are headstrong, they run betting shops in them—not even a mystic gambling system can rekindle the primal child within us, or the hearth where Prometheus is born, and anyway modern artificial fibres are such a fire hazard…

I once had a lovely yielding… Yes, me… I can still taste it… yummee… Just right, yielding and resisting at the same time, the perfect [crême brulée].

Count East is speaking, Government transport minister:
   “Take on French railways? Off your head, are you? They’re a canny bunch, French railways. They’re M. Hulot and/or Helmut Kohl in one (yep, that’s what they are). A word of warning: try ‘loud’ first, you’ll find you won’t be able even to semi-breathe down there! Why don’t you go back to dyeing Persian desert robes, that was harmless, at least.”
This is too much for me. In an instant I irredeemably offend his noble lordship by using the familiar form of address, he becomes apoplectic and bang, there’s a nice mess, sometimes I don’t know where my blows are landing.
   “Get back, you fools! Pint-size here” (I wince at this description) “has knocked the old twit” (where’s the ‘w’ from? a childhood memory?) “out. Make him up a bed of veal marrow, clad him in a cardinal’s robes,”—I recognise the voice of Ct. (yes, another Count) T. Party, the one they say suffers a paroxysm as like as not at any suggestion of sex—“plump his mattress with kapok and let ’m sleep in seventh heaven…”

* * *

   “Fall on your futon, Nutt. Or have you done your Latin prep?”
   “I have. ‘Given this sweet Carthage entanglement…’ ”
I enjoy these Latin exercises. “Go on…”
   “… I’m engaged to be married.”
   “WHAT? You?? Engaged—to the daughter of the best wine-maker in Provence? Who does such fantastic ice-skating? Where’s the party?”
   “The Tate Gallery Restaurant. Rotten luck, eh?”

Which begs the question, was Tosca setting him up? (Did she, in fact, bounce back?)

For if so, it is

The End.

Nicolas Robertson
Lisbon – Paris – Ferrara, 1992 (– Parma, 1994) / Outurela, Portugal, May 2020

Guest post: Noon? Gad—vini!

Mozart opera anagrams 1: Don Giovanni

Nicolas Robertson

For a general introduction to the series, see here.

Prelude—SJ
Nicolas Robertson, tenor in the Monteverdi choir, litterateur and pinball wizard, has long been based in Lisbon, where he was my guide in 2018. On our Mozart opera tours with John Eliot Gardiner in the 1990s, he and the choir put their leisure to creative use by composing anagrams of the titles, whereupon Nick combined and elevated them into a whole series of delightfully gnomic stories, complete with his own elaborate, arcane exegeses. Aficionados will detect an affinity with Oulipo and Mots d’heures, gousses, rames. For his own reflections, see his introduction to Nubile gorilla.

The series went on to extend beyond Mozart into other projects that the Monteverdi and other choirs were involved in—including Die Schoepfung (“Nice fudge shop”), Missa Solemnis (“Mimesis salons”), Lili Boulanger (“Nubile gorilla”), and Igor Stravinsky (“Gran visits York”, my all-time favourite anagram).

I’ve been cajoling Nick for ages to share these extraordinary creations with the world. After various setbacks, he continues to work on them. I hope this fantasia on Don Giovanni is just an aperitivo for publication of the whole series in a more illustrious organ.

Generously lubricated by lashings of vino and gin (as indeed were we), the motley cast alone is delightful, including Ivan, Godiva, Onan, Gavin D. Onion, Nin, Giono, Dino Vaginno, Donovan, and the splendid Idi von Goa. Just to give a flavour of the story and its interpretation: for the opening text

“Noon? Gad—vini!”
“No inn, Godiva.”
“Dog Inn, Avon?”
“I…”
“Don, go in van.”
I nod, I go in van. DINGO ON VAN—

Nick provides this commentary:
 
Somewhere, between Australia and western England, Godiva wakes up, thirsty. It’s already time for wine, but there’s nowhere to find it—or so Don, the narrator, thinks. Godiva knows better, and Don knows better than to resist. No sooner inside the camper, however, than an unexpected peril appears: a large yellow wild dog is on the roof…
 
As the plot unfolds you’ll soon become immersed—enjoy!

Don Giovanni urtext

From Er, text Urtext, Parma 1994.

DON GIOVANNI
Opera by Mozart; soloists, English Baroque Soloists and Monteverdi Choir, directed by John Eliot Gardiner. Staged performances in various European cities, 1994, and Archiv recording.

DG

A sequence of 69 (if you exclude the title, which is repeated as a variant later on in the text) 11-letter anagrams, followed by an ‘explanatory’ parallel text.

NO GO, V. INDIAN
   “Noon? Gad—vini!”
   “No inn, Godiva.”
   “Dog Inn, Avon?”
   “I…”
   “Don, go in van.”
I nod, I go in van. DINGO ON VAN—
   “Ivan? On dingo!”
   “I… No, Ivan doing a don in Oving.”
   “Dino, Gavin?” No. V. good: Ninian. Nin—diva, goon, Onan voiding vain god.
   “Nino! Nino, Vi, go and —”
   “No.”
   “No ??”—“Gin?”
(Avid.) “Non… avoid gin.”
   “Gin and vino?”
   “O… Gin and I’ ? Novo! Go on! Divina! N –”
(‘N’ in vain? Good. No avoiding ‘N’. Non-gain: void.)
   “ – Non gin? AVOID!”

* * *

Dago vino inn: gonad in vino. “Ovid anno—gin?”
Non-Ovidian Gavin in ‘Dog’: “No.” (Gavin D. Onion.)
   “N., avid ongoing divan onion, dining on ova?”
   “Non.”
I go, “Viand?”
   “Viand, oignon…”
   “—Vian, Nin.”
   “O God—”
   “—and Giono! VIN!!”
Din. “Goa vino? n Goan von Indi’ ?” (Idi von Goa.)
   “NN…” (Io and I go “VNN…”)
   “Indian Gov. on aid: vin-nog—”
   “No vin!” And I go on: “Iogi, V Dan—non. V. Indian—no go.

* * *

On, I : “Avon” (ding) (dong) “Avon!” I, in.
   “Nova? In G?” I nod.
   “ ‘Don’ in G— o, Ivan!”

* * *

Ogni novi. And oo, Ann diving, goadin’ Ivonn, in Govan; o dining, ovoid Ann, Govan ondini… Digno? Vain? No, no invading o’ Dinan, no Vigo, avion non (dig?).

* * *

Dino Vaginno, Inigo Vandon, Donna Vigion—Donna v. Inigo, Donovan (“Gini!‟), Ian ‘Dong’ Voin, Dion Ganinov, Gavin (no!), Odin,

do,

in

Avignon


Somewhere, between Australia and western England, Godiva wakes up, thirsty. It’s already time for wine, but there’s nowhere to find it—or so Don, the narrator, thinks. Godiva knows better, and Don knows better than to resist. No sooner inside the camper, however, than an unexpected peril appears: a large yellow wild dog is on the roof. Normally Ivan deals with tricky situations like this, but he’s away near Chichester pretending to be a university teacher. Dino and Gavin can’t, or won’t, be found, so the only resort is Ninian, a feckless but gifted character, of whom Don seems to be fond despite a clinical evaluation of his dubious qualities.

Ninian, even with Vi to help, needs persuading. His weak spot, deny it as he try, is a cocktail, and Don—not without a glancing reference to the literature of constraints and the title of a prospective translation of a novel by Georges Perec—plays on this faiblesse with results which might be considered extravagant, though Ninian prefers to mix his gin and Italian with wine rather than vermouth.

The pub is reached, but is not a great success: it seems somehow unEnglish, and there’s a foreign body in the wine. Carried away by his earlier success in winning round Ninian, and remembering that it was the twentieth centenary of an event in the life of the Roman poet Ovid, author of the Metamorphoses—and that the most sought-after juniper berries grow in northern Italy—Don proposes gin; but Gavin is in the pub too, and Gavin’s categorically no classicist, and Gavin vetoes gin. Refusing to be discouraged, Don changes the subject to food and asks Ninian, with a bit of chaff about being a couch potato, if he would like eggs for supper. Ninian, with his irritating penchant for dropping into French, declines but with a bit of prompting dreamily goes for filet mignon with shallot confit. Don however is a stickler, reminding Ninian that he’s just suggested the favourite dish of Boris Vian and Anaïs Nin—neither a writer, it turns out, of whom Ninian is much fond—not to mention that earthy lyrical novelist Jean Giono, which inescapably entails ordering wine; as Don duly and loudly, casting caution to the winds, does.

