Back December 5.
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Michael Tippett dedicated his Concerto for Orchestra to Britten on his fiftieth birthday (last post). Performed LSO, Colin Davis, Edinburgh Festival, August 28 1963.
When I listen to it now, the theory of a “great divide” in his music between the works before and after King Priam seems mistaken. The Concerto for Orchestra seems to me to grow naturally enough out of the Corelli Fantasia and the piano concerto.
LSO, Colin Davis (not, I think, the premiere):
Tippett himself (not Meirion Bowen, I think) made a successful setting of the first movement for wind band (no longer on YouTube), called Mosaic (not a very wind-bandy name).
Was the only known photograph of Britten and Tippett together taken at a Britten fiftieth birthday party? Britten dedicated his church parable Curlew River to Tippett in the following year.
The London Sinfonietta’s 1986 Britten-Tippett Festival should be repeated.
See Arnold Whittall, The Music of Britten and Tippett, Studies in Themes and Techniques, Cambridge University Press, 1990. And Ivan Hewett, Michael Tippett: a visionary in the shadow of his rival, Telegraph, October 19 2012.
Benjamin Britten was born on St Cecilia’s day a hundred years ago today.
Hymn to St Cecilia has words by Auden. Composed US, 1940-42. Text shown in clip. Kings College Choir, Sir David Willcocks.
His fiftieth birthday, fifty years ago today and the day of Kennedy’s assassination (last post), saw the publication of Tribute to Benjamin Britten on his Fiftieth Birthday, elegantly produced by Faber. Tributes by William Plomer, Imogen Holst, Ronald Duncan, Peter Pears, Yehudi Menuhin, EM Forster, Julian Bream, Aaron Copland, Francis Poulenc, Mstislav Rostropovich, George Malcolm, Kenneth Clark and others. Anthony Gishford, editor. 1963 was the year of the great Cello Symphony, of the Cantata misericordium, and of Nocturnal after John Dowland for guitar.
A conversation [...] took place in the nineteen-twenties between the Zaydi Imam Yahya of Sanʿa and a British envoy whose mission was to persuade the Imam to restore peacefully a portion of the British Aden Protectorate which he had occupied during the general War of 1914-18 and had refused to evacuate thereafter, notwithstanding the defeat of his Ottoman overlords. In a final interview with the Imam, after it had become apparent that the mission would not attain its object, the British envoy, wishing to give the conversation another turn, complimented the Imam upon the soldierly appearance of his new-model army. Seeing that the Imam took the compliment in good part, he went on:
“And I suppose you will be adopting other Western institutions as well?”
“I think not,” said the Imam with a smile.
“Oh, really? That interests me. And may I venture to ask your reasons?”
“Well, I don’t think I should like other Western institutions,” said the Imam.
“Indeed? And what institutions, for example?”
“Well, there are parliaments,” said the Imam. “I like to be the Government myself. I might find a parliament tiresome.”
“Why, as for that,” said the Englishman, “I can assure you that responsible parliamentary representative government is not an indispensable part of the apparatus of Western civilization. Look at Italy. She has given that up, and she is one of the great Western powers.”
“Well, then there is alcohol,” said the Imam, “I don’t want to see that introduced into my country, where at present it is happily almost unknown.”
“Very natural,” said the Englishman; “but, if it comes to that, I can assure you that alcohol is not an indispensable adjunct of Western civilization either. Look at America. She has given up that, and she too is one of the great Western powers.”
“Well, anyhow,” said the Imam, with another smile which seemed to intimate that the conversation was at an end, “I don’t like parliaments and alcohol and that kind of thing.”
