5 december 2010

Dept. of I Couldn't Agree More

We are told that some Oriental visitor, attending one of our symphony concerts for the first time, was particularly delighted by what he thought was the opening piece on the programme, the sound of the orchestra tuning up. But I am not sure that he was wrong. Is there in fact anything more delightful in all the symphonies, concertos and tone-poems that follow than this anonymous opening piece, so enormous in its promise, so cunningly anticipatory of the best of what is to come. What else that we hear during the evening takes such a hold on the imagination? It is, if you like, a chaos, this tuning-up-and-trying-the-instrument-and-having-a-go-at-the-difficult-bit noise; but it is a chaos caught at the supreme moment, immediately before Creation. Everything of order and beauty shortly to be revealed is already there in it. Moreover, it never fails us, unlike some of the compositions which will follow it. We never find ourselves groaning over its interminable slow movements, its tedious crescendos. It is never pretentious, never bogus. It is as delightful, crammed with as much promise, the hundredth time we hear it as it was the first; and indeed I think it grows on us. Moreover, it belongs to all schools, smiling at old Haydn and yet nodding to Schönberg, and so is always in fashion. All the instruments, from the piccolo to the contra-bassoon, play their part in it. And it conducts itself and asks for no applause. Is there a good gramophoine record of it? If so my birthday is the 13th of September.

- J.B. Priestley, from Delight

John Buller's Proenca featured a composed tuning-up section at the beginning of the score: never having seen it live I don't know whether the orchestra used this as their actual tuning time, or did there appear to be two in a row?

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18 december 2010

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20 december 2010

The recent snow here and the early dark showed reflections in our back (garden windows) and made me think of something. Back in 2003 I quoted this from Randall Jarrell:

. . . the peculiar fantastic wit that keeps surprising the reader of Leonov or Pasternak, so that a man is described as he looks reflected in the coffee pouring from the spout into a cup, and the soft dark blanket that hangs in one corner of a room in the slums turns out to be the sky.

and have only just realised another addition to this strand. Jarrell wrote the above in 1954, so in 1962 must have been pleased to read on page one of Nabokov's Pale Fire:

Uncurtaining the night, I'd let dark glass
Hang all the furniture above the grass,
And how delightful when a fall of snow
Covered my glimpse of lawn and reached up so
As to make chair and bed exactly stand
Upon that snow, out in that crystal land!

In the commentary which follows the poem the lunatic narrator (who is probably not Zemblan/Russian at all) suggests that this last line is a reference to his home country. In fact it's Nabokov's nod to his own homeland, left years behind, put into the work of an all-American poet, but unmistakably (if you trust Jarrell) the construct of a Russian sensibility and imagination. Nabokov yet again hiding behind one of his many masks.

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21 december 2010

a snow lantern

Happy Solstice everyone!

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