March 29: a fog-horn and a dog in the playground

In music great moments are often those where an instrument or a voice does not sound like itself. In last night’s symphony (Mahler 9, beautifully played) a long note from a basoon felt like a creaking door, a blast fron the tuba like an old boiler about to shatter or the fog-horn of a sinking Titanic. There is a particular Schumann lied from the Eichendorff Liederkreis (Auf einer Burg) where Fischer-Dieskau makes the whole song sound like a long, existentilal yawn (yawn in a good sense, a natural sinuous exhalation). When an orchestra sounds like itself, a load of strings and a set of brass, it is at its least interesting.

I suppose we always want things not to be themselves. It is why we love surprising  metaphor, which spirits us away to another place. There was a lovely one in Coronation Street the other day when a character turns up out of the blue and someone says he’s like a dog in a playground at primary school. This recalled the sudden glee that some children felt (not me, I don’t love dogs) when a strange dog somehow got into the playground at break time. It’s like when you see someone out of context, nurses or policemen without their uniform for example, dressed in civvies. At such moments you say: Hallo. I didn’t recognize with you clothes on.

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