Sunday, January 27, 2013

10.11.68 End of term, Wigmore and Coventry Cathedral

This post consists of a very long letter - it was originally sent on two aerograms. 

Dearest of all dear old souls I know, I received your parcel with the jersey and biscuits and fudge in it a couple of days ago, (and after I’d spent nearly an hour getting it open had a marvellous time!)  The jersey is perhaps a bit big, but I don’t know – it’s long, but this doesn’t matter, and there’s plenty of room in the sleeves, but otherwise it’s fine, and I intend wearing it all the this week and to run it in so to speak.  [I don’t remember this jersey, but plainly it wasn’t up to my mother’s usual standards of fitting properly!]

I’m writing this letter on Reg’s typewriter, in order to post it to you this arvo, but it’s resulting in a bit more mess than usual.  Since I last wrote I’ve been, as usual, rather flat out – even though I stayed home on both Monday and Tuesday nights.  Part of the trouble was that I’d got an idea to write some music, from Norman Thorn, [a Dunedin amateur conductor - not the one who's still conducting in the city, however] before I left home (whether it will actually come to anything finally I don’t know, but I’d like to try it) and this has taken up more time than I expected.  Also, one of the NZ students at the school happened to hear that I’d written some music – from me, of course; got to blow my own trumpet -  and it must be of some interest if Don Mackenzie [organiser of the Summer Music Schools held in Dunedin] wasn’t too rude about it, and he said he’d like me to write some songs for him some time, but though I’m very keen, it’s a matter of time, and also finding the right sort of words for this particular singer – he’s a bass, Kurt Gänzl is his name – he was Brian Gallins [actually ‘Gallas’] till he came here – he’s adopted his own family name again! – and to my way of thinking songs for basses aren’t necessarily the same type of thing as songs for soprano!  Norman Thorn had said on the way to Invercargill that time that it had surprised him that no one had ever written any music on the theme of the Stations of the Cross – so I wanted to see if I could and use a brass band into the bargain.  This of course necessitated some research into brass band orchestration.  [I don’t think anything came of any of this – when I did write some bass songs – to words by Thomas Hardy – a year or so later, I think I’d by that time lost touch with Kurt. As for there not being any music on the Stations of the Cross, a quick search on Google proves how wrong I was. I finally wrote music for brass band many years later, in the 21st century, and that was after I’d had considerable experience playing for brass players.]

At the Centre we’re into work on the two end of term productions: Albert Herring, which I’m NOT concerned with (?) and Dido and Aeneas coupled with a curious modern French comic opera called Angelique which is all about a man whose wife is such a witch that he conspires with a friend to sell her, and the chaos that ensues – even the Devil won’t have her!  It’s mad, and horribly tricky, but generally I’ve been managing to play it.  [Angelique, which I don’t remember at all, was by Jacques Ibert. Kiri te Kanawa sang Dido, and was really very good in it. The question mark after Albert Herring may indicate that I was surprised not to have been involved with it, since I'd worked on it with the NZ Opera Co.]

On Wednesday night we went somewhere, oh, yes to the Wigmore Hall – where one of the second year students was giving a concert.  The Wigmore, as you no doubt know, is the place where most young musicians make their debut.  She was on with a clarinettist, whom I thought was very much under par, probably through nervousness, but whom the critics seemed to think was pretty good?  I’m definitely beginning to distrust the critics here. There seems to be some shifty work going on backstage somehow.  [I apparently spent my time disagreeing with the critics.] The girl who sang wasn’t bad, although some of her music I didn’t find all that interesting, but she sang a new song cycle by a London bloke, which though it was scarcely terribly original was quite pleasant – I’d played a few of them for her one day at a coaching session, and quite liked them. [Unhelpfully, I don’t tell my mother who the composer was.] The accompanist was very good but inclined to overshadow his accompanees, to coin a word, probably because he was so much more experienced. It was hearing these new songs however that prompted the conversation with between Kurt and myself. 