The Englishman could not make out whether there was any suggestion of humour in the parting smile with which the last five words were uttered; but, however that might be, those words went to the heart of the matter and showed that the inquiry about possible further Western innovations at Sanʿa had been more pertinent than the Imam might have cared to admit. Those words indicated, in fact, that the Imam, viewing Western civilization from a great way off, saw it, in that distant perspective, as something one and indivisible and recognized certain features of it, which to a Westerner’s eye would appear to have nothing whatever to do with one another, as being organically related parts of that indivisible whole. Thus, on his own tacit admission, the Imam, in adopting the rudiments of the Western military technique, had introduced into the life of his people the thin end of a wedge which in time would inexorably cleave their close-compacted traditional Islamic civilization asunder. He had started a cultural revolution which would leave the Yamanites, in the end, with no alternative but to cover their nakedness with a complete ready-made outfit of Western clothes. If the Imam had met his Hindu contemporary Mr. Gandhi, that is what he would have been told, and such a prophecy would have been supported by what had happened already to other Islamic peoples who had exposed themselves to the insidious process of “Westernization” several generations earlier.
Toynbee’s distant perspectives are as dangerous as the Imam’s. The modern cultural interaction of the West with other societies was a subtler process than he acknowledges. He rarely examines its nuances. He had a rather superficial conception of what constituted modernity.
The Imam is, in Toynbeean terminology, a Zealot rather than a Herodian.
Britain in Yemen (old post).
Civilization on Trial, OUP, 1948
Back November 17.
This blog is seven years old today. Back November 4.
Back October 1.
Part of Minette, Canti e rimpianti amorosi per due chitarre, arranged from Henze’s music by Jürgen Ruck. Gil Fesch and Nuno Pinto, guitars. I could write about this cat’s pedigree, but I recommend the CD which had the whole arrangement and much more, where the players are Jürgen Ruck and Elena Casoli.
The old order changeth, yielding place to new,
And God fulfils Himself in many ways,
Lest one good custom should corrupt the World.
Tennyson: The Passing of Arthur.
The Passing of Arthur is one of the Idylls of the King.
A Study of History, Vol VII, OUP, 1954 (footnote)
Violin concerto 3, K 216. Menuhin and players, 1961. Ensemble not stated, perhaps Bath Festival Orchestra, June 14.
Alberto Ginastera of Argentina, Concerto per archi, Concerto for strings, Orchestre de Picardie, Edmon Colomer. Composed 1965, first performed Inter-American Festival, Caracas, May 14 1966, Philadelphia Orchestra, Eugene Ormandy.
“Onganía ordered repression of all forms of ‘immoralism’, proscribing miniskirts, long hair for boys, and all avant-garde artistic movements.” Wikipedia.
He banned Ginastera’s opera Bomarzo (1966-67).
Variazioni per i solisti
Ginastera’s Cantata para América Mágica (1960), for dramatic soprano and percussion, had been based on pre-Columbian legends.
“Rarely, rarely, comest thou,
Spirit of Delight!”
Shelley, from Invocation.
King’s College Choir. Last post refers. Text (in comment below): Alleluia sung before successive extracts from the funeral service of the Eastern Orthodox Church (modified) and from Hamlet.
Worlds on worlds are rolling ever
From creation to decay
Like the bubbles on a river
Sparkling, bursting, borne away.
Shelley, from verse drama Hellas. (Not from closing chorus beginning “The world’s great age begins anew,”.)
A Study of History, Vol I, OUP, 1934 (no footnote, only Shelley’s name mentioned)
Also An Historian’s Approach to Religion, OUP, 1956 (differently punctuated and with full citation)
Back August 5.
Mozart, K 313, Emmanuel Pahud, Haydn Ensemble Berlin, Salzburg, 2000. What is it with French and Swiss flautists?
… 1930, of anything or at least of music, must be that of Beethoven’s Archduke Trio with Thibaud, Casals and Cortot made on November 18-19 1928 in the Queen’s Hall, London. EMI, now out of copyright.
There may be some recent digital manipulation, but it was always exceptional. This may not even be the best rendering of it. Cortot comes off best, followed by Casals, followed by Thibaud. The balance is right and there is a spaciousness in the sound. The performance is wonderful.
The three of them look in another photograph like bohemians of thirty years earlier. Perhaps it is an earlier photograph. The fourth here is Fauré, who had died in 1924.