Alas, with a terrible clashing of glasses the landlord, an Afro-Indian tyrant, marches in bearing the only wine available, an unspeakable brew from a Portuguese ex-colony stuffed with additives provided gratis by the EC, which is greeted with strangulated cries from the assembled diners—none more so than Don and Io, a Greek girl who here makes her first and only appearance in the story and seems if anything more in tune with Don than was Godiva, whose fault it is that they all ended up in this shifty joint anyway… Whether because emboldened by this sympathy, or because his patience just snaps, Don, as he finally rules out any wine-drinking, signs off with a frankly xenophobic, not to say indiscriminate, tirade linking Buddhism, Judo/Karate and the entire sub-continent in intransigent opprobrium.

We join Ivan, it’s unclear if still in West Sussex, but adopting an unusual line in popular scholarship. Using the doorbell-and-bright-cry technique beloved of generations of cosmetic salespersons, he is peddling Italian operas. There’s a gimmick, of course: as a novelty, he’s transposing them into peoples’ favourite keys. At least one member of the public is thrilled to receive Don Giovanni a 4th higher—or, maybe, a 5th lower—and falls swooning into Ivan’s arms.

Everything’s got to be new, Ivan reflects with a weary cynicism, and he’s as fickle as the rest, for now we find him in Glasgow, appreciatively eying, as she cleaves the blue sky at the deep end, the rounded curves of Ann—which so filled with jealous pain the breast of Ivonn (whose parents had a good ear but rather shaky spelling). Curves brought on, it must be said, not only by natural curviness but by serious eating, especially at night which as we know is the worst time. But still, there are nymphs in them thar Glasgow hills…, thinks Ivan, reflecting also, “Am I worthy? Is this search for beauty just personal vanity? I could be worse, at least I don’t go on armed incursions to places where they cultivate mussels, and above all I don’t let the silver ball roll unchecked down the field and between the uselessly flicking flippers, if you understand my reference.‟ *

And who should understand the reference, if not the heterodox party gathered round a pinball machine in the south of France, consisting of an Italian wide-boy, an English architect and his American girlfriend, always at each other’s throat, a superannuated balladeer, who insists on ordering sickly, gassy soft drinks, and his aging roadie with such a nose as one suspects would shine in the dark, a Ukrainian ballet dancer, Gavin D. Onion—how did he get here? Perhaps we underrated him on the grounds of his lack of Latin (and disapproval of gin, quite apart from his still unexplained failure to rise to the challenge of the dingo—but I note that Dino, equally and signally absent at the hour of need, is here too, so one can assume they’re in cahoots)—and an imperious if flawed character with an eye-patch and broad-brimmed hat, who asks disquieting questions and likes to be known, three-quarters of the way through the session at least, as “the Wanderer‟ –

– and where are they, then? Why, the city of the anti-popes, Durrell’s Gnostic capital, a short drive from the Marquis de Sade’s country estate (or the Deller Consort’s, if you prefer), perhaps dropping in to the cool calm space of La Poésie dans un Jardin, to visit (as I did) the Perec exposition in the ’88 Festival; and I hope still congregating on pinball tables whenever they can, escaping the sun, seeking a Lazarus, ** dwelling always on the words of the Wanderer, that the only one who can break the chain of fire and bring freedom must be freer than the god, but he (or she) then has the power to remake the word, sorry, world.


* The reference: Angus Smith and I were told in a bar in Lyon in the late 80s by a French girl who’d done a ‘stage’ in Southampton that avion is the popular term for when the cue-ball goes hopelessly down and out the length of the centre of the pinball table, lost without even being able to be touched by the flippers—a smartingly shameful occurrence.

** Lazarus: when the ball, already past the last pair of flippers and on its way to oblivion, bounces miraculously—or, to the cool (yes, I’m thinking of you, Chris Purves), foreseeably—off the hind wall back into possible play.

Nicolas Robertson
Parma, May 1994 / Outurela, Portugal, May 2020

Comely scone

Hirsch Mozart

Ever wondered what Mozart operas are on about? Rainer Hersch has provided a helpful translation of the aria Come scoglio from Cosi fan tutte, in the tradition of the mondegreen/soramimi:

His lyrics are almost haikuesque. Some highlights:

Comely scone
Immobile Vespa [cf. Monteverdi]
Tasteless goatee
And mattress tester
Pussy Galore, Trusthouse Forte
Chicken Korma, Onion Bhaji [cf. Berlioz]
Yamamoto’s vest
Tasteless goatee and mattress tester
Leprechauns are very naughty
I’m not waiting for Basil Fawlty
Now this opera’s nearly over
Can’t spin in out any more
No inferno
No veranda

For an even more fantastical story inspired by anagrams of Cosi fan tutte, see Cite not Faust. And for a suitable emporium whither to sally forth to negotiate the vending of such comestibles, see Nice fudge shop.

Stay at home

Hirsch Covid

Thousands were ignoring the “Stay at home” regulations—not any more

For a “government” struggling to enforice public obedience to Covid rules on social gatherings, Rainer Hersch offers a fine suggestion:

While the livelihooods of musicians are severely affected by the crisis, recorder players— underemployed at the best of times—will be relieved to find themselves recruited to the campaign.

Bill Thorp (see comment below) also directs me to this site:

Covid instruments

See also Public health announcement!, and A shot in the arm.

Saint Bill: Black books

Coffee and books is a fad.

YAY!!! As further evidence that there’s hope yet for civilisation, I’m delighted that Bill Bailey, guided by the ever-wise Oti Mabuse, has just been canonised by winning Strictly (see this fantasy). So to supplement all the adulation:

His musical standup is brilliant (e.g. here; and Love song: The duck lies shredded in a pancake, Soaking in the hoisin of your lies…). Here’s another one, ranging from panto and military calls to the Alberti bass (“making the music go further—like cutting your blancmange with Angel Delight”), culminating in the East European version of the Match of the Day theme (“The tractor would not start”), following in the footsteps of Mahler:

Nor should we forget Black books—episodes from Saint Bill’s earlier life (Channel 4, three series 2000–2004).

Black books

All three protagonists—Bernard (Dylan Moran, also co-author with Graham Linehan), Manny (Bill Bailey), and Fran (Tamsin Greig)—are delightful, making complementary role-models. Despite Bernard’s persona as a “vile, rude, arrogant, elitist, filthy, chain-smoking alcoholic”, and, um, all the senseless cruelty and violence, the series has the charming mood of a kinder bygone age.

The first episode of Season 2 has more on learning the piano. If you already know that Bill is an accomplished musician (as one does nowadays), then you just have to suspend disbelief. This is a nice reversal of a persistent dramatic cliché:

I always wanted to learn, but my parents forced me not to. I spent hour after hour playing football, all by myself, peering in at all the other children in the neighbourhood practising their piano.

In a Baileyesque kinda way, all this might lead us to John Cage‘s Sonatas and interludes, the Persian santur, and Studying the cello.

Musicology: igneous rocks and window-smashing

What’s up Doc? (Peter Bogdanovich, 1972) must be the musicologist’s favourite movie, Withstanding the Test of Time.

Dr Howard Banister (Ryan O’Neal), earnest scholar of the musical attributes of ancient igneous rocks at the Iowa Conservatory of Music (whither I hope the film has drawn numerous students), is at loggerheads with unscrupulous Yugoslavian musicologist Hugh Simon (Kenneth Mars) as they compete for a major grant from the suave yet impressionable Frederick Larabee (Austin Pendleton). In the gendered dichotomy of its time, Howard is distracted from his straight-laced fiancée Eunice (the magnificent Madeleine Kahn) by the trouble-magnet Judy Maxwell (Barbra Streisand).

I’m not exactly saying that these characters bear any precise resemblance to real participants at musicological conferences. However, the film may strike an (igneous) chord.

