excerpt from 'In Pursuit of Music' pp. 69–70 (313 words)

excerpt from 'In Pursuit of Music' pp. 69–70 (313 words)

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In Pursuit of Music

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In the summer of 1939, with war-clouds looming nearer and nearer, Toscanini conducted the BBC Orchestra for the last time, crowning the cycle of the Beethoven symphonies with two performances of the Missa Solemnis.  I managed to get a rehearsal pass for this but did not realise it was an ‘admit two’ until I arrived at the Queen’s Hall.  I raced off to find Olive Zorian, with whom I had been lunching, and by the time we got back the Kyrie had started and we had to wait in the corridor.  But the extraordinary projection of spiritual beauty took no notice of such material obstacles as closed doors, filtering through with no loss of impact and holding us transfixed until we were allowed into the circle at the start of the Gloria.  It had taken no more than a split second to realise that this was a very different work from the one I had heard Beecham conduct.  With Beethoven, and especially late Beethoven, one cannot be half- or even seven-eighths-hearted.  It is all or nothing, as it was for the composer himself.  Beethoven was never more movingly personal than in his reiteration of certain words of the Mass – ‘credo, credo’ he sang – and at the end of the final prayer for inward and outward peace he changed, as though spontaneously, ‘dona nobis pacem’ into ‘dona pacem, pacem’ to a musical phrase fit to melt the heart of the most wrathful deity.

                Here was the world, trembling and insecure: and here different nationalities combined in protest as the Italian re-lived a German masterwork through the medium of a British orchestra and chorus, with an international quartet of soloists.  The spirit is fortified, but even Beethoven, Toscanini, the players and the singers cannot prevent the warlike sounds stepping from the page into reality.

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excerpt from 'In Pursuit of Music' pp. 69–70 (313 words)


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