Advertising is a great blot on the free way of life. If people in the West would only say that it was an evil but a necessary evil in a free society, I wouldn’t mind so much. But when they say that advertising is a splendid thing in itself, and when they talk about maximum consumption of consumer goods to avoid unemployment, and so on, I feel that this is somehow sub-human.
With Philip Toynbee, Comparing Notes, A Dialogue across a Generation, Weidenfeld & Nicolson, 1963
Along the cool sequester’d Vale of Life
They kept the noiseless tenour of their way.
Thomas Gray, Elegy Written in a Country Churchyard (1751). No citation. Tenour spelt thus here.
“Far from the madding crowd’s ignoble strife
Their sober wishes never learn’d to stray;
Along the cool sequester’d vale of life
They kept the noiseless tenor of their way.”
A Study of History, Vol III, OUP, 1934
Mit hellem Sinne,
Und neue Lieder
[Footnote: Goethe: Faust, ll. 1622-6 [...].]
A Study of History, Vol VI, OUP, 1939
Brahms, Intermezzo, opus 119, no 1, b minor, 1893, Glenn Gould, perhaps a CBC broadcast, date not known to me. He plays it fast, considering that it is marked adagio. Cover art of one of my favourite Gould CDs, his Brahms Piano Quintet with the Montreal String Quartet, 1957, from a CBC broadcast. The Intermezzo is a filler. (I admit that Sviatoslav Richter with the Borodin Quartet, 1958 puts that Quintet in the shade.)
Bacon, Francis: Of the Proficience and Advancement of Learning, Divine and Humane, Book I, chap. 8, § 3.
“We see the dignity of the commandment is according to the dignity of the commanded: to have commandment over beasts, as herdmen have, is a thing contemptible: to have commandment over children, as schoolmasters have, is a matter of small honour: to have commandment over galley-slaves is a disparagement rather than an honour. Neither is the commandment of tyrants much better over people which have put off the generosity of their minds: and therefore it was ever holden that honours in free monarchies and commonwealths had a sweetness more than in tyrannies, because the commandment extendeth more over the wills of men, and not only over their deeds and services. And therefore, when Virgil putteth himself forth to attribute to Augustus Caesar the best of human honours, he doth it in these words:
Per populos dat jura, viamque affectat Olympo.”
“Victor who gives laws to willing peoples and paves the way to Heaven.” Georgics.
A Study of History, Vol IV, OUP, 1939 (footnote)
There’s no rigour whatsoever in this list. It is merely evocative.
“Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold;
Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world,
The blood-dimmed tide is loosed, and everywhere
The ceremony of innocence is drowned;
The best lack all conviction, while the worst
Are full of passionate intensity.”
Yeats, from The Second Coming, in Michael Robartes and the Dancer, Cuala Press, 1921.
Back April 29.
The nemesis of the hero who has performed some creative achievement in the past is to gaze with Narcissus’s spell-bound eyes at a reflexion of his own self which would reveal to any seer in his senses the repellent countenance of a wrinkled Tithonus.
A Study of History, Vol IV, OUP, 1939
São Gabriel, 1497
The Trinidad, 1522
The Revenge, 1591
The Mayflower, 1620
The Meermin, 1766
HMS Endeavour, 1769-71
The Zong, 1781
HMS Bounty, 1789
HMS Indomitable, 1797
HMS Sandwich, 1797
HMS Hermione, 1797
La Méduse, 1816
The Antelope, 1820
HMS Beagle, 1826-43
The Creole, 1841
The Pequod, c 1850
The Mary Celeste, 1872
The Narcissus, c 1897
The Nan-Shan, c 1899
RMS Titanic, 1912
RMS Lusitania, 1915
The Kronstadt mutiny, 1917
The Kiel mutiny, 1918
MS St Louis, 1939
HMS Torrin, 1941
Das Boot, 1941
HMS Artemis, c 1943
USS Caine, 1944
MV Wilhelm Gustloff, 1945
The Royal Indian Navy mutiny, 1946
MS Achille Lauro, 1985
What was the name of Cabral’s ship in 1500? The Spithead Mutiny of 1797 is not, as far as I know, associated with one ship; the Nore Mutiny is associated with HMS Sandwich. There’s no consistency in this list, but it is not a list of mutinies. Nor one of maritime triumphs or disasters.
