Sunday, August 29, 2004

Conference of the Birds

Spent much of this holiday weekend at a performance of all Shostakovich’s 24 Preludes and Fugues. The Russian pianist Elizaveta Kopelman played them magnificently, and the venue was the beautiful St Mary’s Church in Suffolk, a part of the world that time, but fortunately not good music has passed by.

This has been a year of cycles, the Tchaikovsky Quartets in January, a wonderful cycle of the Beethoven Quartets by the Borodins in March, the Ring at Longborough, and now the Shostakovich Preludes and Fugues. It has also been a year for music in churches, most memorably a Rachmaninov Vespers in St Peter’s Mancroft in Norwich.

But what has this to do with birds? An earlier posting talked about wanting to recall every fork and path that led me to a masterpiece such as the 24 Preludes and Fugues. Well I can recall the path precisely. I was staying in an old house by a river after one of the not so good periods coming back from the worst ever visit of the black dog, and trying to sort out the woefull IT systems of a book distributor. I was looking out of the bathroom window as I shaved one morning, and there outside on the riverbank was a heron (or was it a kingfisher? - birds are not one of strong points). And on Radio 3 was a fugue that clearly wasn’t Bach, but was equally clearly a miracle. That moment of serendipity led me to Tatyana Nikolayeva’s classic first recording , and the thread led me to a Suffolk church this weekend.

The divine inspiration of Shostakovich’s music, and the bird thread leads me back to the writings of Bernard Levin. In his book Conducted Tour (out of print, but available from second hand dealers - highly recommended) he recounts the ancient Persian poem that became Peter Brook’s Conference of the Birds....

The birds go to seek their mysterious king, the Simorg. Their journey is beset by terrible hardship, amid which some die, some desert, some turn back, some lose heart. When the survivors reach their goal, it is to learn the world’s most profound and vital truth. They are told that they have carried the Simorg with them all the time, and they realise that the treasures which we believe lies across cruel wastes, boundless oceans, towering mountains and dreadful valleys really lies within our own hearts.

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Saturday, August 28, 2004

Where is the manager?


Where am I? What does it mean to say: the world?...
Who tricked me into this whole thing and leaves me standing here?...
Why was I not asked about it, why was I not informed of the rules and regulations but just thrust into the ranks as if I had been bought from a peddling shanghaier of human beings?
How did I get in this big enterprise called actuality?
Is there no manager?
To whom should I make my complaint?

From Fear and Trembling by Søren Kierkegaard

Friday, August 27, 2004

And so to Wagner.....

And that brings us to the problem of Wagner, whose epic musical journys must form part of An Overgrown Path . Many writers far better qualified and more talented than me have written about him, and there is very little left to be said. All I can add is that two of the most profoundly moving experiences I have had in a theatre occurred in the last twelve months, and they were both while under the spell of Richard Wagner.

Last December it was that most profoundly disturbing of his works, Parsifal. I challenge any balanced person to explain the reason why (supposedly) civilised and educated people like me remain infatuated by this opera, given the horrendous baggage it brings with it. But Anthony Negus' reading with the Welsh National Opera left me in doubt that this is one of the most important, and probably the most disturbing, works of music theatre.

In July I went to Longborough Opera to see their abreviated Ring. I must say I went a sceptic about this particular production. Just two hours of Siegreid, and two and a half hours of Gottedamerung with no Rhine Journey or Funeral March and a band of just twenty-three players including an electronic keyboard seemed to risk undermining this most monumental of operatic experiences, even if hands as talented as Jonathan Dove had performed the surgery. But how I lacked faith. The Gods smiled metaphorically, if not actually, on the balmy August evenings. Sir Donald McIntyre as Wotan, the young Jenny Miller as Brunnhilde, and above all the ubiquitous Anthony Negus made this a towering, as oppossed to truncated experience. The last scene of Gottadamerung left me as moved as any production I have seen. Word is that Longborough are going to offer a full length Ring in 2006 with Sir Donald McIntyre involved in the preparation as well as performances. Be there!

My posting on Wagner cannot end without a mention of that peerless Wagnerian Bernard Levin, who sadly died last week. Tragically for one so eloquent Levin died suffering from Alzheimer's disease. Fascinating work using music as a therapy for this disease is being done, particularly by Paul Robertson who was previously leader of the Medici Quartet, see his fascinating and illuminating web site Music, Mind & Spirit

Bernard Levin was a master of the English language, and one of our greatest journalists. He once said the last work he wanted to hear before he died was Die Meistersingers von Nuremberg. I do hope he was granted that wish.

