<< -- 3 -- Peter Dale CLASSICAL OBJECTIVITY?
However, in a text which, though it depends for at least some of its shape upon
the events and chronology of its subject's life, it is actually so circumspect as to
say very little about either, and still less about what might be connections
between the life and the music, it is the inclusion of photographs which perhaps
make the most important contribution to the new edition. From a book notable for
its almost complete absence of discussion about the character of the man who is
its subject it is very hard to avoid the inference that Dickinson considers character
to have very little bearing upon the music. Almost the sum of what we learn about
Berkeley -- his mind, his values, his loyalties -- is that he became a Roman Catholic.
I can understand how a classical objectivity -- unfashionable though it is now --
can nevertheless inform and shape music of more than ordinary interest, particularly
in a century which began with an example of self-indulgence on the scale of that
of Gustav Mahler. But Dickinson's reserve is too absolute, too deferential, too
doctrinaire perhaps. The result is not that the life comes over purely as a function
of the music, but that as a person the subject of this book comes across, by
default, as probably having been so intrinsically dull as barely to be worth
mentioning. That done, a measure of the same dullness seeps into and over the whole book.
It seeps into impressions the reader forms of the nature of Berkeley's music, impressions
which Dickinson himself can never have intended. Classical impersonality is one thing --
a virtue, surely -- but objective impersonality or, in effect, characterlessness, is
another, and, overall, it is a sense of the latter which the reader carries away from
this otherwise excellent book.
Copyright © 24 August 2003
Peter Dale, Danbury, Essex, UK