Call me Tony*

When I was at school, one of the set works for the A-level exam in music was the Four Seasons by Vivaldi. I have no precise recollection of the music except the exquisitely boring movement in the Spring concerto (Opus 8, N° 1, 2nd movement) that goes like this :

This is what it sounds like, played by Iztak Perlman and the Israel Philharmonic Orchestra (the beginning only).

As you will notice, the score is full of text and on the viola line is marked “Il cane che grida” (the dog that barks). If played separately, it goes like this :

Well, I don’t know about you, but to ask me to believe that the dulcet tones of a viola was supposed to be a dog barking was stretching reality a bar too far. Until one of our fantastic musicians, Clémence, mentioned she’d like to do the piece as the soloist and I went back to the drawing board to see whether the music had changed since I was a boy.

And there, lo and behold, I see instructions that have appeared as from nowhere (they weren’t in the Eulenburg score we had, as far as I can recall). Not that anyone pays much attention, of course. The default position for most of us is what tradition dictates.

Because Vivaldi (who was the first composer to really use expression marks – see the brilliant book by Walter Kolneder on the subject) instructs the viola player to play “sempre molto forte e strappato” or “really loud and rough”. If you look carefully at the score you have the first violin (violin solo, remember – this is a concerto with a solo violinist playing the really difficult stuff) who is swanning about with a lovely melancholy air …

accompanied by the first and second violins in thirds with a swaying movement to suggest the wind playing in the leaves of the plants in the pleasantly flowering meadow (Vivaldi’s words) :

and what is supposed to be a really stupid dog in the background (actually, waking everyone up) playing loud and rough as you heard before (and not nice and genteel like we musicians prefer).

Now, there was a challenge. It looks from the score as if Vivaldi is doing a Monty Python. So here’s an extract what Via Luce made of it in Italy this summer at the Federico Tesi Festival in Trevi, to give you an preliminary idea (we will go further next time, the dog isn’t quite barking mad enough … yet). The illustration is a detail of Frans Snyders’ painting “Fruit Stall”. Flanders, Between 1618 and 1621. The State Hermitage Museum, Russia.

To hear the music, click the dog !

Although I must admit that French and English musicians playing Vivaldi in Italy is like taking coals to Newcastle.

They said they loved it.

 * Tony = Antonio (Vivaldi)


February 4th, 2004 – Internet and us.

In our hyper-connected world, where the past would appear to have started (or stopped) on 4th February 2004 with the launching of Facebook, anything much before that exists only in the unconnected world.

In libraries, in books, in dustbins …

Internet has become for most people a topical reality and the only place where they (or we) actually exist. And as we let the builders demolish our centenary habitat in order to get us to live in boxes that will not last more than a quarter of our lifespan, the world is now an open space, a sweet inferno, where the walls have been dissolved that protected us from ourselves and our friends.

Out with the family, the country, the state, the law and the common good. Exit courtesy, that magnificent invention of the Middle Ages that often made our existence more tolerable.

Connected to the sky but blind to each other, our shuttered souls wander in suspension like disconnected puppets. As we hang from the invisible strings of our telephones, seeking refuge in the spaces we have created in the clouds but which has no physical reality, we blindly dance into slavery, caressed and ensleeped by the dulcet tones of ubiquitous background music, only too content to let machines make us hum at the behest of hidden masters far removed from the visible sphere of politics and over whom we have no control.

It now appears possible that our only salvation might now be the complete collapse of our present economic system and way of life and the necessary finding of each other in the exploration of earth’s and each other’s reality. How we survive that stage is another matter. A big bump awaits us.

So why this site ?

The main purpose of an internet site is to represent ourselves as we wish others to see us. Internet is a wonderful way to do that but we have allowed it in a large degree to take control not only our past and our future, but also our present.

By prioritising the instant, it has (with our consent) all but abolished our sense of history and transformed our long term Read-Only Memory (ROM) into short term Random-Access Memory (RAM). As you will know, the difference between them is that if you switch the electricity off, the ROM will keep your memory, but not the RAM.

This is the more significant development because most of us don’t even realize it. Theoretically, it makes us programmable, as Orwell foresaw.

That is why, if we are not there to correct the picture it makes of us, we are beholden to it. 

This was brought home to me when I read one day an interview with a colleague about my work which was a complete fabrication. So fake news does exist and fake history too. It’s made by people like you and me about people like you and me and when it touches us personally, it matters.

This is one way of putting the record straight.

Paris, 22nd June 2018,
Updated 19th August 2018.

The science of music

With the disappearance of armed conflict from our Western European shores and the fratricidal urge having morphed into its virtual equivalent, sport, man has found in popular music with its concomitant drumbeat a way of sublimating the primeval instinct by turning its violence in on himself. It is perhaps understandable that the great majority of those who regularly listen to that outward celebration of harmony that classical music still represents is composed of men and women who either lived through or just after the second world war.

It follows therefore that a peaceful future for our civilization depends at least in part on whether we are capable of sharing this heritage with the coming generations. This is why the musical vocation is so important and why, particularly in France where this form of artistic expression has so much difficulty in finding its place, it is more than ever necessary to promote the values of harmony via the sharing of song and making music together.

Unfortunately, the past efforts of a dwindling number of music lovers to preserve the integrity of their caste by actively reproving such behaviour as applauding between the movements of a symphony or sonata have been met with resounding success. They are now almost alone in their admiration of the masterpieces they treasured and when they go, the art may die. Or will do if nothing is done to effect a profound change in the way young people are educated and react to the values held by those who went before.

To that end, it is perhaps time that we looked over our shoulders to the time when music was a science. Time also for the current role of classical music as a secular substitute for religion to be contested. We need to think about what we mean when we say that we play, or that we interpret and how much work is implied in the preparation of a concert. Words have great importance by virtue of their function as the tools of thought. In an increasingly verbal society, it is important that we name the things for what they are.

Paris, 18th June 2018