When the chest is hurting

Something you might need to relieve it.

I thought it was time for a rant. A good rant does you good, doesn’t it? It gets some thoughts off your chest, without having to put them through the mill of your mind, which will inevitably try to talk you out of your ill-conceived purpose, and gives you a false sense of achievement. What it does for your auditors is an entirely ‘nother matter. Do they walk aways in disgust? Do they listen intently thinking to themselves, he’s normally a quite well thought out chap, there must be something in what he is saying worth listening to? Who would be such a fool as to believe that that is how his rant is being taken, but we are talking about men here, and there are many more idiots on the road than I, at least one of them will believe that everyone is listening intently to what the irrefragible ranter is saying. And who knows if someone is listening, it is just possible that someone will understand what the ranter has said and then convey it in incontrovertible elegance in an essay of the utmost pulchritude and penitence, in the proper sense of course, to the world which is waiting with bated, but not halitolic, breath for structure, form and beauty to be applied to these words of ranted wisdom.

So without further ado, and much less thought in case the mind pensively intervenes, hindering and preventing me from pursuing my careless design, I shall begin, not quite with once upon a time, but it seems now to me that once upon a time may have been a better way of starting than the original choice. And a better way of starting is perhaps always the right choice if a better way of starting can be found. But if this is to be a proper rant, then the original form must be retained however painful it may seem to the mind already traumatised by even the shadow of a thought that this may somehow, just somehow escape the darkness and find its way into the broad light, and open inspection of a waiting, wondering world.

One day at school a better one of my peers asked me: Why do some people rush the easy bits when they are practising? Sarah1 was referring to her sibling who when practising piano slowed down for the difficult bits and rushed the easy bits. I had a pretty good idea why this happened, as often the aspiring musician fails to remember that the less technically challenging passages are most often the most difficult to get right musically; the subtle dynamics, the isochronicity of the notes of a chord, the failure of these things are much easier to spot in the less brilliant passages where broken chords may not be unexpected, and rapid note changes make dynamic variation easier to produce – and disguise if it goes wrong.

Why say this? Well it is all to do with musicianship and musicians. You know them; choir masters who made you sing a capella just to show you that you constantly drifted away from A=440 to C=256; conductors who silenced the metronome for a few minutes and let you run freely, only to embarrass you by showing that you were now a whole 3 beats ahead; teachers who made you calculate how long the piece should be before you played 126 bars at ?=128 in 6/8. And then asks, how long did it actually take? So why did you start at 128 and finish at 156? Did you give no thought to your dancers, or was this really a macabre, sabre dance where the last man standing wins?

Does it matter if the music is played a tempo? Yes, of course it does. If you are given an indication of speed, and do not follow it, how can that be overlooked any more than the failure to regard an indication of pitch can be overlooked? But, I hear you saying, there are many examples of incorrect metronome marks by composers. Really? Is it not more likely that the performers have not yet discovered how it really should be played? I love the work dearly, but have yet to hear a correct performance of the Brahms opus 120 no 2.

And so I come to the2 point, there are many technicians around, but few musicians. They know how to play the notes. They can take any piece written and play every note in exactly the right order even at twice the pace required by the composer. They have forgotten that when Bach said it is easy to play an instrument he stipulated two conditions for the instrument to play itself, the correct key must be pressed at the correct time. But it must be confessed, they are brilliant showmen. They attract a following. People talk of what wonderful musicians they are. Their fingers dance on the fingerboard with ease, whilst with as much ease the bow scrapes unadmirably across the tethered gut. Their admirers are but the long ears of Mozartian disdain.

So again, there are some musicians who may play well, but they forget why they are there. Are they playing with others, or themselves alone? If for themselves alone, let them please themselves. There are no auditors, but if for others, do well and remember why. Yet others seem to forget that they are playing a pianoforte. Just because we leave the forte out of its name and frequently call it a piano does not mean that we should always put the forte back into the sound it produces.

