Yesterday a friend was visiting Oxford and sent me this photo of my new book on the ‘welcome table’ in Blackwell’s bookshop. It’s the one with the black cover in the centre of the picture. As I haven’t yet seen any copies of the book in a store near me, I was very happy to see this evidence that someone in Oxford is taking an interest.
It’s amazing what the arrival of a box of organic vegetables and farm produce can inspire. Hours after taking delivery of our box, Bob had made this superb quiche with courgettes, aubergines, leeks, olives, garlic, rosemary, crème fraiche and home-made pastry. Here it is, just out of the oven. The glorious yellowness of the custard is due to the organic eggs. We keep wondering if we should persevere with organic vegetables, which are not cheap, but on days like this it definitely seems worthwhile.
The Florestan Trio has a new website built by the same brilliant guy who designed mine. Take a look by clicking here!
My piano tuner asks whether I’m happy to keep my piano at the usual pitch, A=440. Yes. Why wouldn’t I be?
Well, he says, some British orchestras are now asking for pianos to be tuned at A=442 Hz. Now that there’s so much musical traffic between countries, we’re under pressure to adopt ‘European’ tuning, and for a long time mainland Europe has used an ‘A’ a touch higher than ours. One of our big London orchestras recently bought a batch of percussion instruments all tuned at A=442, thus committing the whole orchestra to this pitch. ‘What does the Wigmore Hall use for its pianos?’ I ask. ‘A=440.’ ‘Then that’s what I’ll have’, I say happily.
Apparently there’s constant pressure from certain quarters, particularly string players, to raise the pitch because it makes instruments sound more brilliant. But is there any reason for pianos to fall in with this trend? It seems not. Is it really necessary for pitch to rise and rise, like inflation? As pitch goes up, instruments eventually have to be modified or re-built to cope with the extra pressure. It seems like a vicious circle.
Last night we watched an enjoyable BBC4 programme, ‘The Great American Songbook’. Various artists such as Paolo Nutini, Melody Gardot, Krystle Warren, Gwyneth Herbert, José James and my own personal favourite, Claire Martin gave us their own, updated versions of classic songs from the 1920s onwards. I love the ‘golden age’ of American musicals (Gershwin, Cole Porter, Jerome Kern, Rodgers and Hart) and I was keen to see what today’s performers made of them.
The performers were all talented and striking in different ways, but I was sometimes struck by what seemed to me a mismatch between the innocent high spirits of the original material and the intense, emphatic, even tortured versions offered by today’s artists, often singing with their faces twisted into masks of pain. There’s a long tradition, of course, of artists finding qualities in older works which their inventors hadn’t put there. But I was puzzled by several ‘updatings’ which, for example, not only altered the emotion but also wiped out the shape of the original melody and kept only the chord sequence. If you hadn’t heard the songs before, you wouldn’t have had much idea of the melodic genius which made them stick in listeners’ minds for half a century. ‘Over the Rainbow’ shorn of the octave leap at the beginning? No ‘homage’ is successful if it makes you think less of the original.