I am moved by Lady Percy 's expression of love. CLICK HERE - see if you agree.
Otherwise my novels, short stories, verse, family, music, memories, vulgar interests, detestations,
responses, apologies. I hold posts to 300 words* having found less is better than more.
I re-comment on comments and re-re-re-comment on re-re-comments.
* One exception: short stories.

Thursday, 29 December 2011

Worth the effort

GROSSE FUGE, part one. Aged sixteen I heard a Bach cantata and my interest in posh* music was born. Two years later, triggered by literary cross-currents (I read more widely then), I bought Beethoven’s Grosse Fuge string quartet and discovered music could be rather more than la-la-ing along with broad memorable tunes.

Analogies are as fatal to music as to physics but LvB’s late quartets are like having the irritable bastard telling you personally what matters. They are not for everyday. They’re for the foreground not the background. Some, especially the Grosse Fuge, don’t initially sound musical although the themes – as with GF – are often quite simple.

Let the superb Takacs Quartet, whom I heard in their infancy, be your perfect guide.

Plutarch says I mentioned the GF on the top deck of a London bus forty years ago. I don’t remember but I’m pleased he did. Here it’s the key to one of his previously unpublished poems.

How to keep cheerful
Adjust with care, the instructions in the handbook say,
For misalignments and breakdowns can occur,
Where balanced wheels are expected to engage and play,

Where the seesaw race begins, the dim, obsessive chime,
The winding up and unwinding of the spring.
Within the escapement’s clutch, the seagulls scream

Notes of survival and the constancy of loss.
Yet yeasts ferment and prompt in the memory
How the Grosse Fugue’s galloping colloquy goes

Further than sense can go, where laughter’s the lingo:
Swifter than intelligence, deeper than instinct,
You won’t know sad from glad then, or need to know.

Pick up this theme: even if our revels all are ended,
A crack in the wall will open like an estuary,
And spread its waters where oysters have long bred
And wading birds among the reeds tasted the sea.


*Posh. Substitute for detested “classical”.


  1. I am pleased to see you have taken up my suggestion of "posh" as an alternative to "classical", but I didn't receive the prize - perhaps because you were not entirely satisfied that my word fulfils all requirements?

  2. Sir Hugh: It's on its way but from America. Luckily it plays well in Spring.

  3. I've been aware for some years now that I'm saving the Beethoven quartets for later, when I'm grown up. Though as The Specials also said (I think, and if so I know they weren't the first)'it's later than you think...'.

    ' the seagulls scream

    Notes of survival and the constancy of loss'

    is kind of vintage Plutarch, isn't it? Bravo for posting it here.

  4. I'm not sure about the word "posh" myself. For some reason a singer from a former group of female UK pop "stars" always comes to mind, in an unclassical way.

    The poem is very Plutarch indeed - love it!

    Noting your new banner photo (pays to go to the blog itself now and then, instead of reading only from the feed) - quite a collection, and all very modern with DVDs and CDs. No sign of LPs and tapes, unlike the mixed technologies in our home.

    Which reminds me of a possible subject for another post for the music critic - what is your opinion of LP records? There's quite a demand here by some who think it more "real".... scratches and all.

  5. Lucy: There's a fatal flaw in this delaying tactic: who decides when you're grown up? Why can't I make that decision for you? Or, if you think I'd be biased, perhaps I could subject you to the LdP ten-part questionnaire that will establish the fact once and for all (First question sample: Have you ever heard of Rilke?).

    However, I have a personal anecdote (previously told in my BB days) as to why such delaying is illegitimate. On the day I first bought the Grosse Fuge LP (by the Koeckert Qt., now defunct and no wonder) I rushed home mid-Saturday afternoon and played it in my mother's lounge. Then I played it again. Little did I know at the time that Sir Hugh, often of this parish, descending the stairs, paused, sat down, listened to the music, then, when it had finished, entered the lounge and asked me: "What on earth was that? It was fabulous." I calculate he was about fourteen at the time, owned no posh music though he did have the definitive, almost posthumous, version of Charlie Parker's Embraceable You.

    But I still haven't finished. If you scroll forward to my later post "I told you so" you will see I have become dissatisfied ("too smooth") with the Alban Berg Qt. version of the Grosse Fuge. and will shortly be replacing it. To simplify things in the post I didn't mention this was merely one disc in a multi-box of five covering all the late quartets. Don't get me wrong, the Alban Berg are beautiful players, just a bit too beautiful. Should you wish to cut your teeth on these I would be delighted to send you them as a gift. Even though this may sound like a bribe.

    M-L: It will be a lengthy stratagem in which posh is used with an asterisk relating to a footnote or a bracketed explanation immediately afterwards. I understand your misgivings ut no single-word label is going to suit everyone. However for decades I have been worried by elitist undertones of classical.

    As to LPs we have had this discussion twice before. I transferred my 230 LPs into CD format and you asked me whether I thought it was worth you doing it to your collection. There's a simple answer to this: are you presently listening to any of your LPs. If no, then it's not worth it. As to LPs themselves I have heard about these people who are said to prefer them to CDs but have never met one. I think it's what called an urban myth.

    Taking things a stage further there's another reason for preferring Cds. We are already buying proper CD replacements for some of the more important transfers (eg, the Schubert quintet). Anyone who can stand the clicks and pops must surely be a sentimentalist rather than a music lover.