Archive for singers

Lord Berners (1883-1950): Come on Algernon

Posted in Music with tags , , , , , , , , , on September 15, 2011 by Robin Gosnall

Gerald Hugh Tyrwhitt-Wilson, 14th Baron Berners, also known as Gerald Tyrwhitt, was a British composer of classical music, novelist, painter and aesthete. He is usually referred to as Lord Berners.

His father, a naval officer, was rarely home. He was raised by a grandmother who was extremely religious and self-righteous, and a mother who had little intellect and many prejudices. His mother ignored his musical interests and instead focused on developing his masculinity, a trait Berners found to be inherently unnatural.

The eccentricities Berners displayed started early in life. Once, upon hearing that you could teach a dog to swim by throwing him into water, the young Gerald promptly decided that by throwing his mother’s dog out the window, he could teach it to fly. The dog was unharmed, though the act earned Berners a beating.

After devising several inappropriate booby traps, Berners was sent off to a boarding school in Cheam at the age of nine. It was here that he would first explore his homosexuality; for a short time, he was romantically involved with an older student. The relationship was abruptly ended after Berners accidentally vomited on the other boy.

After he left prep school, Gerald continued his education at Eton College. Later, in his autobiographies, Berners would reflect on his experiences at Eton, claiming that he had learned nothing while there, and that the school was more concerned with shaping the young men’s characters than supplying them with an education.

As well as being a talented musician, Berners was a skilled artist and writer. He appears in many books and biographies of the period, notably portrayed as Lord Merlin in Nancy Mitford’s The Pursuit of Love. He was a friend of the Mitford family and close to Diana Guinness.

Berners was notorious for his eccentricity, dyeing pigeons at his house in Faringdon in vibrant colours and at one point having a giraffe as a pet and tea companion. His Rolls-Royce contained a small clavichord keyboard which could be stored beneath the front seat. At his house he had a 100-foot viewing tower constructed, a notice at the entrance reading: “Members of the Public committing suicide from this tower do so at their own risk”.

He was also subject throughout his life to periods of depression. These became more pronounced when Berners, who had lived in Rome from 1939 to 1945, found himself somewhat out of favour after his return to England.

He died in 1950 at Faringdon House, bequeathing his estate to his companion Robert (‘Mad Boy’) Heber Percy, who lived at Faringdon until his own death in 1987.

His epitaph on his gravestone reads:

“Here lies Lord Berners
One of life’s learners
Thanks be to the Lord
He never was bored”.

Katherine Jenkins: More Idle Thoughts

Posted in Music with tags , , , , , , , , on July 31, 2011 by Robin Gosnall

I have never met the woman nor, I suppose, am I ever likely to. I do not know how musically competent she is in practice. She may well be, in person, a very pleasant individual. She is nice enough to look at if you like that kind of thing. However, it is the public persona that does not gel with me, in that she has been manufactured and sold as some sort of classical pop star. With her, or possibly more correctly her backers, it seems to be more a case of product and money ahead of any underlying talent or artistic direction.

She seems to have a nice enough voice. However, there’s a big difference between someone who does one or two excerpts from operas reasonably well, and someone who actually performs in them for years, and makes several recordings of the best of them. She may not have acting ability either – though that might not matter on recordings.

Actually, even if she were not able to cope with large scale opera, there are other routes to a career in classical music – recitals, etc., but they’re not routes to money and I fear that money means a lot to her.

I remember hearing an interview with Julie Andrews who was honest enough to say that she knew she didn’t have the right abilities to be a classical singer.

I think it’d be really interesting if La Jenkins were to tackle something large scale or serious, but if she knows that’s not for her, then perhaps we should let her be the judge of that.

She has been successful at what she’s done, so good luck to her, although I’ll raise my hand and say that she’s not my cup of Earl Grey. If she inspires people who’ve heard her sing a couple of arias from Carmen to hear the full opera, and then maybe something else by Bizet, and then maybe another opera, then that’s great, but does this actually happen?

I’m sure people would have much more respect for Katherine Jenkins if she really did cross over and performed a full opera or gave a recital of Schubert lieder.


Katherine Jenkins: Idle Thoughts

BBC Proms 2011: Highlights

Posted in BBC Radio 3, Music with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on April 27, 2011 by Robin Gosnall

Pianist Lang Lang, described by BBC Proms director Roger Wright as “arguably the best known classical artist in the world”, will become the first artist ever to perform at both the Proms in the Park and the Royal Albert Hall on the same night.

Classical music meets comedy at the Proms for the first time. Tim Minchin, the Australian performer, presents an evening of music and laughs with Sue Perkins, cabaret duo Kit and The Widow, pianist Danny Driver, soprano Susan Bullock and the BBC Concert Orchestra.