But this is the very reason why Lieder and chanson are a failed art form. It is why Strauss (the musician not any of the dance masters) failed when he wrote his four last songs, or Wagner when he wrote for Frau Wesendonck. Lieder and chanson only require the modesty of a piano to accompany them, but Strauss and Wagner used enormous forces in their orchestras. There was no doubt at all that when you spoke as the Valkyrie approached you would neither hear yourself nor even the hunting horn of Til Eulenspiegel. The voice is no match for a fortepiano, let alone the combined might of the forces of the Rhein; the idea that we have is that they are, shall we say, rather loud. It is little wonder that the singers have packed their bags and gone home.

But wait a minute, I hear you say, that is a little harsh. Ah, indeed so it can be. Whoever heard of a Wagnerian orchestra playing pianissimo? It is surely a waste of such forces. But you can barely hear the orchestra when the words In der Kindheit frühen Tagen Hört ich oft von Engeln sagen float almost silently into the air.

It is the same in the congregation. In the congregation we are singing to each other, as we are enjoined to do, but if I cannot even hear my own voice, let alone the voice of any other congregant, why sing? What is the point? It is very difficult this business of playing for the congregation, that is why so few get it right.

Some accompanists seem to start like an express train. Honegger could not have written it better. They slowly move out of the station, gradually, lumberingly, they pick up speed during each verse. Even more annoyingly they seem to find molto ritenuto writ large at the end of every verse and we are pulled up slowly to halt. Or perhaps they have had the timer on – each verse should take 45 seconds: ooops, is the thought, I have five notes left and ten seconds to go. Can these pianists3 not count regularly? Were they never taught to maintain a constant tempo?

Others are like my opening character, four part harmony is easy so it is rushed, or if it is not rushed it becomes all broken chords and – well, which note do you then follow?

Others reach the end of the verse and, just to make sure we know that we are at the end – let’s repeat the perfect cadence, shall we? I know Beethoven will repeat the cadence, and sometimes do it for five minutes before saying we really are finis…., we are, we, we, we really are, we are really, I shall say it again, no again, we are almost, are you ready, we are finished, finished now, no now, and! Bach had much more skill. He did not need to repeat the cadence at all. He just kept you hanging on waiting for the cadence to come to an end until eventually and inevitably it did, exactly at the right time. But we already know we are at the end. The words tell us that, and the words are far better at telling us things our minds understand than the piano is. Musician, remember why you are there.

But we are talking about hymns, not symphonies, fugues and toccatas, why will they not learn? If the piano is heard above the congregation, it is too important. If the congregation are driven along, that says the music is more important than the words. If the music, however beautiful it may be, neither fits nor supports the words: how can you sing of death and judgement to Scott Joplin1,5 or grace and mercy to ‘Ho sirrah, Jack Ho‘ or use a metre of four for eight metre lines? The examples are extreme, but even the jazz man will recognise the incongruence of the last, not to mention how silly it sounds (try reading the words of an eight metre poem in four4 ). The sentimentality of Disney, or the pomposity of Dambusters (not to mention the vision of bombers over water), does no favour to the gospel message however pretty or memorable the music may be. That which is close to the truth is far more dangerous than that which is an obvious lie.

I rest my case. I have no doubt dear reader that you have seen the obvious logic that is without my rant and will be able to apply it yourselves in some favourable, opportune moment when you may remind your fellow beings that when it comes to listening to the voice of many waters, and musically speaking correctly expressing and supporting it, you need at least a quartet of tubas – trombones are not a substitute, they do not even touch it – and three French horns. Brückner would have no less. If the musicians cannot come up with the goods. Send them home and sing and make melody in your heart, canting to one another with the organ of sweet pleasure, groaning or delight which is hid at the back of your throat and use it for its intended purpose.

The musicians were troubled by the new arrangement for the polyphonic, congregational hymn built around the opening words of Revelation chapter 8 set to original music by Ioannes Fulakos6.

The first section was a four part fugue (a canon to the illiterate) and so quite easy to follow. The new voices entered as expected in a classical fugue, but the voices already singing abruptly changed key on the entrance of each subsequent voice, so at the end of the fugue each voice would be singing in a different key. There is no clear transition between the fugue and the middle modal section, utilising in the main a variant on the sub-mixolydian mode, but with other voices briefly changing the mood by touching the dorian and ionian modes. The four part fugue returned with fury for the recapitulation where thirty three voices competed in their service of one another, until in the final coda where one voice demonstrated superior service over all the other voices and unity was restored.

