Saturday, 27 August 2011
Tolstoy may have had some crazy ideas about art and the battle of the sexes, as I found in that hard-going but revelatory trawl through the diaries, but in the former case, at least, there's sometimes a grain of truth. This is the man who thought Dante and Shakespeare had only acquired their great reputations 'by chance', who told Tchaikovsky Beethoven 'lacked talent', yet who could weep over Tchaikovsky's Andante Cantabile and Goldenweiser's Chopin.
As often, his theories did not always run parallel with his feelings. He tried to talk himself out of western conservatoire-trained music, claiming that the history-books only told 'the history of artificial music, ie of how real, melodious music was deformed'. I'd qualify but not entirely disagree with his comment that if you say you don't yet understand a work of art yet, 'it means the work of art is not good, because its task is to make understandable what was not understandable before'. And if I give even lip-service to his abhorrence of contrapuntal music - 'the destruction of music, a means of perverting it' - it's only because much the best thing I've heard at the Proms this year, where for various reasons I've been to less than usual and shall be attending fewer still, has been June Tabor with her two unaccompanied folk solos, captivating a late-night Albert Hall audience. Hurrah that both are now up on YouTube. Here's the first
and the second, purging the rather overblown Percy Grainger arrangement that came before it, which was done with suitable fulsomeness (you see, Ismene, I use the word correctly here) by the BBC Singers and Northern Sinfonia.
Since that revelation, I've been ordering up June Tabor CDs - I actually found I had one track, about a dying miner, on the CDs accompanying Tim Winton's stunning novel Dirt Music - and while the smoky tones of later years may not have developed on one of her seminal albums, Airs and Graces, back in 1976, the solo tracks here are just as moving, not least her highly-acclaimed treatment of Eric Bogle's Gallipoli threnody The Band Played Waltzing Matilda.