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?