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Archive for February, 2015

People of Inspiration: The Enduring Love of Mozart’s Requiem

“Mozart stopped writing here.”

Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart

Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart

Those were the words one soprano had written after bar 8 of the Lacrymosa in her score of Mozart’s Requiem: just so she could be sure which bits were from the hand of the master, and which from his much-less gifted composer friend Franz Sussmayr. We were singing with the choir Spires Philharmonic Chorus, who are currently rehearsing Mozart’s Requiem for a performance at Holy Trinity Church Coventry on Saturday 11 April 2015 (those readers local to Coventry please note in your diaries!)

I was tempted along to these rehearsals by Mozart himself. The lure of singing his requiem once more was too much to resist.

Mozart’s Requiem is justifiably renowned for its sublime beauty; but it also gains fame for the quirky and curious stories which  surround its composition. Most of this confusion, I  understand, derives from different interviews given by Mozart’s wife Constanza who made considerable efforts to mask the truth about the Requiem, in the months and years following Mozart’s death in Vienna in 1791. On 18 January 2015, I saw a BBC TV programme The Joy of Mozart in which the presenter Tom Service was lamenting the false image of Mozart pedalled by the commercial Mozart industry in Salzburg.  One of these popular ideas is that after Mozart died, his body was callously thrown into a mass grave in the St Marx Cemetery in Vienna, and he had a “pauper’s funeral” utterly disregarding his status as  one of the world’s greatest composers. Yet these facts are probably totally misinterpreted by those who misunderstand normal burial arrangements in his society at that time.

Additionally a popular idea about Mozart is that he composed his Requiem in the knowledge that he was about to die, believing it to be his own requiem. Yet it has recently been pointed out at the time Mozart would have expected to recover from his illness, finish the requiem, and write much more music besides.

At the end of The Joy of Mozart,  Tom Service observed that the final word has to be with those who love his music.

As I sing this requiem I respond to it not as a musicologist – although our chorus founder and conductor ColinTouchin provided as much of that as we could have wished for – I respond to to it on a profound emotional level. The very first chord of this requiem has such a powerful effect upon me; I cannot begin to analyse it. Although as Colin Touchin told us it is thought that Mozart was the very first composer to use the key of E Flat Minor, and I do sometimes think it must be good to analyse the reasons why this music effects us so deeply, I also think the rest of us just have to accept the profound emotional impact Mozart’s music makes, and leave it at that. We are left with this, beyond all the musicology and the analysis.

We know that Mozart managed to complete only parts of the requiem before he died, and the rest was completed by Franz Sussmayr, selected for the job by Mozart’s widow Constanza, who was worried she wouldn’t get paid for the requiem if she didn’t find someone to finish it; and she chose Sussmayr only after she’d considered other candidates and rejected them. It seems a game we cannot resist, to convince ourselves that certain bits cannot possibly have been written by Sussmayr, they must have been written by Mozart. Yet the fact remains that Sussmayr, not considered by musicologists to have been a particularly outstanding composer, did indeed complete the requiem and did it so creditably that the requiem remains one of the most loved and revered pieces of choral music ever written. What a task that must have been for Sussmayr; and perhaps my best insight into his situation lies in this idea: if I imagine how I would feel if I were asked to complete an unfinished novel by Jane Austen.

 

 

Did You Struggle With The Large Number of Characters in JK Rowling’s A Casual Vacancy? Here’s a Useful Crib-Sheet!

BBC 1 will be starting the first of a three-part mini series of JK Rowling’s A Casual Vacancy on Sunday at 9pm. I’m delighted that the BBC have chosen to adapt it as a drama, and will be watching eagerly. I have a high opinion of the book: see my book review here.

I was fascinated to learn that the screenwriter Sarah Phelps has, with JK Rowling’s agreement, changed the ending; she says “it needs some kind of redemptive moment at the end”. This tuned in with my own observations in my review, where I wrote:

However, although I enormously admire what JKR has done in this story, I still feel it lacks a strong enough spiritual message or act of redemption at the end; and the potential for that is very strongly present as the narrative progresses….  It’s only JK Rowling’s decision not to take the opportunity for a stronger redemptive message which prevents me from giving her book the highest possible rating.”

If you’ve read the book and struggled with the number of characters, here’s my own personal cribsheet of every named character in the novel. I created this list as I read the novel. Some of those named are not developed as characters at all, but are simply referred to. I hope you find this list helpful; though of course when you watch the mini-series you probably won’t have a problem keeping up with the characters, because the actors will make a big difference.

SC Skillman’s CRIB SHEET OF ALL THE CHARACTERS IN

A CASUAL VACANCY

by JK Rowling

 

Barry Fairbrother, “bearded little man”, Parish Counsellor, Bank Manager, who dies of an aneurysm at the beginning of the novel

His wife Mary, and their children Declan, Fergus, and twins Niamh and Siobhan

Miles Mollison, solicitor, in partnership with Gavin Hughes

Samantha, Miles’s wife

Their daughters Lexie and Libby who go to St Anne’s Independent School in Yarvil

Howard, Miles’s father, owner of delicatessan, Chair of Parish Council, 1st Citizen of Pagford

Shirley, Howard’s wife, Miles’s mother; she is a hospital volunteer, had hated Barry Fairbrother, and administers the Council’s website

Patricia, their daughter, Miles’s sister

Gavin Hughes, squash partner of Barry’s, solicitor in partnership with Miles

Kay Bawden, social worker, Gavin’s lover

Gaia, Kay’s daughter

Una, Alex and Mattie, Kay’s social services colleagues

Colin and Tessa Wall, friends of Mary and Barry. Colin is a Deputy Headteacher and Tessa is Head of Guidance.