After this, I went for a short time to a party being held in the same street, by one of our stage managers (at her flat, it was, on the fifth floor!) but didn’t stay late, though it was a nice quiet party, which is what I enjoy.  The next day David Syrus had invited me to accompany him to dinner at a lady friend (of his)‘s place, and this was equally quiet and enjoyable.  There are four girls actually at this basement flat, but the one David knows, from his University days, Mary, is an archivist now and at present is working in Lambeth House, the home of the Archbishop of Canterbury.  She is cataloguing letters and such belonging to various previous archbishops from the 19th century.  Another girl joined us for tea, Frances, who works in the Tate Gallery (an art gallery) as a secretary.  We spent so much of the meal talking, that the three courses took from about 7.45 till 10.15! (at least, Mary did most of the talking, not in a brash overbearing way, but just quietly and interestingly.  We other three probably said less together than she!)  They live in Pimlico, very near the Thames, in St George’s Square, where, presumably, most of the four or 5 storeyed houses have been converted into flats. 

On Friday at our lunch-time lecture we had Ronald Dowd, an Aussie tenor, whose been over here for some years now, and he was interesting in a waffly sort of way.  I don’t think I told you that we’d had Professor Thurston Dart the week before, lecturing on Dido and Aeneas, and bringing the whole tragedy to the level of ordinary people in a very funny way. At the lecture he seemed like a very friendly if rather cynical man – and yet, in the afternoon when he took those concerned through the music of Dido, he was frequently very rude to the singers without appearing to try and understand their reason for not having done a thing the way Purcell wanted it – this last was his most heard comment throughout the afternoon, and we were a bit taken aback by his rather surly tongue. 

On Friday night I came out to the Crowls, and listened to The Magic Flute on the radio with Reg, trying to explain what it was all about as we went along.  I’ll see if it’s possible to get some free seats for them for a performance, which will make up a little for all their generosity. I’d come out the day earlier so that we could leave early in the morning to go to Coventry to see the Cathedral that’s there. That’s the one built adjoining the ruins of the old, where The War Requiem was first performed.  It’s really unbelievable in a modern architectural way, and some of it is beyond description, I think.  Here goes. We went there via the M1 (just Reg and I; Mavis has been feeling a bit crook, and the other two had been fairly recently) and this road alone is worth comment.  We couldn’t see anything on the way, and not much more on the way back because the fog was too thick. In some places, unpleasantly so, and it’s a bit worrying to not be able to see far ahead of you on such a fast road. Reg is a good driver, I think, although sometimes he goes a little too fast for my liking. 70, for instance!  In spite of its six lanes, I dare say the M1 is very safe, but the traffic weaves in and out a lot (there are three speeds, so to speak, according to the three lanes) and though I didn’t see anything troublesome on the trip I didn’t always feel too happy. Coventry is not a very large city – I should think smaller than Dunedin, although I couldn’t always see it all for the fog, which did clear in the town at least,  - but it’s very new, particularly in the centre, and well-designed for a modern city.  The Cathedral isn’t the only decent piece of architecture.  The very centre of the town has a huge shopping mall (this part is called Broadgate) which the traffic goes around, or parks inside a large parking building, and it’s very busy as far as the pedestrians are concerned.  We didn’t stop to look at that – it was too cold to stop and look at anything...  [handwritten] to be continued.  Love Mike

Part II
because the weather for the last week has been very bitter indeed, and though I haven’t been wearing a coat yet, I have made considerable use of that scarf you gave me, and my gloves.  (And also, to digress even further, on Tuesday last, Mrs Marshall got us some coal – on our behalf – and we’ve been using that for the time since.  It’s cheaper than the electricity – and possibly more economical altogether, because the coal burns SO slowly that we hardly use any in a night). 

The sun was shining and the day was beautiful to look at in a sort of frostbitten way, but not the best to stand around in.  So we headed across this Broadgate – me leading Reg – he says he can never remember more than the first of a set of instructions on how to get to a place – we’d acquired these from a lady, who instantly knew we were strangers – not only because we were asking the way to the church, but because we said ‘where is St Michael’s Cathedral, and she only knew it as the Cathedral!  Anyway, as you go into the Cathedral two things hit you.  The massive window on your right made of about fifty or more stained-glass windows ranging from yellow and gold at the base to green and reds and blue and purples. This is all over the top of the baptismal font area.  The font is a huge rock from Bethlehem with just a niche carved into the top.  The other thing is the Graham Sutherland Tapestry, which frankly I find even less impressive in life than in the photos.  It has Christ in majesty seated with the four evangelists in their usual guises of lion, ass – or horse, perhaps – man, is it, and eagle, surrounding him.  But it’s all done in a sort of off-white and green, and to my way of thinking isn’t particularly attractive in any sense of the word.