I’ll add to it if I can think of more.
Géricault, The Raft of the Medusa, Louvre
A friend sent me something unsolicited on Hans Werner Henze, the great German composer who died last October. I replied:
“I had some thoughts about your moving HWH email, so jotted them down.
“Your description of the rather anti-religious atmosphere in his house was interesting. On the whole, he seemed to be an atheist to the end, thinking that human beings were better and kinder without religion. But he disconcerted a German journalist a few years ago by referring to the universe ‘and its Maker’.
“And then, his penultimate work, called An den Wind, for chorus and ensemble (2011) had this blurb, translated from German on his publisher’s website. It’s not very theological, but it’s very Henze:
‘A legend: inscrutable, rooted and seasoned in the past; a myth: which in the turning of the ages changed or discarded its old skins, rich in mystery and significance – this comes to us direct from the unconscious and via memory, taking form in the Holy Scriptures, filling us today with awe and with love.
‘Working with the poet Christian Lehnert, I immersed myself in the theme of the ‘Outpouring of the Holy Spirit’, with the miracle, and as it were with the healing, the saving of souls, as depicted in medieval art (for example in painting), where we find the Apostles gazing childlike into the starry heavens, searching for grace, for answers and for blessing.
‘In our art, Christian and I portray and present the world as we experience it today – with its unearthly storms of desert wind, with its loneliness and fears, with its longing for peace, for love, for calm of mind. A choir of many voices declares the agony of the abandoned, the eternal mourning, the loss, but also the moments of joy and delight, for these are certainly not lacking – especially not when proclaimed by the purity of young voices, filling the world with forgiveness, love, hope and radiant light.’
“Henze was always looking for the happy turning. The better world.
“First he looked for it in disgraced Germany after fascism, then in unbombed Italy, where he felt he had found it. Amicizia. Fraternité. Then in Cuba. In Cuba all men could be artists: uomini sociali. He never flirted with Stalin. Revolution was a word for moral redemption. That optimism must have made him attractive as a young man in the ’40s.
“His involving of a whole community in an arts festival in Montepulciano was a mildly politicised version of what Britten had already accomplished at Aldeburgh. It was Aldeburgh plus Cuba.
“Perhaps at the end, he thought that this better world might be somewhere else. John Drummond said: ‘There are some composers for whom it is always autumn. With Henze it is always spring.’
“So I don’t find this wide-open religious tone very strange at the end.
“Your account of the time he spent teaching you illustrates his best side. He’d spend hours with students in wintry classrooms in Manchester doing the same thing. You were lucky to have that and much more.
“But Henze, one feels, was corrupted by self-awareness. It has become a cliché to say of some artists that they were their greatest work. I worry that that is true of him and that his music might die with him.
“From the late ’90s until about 2004, he produced some works (Six Songs from the Arabian and others) which were influenced by visits to the Swahili coast.
“Since I had last heard of you heading towards Kenya, I wondered, when I heard those pieces, whether it was you who had brought him there. From what you say, that was not the case.
“Where did he stay? Lamu! My heart sank when I heard that. I am sure Lamu is wonderful, but it’s where rock stars and a few millionaires go, isn’t it? Henze called himself an outsider, but he was as bourgeois as anyone. The spectacle of Germans in quest of the exotic always embarrasses Brits. His self-portrait in Cuba in his autobiography is revealing and honest here.
“My heart also sank when I walked into that mews house near Harrods, by your arrangement, in summer ’81. It seemed so conventional. I have the same feeling when I look at some of La Leprara in films. It is almost like a posh hotel.
