David Green

David Green (Books) is the imprint under which I publish booklets of my own poems, when there are sufficient of them. Apart from that, the website has become what it is. I hope you find at least some of it worthwhile.

Wednesday, 30 August 2017

The Finished 'Unfinished'

Schubert, The Finished 'Unfinished', Symphony no.8 in B minor, Kammerorchester Basel/Mario Venzago (Sony)

And the reason why this order, previewed in keen anticipation not long ago, didn't arrive until now was because I hadn't actually ordered it. It's always worth checking.
What did one expect, though, now that it's here. It was always out of the question that the third and fourth movements could immediately impress enough to sound right after such well-known and much-loved movements as the first two. But that is set against a recent playing of no.9 which is great in scale if a bit more sub-Beethoven and rhythmically adventurous than as outstandingly 'Great' as it is called. And it is with similar feelings that this re-made no.8 leaves us at the end. Quite possibly credibly Schubert, one just knows it's not from an autograph score and so it is essential to know about, will be played in preference to leaving the symphony unfinished but it's like only having Lulu doing a fine job on The Man Who Sold the World if the Bowie version had ever been lost.
The opening shimmering violins are surely too quick. But I often think tempi are taken too fast rather than too slow. Festina lente, it's not a race. Harnoncourt's first two movements are timed at 26.21 on his complete Symphonies recording which compares with 22.24 by Venzago so I might have a point, for once. I might not have thought this new release would win by quite such a margin had I not been prompted to look it up by those opening bars. The first movement is marked Allegro moderato, so we are left to wonder how fast moderately fast is meant to be. If disco records can have beats per minute ratings then metronome values indicated by the composer shouldn't result in four minutes difference between two recordings of the same 20-odd minutes of music and I'm with Harnoncourt, I'm sure he'd have been delighted to know.
Another of my usual objections is contrast. Light and shade, dark and light, loud and soft (betting with Haydn's Surprise Symphony), were surely Romantic inventions, or preferences, that have been taken to further extremes by contemporary composers who still think we are going to be shocked and surprised by surprisde and shock. No, we've come to expect it, it's as predictable as the next eight bars of Philip Glass. It's fine in Beethoven, maybe it was him that made it seem so necessary, but we've been paying for it ever since.
But Venzago possibly flows better in his reconstruction of Schubert than he does in his interpretation of the extant first two. Except that it is in this unfamiliar territory that we are in less of a position to say.
At less than 44 minutes, with only this symphony on it, one might expect more for the pound in your pocket but what would one fill up the other half hour with. On this occasion, the symphony stands alone and I, personally, felt the need to know. And it stands up as well as it could have been expected to. The added movements were never going to exceed what we had already but they make enough sense for a respectable pass mark and, who is to say, play it enough and one day they will probably sound right.
Best of luck to it and thanks for doing it.

Larkin's Arundel Tomb

It's not the first time I've made this point and it's unlikely to be the last but I was recently given the opportunity to revive an old favourite theme and so did.
My correspondent at Plucarden Abbey was kind enough to send me an article, Surprised by Hull by Jonathan Tulloch from a recent issue of The Tablet, the weekly magazine on Catholic pre-occupations. Surprised to find Larkin a subject for their attention, I was uneasy at the selective quotations Jonathan used to bring about an optimistic view of Larkin. By all means, he is not quite the complete curmudgeon of popular assessment but wheeling out the last line of An Arundel Tomb to suit his purposes is going too far although plenty of people see fit to do so.
I've been involved in debates about it before and had to re-read it several times to make sure it wasn't me that had been wrong all along. However much Eng. Lit. these days seems to want to see the writing as appendages to an author's biography or 'theory', the text must remain the real focus of our attention and so no amount of appeal to Larkin's sensitive side should divert us from the poem's argument as a whole, elusive though it might seem.
Thus, I wrote a letter to the Editor in the hope of adding The Tablet to my palmares of The Gloucester Citizen, The Sunday Express, The Listener, Retail Jeweller and The TLS. It was acknowledged but hasn't, to my knowledge, appeared yet and so it probably won't. There is also a poem in progress, although slow progress, called Letters to the Editor, to balance such activity with the idea that the authors of such things should have better things to do.
Anyway, just for the record.



