ENDNOTES, November 2019

St James the Great Church, East Malling, Kent

Endnotes, November 2019: in this edition, Mozart at a mediaeval church in Kent – and Six Flute Sonatas by Bach, on the OUR label, reviewed by Stuart Millson

Vaughan Williams once likened musical life to a great pyramid. At the apex are the renowned performers of world standing, but beneath them – like supporting blocks – are the thousands of fine amateurs, students and soon-to-be professionals who make music simply for the joy of it. This vast band of dedicated people can be found throughout the country: at churches, community halls and the concert-halls of provincial towns. Names like the Sevenoaks or Maidstone Symphony orchestras, Midlands Philharmonic, the old North-East London Polytechnic Chorus and a thousand other choirs or chorales come to mind.

Mid-Kent’s East Malling Singers have been established for over thirty years and have performed such ambitious repertoire as Handel’s Messiah, Bach’s Passions, Britten’s Saint Nicolas, the Vaughan Williams’ Serenade to Music, Brahms’s A German Requiem and Orff’s Carmina Burana. Continue reading

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Texas Sings the Blues

Downtown Dallas

Texas Sings the Blues 

Ilana Mercer does demography

Democrats, reports the Economist, “think they might win Texas in 2020.” Demographers, being mostly Democrats, credit Donald Trump. One of them, he’s from Rice University in Houston, claimed that Trump was the “worst thing that ever happened to Texas Republicans”:

“Mr. Trump has alienated many white Republican women in Texas, and has also pushed away Hispanics, who account for around 40 percent of the state’s population. … According to a recent poll by the University of Texas and Texas Tribune, more Texans say they would sooner vote for a candidate running against Mr. Trump than re-elect the president.”

But even those afflicted with Trump Derangement Syndrome are forced to concede that,

“Long after Mr. Trump leaves office, demographic change in Texas will continue to exert an influence on the fortunes of Republicans, as the Hispanic population grows, millennials vote in increasing numbers and people continue to move to Texas from other states, bringing their more liberal politics with them.”

Yes, the country as a whole is moving leftward. And it’s not Donald Trump—although a border wall and a moratorium on immigration would have helped mightily. As the Economist attests, “Americans are more in favor of ‘big-government’ policies today than at any point in the last 68 years.” The “public mood” in America is decidedly with statism and leftism. Continue reading

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“Hitler’s Holocaust” – made in Britain?

“Hitler’s Holocaust” – made in Britain?

David Ashton reviews a TV agitflop

On 3 and 10 October, BBC4 showcased Science’s Greatest Scandal, a two-parter, which claimed that Englishmen initiated the “shocking” beliefs that “drove” the mass-murder of the Jews (Radio Times). This gruesome slander was illustrated by ipso facto irrelevant and therefore purposely prejudicial Soviet footage from Auschwitz.

The presenters were Adam Pearson and Angela Saini. Both have acutely personal perspectives. Pearson is an actor facially disfigured by neurofibromatosis and surgery. Ms Saini, from a high-caste Punjabi background, has written a book about Indian brains “taking over the world”, and another recommending that female scientists should transform society towards “equality” [1]. Her subsequent shallow polemic against “race science”, Superior: the Return of Race Science, was refuted by Mankind Quarterly’s editor, and also in Quillette, provoking a torrent of online vituperation.

The causal connection that she alleges between our fellow-countrymen and the “horrific practice [0f] …the Nazis” was “eugenics”, the applied science elaborated by the Victorian polymath Sir Francis Galton. Eugenics is about human birth and conception, not death and extermination. Galton proposed incentives to encourage parenthood and fecundity among healthier and more creative people, and to discourage reproduction of offspring with hereditary illnesses and social handicaps. The objective was to prevent, not inflict, personal suffering, and to improve community capabilities. How is that “evil”? Continue reading

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The British Aristocracy, a Retrospect

Cliveden House

The British Aristocracy, a Retrospect

Entitled: a Critical History of the British Aristocracy, Chris Bryant, 2017, Transworld Penguin, ISBN 9780857523167, reviewed by Monty Skew

Chris Bryant is a privately educated, former Anglican priest, once a Conservative Party supporter, who subsequently became MP for the Rhondda, one of Labour’s safest seats. He was also secretary of the Christian Socialist Movement. In Entitled, this Welsh MP mounts a critique of the aristocracy and their privileges.

Jack Jones, a former dockworker who rose to become General Secretary of the Transport and General Workers’ Union, once described the aristocracy as nothing more than the descendants of robber barons and trollops. Bryant expands on this list of their supposedly negative qualities. He includes insatiable greed (they own one third of the land), jealously guarded wealth, pride and arrogance and ostentatious display (such as monuments). He may be right but his text does not sustain the argument.

The history of the aristocracy is the history of this country but it is not all the history. The early chapters on the Normans and Plantagenets, with a description of feudal land tenure, are useful and highlight one of the lesser known continuities of history. But the slender argument runs aground with an over-detailed account of families, their squabbles, marriages etc. None of it adds to an understanding of the historical forces at work. Continue reading

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Democracy makes us Dumb

Portrait of Friedrich Nietzsche

Democracy makes us Dumb

by Ilana Mercer

From the riffs of outrage coming from the Democrats and their demos over “our democracy” betrayed, infiltrated even destroyed—you’d never know that a rich vein of thinking in opposition to democracy runs through Western intellectual thought, and that those familiar with it would be tempted to say “good riddance.”