The dénouement of the final chase is the most elegantly-wrought silent slapstick:

A deflated pupil

Isfahan cope

Along with my veneration for the Matthew Passion, you may have noticed my cognitive dissonance in confessing to some, um, lighter moments that some musos associate with it—such as Mein Gott, with Always look on the bright side of life as a fantasy encore. Sorry, but here’s another one:

Rehearsing the Matthew Passion in the Albert Hall for an English Concert Prom, during a longueur while the conductor is busy sorting out some point with the continuo, my desk partner leans over to me. I guess she’s going to share some profound insight with me about phrasing, but she whispers me this joke:

What did the inflatable schoolmaster in the inflatable school say to the inflatable pupil?

“You’ve let me down, you’ve let the school down—but most of all you’ve let yourself down.”

Just the kind of thing to get us in the mood for the Crucifixion scene…

I continue to relish this joke—all the more because of the context in which I first heard it. It goes back a long time, and one still hears it regularly; but now I wonder if it still has the same resonance for the younger generation, or if it’s more popular among those educated in posh schools before the 1980s. Returning to The life of Brian, its tone calls to mind Michael Palin’s benign marshalling of crucifixion candidates.

For more stories of musical deviation, see here.

Responses to crisis

flood

I’ve been retweeting some of these posts, but I now realise they make a topical mini-series on drôle responses to the current crisis:

Waggish replies from freelance musicians in adversity:

A worthy pastime in an age of limited mobility:

  • Armchair ethnography (“Come and live in Chiswick, your statistical chance of survival is relatively high”).

One may even be reduced to cooking:

The current parade on our screens of bookshelves as background eye-candy cries out for Flann O’Brien’s Buchhandlung service—in

GL haircut

You may even be able to get a haircut:

And as the purgatory of global travel grinds into gear again, a bassoon soloist is

search

For plucky Brits running the gauntlet of quarantine (sallying forth from Chinese cliché):

On a more serious note, here you can find four responses to the

Mahler 5 as you’ve never heard it

Mahler 5

Given that I adore Mahler 5, this is a strange way to introduce it. But having already delighted in Pachelbel’s capon, another gem from Two Set Violin‘s rubber chicken playlist is this unlikely rendition of the symphony’s opening trumpet solo—and it’s even funnier if you share my veneration for the work:

Just as well John Wilbraham didn’t know about this—he might have found the temptation too hard to resist.

On that trumpet solo, here’s an interesting post, that supplements Slonimsky’s Lexicon of musical invective (no turn unstoned) with early reviews of the symphony like

Ugly symphony is well played . . . Mahler of Vienna writes bad music.

A long and tedious work.

I do not believe that this symphony is the kind of music that will live … It is a symphony which, it is devoutly hoped, will never again be heard in Chicago.

Of originality, he has not the slightest trace. His themes are trivial, sometimes vulgar, always uninteresting and lacking utterly beauty of melodic curve.

Hmm. Given that I entirely share the modern veneration for Mahler (this is the latest addition to my Mahler tag), and for the 5th symphony in particular, I don’t seem to be making much of a case for it. Just as relishing Always look on the bright side of life needn’t spoil our appreciation of the Bach Passions, please don’t let all this put you off the Real Thing— here’s Bernstein with the Vienna Phil yet again:

The great Klaus Tennstedt in a recording from 1980:

And Claudio Abbado in 2004:

For S-S-Simon conducting the 2nd movement, click here; and for a creative use of the Adagietto, here. And for a piano roll of Mahler himself playing the 1st movement, see here.

A recognition sextet, and more stammering

 

Sextet

To follow my Mozart opera dream:

Of all the wonderful music in The marriage of Figaro, I think we in the orchestra all lavished particular loving care on the Act 3 sextet Riconosci in questo amplesso, in which Figaro recognizes his parents.

The focus on the rather naff dramatic business tends to distract from the riches of the exquisite music—there’s so much delight in caressing the orchestral accompaniment. Here’s our 1993 recording:

A minor bonus for me personally is the role of the stammering notary Don Curzio (sadly, I wasn’t employed as a voice coach). His imp-p-pediment is harder to suggest in metered song than in recitative—this clip includes the recitative as performed at the Théâtre du Châtelet in Paris:

But Kleiber’s 1955 recording manages to include it in the sextet itself (@2.45):

* * *

The figure of the stammering lawyer or notary goes back to Tartaglia in commedia dell’arte and Il Tartaglione, foil to Polecenella in Neapolitan puppetry. Don Curzio’s stammer was created by the Irish tenor Michael Kelly; indeed, Mozart feared that it detracted from his music, but Kelly convinced him to keep it since it was an audience-pleaser—Typical!

Besides all the musical portrayals of disfluency that I mentioned in this post (including Rossini’s “stupefaction ensemble”), we can add Vašek in Smetana’s The bartered bride:

An earnest yet drôle article considers it a sympathetic portrayal; but

some nameless “laryngologists” [!] were quoted maintaining that it is quite impossible to stutter in Vašek’s way. No systematic phoniatric analysis of his fluency disorder has been published. The present study is assessing and enumerating Vašek’s tonic, clonic and tonoclonic speech blockades. It also delivers musical examples of his effective stuttered phrases and compares them to scientific descriptions and objective registrations of physical (external) and psychical (internal) symptoms of stuttering in phoniatric textbooks. It confirms the complete agreement of Smetana’s artistic expression of speech disfluency with the real stuttering.

And the role of Dr Blind in Die Fledermaus led me to this blistering review (“Mark Saltzman as Dr Blind was made to labor under the delusion that stammering jokes are funny”—no turn is left unstoned). But Barbara Hannigan’s portrayal of Gepopo still takes the b-b-biscuit.

 

Lyrics for theme tunes

A couple of ancient musical jokes—much shared online, but hey:

What does Batman’s mum call out when she wants him to come for his supper?

Dinner dinner dinner dinner dinner dinner dinner dinner Batman!

and

Where does the Pink Panther come from?

Durham (Durham, Durham Durham Durham Durham Durhaaaaaam)

(For UK and US variants, see comments below.)

For a more ambitious word setting for Berlioz’s March to the Scaffold, see here; and for a handy mnemonic for additive metres, here. For tributes to the artistry of theme tunes, see Pearl and Dean, Parks and recreation, Soap. For the Indian inspiration of the Pink Panther, see Rāg Vindaloo.

Köchel numbers

Bluff

Along with 1066 and all that and little-trumpeted works like The ascent of Rum Doodle and Sir Henry at Rawlinson End, another classic from my youth is the slim tome

  • Bluff your way in music (1966).

Tactfully, the name of its author Peter Gammond is not disclosed. By “music” he means WAM, of course—HIP and “world music“, then only in their infancy, are spared, though folk music and jazz get succinct tributes. There is also a drôle Glossary, forerunner to many twee tea-towels—you know the kind of thing, like

  • Chamber music—music written for a very small number of listeners.
  • Development—what composers do with the melody in order to make a composition of decent length.
  • Exposition—the popular bit of a composition while the tune is still being played [see also Francis Baines‘s definition of sonata form].
  • Harmony—a term of no meaning whatsoever. Such phrases as “rich harmony”, “stark harmony”, “satisfying harmony” can be used indiscriminately.
  • Mode—scales which sound a bit odd.
  • Portamento—the ability to move from a wrong note to a right one without anyone noticing the original mistake.
  • Recitative—when an opera singer forgets the tune.

But my enduring memory of the book is:

Mozart had the distinction, as everyone knows, of writing Koechels instead of Opuses, a thing no other composer has done before or since. Mozart’s great popularity dates from the fact that this absorbing fact was discovered, by some strange coincidence, by a man called Koechel.

A post-concert gaffe

Many years ago, Maureen Smith was leading an orchestral concert in the north of England, at which the great clarinettist Tony Pay was playing.

After the gig Maureen was having a drink in the pub with some friends from the audience when Tony walked in, now in plain clothes, so she introduced them:

“Hey guys, this is Tony Pay—he plays the clarinet.”

One of them looked at him and went,

“Jeez, they could have done with you tonight!”

Tony likes to tell this story himself.

For other less-than-favourable reviews, see here and here. For many more stories from orchestral life, see here, and under the humour subhead of the WAM category.

 

The Tzar-spangled banner—diversity—female genius

I began writing this as another paean to the great Bill Bailey, to follow his greatest-ever love song (“soaking in the hoisin of your lies“), but it has soon turned into yet another tribute to diversity and female genius.