Ivan Fischer and the Budapest Festival Orchestra will take requests from the crowd in a highly unusual late night Prom. The audience will choose from a list of up to 300 pieces, none of which the orchestra has rehearsed.

The Spaghetti Western Orchestra will use rubber gloves and coat hangers to perform extracts from Sergio Leone film soundtracks. Roger Wright, controller of BBC Radio 3 and the director of the Proms, called them “five cracking musicians”.

Havergal Brian’s vast Gothic Symphony which has been rarely performed since it was composed in the 1920s will be played on 17 July when the 1,000 musicians required – including two orchestras and 10 choirs – are marshalled. Wright said: “Once we have fitted in the performers there will be hardly any room for the audience.”

Rossini’s William Tell is another work hardly ever performed. The opera lasts nearly five hours. Audiences will have a rare chance to hear this gripping story of Swiss nationalism conducted by the Royal Opera House music director, Antonio Pappano.

I can’t go on …

John Cage: Idle Thoughts

Posted in Music with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on April 13, 2011 by Robin Gosnall

Of course he’s not a composer, but he’s an inventor … of genius.
(Arnold Schoenberg)

A composer with often serious intentions, who was perceived a bit too gimmicky by many people.

Too many musicologists and journalists have had a field day spewing out more column inches about Cage’s ideas than his music (which perhaps says something about the influence of his ideas vis-à-vis the value of his music) and in so doing elevating his status disproportionately high, versus contemporaneous musical explorers such as (for example) Cowell, Harrison, Hovhaness, Partch or Rudhyar.

History tends to sort itself out within a century or two.

Aria and The Wonderful Widow of Eighteen Springs, both performed by Cathy Berberian were the first works by Cage I ever heard. I was hooked. Aria is a wonderful, beautiful musical work. I recall a particularly effective performance by Sarah Walker, as part of a Cage retrospective organised by Tim Souster, if I recall correctly, back in the 1970s. Her superficial visual resemblance at that time to Cathy Berberian was exploited to the full.

I suppose that, over the years, I must have listened to at least half of Cage’s output at one time or another but, whilst I see no reason not to take him seriously, he deserves to be taken seriously on his own terms, not those of someone else. It is hard to forget what Schoenberg said of his one-time student but, for me, it is Cage’s way of taking nothing for granted that marks him out as someone worthy of note; Albumasar has put it succinctly with the words:

Something that could be characterised as a “musical” quality of attention, a heightened awareness of the relation between sound(s) and time which we associate with music … it isn’t a question of learning special techniques as a listener so much as opening listeners’ “sense of music” to a much wider range of experiences, whether a frog plopping into a pond as in the famous haiku or a pneumatic drill on a building site …

This, to me, is what characterises Cage’s rôle in the musical life of his time.

My own listening experiences nevertheless have led me to get little out of Cage, but that’s a very personal matter and not intended as any kind of value judgement. Whilst a good deal of the gimmickry of which Cage has been accused by some has its origins largely in the imaginations of the accusers (i.e. I do not see Cage as the kind of artist who would set out to do that kind of thing for its own sake), I have to admit that the Cage pieces that I find the most disappointing of all are those that would perhaps be least likely to attract such accusations in the first place, such as the string quartet pieces and the Freeman Études.

As to the “frog ploppng into a pond” and the “pneumatic drill on a building site”, I cannot help but think that Cage did himself few favours or helped his real cause when he stated that he had never heard any sound that he hadn’t enjoyed; I’m not for one moment suggesting that this wasn’t true but, taken purely at face value, it could be interpreted as seeking to undermine a sense of discrimination.


John Cage’s 4’33”

Search terms for 7 days ending 2011-04-07

Posted in Blog Stats, Culture, Food, Music with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on April 7, 2011 by Robin Gosnall

Not done this for a while. Just to show what an excellent blog this is, here are the results of a quick look through my blog stats:

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tracey emin naked
ingrid pitt topless
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lancashire cheese
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snail soup
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what did the music of alban berg add to the development of western music in the 20th century (good luck with that one … not really a search term)

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why was it traditional to eat porridge standing up (again, more of a question than a search term, yielding results for every website that contains any of those words)

Altenberg Lieder by Alban Berg

Posted in Music with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , on February 24, 2011 by Robin Gosnall

Alban Berg’s first composition for orchestra, properly titled Fünf Orchesterlieder nach Ansichtskartentexten von Peter Altenberg, Op. 4.

Without a doubt, my favourite composer.

Urlicht by Gustav Mahler

Posted in Music with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , on January 28, 2011 by Robin Gosnall
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