Happy Birthday Dear GodDaughter2!

Happy Birthday is the worse song there is, because you only ever hear it sung by people who would never, never otherwise attempt choral singing. But this song, they do attempt, with a combination of extreme shitness and the excruciating embarrassment that comes with everyone knowing that they are perpetrating extreme shitness upon one another. This ghastly song reaches its nadir of ghastliness with that high note towards the end: Happy Birthday dear … whoever. Ghastly. Totally, totally ghastly. I have never heard Happy Birthday not sung ghastlily.

And then came last night. Last night I attended GodDaughter2’s birthday party, here. GodDaughter2 is studying how to sing, at the Royal College of Music, and so were the majority of those also present at the party. Oh, there were some civilians present, but the heart of it was singers. So there I was just sitting there, spouting rubbish to some poor defenceless singer, who had to listen to me because I am GodDaughter2’s Godfather, when, guess what: Happy Birthday starts up, behind me. I do not turn to look, thank goodness, because I am a very poor judge of singing when I am looking at it being sung. I just listen. And as soon as it gets under way, I realise that, for once, the Happy Birthday bit at the end is going to be sung not just non-shittily, but actually well, really well. So I don’t just enjoy that bit when it finally arrives, I am able to relish beforehand how good it was going to be. It was the opposite, in other words, of how Happy Birthday usually happens, when all present know beforehand how shit it will be, especially the last bit. and then have to listen to how shit that last bit especially duly is.

So Happy Birthday last night was … well, St Matthew Passion, eat your heart out. It was glorious. The high note was nailed to perfection by all who attempted it, and there were also harmonies. And I did not see this coming. I had forgotten all about Happy Birthday. It all happened in a rush. And when something that is usually ghastly is instead glorious, the glory is at least twice as glorious.

The entire party was, so far as I could judge after one champagne and two pints of lager (to get how that would be for you, multiply by three – I have a low alcohol threshold): really good. But even if the only thing about it that was good had been Happy Birthday, it would still have been great to have been there.

There is always more space if you just keep looking

For quite a few months now I have been pacing about in my little flat in London SW1 (one of the many unfashionable bits of that postcode) looking for more space to put shelves for books and magazines and CDs. Will I have to move? The Horror. Will I have to chuck out some of my books and CDs? Double The Horror.

No. The great truth about shelving is that there is always, always room for more, if you just keep looking.

Example, look at this huge empty lump of absolutely nothing, in my bathroom, above the door-shaped gap that leads to the toilet, into which I now plan to put another shelf, upon which I will pile ancient copies of the BBC Music Magazine and Gramophone:

That giant gap of empty air with a wall behind it has been there for thirty years. I just never saw it for what it was, a big mouth shouting at me, saying: Give me a shelf! Give me a shelf! I can help! Just let me do it!

That will make a huge dent in the problem.

I put up these photos to basically get me to do this job. I have completed the design. I have the necessary brackets and screws, and one of the many planks I have collected over the years is the perfect size and ideal for the task. I just need to do it. So these photos are – indeed this entire blog posting is – a memo to self. Do this.

But before I do, I note that there is and has for several decades now been paint falling off the ceiling. So, before I embark on this construction project, I need to vacuum clean the ceiling, which I cannot do at night because it might disturb my neighbours, above and below. After that, it’s all go.

And no I don’t know what all those pipes are on the right, as we look. Strange, very strange.

Displacement

So much for logic. More World Cup torture, for England anyway. By the end, it wasn’t even close.

Looking back on it, it seems to me that what England did in this tournament was what France have done more than once in the past. England amazed everyone by beating the All Blacks and thus cleared the way for someone else to win it. Too bad it wasn’t England. I trust South Africans are suitably grateful.

I funked it again, in the sense that I watched it, but couldn’t bear to listen to what the commentators were saying. But on the plus side: my bowels were emptied more thoroughly and rather earlier than usual; I managed to set the date on a newly acquired camera; some washing up got done; various other displacement activities were accomplished, including reading early bits of this rather good book about Shakespeare; I listed more carefully than usual to parts of Record Review, which is still going now (a suitably agonised Shostakovitch string quartet). I mention such personal trivia because this is my blog, but more to the point because I have nothing to add to the rugby expertise that rugby experts will now be lavishing on this event. In a year’s time the only person reading this posting will be me, maybe.

From the look of it, England made too many mistakes, and South Africa just played better.

