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<<  -- 2 --  Jennifer Paull    REMINISCENT RETROSPECTIVES


Undoubtedly, many figures have transcended man's artificial, paper or real, geographical frontiers. However, some remain totally national. Gilbert and Sullivan might be household names wherever there are the British or those of British descent to form societies and enjoy this national institution. They are not household names in Italy, Finland, or Russia. Each country has examples of a national product which, like a precious local wine, doesn't travel well.

I remember coming home very late after a Saturday night concert. I didn't need to get up the next morning, so I looked forward to being lazy. I awoke late and duly refreshed, sprang out of bed and drew the curtains. I lived in Upper Berkeley Street, a stone's throw from Marble Arch in the West End of London. My flat was on the top floor, and I had a lovely view towards Wigmore Street and miles of London rooftops. That is, I did usually. At that moment the sky was filled with a zeppelin, large and silver like a giant dolphin, it simply hovered there looking back at me. It was a very odd sensation. I felt as though time had stopped and clocks had gone backwards. Maps and frontiers had been affected by a different outcome of a war, two decades previous.

I pulled the curtains closed and sat down heavily upon the bed. Being very careful not to look out of the kitchen window, I put water on to boil and returned to my room. I turned on the radio for reassurance. In those days, Radio Three was a wonderful, relatively new experience. There was always something very interesting to which to listen. Sunday mornings meant Bach Cantatas. I had recorded many with oboe d'amore obligati for the BBC Northern Orchestra, the BBC Philharmonic as it has since been renamed.

No, it couldn't have been the appropriate time. This was Gilbert and Sullivan. I sat down on the bed again rather suddenly. It was being sung in Hungarian! How could something as British as Gilbert and Sullivan be emanating from Radio Three in Hungarian, on a Sunday morning? There was no mistaking the language, my Father's native tongue. Was I dreaming?

I made tea and poured a cup. Repening the curtains, I found the sky restored to its usual arpeggio of rooftops and breathed a deep sigh of relief. Thank heaven for Earl Grey! The Hungarian, however, persisted. I listened until to the end of the performance, hoping for a clue. It was to be an hour or so later before my questions were answered. Was I listening from within the confines of a Dali painting? I tried to imagine how a translator had struggled with the patter songs, and why? Even more amazingly, how had the BBC been persuaded to broadcast this performance?

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Copyright © 15 February 2002 Jennifer Paull, Vouvry, Switzerland





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