Archive for April, 2010

My Early Life

Posted in Music with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on April 30, 2010 by Robin Gosnall

This is the first review of my music to appear in print. It was written by Ernest Bradbury (what an excellent name for a music critic) of the Yorkshire Evening Post and published on 5 March 1982.

The String Quartet No. 1 was the first of my compositions to receive a public performance, i.e. before an audience of paying punters.

I first heard the piece played by the Fitzwilliam Quartet (with the original personnel of the late Christopher Rowland, Jonathan Sparey, Alan George and Ioan Davies) in a composers’ workshop at York University in 1982. My favourite participant in these composers’ workshops was Roland Perrin, who always asked the same question:

“How did you derive your pitch material?”

The title of the piece certainly suggested that there would be more quartets to follow, but after 28 years I still haven’t composed String Quartet No. 2. How idle is that?

Leeds University Clothworkers’ Hall; Leodian Quartet

Last night’s concert was arranged around the winning entry in the string quartet competition held in connection with the present Leeds 20th Century Music Festival. This was Robin Gosnall’s String Quartet No. 1, a lightly atmospheric, skilfully written piece of some immediate appeal.

Gosnall is a student at York University, and it is no bad thing when a young composer acknowledges the influence of an older master: in this instance, Alban Berg.

It might be remembered that Benjamin Britten wanted, in his student days, to use his RCM scholarship to study with Berg in Vienna. The authorities of the day turned down so outrageous a suggestion.

Nowadays it seems, and happily, a young creator of music may be trusted to choose his own priorities; and Gosnall’s note on his first essay in this medium drew attention to Berg’s music in general, and in this particular work the soundworld of the Op. 3 quartet and the “Lyric Suite”.

It has, nonetheless, expression of its own. Gosnall is no mere imitator. Maybe he won the competition because of this overt conservatism, which may be regarded at this stage as merely the starting point of much more originality.

Not as short-breathed as works by Webern, it is even so a compressed, easily assimilable work, neatly working out its basic ideas in the space of two thematically linked movements – each with a slow, then fast, section – lasting little more than ten minutes.

The principal motif seems on a first hearing to come from the isolated cello at the beginning, characterized by a semitone as well as by wider intervals.

In the second movement there are impressive ideas against the chords which give the atmosphere to the piece, with interesting dropping phrases which might give some idea of melody even to opponents of “formalism”.

However that may be, the work has charm, and suggests that Gosnall is on the right path. More may well be expected of him, and the Leodians’ playing seemed to confirm this faith.

I really should compose another one.

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Before & After: Mickey Rourke

Posted in Culture, Music with tags , , , , , , , , , , on April 28, 2010 by Robin Gosnall



Mickey Rourke has told the Orlando Sentinel that he is to play Genghis Khan, the Mongol emperor who died in 1227 after conquering Asia from the Pacific to the Caspian Sea.

Directing and writing is John Milius, responsible for the Apocalypse Now screenplay and renowned as a rightwing zealot for films such as Red Dawn, in which middle-American teenagers fight off Soviet invaders.

Mickey Rourke gave his finest performance in Rumblefish. Great score by Stewart Copeland as well.

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Brown Bread: Alan Sillitoe

Posted in Books, Culture, Obituaries with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on April 27, 2010 by Robin Gosnall

“Do you know Alan Sillitoe?” aksed Robert [Graves], and added half-seriously, “I invented him. He used to live in Soller in the Fifties, writing I don’t know what you’d call them, fantasies about imaginary countries set in no particular period. I told him, ‘Alan, nobody wants that sort of stuff. Write about the life you know in Nottingham and so on.’ So he wrote Saturday Night and Sunday Morning and made his name.”

(Kingsley Amis, Memoirs)

Arthur took off his coat and sat with his legs stretched out over the mat, smoking cigarette after cigarette. He watched Brenda’s face disintegrating, her features mixing beneath the fire of hot gin and a sea of water. Never again, he kept saying to himself, never again. No more bubble-baths for Brenda. Never again. I’d rather cut my throat.

(Alan Sillitoe, Saturday Night and Sunday Morning)

We’ve lost an inspirational novelist with the death of Alan Sillitoe, one of the Angry Young Men who captured the gritty reality of life for working people in post-war 1950s Britain.

In Saturday Night and Sunday Morning and The Loneliness of the Long Distance Runner, the former bicycle factory worker portrayed the struggle of millions without patronising men and women dealt a poor hand. These “kitchen sink” dramas – turned into successful films starring Albert Finney and Tom Courtenay – have stood the test of time and are considered classics.

Sillitoe succeeded despite a squalid childhood. His death, aged 82, is sad if not unexpected, but he will live on through his fine books. Poet Ian McMillan said: “He put somehow forgotten places at centre stage. He made the ordinary life into a kind of poetry.”