St Mike and the Devil - photo taken by me in 2007 
The building is of a pink-gray stone outside (with an immense statue of St Mike with a long spear, standing over the Devil in chains – both of them obviously attached to the wall but somehow appearing to not be attached) and the inside is a white stone with a great deal of wood panelling, carving, ceiling, planking, seating, you name it, etc.  On the left, inside, is the Chapel of Unity, with the Star of Bethlehem set in the floor in sort of a marble type of mosaic, but not as small as mosaic is.  In the prongs of the star are, again, representations of the evangelists, considerably modern in style, and designs representing the five continents. Further into the centre are typical Christian symbols.  The points of the star go into the walls which are not just flat, but (in an already circular room) are separated by both ordinary glass in extremely narrow windows, and also by stained glass in a variety of hues, which are always darker at the base than the top.

Outside in the main church, as one goes towards the altar, you realise that there are other windows besides the huge one over the font.   But these are all so designed that you can’t see them unless you look from the altar end.  Those on one side are connected with God or the spiritual side of man, and the others with his human side.  There are five windows on each side, perhaps three yards across, each, and they represent man’s journey through life, the green ones at the far end of the Church being his childhood, the red ones next showing his passion in youth, etc, the next are multi-coloured showing middle life, with all the trials and tribulations belonging – these aren’t shown in so many pictures, but are all sort of abstract! – the next with deep purples and blues and golds show wisdom, etc, and the next, which my guide book doesn’t mention, are curious.  On one side there is a very pale window, off whites and pale yellow, and on the other a different thing again.  Anyway, presumably it means you reached your goal! 

As you come down both sides of the church there are five panels (on each side) with Christian texts, sort of roughly carved in nearly foot high letters.  If one turns round and looks at the back of the church you can see the completely glass-covered back wall with figures of saints and angels set into them.  These are modern too, naturally, but interesting, and like so much else in the church, intricately designed.  There are sets of organ pipes on both sides of the principal altar (but I couldn’t see the organ).  There is a little archway beneath these pipes on each side leading round behind the main area to the altar beneath the Tapestry.  On the way on the left side is a little collection of the various opening ceremony implements, and yet another set of stained glass windows.  crossing over to the right we come to another chapel, Christ in Gethsemane, with a frame of the crown of thorns through which the, I think, bronze angel set with coloured glass holding the cup can be seen.  This is lit by three narrow unseen windows. 

There is yet another altar (like the Chapel, sort of outside the main structure of the church) the Chapel of Christ the Servant.  It is fairly simple in design and has windows looking over the surrounding town area.  Other features of the church are the Iron Bird ?? with the three nails taken from the old Cathedral embedded between its body and the pedestal, the canopy made up of dozens of three-pointed wooden things over the Bishop’s seat, and each of the accompanying seats has one too.  I see now that my description of the Baptismal window is inaccurate.  The centre is of yellow and gold, the surrounds vary from blue to green to red.  There is a new addition to the Church.  A crucifix, about ten foot high, hanging near the font.  It is a gift from Czechoslovakia.  The whole building is very angular, and yet doesn’t make it uncomfortable to be inside. 

We went outside after and had a look at the shell of the old church, with the cross made from the wreckage, and the altar made from the stone.  The entire bell-tower is still standing and most of the walls.  Crazy, isn’t it.  We also had a look (after lunch in the Cathedral Refectory Restaurant) (!) at the church next door, which except for the loss of its original stained glass was scarcely touched (it now has a new and very detailed window facing the altar, with a very athletic Christ, and a host of well-known saints) – and it dates from 1200 or something. It’s much cosier than the other church, although its spire must be equally as big, and there are some very old things remaining in it.  The lectern dates from the origin of the church, but looks like new!, and there is a lovely carved fresco of Christ and the 12 apostles all standing about 8 inches high.  Over the altar is another carving, this one in stone (the other is wood) with the usual Christian scenes on it. Each of the pew-ends has a different type of leaf shown on it, although at first glance it appears there are only two patterns. 

That’s about it.  Last night Reg and I played firstly Scrabble with Mavis, and then played through a couple of chess games from a book by Gerald Abrahams.  The second game was that played by two computers!  I’m leaving here early today, to meet Kevin in town about five, since this is his only afternoon off!  He has Thursday off, all day off, but of course that’s no use to me.  I’ve got most of Monday off.  Might be able to catch up a little.  [handwritten] This term seems to have gone terribly quickly – finish on the 21st Dec.  We start about 6th Jan again. Thanks again for parcel. Mike

Another photo taken at Coventry in 2007