Samuel Rind: Répétiteur

I am not an accompanist. And I am never, ever to be addressed as, “Sam”. What I would like people to understand is that a répétiteur – note the accents, never forget the accents – is a serious role, to be taken seriously. A répétiteur (oh, how that word rolls off the tongue) does so much more than play the piano in rehearsals. He coaches the singers, tutors them – and, most importantly of all, he inspires them.

Well, most of them. That insufferable tenor Lance Proudbreath wouldn’t know inspiration if it bit him on his annoyingly toned behind. I simply cannot stand Lance Proudbreath. How a creature of such sublime beauty and exquisitely gymnastic vocal ability as Rachel Lovelace can waste her time with Lance is beyond comprehension. I adore Rachel. Her, her voluptuous… vocal phrasing, her magnificent… interpretations. Rachel, meanwhile, rarely bats a perfectly liquid-lined eyelid at “that accompanist” as I once overheard her calling me. Oh, that hurt.

But I’ll show them. Even Rachel – even Lance. I will show them all. Because what they don’t realise is that one day, one day soon, I will be a great conductor. Oh yes, while those singers have been absorbed in their operatic scores and their schedules and their love-lives, my burgeoning conducting career has been… well, burgeoning. My debut with the Bicester Philharmonic was, according to the Bicester Herald, “remarkable”. Ha! From there to the great stages of the world is but a step! Before they can say, “last one in the pub is André Rieu” I will rise up, free from the fetters of the keyboard, no longer hiding in the shadows but in front of them all, commanding them all! What a glorious triumph! Then, who will Rachel choose, eh, Lance? “Samuel!” Rachel will call to me. “Samuel!” Wait, Rachel is calling to me! Oh. No. It’s the mezzo. I can’t remember her name.

“Samuel! Sam! I need my cue.”

(C) J. Wyld, 2017

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Lucas John Henderson

(b Philadelphia, 19 June, 1910, d Appenzell, Switzerland, 27 November, 1987).

American composer. His style encompassed the avant garde and, later, post-modernism, including works which paid tribute to, or satirised, the music of other composers. His 1956 piece, Cage, an homage to John Cage, consists of a cage, the bars of which have been loosely interwoven with violin strings. The performer, who need not be a violinist, is required to pluck the strings while emulating the movements of a bird. In a follow-up to this work, Byrd-Cage (for performer, cage and tape, 1958), a recording of Byrd’s motet Siderum rector is played throughout the performance. When the original score to Henderson’s satirical fusion of Stravinsky and Beethoven, Oiseau de für Elise (for voice and Bunsen burner) was destroyed by fire, Henderson ceased composing altogether, retiring to a life of quiet solitude in the Swiss village of Appenzell.

Bibliography
N. Doggerel, The Anechoic Chambers of the Mind (New York, 1967)

– See more at: http://blog.oup.com/2014/04/grove-music-spoof-winner-april-fools/#sthash.giKu5s04.dpuf

(C) J. Wyld, 2017

Winner of the OUP spoof Grove article contest, 2014

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George Fogger-Houndsmilk

(b Guildford, 24 August 1937, d Kingston upon Hull, 26 December 1999)

English composer, pianist and folksong collector. He was educated at Winchester College and then at Hull, where he encountered the poet Philip Larkin (1922-1985). Fogger-Houndsmilk, who was published under the name George Houndsmilk, set Larkin’s poetry to music in his song cycle, The Librarian (1956), but Larkin dismissed him as ‘a second-rate churner of dubious ditties’. The cycle was published incorrectly as The Libertarian, but was so successful in that guise that Houndsmilk made no attempt to alter the title in later editions.

Houndsmilk enjoyed considerable commercial success with his settings of English folk music. Songs include Rosemary Cheesecloth, Plump Puddens, Bishop Littlebreath’s Farewell, The Saucy Skipper of Scarborough, Lewisham Fair, Shropshire Blue, Sweet Catford Sue, Newcassel Town Hall, The Red-breasted Merganser of Merseyside, Slippy Willie, and Seven Farmers Went A-Drinking and Never Came Back. Houndsmilk’s settings were issued by the eminent publisher Henry Cassocks.

Houndsmilk married Hattie Bloxham, a former barmaid celebrated for her forthright singing style. Bloxham gave numerous recitals of Houndsmilk’s songs, with her husband at the piano. They had six children, including the poet and literary critic Celia Bloxham-Houndsmilk. George Houndsmilk died of injuries sustained during the collapse of a negligently-constructed wheelbarrow.

