I’ve been remiss. I decided, therefore, that I shouldn’t let another weekend pass without posting something new here. Blogging has proved a great pleasure, and I certainly have no reluctance to sit at my keyboard and prose on about topics that are important to me. And the comments that I’ve been receiving, and the exchanges of views that I’ve been having with other bloggers have given me great pleasure. My work, however, has drained me of alacrity. I am a nine-to-fiver (though I’m often required to put in many extra hours) and currently I feel undervalued – or, perhaps un-valued – dispirited, in fact downright depressed. Well, who doesn’t? I mention this not only to excuse my delinquency, but also to provide a leaping-off point for this post.
I blog about music because music is one of life’s great joys and consolations. Clearly then, I should refrain from further expressions of self-pity and offer a little tribute to the art-form that does so much to help us get through our days. For the very existence of joyful music in our lives, we probably ought to get down on our knees and thank St Cecilia, or whatever other deity, demi-deity, canonised entity or peculiar combination of energy and atoms to which or to whom we might feel fealty is due. For my part I shall refrain from kneeling for the moment, not because I feel I should be excused the gesture of reverence that I’m encouraging in others, but because I have a painful right knee at the moment. Thus, does self-pity begin to encroach again. But enough.
As I get older I find that joyful music often elicits a stronger response in me than music that is grave or melancholy. I’m more likely to have a tear in my eye listening to a jokey movement by Haydn than to, say, one of Beethoven’s slow movements. That’s not to say that I value the one more than the other. Indeed, I am a little puzzled by my emotional responses at these times. But there is something moving about the notion of a composer taking the time and trouble to communicate something life-affirming and sprightly, gleefully placing his or her utmost technical abilities at the service of sheer, simple joy. For this we should give thanks.
There is a good deal of jolly music that I turn to when I’m feeling sorry for myself: Fats Waller, Louis Prima, the Ukulele Orchestra of Great Britain, Bellowhead, Johann Strauss, Sidney Bechet. Sometimes, though, it is not the upbeat and vigorous that one needs, but the consolatory.
Ravel’s Pavane pour une infante défunte has warmth and poise and a quiet, uplifting beauty. This recording by Vlado Perelemuter is the best rendition that I’ve ever heard.
Perlemuter died in 2002 at the age of 98. In his early twenties he became fascinated by Ravel’s piano music and set about learning it all. A friend encouraged him to write to Ravel. The composer, then at the height of his fame, was so intrigued by this young man who had learned every note of his music for solo piano, that he agreed to meet him. They met regularly over several months and worked together on Perlemuter’s interpretations. Perlemuter wrote a book about this experience but it was, alas, never translated into English, though, it seems, the Japanese translation was very popular.
In 1984, Vlado Perlemuter, at the age of 80, appeared on the BBC’s Desert Island Discs. If you enjoyed his playing of the Pavane, this might well be the best way to learn more about a fascinating musician and a charming man. When asked how he would cope with the solitude on the notional desert island, Perlemuter said “I’m always alone playing piano”. Those who know the programme will know that desert island castaways are asked to choose a luxury item to help them through their ordeal. Perlemuter chose Ghirlandaio’s portrait of an old man with his grandson which seemed, somehow, to be an appropriate image with which to illustrate this post.