Archives for category: Music
If you don’t know any Italian opera and want to get into it, here are six reasons why should start with the Royal Opera’s recent production of Gianni Schicchi.

* It’s short (just under an hour)
* It’s fast-paced.
* It’s funny.
* It’s got English sub-titles.
* It’s got the showstopper aria “O mio babino caro”.
* Puccini writes a good tune.


I knew Trump’s performance in Russia this week reminded me something: it’s the denouement of Iolanthe:

Fairy Queen: You have all incurred death; but I can’t slaughter the whole company! And yet the law is clear – every fairy must die who marries a mortal!

Lord Chancellor: Allow me, as an old Equity draftsman, to make a suggestion. The subtleties of the legal mind are equal to the emergency. The thing is really quite simple – the insertion of a single word will do it. Let it stand that every fairy shall die who doesn’t marry a mortal, and there you are, out of your difficulty at once!

Fairy Queen: We like your humour.

Sheku’s playing at the royal wedding on Saturday was extraordinary. When the du Prés say “He’s the first cellist since Jackie who has that natural and vibrant abandonment when playing”, you know it’s time to sit up and listen.

And being out of the country for so long, I’ve only just caught up with the fact that there are seven Kanneh-Mason children, all musicians.


longgallerylanhydrock162918 I’m not always up a mountain in the north of Togo. Yesterday I played Poulenc’s C major Novelette on the Steinway in the long gallery at Lanhydrock. It’s always good to be back in Cornwall.

Lines from Yeats’ poem have been in my head all this week, with one slight tweak:

“Things fall apart…
… everywhere
The ceremony of innocence is drowned;
The best lack all conviction, while the worst
Are full of passionate intensity…

… A shape with lion body and the head of a man,
A gaze blank and pitiless as the sun,
Is moving its slow thighs…
… And what rough beast, its hour come round at last,
Slouches towards the White House to be born?”

And Joni Mitchell’s unforgettable interpretation of it (from Night Ride Home, 1991)

Spent an interesting evening listening to, watching and comparing all the performances of Schubert’s Eb Impromptu op. 90 no 2 that I could find on Youtube. The field is dominated by Chinese eight year olds.

There is a half-decent piano here on the SIL centre in Yaoundé, so I have downloaded some sheet music from the endlessly wonderful Petrucci Music Library.

I have decided to practice Schubert’s Eb Impromptu (op. 90, no. 2) for thirty minutes each evening, inspired by Alan Rusbridger’s Play it Again (my top book for 2014).

This particular Schubert Impromptu prompts a childhood memory. When I first began learning the piano, age 9, I used to wait in the adjacent room for an older boy to finish his lesson before going in for mine. Week by week, I would hear wisps and snatches of liquid gold emanating from the next room. He was learning the Schubert Eb Impromptu. I was captivated, and promised myself that one day I would be able to play it myself.

Well, here I am almost 50 years later and, err, I can and I can’t. Trouble is, I’ve spent so many years not bothering with the painstaking, humdrum task of working out the fingering, that by now a host of tiny lapses are stubbornly cemented in and unyielding.

This particular pianist’s brain has an astonishing capacity for flagrantly ignoring mistakes, filtering out bothersome, unintended sounds, blithely convincing itself that no listener can possibly have noticed, and letting ten unbridled fingers scamper headlong towards the coda.

So my approach for the next three weeks is keyhole surgery: diligently, methodically and slowly unpicking fifty years of lazy fingering.

Having fun catching up with old friends Justin and Ali. We go back a long way, we were in London together as students. Sleeping in a caravan in the garden. Cozy. They have a Yamaha upright, so I have been providing some rusty, unconvincing renderings of Chopin Waltzes (B minor, E minor, F minor, Eb major…). Do I miss the piano in Africa? No, but once I am in a room with a piano in it, my fingers are itching to get to it. About to go and eat in the garden…

Seaton Methodist Church was full for the piano recital I gave on 8 July. We raised £1,179 towards the cost of drilling a borehole in the village where I live in Togo. It’s the first time I’ve played in public for many years, and a great opportunity to reconnect with my musical past. Thanks to all of you who came and supported the event. This was the programme:

Mozart Sonata in D major K. 284 ~ Allegro, Rondeau en Polonaise, Adagio Cantabile, Allegro

Debussy Préludes ~ Les collines d’Anacapri, La fille aux cheveux de lin, La cathédrale engloutie, Minstrels

Arensky ~ Basso ostinato

Brahms ~ Intermezzo in A

Chopin ~ Minute Waltz

Ravel ~ Pavane pour une infante défunte

Chopin ~ Polonaise in A

And this is the piano I practiced on – good memories, John and Joan!