Bibliography
S.L. St Bernard: To Hull and Back: The Cultural Life of England’s Most Underrated City (Cambridge, 1972), 72–81
M. Bowdler: Plump Puddens: The Tawdry World of George “Foggy” Houndsmilk and Hattie Bloxham (London, 1991)

– See more at: http://blog.oup.com/2014/04/grove-music-spoof-winner-april-fools/#sthash.giKu5s04.dpuf

(C) J. Wyld, 2017

First runner up in the OUP spoof Grove article contest, 2014

 

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Maria Felicity Humble

(b Hampshire, 1762, d Hampshire, 1813)

English composer and pianist. Initially denied the musical tuition bestowed on her four brothers, Humble was eventually permitted to attend lessons by her parents, a vicar and his wife, after her threat to hold her breath for a dangerously long time led to an incident in which the parish doctor had to be called, at considerable expense and embarrassment to the family. This was the last in a series of subversive acts undertaken by Humble in protest at her exclusion; others included doctoring her father’s sermons shortly before church services, resulting in some unfortunate declarations from the pulpit.

Humble proved to be skilful and naturally musical, soon outstripping her brothers in her aptitude at the keyboard, and in her understanding of harmony, counterpoint, singing, and composition. The resultant humiliation felt by her brothers manifested itself in a number of resentful gestures, including the destruction or defacement of many of Humble’s scores. Of those that survive, most bear the marks of sibling rage, with one set of handwriting in particular – identified to be that of her youngest brother, Percy – revealing a highly scatological mind.

Humble resorted to keeping her works locked in a bureau; as a consequence, none were performed or published during her lifetime. Pieces include numerous highly accomplished songs and piano sonatas, some of which have been hailed by Charles Rosen as ‘superior even to Beethoven’.

Bibliography
C. Rosen, Forgotten Classical Masters (London and New York, 1972), 56–62
F. Tinkle, From Humble Origins to an Even Humbler Reputation (London, 1964)

– See more at: http://blog.oup.com/2014/04/grove-music-spoof-winner-april-fools/#sthash.giKu5s04.dpuf

(C) J. Wyld, 2017

Second runner up in the OUP spoof Grove article contest, 2014

 

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Natalia Nowak: Violinist

I have been here a long time. I came here to study at the Royal Academy of Music, years ago. Can you imagine my joy! The famous London Royal Academy of Music! For a musician, this is a great honour. I felt at home, because of the way the music allowed me to communicate with my peers, because of the welcome I received. I fell in love. With music, with England, with a cellist. We played in a quartet together at college and one thing led to another. All that looking at each other over the brim of the music stands! But it didn’t work out, so I’m on my own. It’s been fine though. I never felt alone until now.

I play in an orchestra of people I consider my family. We are very like a family, in fact. We love each other and also irritate each other! There is one bassoonist who always, always forgets his tuxedo when we go on tour. We always laugh at him and roll our eyes. Sometimes people get annoyed with him, or with each other. But we’re still a good team, you know? Now when we tour I think Luigi forgetting his tux will be the last of our worries. I don’t even know how we’ll do it, in the end. Will there be miles of red tape strangling us? Will I be allowed to stay here at all? I don’t know, and perhaps it’s the not knowing that’s the worst of it. Uncertainty is making everyone scared, like a child who has never played a violin before being asked to perform a solo in a big concert hall. Thank God for the music which still brings us together. We can forget about everything for a while and get lost.

No, the uncertainty is not the worst of it. The worst of it feels like it’s still waiting in the wings, a megalomaniac conductor yearning to go on stage. My next-door neighbour yesterday looked at me in a strange way. As though I was strange – a stranger. She hadn’t done that before. She’d always been polite; a bit remote, perhaps, but nothing rude. And now she looks as though she doesn’t recognise me, or doesn’t like what she does recognise: that I’m Polish, originally, even though I feel British after all this time. I saw in the news someone has been wearing a t-shirt saying, “Now send them back”. This is not the country I came to.

It’s like Elgar. I’m sure Nigel Farage loves Elgar. I expect he makes love to the sound of Pomp and Circumstance. If a man who talks of war and of bullets being fired and of fury and of taking control can be said to make love. But Elgar. He is talked of as this English composer who’s so English in style. Elgar is not “English” music, though, not really. Barely a trace of English folk music in there. Elgar loved German music, he loved Wagner. His style is quite Germanic. But this does not fit our narrative. He is English, he has been claimed by the English, nobody else could have influenced his great Englishness. This is how England is today. Such a beautiful place, yet it fails to understand itself.

The Ode to Joy, that European anthem: will it ever be the same again? Have we written the Ode to Sameness? The Ode to Keep Them Out? Imagine if we did this in our concert halls. Imagine if we only played Elgar. Oh, I love Elgar, but he’s not the only music I want to play. I love Debussy and Sibelius and Szymanowski and Rossini and Xenakis and Granados and Grieg and Strauss and Beethoven and beyond. I want to embrace the beauty of others, and to share it in return. Our new Ode does not. It says, no extra beauty, thank you. We have enough of our own.