Dear Sir,

I am indebted to a Catholic friend who brought my attention to Jonathan Tulloch’s fine piece, Surprised by Hull  (5 August) and it is to be applauded that The Tablet could feature such an item on an as avowedly atheist writer as Larkin.
But maybe not quite so fast. An Arundel Tomb is mainly remembered for its last line, ‘What will survive of us is love’ and Jonathan does include in his quotation the preceding line that it is ‘our almost-instinct almost true’ which qualifies it considerably. But those enamoured of the last line tend not to notice how Larkin has taken great care to eschew the optimistic sentiment of his ending more profoundly than that.
The last stanza begins,
Time has transfigured them into / Untruth.
And continues,
                       The stone fidelity
They hardly meant

And so, although it does say it has come ‘to prove’,
What will survive of us is love.,

that is at most an almost instinct that is only almost true, so the poem is saying no such thing.

There is certainly more optimism in Larkin’s poetry than he is sometimes given credit for but let us not get carried away.

Yours Faithfully, as it were,

David Green
 

Sunday, 27 August 2017

Oh, Babe, What Would You Say

There would be no poems, music or any such thing without the ones that went before. Beethoven couldn't have done what he did without Mozart and Haydn before him. It's a matter of whether one stands on the shoulders of giants to reach higher or only fall back from their example.
I'll be most disappointed if I can't make it to Cheltenham for the Thom Gunn Celebrration, to promote the new Selected Poems, which fits in nicely with Alan Hollinghurst. As such, I thought I'd look at Clive Wilmer, the latest to edit a selection of Gunn, and got his own New and Selected Poems from 2012. Thus it was that I was reminded of when Lindisfarne first split and I saw the off-shoot band, Jack the Lad, described as 'surrogate'. There's no shame in that but it does suggest that they found no distinct identity for themselves beyond being ex-Lindisfarne. In Wilmer's poems I was immediately struck by how much like Gunn's they were and then found, in a poem to Gunn on his sixtieth birthday, how he openly says that,
I tried to imitate your 'mighty line',

and he does it very well, like the second generation inheritor of Gunn's tribute to his mentor, Yvor Winters. When he is in that mode, he imitates the rigour and cadences like Gary Numan taking up the electronic-period Bowie or Shakin Stevens doing his karaoke Elvis, but when he isn't, he's different again, 'poetic' in a Keatsian way, perhaps.
But as when Eric Idle played the Rutles songs to George Harrison, there are moments like With a Girl Like You when 'it's a bit close, that one'. I've done it myself, unwittingly. Pleased with myself having finished a new poem, I'm admiring my own handiwork and then, oh no, all I've done is re-make a Larkin poem, it's not quite as much me as I thought. Because somewhere in the sub-conscious, there's plenty there and the longer it stays there fermenting, the more one assumes it's one's own.
Wilmer's Charon's Bark, from a book first published in 1992,
me stranded on this shore
and glimpsing you,
too far out, too baffled by the crowd

and

your set eyes blind to the same look
in these that reach out after you.

