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”.
UPDATE: Cosmic Justice has at least temporarily proved itself amidst a troubled world—I wrote this in the early stages of the UK tournament, but now Ronnie’s won it yet again in another inspiring display!
With his natural grace, Ronnie O’Sullivan is often compared to Roger Federer, but he’s in a league of his own, transcending sport. If you haven’t watched his maximum break from 1997, then do—it’s not merely a world record that is likely to stand for all time, but a thing of exquisite fluent beauty, reminiscent of the nuanced touch of a great musician.
After the morose introspection of yesteryear, Ronnie has come through the early years of obsession and addiction (lessons here for the claustrophobic hothouse of WAM virtuosos), and he’s on great form these days, with a kind of earthy Daoist detachment:
More from Alan Bennett’s diaries. I’m filing this 2009 entry under heritage:
23 August. […] I’m glad I’m not a theatregoer living in Elsinore. All they must ever get are productions of Hamlet, while what they’re probably longing for is Move Over, Mrs Markham or Run For Your Wife.
His keen eye for footballers’ physiognomy is in evidence again (2010):
7 April. The open mouth of Frank Lampard, having scored a goal, is also the howl on the face of the damned man in Michelangelo’s The Last Judgement.
This entry depends on a certain cultural knowledge that might challenge translators:
5th July. A child in Settle is said to have asked what the Mafia was and his grandfather said, “It’s like the Settle Rotary Club, only with guns.”
And he often shows his political involvement. When a speech in favour of the NHS from his early play Getting on is well received, he is encouraged to go on
25 July, Yorkshire. […] whereas nowadays the state is a dirty word, for my generation the state was a saviour, delivering us out of poverty and want (and provincial boredom) and putting us on the road to a better life; the state saved my father’s life, my mother’s sanity and my own life too. “So when I hear politicians taking about pushing back the boundaries of the state I think”—only I’ve forgotten what it is I think so I just say: “I think… bollocks.” This, too, goes down well, though I’d normally end a performance on a more elegiac note.
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.
Some gems from Alan Bennett’s 2005 diaries, in his recent collection Keeping on keeping on:
1 May. Martha, Charlotte and James’s youngest, has been slow to read but now aged eight is making great strides, particularly enjoying spelling. She is being given additional tuition by the father of a friend, a retired teacher who is also employed by Manchester United; the foreign half of the squad he is teaching to speak English, the English half he is teaching to read and write.
8 December. I buy a bottle of organic wine at Fresh and Wild and looking at the label see that it says “Suitable for Vegetarians and Vagrants”. Momentarily I think, “Well, that’s thoughtful, someone admitting that winos deserve consideration like everyone else”, before realizing, of course, that it says not “vagrants” but “vegans”.
16 December. Roy Keane has the face of a mercenary. Meet him before the walls of fifteenth-century Florence and one’s heart would sink.
The Schubert string quintet is one of those pieces that is always there when you need it. The slow movement in particular is deep in the heart of many musicians (and gratifyingly, one of those pieces that recurs on Desert Island Discs), but it’s all amazing.*
I’ve been appreciating the 1941 studio performance by the Budapest Quartet with Benar Heifetz—part of their amazingly busy recording schedule, and just as bebop was evolving:
Indeed, the group’s history makes a fascinating history of the metamorphoses of a string quartet under the conditions of the 20th century.
Benar Heifetz was the older brother of Jascha—who is quoted as saying:
One Russian is an anarchist. Two Russians are a chess game. Three Russians are a revolution. Four Russians are the Budapest String Quartet.
Which reminds me of the old Cold War joke:
What’s the definition of a string quartet?
A Russian symphony orchestra after a tour of the West.
For viola jokes, see here.
BTW, the long eclipse of WAM in Desert Island Discs since 1942, while not a sample of the general population, makes an interesting window on changing tastes.
*PS Anyone got a good fingering for the ending of the Scherzo?
I’ve got a sneaky one, but hey—what do I know? Available on request… The last note may be “hit and hope”; Hugh Maguire said he had about a 70% strike rate—better than in football, where the long high ball upfield in the direction of Peter Crouch’s head is even less reliable. But how to negotiate the preceding run is debatable too.
While we’re on football, in the notorious and grandly-named Saipan incident in the run-up to the 2002 World Cup, Roy Keane’s spat with the Republic of Ireland team manager Mick McCarthy evokes the principled hauteur of an illustrious Ming-dynasty court official going into voluntary exile rather than serving under the new Manchu regime.
The confrontation between player and manager allegedly culminated in this fine rant from Keane:
“Mick, you’re a liar… you’re a fucking wanker. I didn’t rate you as a player, I don’t rate you as a manager, and I don’t rate you as a person. The only reason I have any dealings with you is that somehow you are manager of my country and you’re not even Irish, you English cunt. You can stick the World Cup up your bollocks.”
Reporting the story, the Guardian came out with the magnificent headline
KEANE DISPLAYS TENUOUS GRASP OF ANATOMY