© J. Wyld, 2016

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The Page-Turner

Sue Cardigan: Page-Turner

It’s an honour, an absolute honour, to do what I do. Just being in the presence of all that lovely music. What a privilege! What an absolute honour! Only thing is, I just have to actually remember to turn the pages. It’s so easy to get distracted by all that loveliness. But no. All joking apart, you’ve got to be professional about these things. You’ve got to concentrate – to, as it were, focus. It’s not just about reading the music, you see. It takes a surprising amount of skill, a surprising amount of raw talent, really, to be a page-turner. You might not think it, but it does. What I always say is, you don’t notice a good page-turner, but you do notice a bad one! People usually laugh slightly when I tell them that.

For starters, you have to make sure your arm doesn’t get in the way of the music. Then you have to turn just one page, not two at once. Which, believe me, is not as easy as it sounds. Some of that old music is as sticky as a toddler with an ice-cream on a summer’s day. Before you know it, you’ve fast-forwarded the music and then you’re in the wrong place and you’re trying to unstick the music and turn back all at the same time and then it’s fallen off the piano altogether and the pianist is looking at you like you’re a piece of particularly horrifying avant-garde music and oh, it’s a nightmare. I’ve had to go and have a lie-down afterwards more than once, you know, when that’s happened. Not that it happens often, I hasten to add. I’m known as one of the best page-turners in the whole of Lancashire and that’s not a title I take for granted, believe me.

The most important thing, really, is to watch for that crucial but ever-so-subtle nod from the pianist. You have to be in touch with the pianist, with his body language. Oh yes. I’m very much in touch with Geoffrey’s body language. Geoffrey’s our pianist, you see. He plays for the choir, and he gives recitals at our church to raise money for the roof repairs. I live for those recitals. It all starts with the rehearsals. Geoffrey and I get to practise alone, in the church, just us two. I live for those rehearsals. I always make sure I wear my softest pullover for the moments when my arm – accidentally, of course – brushes against Geoffrey. Oh. It makes me shiver just thinking of it.

There’s a recital today, actually, so I’m wearing my best black dress from Per Una. What do you think? The way I look at it is, it’s subtle, so as not to distract from the “maestro”, as I call him – he loves that – but it’s also really quite glamorous, I like to think. It even has sequins around the neckline. Pretty racy for Clitheroe.

I won’t have any of the wine on offer at the back of the church, though, of course. No. Just an orange juice for me, so that I can concentrate. So that I can focus. I tell people, I say, I really mustn’t have a glass of wine thank you very much because I must concentrate, or focus, on turning the pages properly. I can see they’re very impressed when I tell them that.

But look who’s here today. Geoffrey’s wife, Marjorie, has decided to grace us with her presence, resplendent in that royal blue twin-set of hers. There she goes, talking and laughing and not understanding anything about the music, or how hard it is to play, or sing. Or turn pages. Not a clue. Just listen to that laugh. Like a goat with croup. It is going to take all my inner reserves of strength to get through this one, I can just feel it. Maybe I’ll have that glass of wine after all.

© J. Wyld, 2016

This one’s in memory of Victoria Wood.

[All of the characters who appear on MusicTypes are the product of my fevered imagination. None of them are based on real people, known to me or in the public eye, but are collections of human characteristics which we all, to some degree, share. They’re written with affection. I hope you enjoy them.]

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The Critic

Henry Rawlins: Critic

Henry Rawlins is an arbiter of truth. This will, of course, make him unpopular in some circles, but Henry is quite reconciled to this hazard of his vocation. And it is a vocation. Not a job, nor even a career. The true critic, the true arbiter of truth, feels Henry, is called to that role, as though by some divine force – if divine forces exist beyond the arts themselves, which Henry very much doubts. A prophet is never recognised in his own country, as another source of divine insight once put it, and Henry is sanguine that his own prophecies, his own truths, will one day be recognised for the enormously valuable contributions to thought that they are. But only, as is the case with so many great minds, after he is dead. Not today.

No, today, Henry is facing a barrage of abuse in the online ‘comments’ section of the newspaper for which he writes. How he loathes those comments sections. The general public are, for Henry, a distasteful necessity. He must write for them in order to educate them. But to read their tawdry and small-minded responses to his latest piece of brilliance is, quite simply, purgatory. Yes, all great minds must face criticism; even critics must face criticism, but must it be so badly spelled? He was being kind to that soprano by calling her a “singing dumpling who can’t even sing”. The first draft was so much more insulting. That hippopotamus analogy in particular.

Henry smiles at the memory of it, and then pulls himself together. It may not be his only smile of the day, however, as he is secretly enjoying the fray. Henry would not deign to admit this to any of his circle, but there are moments when he relishes irritating the public. Sometimes, they need their complacent, ignorant peace disturbed by the ripples of profound thought. Henry permits himself a small, dry chuckle, before quickly resuming his expression of deep contemplation. Just in case anyone is looking.

© J. Wyld, 2016

[All of the characters who appear on MusicTypes are the product of my fevered imagination. None of them are based on real people, known to me or in the public eye, but are collections of human characteristics which we all, to some degree, share. They’re written with affection. I hope you enjoy them.]

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