is very close to Gunn's A Waking Dream, from a book published in 1982,

but he looks through me and beyond me,
he cannot see who spoke

Imitation really is the sincerest form of flattery.
-
But not always.
More than halfway thrrough the old Ben Pimlott Harold Wilson, one difficulty I have with it is whether it's appropriate to listen to something sublime and wonderful like Bach or Buxtehude when reading of such underhand horse-trading. It doesn't seem right.
But the parallels between Labour's two most electorally succesful leaders start to dawn on one as soon as the difficulties Wilson had with a number two called Brown are set out in quite such detail. One can hardly expect politicians to be honourable. It was to establish if Wilson was any better than the latest generation that I got the book. Well, maybe he was the blueprint, based on the way he was at first very impressive in putting away blase, patrician MacMillan and the old school.
This analysis must have been done before but it's not just a volatile sidekick called Brown that Wilson and Blairr have in common. If they ever had any socialist agenda in the first place, it is soon compromised by becoming Prime Minister and both find themselves subservient to the American president. They both ride their luck to come away with impressive win ratios at General Elections and then hand over to the next man, who has been waiting a long time, so that it's them that can inevitably lose the next election. One thing you can say for Margaret Thatcher is that she didn't go willingly and John Major did actually cling on. But Wilson and Blair both went from being dazzling, young, apparently progressive Prime Ministers to shifty, untrustworthy operators looking after themselves. And that is not particularly an indictment of them but the way politics is. I wish I didn't find it quite so morbidly captivating. It might be interesting to see the same period from a Roy Jenkins point of view next but I think Lord George Brown will one day be my next political biography.
-
But, raising one's spirits beyond all that fiddle, was Friday night's late night Prom, mainly for the evening raga, played by Budhaditva Mukherjee (sitar) and, worthy of almost erqual billing, Soumen Nandy (tabla), to mark the 70th anniversary of the partition of India. So, presumably that means the great Rajan & Sajan Misra Prom that has lived in the memory ever since must have been for the 50th anniversary, twenty years ago. Good grief, there have been precious few radio concerts that have impressed quite as much as that did.
I know that it is almost jazz in a way but it's a far, far better thing that they do, in a vastly longer tradition and conjuring much more rarified thoughts of mountain ranges, mystery, meditation and passion than self-indulgent meanderings in self-consciously 'cool' clubs where your first thought is to look at your watch and wonder how much longer it's going to take to say nothing whatsoever. Indian ragas make forever seem perfectly acceptable but it is, paradoxically, all in the moment and I don't want just any record by Budhaditva and his mate Soumen, if he is his mate, I want that concert

And, while we are on the Proms. Tremendous recording of the Beethoven 5 concert with Mirga on telly this evening. You can't help but like her but it's unlikely I'll be learning her surname and she'll always be Mirga to me.

And, finally. Michael Craig-Martin was the guest on Private Passions today. It's all very well being highbrow and snooty and pleased with oneself for never having heard of Big Brother celebrities or Little Mix but perhaps I ought to have heard of him, some kind of godfather to the YBA's, who are by now much older British Artists, perhaps in the same way that Paul Weller was elevated to being the 'modfather' by Britpop. For someone of that pedigree who you might associate with marketing more than art for art's sake, he spoke a lot of sense, like there being no rules about art.
For forty years and more, wherever I've been there have always been people who want there to be 'rules', even to the extent, I suppose, of making lists of rules that say there are no rules.
A sonnet has 14 lines; counterpoint is this, coimposition in a painting is that. Virginia Plain and Up the Junction are two singles that didn't have a chorus. Well, good for them but so what. You can, if you want, abide by as many rules as you want- as it happens I usually choose to- but all you have to do is be any good.   
Good lad, good music choices, too, immediately ruling out orchestral music in favour of smaller groups and opera. I'm not saying I'd go all the way with him on that but I know what he means.

P.S. During the following concert from the Cadogan Hall, with songs by Reynaldo Hahn, it was news to me that the composer of A Chloris was a boyfriend of Proust's.




You don't find things like that out on The One Show.

