Wheels of Cheese #31: Jacqueline du Pre plays Couperin

It’s quite amazing how little I know of Couperin. He was a composer, of course, the presence of his Les Gouts reunis (Concert No. 13) on disc eleven of Jacqueline du Pre’s exhaustive and exhausting Complete EMI recordings makes that clear. He’s also not Beethoven, which, after five discs of the admirable but stentorian fellow is something of a relief. (That said, I really enjoyed the Clarinet Trio of his, also on this disc. Had the feel of a man sitting back and undoing his top button after a long and enjoyable dinner). (Mind you, I was listening to it on youtube in the pub with The Smiths There Is A Light That Never Goes Out playing in the background – I think that’s what both Ludwig and Morrissey would have wanted)

Turns out Couperin is a French Baroque composer, which is a pretty admirable thing to be – I think if I got another shot at life and my name tag said ‘Peter Salmon French Baroque Composer’ instead of ‘Peter Salmon Handsome Dilettante’ I’d probably go with it. That said, French Baroque music is a bit of a gap in my world of musical appreciation – I know it exists, and am glad it does, but it’s unlikely you’ll find me shouldering my way through the mosh-pit at The Royal Albert Hall to get to it.

To my surprise this music is most delightful, which seems to me the sort of thing one should say about French Baroque Music. Jacqui, like a tennis player, seems to have loosened her strings a little on this performance – whether that is Baroque practice or not I don’t know. Perhaps she was just running late for the performance and didn’t have time to screw them up to their tensile apotheosis. Or perhaps she couldn’t be arsed.

Whichever, it makes for a very warm, thoughtful sound, less oompidy poompidy than I’d feared. It made me sad. And happy! And sad. Which is pretty much all you can ask from music, love, life and hats.

While I listened Lily Allen’s 22 from It’s Not Me It’s You was playing in the background. I really like that album.

Wheels of Cheese #30: Jacqueline du Pre plays Beethoven

Ludwig Leichardt. When will justice be done?

Dedicated followers of Wheels of Cheese will have noticed there has been someything of a hitaus in the project, which involves listening to every piece of music listed in the June 2012 edition of Gramophone Magazine, from start to finish, and reviewing each of them.


But nothing could be further from the truth.

The story of the hiatus is rather amusing, involving as it does music from the cusp of the Romantic era, a certain deaf composer, a bird of the order Psittaciformes, an indigenous language of Central Australia, and the common name of that hardy evergreen Corymbia aparrerinja.

I can see some of you have worked it out already…

Basically, I was astonished to discover that on this cd du Pre, Bareboim and Zuckerman play, wait for it, Beethoven’s Kakadu Variations. How was it that our Ludwig van could find himself writing a set of variations about Australia’s most evocative National Park, barely known at the time of his death? Sure, he was a genius, but…

For answers, I looked on ‘The Internet’, and was, again, astonished to discover that Kakadu is also the German word for Cockatoo (order Psittaciformes), a fact unknown to both the fellow Australians I asked about it. Using ‘maths’ I was then able, working within standard statistical deviations, to extrapolate from this that no Australians knew this to be the case. Why had this information been hidden from Australia? And what did Beethoven know that we didn’t?

The answer seemed to lie with the unlikely figure of Ludwig Leichardt, that hardy Prussian explorer, fourteen years old at the time of Beethoven’s death. Leichardt visited Kakadu in 1845. Three years later Leichardt went missing, presumed dead, in mysterious circumstances, after wandering towards the middle of Australia with very little water and no hat. Had he been murdered?

Occam’s Razor tells us that when faced with a number of possible explanations for an event we should select the one that is most succinct. Could it be then, that Leichardt had in fact been murdered by the ghost of Beethoven? The Variations start, after all, with on a sombre note, before becoming increasingly light-hearted. Was this to represent the act itself, followed by the gay journey of Leichardt’s soul heavenwards?

I went back to the cd. How to describe the chill that ran through me when I saw what else was on this cd – nothing less than Beethoven’s ‘Ghost’ trio. It was, um, chilling. What did du Pre know? Or was she a mere puppet, made to dance by the dread hand of Ludwig van, operating from beyond the grave?

I don’t know. But one thing I do know is that the dominant arboreal feature of Kakadu is  Corymbia aparrerinja, known colloquially as… The Ghost Gum. A hardy perennial. And the ideal hanging tree. You do the ‘maths’.

Meanwhile, here’s Peter Sculthorpe’s Kakadu, just for something different. Voila.

Wheels of Cheese #29: Vale Simeon ten Holt


Well, that’s weird. It’s only a week ago that I was first introduced to the music of the Dutch composer, Simeon ten Holt, and I’ve spent much of the week listening to his work… ONLY TO FIND OUT THAT HE DIED ONE WEEK AGO! On November 25. The very day that I was listening to him for the first time.

It would, of course, be a stretch to say that the moment that I first heard his work was the exact moment of his death, and that at that moment his dying breath travelled from his hospital bed in Alkmaar to my flat in London, carrying in that ultimate exhalation the ultimate exaltation that is his music (thank you), and making me, if you will, the final custodian of his musical legacy – BUT IT’S A STRETCH I’M PREPARED TO MAKE!!! Of course I am. It all makes sense.

(There are some, of course, who would actually go further than my, excuse the pun, minimalist position on this and argue the case for some sort of artistic transubstantiation whereby the very spiritus vitae of ten Holt was transferred to me, such that I could actually claim to be his reincarnation, but I shall leave that question to the theologians and sayers of sooth, and maybe this mate of mine who reckons he knows a lot more than he’s prepared to let on, about stuff that would really blow your mind if he ever told you).

Anyway, as the keeper of ten Holt’s musical legacy, what? Well, this is incredible music – combining the experiments in minimalism of Steve Reich and Philip Glass (here’s a question, why does the former excite me and the latter bore me…?) with a beautiful lyricism and humour that has had me thinking all week of the music of the Baroque – there is a sense in which his music for four pianos could be for four harpsichords. It also embraces a kind of unreconstructed Romanticism that I’m a sucker for – it is tonal, not afraid of the odd heart wrenching climax or meaningful silence, and one senses a heart behind it that has taken the odd battering, but still wants to sing.

I was touched when reading an obituary to learn that ten Holt, was as surprised as anyone when he started writing this music, having been a bit of a serialist in his youth. In fact he says he was ‘completely mystified’, which is very lovely, and a nice answer to the question of the intentional fallacy. The artwork that’s inside an artist has to get out. The artist grapples with it, and the grappling generates more art, but in the end none of us is the Captain of our Pain.

Except, apparently, this mate of mine, who reckons, he tells me, that he is the Captain of his Pain.