All My Hope On God Is Founded, Anghiari, Britten, Death Star, Dietrich Fisher-Dieskau, Howells, JEBO, Liverpool Street, Lutoslawski, Perugia, Robert Bridges, St Mary Abbots Jubilate, Stansted Express, The Shard, Tuscany, War Requiem
At five o’clock last Friday morning I was sitting on the first Stansted Express of the day, waiting to be ferried to the airport. I was involved in last weekend’s choral marathon in the Tuscan town of Anghiari, and that necessitated a leap out of bed at airport o’clock, taking even one of the cats by surprise, and a skin-of-the-teeth cab ride across the slumbering city to Liverpool Street so that I could catch my flight to Perugia.
There are two good points to getting up early, one of them being the opportunity to get things out of the way before the day has even started, the other, if you are up really early, being the chance to watch the world come alive at dawn, that most magical of times. One of my favourite memories is of sitting on a rock in northern Sardinia watching the sunrise and hearing the world come to life around me, having dropped a family member off at the airport in the pitch dark. Curmudgeon though I be, I still have to admit that The Shard looks strangely attractive in the early light, although it did remind me rather of a half-finished and very stretched out Death Star. As I gazed upwards at all those follies in the financial district I remembered Robert Bridges’ words from the hymn All My Hope On God Is Founded, set to music by Howells – “tower and temple fall to dust”, apt indeed in our modern age.
On Thursday I had a final push on the St. Mary Abbots Jubilate, finishing it ahead of schedule, and doing likewise with my class notes for this morning, which, given the schedule in Anghiari, was just as well. I used to love the thrill of going away for work, but now I view it as a means to an end, also a chance to ‘reboot’ and take stock of how things are going. I have not quite reached the “three sock rotation” system of packing, but I still travel light, most of my baggage being taken up with chargers and the like. I experienced an epiphany on a JEBO jaunt a few years back when I realised that I should have been less concerned with packing things to wear and more so with packing things to do. These days I take book, notepad, manuscript paper, pencils, laptop, phone, playing cards, and then I begin to worry about socks and so on.
As the new week begins I am catching up on sleep lost over the weekend. I had an early start on Friday, as described, and something similar on Sunday, although I need not have bothered as my flight was delayed by two hours. At least this meant that the blue and yellow airline did not get a chance to play their “on time” fanfare, so it was not all bad news, and thankfully I did not miss any of my Sunday work. There is more admin to be dealt with today and perhaps tomorrow, but I am within touching distance of being able to throw my energies into a new piece, and scribbled out some new ideas only yesterday. There are no more foreign jaunts for a while and no major projects to be packed away, so I am looking forward to the opportunity to get into something substantial.
I read over the weekend that Dietrich Fisher-Dieskau has died, although relatively little has been devoted to him in the public media. It is entirely appropriate that words cannot do justice to this giant of music, his voice and intelligence making for magnificent artistry, his diction still the standard by which others are judged. Somebody pointed out that, even by the middle of his career, he was his only competition, raising the bar year on year while others struggled to come close. I admire him also for his role in the first performance of the War Requiem. The story goes that Fisher-Dieskau, who was in the Wehrmacht in World War Two, was so moved by Britten’s masterwork that he broke down in tears at the end and had to be helped away from his place, and I find it staggering that Britten himself wrote to him in kneebendingly reverential tones to ask him if he would deign to take part. For one of the leading composers of the age to do so shows how esteemed he was even then, and I adore the pieces Lutoslawski wrote for him. There are very few performers whose place in music history is absolutely secure, immune from the ravages of time and fashion, and Fisher-Dieskau is one of them, an artist of the very highest calibre.