David Hughes (himself a prolific drôle songwriter as well as leading authority on Japanese music) thoughtfully alerts me to this (allegedly) Kremlin-sanctioned version of The star-spangled banner, which is becoming ever more topical:

See also “I think you’ll find—it’s MINOR!”

To return to the major (sung by a minor), this, from Malea Emma Tjandrawidjaja (taking a rather different path from Alma Deutscher), is remarkable too:

They come over ‘ere…” See also And did those feet in ancient time?, and The haka.

While I’m here, how can I resist featuring another most inspiring viral clip—and do follow up with Katelyn Ohashi’s thoughtful blog and innumerable further links, like this and this—bearing on ecstasy and drudge, and the nature of artistic competition:

OK then, for a hat-trick of What Really Makes America Great (see The wise AOC):

Do follow @AOC, the most articulate and engaged advocate for political change!

Yet more much-needed hope for our future… Call me a typical Grauniad-reading member of the metropolian liberal elite, but long may the likes of “Rear Admiral” Foley turn in their graves.

For another inspirational role model, see here.

Let me see now, what did I come in here for again?

Guide to another year’s blogging

 

Struggling to encompass all this? I know I am. While we inevitably specialize in particular topics, it’s important to build bridges. I guess it’s that time of year when another guide to my diverse posts may come in handy—this is worth reading in conjunction with the homepage and my roundup this time last year.

I’ve added more entries to many of the sidebar categories and tags mentioned in that summary. I’ve now subheaded many of the categories; it’d be useful for the tags too, but it seems I can’t do that on my current WP plan. Of course, many of these headings overlap—fruitfully.

Notably, I keep updating and refecting on my film and book on the Li family Daoists. I wrote a whole series resulting from my March trip to Yanggao (helpfully collected here) and Beijing (starting here, also including the indie/punk scene). Other 2018 posts on the Li family include Yanggao personalities and Recopying ritual manuals (a sequel to Testing the waters).

To accompany the visit of the Zhihua temple group to the British Museum in April, I also did a roundup of sources on the temple in the wider context of ritual in Beijing and further afield, including several posts on this site.

I’ve posted some more introductions to Local ritual, including

Gender (now also with basic subheads) is a constant theme, including female spirit mediums—to follow the series on women of Yanggao, starting here. Or nearer home, Moon river, complementing Ute Lemper.

Sinologists—indeed aficionados of the qin, crime fiction, and erotica—may also like my post on Robert van Gulik (and note the link to Bunnios!).

I’ve added a few more categories and tags, notably

The film tag is developing, with a side order of soundtracks—for some links, see here.

I’ve given basic subheads to the language category (note this post on censorship), which also contains much drôlerie in both English and Chinese. Issues with speech and fluency (see stammering tag) continue to concern me, such as

Following Daoist football, the sport tag is worth consulting, such as The haka, and a series on the genius of Ronnie.

Some posts are instructively linked in chains:

More favourites may be found in the *MUST READ* category. Among other drôlerie, try this updated post, one of several on indexing and taxonomy; and more from the great Philomena Cunk.

Most satisfying is this collection of great songs—still not as eclectic as it might become:

Do keep exploring the sidebar categories and tags!

 

 

A justly neglected composer

Somewhat less well known than Haydn and Beethoven is a composer immortalized in yet another Monty Python classic:

The final “of Ulm” is brilliantly chosen, the place-name both niche and monosyllabic (unlike “monosyllabic”).

Good to see Johann rescued from the obscurity that he so richly deserves (contrast Vernon Handley). His absence from the New Grove dictionary of music and musicians urgently needs correcting.

His name is reminiscent of a ritual title for a Daoist priest—like that of Zhang Daoling, handed down in the Li family (my book, pp.11–12; film, from 2.48):

IMG_1031 - Version 2

Ancestral Master,
Heavenly Worthy of the Grand Ritual
who Supports the Teachings of the Three Heavens,
Assists the Numinous,
and Embodies the Way.

Actually, that’s quite a succinct one: appellations to the Daoist gods, recited (mercifully fast, by contrast with the slow hymns) in the course of rituals, are lengthy (see.e.g. here), and ritual titles still handed down today to household Daoist priests in south China upon their ordination may be a mouthful too.

John Cleese’s interview technique is perhaps a less probing model for the fieldworker than that of Peter Cook.

All this long before Stewart Lee made a whole art form out of trying the audience’s patience.

Areas of expertise

Note: not quite to scale…

A true story to illustrate the parochial limitations of academic views of musical cultures of the world:

Way back in the days when ethnomusicology was Neither Profitable Nor Popular, a bright young expert on Korean music went to interview for a job at the Music Department of an English university. Besides his Korean speciality, he realized he should probably offer a wider course on East Asian music, to include China and Japan—a mere 3,000 years’ continuously-documented history of local folk, popular, and elite traditions.

The board politely commented that this was rather too limited, so he proposed he could do a yet broader course, on Asian music—further including south, southeast, and central Asia. Glancing at the map, these countries look quite small, don’t they—how hard can it be?

When they still felt this was too narrow, my friend asked, bemused:
“So what kind of courses have you been offering, then?”

The chair of the board eagerly replied:
“Well, last year we ran a very successful course on 19th-century English Art Song…”

For a similar debate at the New Grove dictionary of music and musicians, see here. I often observe the diverse soundscapes within China alone, as here. For more interview stories, click here.

Creative tribulations

I don’t know what you see in that piano…

Further to Monty Python’s take on speech impediments, the process of artistic inspiration is not always smooth:

I’ve provided the subtitled version to allow us to practise our Spanish (cf. the Greek subtitles for Shoeshine Johnny).

The process of creativity is constantly mediated by—oops, better go, the chambermaid‘s just arrived.
Among many Monty Python clips on here, I think of the Sartre sketch, and the brilliant Away from it all. And for another “hideous encounter with domestic necessity”, do read Compton Mackenzie meets Henry James!

A thrilling new sub-category!

tailgut

By popular demand [not—Ed.] I’ve now added a new sub-heading of early music to the WAM category in the sidebar. True, early music is constantly getting later (Mahler, Ravel, and beyond), but here I’m defining it as “before opening time”.

Apart from earnest articles on Bach and Taruskin (Bach has his own tag; and I haven’t included posts on Rameau, Purcell, Buxtehude, Handel, and so on, whom you can type into the searchbox), it also includes more jocular items like Early music put in its place, The Mary Celeste, and A music critic.

Musical self-defence

viola

Another orchestral story from 1970s’ London, not so much viola jokes and maestro-baiting as self-defence.

A senior conductor is rehearsing his own chamber orchestra—both have seen better days. There’s a tricky passage for the violas, so he gets the section to play it together without the rest of the band, but it’s still not sounding right.

Opting for the bold step of getting them to play it individually—a demand very much frowned upon—he eyeballs a trusty old player who’s been sitting innocuously at the back of the violas minding his own business since the dawn of time, and asks him imperiously,

“You, Norman—can you play this passage for me?”

Norman looks back at him and remarks dryly,

“Harry, if I could play this passage, I wouldn’t be sitting here in this orchestra…”

 

I can now divulge that this was the very same conductor who had the celebrated exchange with the timpani player. For a wealth of related stories, see here.

 

The Mary Celeste

A couple of dubious and inadvertent highlights from my orchestral life, on the perils of gut strings—among several occasions in my so-called “career” in early music when the taint of maestro-baiting would be quite unfounded:

Mary Celeste

Göttingen, mid-1980s. Concert performance of a Handel opera on stage, recorded live for broadcast. I’m sharing a desk with a Hungarian violinist who hasn’t been playing with the band for long, and in the middle of a frantic tutti passage his E string breaks (as they do).

We do take spare strings onstage, but it’s not long till the end of Act One, so you might think he could just flounder around in the upper reaches of the A string when necessary before putting on a new string in the interval—it’s quite a tricky procedure, made tense in public. Ideally you want to take time notching the bridge, and the node at the top of the fingerboard, with a pencil; securing the loop at the tailpiece and threading the string carefully into the peg (perhaps after applying a bit of peg-paste), spooling it neatly inwards in the pegbox; stretching the string and adjusting the bridge—and even once you’ve got the string on and up to pitch, it needs a while to bed in. By now the other three strings will have gone haywire too. *

But no—my desk partner, bold as brass, decides to replace the string right there and then, on stage. It’s not exactly that I’m not amused at the comic potential, but apart from my subtle discouraging shrug there’s not a lot I can do—am I my brother’s keeper? So as the loud chorus gives way to an intense recitative from Michael Chance, I join in with the magical sustained pianissimo string accompaniment, while my desk partner is noisily and cheerfully cranking his string up to pitch, twanging away, tuning peg creaking ominously.

