Saturday, June 16, 2012

Dancing about architecture

Failure is an orphan, success has many fathers. So the line “Writing about music is like dancing about architecture” has been ascribed to Frank Zappa, Elvis Costello and many others. Seems as though it was Martin Mull who coined it, though he might have nicked it too. (I had an LP of his, Normal, in which the song “Jesus Christ Football Star” included the line “Drop-kick me, Jesus, through the goalposts of life”.)

Writing about dancing: yes. Dancing about music: yes. Writing about architecture: yes, if you must. It is even possible to cartoon about architecture. But what about composing about architecture? Can it be done?

Yes, it can. Peter Maxwell Davies, Master of the Queen’s Music, has done it before in his Third Symphony and he has done it again in his brand-new Ninth Symphony which, says Ivan Hewitt in the Daily Telegraph, was inspired by a building:
The passages with a key signature in this symphony are often associated with an extra brass group of six players. “Yes, I think of those passages as an intrusion into the main musical argument. The idea was partly inspired by the wonderful medieval side-chapels in Santa Maria del Popolo in Rome, which are very garish and clash with the main body of the church in the most amazing way.”
Even on the page, there’s an element of militaristic parody in these brass “intrusions” which hint at a more urgent expressive purpose. I soon discover just what that is.
“I think these musical ‘chapels’ are a hangover of my absolute fury at the invasion of Iraq and Afghanistan,” says Maxwell Davies. “It led to the loss of so many lives, and for what? I think it’s on the scale of the Crusades in its depravity and stupidity.”
 This might seem an astonishing sentiment coming from the Master of the Queen’s Music. Maxwell Davies doesn’t think so. “The Queen made it clear to me that I should feel no constraint in the opinions I express in my creative work. I think composers have a duty to bear witness to the times. It’s the most important thing we can do.”
 The tone of Maxwell Davies’s voice may be mild, but the old anger is still there.
There is a review of the first performance of the Ninth Symphony on 9 June here.

So here are the Pointer Sisters in 1974 with “Yes We Can Can” (compare and contrast: here is Lee Dorsey’s 1970 original):

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