Archive for colin davis

Sir Colin Davis conducts Elgar’s “Nimrod”

Posted in Music with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , on June 19, 2011 by Robin Gosnall

Variation IX from Edward Elgar’s Enigma Variations (dedicated “To my friends pictured within”) is entitled “Nimrod” and is a tribute to A.J. Jaeger of Novello, Elgar’s publisher.

Michael Kennedy sums up the piece in his excellent book Portrait of Elgar:

Elgar admits that “something ardent and mercurial, in addition to the slow movement, would have been needed to portray the character and temperament of A.J. Jaeger.” Then follow these important words: “The variation is the record of a long summer evening talk, when my friend discoursed eloquently on the slow movements of Beethoven, and said that no one could approach Beethoven at his best in this field, a view with which I cordially concurred. It will be noticed that the opening bars are made to suggest the slow movement of the eighth sonata (Pathétique).”

Elgar had written to Jaeger and said he was “sick of music” and was “going to give it up”. Jaeger wrote a “screed” in reply, “all about my ingratitude for my great gifts,” and suggested he should visit Elgar for a talk. They went on a long walk and “he preached me a regular sermon, pointing out that Beethoven, faced with his worries, had written still more beautiful music – and that is what you must do”.

[Nimrod] has become a traditional requiem for commemorating the dead; to this use of it there has been some objection, but, in appropriate cases, what could be better than this intimate record of a real friendship?

Der Hölle Rache kocht in meinem Herzen by W.A. Mozart & E. Schikaneder

Posted in Music with tags , , , , , , , , , , on April 10, 2010 by Robin Gosnall

Why Berlioz?

Posted in BBC Radio 3, Music with tags , , , , on March 13, 2009 by Robin Gosnall


I’ve just listened to that turgid and meandering extract from Romeo et Juliette on Classical Collection, BBC Radio 3 this morning. I just don’t get Berlioz – I’ve tried, please believe me. There’s not a flicker of interest, whatever of his I’ve listened to. I always feel as though I’m waiting for the music to take flight, but it remains resolutely earthbound. There is very little music that leaves me completely cold, but I’m afraid Berlioz does.

Forty years ago Colin Davis asked “Why Berlioz?” in an essay. Among other things he said:

Only Berlioz dared mix his genres as Shakespeare did, and only Berlioz, I think, comes near Shakespeare in his ability to suspend the apparent forward motion of time by the creation of a poetry of unbelievable and scarcely bearable beauty. Another imaginative world that reminds me of Berlioz’ is that of William Blake … Blake’s obsession with line is comparable to Berlioz’ reliance on melody; the lineaments of Berlioz’ music have all the definition and courage that Blake would have liked.

Each person asks of music that which reflects the make-up of his own psyche. Those who do not wish to be disturbed by music will not take to Berlioz; neither will those who seek logical patterns. But those who admit to themselves the inherent discrepancies of this fallen universe, who are no longer surprised that love and hate call each other into being, will find in Berlioz’ music a reflection of their knowledge.

In his magisterial biography of Berlioz, David Cairns (a writer I admire) opens his prologue by saying:

For a long time the music of Berlioz remained a sealed book to me … There are musicians and music-lovers who are drawn to Berlioz’s music irresistibly and for whom its idiosyncrasies of style are no barrier … To many others it seems alien when they first hear it and perhaps for a long afterwards, as it did to me.

His sister’s excitement at the Symphonie Fantastique did not persuade him; he was only partly persuaded by the 1957 Covent Garden production of Les Troyens. It was a performance of La Damnation de Faust when he “realized with delight that the language which ten years before had been so much gibberish to my musical understanding had become familiar and made sense, thrilling, unimagined sense after all.”

So I think I’ll persevere.

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