Later in the bar I evoked the soundscape:

It was just like the Mary Celeste

Needless to say, backstage in the interval it was me that got a bollocking from the maestro: “Steve, you really should keep your desk partner under control—these foreigners just don’t understand our system…” WTF.

tailgut

And here’s a related incident from the second half of a concert in Lübeck cathedral during the wonderful Bach Cantata Pilgrimage in 2000, again being recorded:

I was sitting in the middle of the band innocently admiring a hushed secco recitative when the tailgut on my fiddle snapped. Since that’s what holds the whole contraption together, it exploded spectacularly, sending bridge, tailpiece, tuning pegs and sundry fittings flying high into the air. It wasn’t so much the initial explosion—everyone watched spellbound as bits of wood descended in slow motion onto the ancient tiled floor all around, the clatter drowning the singer’s exquisite pianissimo. With a husk of a violin in my hand, I scrambled round furtively on the floor to retrieve all the debris I could find, and sloped off while the cantata continued.

I thought I handled the mishap rather well, but sure enough, after the gig I got another (neither deserved nor surprising) bollocking from the maestro, who seemed to take it as a personal affront—as if I had deliberately made my violin explode in order to undermine his personal majesty. Hey ho.

Drowning my sorrows at the posh reception afterwards, ** I asked around to see if there was a luthier there who could get my fiddle back in shape for the rest of the tour, and sure enough I was introduced to a kindly old man who, after we’d shared a few more drinks, took me back to his workshop to take a look. We spent a lovely hour chatting as he carefully fitted a new tailgut and pieced my violin back together, exchanging stories of my fieldwork in China and his own early memories of Lübeck cultural life.

My new friend refused to take any payment, but having been just as enchanted as I was by the Buxtehude Klaglied in the first half, he asked if I might possibly get hold of a copy of the recording that had been made. Later, back in London, I did indeed manage to send it to him, which made a suitable reward for his kindness. Silver lining, then.

See also Muso speak: excuses and bravado, and the early music and humour subheads under the WAM category.


* If you like this kind of detail, then try my comments on the Daoist mouth-organ, and Carson’s on Irish music. If you don’t, then tough.

** For Gary Kettel’s classic posh reception story, and Stewart Lee’s variation, see here.

Mountweazels

guira
Further to the mondegreen, the mountweazel is also a fine creation—a bogus entry deliberately inserted in a reference work.

While I was editing the “China” entries for the New Grove dictionary of music and musicians, I tried in vain to persuade the powers-that-be that a vast civilisation with a continuous history of thousands of years might just deserve as much coverage as a composer who lived for thirty-five years (Mozart; see also here). Anyway, what with all the labrynthine complexities of the Grove style “Bible” (see e.g. here), one needs the occasional light relief (cf. the popular “composer or pasta?” quiz); and Grove now has a competition for spoof entries.

The 2016 winner was Caroline Potter:

Musical Cheesegrater
(Fr. râpe à fromage musicale; It. grattugia musicale)
A percussion instrument that enjoyed a brief vogue in Rome and Paris in the 1910s and early 1920s. In the Hornbostel-Sachs classification the instrument is reckoned as a friction idiophone. Of metal construction, it typically has four sides, each with raised perforations of a particular size. The player strokes one or more of the sides with a metal implement, producing a distinctive rasping sound. A rare rotating variant, where a perforated barrel is turned using a crankhandle to create friction against metal tangents, survives in the Musée de la Musique in Paris. The musical cheesegrater is cited in a posthumously published appendix to Luigi Russolo’s celebrated manifesto L’Arte dei rumori in the fourth category of his sound classification (screeches, creaks, rumbles, buzzes, crackles, scrapes). Its best-known use is in Maurice Ravel’s opera L’enfant et les sortilèges (1924), where it is rubbed with a triangle beater.

The musical cheesegrater was employed by Italian Futurist composers and associates of the Dada movement in Paris, and its popularity and decline mirrors the fortunes of these artistic groupings. The manuscript of Erik Satie’s Rabelais-themed Trois petites pièces montées (1919) features the instrument rubbed with a hard cheese, though scholars disagree whether Satie intended this to be a percussion instrument or part of a projected staging. Edgard Varèse showed enthusiasm for the musical cheesegrater during a dinner with Russolo; it appears in sketches for Amériques (1918-21), but not in the final version. Recent academic research in gastromusicology has revived interest in the instrument.

I’m gratified by the reference to the numinous Sachs–Hornbostel organological taxonomy, even if a whole host of stranger instruments appear there. So it’s of little consequence that just such an instrument is indeed used in several world traditions, such as the guiro/güira of merengue. Indeed, it brings to mind “our” very own washboard.

If it’s pithy organology you need, there’s also the vuvuzela.

Deviating from behavioural norms

Deviation

In Paris with the Li family Daoists, 2017. For a Dublin diversion, see here.

Under my fetish for taxonomy, the new subhead for humour under the WAM category contains many orchestral stories.

As Stephen Cottrell observes, they may often be subsumed under what Merriam calls the musician’s “licence to depart from behavioural norms”.

Many, indeed, relate to maestro-baiting (see also conducting tag), like John Wilbraham‘s celebrated comments.

Several stories go in pairs, like

And there’s an indecent wealth of Matthew Passion stories, such as Mein Gott.

Spreading the net wider, for instances of deviant behaviour

See also The gig.

Of course, it’s not only performers who may have license to depart from behavioural norms, as is clear from the career of Bumbling Boris.

More musical criticism

Does anyone know who the composer in this story was?

Someone took a composer to hear an early British performance of Parsifal.* Asked what he thought of it, he replied,

“Well, it’s like the Brahms Requiem, only without the jokes.”

I have it down for some dour, ideally northern, English composer.

 

* The first staged performance was at Covent Garden on 2nd Februrary 1914.

 

180!!!

More local cultural knowledge:

One morning in Maida Vale studios, as the great Pierre Boulez was rehearsing the BBC Symphony Orchestra, he stopped and said suavely,

“Please, we play again from measure* 180.”

Brilliant cockney percussionist Gary Kettel, from the back of the orchestra, punched the air gleefully and screamed out,

“ONE HUNDRED AND EIGHTYYY!!!”

Since Boulez’s broad erudition didn’t stretch to the world of UK darts, he was somewhat nonplussed [‘Ow you say in French?] by Gary’s recondite allusion to the fabled score of three triple 20s. Still, he and Gary always had the utmost respect for each other’s musicianship.

 

*Boulez always used the French word for “bar”. Endearingly, he called the cor anglais “ze English ‘orn”.

Barbed comments

My dubious encomium for Rowan’s CV (The Feuchtwang variations, n.3) reminds me:

The brilliant Roy Mowatt (see under comments here), a real bedrock of the early music orchestral scene, was always remarkably tolerant of my violin playing in the section he led. I treasure a remark he made to me over a beer or three in a piazza in Parma after a Mozart opera, c1994 (evoking Hugh Maguire’s comment to Pete Hanson—“Pete, even if your strings are out, you must play in tune! Just do it wit’ your fingers!”):

Thing about you, Steve, is that it doesn’t make any difference if your strings are in tune!

You can take that either way, and I think he meant it both ways. I was quite adaptable; yet my intonation wasn’t necessarily helped by tuning up… Cf. “It was in tune when I bought it”.

While I’m in confessional mood, here’s another comment I might add to my CV. Just around that time, a certain maestro took me aside and observed suavely,

Steve, I can’t help noticing that you have a somewhat low threshold of boredom…

JEG

Photo © Jim Four.

Like the review of the Berlin Phil’s response to Simon Rattle, it lacks a certain nuance.

Nicknames

As Kate Fox observes, the creativity of the English language reveals itself at multiple levels.

The fragrant Gary Lineker recalls how the the team-mates of the footballer Kiki Musampa called him Chris (think about it). There are more where that came from, like Fitz Hall—known as One Size.