Bad Bach

Here are two enticing paragraphs from a book which is coming out next month, entitled Music: A Subversive History by Ted Gioia:

I’ve talked to people who feel they know Bach very well, but they aren’t aware of the time he was imprisoned for a month. They never learned about Bach pulling a knife on a fellow musician during a street fight. They never heard about his drinking exploits — on one two-week trip he billed the church eighteen groschen for beer, enough to purchase eight gallons of it at retail prices — or that his contract with the Duke of Saxony included a provision for tax-free beer from the castle brewery; or that he was accused of consorting with an unknown, unmarried woman in the organ loft; or had a reputation for ignoring assigned duties without explanation or apology. They don’t know about Bach’s sex life: at best a matter of speculation, but what should we conclude from his twenty known children, more than any significant composer in history (a procreative career that has led some to joke with a knowing wink that “Bach’s organ had no stops”), or his second marriage to twenty-year-old singer Anna Magdalena Wilcke, when he was in his late thirties? They don’t know about the constant disciplinary problems Bach caused, or his insolence to students, or the many other ways he found to flout authority. This is the Bach branded as “incorrigible” by the councilors in Leipzig, who grimly documented offense after offense committed by their stubborn and irascible employee.

I sort of knew a lot of this, but didn’t quite put the slant on it that Gioia does. I had Bach as a Great Composer being tormented by dreary apparatchiks who didn’t get what a Great Composer he was. But Gioia has Bach as the kind of Great Composer who would have driven anybody crazy, and only people who did semi-grasp what an actual great composer he was would have put up with it for as long as those Leipzigers did.

Gioia continues:

But you hardly need to study these incidents in Bach’s life to gauge his subversive tendencies. Just listen to his music, which in its ostentatious display of technique and inventiveness must have disturbed many in the austere Lutheran community, and even fellow musicians. Not much music criticism of his performances has survived, but the few surviving reactions of his contemporaries leave no doubt about Bach’s disdain for the rules others played by. We hear a complaint about him improvising for too long during church services. We read an angry denunciation from fellow composer Johann Adolphe Scheibe about Bach’s “bombastic” and “confused” music-making. Bach even was forced to provide a memorandum to the city council in 1730 explaining why it was necessary to embrace “the present musical taste, master the new kinds of music.” Here he insists that “the former style of music no longer seems to please our ears,” and demands the freedom to follow the most progressive trends of his day. But perhaps the most revealing commentary comes from Scheibe’s diatribe, where he complains that Bach’s music was “darkened by an excess of art” and marred by an “unending mass of metaphors and figures.” In other words, the very signs of Bach’s greatness for later generations were the same elements that made him suspect during his own times.

This makes a lot of sense to me. There has always seemed to me something of the Gothic about Bach, a distinct whiff of Count Dracula, especially when he sits down at the organ. But I don’t now listen to much Bach organ music because the usual way it’s now played always sounds so bloody prim and proper.

The best way to tune into this side of Bach is to listen to him “arranged” for piano, by some self-important nineteenth century piano virtuoso, and played by a similarly egotistical and ostentatious (to use the word Gioia applies to Bach) pianist now, preferably a Russian, of the sort who comes third in piano competitions rather than first because, although he can clearly play the socks off everyone else, he makes the jury too uncomfortable with his crazy histrionics and his indifference to the usual way that classical piano pieces are supposed to be played. That sort of grandiose and attention-grabbing playing, it seems to me, often captures Bach in a way that better mannered performances miss. To put it another way, I have long suspected that “authentic” Bach is often the very opposite of what Bach was really like, and what Bach would have really liked.

Read more at where I copied-and-pasted the above two paragraphs from, here.

See also this Guardian piece, reporting Bach research by John Eliot Gardiner, that Gioia draws upon.

Short quote:

Archival sources, including school inspector reports, reveal that Bach’s education was troubled by gang warfare and bullying, sadism and sodomy – as well as his own extensive truancy.

This was published six years ago. Again, I sort of remember this, but I didn’t really take it in.

I love the internet.

Misbehaving opera stars

Two interesting recent postings by Norman Lebrecht.

First, Anna Nebtrenko has been bunking off from Bayreuth in order to go to a family wedding. Both she and her also-bunking-off husband were simultaneously “ill”, but then put themselves all over social media, being not at all ill, in Azerbaijan.

Lebrecht is not impressed:

Today’s breed of opera managers does not contain many heroes but at some point – and it will not take long – one manager will stand up and say to Netrebko, as Rudolf Bing did to Maria Callas: get out of my house.

For Callas, it was all downhill from that point on.

For Netrebko and Eyvazov, it’s just a matter of time.

I did not know that about Callas and Bing. Blog and learn.

Second, another operatic superstar, Placido Domingo, has been accused of sexual harassment. No force involved, but definitely harassment. Persistent sexual pressure and not taking no for an answer: bad. If the suggestion is that saying yes may result in career advancement, that’s bad too. If the further suggestion is that saying no may result in career retardation, that’s very bad. Domingo is definitely being accused of the first two.

Accused. The comments at Lebrecht alternate between wanting justice for the harassed, and those wanting justice for those accused of harassment, perhaps wrongly.

I favour both. As does Jeannie Suk Gersen.

Paris photographique

At the old blog, it was quota photos. Now it’s quota galleries, because they’re so easy to do (at least compared to how hard they used to be to do). And just as I didn’t expect you to expend any more time than you felt like expending on those quota photos, so I don’t expect you to even glance at all these photos, unless you want to. So, click click click:

All of the above photos were photoed in Paris, on May 5th of last year, when I was passing through on my way back from Brittany to London. The weather was stupendous. Not a cloud to be seen. I love how weather like that, when combined with light coloured buildings and the automatic setting on my camera, turns the sky blue-black.

