Archive for March, 2009

Handel, Rameau

Posted in Music with tags , , on March 31, 2009 by Robin Gosnall


I hope it’s only a passing phase or something, but I’ve recently gone off Handel’s operas. I’ve, meanwhile, rediscovered the operas/opera-ballets of Handel’s contemporary, Rameau.

I know this can only be a crude generalization, but here goes. Whilst Handel’s operas seem to have an endless aria-recitative thing, Rameau’s – assuming the comparison’s valid – seem to have, in addition to all that, more richly-textured overtures and orchestral accompaniments, rousing choruses, dances of compelling rhythmic energy, etc., and I can’t get enough of them at the moment.

Apparently they never met (Handel and Rameau), but I do believe that Rameau deserves more exposure. Handel was more successful at marketing than Rameau, but they are both great composers.

I occasionally switch my allegiance from one to the other – silly really, they are both too great and unique in their own way to make such comparisons. The other night whilst listening to “Suivez les lois” from the last scene in Rameau’s Les fêtes d’Hébé, I wondered how could any other composer possibly equal this.

Handel can – just listen to the soprano aria “What passion cannot music raise and quell” from his Ode for St Cecilia’s Day.

To return to Rameau – if you don’t already know his motet “In Convertendo”, then you are missing a truly remarkable experience. It is the first and without doubt the finest of three which are included in a CD called “Les Grands Motets” played by Les Arts Florissants and William Christie. An absolute must for anyone with a need for the great Jean-Philippe Rameau in their life.

And then she stopped by Dizzy Gillespie

Posted in Music with tags , , on March 31, 2009 by Robin Gosnall

Featuring James Moody on alto saxophone and flute, Kenny Barron on piano, Chris White on bass, Rudy Collins on drums. 30 November, 1965. Recorded for the BBC’s “Jazz 625” TV show, introduced by Humphrey Lyttelton.

This is the show where Dizzy famously introduced the musicians in the band … to each other, then, turning to the audience, said, “Now that we’ve met …”.

Could that be a quotation from Shostakovich’s Symphony No. 7? Unlikely I suppose. Still, you never know.

Brown Bread: Maurice Jarre

Posted in Music with tags , , on March 30, 2009 by Robin Gosnall


From the Daily Telegraph obituary:

[Sam] Spiegel’s idea was that Jarre would write the dramatic music while two better-known composers, Aram Khatchaturian and Benjamin Britten, would handle the theme music. When neither man turned out to be available he turned to the Broadway composer Richard Rodgers. Rodgers beavered away, and eventually Spiegel summoned Lean to hear what he had produced, keeping Jarre in the background. Lean strongly disliked Rodgers’s efforts, so Spiegel asked Jarre if he had written anything.
Jarre proceeded to play what became the Lawrence of Arabia theme tune, and Lean was so impressed that he insisted that he should be given the whole job. That left Jarre with a mere six weeks to compose and, with a full 100-piece orchestra, rehearse and record more than two hours of music.

R.I.P. Maurice Jarre 1924-2009

Harrison Birtwistle: Idle Thoughts

Posted in Music with tags , , , on March 30, 2009 by Robin Gosnall


I’ve enjoyed Harry’s music for many years, but I don’t think he is a “great” or very versatile composer. He has an individual voice and he says his thing well, but don’t expect him to go on and say anything else. I forget who it was who likened him to the hedgehog “who knows one big thing”, whereas Peter Maxwell Davies, a fellow member of the “Manchester School”, is the fox “who knows many things”.

I’m afraid I have never liked Earth Dances. I regard it as one of the works where he over-reaches himself. Hear it just after Le Sacre du Printemps and it doesn’t sound very impressive.

I like him best where he’s being himself, in works such as …agm… , Meridian, An Imaginary Landscape, The Triumph of Time, and Chronometer.

Panic was a lot of noise, but was certainly memorable, though probably for the wrong reason: because it just wouldn’t end. However, I did find the fuss about Panic highly exaggerated. OK, it is probably the most abrasive piece ever to have been programmed in the (execrable) Last Night of the Proms, but really it’s fairly bland and nondescript, certainly by Birtwistle’s standards (compare it with Secret Theatre or Endless Parade or Silbury Air, for example).