Brian Smith, a “straight” symphony-orchestra violinist who became a semi-detached admission to the rarefied early music scene in the 1980s, had a whole series of drôle nicknames for his new colleagues, making his conversation surreal: “I think Identikit’s gone off with Ironing Board”. Once word got round that I was making regular trips to China, I became The Missionary. He only used the real names of musos who had a life outside early music and thus qualified as Real People.

Conductors’ nicknames are another rich vein under the rubric of maestro-baiting. The great Charles Mackerras was known as Slasher—not an allusion to his conducting technique, but an abbreviation of his anagram: Slasher M. Earcrack.

Mein Gott

I’ve already offered one Crucifixion joke, and you can find more online. The devout may wish to look away now.

Musos often tell this one, a true story about a performance of the Matthew Passion in Bristol, and an extreme instance of corpsing. I’ll refrain from naming the performers, though I do rather feel they deserve to be immortalized rather than crucified (not a choice vouchsafed to Our Lord).

As the Jesus du jour (fortunately this was a scratch gig) wailed an anguished cry to his Father:

Eli, Eli, lama asabthani?

on declaiming the first cry of “Eli“, he spontaneously essayed an extra dramatic flourish by giving a resounding stamp with his foot. Finding the effect rather pleasing, he followed it up with another stamp on the second “Eli“.

This already had the other soloists, seated nearby, struggling to hold it together— it was even funnier considering that Jesus, up there on the cross, wasn’t exactly in a position to stamp his foot. But when it came to the evangelist’s turn to translate Jesus’s words (That is: “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”) to the same melody, for scrupulous accuracy of live reportage what else could he do except stamp again in his two equivalent cries of “Mein Gott“? The performers now totally lost it.
Lama 1

Lama 2

It strikes me that this may be even funnier the more deeply we engage with the anguish of the scene.

For good (or bad) measure, an encore of Always look on the bright side of life seems appropriate:

For more cognitive dissonance, see A deflated pupil.

At such moments, it behoves me to stress that the Bach Passions are among the great monuments of Western civilisation…

Hector moves furniture

I’ve written about the Symphonie fantastique before—not least the wonderful Rozhdestvensky’s solution to conducting the opening (by not conducting it).

Apart from Berlioz’s prophetic evocation of a 1960s’ curry-house, another respect in which he was well ahead of his time is in his meticulously verité depiction of an irritating upstairs neighbour giving furniture-moving lessons * at 3 o’clock in the morning, just as the drama of the 1st movement is unfolding—an unwelcome interruption to the Rêveries-Passions of its title. You know, one of those disturbances you can’t quite be bothered to get out of bed for to bang your broom on the ceiling.

This touching domestic scene is economically evoked with a random series of little grunts in the double basses (from 12.06 in the recording below) punctuating little wind phrases in the brief lull after the first throbbing climax is interrupted (to evoke Susan McClary):

Berlioz moves furniture

Apart from John Eliot Gardiner’s rapport magnifique with French music, and the venue formidable, site of the première, [Uh-oh, he’s off again—Ed.], I use this live 1991 performance, led by the fine Pete Hanson, for the meretricious reason that I played a typically bijou role in it:

The video has disappeared from YouTube—anyway, we don’t look quite so young now (interrupted rêveries and passions can take their toll).

For Berlioz on oriental music, see here.


* Could Sir Malcolm himself have been among the clients?

Critical reviews

I won’t have a word said against S-S-Simon Rattle.

But here’s one, by Alex Bruggemann (Die Welt am Sonntag, 2004), about a concert he gave with the Berlin Phil. Indeed, I found it posted with uncharitable glee on the notice board of the Chicago Symphony when we were doing a gig at Symphony Hall—our stay in Chicago another welcome opportunity to slope off to bars afterwards to hear some amazing blues.

I cite from the review not as an endorsement, you understand, but for the charm of the image:

While Rattle romps expressively on the podium, the Philharmonic musicians sometimes tend to play as inconsequentially as if they were a wife reaching to the fridge to get out a beer for her husband.

No pleasing some people. It was just a phase they were going through.

A more inadvertent critique was offered by a Radio 3 announcer introducing Brahms’s Tragic overture:

We don’t know which particular tragedy Brahms had in mind when he composed this overture. … But here it is, conducted by Richard Hickox.

More orchestral drôlerie

As part of our ongoing series on the war of attrition between musos and conductors, not unlike the celebrated story about the opening of the Beethoven violin concerto:

During a rehearsal, as some tedious conductor insisted on honing the opening phrase of some symphony ad nauseam, making us repeat the first four bars for what seemed like hours, one player eventually piped up from the back:

“Excuse me Maestro—I believe bar 5 is rather good too!”

Note again the exemplary sarcastic deployment of the term Maestro.

More Chinese wordplay, and a poem

or
What’s in a name?

My Chinese name Zhong Sidi 鍾思第 was given to me by the great Tang-music scholar Yin Falu 陰[阴]法鲁 (1915–2002) at my first supervision with him during my 1986 study-period at Peking University.

“Zhong” approximates to my surname Jones; while itself a common surname, for me it has nice echoes of both ritual and music, evoking both Zhong Kui 鍾馗 the ugly drunken demon-queller (Ha!) and the woodcutter Zhong Ziqi 鍾子期, zhiyin soul-mate of qin zither master Bo Ya in the famous ancient story. And even Zhongli Quan 鍾離權, one of the Eight Immortals—a bit of a stretch, perhaps, since Zhongli is a rare double-surname (see here), but hey. Not to mention the huangzhong 黃鍾 and linzhong 林鍾 pitches of the ancient tonal system!

“Sidi” is short for “Sidifen”, a transliteration of “Stephen”. * Professor Yin chose the characters 思第, which in classical Chinese mean something like “mindful of advancement”—which is elegant but somewhat ironic, since I’ve always had enough of the hippy in me to mitigate against any worldly success (it never occurred to me that I might ever get a job, and sure enough I never did).

Without the bamboo radical at the top, the character di 弟 following the si would be a female name: “wanting a little brother”—one that peasants, disapppointed at having a daughter (yeah I know), do indeed sometimes adopt. And one cultural official in Yanggao, moved to write an article about my fieldwork there, somehow miswrote the character as 娣, with the female radical at the side. When I showed it to Li Manshan, we had another typical exchange:

Me: “WTF?! Doesn’t he know how to write my bloody name by now?”

Li Manshan (peering pensively at the character): “Maybe he thinks you’re a hermaphrodite…”

Anyway, as my interests soon transferred from early music history to living traditions of folk music, Yin Falu was remarkably tolerant of my frequent absences to go and hang out with peasants—as was Yuan Jingfang, my supervisor at the Central Conservatoire the following year. I’m also deeply grateful that Yin Falu introduced me early on to Tian Qing (then a lowly and impoverished research student!) and the Music Research Institute, beginning a fruitful long-term collaboration.

* * *

One of the most treasured gifts I’ve received is a scroll that the ritual association of South Gaoluo gave me in 1995 on the eve of my return to Europe (see my Plucking the winds, pp.236–8). They went to great trouble to have a piece of calligraphy made for me, which illustrates their ingenuity. First they “collectively” composed a poem, led by Cai Yurun and the urbane brothers Shan Ming and Shan Ling, most literate of the musicians. They then travelled to town to buy good-quality paper, went and found artistic Shan Fuyi (peasant xiucai litterateur, himself a great authority on the village’s history) at his work-unit and got him to do the calligraphy. To have the paper mounted, they then took the bus to Baoding, where they had a contact from Yongle village who had worked in the prestigious Rongbaozhai studio in Beijing. All this was a complex process, expressing their appreciation of our relationship.

GL scroll

The seven-word quatrain itself shows not only their literary flair but also their own perceptions of the significance of my fieldwork:

How rare the strains of ancient music
Gladly meeting the spring breeze, blowing is reborn
As the proper music of the ancient Chinese is transmitted beyond the seas
First to be praised is Stephen Jones

There are several charming puns here: in “blowing is reborn” (chui you sheng), “blowing” alludes to the breeze but also clearly to their wind music, and the “born” of “reborn” is homophonous with sheng 笙 the mouth-organ. The last line, impossible to translate, incorporates the device they had been seeking all along: the character di of my Chinese name Zhong Sidi is also an ordinal (as in diyi “first”, di’er “second”, and so on), so by playing with the caesura they managed to incorporate it into a meaningful phrase.

