As subtle as a Spielberg track
MUSIC REVIEW Igor Toronyi
An admission, straight off: Dmitri Shostakovich is not one of my favourite composers. His music is so cold and whiny that I hardly ever want to listen to it, though I do acknowledge that some of it is significant and even beautiful. Now, you may not think this is a very generous statement, especially during his centenary year –especially at Christmas –but I would have to say neither is his music. What aggravates these feelings is the attempt, by academics and marketing agents alike, to politicise his oeuvre as much as possible, all done with the express purpose of persuading me to like his music. Programme notes do their best to stuff his music full of political guff. The Sixth Symphony’s oddness is “an ironic comment on the appalling contradictions of life in Stalin’s Soviet Union”; the C major chord is his favourite musical symbol for authority; the eleventh is an Aesopian fable, “really” commenting on the suppression of the Hungarian uprising of 1956. Really. The point is that none of this matters; none of it tells me whether I should like or dislike the music. Of course, whenever Shostakovich did provide a political narrative to his works, either in towing the party line or in vehemently reacting against it, he tended either to rant or to drift into apologia, and in both cases the music suffered. But we should not attack (or defend) his music simply because of its political content or associations: astounding
Dmitri Shostakovich: He knew how to party when he wanted to
works are often produced in the most inauspicious of political circumstances – think of Carl Orff in Nazi Germany. Rather, we should judge music on musical grounds alone. Fortunately, Valery Gergiev and his
Mariinsky Theatre Orchestra provided the perfect experience for this sort of analysis, emphasising the musical at the expense of the satirical as they performed a cluster of Shostakovich symphonies in their three-day sojourn at
the Barbican. For Shostakovich’s reputation this was mostly bad news. In the symphonies that are unavoidably political the performances exposed a poverty of interesting musical ideas. No 12, dedicated to the October Revolution, appeared boorish, simplistic and lopsided; while No 11, describing the brutal events of 1905, was as subtle as a Spielberg soundtrack. What saved me from the interminable boredom of these suffocating brutes was the orchestra. It was not just the players’ distinct features that engrossed, their big noses, short foreheads and greasy ponytails; it was also their ability to produce sounds that were quite different from those of any other orchestra in the world. The brass section was so technically assured that an air of flippancy crept in, adding a real buzz to their playing. In tutti climaxes they would produce a huge noise, full of crackle, as if a forest of trees was being felled stage right. Indeed, everyone was pretty impressive: the flutes and piccolo wailed precisely in the finale of the 11th; the timpanist went ballistic in the 10th, every carom showing in his stupefied face. A truly sympathetic and attractive portrait of Shostakovich, however, only emerged in the two earliest symphonies that they performed: the Second and the Sixth. Despite its final glib paean, the Second revealed more orchestral innovation than the rest of the symphonies put together: 12-voice polyphony, a caterwauling factory whistle, and melodies that breathed. The Sixth, even with all its apparent incongruities, seemed wonderfully clear: prolonged introspection disappeared into a cloud of perfectly executed, vodkafuelled rambunctiousness, In the rowdy final bars, as the double basses started to lurch and sway, the revelry became infectious. Shostakovich certainly knew how to have a party when he wanted to. Pity he didn’t want to more often.
