Opera in my Pyjamas: Peter Grimes

Peter Grimes posterThe accusation that opera is utterly unrealistic is hard to apply to Benjamin Britten’s (1913-1976) 1945 work ‘Peter Grimes’. Loosely based on a narrative poem by George Crabbe (1754-1832) it’s a tale of small-town gossip and prejudice and its devastating effect on the life of the social outcast Peter Grimes. Continue reading “Opera in my Pyjamas: Peter Grimes”

Poems You Should Know: ‘The Soldier’ by Rupert Brooke

The transition from one artistic era to another seldom happens swiftly, but there is one notable exception: the abrupt and sweeping changes which took place in every field of European art during and immediately after World War One.

Written in 1914, ‘The Soldier’ by Rupert Brooke (1887-1915) is a sonnet which reflects the very end of the Victorian era, with its smug nationalism and unswerving sense of loyalty and duty. Brooke himself would not live to see the transition to Modernism; he died in 1915 on his way to serve at Gallipoli.

If I should die, think only this of me;
That there’s some corner of a foreign field
That is forever England. There shall be
In that rich earth a richer dust concealed;
A dust whom England bore, shaped, made aware,
Gave, once, her flowers to love, her ways to roam,
A body of England’s, breathing English air,
Washed by the rivers, blessed by the suns of home.
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And think, this heart, all evil shed away,
A pulse in the eternal mind, no less
Gives somewhere back the thoughts by England given;
Her sights and sounds; dreams happy as her day;
And laughter, learnt of friends; and gentleness,
In hearts at peace, under an English heaven.

Shakespeare at the Pop Up Globe

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The Pop Up Globe, as seen on the walk from my hotel to the conference venue.

Earlier this month work sent me to a conference in Auckland. This isn’t something which would normally make the pages of this blog – which I intentionally keep quite separate from my working life – except for the fact that the conference in question was being held at the Ellerslie Events Centre in Auckland. The hotel at which I was staying was about five minutes’ walk away, and in between lay something which I’d longed to visit ever since I first heard of it – the Pop Up Globe. Continue reading “Shakespeare at the Pop Up Globe”

Playtime: The Mousetrap by Agatha Christie

“Keep the secret of whodunit locked in your heart.”

The Mousetrap 1.jpgThe longest-running West End show ever (it opened in 1952 and has just kind of kept going) is actually quite hard to track down online, especially if you’d like to be able to hear what the actors are saying and not get seasick from shaky camera action. The version I eventually settled on was pretty good apart from the person who coughed all the way through. And the rather hit-and-miss efforts of the American actors to affect British accents, but then I am British so I know the difference. Continue reading “Playtime: The Mousetrap by Agatha Christie”

Poems You Should Know: ‘If’ by Rudyard Kipling

There must be something about the late-Victorian certitude with which Kipling (1865-1936) expounds on the nature of masculine virtue which continues to resonate with men and women today, because in 1995 ‘If’ was voted Britain’s favourite poem in a BBC poll. There is no room here for weakness or indecision or ‘expressing your feelings’: in a manner as bracing as a good British northerly it’s all duty and valour and a stiff upper lip.

If you can keep your head when all about you
    Are losing theirs and blaming it on you,
If you can trust yourself when all men doubt you,
    But make allowance for their doubting too;
If you can wait and not be tired by waiting,
    Or being lied about, don’t deal in lies,
Or being hated, don’t give way to hating,
    And yet don’t look too good, nor talk too wise:
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If you can dream—and not make dreams your master;
    If you can think—and not make thoughts your aim;
If you can meet with Triumph and Disaster
    And treat those two impostors just the same;
If you can bear to hear the truth you’ve spoken
    Twisted by knaves to make a trap for fools,
Or watch the things you gave your life to, broken,
    And stoop and build ’em up with worn-out tools:
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If you can make one heap of all your winnings
    And risk it on one turn of pitch-and-toss,
And lose, and start again at your beginnings
    And never breathe a word about your loss;
If you can force your heart and nerve and sinew
    To serve your turn long after they are gone,
And so hold on when there is nothing in you
    Except the Will which says to them: ‘Hold on!’
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If you can talk with crowds and keep your virtue,
    Or walk with Kings—nor lose the common touch,
If neither foes nor loving friends can hurt you,
    If all men count with you, but none too much;
If you can fill the unforgiving minute
    With sixty seconds’ worth of distance run,
Yours is the Earth and everything that’s in it,
    And—which is more—you’ll be a Man, my son!