They couldn’t have thought of a better gift. I adore it, not for its flattery—foreigners in China are only too accustomed to receiving extravagant and groundless praise—but because they expressed their appreciation of our bond with such creative energy. In our everyday dealings, the musicians are all too used to me forestalling any incipient flattery by my favourite Chinese phrase, beng geiwo lai zheyitao 甭给我来这一套 “cut the crap”. This expression also comes in handy whenever someone is so sentimentally drunk that they, suddenly moved by the sheer fun of our fieldwork, rashly let out the awful Chinese cliché “international cultural exchange“.

My friends call me “Old Jonesy” (Laozhong 老钟), which is also a jocular way for Chinese people to refer to themselves (老中, for Zhongguo 中国 China) as opposed to laowai 老外 “foreigner”, even “Wog”. Laozhong then leads onto Naozhong 闹钟 “alarm clock”. (For nicknames in the music biz, see here.)

For Craig Clunas’s Chinese name, click here.

 


* Talking of transliterations of foreign names (see here and here), “Stephen” is conventionally rendered as 斯蒂芬. That last fen character is shared with Beethoven (Beiduofen 贝多芬), whose characters, following the brilliant (if controversial) gender analysis by Susan McClary, I like instead to render as 背多粪 “shouldering a load of shit”—“but that’s not important right now”.

Bach and Stravinsky

Useless musicological sleuthing of the day…

I like to think that I discovered this—on tour in Spain with the Sixteen, early 1990s:

The numinous opening bassoon solo of The Rite of Spring, rather than deriving from a folk melody on the elusive dudka, may instead be borrowed ingeniously from the Matthew Passion, 1st violin part in the 2nd orchestra (no.43, not long before Erbarme Dich):

Bach:Stravinsky

with Stravinsky varying Bach’s pitch and rhythms to his taste. Amidst the fray of the crowd scene, investing the phrase with inexplicable care, I always chuckle to myself, “Not a lot of people know that…” [Weirdo—Ed.].

A Bach mondegreen

WAM musos tend to pick up a smattering of what Peter Cook called The Latin. So in the spirit of Myles, we may interpret the fifth movement of the B Minor Mass thus:

Algernon was starving and scared as the van carrying gravy mix called round. The incident has been immortalized in many a baroque Mass:

Ate, in terror, Paxo minibus

Actually, like Un petit d’un petit, that’s a soramimi, not a mondegreen. Cf. Gandhi in Mary Poppins (I know, the italics don’t really make that sound any better.) For Sick transit, Gloria, Monday, see here.

Anyway, from ridiculous to sublime—a flippant pretext to extol the glories of Bach:

Et in terra

Not a lot of people know that Bach had a dog called Potentia. Hence the movement in the Magnificat:

Fetch it, Potentiam!

And this is perhaps a suitable place for “Most highly flavoured gravy”, a favourite remoulding of “Most highly favoured lady” by choristers Down the Ages: see here, with a link to Joseph Needham and Cambridge.

See also Comely scone. You can follow all this up with the mountweazel

A ruse for fiddlers

And when the fiddler is out of excuses, here’s a cunning ruse for orchestral players. Some background:

  • The violins sit two to a desk, following the same part on the stand. The inside player (on the left) has to turn the pages.
  • Walton overtures are fast and full of fiendishly difficult semiquavers.

So in my early days in symphony orchestras a seasoned old pro vouchsafed a handy trick to me:

If there’s a Walton overture coming up, the thing to do, Steve, is to make sure you’re sitting on the inside. You only have to hack out the first half-page—by the time you’ve whipped the page over and got your fiddle back up again, it’s time to turn the next page…

Muso speak: excuses and bravado

As I try to master more Bach on the erhu, suspending my disbelief, it’s good to be able to use the muso’s classic excuse

It was in tune when I bought it…

Also handy is

It’ll be all right on the night.

Or the immortal words (and notes) of Inspector Clouseau,

Better than ever!

That’s somewhat reminiscent of my Irish Heifetz story.

And then there’s the comment often on our lips after an underwhelming gig gets an inexplicable ovation:

Of all the concerts I’ve ever done in my life… that was one of them.

That’s remiscent of the quote (typically attributed to Groucho)

I’ve had a wonderful evening, but this wasn’t it.

For more putdowns, see here.

See also Bernard Bresslaw’s fine line in The Ladykillers:

Well, I didn’t really study any place, Lady… I just sort of… picked it up.

The Proms, YAY

“Concerts” are a niche activity within the broad spectrum of music-making in human societies. Generally I find them a necessary evil, but with the festival of the Proms getting under way today (daily for the next two months), as usual I’m all agog (yes, a Complete Gog) for my favourite concert series.

Critical of concert halls too, I’m more than happy to settle for the Victorian setting of the Albert Hall—round buildings have a distinctive ambience, and the unique receptive atmosphere of the series is largely attributable to the Prommers in the Arena.

If you think my blog is mired between populism and elitism, then get this—WAM for Yoof:

http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/p01mv2zh

That’s F hashtag minor, not A flat miner, you note. Cf. Korngold at the Proms.

The perils of the tannoy

Roger Airplane

Expanding our airline theme (Airplane has its own tag), here’s another classic—and apparently true—story handed down in the orchestral world:

On a long-haul flight, as the stewards* are serving refreshments, the captain makes the usual suave and tedious announcement. He then turns to his co-pilot, and—fatally—fails to realize that he hasn’t turned the tannoy off.

So the entire plane hears the captain’s next comment:

“Know what I could really do with right now? A cup of coffee and a blowjob.”

One of the, um, Trolley Dollies, realising the captain’s mistake, interrupts her serving of the drinks and hastily rushes back to the cockpit to alert him that he needs to switch the tannoy off. As she sashays down the aisle, one of the passengers calls out after her,

“Don’t forget the coffee!”

See also Momentarily.


* Again, historical authenticity suggests that we use the term Trolley Dollies—in the teeth of PC, with which (I must reiterate) I entirely concur…

Subtle revenge

Prague opera

Another Strange But True story from my mentor Paul Kratochvil, again bearing on the surreal Czech imagination:

In the early 1960s two players in the Prague opera orchestra were locked in a vendetta. Between performances the band used to leave their concert uniform in the green room. Every couple of weeks, one of them, coming in early and unobserved armed with needle and thread, meticulously took up the cuffs of his adversary’s concert trousers by a tiny bit.

See also Czech stories: a roundup.

Such subtle revenge has now been exacted at the White House:

White House desk

As Jonathan Jones observes in the Grauniad:

It’s a retired person’s table, a desk for TV dinners. This is Trump gradually giving up the pretence he runs a vast country and instead settling into a more leisured life. Like his furniture, he is diminishing before our eyes.

Practice makes perfect

More WAM ethnography:

Brass players enjoy, even flaunt, their hooligan image (more “licence to deviate from behavioural norms”)—or at least, UK brass players in a befuddled heyday from the 1960s to the 1990s, still an ongoing hangover today.

Becoming a musician (or indeed a household Daoist) is about far more than “learning the dots”; aspiring musicians also look to the lifestyles of their role models. The intoxicant du jour changes—Chinese shawm players have moved from opium to amphetamines, for instance. But both in jazz and WAM, many musos have learned to their cost that adopting the, um, recreational pastimes of Charlie Parker or John Wilbraham doesn’t necessarily help them play the way their heroes  did.

The trumpeter John Wilbraham (“Jumbo”) was legendary. This is a beautiful site well worth exploring—an insider’s ethnography. I came across him when he was trumpet tutor for the NYO, and later in the BBC Symphony Orchestra.

There are also some fine stories on this site, not least about two of my most admired conductors (more maestro-baiting):

“The one thing we do know about Bach for certain, is that he didn’t want it to sound fucking awful!”
—John Wilbraham to John Eliot Gardiner.

(a succinct critique of the Early Music movement?), and

“If I’d wanted to play in front of a clown, I’d have joined the fucking circus.”
—John Wilbraham (Jumbo) on Gennadi Rozhdestvensky (Noddy)

(For more orchestral nicknames, see here).