There’s a bit of a bias towards roof clutter. Well, this is Paris. And Paris is famous, even among normal people who don’t usually care about roof clutter, for its roof clutter.

Good night. It has been tomorrow for quite some time.

GD2 does a selfie session with a fan

Yesterday a big gang of friends and family, me among them, heard G(od)D(aughter)2 do her end-of-year recital, way up at the top of the Royal College of Music just near the Albert Hall. It was terrific. If they picked her up out of the rather small room she sang in and dumped her down in that same Albert Hall, and replaced the pianist and his piano with a huge symphony orchestra going full blast, GD2 would have sounded great and entirely at home and in command, and they’d have cheered like crazy. That’s how good she seemed to me.

Immediately afterwards I of course photoed photos of GD2, but these photos weren’t that good. Closer-up, she was still in performance mode, but looking tired, understandably. Worse, I wasn’t able to get a proper view of her, together with the lady who was also photoing her.

Later, when we all went to the nearby Italian restaurant, GD2 was able to relax and enjoy, and this time, my view of her was perfect. She did a selfie session with the same lady who had photoed her immediately after the recital, and whom I had sat next to for the performance. “What a voice!” said this lady, when GD2 had finished. In the restaurant, she and GD2 sat right across the table from me, and more photoing occurred. I photoed this photoing:

It’s not that I object to the face of the lady on the left, who turned out to be a friend of GD2’s mother from way back. It’s just that I don’t shove faces up here without prior approval. GD2 has already said she has no objection to her face appearing here. Lady on the left has not said this, so her face gets hidden, same as when I photo any other photoers, without their permission.

Lady on the left has, it turned out, a blog, which I have already looked through, partly to see if she has photos on it of herself, in which case I could presumably put a photo of her here without causing offence. No photos of her there, that I could see.

At her blog, she follows a completely opposite rule to the rule here. Here, I say something every day, whether I have anything sensible to say or not. She, on the other hand, seems to follow the strange rule of only saying something when she has something she considers worth saying. I know, very strange. If everyone followed that rule, hardly anything would get said at all.

But I digress. My main point here, today, is well worth saying, which is that GD2 is doing very well.

Note the electric plug sockets in all the above photos. These sockets were all over the place in the restaurant, 4×2 of them at our table alone. I assume that these sockets are for recharging mobile phones, like the one being deployed in the above photos.

“It depends” is not an answer

Today, the Official Designated Destination for my photo-expedition proved to be a disappointment. So, because I was in the middle of London, I then amused myself by photoing interesting vehicles, taxis and pedal-taxis mostly, but also this:

This lorry interested me because I am a fan of classical music in general, and of classical piano in particular. (My most recent CD purchase, for instance, was this CD of Rachmaninov Preludes. (Very good.))

But how do pianos get transported, when they need to be transported, such as for a fussy pianist playing away, who demands a particular piano that he is already familiar with to play? When I got home, I went to the website on the side of the lorry to learn more.

I went to the FAQ page, and clicked on the following question:

How much does it cost to transport a piano or grand piano?

Here was the reply I found myself reading. It is a masterpiece of silliness, combining as it does uninformative irrelevance with sheer-bloody-obviousness:

The costs for transporting a piano or grand piano depend on several factors. The transport costs depend on the instrument, the distance between the place of loading and unloading, as well as the respective number of levels. For grand pianos, the length is also critical.

And that was it.

There was me thinking it all depended on which phase the moon was in.

The FAQ stands. How much does it cost to transport a piano or grand piano? A tenner? A hundred grand? Give us a rough guess, for the commonest sort of concert grand, on a medium sized journey. Or, give us an example, for a particular piano, making a particular journey from a particular place to another particular place. “It depends” is not, see above, an answer.

Perhaps this is their deadpan German way of saying: If you have to ask, you can’t afford it.

See also, a piece I did for Samizdata about why people complain so much about capitalism. (Spoiler: because it’s fun and because it often works.)

Recently purchased books

Photoed just now:

Although, I should say that I didn’t actually purchase Kristian Niemietz’s book about
Socialism. I tried to buy it, at a recent IEA event, but they wouldn’t take my money and just gave me a copy. It’s very good.

Excerpt from We Now Know, here. Could have downloaded a pdf of the whole thing. But, don’t like pdfs. Prefer books.

There are more that I didn’t include. E.g. one by fake-antiques architect Quinlan Terry that is too wide. (Fake architectural antiques are a good thing. The world now needs more of this. Terry does them very well.)

Memo to self: A habit I must cultivate better is the ability to read a book, while seated in front of my computer, concentrating on the former and ignoring the latter. The internet is just too damn interesting. But books are extremely interesting also, and I love to read them. Or at least: I love to have read them.

I love Amazon. I miss remainder shops.