Monday, March 21, 2016

What I’m reading #133

For the last two weeks I have mostly been reading three novels by JRR Tolkein. You might have heard of them. Kind of a trilogy. As in the recent post about a week spent reading three books by Stephen Fry, this was for work, not for pleasure. I also had to watch the DVDs of Peter Jackson’s movie version of the trilogy. The extended editions.

I expected the Jackson movies to be tedious, but I had completely forgotten how awful the Tolkein novels are. I loved them when I was a teenager , which just goes to show what terrible judgement teenagers have. 

Not quite an interview with, more an observation of, legendary journalist Clare Hollingworth. She did many great things but is best known for reporting live on Germany’s invasion of Poland. She is still with us, aged 104. I had a drink with her once, in the FCC, aka the Foreign Correspondents’ Club in Hong Kong. I say “with”. We were seated side by side, were not introduced so did not speak, but I knew exactly who she was. It was thrilling just to be in her presence. Quote unquote:
By then, Clare was back in her Polish hotel in Katowice and saw the first German tanks moving past her window. When she called the British embassy in Warsaw, a diplomat refused to believe her story – so she held the telephone out of her bedroom window so he could hear the sound of German tank tracks.
Brent Underwood shows how to become a #1 Best-Selling Author on Amazon in five minutes. His one secret trick you won’t believe? He took a photo of his foot and published it. Quote unquote:
I decided my foot was worthy of the “Transpersonal” category under psychology books and “Freemasonry & Secret Societies” category under social sciences books. I’ve always wanted to have an affiliation with the Freemasons.
The British composer Peter Maxwell Davies died last week, at 81. A good innings, though 81 does seem young these days. I saw him in the Auckland Town Hall some time in the very late 70s or early 80s conducting the Fires of London in Eight Songs for a Mad King, which featured a man screaming, and Le Jongleur de Notre Dame, which had a juggler. I have spent many evenings in the Auckland Town Hall, but that was the most memorable. Here is a decent obituary from the Guardian. Quote unquote:
In these later years there was no let-up in Maxwell Davies’s productivity. He was one of the most driven and hard-working composers of all time, with an output that easily exceeds the work-lists of Stravinsky and Schoenberg combined. His second opera, The Doctor of Myddfai (1995) was written in six weeks, during which Maxwell Davies worked 16 hours a day, pausing only to sleep or cook a quick bowl of pasta (the love of Italian food he had acquired in his Rome days was his one concession to human frailty). It was premiered by Welsh National Opera the following year.
This amazing productivity is actually an obstacle to the survival of his music. It is hard to know where to start, and plunging in at random may lead to one of the many grey patches in his music, particularly in the later works such as the Strathclyde concertos.
I’ve been playing that opera over the last few days – it’s great fun. And I don’t agree that the concertos are grey, not compared to the sludge of some of the symphonies. But his music is always interesting – as was the composer. Here from 2005 is the best story ever about him, when he was arrested for being in possession of a dead swan. Quote unquote:
He told the BBC: “I didn’t realise the police had also taken some wings from previous swans which were hanging in the shed. I was going to give them to the school because they use them as Gabriel’s wings in the nativity play.
“On Monday morning a police car came whizzing up the lane with a very charming young man and a very beautiful young lady. They didn’t accuse me of killing the swan, they accused me of being in possession illegally of a corpse of a protected species.
“I had to give a statement. I offered them coffee and asked them if they would like to try some swan terrine but I think they were rather horrified. That was a mistake, wasn’t it?”
 So here is Kelvin Thomas as King George III in Eight Songs of a Mad King, Salford, 2012. Talk about uneasy listening:


  1. BRILLIANT! I was sucked into this incredible performance, what a wonderful composition all together! Very satisfied, the best piece of modern music I've heard in a while! What a Libretto!

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  2. This has become my theme tune this week (for reasons I won't discuss)! Chevalier singing this is amazing.