A timid Death and a mildly irritated mortal
BALLET REVIEW Dennis Chang
Ever since I saw Roland Petit’s Le jeune homme et la mort at the Palais Garnier two years ago I have longed for a visionary impresario to bring the work back to London. It seemed like a prayer answered when Sadler’s Wells announced that the iconoclastic 1946 shocker –based on a poem of the same name by Jean Cocteau –was to be staged for Igor Zelensky and Darcey Bussell, the most celebrated Russian dancer and English ballerina of the last two decades. But, with the Wackhevitch set and Karinska costumes meticulously
reconstructed by La Scala’s production team, it was a monumental disappointment to leave the theatre feeling that the entire enterprise had been a big damp squib. In Cocteau’s poem, a young man hangs himself after he is rejected by his lover; in Petit’s adaptation, the girl who causes his anguish becomes a more ambiguous figure –part fleeting acquaintance, part romantic interest, but ultimately a messenger of death, who returns to lead the soul of the young man over the rooftops of Paris. On paper, Bussell has all the attributes to make an ideal Death –tall, statuesque, and powerfully athletic. But when she extended those endless legs into her now trademark “six o’clock” position, it felt more like the blossoming of an English rose than the unfolding of a switchblade in a Parisian back alley. When she arched her back, her melting silhouettes recalled the romantic exclamation of an Ashtonian tragedienne, rather than the contemptuous laughter of a femme fatale. Most devastatingly of all, Bussell’s gazes lacked conviction. She was timid looking into her victim’s eyes, and, in Petit’s graphic simu
lation of sex, seemed simply embarrassed. For the most chilling (and the most glamorous and alluring) Death, one has to turn to an old film of Petit’s wife, Zizi Jeanmaire, who raged through the despicable proceedings with a frightening smirk. In the face of Bussell’s limp-wristed opposition, Zelensky’s Young Man was an inevitable non-starter. Instead of being crushed by her cruelty, he seemed merely irritated by a nagging girlfriend. With short-cropped hair and a pasty torso, the 37-year-old Zelensky embodied little of the sexuality exuded by Jean Babilée, the role’s original creator. Without a smouldering rebel holding court, Petit’s tablebanging, chair-throwing, and cigarettesmoking hothouse drama looked like outdated nonsense. Across town in Bussell’s natural habitat of WC2, the Royal Ballet was staging its most adventurous programme of the year, with brand new works by Wayne McGregor and Christopher Wheeldon sandwiching George Balanchine’s The Four Temperaments . Never before had it struck me so profoundly that the survival of a
dance work can often hinge on the strength of its music. In the case of The Four Temperaments , Balanchine and Paul Hindemith’s mastery are matched. If the McGregor and the Wheeldon were never to be performed again, the feeble new scores may well be the chief culprits. They revealed the Royal Ballet’s desperate need for a musical director who can exercise artistic control over commissioning decisions and inspire a capable but complacent orchestra to play at its best at all times. Michael Nyman’s structurally repetitive and harmonically banal music killed whatever inventiveness and subtlety Wheeldon might have envisaged for his Danse à Grande Vitesse . Wayne McGregor’s Chroma fared better with Joby Talbot and White Stripes’s brashly effective soundtrack. It has since emerged that McGregor has been appointed the Royal Ballet’s resident choreographer, a title left vacant since Kenneth MacMillan’s death in 1992. To be the heir apparent to Ashton and MacMillan is more pressure than any 36-year-old deserves, and one can only wish him luck.
DECEMBER 22, 2006 THE CATHOLIC HERALD
Arts Editor: Mark Greaves Tel: 020 7448 3603 Fax: 020 7256 9728 E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org
MEDIA MATTER Trivia to clutter a young man’s brain
Last week, as part of the festive socialising that seems to start just after Remembrance Sunday these days, I ran into a young friend of mine now in his second year reading English at Cambridge. Next term he has to get going on an optional dissertation, and the topic he has submitted for the approval of his masters concerns the depiction of “the state” in television drama. The inverted commas are mine, of course. I have always been uncomfortable with the notion of “the state”, as opposed to a state, for it is an abstract credited with volition, like “society” and “media” used as a singular noun. Noble Romans invoked the term as an ideal greater than the corrupt and murderous egomaniacs who often acted in its name. But in our own time it became, in its National and International Socialist forms, an object of veneration supplanting God, a vacuum swiftly filled by the demonic. But it is not a doctorate this guy has to write. My first reaction was joy at the opportunity to be of some assistance to a young man in his academic career; that is to be a rambling old bore, cluttering his eager young brain with trivia I just happen to know. Over the years the Christmas edition of this column has often been filled with a quiz; but this time I’m adding a new twist, by inviting readers to supply the answers I can’t remember to questions, arising from the subject described above, that have only occurred to me, briefly, when I’ve been nowhere near a library or a computer. In the early 1970s there was a drama serial called Enemy of the State , in which an Englishman was induced to do a bit of informal spying in Moscow, and found himself up before a Soviet court. I can hum the theme tune, and I can see the lead actor’s face and hear his voice, but I can’t remember his name. Who was cabinet secretary before Sir Humphrey Appleby, when Jim Hacker was just Secretary of State for Administrative Affairs? What was the name of the prime minister played by Ray