Kipling, in true Victorian style, had a male audience in mind when he wrote this poem, but I’ve never found that an obstacle to finding this poem personally inspiring. What do you think?

A Brief History of English Poetry

 

Rupert Brook The Soldier 1915
Rupert Brooke, ‘The Soldier’, 1915

Throughout its history, the glory of the English artistic spirit has always found its clearest expression in words, and while prose writing began to gain ascendency with the evolution of the novel in the 18th century, the roots of poetry extend much further back. Indeed, so far back do they go that the earliest poems are lost in the mists of time. What follows, then, is a very brief summary of some 1,500 years of literary history. Continue reading “A Brief History of English Poetry”

Treasure Trove: The Banks of Green Willow, by George Butterworth

willow-treeThis short orchestral work was composed by George Butterworth (1885-1916) in 1913, and has become the best-known and most widely-performed of his small output. It’s a charming little work in the English Romantic tradition which is based on a number of folk songs, most notably a less-than-charming tale of a country lass who falls in love with a sailor, becomes pregnant and runs away to sea with him only to suffer a difficult labour. Dying, she asks her lover to throw her and the baby overboard, where they both perish. Continue reading “Treasure Trove: The Banks of Green Willow, by George Butterworth”

Treasure Trove: ‘God’s Garden’, by Dorothy Frances Gurney

Dorothy Gurney quote.jpgAs you may have gathered from my recent post on Wordsworth’s ‘Daffodils’, Spring is already nudging its way to the forefront here in Whanganui, and the first sunny Sunday afternoon saw me blissfully out pottering in the garden. Years ago as a child I read the second to last verse of Dorothy Frances Gurney’s ‘God’s Garden’ on a garden ornament and, enchanted, committed it to memory. Those lines return to me frequently whenever I have the chance to get out and enjoy my own little slice of paradise.

The Lord God planted a garden
In the first white days of the world,
And He set there an angel warden
In a garment of light enfurled.

So near to the peace of Heaven,
That the hawk might nest with the wren,
For there in the cool of the even
God walked with the first of men.

And I dream that these garden-closes
With their shade and their sun-flecked sod
And their lilies and bowers of roses,
Were laid by the hand of God.

The kiss of the sun for pardon,
The song of the birds for mirth,–
One is nearer God’s heart in a garden
Than anywhere else on earth.

For He broke it for us in a garden
Under the olive-trees
Where the angel of strength was the warden
And the soul of the world found ease.

Dorothy Gurney
Dorothy Frances Gurney

 

Dorothy Frances Gurney (1858-1932) is little known today, and the second to last verse of this lovely poem is often quoted alone and unattributed, but she was the daughter and wife of Anglican clergymen, a convert to Catholicism with her husband in 1919, and a writer of both poems and hymns.

 

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Poet Profile: William Wordsworth (1770-1850)

Along with William Blake (1757-1827) and Samuel Taylor Coleridge (1772-1834), Wordsworth is recognised as one of the greatest of the first-generation Romantic poets. As with the Romantic composers, the Romantic poets reacted against what they saw as the cold intellectualism of the Enlightenment: their work emphasised the emotional, the natural, the voice of the common people, the power of the imagination and the concept of the sublime.

Fair seed-time had my soul, and I grew up
Foster’d alike by beauty and by fear;
Much favour’d in my birthplace, and no less
In that beloved Vale to which, erelong,
I was transplanted.

– from ‘The Prelude’, 1850

Continue reading “Poet Profile: William Wordsworth (1770-1850)”

Composer Profile: Ralph Vaughan Williams (1872-1958)

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Ralph Vaughan Williams in later life.

Unlike the musical wunderkinds Mozart and Mendelssohn, Ralph (‘Rafe’) Vaughan Williams was a slow and steady developer musically. The son of an Anglican vicar, Arthur, he was descended on his mother Margaret’s side from the manufacturing and philanthropic Wedgwood family. From the age of five he had piano lessons with his aunt Sophy Wedgwood, but preferred the violin, which he began to study a year later. Although his family doubted that he had the talent required to succeed as a professional composer and musician they were staunch in their support, enabling him to study at the Royal College of Music and Cambridge. He also spent several months in 1907-08 studying with Ravel in Paris. It’s fair to say that, regardless of their doubts, ultimately his family’s faith was not misplaced. Continue reading “Composer Profile: Ralph Vaughan Williams (1872-1958)”