  1. Name changed to protect the innocent
  2. Euphemism for a, this is a rant not a structured folly
  3. For pianist read whatever kind of musician takes your fancy – other than drummer. Drummers can only play at one speed and only in four
  4. If you need help to start you off, I wandered lone, by Wordsworth is a good example of a four metre poem found here Did I really say four? How silly of me.
  5. Name changed to protect the guilty
  6. John Cage for the illiteratti
Listen to a four metre song
Listen to the new hymn here. Be patient;
boil a kettle for sup of tea for example

Fake News

Fake news is nothing if not new

Something you might need to relieve it.

I have not seen it, why would I want to? When a unique opportunity presents itself, we should not play with trifles. The BBC article refers to a film clip which has apparently been doctored, a term which is strangely used, but regardless:

Fake news

Goebbels was incensed by the Lambeth Valk; would YouTube or Facebook have banned it in the face of dogged (careful with that word) complaints by the elected government of our Saxon cousins? Should YouTube even now ban it? It is clearly a ‘deep fakes’ video that has been edited, using then readily available technology, to realistically portray something very different. Charles Ridley should have referred to his employer as the British Ministry of Misinformation. The article tries to say that context matters ‘Simple matters of context make those arguments fall away’ but does it really?

Exeter University sacked an employee because he used words similar to the ones that answered my opening question on the grounds that this was a quotation from Rommel. Context matters. Rommel echoed these thoughts in the desert of northern Africa. Exeter University used them in promotional material. Whether the words were true or not did not seem to come into play. Neither did the context matter, the same words said in the heat of battle convey a different urgency than when read in the cool context of potential students’ studies. The irony of the Exeter situation is deepened of course in that Rommel was not actually quoted. What we read are the words of a translator not Rommel’s words. I do not dispute that the translation is accurate merely point out that the words were not Rommel’s. Perhaps the editor of the material would have done better, and been safer, to have produced his own translation and left it unattributed.

Secondly, there are other areas where mockery may be seen to be prejudicial to what would otherwise be good. There is much debate today about the mmGm vaccine. The smallpox vaccine was in for far worse treatement when it was introduced over two hundred years ago. Given what we could do eighty years ago, James Gillray may have marvelled at what he could have produced today in place of what we would now see as an amusing caricature of the vaccine based on cowpox. Would we permit such a video to reside in the pages of YouTube or FaceBook? But we do, except it is to be found on NetFlix where it is called family entertainment or perhaps better horror movies.

We must admit that fake news can be dangerous. It was, with hindsight an inopportune time, but perhaps some of you actually heard the 1938 announcement about the invasion from Mars, or at least know someone who did. What were the consequences of that piece of ‘fake’ information? More seriously, and I doubt that any of us could claim to know an eyewitness to another event but eyewitnessed it was, a group of individuals met Joshua (Joshua 9) about 3200 years ago with fake news, the consequences of which would be felt for many hundreds of years and be very severe for Israel. The Gibeonites were permitted to remain in Canaan. Fake news has been around for a long time, it is not new, just presented in different ways.

Fake news can be both dangerous and amusing. What are the warning words of the slapstick comedy? Don’t try this at home, it has been staged. In the words of another man who must not be quoted: Sie müssen sich hüten.

Would that we had the man of the stature and skill of Gillray to doctor the first mentioned video, perhaps then it would be worth watching.

The Cow Pock. James Gillray

Crushing into a small, crowded room out of a small pox infested London, the Cockneys submitting themselves to the quacks, yielding to the bovine infusion, awaited the inevitable apocalyptic extrusions.

Gaudeamus igitur

Student games at the First Viennese School

Things you might need to know.

Blick auf Mischwald im Wienerwald, links eine Sommerlinde
  • Buxtehude was Bach’s mentor.
  • Buxtehude called Bach The Master, and nobody disagreed.
  • Mahler was a superb master of key and modulation.
  • Bruckner was a superb organist, so much so that it has been said that when he played the orchestra he made it sound like an organ.
  • Schubert knew how to modulate but never wrote a successful fugue in his life.
  • Palestrina was the father of counterpoint. If it could be counterpointed, then Palestrina knew how to do it, even if he had deemed it would have been quite inappropriate to have done so for his audiences.
  • Paul McCartney is a successful song writer unlike Schubert but he neither knew how to write a fugue nor how to modulate, though he could change key.

