#nowlistening or #notlistening? Toby, Daft Punk, and the moon goddess

daft_punk_vibe-comWhen we observed in passing that Tobeeee had been enjoying Daft Punk bright and early before his gin sesh with Kenton last Monday, reliable music-detective @bramblybarb was right in there: “I love that song! Reminds me of a fab holiday in Turkey. Daft punk pretty much sums up Toby.”  And she’s got a point. Well—two actually (which is three more than Toby and Pip combined….) “Get Lucky” was always destined to be a classic party anthem, and Toby really is a daft punk. (That is: “punk” in the sense used in West Side Story more than that pertaining to the Sex Pistols.) In so many respects, it’s an entirely likely music choice for this player-of-players, whose reliable-partner act isn’t fooling anyone except Pip. “Get Lucky” in this sense—with its insistence on the feel-good factor and a “be who you are, do what you like” mantra—is surely an ideal theme tune for this neoliberalist twerp.

And he clearly loves the song, because only three days later he said he’d given a “rousing chorus” of it while collecting the all-important marshmallow leaves with Carol “The camomile tea pusher” Tregorran. And Pip’s notion that the song might not have been appropriate was perhaps the most useful thing she’s said all year, since many a listener might have suggested he try “Casta diva” instead, the soulful ode to the moon sung by the eponymous and tragic heroine in Bellini’s Norma (1831).

To hear Toby for a moment as Norma herself would be an intriguing idea—the druid priestess has two secret children by the leader of the Roman occupiers, and is forced to throw herself on a sacrificial pyre when the deception and betrayal are exposed. The long-standing speculations that the Gin King of Ambridge has a secret family in Brighton were not abated by the “confession” of a heroin-addled ex, and to a keen music-detective like myself, these marshmallow moments only bring the possibility of another generation of Fairbrethren back into focus.

Bonfire Night’s coming early to Ambridge this year, as we eagerly await Toby’s self-sacrifice on the pyre…

Less transvestitically (Is that even a word? Ed.), Toby might remind us of the Roman, Pollione. This guy is a total jerk—also secretly the progenitor of the two sprogs, he has the added bonus of being on the side of the brutal invaders, and also a two-timing toss-bag, as he can’t seem to decide between Norma and her bezzie-cum-apprentice-priestess Adalgisa. Pip, alas, doesn’t seem to have any friends, with the exception of Alice, and although she went through a patch of REASSURING EVERYONE that SHE AND CHRIS WERE TOTALLY FAITHFUL in ways that threatened to foreshadow an affair, it all went a bit anticlimactic.

It takes a bit more of a leap to get anywhere near proper operatic on this one…from Toby to Carol, through John to Jennifer, and so to Brian and young Ruairi. And in the weaving and squinting that one has to do along such an operatic amble through Borsetshire, and in the incongruity that moments like Custardgate bring to this everyday tale of country folk, we find ourselves faced with the fundamental question about The Archers: is it, has it ever been, could it ever descend as far as being…a soap opera?


#nowlistening: Cheerful and thankful feelings after the storm

fffffThere’s a reason the opening of Beethoven’s Fifth Symphony is one of the best-known fragments of his work. It’s one of the most famous fragments of classical music at all, and in it, Beethoven straddles the listening centuries, a compositional giant. These four notes stand in for everything we think we know about Beethoven: fierce, dark, aggressive, mysterious, irascible. It is the canonical work from the ultimate canonical composer. What is less well-known is that it premiered the same night as his Sixth Symphony. In many ways, the two works could not be more different: the Sixth is not called the ‘Pastoral’ for nothing. And it was the Sixth that Lilian and Justin enjoyed on Sunday night after their first weekend of freedom from Miranda.

Its full title is ‘Pastoral Symphony, or Recollections of Country Life’, and it’s apt indeed, as the work portrays the idealized countryside of Romantic thought. The five movements have names themselves: ‘Scene by the brook’, the second movement,e4a7d3cdae887e8fa06ec3e74d6a9c0c closes with a woodwind section imitating bird calls crudely enough even for Robert Snell to identify; ‘Merry gathering of country folk’ would be well-placed to accompany a maypole choreography by Linda Snell. Coming immediately after ‘Thunder. Storm’, it was the fifth movement to which the young lovers relaxed: ‘Cheerful and thankful feelings after the storm’. Surely Miranda is that storm, and so we might assume that life at the Dower House will be full of Happy Ever Afters, the sort of ending found in the cleaned-up versions of Grimm’s Fairy Tales, themselves first published in 1812—contemporary to Beethoven’s symphony. But, as ever, there are clues at play if
we scratch beneath the surface.

