Tuesday, January 04, 2005

Death of a renaissance man

Those that I stand in awe of are leaving me. First, Bernard Levin left us last autumn (see my post And so to Wagner ). And today comes the sad news that author, broadcaster and sometime jazz musician Humphrey Carpenter (left) has left us at 58 after losing the fight with Parkinson's.

Humphrey Carpenter was a true renaissance man. Author of remarkable biographies including Tolkien, Spike Milligan and W.H.Auden, and of course the wonderfully 'politically incorrect' biography of Benjamin Britten. Plus (my favourite) the definitive biography of BBC Radio 3, The Envy of the World. As if that wasn't enough he was a successful children's author. And he was an erudite yet accessible broadcaster on BBC Radio 3 and Radio 4 .

Humphrey was a graduate of Oxford, and although his research was meticulous he wore his scholarship lightly. He would have been amused, not annoyed, at the irony of Radio 3's 'new generation' presenter Petroc Trelawny managing to get both the key signature and opus number wrong of the Beethoven String Quartet movement played in his memory this evening. (It was in fact the Cavatina from the Op. 130 Quartet in B flat major).

Humphrey Carpenter and Bernard Levin are a disappearing breed. Humphrey would have chuckled at today's Guardian report on the disclosure of the entertainment list at Prime Minister Tony Blair's country residence Chequers.

Those who have dined in the company of our leader at the taxpayer expense...Des O'Connor and Geri Halliwell, Michael Ball, and Lord Lloyd Webber, Esther Rantzen and Jenny Seagrove are all there. The Blairs don't watch Saturday-night television at Chequers; they live it. Jackie Kennedy's White House had Stravinsky, Vidal and Gielgud; we have Geri, Des and Esther. Careful analysis of the list exposes Blair's desire to surround himself with semi-famous people who wear too much make-up and have massive teeth.

Norfolk County Council Library's database holds sixty-six records of books by Humphrey Carpenter, and that is to me quite remarkable. Humphrey Burton was someone I could admire and will miss, and that is more than can be said for Tony Blair, Des O'Connor or Geri Haliwell.

Come to the edge...
It's too high they said...
We shall fall they said..
But they came..
He pushed them and they flew.

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1 comment:

Pliable said...

More than four years after uploading that post I notice I didn't identify the author of that wonderful closing verse. It's by Guillaume Apollinaire.

http://www.kirjasto.sci.fi/apollina.htm