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There aren’t many ways you can be sure to make yourself feel happy, but there’s one that always seem to work for me. I listen to a piece of music, only a minute and a half long, that was originally written for a music box and then orchestrated. Its unwinding tune is immediately memorable. It is so shimmeringly coloured, so precisely made, so assured in the delivery of its climax that it always leaves my mood effervescent. It is called Two Organa: 1 (a misleadingly academic title), and Oliver Knussen, who wrote it, is one of Britain’s greatest living artists. If you have not heard of him, that is probably due to the fact that he works in the occluded, occasionally airlocked world of contemporary classical music. This is a great shame. His music is instantly likeable, elegant, melancholy and exhilarating.

Knussen conducted his own first symphony at the Proms at the age of 15. As the son of the principal bassist of the LSO, he grew up listening to the inordinate variety of noises an orchestra can make. This education gave him an expertise in combining instruments to produce exactly the right colour and temperature of sound. He writes his jewel-like scores carefully, with great technical rigour, but there remains at the heart of his music an unanxious playfulness. His works are often set in the childhood worlds of toys and storybooks and in that familiar, phantasmal place between waking and sleeping. He is a conductor famed for his perfectionism and generosity, a rare combination, and he is a significant teacher of other composers. His opera Where the Wild Things Are, written in collaboration with Maurice Sendak, is an adaptation of the book and far superior to the recent film.

He is a very recognisable figure, tall and fat with a Victorian thicket of beard. I’ve never tried to tell him how much I love his music when I see him at concerts. I admire him too much. He has added beauty to the world.

(Source: Guardian)

Black Dogs Defined

This is the best of me; for the rest, I ate, and drank, and slept, loved and hated, like another: my life was as the vapour and is not; but this I saw and knew; this, if anything of mine, is worth your memory.

(John Ruskin, Sesame and Lilies)

Whatever people say I am, that’s what I’m not.

(Alan Sillitoe, Saturday Night and Sunday Morning)

This is my letter to the world, that never wrote to me.

(Emily Dickinson, This is my letter to the world)

Safe upon the solid rock the ugly houses stand:
Come and see my shining palace built upon the sand!

(Edna St. Vincent Millay, Second Fig)

R.A.D. Stainforth

I was born before The Beatles’ first LP and brought up in the reeking slums of Jericho. I am in love with a woman called Hazel and in love with her daughter, also called Hazel, both of whom I met at Alcoholics Anonymous.

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