Sunday, July 01, 2012

worried longings Compasses









If  you could use human terms to describe animals I would say that this blackbird looks worried. But of course human concepts don't work here.  A more appropriate word would be predatory. On second thoughts both words might be used, which would sum up  the avian condition. And  the human condition too.

Enoch Powell, an austere Conservative politician with right wing leanings is remembered best for his  notorious 1968  "river of blood" speech in  the 1970s in which he expressed fears about the arrival of  immigrants  to the UK and  the problems of racial integration.  "As I look ahead," he said, I am filled with forboding. Like the Roman, I seem to see the River Tiber foaming with much blood."He was a classical scholar and at one time an amateur musician of some distinction. But he gave up music for academia and never returned to it. On BBC Radio 4 yesterday his precise,  lugubrious voice with its hint of a Midlands accent came back to me, when someone quoted his answer to the question: "Why do you listen so little to music?" "I do not think it a good idea," he said, " to awaken longings that cannot be fulfilled". A little sad, I thought and a hint of the human side of a man, notorious for the harshness of his politics.
Years ago someone whom I met in Australia bet me a fiver that Powell was an Australian. He was wrong of course. Powell was born in Birmingham, but  it is true  that he was at one stage of his career, Professor of Greek at  Sydney University.

Despite the reluctance of the sun to emerge we sit outside the Compasses. Geoff and Ron are there and then come Brenda and George and Glyn. A party occurs and within a few minutes there is laughter and the World's problems, to say nothing of the usual ailments of the old and aging, are disposed of, if not entirely forgotten. Rain threatens. But who cares?  There is IPA and Guiness and Pinot Grigio. It is Sunday, and this after all this is Tunbridge Wells, and The River Tiber is not yet flowing with much blood.

1 comment:

Lorenzo da Ponte said...

Powell's interest in music is new to me. His remark about "awakening longings" seem a little contrived but I suppose I must accept it. Whatever his beliefs I think he told the truth - as he saw it - as much as any politician ever does.

But had he said that to me (a preposterous thought) and I was as old as I am presently, I would have invited him to re-reflect. I think music's appeal changes with time. Initially there is a period of regular discovery and the establishment of fierce allegiances, later familiarity allows us to recognise banality and also previously unrecognised depths. The relationship becomes, if you like, less visceral and more civilised. Also even people who lack technical competence begin - through sheer repetition - to appreciate dimly some of those technicalities with the result that their response is more balanced, less emotional.

Surely Powell's longings must also have changed over his life; the fever of adolescence replaced with something a little more philosophical. The cant prescription which I cannot nevertheless escape are doses of later Mozart and especially the operas. Those beautiful tunes which decorated our youth become (with help from my good self) devices which equip us to come to terms with longings that can't be achieved. Finally preparing us for very late works like the clarinet concerto where time as a progression from youth to old age is dispensed with and we need only face up to a rewarding present.