 



Monday, 21 August 2017

Oh, Babe, What Would You Say

There are hundreds of TV channels to choose from but most of the time I watch old QI, old Not Going Out, old The Chase, and not much new. I saw Fern Britton heroically nominate Science Fiction for Room 101 the other night only to be howled down by a nerd called Robert Webb and then Danny Baker made a convincing but unsuccessful case for punk rock.
And then it comes to Sunday night and the BBC put the Prom of the St. John Passion up against Far from the Madding Crowd. I ask you.  But never mind how many league tables put Bach top of the greatest creative artist of all time, the intention to flick between channels in an effort to do both, Thomas Hardy won. Although I might have to go back to the book to see if that is really how it ends because I don't think it does.
--
Meanwhile, back on the page, Ben Pimlott's Harold Wilson hasn't taken long to answer the questions asked of it. Like were politicians always quite as shifty, manipulative and self-seeking as they onviously are now. Post-Blair, post-Cameron, and not yet safely post-Boris and with the cartoon swot, Jacob, now being posited as a contender, were past generations quite as conniving, ambitious and unworthy as them.
Well, in the example of Harold Wilson, yes, they were. It is a heavy book and probably far too dangerous tothrow at cats but it needs to be to unravel the complexities of Wilson's tactical genius. Pimlott is good, never less than thorough and comes up with regular fine turns of phrase, like, when Harold is deftly positioning himself to appeal to the centre and left of the Labour party while not really being of their ilk,
Wilson's actual distance from Gaitskell was so small as to be scholastic.
Lord George Brown is in there but deserves a book to himself and Marcia has already taken control of the project. If there isn't much good satire or comedy on the small screen - and how can there be with the news consistently weirder than any joking can make it look- one is grateful for that time before one can remember it for onself and, no, not much has changed. We've just got less respect for it now.
And, in praise of olden days, and in line with Danny's railing against the over-rating of 1976/77 in pop music, the debonair Jack Buchanan is one place we can go for balm in these nutcase times.
--
But we must do what we do and carry on doing it, regardless.
The Perfect Book was set for October 2019 as I collected more poems for a bigger book than the customary dose of 14 poems every four years. But I'm looking at the twenty I have, and have made some judicious amendments, and I feel an itch.
It's not a book the world needs and I'll give it away to anybody unguarded enough to express the slightest of interest but I want to see it. And so I stare at the poems from time to time, in between a novice hurdle from Roscommon and a beginners chase at Southwell on a Sunday afternoon, and wonder if they are any good. Or, rather, whether I like them enough because that's all that matters. And I think I do, possibly too much to subject the innocent darlings to a pamphlet competition in the hope of getting somebody else to do the donkey work of putting them through the presses. I can do that and save them from being bullied by poems by people with creative writing degrees or the horrors of being typeset and edited by a foster parent. Never mind if you're not short-listed for Forward prizes, reviewed in Poetry Review or read out at the Ledbury Festival, you were mine and I loved you for all your shortcomings and lack of competitive edge.   
On the other hand, of course, word might spread like wildfire through the disparate poetry communities about this wonderful little book that has made poetry by avoiding all the usual pitfalls that give poetry such a bad name for preciousness, virtue signalling, excess erudition or just trying too hard to be poetry and I'll be turning down contracts, invitations and professorships on a semi-full-time basis.
We'll see.   

Friday, 18 August 2017

The Finished 'Unfinished'












There have been a few theories about why Schubert's Symphony no. 8 is 'Unfinished'.

The theory popularized by Jack Buchanan in 1935,

Now I know just why Franz Schubert
Didn't finish his unfinished symphony
He might have written more but the clock struck four
And everything stops for tea

is woefully under-regarded in academic circles these days.