I think the question of accessibility to so-called modern music lies in the familiarity.

The more you listen the more you hear, and the more that is revealed in the music. So, first time through it may all seem a muddle, but on subsequent hearings you start to hear patterns of sonorities. You may not be able to identify them by name, but that doesn’t matter in the slightest. The sounds reveal themselves like patches of colour or shading in a painting or flavours in an exotic dish.

I have many times become acquainted with new music in this way. Repetition is the key. After a few hearings, you may want to leave it for a while and come back next week or month. Or you may decide that it’s all a sound world too much, that the flavours don’t gel, or that the colours and sonorities don’t resonate for you.

Eventually, you understand a lot more about the music even if you cannot describe it. That is an education in itself.


Great Dane

Posted in Music with tags , , , on March 28, 2009 by Robin Gosnall


Due to an impulse buy in a CD shop, I have just had my first encounter with the music of Rued Langgaard (Symphonies 12, 13, 14) and, quite frankly, I don’t know what to make of him. His musical language is clearly late 19th century but the form and structure of his works certainly are not. Whilst I like to let the music speak for itself, I find the titles of his works and of the individual movements of his Symphony No. 14 (which appear to be very much tongue-in-cheek) a major distraction. Am I missing the point here?

A boxed set of his symphonies has now arrived (on the DaCapo label), and what a magnificent set it is, and not only the music, but even the box itself. Whilst many of the recordings were originally issued on CD, they have all been re-mastered to hybrid SACD format. I have not listened to them all yet, but continue to be both intrigued and perplexed by those I have.

Langgaard apparently had a thing about Nielsen who he thought was strangling both Danish musical life and himself and wrote an ode to him of the most parodically overblown kind to be repeated ad infinitum, like Satie’s Vexations.

Squid stuffed with black pudding

Posted in Food with tags , , , , , , on March 27, 2009 by Robin Gosnall


This may sound like an odd combo, but squid lends itself to pork products well, as it has a meaty texture without having an overwhelmingly fishy flavour. It’s best to use small squid for this starter. It’s not necessary to remove the skin and wings from the squid, as they’re all edible and add some character to what would otherwise look like a rather uninteresting squid tube.

4 small squid weighing about 100g each
1 small onion, peeled and finely chopped
2 cloves of garlic, peeled and crushed
a couple of good knobs of butter
4 large-ish new potatoes, peeled and cooked
100-120g good quality black pudding, chopped into small pieces
1 tbsp chopped parsley
salt and freshly ground black pepper
a handful of small salad leaves
juice of half a lemon
2-3 tbsp olive oil

Gently cook the onion and garlic in the butter for 2-3 minutes until soft then remove from the heat and leave to cool. Chop up the potatoes and mix with the onion mixture, black pudding and parsley and season to taste. Chop the tentacles off the squid just above the eyes then remove the innards and the plastic-like spine.

Wash the squid and tentacles leaving the skin and wings intact as much as possible then dry on some kitchen paper. Spoon the stuffing into the squid, but not too tightly as the squid shrinks a little during cooking. Push the tentacles into the opening and secure with a cocktail stick.

Pre-heat the oven to 220°C. Season the squid, heat a little olive oil in a pan and fry the squid on a high heat for a couple of minutes on each side; finish in the oven for about 5 minutes. Remove the squid from the pan, add lemon juice and the rest of the olive oil; mix well. Arrange the salad leaves on a plate, place the squid on top; spoon the lemon juice and oil over.

Rhubarb baked in grenadine

Posted in Food with tags , , , on March 26, 2009 by Robin Gosnall


450g rhubarb, trimmed and cut into 10cm lengths
60g caster sugar
seeds from 1 vanilla pod (optional)
100ml grenadine

Pre-heat the oven to 180°C.

Wash the rhubarb and place in a shallow dish. Sprinkle with the sugar and vanilla, if using, and pour over the grenadine. Bake for 30 minutes.

