Danger - musicians having fun
In their 1951-2 season the Hallé Orchestra perfomed all six of the symphonies Ralph Vaughan Williams had then written. Five of them were conducted by the inimitable John Barbirolli, while No. 1, the Sea Symphony with its Walt Whitman text, was conducted by Vaughan Williams himself. When the symphony was performed in Sheffield with the composer conducting, the orchestra was a 'cello short, and at Vaughan William's request Barbirolli, a talented 'cellist, took the vacant seat.
I was reminded of this story when listening to Jordi Savall and Hesperion XXl's superb new CD Estampies & Danses Royales. The programme of music from the thirteenth century Chansonnier du Roi is for instrumental forces only, so soprano Montserrat Figueras (aka Mrs Savall) wasn't needed for the sessions. But she wasn't going to miss the fun, and there she is on the recording playing the kithara, a rare instrument which featured here recently.
Fun is what this new release is really all about. It is superb music brilliantly played and recorded; but above all there is a quality that seems to be disappearing from recordings and live concerts - the sound of musians having fun. As contemporary composer Kurt Schwertsik said - 'I believe the function of art is to denounce seriousness. It should be fun. There's a halo of awe around modern music. You achieve more if you're not serious'.
Vaughan Williams, Savall, Barbirolli and Schwertsik in one post? - that's what I call fun! And there's more musicians having fun here.
The Kurt Schwersik quote is from the excellent CageTalk (ISBN 9781580462372). 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
"Serious" is a poor choice of word, in my opinion. I suspect that any responsible musician is serious about whatever music is played, modern or not.
The better word is "solemn"; it makes the point much more clearly. One can be serious without being solemn, and I would certainly agree that the distinction is all too often lost.
Here's a small example of "serious but not solemn" from an early 60's Julian Bream live LP that I listened to just a few days ago. In introducing a set of 5 Dowland pieces from the stage, Bream says that one piece will be different than printed in the program - "Instead of Kemp's Jig, I will play 'Tarleton's Resurrection." Pause. "Not that it matters too much ...".