Utopian Turtletop. Monsieur Croche's Bête Noire. Contact: turtletop [at] hotmail [dot] com

Sunday, October 31, 2004


A little over a month ago I made some sarcastic-seeming comments about what I called Salieri’s “spiritual orgasms” while reading Mozart’s scores in that movie “Amadeus.” I was being cheeky, but the truth is, F. Murray Abraham’s performance as Salieri really moved me, especially his raptures while reading Mozart’s scores. The love of music, the love of music, the love of music.

Soon after, I started reading Peter Gay’s recent “Mozart,” a zippy bio, where I learned that the Salieri legend is probably bunk, that the “Amadeus” movie seriously underplayed the fecality of Mozart’s humor, and that Mozart’s given middle name wasn’t Amadeus, but Gottlieb, which means the same thing except in German rather than Latin. Mozart signed some of his letters with the French version, Amade (with an accent over the “e”).

Around the same time, I picked up, for a buck, a used CD from BBC’s Classical Music Magazine, of Sir Malcolm Sargent conducting the BBC Orchestra at the Last Night of the Proms in 1961. I’d heard of the Proms but didn’t know anything about it. I picked up the CD because it looked festive. The cover was a photo of Sargent in black tux, standing at a podium, waving his baton at an orchestra, while the rail behind him and his legs were covered with streaming ribbons, and the audience was dressed in elaborate fanciful costumes and waving British flags. Evidently not a typical night out of classical music.

And the show isn’t a typical concert. The first half is standard repertory -- a Rossini overture and a Grieg concerto -- but the second half is all patriotic British stuff. Elgar’s first “Pomp and Circumstance” March, played at graduation ceremonies here in the States but a patriotic hymn with words in Britain. And in 1961, the audience sang the words, loud and clear and strong. A medley of British sea songs arranged by the founder of the Proms, Henry Wood. The audience claps along with part of that too, and the CD has a very funny exchange between conductor Sargent and the audience, regarding their lack of rhythmical finesse. Two more patriotic hymns, Rule, Britannia! and Jerusalem. The audience sings the refrains of the first and the whole of the second.

Before the last number, Sargent makes a speech, rousing and gracious and funny at once. He ends it with a Bach quote. “You know, the great Bach said, when asked what music was for, he said it exists for the glory of God and the recreation of man. And I think if we judge from your attendances and your appreciation then we can really claim that our music has been for the recreation of man. Whether it has been for the glory of God, we are just hopeful that we have at least tried.” And from the crowd there’s a huge roar of approval, followed by competing groups of people singing “For he’s a jolly good fellow,” followed by another roar of approval, and then “Jerusalem.”

And one stressful day driving somewhere listening to this, the joyous roar of approval, and the hope for God’s glory, made me cry and cry.

Great blog

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