Wednesday, 29 June 2011

Putting the Bard in Bardou

This appeared on line this morning. I think it's a super record of a concert we gave a couple of weeks ago in Bardou, a very special nearby hill village, despite the producers thinking that rather than add subtitles to the spoken bits - in the introduction - they would have both languages, French and English, on the go simultaneously. Actually, if you latch on to the English, your ear may block out the French and you can probably follow it through. If you need to, of course.

Despite one or two infelicities of intonation and an acoustic like the inside of a bedroom slipper (very intimate and cosy, all the same), I was reasonably pleased. The first sung item, by Anton Bruckner, otherwise known for vast symphonies, is called Locus Iste a Deo Factus Est (This place was built by God). The second, Bogoroditsye Dyevo (a needlessly complicated way, it seems to me, of saying 'Hail, Mary') is a setting of the Russian Orthodox words by Arvo Pärt, an Estonian composer born in 1936, I think.) The third piece is my own setting of Shakespeare's Orpheus with his lute made trees And the mountain tops that freeze...bow before him.

And of course the village peacocks have their say, too. You can find the post from which the You Tube clip was taken here.

Sunday, 26 June 2011

Atomique ou pas?

Today I bought a fez in the village street market. I don't know why.

Friday, 24 June 2011


The music on the piano desk is a song called Aus meinem grossen Schmerzen, Out of My Dark Despairing, music by Robert Franz, words by Heinrich Heine, who I believe was once arrested and locked up for revolutionary activities and self-indulgent versifying.

Probably by the officer in pink.

Wednesday, 22 June 2011

From scenes like these old Scotia's grandeur springs

Going to Aberdeen?

Speak like a native with our oh-so-easy Listen, Read, Speak method:

Northfield Episode 1 (mp3)

1. June, it's Aggie, Fred's Aggie here ... phone me back on 0778052736 ... now phone me back June and I tell you ... I swear it on the bones of my mother that I'm going to murder you and that homosexual Abdully 'cos you've just rotted the constitution of my boy ... if you want to take £50 off my boy I'm going to take £50 off your face, prostitute ... you'd better phone me back 'cos I'll come up to your house, June, and I'll put the whole lot of your house in a knot ... and you can tell [redacted] he'll get his throat cut ...

Northfield Episode 2 (mp3)

2. June I'm telling you you'd better get back to me because I swear afore this weekend's out ... if I get my hands on you ... and I'm telling you I'm going to rip you from arsehole to breakfast and that wee poof Henry Glass that you married I'm going to crop that and all ... you'd better go on the phone ... give me the money back, June, and we'll forget all about it ... or else you're dead and I don't give a f*ck who's in your house I'll burn the whole f*cking lot of you out ...

Northfield Episode 3 (mp3)

3. Look I'm very sorry, my dear, whoever you are ... I phoned up and left a message on your answering machine and made a threat phone call ... I'm sorry, I got the wrong person ... I hope I haven't disturbed you in any particular way ... sorry.

Increase your word power: crop - geld, emasculate

Sunday, 19 June 2011

A priori at the Priory

Well, I thought it was disastrous. A whole year on and the sudden memory still shocks me into panic palpitations in the middle of the night and dagger-thrust consciousness that everything I've ever attempted in my life is doomed.

The measure of the hype gives the measure of the fall. A year ago we - my little choir Les Jeudistes and I - were in full preparation for the first-ever performance of L'Imitation de Notre Dame la Lune, The Imitation of Our Lady the Moon. It was a cantata I'd composed for choir and string quartet, based on the poems of one Jules Laforgue, a little-known French poet of the 1880s. It was the most ambitious score the choir had ever tackled. We rehearsed till the crotchets and quavers fell out of our trouser bottoms. Posters went up on every public notice board for kilometres around. Local radio featured it, so did the local press, local English language magazines enthused about it, local music websites buzzed about it. And the word went round. Sisters, cousins and aunts fought to get in.

The result was a packed church, standing room only in the Priory of St Julian, an idyllic place shown above. Enormously gratifying. We'd arranged for a live recording to be made.