It was at a gathering of music students and staff of the first Viennese school that the game gained great popularity. It was very much as all student games are full of challenges, where penalties and rewards were handed out to the amusement and humiliation of those who were willing to complete and also on those who refused the invitation to do so. The game was very simple. It was to right(sic.) a fugue. The fugue would be five minutes long, no more no less.

A fugue as you well know is a five part masterpiece. You have a statement, a counter-statement, a, for want of a better word, middle section (some might say a development but that concept was not familiar to all of the members of the first Viennese School as it was an innovation introduced in its, some would say, dotage), a restatement and a coda. In the game each section was to last only one minute.

There were two versions of the game. In one there would be five competitors, and to each was allocated, by lot, a section of the fugue. Each section would be worked out in turn with the intention of ending at a point where the next player could take over, at the end of one minute the adjudicator would halt the player, and allow thirty seconds for the next to take his place for the following section. In the other version you were permitted to volunteer to step in, or to challenge the allotted player, or you may be invited to do so. If you refuse to take part a penalty would be paid. If you take part and fail to do the job then a penalty must be paid. If you succeed you hand over to the next, and if you take the coda to its conclusion you win. So it was quite easy to be penalised, less easy to avoid a penalty and quite difficult to win. Failure was recognised when you could not using the material already provided to move from where the previous player had left you to where you should be at the end of one minute. If no-one challenged you, then you had to continue the next section. Woe betide you if you could not complete it from where you had left it! The worst of all possible penatlies would be applied.

Each game would therefore take a maximum of seven minutes, allowing for the full thirty second interval between the sections.

Haydn was the first play. He was a master of his art. His fugue started as always with at least the feinting echo of a familiar tune. Mozart did not hesitate to follow with a remarkably exquisite counter-statement. Beethoven intervened with characteristic grumpiness and demonstrated how such exquisite familiarity could become something quite extraordinarily violent. How could anyone follow that? the others thought. Prokofieff, being a master of the classical form, which he hardly ever used, was ready to move Beethoven aside and with ingenious facility turned the violence of the middle section into an almost unrecognisable restatement of the first and second subjects combined. Liszt and Paganini were in awe of the classical beauty of the cascade of notes which came from his fingers. There was no hint of chromaticism in the restatement but all the necessary modulation took place, almost imperceptibly. They both itched to be able to go alongside him as he put the restatement of the fugue together. Richard Strauss however beat them to it. He arrived at the keyboard just as Prokofief played his final note and without a moment’s silence proceeded into the coda, where classical elegance slowly drifted into a dreaminess of the later years of the Viennese School, where the familiar tune with which Haydn had begun was heard amid a swirling pianissimo of chromatics as it rose into the stratosphere finally closing a full four octaves above Haydn’s view of the world, barely heard, but every note clearly sounding.

It was an astonishing performance, and completed seamlessly in five minutes. No penalties were awarded, and all five participants were lauded winners.

Next up, five had agreed to take part: Bach, Buxtehude, Monteverdi, Palestrina and Tallis. They were assigned their positions in accordance with the rules of the game.

Tallis was to start. And start he certainly did. By the time thirty seconds had passed it seemed as if he had introduced six parts to the fugue. The others certainly thought so, as could be seen by the length of dismay showing on their countenances, except for Bach who had heard something that the others had not. Mozart appeared not to be listening, but was busy writing in his note book. Beethoven was writing too, but spent more time crossing things out than writing them.

It was time for Monteverdi to take part, at least he thought to himself, I only have to make a counter statement, so he spent fifty seconds of his time using only four parts to take Tallis’s English ideas and counterstate them in an Italianate style. Only in the final few bars did he hint at the fifth and sixth parts.

Palestrina had to take over. Six parts, English and Italian styles, but it was no trouble for him, he had had already worked out what he would do. So had Mozart, for now Mozart was writing in his notebook far more furiously than before. As he wrote Allegri looked over his shoulder and recognised what he had written. It was every note that both Tallis and Monteverdi had played, and as he watched he read what Palestrina was playing, only it was even more astonishing, Mozart was putting the notes onto the paper even before Palestrina had played them.

