To celebrate, to commemorate: anniversaries 2023

The Anniversaries Action Group up in The Other Place had gathered that evening for its annual discussion of who and what should be celebrated musically in the coming months. Discussion – always intense, given the many interested parties Up There – had been going on for some time and the Chair (this year, it was the ever-patient Haydn) was attempting to encourage some form of agreement as to a plan…let us quietly eavesdrop and see what transpires…

“Colleagues”, pleaded Haydn, “we have been sitting here for nigh on four hours debating the pros and cons of many, many, worthy of inclusion for our celebratory performance platform next week, but we really must reach agreement soon.” He looked at the notes he had taken, neatly arranged on several pieces of MS paper, and to his surprise found they resembled not so much a list of candidates, but the movement of yet another string quartet – “why, oh why”, he mused, “does my subconscious mind always take over like this?”

Sergei Rachmaninov

“Might I propose a few candidates?” asked Rachmaninov in his rich, Russian-inflected voice. “Oh please do old man”, replied Haydn, “but you are on the list yourself of course – a no-brainer really, 150 years since you came into that world down there. What a legacy you left! Those fiendishly difficult Preludes for the piano, requiring hands at least twice the size of mine to negotiate, not to mention the piano concerti, symphonies, the all-night vigil and that masterly cello sonata – which I can play, just (even though I’m not really a ‘cellist), such a marvellously rich palette of tone colours too.” Poor Sergei, he was quite overcome at FJH’s enthusiasm – after all, their compositional styles were centuries apart. But, after a moment composing himself [no pun intended – ed.] he suggested Tcherepnin, born in the same year as him, Lalo born 1823 and Ligeti 100 years later in 1923.


“Ligeti, what a splendid suggestion”, said Schoenberg (who was at that very moment working on his 24-tone technique, requiring ears that could distinguish the cracks in between the keys of the piano (peanuts, of course, to string players who could show off with any fraction of a tone you chose)). “I so admired the music he provided for that film of Stanley Kubrick’s…2000 and something-or-other, one does rather lose track of time up here”. “2001, I think you mean”, offered Schubert, looking up from a heavily blotty piece of MS paper on which he’d scribbled a few random song sketches. “Yes, that’s it”, enthused Schoenberg, “Lux Aeterna I particularly admire – but how crazy of Kubrick not to have sought proper permission before he used it. At least he and Ligeti settled things out of court and I think Kubrick used parts of Lontano (probably one of the works by which people remember him best) in The Shining but did actually ask first!”


“I think Sergei mentioned Lalo” said Brahms, who had been sitting quietly listening whilst combing his ever more unruly beard and actually feeling rather envious of Rachmaninov’s ability to stretch a 12th on the keyboard. “He was ten years older than me. He was French you know, but I’m never sure whether his music sounds French or really rather more German. But – ha – what am I saying, every composer sounds like himself. Did you know, Haydn old man, that he played viola and second violin (but not both at once) in a string quartet led by Jules Armingaud – you and Mozart should compare notes [d’oh…Ed.] with him. We all know his Symphonie espagnole, of course, written for Sarasate and if only he were here and not off practising yet another work which dear old Camille [Saint-Saens…ed.] has composed for him, he could tell you more.”

Title page of “The Triumphs of Oriana”

“Thank you Johannes, that was fascinating,” said Haydn, “Now, it’s nearly tea-time, and we really should come up with a few more names. Thoughts anyone?” “Ummm…what about my brother Ellis,” suggested Orlando Gibbons, “It’ll be his 450th birthday. And what’s more – MusiCB3 please write this down – he was born in Cambridge and actually lived somewhere near the market. Golly, the place has changed hasn’t it? People remember him mostly because he was the only composer who contributed two madrigals to The Triumphs of Oriana. The only two pieces that people Down Below have, although up here in the Other Place we have the most delightful array of vocal and instrumental works from him. Such a joy.” “An excellent suggestion Orlando, and should be especially pleasing to the CB3 team,” replied Haydn.

A page of the MS of the Missa Solemnis

“What about me?” came a somewhat slurred voice from the far end of the table. Beethoven had been sitting there, ear-trumpets deployed, trying to follow the discussion. “But Ludwig,” replied Haydn gently, “it’s not an anniversary of yours.” “Well, if you count the publication of my Diabelli Variations and the completion of my Missa Solemnis, then it’s an anniversary of a different kind. “OK, fair enough old man,” replied Haydn, smiling affectionately, “we’ll certainly give them a mention.” And what an extraordinary pair of works they are – the one consisting of no fewer than 33 variations on the publisher Diabelli’s theme, which he had thrown down originally as a challenge to composers to contribute a single variation – 55 responded, but Beethoven, disdainful of such a process, decided he’d go a step further and show what could really be done. The work we now have is regarded as one of the greatest sets of variations ever composed. And the Missa Solemnis was completed in 1823 and surely needs no more words other than to say it is also one of the greatest works ever written. The intensity of Beethoven’s creative powers is truly awe-inspiring. In fact, the Group had fallen silent as they each contemplated these two masterpieces.

Donald Swann in the 1960s

Just then, the piano in the Other Place café burst into life and to the assembled company’s bemusement, a voice was heard singing “Mud, mud, glorious mud. Nothing quite like it for cooling the blood…”. It was, of course, Donald Swann who had been unable to resist bringing the group back to earth [Ed: that can’t be right – they are in The Other Place] with the song by which he and his duo partner Michael Flanders will forever be remembered. He was, quite rightly, celebrating his 100th birthday with a jolly good wallow, down at the hollow…

“I give up,” sighed Haydn, “we’ll never get anywhere at this rate.” And so he took up his nearly finished string quartet and quietly took himself off with a gentle wave and a fatherly smile, leaving the others to (dis)agree amongst themselves. “They’ll still be at it in 3023.”

Happy new year to all our devoted followers…

SW on behalf of the MusiCB3 Team

This entry was posted in Uncategorized and tagged , . Bookmark the permalink.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.