But voicing opposition to democracy is just not done in politically polite circles, conservative and liberal alike. For this reason, the Mises Institute’s Circle in Seattle, an annual gathering, represented a break from the pack. The Mises Institute is a think tank working to advance free-market economics from the perspective of the Austrian School of Economics. It is devoted to peace, prosperity, and private property, implicit in which is the demotion of raw democracy, the state, and its welfare-warfare machine.

This year, amid presentations that explained “Why American Democracy Fails,” it fell to me to speak to “How Democracy Made Us Dumb.” (Oh yes! Reality on the ground was not candy-coated.)

Some of the wide-ranging observations I made about the dumbing down inherent in democracy were drawn from the Founding Fathers and the ancients. A tenet of the American democracy is to deify youth and diminish adults. To counter that, let’s start with the ancients. The Athenian philosophers disdained democracy. Deeply so. They held that democracy “distrusts ability and has a reverence for numbers over knowledge.” (Will Durant, The Story of Philosophy, New York, 1961, p.10.) Continue reading

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Canadian Thanksgiving, 2019

Brandon, Manitoba, 1922

Canadian Thanksgiving, 2019

Mark Wegierski dissects Canada’s prosperity 

Canadians celebrate Thanksgiving on the second Monday in October. Canada is certainly a country which has been blessed with great material bounty. However, in these troubled times, some somber reflections seem appropriate. There has been a perceptible downward trend in the Canadian standard of living and quality of life, especially when compared to the United States. The weak Canadian dollar is a symbol of continuing Canadian decline. It is possible that the great bounty Canadians are accustomed to is increasingly fraying, and may even disappear in the third decade of the twenty-first century.

For seven years in a row in 1994-2000, Canada had been acclaimed as the number one country in the world in which to live, according to the United Nations Human Development Index (HDI). In the year 2001, it dropped to number three, still a very high ranking. Whether such superlative rankings are accurate, depends on one’s perspective.

It is clear that Canada cannot be defended as the best country in the world for the majority of its citizens, if defined according to strict financial accounting. For the middle and working classes, taxation is exceedingly high, and the benefits of the current welfare state are a mixed blessing. For the bureaucratic and corporate elites, on the other hand, Canada is indeed bountiful. It is also bountiful for groups qualifying for state and corporate sponsored equity initiatives, who would face the prospect of a drearier existence under a different arrangement. Continue reading

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Don Pasquale

Don Pasquale

Don Pasquale, dramma buffo in three acts, music by Gaetano Donizetti, libretto by Giovanni Ruffini and Gaetano Donizetti, conducted by Evelino Pidò, directed by Damiano Michieletto, Royal Opera, Monday 14th October 2019, reviewed by Leslie Jones

In director Damiano Michieletto’s updated version of Donizetti’s classic comic opera, Norina, played by the gifted soprano Olga Peretyatko, in her Royal Opera debut, is a make-up artist, working on fashion shoots. This telling detail perfectly captures the meretricious character of this self-confessed manipulator of men, “A soul [supposedly]… innocent of guile…modest without compare”, “straight out of a convent”. All women, it seems, are ultimately false. Men, notably Don Pasquale (Bryn Terfel), are their victims or dupes. Even Ernesto (tenor Ioan Hotea), is a hapless victim of love – “mi fa il destin mendico” (fate has made me a beggar), he complains. Cynicism and misogyny reign here.

Norina – Olga Peretyatko
Photo: © ROH Photographer: CLIVE BARDA

According to Rosencrantz, an old man is twice a child. In a perceptive review of a previous production of Don Pasquale at Glyndebourne, Mark Valencia stated, “My beef with this…is its mean spirit. For a light comedy, Don Pasquale has a heartless streak that says it’s quite OK for old men to be humiliated…”. In similar vein, apropos the same production, Erica Jal opined that this is “…an opera that can seem to have as much to do with cruelty as comedy”. Rupert Christiansen concurred – we have “…a doddery old fool ruthlessly humiliated and cheated out of his money ….” (Daily Telegraph).

Indeed, Don Pasquale, throughout, is a figure of fun – ailing, overweight, white haired, bespectacled, possibly incontinent, self-delusional and worthy of mockery. His dressing gown and fauteuil roulant were supererogatory.

There is so much to enjoy in this production – the spirited ensemble work, the inspired conducting by Maestro Pidò, the revolving, spared down set, wherein Don Pasquale’s dreary residence, with its clapped out Fiat and furniture, is transformed into a consumerist paradise that is “…both horribly chic and oppressively minimalist” (Warwick Thompson, ‘A Designing Minx’, Official Programme). But we left the opera house, nonetheless, with a nasty taste in the mouth. Maybe it’s the ageing process.

