Sunday, November 29, 2009

Tallis, Hill, Astaire and the Glory of the Right Brain

Anyway, I've been having a very right brain few days. This, somehow, precluded blogging.
It all started a few days ago when I was about to post but then made the mistake of listening to Spem in Alium. This always has the same double effect. First, it makes me wonder if any of the music written in the next 450 years was worth the trouble. This feeling can last for several days. Secondly, it always sounds different to the point where I frequently have to check if I've put on the right track. This is puzzling because the work, though a 40-part motet, is actually quite simple. I can't explain this but it may be something to do with the way Spem seems to just happen rather than start and stop. It is also the strongest argument for religious belief I have ever heard, stronger even than Bach.
Then I made the further mistake of reading Geoffrey Hill's The Triumph of Love. This is England now. Not much more needs to be said.
Finally, after reading that essay of Stanley Cavell, I watched some Fred Astaire movies. The solo number in Top Hat which ends with him miming the execution of the entire male chorus line is a modernist masterpiece. Like many of Astaire dances it starts and ends with a walk, making it clear that his art is an eruption into life. Dance is exalted walking.
That and pesky work is why I haven't been able to blog.


  1. Top Hat is one of those (few) reasons for continuing to live, in spite of cats.

  2. An even better reason to live is Fred (almost) being out-tapped by Eleanor Parker in the 'Begin the Beguine' sequence from 'Broadway Melody of 1940'. Glorious !

  3. This is all getting a bit weird. You reflect my own feelings so closely I'm beginning to doubt my own existence ....

    Quick! Quick! Post something about country & western music so I can disagree with you!

  4. Bryan, to help traherne, post that Emmylou's 'Lost Unto This World' has all the profundity of 'I Tawt I Taw a Puddy Tat'. That should get him going.

    On Tallis, I remember a statement attributed to Alfred Brendel that the only great English composer was Purcell. Perhaps he never listened to Tallis, nor Vaughan Williams for that matter.

  5. Frank Key has here hooted some useful tips about performing impromptu Spem in Alium gigs.

    Never understood the appeal of dancey movies. Punch of ponces poncing about waving their arms n shi'.

  6. Hmmm.. A punch of ponces, good collective noun that.

    On the eighth day of Christmas my true love gave to me, a punch of ponces poncing...

  7. Thanks for that, JohntyH, but I'm even struggling with that one now. I thought I could dismiss country & western with a peremptory wave of my critical facilities, but I've just remembered something. Ten or so years ago, in a fit of absent mindedness, having inadvertently tuned to, I think, radio 2, I heard Dolly Parton's "Bargain Store" followed by "Jolene". Their honesty & lack of self pity spoke to me; the final cadence of Jolene wiped me out. Sad but true.

    OPERA!! That's the kiddie! come on Bryan, pretty please tell us your a big opera buff.

    So far as I'm concerned, all opera's written using one note. It's the 3rd note of the major scale .....

  8. How on earth did Fred get the Evo Stik out of his hair.

    I always thought Tallis was the first known Dyslexic, and Spem in Alium was him doing weird things with the lilies.
    The sort of piece you would expect Fassbinder to use in a vampire movie set in Holland.

  9. That was Eleanor Powell, JohntyH, not Eleanor Parker.

    Not that Miss Parker didn't have her charms!

  10. Thanks Billiamo. It was indeed Powell. The other Eleanor certainly had her charms but I bet she couldn't tap dance like Powell. But who could ? When I watch that sequence from 'Broadway Melody of 1940' I am mesmerised by Powell, to the extent that Fred seems superfluous. Fred, superfluous ? Ridiculous !