It's a curious thing, but conductors - in this case myself - very often don't hear what's being performed. They're too preoccupied with hearing in their heads what's coming next, and preparing for it. Many conductors conduct in anticipation, several beats, even a bar, ahead of what's actually being played. At the end of the performance I was pleasantly satisfied, having heard throughout what I felt, a priori, it ought to sound like.

A week or two later the truth was told as the recording became available. It was disastrous, I couldn't listen to it. I was deeply ashamed. The choir seemed to have forgotten the most elementary disciplines. They sang out of tune, the words were indistinct. The strings sounded tired and slack. Of the twelve tracks only four showed the faintest spark of the fire and energy and laughter we'd known during rehearsal.

I've just discovered - or, much nearer the truth, my daughter Patroclus has discovered for me - how to put audio tracks on line via Audioboo. We put a test out the other evening, to see if it worked. It did, brilliantly. We deleted it almost immediately in anticipation of this post, but all the same one or two managed to pick it up. So here are two tracks from The Imitation of Our Lady the Moon, Je te vas dire ('I'll tell you') and O félines Ophélies en folie ('O crazy feline Ophelias': you see how Laforgue loved to play with words). In both the men sing something pretty condescending, stuffed-shirt-pompous even, as if womankind owed them something. The women reply appropriately, teasingly, mick-mockingly. As they do.

People have been kind enough to ask to hear some of my music. Here's some, in the raw. I have to say the best music comes right at the end, after the singing has stopped.

Je te vas dire (mp3)

O félines Ophélies en folie (mp3)

Saturday, 18 June 2011

Mikoyan and Gurevich

Exciting, positive, Patroclus-led developments in the quest for how to spoon audio files into Lydian Airs posts will shortly be taking effect.

Meanwhile here is something that I found while browsing through the history of the cigarette, trying to discover whether Woodbines and Park Drive were the same cigarette, the former marketed in the south, the latter in the north of England. This essay into ultra-sophisticated marketing - think Silk Cut, think Strand - may keep readers diverted for a second or two, especially this one.

Happy weekend.

Thursday, 16 June 2011

The G-word

Today certain relatives are coming to stay. As you can see, my hair has turned quite luxuriantly dark at the prospect. And the knees of my trousers have gone again.

There may not be many posts for the next few days, as I shall be preoccupied with romping and playing horsey keep your tail up. Please excuse me.

Tuesday, 14 June 2011

Miss Tyrol Mystery

The Ugly Duchess (Quintin Matsys, 1513)

Frequent mentions and appearances of beautiful women here lead me to attempt to redress the balance.

History gives as the ugliest woman ever Margarete von Görz, countess of Tyrol. She is maybe better known as Margarete Maultasch, which means Pocket-mouth, Bag-mouth. A strong character, she had many troubles, chiefly to do with producing an heir. She was married at twelve to a boy of eight. Dynastic needs eclipsed the lad's capabilities, so without bothering with divorce she married someone else, thereby alienating the lad's family. She defended herself against the charge of bigamy by claiming her first marriage was unconsummated. She was thereupon excommunicated, and it was perhaps at this time, telling everyone what she thought of them, that she earned her nickname.

The Ugly Duchess (Sir John Tenniel, c.1864)

Somehow the portrait up there at the top, the Ugly Duchess, by the Flemish artist Quentin Matsys, has been accepted as her likeness. This portrait appears to have been the model for Sir John Tenniel's Ugly Duchess (above) in Lewis Carroll's Alice's Adventures in Wonderland. While Tenniel's gives his Duchess a big mouth, Matsys' version tends towards the rosebud.

But there's something not quite right here. Margarete von Görz died in 1363, aged 51. Matsys painted his portrait in 1513, 150 years after her death. I don't know if Matsys ever claimed it represented Margarete von Görz. (It seems to me to have faint pre-echos of Tony Blair, as caricatured by certain cartoonists.) On the other hand much medical ink has been spilt claiming that what Matsys was illustrating, for reasons that are obscure, was a woman of some distinction, judging by her dress, in the toils of Paget's disease. This is a bone disease causing horrible deformities. Matsys' Duchess has all the symptoms. But why did he paint her?

