Wheels of Cheese #48: Georg Solti Conducts the Tone Poems of Franz Liszt

The concept of homeostasis

The concept of homeostasis

Hard thing to love, Liszt. Not the chap himself – I’m sure if you had to have a peach schnapps with any of the Big Composers of the last few hundred years then Franz would give you as good an evening as any of them – a bit churchy at points I guess, but otherwise I’m sure the conversation would be sparkling. And what a dancer!

But the Symphonic Poems… Maybe it’s just because I’m a pasty faced intellectual from the other side of continental philosophy, but these big statements hollered from deep inside Romanticism always tend to leave me cold. I try to like them, I don my hat of bombast and my pants of bellicosity, but after a bit I find my mind drifting, seeking out, in its neurological splendour, all of those things existing in the universe at that moment that aren’t the music of Franz Liszt. This copy of the London A-Z I have in front of me, is not the music of Franz Liszt. Nor this set of nail clippers, the concept of homeostasis (above), nor the year 1973.

After a while you come to realise that a whole lot of the world, actual or conceptual, is not the music of Franz Liszt, and the longer it goes on that Franz is not composing any more of it, trhe ratio of Things That Are Not the Music of Franz Liszt to those that are continues to grow. I take some comfort in that.

Wheels of Cheese #47: Herbert Howells Requiem et al: The Choir of Trinity College Cambridge

Herbert Howell's gigantic organ

Herbert Howell’s gigantic organ

Here’s something I know nothing about – hymns. Being brought up in Australia, I failed to be imbued with the great hymnal tradition of these sceptred isles, and to this date the delights of the English Hymnal remain somewhat opaque. Which is not to say that I’m averse to belting the odd one out should circumstances demand it – I feel I have a richness of voice that rises above such quotidian concerns such as ‘not knowing the words’ and ‘not knowing the tune’.

So it was with a combination of ignorance and abandon that I tackled this disc of Herbert Howells vocal music. I decided I would listen and participate as one does when one finds oneself mysteriously attending a chapel. I found myself a suitably squat tome to clutch (Speke’s Journal of the Discovery of the Source of the Nile, in the Time-Life Books edition), opened it at what seemed an apt page (‘Farewell to Ruminika’ winning over ‘Chaffing the Negroes’) and cranked up the old Victrola.

I then sang lustily along with Herb’s timely evocations of the brevity of life and the gloriousness of God, making sure I did so while looking furtively around my bedroom auditorium to see if anyone else knew the words. As there were no others save, perhaps God (Discuss – ed.), I had none to gainsay my vocal approximations.

And you know what, I quite enjoyed it. A bit too much organ for my delicate constitution, and I still have no idea what the choir was saying, but not bad none the less. I’m not sure it got me any closer to God, but then again, neither does Protestantism. Boom boom.

Wheels of Cheese #46: The Grandeur of the Baroque by David Russell


This stupid looking instrument may or may not be a clavecin.

This stupid looking instrument may or may not be a clavecin.

Baroque classical guitar – three words that strike fear into me, an aficionado of neither the Baroque nor classical guitar. The fault is mine, I’m sure – it would be odd indeed if the entire Baroque era of classical music was apt to crumble before the ignorant opinions of some fey forty something chap from Kilsyth Australia, and yet, here I am, pronouncing judgement. Also, I doubt that my unilateral critique of classical guitar music as ‘quite nice’ stands up to much scrutiny. But again, I have a blog and Bach doesn’t, so Pete 1, Johann 0.

Anyway, here we are, with David Russell guiding us through a whole load of Bach Partitas and Sinfonias, followed by some Couperin Pieces de Clavecin, although what a clavecin might be is beyond my powers of speculation. If it’s that thing on the left, then I’m more baffled than I was before I began. Anyway, the cd –  you know what – it’s quite nice. This is obviously not Russell’s first time playing the guitar, all the notes seem to be more or less in the right place, and if the Baroque era is famous for inventing tonality then Dave should be justifiably famous for embracing it.

Sure, I was bored. But if I rejected everything on the grounds that it bored me, then there go my thirties. I’m still a bit clueless as to why the Zeitgeist, refreshed and Geisty after the Renaissance decided to leap sideways and embrace the Baroque before getting back on track with the Classical, but I guess if history made sense we’d have to posit something like God, and that’s no help to anyone.

Interestingly the word Baroque comes from the Portuguese word barroco, meaning misshapen pearl. Christ, even that’s dull.