As Palestrina came to a close Bach walked up to the keyboard and waited. He asked the adjudicator whether he may be permitted to proceed, or was there another who would wish to challenge him for the place? The adjudicator was now obliged to give the thirty seconds for a challenger. Bach waited patiently. Was he working out what he was going to do? Was that the reason for the delay? the others asked themselves. Mozart in the meanwhile had closed his notebook and also waited. Beethoven scribbled a few notes, almost stood up, but then made it appear as if he were just himself getting comfortable.

There was no challenger. Buxtehude however was getting quite fidgety. Bach spoke, Gentlemen, as we have had such a long break, and no challenger has been forthcoming, if I may be permitted I shall repeat what we have just heard and continue with the restatement. Mozart, as if he needed to do so, opened his notebook. Bach played note for note all that Tallis, Monteverdi and Palestrina had played. Mozart was entranced, he turned the pages but hardly ever looked at his book. Then the restatement began. Allegri stretched out his neck as Mozart took up his pen and began to write, but now Mozart was always a bar behind Bach not ahead of him as he had been with Palestrina. Allegri could hardly contain the question he desperately wanted to ask: How did you know what Palestrina would play?

Bach moved skilfully and switfly. The six parts had been reduced to three. Bach had heard the trick that Tallis had used to give the impression of six parts. Monteverdi slapped his own head in an expression of disgust that he had himself, until then, failed to see it. Then the modulation started. Tallis had not strayed far. Monteverdi was simply chromatic. Palestrina had been quite conservative but exceedingly beautiful.

It was Mahler who spotted Buxtehude leaving the hall. Buxtehude, where are you going? he asked. Buxtehude replied, The Master is playing. He is already four cycles away from the tonic. I am up next, and he will be six away before it is my turn. It is too much. I must go.

Then who will play? Mahler asked. You do it. You can take Bach back home, he replied. And with that Buxtehude departed.

Mahler, having been listening carefully as they had talked, with his confident foreboding returned and mistakenly sat where Buxtehude had been.

Bach reached the end as Buxtehude had predicted so far from home that it seemed impossible to return in the one minute available in the coda. All eyes turned to Buxtehude, only to see Mahler sitting there.

Where is Buxtehude? the adjudicator asked, he is up next.

Mahler not wishing to humiliate his friend apologised for him that Some urgent and unexpected business had necessitated his immediate departure.

Then who will step in, or shall we allow Mr Bach to continue?

Now everyone was quite sure that Bach would be able to complete the coda, but none, but one, really wanted it to happen. There had to be a challenger. And they only had thirty seconds to find one.

Mahler, you are in Buxtehude’s seat, you come up! someone called out.

Mahler hesitated. The young man sitting between Mahler and Schubert spoke to him: Go on, you can do it. Remember what you did in your fourth.

Turning to him, Paul, Mahler replied, you are a young man, the fourth was a symphony, I had an hour in which to do as I pleased. This is a five minute fugue with one minute to go. I shall pay the penalty.

Mahler declined the adjudicator’s offer to allow him to play.

Someone else shouted out, Where is Webern? He can do it.

The adjudicator graciously pointed out that Webern belonged to the second not to the first Viennese School.

Paul turned to Schubert. Franz, what about you? You know how to change key. (Remember, Paul does not know what modulation is). Remember your C minor quintet. You can get us back home.

Paul, Schubert replied, I am a song writer like you. I have never written a successful fugue in my whole life.

Five seconds to go, and dismay was falling upon the house. Bach was going to take all.

Mozart had not closed his book, but was waiting, and in the meantime sketching out what he thought he might do to go home from where Bach had left off, but in reality he longed to hear how Bach would do it. He prepared to transcribe what Bach played.

The young man ran over to the organ keyboard, just in time. Thank you, Mr McCartney, the adjudicator rejoined. Herr Bach you may stand down. Mr McCartney you have no experience of this, you are new in the school. Are you sure you wish to take up the challenge?

I am, Sir, and if I may, as The Master did, can I do a quick recap before I begin the coda?

With the permission of the House, you may do so.

Paul sat at the keyboard, found his place, and began. He played the last ten bars of Bach’s restatement, which had ended on a pedal note almost as far removed from home as you could be. He held onto the pedal whilst he brought the statements and counter-statements into line, making use of the syncopation that Bach had introduced but not even attempting to change key.