McAnally in A Very British Coup ? What’s the name of the actor who plays Alastair Campbell opposite Rory Bremner’s Tony Blair? He was cast for the happy coincidence of talent and facial similarity, and it’s an added stroke of genius that his northern accent, though sounding nothing like Campbell, reinforces the thuggish persona. But who is he? One show that always reassured me that I was not merely a Tory bigot insensitive to hostile comedy was the Marx and Gran masterpiece The New Statesman . But what were Alan B’Stard’s constituencies in the British and European parliaments? Who were the lead actors in If it Moves –File it ? The premise of this short-lived sitcom was pretty much that of the hit radio comedy The Men from the Ministry , starring Richard Murdoch and Derek Guyler (currently being rerun on BBC7). But I can’t for the life of me remember who was in it. Possibly the ultimate expression, or inducer, of paranoia about “the state” in the 1960s, when revelations about the wondrous things our boffins had done in World War Two combined with a pace of technological progress unknown since the 1820s, was Patrick McGoohan’s enduringly superb The Prisoner . “Oh yes!” you cry, “Wonderful stuff!” So go on, then: name all the actors who played Number Two. If nothing else, this will keep your children busy on the net for a few minutes, and introduce them to a television classic in the process. And finally: did anyone watch The Amazing Mrs Pritchard after the first episode? Merry Christmas. Nick Thomas
Left: Rik Mayall as Alan B’Stard
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Rabbits in woolly hats
More than a few eyebrows were raised when it was revealed that Mark Ravenhill was writing a pantomime for the Barbican. Throughout his career as a playwright Ravenhill has delighted in upsetting people, and the thought of him let loose on the world of children’s theatre was sure to have sent a shudder down a few spines. But, for all the hype, Ravenhill’s Dick Whittington and his Cat is a traditional affair. The closest he comes to shocking is with a few Carry On style innuendoes that thankfully fly over the heads of the children in the audience. Despite the odd concession to modernity (with references to Tony Blair and the congestion charge) he remains on safe ground. His main intention seems to have been to tick all the necessary pantomime boxes. As a result we get a thighslapping principal “boy” (Summer Strallen) in the title role, accompanied by a memorable, kung fu fighting cat (Derek Elroy). A riotous slapstick kitchen scene set on a swaying boat sees the food fly and the house come down, and all of the call and response scenes are present and correct. The production has a somewhat ramshackle quality which works both for and against it. A hilarious fairy godmother (Debbie Chazen)
appears high above the stage on wires and the actors rush into the audience, soaking all and sundry with giant water pistols. Occasionally the atmosphere of organised chaos slips and there are times when the show feels like it is going through the motions. Danny Worters takes the name of his character too literally and his performance as Totally Lazy Jack displays a disconcerting lack of energy for a part which is supposed to be the children’s main means of engaging in the show. Roger Lloyd Pack also disappoints. As a huge fan of Only Fools and Horses (Pack was Trigger), I was impressed with his performance in The Winterling at the Royal Court earlier this year, and was looking forward to seeing him unleashed in the role of Sarah the Cook. However, he never fully embraces the part and throws away many of the best jokes. You get the distinct feeling he doesn’t relish playing a dame as much as Sir Ian McKellen when he appeared as Widow Twanky at the Old Vic in 2004. Nevertheless, the pace doesn’t slacken and the production succeeds its job. My sixyear-old cousin had a fantastic time and that is probably all you need to know. The Lyric Theatre in Hammersmith has a less traditional Christmas show on offer. Watership Down , Richard Adams’s book about a group of rabbits who search to find and then protect a new warren has been brought to life by Melly Still, who directed the National Theatre’s
successful adaptation of Coram Boy . The production sparkles intermittently. Barry Aird’s General Woundwort is suitably chilling and Richard Simons is superb as Kehaar, the pugilistic seagull. The cast also makes good use of strategically placed trampolines and in one joyous scene invades the stage on carrot-shaped pogo sticks and bouncing lettuces. However, the production is ultimately unsatisfying. Even though it is a children’s show there is an age limit of seven, and for all the physical flourishes there are too many staid scenes and the dialogue is unconvincing. Still has also made the baffling decision of making the rabbits distinctly un-rabbit like, losing much of what made the original story so charming. The actors wear woolly hats and berets; it is easy to forget they are supposed to be animals as they stomp around the stage. The only time they are remotely rabbit-like is during some graceful kung fu scenes similar to those in Dick Whittington (kung fu is obviously the fighting style of choice for any self-respecting animal this holiday season). Still was understandably keen to avoid all-out animal impressions, but, rather than find an interesting theatrical solution, she has instead chosen to completely avoid the challenge. The decision is made more bizarre by the fact that the other animals portrayed in the show, including a ferocious dog, are brought to life vividly.