Dr Leslie Jones is Editor of QR

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Homeless in Seattle, Part 2

Seattle Tower

Homeless in Seattle, Part 2

Ilana Mercer shows how high-tech sucks the soul from the city

Trust the late Anthony Bourdain, the Kerouac of cooking, to blurt out the truth when nobody else would. Following his Jack Kerouac wanderlust, Bourdain had arrived in Seattle to spotlight the manner in which high-tech was changing the city, draining it of its character and of the many quirky characters that made Seattle what it was.  

“Microsoft, Google, Twitter, Expedia, and Amazon are the big dogs in town,” mused  Bourdain. “A flood of them—tech industry workers, mostly male, derisively referred to as tech boys or tech bros—is rapidly changing the DNA of the city, rewiring it to satisfy their own newly-empowered nerdly appetites.”

That the “tech boys” “are so dull”, as members of a Seattle band say—and sing—in no way assuages their heated effect on the housing market. A street artist called “John Criscitello … told Bourdain how the high-tech influx has driven up housing costs and forced artists [like himself] out of the neighborhood.” Continue reading

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Blessed are the Peacemakers

Marquess of Lansdowne

Blessed are the Peacemakers

Lansdowne; The Last Great Whig, Simon Kerry, Unicorn, 398pp, 2017, ISBN  978-1-910787-95-3, reviewed by Angela Ellis-Jones

This biography of Lord Lansdowne, one of late Victorian and Edwardian Britain’s most distinguished people, is written by the subject’s great-great grandson, who modestly omits to mention that he is the heir to the current Marquess. Lansdowne was born into the Whig aristocracy. The founder of the family fortune was Lansdowne’s four-times great grandfather, Sir William Petty (1623-87), the son of a clothier who began his working life as a cabin boy but subsequently enjoyed a brilliant polymathic career. After he had served as Professor of Anatomy at Oxford (1651-2) and of Music at Gresham College, London, a stint as physician to  Cromwell’s army in Ireland led to his appointment as director of the land survey of Ireland for the purpose of dividing the spoils amongst Cromwell’s men. He finished the first complete map of Ireland in 1656, and amassed 270,000 acres of land in south Kerry alone. When he made his will in 1685, he calculated his annual income to be £15,000, an enormous sum at a time when the annual average was just short of £7!

Just as Petty was a member of a brilliant intellectual circle – he was a founder of the Royal Society – so also was his great-grandson, the second Lord Shelburne (1737-1805), who became the first Marquess of Lansdowne following his time as prime minister (1782-3), during which he negotiated the settlement of the American War of Independence. Joseph Priestley discovered oxygen while he held the position of librarian at Bowood. Bentham was a visitor to the house which Shelburne commissioned Robert Adam to decorate, and filled with beautiful paintings, furniture and sculpture. Shelburne’s son, Lansdowne’s grandfather, had been chancellor of the Exchequer at the age of 25, in 1806.

With such ancestors, Henry Charles Keith Petty-Fitzmaurice, fifth Marquess of Lansdowne (1845-1927) was evidently well-endowed intellectually. The son of a half-French mother of distinguished lineage, he grew up bilingual. After he narrowly missed a First in Greats at Oxford, his tutor, the renowned Benjamin Jowett, commiserated: ‘You have certainly far greater ability than many First Classmen’ (Lord Newton, 1929, Lord Lansdowne, p 9). Jowett later saw him as prime ministerial material. Continue reading

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ENDNOTES, October 2019

Henri Fantin-Latour, Hector Berlioz, Symphonie Fantastique, Un Bal

ENDNOTES, October 2019

Stuart Millson reviews Bach in Kent and a new Berlioz recording from Toronto

Bach’s Goldberg Variations, BWV 988 – dating from 1741 – is a work often referred to as one of the greatest achievements in all music: an opening ‘aria’, a statement, of the most subtle, contemplative, mellow beauty, leading to a journey of miraculous contrast and complexity through 30 variations; and then followed by a noble summation and restatement of the opening theme.

The variations are usually heard in piano or harpsichord form. One thinks of pianist Glenn Gould’s two recorded versions, especially his slow-paced CBS account from 1981 – or harpsichordist Kenneth Gilbert’s authentically baroque account on the Harmonia Mundi label, but at the recent Music@Malling festival in Kent, the audience at St. Mary’s Abbey were treated to a surprising and beautifully executed rendition of the work by violinist David Juritz, the guitarist, Craig Ogden, and cellist, Adrian Bradbury.

Arranged by David Juritz, who provided a brief but informative account of the work and his realisation of it, the trio succeeded in turning the work into what could almost be described as an hour-long Brandenburg Concerto – with the guitar part assuming the role and sound of a lute accompaniment. Bold cello writing and playing was especially to the fore toward the conclusion of the piece; Adrian Bradbury providing an exciting, sonorous dimension – an expansive, but also autumnal sensation. The modern stone interior of the performance space at St. Mary’s – uncluttered and simple, with natural light, but also a feeling of inwardness – gave a rich but never over-reverberant tone to the sounds of the instruments; so that what we heard was detailed and gracious, but also sweeping and noble, and full of “air” and warmth. Continue reading

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