Here's another (anonymous) portrait of Margarete von Görz, again from the 1500s. History certainly seems to have judged her unfairly. If he'd been around at the time, I'm sure Spadoman, that splendid connoisseur of travel, shadows and comely women, would have leapt to her defence.

Erm, defense.

Saturday, 11 June 2011

Cupboard love

Away overnight to a place called Dieulefit (pron. approx. 'Jerlfee') where the Hoboken Trio - photo above - was playing. Jerlfee is in north-west Provence, not far from Montélimar, where the nougat comes from. We've known Saskia (violin), Jérôme (piano) and Eric (cello) on and off for some years now, because although they're based in Paris they give concerts in our part of the world fairly frequently. They're usually put up locally, and last year Eric, who is also principal cello with the Orchestre de Paris, stayed with us.

Last night they were playing an all-French programme of music composed within the last 100 years. This included an extended piece of music simply called 'Trio' by someone called Lucien Durosoir. If you've never heard of him you've nothing to reproach yourself about: although he died in 1955, he has only just been discovered.

His son Jean-Luc was there last night, now a retired microbiologist of about 75. After the concert there was a get-together of musicians and friends, and Jean-Luc Durosoir told J. and me his father's story. A violinist, he had been called up in 1914 and had been assigned to an infantry regiment. By 1918 he was the only survivor of the 800 men in his draft. In 1917, having survived the holocaust of Verdun, he was transferred out of the fighting line and made a stretcher-bearer. After the war he took himself and his mother as far away as possible, without leaving France, from the 'civilisation' that had engineered this terrible war. He set up home in the pinewoods on France's remote Biscay coast, an area called Les Landes. Here Lucien Durosoir poured out music, composing feverishly, it was said, to rid himself of the ghosts and the agonies of the trenches. In the early 1920s his mother, not apparently an easy character, broke her pelvis and both femurs in a fall, and remained wheelchair-bound until her death in 1934. In 1935 Lucien married, and in 1936 Jean-Luc was born.

None of this music was ever played, none of it was ever published. All those sheets of music paper, carrying their musical images of anguish and tragedy, were piled up in a big cupboard and forgotten about.

Many years later, after the death of his mother, Jean-Luc opened the cupboard and discovered the extent of his father's musical legacy, all of it composed before he was born. Through various contacts the Trio was offered to the Hobokens, who specialise in the performance of new music, although their bread-and-butter is the music of Haydn.

So last night we heard it. It wasn't the first performance, and in any case the Hobokens recorded it in January. I wish I could say I enjoyed it. While the playing was excellent, I didn't enjoy the music at all. It was brutal, over-stated, unrelieved anger, angst, agony and anguish. I'm afraid I allowed my attention to wander - and to wonder if it wasn't so much the conflict in the trenches that troubled the composer so much as the daily conflict with his mother. But if Jean-Luc had wanted us to know this he would have told us.

Just now I'm composing a piece for the Hobokens, quite a long work in what I call strip cartoon form, that's to say lots of little episodes going to make up a complete narrative. It ought to be ready by Christmas.

Yes, we too have cupboards. But there's no room for angst in them.

Thursday, 9 June 2011

Hodmandods are off, dear

Coming down first - exceptionally, must be the third time this year - this morning to make tea etc. I noticed, gulping uneasily with apprehension, that one of J.'s local recipe books is open, ominously, at a page featuring a dish called Lou Cagaraoulat. This translates as something like Snail Casserole.

Here's the recipe, for 6 people:


200 snails
2 onions
Coulis of 8 tomatoes
3 good slices of raw cured ham
½ litre of dry white wine
Salt, pepper
Garlic, sprig of thyme, 2 bay leaves.

