Music and Vision homepage 'Elgar and Chivalry' by Robert Anderson - available now from Elgar.org

 

<<  -- 4 --  Jennifer Paull    REMINISCENT RETROSPECTIVES

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My first encounter with this Victorian world was as a second percussion player in The Pirates of Penzance. Almost, as in the words of the Mikado 'disguised as a second trombone'; I came face to face with these operettas, clutching a silver triangle. Somebody else was playing the oboe, and the only way in which I could take part in the proceedings was doing my best to strike the triangle in the right places. Although I looked glaringly at the oboist for the entire week, he never fell ill, and having so little to do, I was able to memorise the work in its entirety. For the first time I discovered the frustration of trying to sleep after a Gilbert and Sullivan performance, and being unable to do so. That one elusive line from a patter song would simply not come. What was it? What was he doing that dear gentleman, the Duke of Plaza Toro apart from 'leading his regiment from behind' because 'he found it less exciting'?

Many years after having awoken to the large silver-coloured zeppelin hovering above me, I found myself in the Sultanate of Oman. With a friend, I had driven to a beach not far from Seeb, where Sindbad the Sailor is alleged to have been born, to see a most amazing sight. Equally dramatically -- or so it seemed, the beach was covered with a thick silver carpet of sardines drying in the sun. There must have been millions of them stretching out along the bay. The smell was pretty overpowering, but nevertheless, we sat down and watched the scales shining in the sunlight.

The Sultan, Quaboos, had studied at Sandhurst and developed a taste for Gilbert and Sullivan. It appeared that he had built an experimental farm not very far away from where we were sitting, in which the air-conditioned, indoor dairy was contained in a circular building. The stalls for the cows were distributed rather like the five-minute divisions of a clock. In the centre, so I was told, his Majesty liked to sit for long hours. Alone, save for a most sophisticated stereo installation and the bovine chorus, he would listen to his favourite vocal, British export. Very surreal yet again. Had the composer in question been from the Darmstadt School, I might have found the idea of musical cows in the desert to be less hilarious, although I am not quite sure why. The Duke of Plaza Toro walking backwards, anticlockwise with a lasso, just wouldn't go away. Over twenty years later, it still hasn't.

 

Copyright © 15 February 2002 Jennifer Paull, Vouvry, Switzerland

 

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