The Road Less Travelled

Road at Chantilly by Paul Cezanne

Two roads diverged in a yellow wood,
And sorry I could not travel both
And be one traveler, long I stood
And looked down one as far as I could
To where it bent in the undergrowth;

Then took the other, as just as fair
And having perhaps the better claim,
Because it was grassy and wanted wear;
Though as for that, the passing there
Had worn them really about the same,

And both that morning equally lay
In leaves no step had trodden black
Oh, I kept the first for another day!
Yet knowing how way leads on to way,
I doubted if I should ever come back.

I shall be telling this with a sigh
Somewhere ages and ages hence:
two roads diverged in a wood, and I
-- I took the one less traveled by,
And that has made all the difference.

Robert Frost

Robert Frost on his own poetry:
"One stanza of 'The Road Not Taken' was written while I was sitting on a sofa in the middle of England: Was found three or four years later, and I couldn't bear not to finish it. I wasn't thinking about myself there, but about a friend who had gone off to war, a person who, whichever road he went, would be sorry he didn't go the other. He was hard on himself that way."
Bread Loaf Writers' Conference, 23 Aug. 1953

With acknowlegements to Classic Poetry Pages- visit and Bookmark!

Serendipity and Collaborative Filtering

So we start coming to the real question - what is this site really about?

Trying to describe it for some blog listings set my mind going along the following paths.

I've been interested, used, and worked on the peripheries of Collaborative Filtering.'s Recommendations are both maddening and very useful, and I have to say I've bought or borrowed from the library many recommendations. Most of my knowledge of, and passion for classical music has come from the serendipity of switching on BBC's Radio 3 (before it was dumbed-down to the commercial benchmark), hearing a piece, and following that thread onwards. Like many I came to Mahler through the serendipidity of Visconti's Death in Venice in the early-70's, and the fact that the Mahlerian style was digestible to a graduate who had been living with the Pink Floyd, Led Zeppelin and the Moody Blues for a few years. That's why I'm interested in which I mentioned in an early post, it offers spontaneous links from one musicain to another.

On An Overgrown Path is an alternative to Collaborative Filtering. It is subjective, personal and non-scientific, but leads to the same destination of flagging up a piece of music, writing, or an event that the reader may not otherwise have encountered. The site will really work if it triggers postings that open up Overgrown Paths from some of my postings.

As I type Tallis' O Salutaris Hostia is playing. Why Tallis? Why the Elizabethan composers? Why are Shostakovich's symphonies a blind spot for me? Why do I need to hear a Bach fugue every day, but could live the rest of my life without hearing another Prokofiev Symphony? Why does John Fowles' The Magus still moves me? Why am I still stuck in 'rites of passage fiction? Coming to that why does Stravinsky's Rite of Spring mean less to me than an Elgar symphony?. My dream is to be able to work back from that CD and produce a map of every thread that led me to play it, every piece of music on route, and most importantly every fork that I took to reach it, and equally importantly the forks that I didn't take......

Two roads diverged in a yellow wood,
And sorry I could not travel both

I selfishly think that recreating even parts of that route may lead readers to similar delights and discoveries to those that fill my days with sunshine.

That is what On An Overgrown Path is about.

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Specks in the world.....


When I think of God, I think of the earth as a very small thing. Then I think of myself as hardly a speck. Then I see there is no use for this tiny dot to spend its small life doing things for itself. It might as well spend its tiny amount of time making the less fortunate specks in the world enjoy them selves.

A 14 year old Joen Baez writing in her autobiography And a Voice to Sing - recommended

Thursday, August 26, 2004

Stradivarius and the making of genius

Connecting the abstract and the everyday is a challenge. Have started reading Toby Faber's book Stradivarius


The extraordinary thing is the violins that Amati, Stradivarius and others made in 17th & 18th Century Italy have never been equalled, yet alone bettered for sound quality. No computer simulation, no CAD programmes, but we can't get anywhere near them for beauty of sound, or functional excellence.


Antonio Stradivarius was a genius, and he had a thirst for the absoute. A thirst for another world, for truth and beauty - see how the overgrown path connects to the Mystery of the Monks thread above?