Cook the snails for 1 hour in pressure cooker, covered with water well infused with the herbs, etc.
Drain well when cooked.
Dice the ham, fry to sizzling in a large casserole. Add the sliced onions, thyme and bay leaves and then the white wine.
Cook slowly. Mix in the snails when the sauce has thickened, cook for 10 minutes, then add crushed garlic. Each snail should be coated with the sauce.
Serve with white wine.


One damp morning some years ago I was surprised to find a van parked beneath our walnut tree and voices from the drystone wall by one of our little ponds. I went to investigate. A family of about 6 were busy picking all the snails lodging in the wall crevices, supposing themselves secure beneath the covering ivy. They were busy filling plastic supermarket bags with them. Any enterprising Brians trying to escape were ruthlessly shoved back in again. There must have been easily enough to complete the recipe above. They were our snails, beyond doubt. These people were nothing but common snail poachers.

What would you have done? Ask for them back? Ask them to replace every single one of them where they found them? Required them to pay for them?

Quickly weighing up the pros, cons and possible outcomes, I said I would have been pleased if they'd asked beforehand, but all the same I wished them bon appetit. Enjoy. After all, I wasn't going to eat them.


When J. came down I said Erm, you weren't thinking of ...

No, no, she said. If you look on the same page there's a recipe for olive bread I was going to try.


Tuesday, 7 June 2011

Calashny Cove

I do not know what's going on here.

Sunday, 5 June 2011

Che hora c'è?

A short but entertaining post here about very old books sent me looking for mine, which I keep in a cardboard box in my study hoping that generous applications of Oblivion will somehow improve them. I'm really waiting for the day when, unprompted, some specialist bookbinder and gold tooler will restore them to their original pristine state when they came out in:

1735: Poems by Eminent Ladies, particularly, Mrs Leapor, Mrs Pilkington, Lady Winchelsea

We allow'd you Beauty, and we did fubmit
To all the Tyrannies of it.
Ah! Cruel Sex! will you depofe us too in Wit?
1759: Plutarch's Lives Vols. 2, 3, 4, 6

1763: The English Expositor, being, A Complete Dictionary

1774: Homeri Ilias Vols 1 and 2

1815: The Satires of Juvenal, translated by James Sinclair, Esq.

1816: Tales of my Landlord, collected and arranged by Jedediah Cleishbotham, Schoolmaster and Parish-Clerk of Gandercleugh [actually Sir Walter Scott]

1818: Carmina Q. Horatii Flacci

This last is the Odes of Horace. I did Books 1 and 2 of the Odes as a set book for A level Latin. I wish the examiners had chosen something else, because at 18 I really wasn't old enough to appreciate the mature wisdom, wit and quiet sophistication of these short poems.

Horace apparently was in the excellent habit of putting any writing away for seven years, probably in a cardboard box in his study. At the end of seven years he would retrieve it, and either destroy it, glad that he didn't have to suffer the shame of anyone else looking at it, or rework and polish it, by which time it might be of a standard for publication.

You may be interested to know that I wrote this post in June, 2004. I wouldn't expect any comments until 2018.

Friday, 3 June 2011

Canon to right of them, canon to left of them

Writing about that canon Sumer is icumen in the other day brought to mind another extraordinary canon. (A canon is a sort of round, a tune that harmonises with itself when sung at staggered intervals.)

Here's one of very little musical interest, despite having been written by Mozart. It's dated 2nd September 1788.

Grechtelt's enk, grechtelt's enk, wir gehn im Prater.
Im Prater? Im Prater? Izt lass nach, i lass mi net stimma.
Ei beileib, ei jawohl, mi bringst nöt aussi.
Was blauscht der? Was blauscht der? Izt halt's Maul! I gib d'ra Tetschen!

It's a little fly-on-the-wall snapshot into the Mozart household in Vienna. He and his wife Constanze had two surviving children, Karl Thomas and Franz Xaver. Here's the (loose) translation from the very coarse Viennese dialect:

Mozart: Get ready, both of you, get ready, both of you, we're going to the Prater.