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MARYVALE INSTITUTE International Catholic College for Theology Religious Education and Catechesis THE CATHOLIC HERALD DECEMBER 22, 2006
Literary Editor: Stav Sherez Tel: 020 7448 3603 Fax: 020 7256 9728 E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org
Is the Christian Right taking overthe world?
Spiritual Books Francis Phillips
Born Again: the Christian Right Globalised by Jennifer Butler, Pluto Press £14.99 Among the new certainties of the post-war world of the 1940s and 1950s was the inevitable disappearance of religion –eroded by the Age of Reason and by technology, pluralism, bureaucracy and democracy. Everything but the kitchen sink seemed destined to play a part –no doubt those newfangled washing machines had something to do with it along with the transistor radios blaring out “Roll over Beethoven”, and other rebellious thoughts about a past no longer held sacred. “We’ve come into a new day,” one sociologist told Time magazine in 1965. Another told the Rev Jennifer Butler, the author of Born Again , that sociology was committed to the view that religion is merely a hangover from man’s primitive past and doomed to disappear in an era of science and general enlightenment. She recalls hearing from the ranks of those called to spread the new enlightenment that religion, at best, was a relic of barbarism treasured by the less educated; it would crumble under the weight of the trend towards secularisation. Butler, an ordained minister, who worked as a Presbyterian Representative at the UN for nine years, has seen and heard quite enough wild theories about religion to put them in their place but reminds the reader that there have been a lot of them about in the last half-century. Among them the complete disappearance of religion, no less. She recalls how not just the doubting sociologists but even some theologians during the social revolutions of the 1960s and early 1970s proclaimed “God is dead” – believing westerners no longer found the idea of a radically transcendent God inspiring. And, astonishingly, they thought that this change in attitude could be seen in a positive light. As this illuminated the scene, Baptists and Pentecostals were thought suspect in favour of more rationalised post-Christian versions of religion. In the name of cultural sensitivity, African-American experience might be tolerated, even Islam. But Christianity? It was clearly the work of western colonial oppressors. But yet (and we can almost see the author licking her lips over the next paragraph), a number of significant events in the 1970s and 1980s “revealed that religion had failed to
follow the script that social scientists and cultural elites had written for it… religion re-emerged as a political force in nearly every region”. In 1979 the Ayatollah Khomeini ousted the Shah of Iran. In the 1980s, the Mujahedin defeated the Russians in Afghanistan; during the next decade they were defeated by the Taliban. Hindu fundamentalism provoked political violence in India while Latin American liberation theology challenged repressive governments. A decade later, Pentecostalism began to challenge the hegemony of Catholicism in Latin America. Africa experienced an
John Hinton discovers how conservative believers became a global political force Marking the Hours by Eamon Duffy, Yale University Press £19. 99 Eamon Duffy, professor of the history of Christianity at Cambridge, is both passionate and knowledgeable about the faith of ordinary English people before the Reformation. In this book, a study of the Book of Hours and its readership between the years 1240-1570, he provides a fascinating insight into the devotions of the period. For those who think the Book of Hours was largely an artistic enterprise, designed to feast the eyes of the rich with its jewel-like, illuminated pictures and decorative borders rather than engage with the written word, there is much to learn from these sumptuously illustrated pages. Duffy is interested not so much in the gorgeous artwork as in the marginalia: the family notes, extra ejaculatory prayers, charms, cures, recipes, petitions and financial transactions that found their way into the flyleaves and margins of these books. As he says, the Book of Hours was “beyond all question the most intimate and important book of the late Middle Ages”. As such, its marginalia provides much source material for the “odd but revealing things” that our Catholic forbears thought about and jotted down in private moments; if prayers were on their lips and heart, the rents and the bed-linen often crept into their thoughts. The Hours, or Horae (until the Reformation they were written in Latin), was a kind of breviary for lay people; arranged around the liturgical “hours” of worship, they contained the Gradual and penitential psalms, the Litany of the saints, the Office of the dead and the Little Office of the Blessed Virgin. Thus they brought the devotions of the laity closer to those of the cloister. Their illustrations, sometimes elaborately beautiful like the Antwerp Hours of the 1490s, sometimes more crudely executed like the Bolton Hours, usually concerned the joyful and sorrowful mysteries of the rosary,
