Heavenly!

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Sir Neville Marriner was a British conductor, best known as the founder of the Academy of St. Martin in the Fields1 and as one of the leaders of the Baroque revival. There’s a very through, if oddly polemical, appreciation of his life and work at The American Conservative. (I often enjoy hearing older music played on period instruments, and never thought of that as controversial, much less a Taliban-like cult.)

Sir Neville passed away a few weeks ago. As a small remembrance, here is an example of his work: a perfect little Baroque gem.

Image by Piano Piano! Notes:

  1. Who St. Martin was and what he was doing in the fields, I have no idea. []

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Mike has been a software engineer far longer than he would like to admit. He has strong opinions on baseball, software, science fiction, comedy, contract bridge, and European history, any of which he's willing to share with almost no prompting whatsoever. ...more →

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5 thoughts on “Heavenly!

  1. First off, kudos on your selection of the Handel. He suffers the curse of the big hit, or in his case three big hits: Messiah, Water Music, and Royal Fireworks. These three really are all that, and Messiah alone would place him in the ranks of major composers, but they tend to obscure that he wrote a lot of other stuff, most of it good and some of it very good.

    Moving on, that American Conservative piece is very weird. The writers thinks it a great mystery that Marriner was beloved. In considering the possible explanations, it seems not to occur to him that perhaps Marriner was lovable.

    As for the original instrument movement, while I disagree with the assessment I kind of get where it is coming from. It came of age in the 1970s as a conservatory counter-cultural movement. The early adherents sometimes combined sneering condescension with mediocre performance skills. This is not calculated to make friends. Then it grew up. Performances got better, while adherents mellowed. I won’t say no one is claiming that period instruments are the only legitimate way to perform early music, but it isn’t a prevalent opinion nowadays. At the same time, it has become pretty mainstream to suggest that study of early performance styles is useful for informing modern performances, even if this study is not taken as normative.

    Some of the old dispute survives, though. My local classical station has a Saturday program where they have a panel listen to recordings and then comment on them. Once they played a Bach keyboard piece played on a modern piano. One panelist praised this, saying how much more he liked it this way than played on “an 18th century sewing machine.” It’s a good line, but I happen to like sewing machine performances. After this I noticed that they would complain about any Baroque piece performed on original instruments with period performance technique, while praising performances with modern instruments and style. So the feud is not completely dead.

    For myself, I appreciate both “historically informed performance practice” (to use a more current term) and the Neville Marriner style. I don’t regard this as something where I must choose one or the other. Then there are the Stokowski transcriptions. These I enjoy occasionally, but strictly as kitsch:

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        • I thought I had put my junior-high oboe nightmare behind me, but the opening of this brought it all tumbling back out.

          The junior high band instructor convinced me to learn to play oboe one summer. As it turned out, his motivation was a desire to include Themes from the Nutcracker Suite in the annual Christmas concert. In that particular arrangement, one of the themes opened with a four-bar oboe solo. I was so terrified, as there are all sorts of things that can go wrong with the initial attack on oboe — and all of them had happened to me at least once during practice and rehearsals. Somehow I managed to hit the first note properly, and after that it was a piece of cake.

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  2. Heavenly indeed.

    I find few things as uplifiting as baroque music. Once got caught in creeping traffic on the highway in a tremendous thunderstorm – with the Brandenburg Concertos playing on the radio. Rain lashing down and thunder. Absolutely envigorating.

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