Mozart had become intrigued. There is no time left. He can’t do it, he thought to himself as he continued to write in his book. Then thirty seconds into the coda abruptly the pedal changed and he was home. The syncopation continued, the statements and counter-statements continued to dance as they faded away and Paul over the last fifteen seconds closed the stops on the organ one by one until only the pan pipe remained at which point he slowly closed the grill on the sound box and all was in silence.

The hall too was in silence, apart from the sound of Mozart’s pen. He was trying to work out what he had missed when the pedal changed. He was completely convinced he had not heard something, but what was it? How did this young man, who only wrote songs, do it? he asked himself.

Bach and Palestrina were in conference. They knew that questions would be asked, and wanted to be ready.

The Classicists, other than Mozart, were furious. He has broken all of the rules, they said. If you want to change key you have to do it properly. To modulate, you prepare for it and then you move.

Schubert broke in, Why? You can change key just for effect, can’t you?

The Late Romanticists replied: Schubert, yes, you did that all the time, but all you did was sidestep and then return home straightaway. You, Classicists, though, you are wrong. Key is fluid, you can move freely between all of them but it should not be obvious, and certainly not abruptly like this. Music is so much more lush when the key is indeterminate, do you not think? The Classicists obviously did not think so. The Romanticists would have done better not to have asked the question, they might then have had their support.

The discussion in the hall was becoming rather heated, until a little understood group of English and Italian musicians began to sing: Dowland led the group, and as they sang they shifted the keys as abruptly as had been done. There was a call for them to be silent until Josquin (desPrés) nodded his approval of the singing. The group then turned to a song which none, except Paul, in the hall knew: Penny Lane. There it was again, the very trick that he had used in the Coda.

Mozart continued to scratch his head. Beethoven meanwhile began to revise the development section of his Eroica

1 You may disagree with the facts. Coco has no claim on their veracity.
2 You may notice, or thingk you have noticed some spelling mistakes, then repent for

  • a mistake is only a mistake if it is not deliberate
  • you may have misunderstood the meaning and the word is correctly spelt,
  • Coco may be making a play on a word, or
  • Coco was being lazy or forgetful.

Come, brave hearted lion eater: Chao Yuen Ren

Moonlit night


Unregistered appointee

If you had ever thought that She sells sea-shells on the sea-shore was difficult – consider a puzzle in the style of Carroll –

Chinese is already confusing enough with all of its tones, characters, markers and lack of articles, inflections and tenses, but this poem really shows just how difficult Chinese is especially for the native Mandarin.

A Chinese author, 趙元任, expressed the puzzle in this way:

漢語 English




Lion-Eating Poet in the Stone Den

In a stone den lived a poet called Shi Shi,
who was a lion addict.
He had resolved to eat ten lions.
He often went to the market to look for lions.
At ten o’clock, ten lions had just arrived at the market.
At that same time, Shi Shi arrived at the market.
He saw those ten lions, and using his trusty arrows,
caused the ten lions to die.
He took the corpses of the ten lions to the stone den.
The stone den was damp, so he asked his servants to dry it.
After the stone den had been wiped dry, he tried to eat those ten lions.
When he ate, he realized that the ten lions were in fact
ten stone lion corpses.

Try to explain this matter.

Coco thought you might like to hear Google read the words for you in languages that either still use Hanzi (漢字) or have only recently adopted other forms of writing.


Empty block

Coco cannot explain it, but a useful discussion of the purpose of the puzzle may still be found here:

With apologies in advance for errors of syntax, orthography and grammar which may be found embedded in this document whether arising from oversight, incorrect application of language packs or generally any other misadventure; and in general for any offence given inadvertently or inappropriately or both taken or not taken by those whose sensibilities, whether grammatical, orthographical, moral or simply personable, have been offended whether, not or if you have not incorrectly misunderstood the content, intent, meaning and purpose of this article, and to those whose copyrights may have been inadvertently or wantonly infringed, but never as to cause damage the copy holder’s rights, and, if you have managed to read this far, for any errors or omissions whether wilful, unintended, innocent or deliberate in the content of this polemic, and with thanks to you who have made it thus far for your patience.