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Otherwise my novels, short stories, verse, family, music, memories, vulgar interests, detestations,
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Friday, 3 August 2012

Stale and unprofitable

Even after all these years I am still counter-programmed: when a band strikes up God Save The Queen my reaction is always “This is a joke.” Surely no one responding honestly to that lugubrious (ie, mournful, esp. exaggeratedly or affectedly so) tune hears it as a persuasive invitation to reflect on Britain’s good points.

And I have a further musical nightmare. In the mid-fifties I did national service which meant that the government was technically entitled to require me to lay down my life for the Tories. That that wretched tune might be played at my obsequies haunts me now, more than half a century later.

Of course, I’m being na├»ve. Most people don’t hear it as a tune but as the end-product of a Pavlovian exercise. A command: suspend thought, act foolishly.

The fact that they once played it in cinemas after the last performance triggers a poignant memory. Connie, an American, was going home because her husband had been unfaithful. I took her to the cinema to cheer her up. As that tune started and people hurried up the aisles to escape it, she burst into tears again. She’d miss that British experience, she said.

Having watched the Olympic cycling events I’ve been beset by GSTQ. However, the organisers’ version starts with a flourish on the brass (vs. the bass or snare drum) and the tempo is raised a little. This does improve things*. I wondered if this was Elgar’s arrangement but sorting through clips on YouTube on your behalf proved so depressing I gave up.

And I agree with Plutarch. Injecting tiny snatches of Vangelis' Chariots of Fire theme into the Olympics is not only tawdry. it spoils the memory of a goodish movie
* This improved version is not used at all disciplines

8 comments:

Lucas said...

I really like the concept of not so much music as "..the end product of a Pavlovian exercise." From what I just can remember about going to the cinema in the '50s, there was not only the National Anthem, there were two films, an A film and a B film; and the B film was often the better of the two.

The Crow said...

No, no...not God Save the Queen, LdP. That's America (My Country 'Tis of Thee). It is more popular than the National Anthem, that most of us can't sing. Legend has it that the tune for the anthem is an old English drinking song, so maybe we have to be drunk before we can sing it.

What happens when music crosses the ocean, anyway?!

Plutarch said...

I was going to refrain from mentioning Land of Hope Glory, a far more stirring tune for a national anthem. The risible words were not apparently even to Elgar's liking. Still with Dame Clara Butt singing them above the crackles of an old wax disk, the words are easy enough to brush into the undergrowth.

Relucent Reader said...

I'm surprised we didn't pick up that habit over here.Maybe we did, pre-RR, and it died off. Just as well. Back in the day, would've spoiled the effect of the pre-feature Chuck Jones cartoon(s). Now THAT was a fine tradition.

Lorenzo da Ponte said...

Lucas: Hence B-features. They were memorable, and admired, for their concise direction which the French used to rhapsodise about. Certainly they supported the auteur theory, providing a primary school for, among others, Don Siegel who went on to better things

The Crow: Popular doesn't necessarily mean good. And if the criterion for a national anthem were that it was singable then we'd all be faced with Gregorian chant. My Country Tis of Thee used to disturb me: I always thought someone had put on the wrong LP or handed out the wrong sheet music. And then there were the words. Olde Fashioned Englysshe: Tis and Thee (though the latter wouldn't of course be unfamiliar to you).

Transplanted music. The German national anthem (first line used to be: Germany, Germany Above All in the World - changed because of its not-so-ambiguous ambiguity) started out as a fairly spritely string quartet by Haydn. But then I have to remind myself that Haydn was Austrian; Britain tended to embrace him and called him Papa.

Plutarch: Yerss. But as you imply we'd have to get rid of:

Wider still and wider
Shall thy bounds be set


given our post-colonial state.

RR: In fact there was an etiquette about this. If you managed to get into the aisle before the music started (so that your back was to the screen) you could hurry on out. If you were stuck in one of the rows (likely since cinemas were quite full in those days) you had to wait it out though it was OK to shrug your shoulders and button your mac.

Unknown said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Mrs Broad said...

Oh. My comment was attributed to Unknown so I deleted it. Here we go again:


The Emperor Quartet happened to be on the first LP I ever bought (2nd hand) and I still find the slow movement tender and sublime.

I'm going to stick my nose in (hello, I'm new) to point out that the anthem - Gott erhalte Franz den Kaiser - came first. Haydn was an Austrian patriot and, years later, defiantly banged it out on the piano as Napoleon was besieging Vienna. Or so I read, and I hope it's true. I also read, and Wikipedia backs me up on this, that Haydn picked up the anthem idea in England - he seems to have admired GSTQ more than you Brits do!

I know no anthem more musically platitudinous and embarrassing that of my own homeland - I count it a blessing that we are not winning gold medals.

Lorenzo da Ponte said...

Welcome Mrs Broad - what a delightfully simple yet nevertheless muscular blogonym. Congratulations.

Ah, those first LPs. Provided they're good their influence stays with us all our lives. It is quite impossible for me to be objective about any other version of Beethoven's Opus 109 piano sonata other than that by Solomon, probably the fourth or fifth LP I ever bought in the early fifties. And so instructive. Teaching me to judge piano playing by the slow movements rather than the fast. Seems you fell under a similar spell.

I'm sure you're right about the German national anthem. All the greats recycled, the most amusing being Bach who took tunes that had appeared in his own secular work and used them in some of his holiest.

I'm not going to try and guess your homeland since "musically platitudinous and embarrassing" is the standard for virtually all of them with the exception of La Marseillaise. However, if it does happen to be Australia I've just sneaked back to my computer from the Olympics and can report a gold in sailing has just been won by a fellow called Slingsby.