Sillitoe, who died at Charing Cross Hospital in West London after falling ill earlier this month, was born into poverty in Nottingham in 1928. His dad was an illiterate labourer who was often jobless. The writer said their home “smelled of leaking gas, stale fat and layers of mouldering wallpaper.”

He left school at 14 and worked in a bicycle factory before serving as a wireless operator in the RAF. After returning from Malaya he contracted tuberculosis and spent 16 months in hospital. It was following this illness that he first put pen to paper.

Sillitoe wrote more than 50 books, including children’s stories, poetry and plays. He was married to American poet Ruth Fainlight, in 1959, and they had a son and daughter. He lived with his family in London but spent time in France, Spain and Tangier.

R.I.P. Alan Sillitoe 1928-2010

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Eliza Carthy

Posted in BBC Radio 3, Music with tags , , , , , , , , on April 23, 2010 by Robin Gosnall

Eliza Carthy in concert at the Union Chapel in London. The set included songs from her album Anglicana, nominated for Album of the Year at the Radio 3 Awards for World Music in 2008.

Tracey Emin and Dame Vivienne Westwood at Malcolm McLaren’s funeral in Camden

Posted in Music, News with tags , , , , , , , , on April 23, 2010 by Robin Gosnall

Tracey Emin

Vivienne Westwood

Malcolm McLaren’s send-off: They came in leather and studs to say goodbye

Anarchy rules as Malcolm McLaren funeral draws punk glitterati

Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall’s roasted cauliflower

Posted in Food with tags , , , , , , , on April 21, 2010 by Robin Gosnall

Half Hour Meals

This makes a great nibble to go with drinks – its smoky, caramelised flavour has been known to win over even the most cauliflower-sceptical. It’s also great on the barbecue (just make sure the florets are slightly larger than they are for the oven roasting method). Serves four as a nibble to go with drinks.

1 cauliflower
2 lemons
flaky sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
3 tbsp olive oil
½ tsp smoked paprika

Heat the oven to 220°C. Cut the cauliflower into medium-sized florets, rinse and let some of the water remain clinging to the florets. Put them in a bowl, squeeze over the juice from one of the lemons, and season well.

Put the florets on a baking sheet and toss them with olive oil and more salt and pepper. Dust on the paprika, cut the remaining lemon into six segments and scatter these in the tin.

Bake for 25-30 minutes, turning once, until slightly caramelised at the edges. Squeeze over the juice from the roasted lemon segments and serve at once, scattered with a little flaky sea salt.

More Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall recipes

The NMC Music Map

Posted in Music with tags , , , on April 21, 2010 by Robin Gosnall

Use the interactive NMC Music Map like a microscope to examine the tiny water droplet in which UK composers are wriggling.

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Understanding Music

Posted in Music with tags , , , , , on April 20, 2010 by Robin Gosnall

I used to worry a bit about this business that, if you had it explained to you what was going on technically in a piece of music, it might lose its mystery or power. That if, say, a passage in Schubert which once broke your heart was explained away as a Neopolitan sixth or something (that old emotional trick), it somehow wouldn’t work its magic any more.

I still worry about it a bit sometime but increasingly I think the opposite is true. The more you understand technically (at however modest a level) the more you get out of the music altogether, and that includes the emotional content.

I’m definitely not of the “let it all wash over you” school. Nothing against those who are, I hasten to add, but my experience is that you only get part of what great music has to offer that way. The really mysterious thing, to my mind, is quite how it is that, in great music at least, intellectual control and emotional release support and magnify each other. The strange alchemy of our old friends Apollo and Dionysus, I suppose.

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Don’t tell me that it’s over by Amy Macdonald

Posted in Music with tags , , , , , on April 19, 2010 by Robin Gosnall

Nigella Lawson’s Broccoli & Stilton Soup

Posted in Food with tags , , , , , , , on April 17, 2010 by Robin Gosnall

Half Hour Meals

3 x 15ml tablespoons garlic oil
6 spring onions, finely chopped 2 teaspoons dried thyme
1kg frozen broccoli 1250ml hot vegetable stock (from concentrate or cube)
200g crumbled or chopped Stilton
freshly ground pepper
1 long red chilli pepper, deseeded and finely chopped (optional)

Put the garlic oil in a large pan over a medium heat, add the chopped spring onions and cook for a couple of minutes.

Add the thyme and the frozen broccoli, and stir in the heat for a minute or so.

Add the hot vegetable stock and the crumbled or chopped Stilton and bring to a bubble, then clamp on the lid and cook for 5 minutes.

Liquidize in a blender (or failing that a processor) – in batches – then pour back in the pan and heat if it’s cooled too much while blending, and add pepper to taste.

Scatter with a Christmas confetti of red chilli dice on serving, if you feel like it.

I use frozen broccoli; actually, frozen organic broccoli, if that makes you feel better. In fact, this is better when made with frozen, and certainly more convenient for an impromptu standby.

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