Beethoven is known for a kind of cellular compositional style, in which a small fragment (like the opening notes of the Fifth) grows almost organically, and weave through the entire work. The Sixth is no exception, but here we can read the cells as a biological metaphor: Yvonne Frindle writes of “the infinite repetition of pattern in nature” to be found in the rhythmic cells. Nature is indeed nothing if not repetitive: the rising and setting of the sun; the turn of the seasons; the cycle of the weather, of rising and falling pressure, of evaporation and rain and evaporation again. So these lovers, with their newfound bliss, may well enjoy these “cheerful and thankful feelings” for now, but there is no maxim about the calm after the storm, is there? Are we to expect more turbulence for Justillian, perhaps a drawn-out and expensive divorce? And might it all draw out the darker side of Justin, whose own dyspeptic nature we have seen on more than one occasion? Perhaps we’ll be hearing the ominous opening of the Fifth before long after all….

#nowlistening: Purcell with Jenny and Fallon

“Land”, Jennifer’s absurdly vague theme for the party celebrating Brian’s vaguely absurd purchase, wasn’t much for Emma and Fallon to go on. They got there in the end, of course, with Jim’s help, and the cornucopia theme went down well enough. But what was the significance of the music Jennifer was enjoying a minute into Wednesday’s episode while Fallon presented the menu?

Not to be confused with the composer

Jennifer might have meant ‘land’ in the sense of physical space, and Fallon turned to land’s physical capacity to nourish, but ‘land’ is also a cultural concept. In 1904, the German writer Oscar Schmitz described England as “Das Land ohne Musik”: “The land without music”. And so he identifies Englishness itself as lacking in original musical capacity.

Last Night of the Proms: propped up by Elgar, Vaughan Williams, Parry, and other composers of the “English musical renaissance”.


Today, the English composers contemporary to Schmitz are at the centre of English musical identity. With Elgar’s pomp and circumstance and Parry’s new Jerusalem, they are the soundtrack of the establishment. Historically, Purcell stands apart, a lone English name in the musical canon. And his shadow looms long into the twentieth century over notions of musical Englishness. Britten’s Young Person’s Guide to the Orchestra; the main theme in Kubrick’s A Clockwork Orange; the Pet Shop Boys’ ‘Love Is A Bourgeois Construct’: all of them start at Purcell.

Tamsin Greig in between Debbie Aldridge moments, as Malvolia in Twelfth Night at the National

He is to music what Shakespeare is to theatre, and it is apt indeed that the opening of Twelfth Night accompanied the scene, for the quote is surely one of the most iconic of the Bard’s. With it, Purcell manages to piggy-back on the existing English-cultural capital of Shakespeare, and in turn it is the legacy of both of them that occupied the sonic space behind Jenny and Fallon. In Twelfth Night, the speech comes from the Duke Orsino, musing over an unrequited love; it’s very little to do with food, and much more to do with his self-indulgence, in love, food, and anything else going. Eventually, as @muchadoambridge puts it, “love conquers all and snobby authority (Malvolio) is put in its place”. Perhaps this foretells of Lillian and Justin’s ‘love’ triumphing, and Miranda-as-Malvolio being shot down. Alternatively, if Jenny’s party is itself all about her snobbishness and the importance of reputation, then perhaps it is her pride and her fall that are in such dangerous proximity.

If the Shakespeare text is Purcell drawing on the timelessness of what has gone before, his “Sound the trumpets” represents a point on which others draw in turn. Throughout the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, the castrato voice dominated the operatic stage and church music practice. These voices, preserved in their youthful state by medical intervention, were highly prized and highly paid, in Italy especially. Conversely, the adult male voice singing high without such intervention—what we now call the countertenor—was considered a pretence, a falsity (hence the word falsetto). But in England the politics of voice types were somewhat different, and it was the countertenor for which Purcell wrote this duet. By the mid-twentieth-century, both castrato and countertenor were voices of the past. But when, in 1943, Michael Tippett heard Alfred Deller singing in Canterbury Cathedral (perhaps the most ‘eternal’ of Christian structures), he pointed to Purcell as a point of origin: “I recognised absolutely,” said Tippett, “that this was the voice for which Purcell had written.” And so Deller acquired validation for what was then a very unusual voice.

Purcell stands not just for the imperial Britishness of Elgar et al., which rises and falls in violence, but for the timelessness of England, the unspoilt land, the beauty of rolling hills. In the context of The Archers, he stands for an idea of rural England as untouchable, sacred, eternal. This is surely the myth that Jenny Darling buys into—the inevitability of her lord, Brine, surveying his land; of her managing the household and organising the servant caterers; and of the entire social system of Ambridge relying on this feudal relationship.

Now, if they want any DJing for the party itself, they know where to find us….