In his book Wired Life Charles Jonscher describes how that the world's best computer software cannot derive from a photograph of a room a simple description of its contents; chairs, tables, pets, people. And even when software does manage to acquire this apparantely simple will still have no idea of the significance of the presence of the objects.

Stradivarius understood the significance of the position of the bass bar and sound post, the shape of the f holes, and the importance of the formulation of the varnish in determining the final sound. Why cannot a computer do the same thing? What was the extra dimension that allowed Stradivarius and his contemoraries in Cremona to achieve the absolute? Surely the question answers itself? If not please put a posting on this blog with details of a computer designed violin that matches the Viotti violin or Davidov cello.

I need to get back to work now. And anyway this is all starting to sound like a Confirmation class again. Let's remember that divine inspiration needs to be matched by physical hard work..

Tis God gives skill, but not without men's hands:
He could not make Antonio Stradivari's violins without Antonio

George Eliot

Wednesday, August 25, 2004

The real world:

We need to get back in touch with the real world a bit don't we? Yesterday afternoon I visited a Residential Home for disabled folk. The residents seemd to be a mix of both degenerative and injury related conditions. The Resident Manager, one of those folks who just leaves you speechless with their positive and irony free approach, had just had an internet connection installed. Wants a course for residents on using the internet. Build a small goal oriented project (note how the jargon creeps in) on the fly. The residents have a Japanese pal who worked at the home, and has now moved back to Japan. Suggest sessions creating an email to him, including some photos. Great reception from the manager, first session next week.
Find it difficult to pitch my attitude with projects like this. Am I really doing it because I want to help? Am I doing it because I think it is the socially right thing to do? Am I doing it because it is a slightly more subtle ego trip than upgrading to this year's model BMW ?
Which is where the thread links up to the post above (What purpose do monks serve?) . Perhaps I should have the confidence to admit that a project like this (and all our actions?) serve no purpose. That is one big step to take, the bigger (and even more difficult one) one is to accept that it serves a person. Maybe the Overgrown Path will lead there, maybe not.

What purpose do monks serve?

How many times do we hear the question? Well, perhaps we should just have the confidence to say: they serve no purpose. Not even that of hoarding the treasures of civilisation. They have never really thought about it. They recognise that they are removed from the worries of this world. Monks serve no purpose. They serve a person.

From the guide to L'Abbaye Sainte-Madeleine du Barroux


What might be read on nights like this

This is the only poem
I can read
I am the only one
can write it
I didn't kill myself
when things went wrong
I didn't turn
to drugs or teaching
I tried to sleep
but when I couldn't sleep
I learned to write
what might be read
on nights like this
by one like me

Leonard Cohen

Any copyrighted material on these pages is included as "fair use", for the purpose of study, review or critical analysis only, and will be removed at the request of copyright owner(s). Report broken links, missing images and errors to - overgrownpath at hotmail dot co dot uk

The Mystery of the Monks

After days of rain a sunny morning. The thread of the monastic life will recur. It's 08.41 and Orlando Gibbon's Second Service is playing.

The literature for Le Barroux says...

The Mystery of the Monks
The monks built Europe, but they did not do it intentioanlly.Their adventure is first of all, if not exclusively, an inner adventure, whose only motive is thirst. A thirst for the absoute. Thirst for another world, for truth and beauty.

Tuesday, August 24, 2004

On a Mozart binge

Currently I'm on a Mozart binge. Started with the (augmented) Grumiaux Trio recordings of the String Quintets.

Apart from being sublime music these are wonderful recordings. Some of the best string sound around, and its analogue. Although I'm told the sound quality is not so much the technology as the playing.

Moved onto the String Trios yesterday. Again Grumiaux Trio. Discovered the Mozart Preludes and Fugues, how have I never heard these before?

On the reading front coming to the end of Iris Murdoch's The Bell. A thought provoking book, but one that could be taughter in its construction. But the monastic theme is one of those threads I will be returning to.

Fun day yesterday teaching for three hours learners how to use a web site that just happened to be down that day. But an interesting discovery in the evening - One of those (many) ideas I had a while back. Only seems to be pop (and a little jazz) at present but very interesting concept.
Also pondering over two other recent purchases. The Tippett Piano Sonatas and Volume 1 of the complete piano music of Richard Rodney Bennett (on Metronome). More postings on those to follow.