It had been thought that he died, well, he did but not so soon that he couldn't have completed this symphony. It has been suggested that he was unable to overcome technical compositional problems that he set himself in the third and fourth movements whereas I liked the idea that the first two movements were so bloody good that he didn't want to ruin them by adding any more to them, which is possibly the same thing expressed with less pomp.
The theory that has gained most ground in recent years, though, is that he purloined the fourth movement for the more pressing deadline of the ballet, Rosamunde, and the other bit went with it.
So Mario Venzago has taken it upon himself to reconstruct what might have been.
It will be interesting to see how readily this version is taken up by concert programmes.
Nobody seems to mind that Sussmayer finished Mozart's Requiem for him. I'm not sure that anyone has put the last touches to The Art of Fugue for Bach because, quite possibly, he didn't die having just poignantly signed his name in the abortive start of a final theme but that's where he meant to leave it. I was glad that Gorecki Jnr. completed the Symphony no.4 from his father's notebooks so that we could hear what came after the monumental No.3. But I've never troubled much with Elgar's Symphony no.3 that was finished for him because I don't know much about the first two.
So, I thought the Finished 'Unfinished' was an essential acquisition although it might take longer than some of us have got to ever completely accept it as the real thing.
But it hasn't arrived yet so do come back later to find out what it's like.   

Sunday, 13 August 2017

Up the Ladder to the Roof

of St. Mary's Church, Fratton, something I've been intending to do for a few years but never been able to coincide knowing when it's open with it not having rained and so it's closed.

Not quite for everyone. I'm not the best on ladders or with heights and you wouldn't want to be 6ft 4 in the later stages but it's not as challeging as Salisbury Cathedral and you couldn't have a better day than today to do it.
The first picture here is of my house, in context, from a distance.
It doesn't seem many years ago that one wouldn't want to be seen taking a photograph of oneself but now it's considered normal and there's even a word for it.







Friday, 11 August 2017

Intellectual Honesty

Good work in the TLS this week by Barton Swaim. It hardly bears re-iterating here because it was ne'er so well expressed or at least I couldn't have put it any better. One of those things one knew about but didn't realize it was a thing until it was explained quite so well.
It is intellectually dishonest... to hold a view in part because you regard those who hold the opposite view to be silly or off-putting or distracted.
That is notwithstanding the fact that he begins from a position that claims that Donald Trunp is not as bad as he seems but he retrieves himself by identifying my own natural, treasured inclination by asking,
is it wrong to take a minority position on the grounds that so many people can't be right.
 
Barton uses a debate about the relative merits of tennis and golf as an example to extend the effect and shows how one could be persuaded in favour of golf. Tennis is (obviously) agreed as the better sport but one is inclined to sympathize with golf more because the reasons given by others to deride golf are bad.
I recognize immediately how my natural affinity with Labour politics, not always backed up by my vote, is tempered by some bad reasons given by others for supporting them. And, in parallel, because I'd be the last to vote for a party that contains Michael Gove, Boris Johnson and George Osborne, I resent any suggestion that I might and am at pains to point out that my fascination with Jacob Rees-Mogg - and, yes, the joke has probably gone far enough by now - is only in line with Vicky Coren's aside once on Have I got News For You, 'Do you know, I find you strangely attractive'.
But it dangerously extends into artistic judgements when one's admiration of Lou Reed, which is this side idolatry, is almost tempered by the knowledge that when I saw him once, someone else who's opinion is like aversion therapy on me went to see him twice.
And my worship of Sylvia Plath, which is well beyond my estimation of Ted Hughes, is affected by those whose agendas have made her a test case for gender issues. So much so that when once I bought a badge with Sylvia's picture on it, I found I couldn't wear it for fear of being taken for a maniac and so I gave it away.
We should not be so craven in the face of the opinions of others, the various pieties, whether religious, political, artistic or sporting. Barton Swaim questions why it is 'intellectual honesty', reminding me of Ezra Pound crossing out adjectives and adverbs.
It's just honestly, probably. But when I left the atmosphere of campus correctness, where I had at least resisted the accepted taste for John Coltrane, Charlie Parker and Frank Zappa, and entered the completely different world of work, I had held The Human League and much of the electronica of the early 1980's in very low esteem but then found myself working with people who bought such records. I found I changed my mind, whether by osmosis, compulsion or just to be sociable but I'm glad I did. It was just in time for Dare. And they were right and I'd been wrong.