Stuart their son, known as “Fatso”, who is best friends with Andrew Price, and has a sexual relationship with Krystal Weedon

Ruth Price, a nurse

Simon Price, Ruth’s husband, abusive and boorish to his family, runs a printworks, is particularly aggressive to his elder son Andrew

Their son Andrew who has a bad attitude to his father Simon, and who fancies Kay’s daughter Gaia

Andrew’s younger brother Paul

Maureen, Howard’s business partner in the Delicatessan, age 62, widow of Howard’s previous business partner Ken

Shona, Miles and Gavin’s legal secretary

Dr Parminder Jawanda, local GP, Parish Counsellor, had loved Barry Fairbrother

Vikram, her handsome husband, cardiac surgeon

Their three children: Jaswant, Sukhvinder and Rajpal

Mrs Shawcross, headmistress

Aubrey Fawley who purchased Sweetlove House in the 1950’s and had four children

Young Aubrey, his son, Pagford’s rep on the Yarvil Council, a merchant banker in London

Julia, Young Aubrey’s wife

Alison Jenkins, news reporter

 

PEOPLE WHO LIVE IN or are associated with people who live in “THE FIELDS”

 

Terri Weedon, a drug addict and dysfunctional mother

Krystal, her daughter, problem pupil

Robbie, Krystal’s little brother (Terri’s son), in danger of being removed by social services

Anne-Marie, their sister, (Terri’s other daughter) no longer living with them

Obbo, drug-pusher, who sells drugs to Terri

Nikki, Jemma and Leane, Krystal’s schoolfriends

Nana Cath, Krystal’s great-grandmother, and Terri’s grandmother

Rhiannon, another of Nana Cath’s granddaughters (Terri’s cousin?)

John and Sue, Nana Cath’s son and daughter

Cheryl and Danielle, Terri’s sisters

Dane Tully, dysfunctional teen, his father and two brothers are frequently in prison

 

Thoughts on Christianity and Paganism, by Blogger/Author Vivienne Tuffnell

Here’s a blog post which I found very touching. It’s an interview with fellow-author Vivienne Tuffnell, whose blog I follow, (with the lovely title of “Zen and the Art of Tightrope Walking”). In this interview Vivienne says a number of things which I identify with, including her observations about Christianity and paganism, and also her experiences with, and feelings about blogging. Sometimes another writer expresses something so perfectly, you feel as if that writer has spoken for you. Do take a few minutes to read what Vivienne says in her interview.

The Bingergread Cottage

I’m joined in the Bingergread Cottage today by a dear friend with whom I share a lot. Welcome, Vivienne and make yourself at home. Don’t give Lily the cake, it’s chocolate and she doesn’t like it anyway. Help yourself to tea or coffee and let’s have a chat.

Mmmmmm coffeeeee and cake….

We’ve both had a rather “meandering” spiritual path, haven’t we? Tell us about yours.Viv 1

I’ve been drawn to the mystical my entire life. I remember creating a shrine in my bedside cupboard when I was about eight or so. I chose to become a Christian when I was twelve but while I still would define myself as a follower of the Christ, I suspect that I’m not Christian enough for many Christians and not pagan enough for many pagans. I’ve been labelled a witch a few times (with the addition of white or green or even Christian) because…

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Book Review: “Miracles” by Eric Metaxas

This book was recently recommended to me: Miracles: What They Are, Why They Happen, and How They Can Change Your Life.  I’ve now reading it and found it a fascinating book ideal for discussion in a group.

Miracles by Eric Metaxas

Miracles by Eric Metaxas

Metaxas is renowned as the author of a much-admired book on Dietrich Boenhoffer (published in 2011). In this new book, he turns his attention to a vitally important subject: our worldview and how it affects our perception of reality.

In the first half of the book Metaxas examines the rules by which we may determine that an event is “a miracle”.

One of his most compelling early chapters is about the miracle of life on earth. As a counterpoint to Stephen Hawking’s observation that We are just an advanced breed of monkeys on a minor planet of a very average star Metaxas gives us a taster of the vast number of  fine-tuned characteristics which are necessary to support life. As I read this chapter it put me in mind of one of my own favourite quotes, which comes from Joseph Conrad’s novel Lord Jim:

This is Nature – the balance of colossal forces… the mighty Cosmos in perfect equilibrium produces – this.

Beyond this, Metaxas goes on to consider the picture of God breaking through into the natural world with miracles, like a great tree bursting through concrete. He examines the questions of God’s apparent “selectivity” – why do some people’s lives benefit from miraculous intervention, and others not?

In the second half of the book Metaxas gives accounts of miracles which happened to himself and to people he knows personally. These stories of miracles are robust and compelling. Some are disturbing, creepy and challenging. Near the end of the book he relates a 9/11 story which holds you transfixed. And he ends with a challenge both intellectual and spiritual.

I found this book thrilling, uplifting and enormously encouraging. Throughout my life there have been times when I’ve instinctively felt something to be true, without having the necessary resources of intellectual argument to lay it on the table before others. In this book, Metaxas encourages us to fully engage our minds on a subject which is far too easy to talk or think about in a “loose” or “woolly” way.

If you possibly can, find time to read this book and to consider what Metaxas says.

 

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