Serve warm with mascarpone, or with coconut rice pudding.

For the rice pudding:
20g butter
250g Arborio rice
60g caster sugar
400ml coconut milk
200ml coconut cream
400ml water

Melt the butter in a saucepan. Add the rice and stir for 30 seconds until coated in the butter and becoming translucent.

Add the sugar, coconut milk, cream and water.

Bring to a simmer and leave to cook for 25 minutes stirring every 5 minutes or so.

Hangover Square by Patrick Hamilton

Posted in Books with tags , , on March 26, 2009 by Robin Gosnall


Inspired by a post on Catherine Bray’s blog, I’m re-reading this novel (“A tale of darkest Earl’s Court”) which I first discovered in my mid-twenties and last opened about twelve years ago; in those twelve years I’ve struggled with alcoholism and mental illness rather like George Harvey Bone, the novel’s principal character, and indeed Patrick Hamilton himself; he died the year I was born (1962). It hasn’t all been bad – along the way I’ve had enormous fun, been married, and had two children. But there is now a sense that the party’s over.

So, the “me” reading Hangover Square today is very different from the twenty something music student who first read it in the 1980s. For one thing, I’m not about to try and live like these people, trying to make a name for myself in London, getting “blind” every single day (like I did then).

I wouldn’t recommend the film, starring George Sanders, except as a curiosity of British noir cinema; it’s a travesty of the novel, with none of the bleak humour, and Patrick Hamilton didn’t like it.

My copy has an introduction by J.B. Priestley, in which he says:

It is possible that this new generation of readers, who do not know their Patrick Hamilton, may at first be bewildered or rather bored by his very individual humour, depending as much of it does on emphasizing – by a free use of quotation marks and capital letters – the catch-phrases and banalities of an older and vanishing generation. But I feel sure that a great many younger readers will be caught and held by Patrick Hamilton’s intensely personal view of life, his enduring sense of homelessness, of the loneliness and solitude so many young men have known, his feeling for the innocence always menaced by stupidity and wickedness, the compassion behind his apparently sardonic detachment. The world that he secretly regarded with horror, in the dark outside the lighted saloon bars, is not better than it was when he was writing these novels, it is if anything – worse. So I feel there must be thousands of youngish readers who will not only appreciate his unique talent but will also welcome him as a friend and brother. And on my part I must add that, returning to these novels after many years, I find his stature has increased. He is no great major novelist, taking all society in his grasp, and he never pretended to be. But among the uniquely individual minor novelists of our age, he is a master.


The Slaves of Solitude is one of the best novels about the Second World War, argues David Lodge

Music, Mathematics: Idle Thoughts

Posted in Music with tags , , on March 25, 2009 by Robin Gosnall


You can measure music in time and metre, and this has led some, who feel inclined, to explore the mathematical possibilities of this. But I have never thought of music as having an essential link with mathematics or an essential mathematical content.

People sometimes think that Arnold Schoenberg was more interested in the mathematical side of music, perhaps because of his 12-note method. But his music is far more about melodic invention and elaboration than maths. There is as much if not more mathematics in J.S. Bach.

I often have visions of large architectural geometries when listening to Beethoven’s or even Sibelius’s symphonies – but the image changes frequently.

Thinking however in terms of analytical mathematics, equations, progressions, parametrizations, charts, etc., many composers seem to be hooked on this and pay a great deal of attention to them in their compositions, e.g. Stockhausen, Cage, Boulez. I am not sure this is a good thing, because the mathematical method (virtually irrelevant to the listener) just relates to a means of producing the notes – the music seems to get lost in the process.

Does a musician or a composer need to be a mathematician or a scientist? No. Maybe a musician needs some rudiments of mathematics, then so do many other professions – accountancy for example.

It may be interesting for mathematicians to point to analogies between the two subjects. More interesting may be the analogies with the plastic arts (painting, sculpture), indeed Schoenberg (himself a painter) paid great attention to this. But ultimately music has to stand on its own feet without these props.

Im Abendrot by Richard Strauss

Posted in Music with tags , , , on March 25, 2009 by Robin Gosnall
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