Monday, February 20, 2017

Ruth Gipps Again

Today has brought us to the ninety-sixth anniversary of the birth of the composer Ruth Gipps; Thursday will be the eighteenth of her death.  So it is time for my annual lament about how little-known her music seems to be for a musician of her stature.  The list I have compiled here shows how few readily-available recordings there are.  Of her five symphonies, her proudest achievements, only the second has a decent recording.  Spirited performances of the third, fourth and fifth can only be heard through the fuzz of digitised tape recordings of varying quality, though much gratitude is due to those who have dug them out.

Anniversaries tend to spur things on in music, so I am hoping that her centenary, which is fast approaching, will be marked in some way.  I think she would be an ideal candidate for the Proms, for example.  Imagine how a live performance or even a decent recording of this, the climax of her fifth symphony's first movement, would sound:

Ruth Gipps: fifth symphony. 
(The uploader has chosen a photograph of the Ribblehead Viaduct in the Pennines)

I know I am not alone in enjoying Ruth Gipps' music. The second movement of her piano concerto was requested and broadcast on the BBC's excellent Breakfast programme last week, and her neglect has been noted elsewhere on the Internet.  Her personality, which many found rather forthright, and her principles, which included an unashamed rejection of musical or cultural fashion and a readiness to express it, may not have helped her cause during her lifetime — nobody on whose life and works the only scholarly work is sub-titled 'Anti-modernism, Nationalism and Difference'  can expect thunderous acclaim in the present age — but this is precisely what makes her character interesting, not least because, I think, it is  borne out in the spiky liveliness of her compositions (the third movements of  her fifth symphony or her piano concerto), as is a keen appetite and ear for the lyrical and the beautiful.  Ruth Gipps should be far better known!

Tuesday, February 07, 2017

Press On Wards

This blog does not usually venture into politics, but I think I can say that last June's referendum on our membership of the European Union transcended politics: it was History (capital H!).  Since I wrote the flurry of posts at the time (on the eve of the vote, the following morning and the day after), it has all given me plenty to think about.

There was an interesting article yesterday from the BBC, which has been going through the details of the votes by electoral ward, every pocket of country, and finding trends and quirks in the result.  I find this fascinating —  it is proof of the variety and character of the country that has always been there.  To think of this result as a revolt by the English and Welsh 'regions' against the London 'metropolitan elite', with Scotland and Northern Ireland going their own way, was always rather a simplification.  The BBC finds all sorts of patterns — islands of one result isolated by swathes of the other, sharp contrasts between wards in similar regions — and so on.  The article asserts that the factor that correlated most strikingly with the results was the level of formal education.  The lower this was per ward, the more strongly that ward tended to vote to Leave.  Thus 82.5% of the people of Brambles and Thorntree in Middlesbrough, where 5% of people have a degree, voted to Leave; Market ward in Cambridge, which includes most of the colleges, voted 87.8% to Remain.  Rural areas and more deprived parts of England, on the fringes — places people never visit, which are the places I am interested in — were more likely to want to Leave.

Perhaps this goes some way towards explaining why I dithered so much about my vote.  On paper, it seems I ought to be a staunch Remainer.  I am in my twenties, have grown up in London and have a degree — come to that, a degree in French and German.  I am very fond of European cultures.  Yet I fall wholeheartedly, even gratefully, into the category of the 'Left Behind'.  Perhaps the very interest I have in the particularity of the wards, even the delight I take in their names  (Milkstone and Deeplish!  I had never heard of either) betrays this.   Globalisation, or at least globalised culture, makes me dizzy.  I feel much of the time as if I am living in the future, not the present.  I have never taken an international flight in my life; my instinctive idea of a holiday is not to go abroad but to plunge into the narrow hollows or intricate coastline of my own country.  It isn't at all that I'm not curious and deeply interested in the whole world.  But I can only enjoy it in tiny mouthfuls, because everything I find I must savour.  (But how much does this have to do with the European Union?  I'm not sure).  I think, too, that I shared with Leave voters a feeling that sovereignty was the crux of the whole affair.  The nation is far looser and less important than the family (and the British have lost sight of this in the past) but there is the crucial similarity that we are, to a greater or lesser extent, rooted in both.  These feelings did not make me a Brexiteer any more than the others made me a Remainer, but I have more of an idea now why, almost alone it seems, I felt sympathy in such stubbornly equal parts towards ordinary voters (as opposed to campaigners) in both camps.  

In fact I don't, incidentally, really think there ought to be a contradiction between these two feelings.  My studies and ventures into Europe made me more fiercely fond of my own country even as I came to know and understand French- and German-speaking cultures better.  It did not, however, stop me from dithering over my vote to the point of its hardly seeming to count...

I would be dithering still, if I allowed myself to.  But I have decided not to.  Now that we have a result, there is no reason why we should not all set to and try and make a success of it.
One way of seeing the result: A view northwards from Leith Hill, the highest point in south-eastern England, down across the Holmwoods ward (57% Leave) in the foreground, over Dorking South (63% Remain) in the dip this side of Box Hill in the middle distance, and then London, world city, practically its own nation and most certainly Remain, in the far distance.  All this variation in the landscape of Meredith and Vaughan Williams and the Lark Ascending.
Of course, I would be a lot happier about it all if I had more faith in the country.  It is often tempting to despair at the scale of the decline of civility, the collapse of marriage and the family, the unthinking public swearing, the callous behaviour on the roads, the ugliness in both popular and high culture, the characterlessness of architecture, the dry tonelessness of language, the dictatorship of relativism, the moral uncertitude, the unhappiness of so many people — especially among young people of my generation, where it might least be expected — the materialism it is such an effort to resist, the crush of fashion, the burdens that people have to shoulder, often alone.  

But then I take myself in hand.  There are many people trying, and indeed succeeding, in doing good, all over the place.  Often they are not seen, which is the proof of the goodness of their actions.  And there are all sorts of movements, ideas, societies, choirs, clubs, even traditions, that carry on unobtrusively without making a spectacle of themselves.  One of the things I was wholeheartedly pleased to see in the referendum was the quiet but firm subversion of celebrity culture, which I would once cynically have supposed held us all in a glitzy grip.  And there are legions of good and just people — I could reel off the names of a hundred people, known to me, many my friends, who number among them — who will not let civilisation crumble on their watch.

Postscript: By the way, I think we should resist the drawing of comparisons between our own referendum and events trans-Atlantic.  It may be that both represent an apparently-unexpected popular uprising, but what has happened in America is the triumph of a brand, whereas the British referendum went the way it did precisely because it was unbranded.  The question was put to us with few bearings, and without the attachments of the main parties, so people voted more freely.  So in my opinion it is unwise to speak of the two events in the same breath, and certainly not allow our feelings about one to affect our opinion of the other.  Right, enough politics!