Felsenmusick - The Weblog of Daniel Felsenfeld
The Web Log of a Certain Daniel Felsenfeld: Composer, critic, avid reader, aspiring
bon vivant, capricorn, shadowy figure, advice for the lovelorn

Tuesday, August 14, 2007

Elgar Variations

Allow me to take Anthony Tomassini's recapitulation of the Bard Festival, which is this year dedicated to Edward Elgar, to re-plug James Hamilton-Paterson's gorgeous Gerontius, a biographical fiction about that composer. This is an author who knows his stuff, music-wise (as evidenced by the hysterical conductor called Max in his novel Amazing Disgrace, who engages a rapt-at-attention dinner party with his breakdown of the use of Von Suppe's music in the Tom & Jerry cartoons). A little sample:

"A further surprise is Max's apparent disinclination to talk about music. This seems not to be the bluff, Elgarian defensiveness that insists on discussing horse racing while the avoided topic broods like a thundercloud above the table. Max's attitude is more tha of the man who doesn't wish to consider work outside office hours. This is awkward, since I am naturally eager to establish my own musical credentials, such as they are; although, I dare say there are not too many people who can sing most of I froci di Firenze. So I tell Max how wonderful I think his Schumann symphonies are, trying to sound thoughtful rather than fulsome. I say I am particularly impressed by his going back to the autograph of the Fourth in its 1841 first version, which is so much more spontaneous and transparent in texture than Schumann's overworked later version with its thick wind doublings.

'Oh,' Max Says modestly through a mouthfull of mutton (though I can tell he is pleased), 'I was only following the trail blaxed by Nikolaus.'

Harnoncourt, I presume, and am about to carry on with what Brahms said about these two versions of the D-minor symphony when Max abruptly changes the subject.

'You know the person I really admire?'

'Celibidace?' I hazard.

'Sergiu, yes, of course; but I was thinking of Adrian. My brother-in-law. I always wanted to be a palaeobiologist, did you know that? I realize Adrian's an oceanographer, whichis rather different, but he manages to do a lot of field work. I'm envious.' "

Gerontius, a fictional account of Elgar on a rare vacation late in life--when the world has passed him by--is done with the same twee-yet-deeply-serious spirit. I always thought Elgar a stodgy old Brit who could never quite get his mind around the 12-tone row, a composer for hats and tassles and little else. Gerontius makes him into an artist, a bohemian who, late in life, finds himself the rear guard as opposed to the soul of his own Queen and country as he once was.

All I can say is I hope the Bard gift shop is generously stocked. It's a delight, a serious and sad delight.


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