“But my reaction on engaging with him was, like yours, to be riveted by his charm. A really wonderful sense of humour regularly punctured the nearly-oracular seriousness. He laughed that evening until tears ran down his face. He was warm, funny, vain and cultured. Talented in every way, it seemed.
‘Henze’s is the saddest story in post-war music. He is a martyr equally to the need since the deaths of Strauss and Schoenberg in the years on each side of 1950 to find a great German master, and the cultured materialism that has prevailed in that country ever since. The fairies at his cradle gave him every gift, but impishly withheld the indispensable jewel of artistic personality. Sad also are the culture-vultures, who, literary sensibilities a-twitching and cloth ears a-flap, hear only what they’re told [told not least by Henze himself] and not what is actually there.’
“I’m not sure he is right. The next 2 links are to the last 2 known portraits of Henze:
Back March 31.
Britten, Serenade for Tenor, Horn and Strings, 1943. Peter Pears, tenor. Dennis Brain, horn. Live recording, John Hollingsworth, BBC Symphony Orchestra, Prom, Albert Hall, July 30 1953. The Tennyson Nocturne begins at 5:10.
The movements are:
Prologue, horn solo
Pastoral, setting of The Evening Quatrains by Charles Cotton (1630-87)
Nocturne, Blow, bugle, blow by Alfred, Lord Tennyson (1809-92)
Elegy, The Sick Rose by William Blake (1757-1827)
Dirge, the anonymous Lyke-Wake Dirge (fifteenth century)
Hymn, Hymn to Diana by Ben Jonson (1572–1637)
Sonnet, To Sleep by John Keats (1795–1821)
Epilogue, horn solo; reprise of Prologue, played offstage
Texts (or approximations thereto) here; will open in separate window.
“The splendour falls on castle walls
And snowy summits old in story:
The long light shakes across the lakes,
And the wild cataract leaps in glory.
Blow, bugle, blow, set the wild echoes flying
Blow, bugle; answer, echoes, dying, dying, dying.
O hark, O hear! how thin and clear,
And thinner, clearer, farther going!
O sweet and far from cliff and scar
The horns of Elfland faintly blowing!
Blow, let us hear the purple glens replying:
Blow, bugle; answer, echoes, dying, dying, dying.
O love, they die in yon rich sky,
They faint on hill or field or river:
Our echoes roll from soul to soul,
And grow for ever and for ever.
Blow, bugle, blow, set the wild echoes flying,
And answer, echoes, answer, dying, dying, dying.”
Tennyson, Blow, bugle, blow. Part of the long narrative poem The Princess.
Creative artists [...] are proof against Shirley’s taunt:
The garlands wither on your brow;
Then boast no more your mighty deeds.
They can answer in the language of Wren’s epitaph Si monumentum requiris circumspice [If you need a monument, look around you] [footnote: Inscribed in St Paul’s Cathedral on a tablet over the architect’s tombstone.] or in the language of Horace’s ode Non omnis moriar [I shall not wholly die]. [Footnote: Horace: Carmina, iii. 30.] For, in withdrawing on one plane to return on another, they have found life in losing it; [footnote: Matt. x. 39.] and their action sweeps on, immortal and infinite.
O love, they die in yon rich sky,
They faint on hill or field or river:
Our echoes roll from soul to soul
And grow for ever and for ever.
A Study of History, Vol III, OUP, 1934
I quoted Jonathan Rauch (on Tokyo) in the last long post. In 2003, he wrote a piece on introverts in The Atlantic (The Atlantic Monthly as it was) which has received more hits on its site than anything they have published. 2006 follow-up. It needed an American to define introversion as an identity or, literally, orientation. Introverts are, he says, not morose. They are neither misanthropic nor shy.
Cavafy virtually addressed a poem to them.
Back February 22. This post is backdated, to preserve continuity.
I have let this blog drift because of too many other commitments and too many competing ideas about what to put in it next. But there is no significance in the refrain in the last post!
Back January 26.