Sobbing Note:
Playlist &c III
28 September 2018

Remember my complaint about Carnival of the Animals? In the rebuilt playlist, its slot is taken by Britten’s Variations & Fugue on a Theme of Purcell, also known as The Young Person’s Guide to the Orchestra. Listening to it reduced me to sobs. 

Well, I was reading Kate Atkinson’s Transcription. It’s a  superb book, and I look forward to reading it again. (For the moment, I’m reading the novel that, according to the author, inspired it, Penelope Fitzgerald’s Human Voices.) My only complain is that it was too quick and easy a read. Totally engaging and satisfying — excellent writing and all that — but too soon finished and done. I found myself hoping, foolishly no doubt, that Atkinson will write a second Juliet Armstrong book, about her thirty years in Italy. You know how it is: all we readers really want is more. But the novel left more than a whiff of Darkest Hour stoicism &c. 

The thing about playlists — well, one thing, among many — is that, unless I’ve listened to a playlist too many times, the music takes me by surprise, as if I were listening to the radio, which is of course exactly the effect I aim at when I compile them, with the important difference that music that I don’t like never comes up. So the Purcell Variations were an unexpected treat. Serious music intended for children always makes me damp with nostalgia for a childhood that I didn’t have (or maybe did, sometimes). Britten’s essay in the genre is one of the finest: assertively unromantic, usually suggesting a spectacle that it would delight a child to see. (The trumpets, in their variation, are greyhounds, racing in a circle.) At the end, Britten pulls off being monumental without a tinge of the bathetic: from the busy flights of tootling winds and cackling strings emerges, like HMS Victory out of a mist, Purcell’s simple but stately tune. It capture everything that is fine and grand about England, or at least presents the illusion of doing so.

The sudden thought of Brexit, which ought to have shut the tap, did no such thing. This England? 

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