Two different faces of America’s Christian Right: Ronald Reagan and Mel Gibson
by an imagined new world of science, progress and rationality, were fatally punctured, their theories chimerae as true believers shouldered them aside. As indeed they did. The author was there when, for the first time, members of the Christian Right appeared at a United Nations women’s conference in 2000. As Charlotte Bunch, a leader in the women’s movement, began her speech, a crowd of young, white, rather menacing dark-suited men from Mormon and Catholic groups allegedly began streaming through the back doors of the conference centre as if on cue. All wore
In the name of cultural sensitivity AfricanAmerican experience might be tolerated, even Islam. But Christianity?
She wrote this book “because the story of how the Christian Right is globalising has not received the attention it deserves.” In her view, it is building a global, interfaith coalition, advocating policies at the United Nations through government allies, establishing offices around the world, catalysing regional networks and holding international conferences. And she does not underestimate the power of the movement. “It has the support of powerful religious and political leaders… its profamily message in many ways resonates with religious evangelical, Catholic and Muslim communities around the world. The goal of strengthening the family appeals all the more among communities in the developing world because family life struggles to survive the immense poverty, urbanisation, conflict and cultural disintegration wrought in great part by globalisation.” The phenomenon of the Christian Right, Butler claims, is set to challenge progressive social policy on a worldwide scale on issues that include women’s rights, reproductive health, human cloning, children’s rights and Aids. Without sounding any particular warning, she shows some apprehension – but does point out that progressives can at least learn from the Christian Right how important the role of religion is in holding societies together and cherishing the family.
evangelical explosion. The Catholic Solidarity movement in Poland helped overthrow Communism and the Christian Right in the United States was instrumental in electing President Ronald Reagan. Small wonder that Butler observes: “As the reality of world events and the predictions of secularisation increasingly could not be matched up, some critics of the theory pointed out that it had never been based on a body of research findings.” Some of the more pumped-up sociologists, enraptured
campaign buttons bearing the single word, “motherhood”. Clearly, the whole intention was to disrupt the conference. One approached the platform and glared at the speaker. After another session, the women delegates found themselves surrounded by robed monks with long beards. So intimidating were this and other demonstrations that when Butler announced her intention of writing an essay on the origins of the groups, she was asked by some delegates whether she feared for her life.
A page from a medieval book of hours
familiar images which their owners would have incorporated into their prayer lives That they were popular is testified by the numbers of Books of Hours that survive: almost 800 manuscript copies and thousands more printed ones. Caxton brought these within the purchasing power of ordinary people; Duffy states that by the 16th century every prosperous shop owner might have their own copy. Some were personalised, with portraits of their owners kneeling in pious, supplicating attitudes; others had their names woven into the text. He argues convincingly that Holbein’s marvellous drawing of St Thomas More’s family is not just a portrait of a scholarly Renaissance household: it is a gathering of the family for a recitation of the Hours, copies of which are almost certainly being held by five members of the family. Indeed, More took his own cheap copy of the Hours into the Tower with him, writing his own poignant commentaries in the margins. What happened to the Book of Hours at the Reformation, crammed as it is with the evidence of a very Catholic piety? Duffy reproduces several instances where the word Papa (Pope) has been crossed out, as well as the name of St Thomas Becket. One court lady, whose Book of Hours included royal autographs, later deleted the names of Katherine of Aragon and Mary Tudor when they fell out of favour. After 1535 the Book became illegal and new printed versions removed all references to
the saints, Our Lady, purgatory and prayers for the dead, replacing them with prayers addressed to Christ alone. The author has yet again opened for the reader a window into the medieval world of faith and fervour. And where we moderns can no longer decipher the intricate Latin calligraphy of the Book of Hours, we can at least take delight in the natural world, the foliage, the peacocks and rose petals that often embellished its borders.