Learning to perform—in any tradition!—requires endless hours of practice (again, it’s the stories about jazzers, rather than WAM musos, that inspire me here). There’s another famous story, which strangely I haven’t yet found among all the online anecdotes:

Before Mahler 5 at the Proms, a music critic was having a drink in the 99, favoured hostelry of Prom-goers. He watched in amazement as Jumbo downed pint after pint, and then picked up his trumpet case to stagger off to the gig. Expecting the worst, the critic took his place in the audience. The symphony opens with a scary exposed trumpet solo, and is challenging throughout. Jumbo played the whole piece perfectly.

After the concert the critic returns to the pub, to find Jumbo already propped up at the bar, more pints lined up. He walks up to him and says,

“You must excuse me, Mr Wilbraham, but may I ask how you manage to play so perfectly when you’re pissed?”

“It’sh perfectly simple,” Jumbo smiles back at him conspiratorially, “I practice pissed!”

Stories like this belong to the treasury of orchestral myth-making.

Peccable musical sensibilities

I guess we should be grateful—nothing focuses the mind like having a vindictive sulky misogynistic illiterate baby as Philistine-in-chief in the White House. Some of his advisers were concerned that withdrawing from the climate agreement “might damage his credibility”. Where have they been?

Sure, we have worse things to worry about than his highly peccable aesthetic sensibilities, but they evidently developed early. In “his” 1987 book The Art of the Deal, Trump wrote:

In the second grade I actually gave a teacher a black eye—I punched my music teacher because I didn’t think he knew anything about music and I almost got expelled.

I’d love to know more about this music teacher—just how little is it possible to know about music? Can it be that the young boy’s ire was caused by the inexplicable absence from the syllabus of the late Beethoven string quartets, which as we all know would later form his core listening?

But unseriously though folks, this is a fine spoof. I particularly love

bachs-goldberg-variations-1457709453

stravinskys-rite-of-spring-1457709448

barbers-adagio-for-strings-1457709451.jpg

Such is Trumpolini’s classical erudition that he should appreciate this fugue by “W.T.F. Bach” (lesser-known brother of P.D.Q.)—a must for your local choir:

Like Dudley Moore’s psalm, what makes this so brilliant is the incongruity between the juxtaposition of text and the solemn musical pastiche of baroque grandeur.

And if you think translating medieval Daoist texts is difficult, spare a thought for interpreters, trying to make sense of Tweety’s mangling of the English language. At least culona inchiavabile can be transformed into something even more evocative.

Back in Blighty, I see Bumbling Boris (aka Boris Piccaninny Watermelon Letterbox Cake Disaster Weightloss Haircut Bullshit Wall-Spaffer Johnson) has escaped again, leaping back into the fray by welcoming a kindred spirit to Britain with more blithe inanities—but he’s got The Latin, so that’s all right then. Imagine Conservative Central Office:

“How did he get out? I thought we packed him off to Bongo-Bongo Land.”

A fine turn of phrase

Simon

Further to my old theme of our irredeemably modern ears (and here), Simon Rattle,* on one of his early early-music outings with the Age of Enlightenment, was rehearsing Mozart with the band.

After one finely polished phrase, he stopped us and said admiringly,

“Wow! I’ve been waiting all my life to hear it played like that! … Anyway, now I’ve heard it, I don’t like it—can you just play it normally, please?!”

 

*As a stammerer, I hesitate (sic) to call him Sir Simon Rattle. As in the (real) line from a waggish Radio 3 announcer:

That was Sir Simon Rattle conducting Brahms’s 4th symphony. Next week’s guest conductor is M-Mark Elder.

But I now learn from Felix Warnock, encyclopedic authority for orchestral stories, that this line goes back to Symphony Hall in Birmingham, when both the CBSO and the Hallé were rehearsing on the same day for separate concerts. At the stage door, bumping into an old colleague he hadn’t seen for some time, one muso asks another,

“Hey! Are you here for Sir Simon?”

So the other one goes,

“No, I’m here for M-Mark!”

Signoffs and other cross-pond drôlerie

In our daily badinage on orchestral tours of the US of A in the Good Old Days, we got into the habit of handing over to each other by imitating CNN’s signalling style:

And they say there could be more revelations to come. Wolf.

[Wolf Blitzer, [1] of course, was an “anchor”. Considering that Britannia Rule the Waves (just dig that funky optative verb there, folks—”You Wish”, as the Argot of Yoof [2] would have it), it’s curious how we don’t much go in for anchors. [3]  I guess we consider them beneath us…]

Rather like my teacher Paul’s empirical use of classifiers, we interpreted it as a fixed signoff at the end of every sentence, which led us to:

I thought the Adagio was really too slow last night. Wolf.

I’m starving. Let’s go eat. [4] Wolf.

Usually, rather than an interrogative (“Wolf?”), it’s declaimed confidently in the matter-of-fact descending fourth tone.

It does seem wise to keep such signals simple:

On stage at the end of a concert, among ourselves we would also adopt the brilliant casual signoff,

Well folks, I guess that’s just about it for tonight!

This works particularly well after an obscure or meditative work. Like:

Join us next time for another wacky episode of Ockeghem’s Marian Antiphons!

For an equally zany intro for such pieces, see here; and PDQ Bach is also essential listening. Wolf.

 

[1] OK, we Brits have our own proud tradition of silly names, but American names are in a class of their own. Following the credits at the end of a Hollywood movie is like reading an avant-garde poem, plunging into an exotic cornucopia containing all the cultures of the world. Though if Tweety has anything to do with it, there will be no more films, no more culture, no more world. Nothing, as Stewart Lee observes.

[2] The Argot of Yoof: a popular media pub, always packed at lunchtime. Near the somewhat quieter Aardvark and Climbing Boot.

[3] Unless you count Piers Morgan, who tries unsuccessfully to lose the initial W.

[4] For me at least, there’s an illicit thrill in uttering the formulation “go eat”. Similarly for “Can I get” instead of “May I have”—a quick web search reveals mainly  the usual pompous British indignation yearning for ethnic purity, though one writer suggests rather elusively that “Shakespeare probably would have loved it” (as in the little-known line from Romeo and Juliet: “Can I get a Diavola and a supersize Coke to go?”). Can I get or May I have, that is the question. See also my thoughts on “Who is this?”.

Oh and that’s a bad miss

As Ronnie glides into the second week of the snooker, it’s also worth tipping our notional hats to the erudite commentators (themselves veteran performers, unlike most scholars of, um, Daoist ritual), full of brilliant detail on both the mechanics and psychology of the event—like good ethnographers (there I go again).

Not quite like this:

In WAM concerts, such detailed information is relegated to a printed programme, and unable to respond to the incidents of performance. This is remedied by PDQ Bach (in a live version of his classic radio show and LP):

And actually it’s a highly instructive way of listening…

My favourite BTL comment there:

Is it joke?

Note also The first snooker commentary.

A tribute to Francis Baines

Baines concert

Cartoon of Francis by Gerard Hoffnung, 1958.

This week at the Cadogan Hall (among few London concert buildings that I find conducive), luminaries of the early music scene assembled to pay homage to the late great Francis Baines (1917–99) in a concert of music reflecting his wide-ranging tastes.

All-round eccentric and bon viveur, Francis was a true renaissance man, on double bass (sometimes deposited in left-luggage at Victoria because he couldn’t get it onto his barge), viols, hurdy-gurdy, and as composer. Despite being in constant demand on the professional scene, he was a true amateur at heart, a servant of music almost like an ashiqa dervish whirling with his bass.

From the late 1970s, as the early music world became ever more polished, fragrant, and marketable—the inevitable transition from “knit your own yogurt” to Chanel No. 5 (see also here)—one might imagine him finding his amateur ideal going against the tide, yet being both pragmatic and other-worldly, it never cramped his style. He always maintained a sense of both mischief and awed discovery.

He is also lovingly remembered in a beautiful book Francis Baines: musician of several parts, with reminiscences, both moving and hilarious (including more fine maestro-baiting stories), from a variety of egregious musicians—a contribution to the ethnographic history of musical life in 20th century Britain.

I’ll limit myself to one story from the book:

Nimbus recording session sometime in the 1980s. Mozart symphonies, Hanover band. Complete takes of whole movements being the modus operandi of this recording company, the rather inexperienced producer emerged from the box to report back on the first take. He said something along the lines of

“It started off well, and then became a bit confused and not so clear in the middle, but towards the end it got better and finished well.”

Francis piped up:

“I believe it’s what they call sonata form.”