KT and FX: To the Prater? To the Prater? Give me a break, don't talk daft.
Oh right, oh indeed, you're not getting me to go out.
What's he yapping on about? What's he yapping on about?

Mozart: Shut your gob, now, or I won't half fetch you a clout.

The Prater is a large park in Vienna. I don't expect its famous Ferris wheel, scene of Harry Lime's murderous philosophising in The Third Man, was there in Mozart's day. I wasn't sure whether this homely little scene improved or detracted from my impressions of Mozart as an artist of the greatest sensitivity and refinement, but then I saw in my mind's eye the four of them, Mozart, Constanze, Karl Thomas and Franz Xaver singing it - it's not hard - round the dinner table, or marching line abreast to the Prater, having finally got their coats on. Could they have dissolved into fits of giggles? (Not, I hope, those idiotic giggles we had to put with from Tom Hulse playing Mozart in Peter Schaffer's film Amadeus.) Definitely to Mozart's credit, I think.

(This is the only trustworthy portrait of Mozart as an adult, painted from the life by his brother-in-law. It's unfinished: he's supposed to be sitting at the piano. The pair to it, which was finished, shows his wife Constanze.)

Wednesday, 1 June 2011

Another fine product from Norfolk

Dinahmow, she who puts the Ee! in Queensland, suggests that my choir 'Les Jeudistes' might like to have a crack at Sumer is icumen in. In fact it was one of first songs we ever learnt when we first got together more than 10 years ago.

It's one of the most extraordinary pieces of music ever composed. First of all, it's a canon, like a round, for example Three Blind Mice or Row, Row, Row your Boat, only much more complicated. Composing canons is demanding enough, but Sumer is icumen in, sung by three different soprano voices, is hardly simplified by being sung over a rota or ostinato of mens' voices singing the same thing over and over again.

So while the tenors sing 'Sing cuckoo! Sing cuckoo! Sing cuckoo!' something like 40 times, while...

the basses sing 'Sing cuckoo now! Sing cuckoo now! Sing cuckoo now!' about 40 times as well, while...

over the top of this the sopranos are singing the following words, not together but staggered, at intervals:

Sumer is icumen in
Lhude sing 'Cuckoo!'
Groweth seed and bloweth mead
And spring'th the wood anew.
Sing 'Cuckoo!'
Ewe bleateth after lamb,
Low'th after calve cu,
Bullock sterteth, buck everteth*
Merry sing 'Cuckoo!'
Well singst thou 'Cuckoo!'
Ne swik thou never nu.

This translates as: Summer has come, loudly sing 'Cuckoo!' Seeds grow and the meadows blow, and the wood comes to life again: sing 'Cuckoo!' Ewe bleats after lamb, the cow lows after the calf, bullocks spring up, deer jump about*: merrily sing 'Cuckoo!' You sing 'Cuckoo!' well: Don't ever stop now.

The extraordinary thing about this song is its age. Originally it came from Reading Abbey, and it's attributed, maybe not very convincingly, to a monk called John of Fornsete or Forncett, which I understand is a place in Norfolk. Its date? About 1250, maybe a little earlier.

The only Western music that survives - apart from this song - from the 13th century is church music, at that time either plainchant or primitive attempts at harmony that sound exceptionally barbaric to our ears. That this solitary, highly-crafted, musicianly jewel should exist in such a sludge is one of the mysteries of music, suggesting that alongside the church music of the time there were very lively secular developments that remain to be discovered.

I spent a long time trying to find a reasonable performance on YouTube, and came up with the one above, sung by a lively Australian group (not unlike Les Jeudistes) called Lumina Vocal Ensemble, for the especial delight of Dinahmow. Most other performances are dreadful (including the especially dire The Wicker Man adaptation) and you wonder at the gross conceit of some people that they dare put their feeble caterwaulings on public display.

* Some who should know better translate 'everteth' as 'fart', God knows why. If John of Forncett had meant 'fart' he would have written 'bucke farteth'. It's not as if this word didn't exist in the 13th century. The word 'fart' is even older than 'Norfolk', where I believe the phenomenon is unknown.