The Gospel for Little Children and The Bible for Little Children by Maite Roche. The Rosary and The Way of the Cross by Juliette Levivier, CTS Children’s Books £4.95 each. This series, yet another exciting initiative from the CTS, could be described as a modern Books of Hours for young readers. They contain vibrant and colourful pictures with a simple yet meaningful text, comprehensible for five- to eight-year-olds; younger children will be kept happily absorbed by the illustrations alone. Parents, anxious to keep their offspring from falling off pews, defacing hymn sheets and eating candles, will find these sturdy books a delight and a tool – a jumping-off point for the exploration of faith. They will also stimulate all those solemn and pressing questions, such as “Who made God?” and “If God is invisible and germs are invisible, is God a germ?” which my own children once fired at me. Ideal as Christmas presents from godparents, they will fit into stockings of the larger sort.
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Darwin to DNA
Great Tales from English History: The Battle of the Boyne to DNA by Robert Lacey, Little, Brown £14.99 Dick Turpin was a thug who raped and tortured elderly victims, Neville Chamberlain won the Battle of Britain, while Captain William Bligh’s Bounty had fewer floggings than any other Royal Navy ship of the time. Robert Lacey’s new book may cover the clearer air of the recent past but it illustrates just as well as the previous volumes how much history is written by the spin doctors. Along the way we find that our most cherished pub quiz staples are dubious at best, so that Nelson did not turn a blind eye at Copenhagen, nor did he say “kismet”, while Captain Scott would have lived were it not for the idiotic Oates. Even the supposedly horrendous casualties of the Light Brigade were mere newspaper inaccuracy. And though it covers the well-trodden paths of our history, Great Tales never gets bogged down in the ruthless pursuit of anecdote and trivia at the expense of narrative. Lacey recalls the disaster of Spion Kop and how the Boer War battle inspired the famous Anfield football terrace, only adding as an incidental afterthought that Winston Churchill (a reporter) and Mohandas Ghandi (an ambulance driver) must have been within shouting distance of
A contemporary painting of the mutiny on the Bounty
each other that day. Lacey also avoids the twin perils of national drum-beating and what might be called autoAnglophobia. We can marvel at the 400 soldiers who drowned on the HMS Birkenhead so the women and children might live, or view the captain’s orders as rather selfish in light of his own inability swim. We can certainly be impressed with the great engineering achievement of shipping 250 tonnes of human faeces to the East End every day, yet feel some pity for the hundreds who drowned in the stuff when the Princess Alice sank in Woolwich. And despite the terrible hardship of balding matchstick girls and suicidal feminists, this is the story of progress, from the overthrow of James II, through Dr Johnson, Darwin, the Great Exhibition and finally the discovery of DNA by Watson and Crick. This neatly wraps things
up in regards to Cheddar Man, a 9,000-year-old Briton discovered in Somerset. In the same year that Tony Blair was redefining Britain as a young country, a DNA test carried out on 20 local volunteers showed that history teacher Adrian Targett was a direct descendant of Neolithic man. In comparison a Norman pedigree seems no more authentic than a dodgy Romanian passport. This industry may be dominated by tele-storians David Starkey and Simon Schama, but Lacey’s approach to history is far more human, for it is not just about remarkable personalities or social trends, but the eternal struggle for public relations, in which the Turpins of this world get all the breaks while the Captain Blighs are remembered only for their failures. For that is the story of life itself. Ed West
Journey, Spirituality & Daily Life through the Centuries
Interactive CD ROM £15
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