Tuesday, May 29, 2012

"Off to Violin Land" - A Stradivarius for Undershaw.

Antonius Stradivarius.

The Creator.

The Violin.

The Players.

This is the story of one violin.

Antonio Stradivari probably began producing his first decent musical instruments in 1660 at the age of 16. He would continue to do so until his death in 1737.

"Antonio Stradivari" by |Edgar Bundy, 1893.

The years 1700 t0 1720 are often termed "the golden period", and instruments dating from these years are considered his finest work.

Stradivari created what is now known as Number 287, in 1709. It is famed for its special tonal merit - and association with Wilma Norman-Neruda   and Sherlock Holmes.
'The Ernst' 287 1709 Stradivarius.

"In an earlier chapter, I referred to the first Straduarius violin that had ever come before me, and which had been shewn me by Ernst on the occasion of his first visit to Leeds early in the 'fifties. In order to shew how the lives of these famous fiddles may be traced, I give the following interesting account. Approaching one hundred years ago, two very fine specimens of Straduarius workmanship came into the possession of Mr. A. Fountaine, of Narford Hall, in Sussex. These two violins he kept in a double case, where they rested, side by side, for many years. Mr. Fountaine, a great enthusiast, was in the habit of inviting musical house-parties from London for the week-ends.

Among those who were most frequently invited was Ernst, and, as a great privilege, he was permitted to lead the quartet party or to play his solo contributions on one of these superb fiddles the one usually designated by Mr. Fountaine as his
"second best ;" the other instrument never being permitted to be used for playing purposes, but being lifted from the case merely for admiring glances. One memorable Sunday, Ernst played so exquisitely on the "Strad." lent him by his host, that Mr. Fountaine said he must use it regularly as his solo instrument, and straightway made the artist a gift of it. This was the violin shewn me by Ernst in 1852, and which he used till the day of his death. After passing through several hands, it was the one selected, twenty years later, by Madame Norman-Neruda, who was requiring such an instrument for her own concert performances. "
Some Early Musical Recollections of G. Haddock, George Haddock, Schott & Co., London, 1906
Lady Halle was the wife of Sir Charles Halle who founded his eponymous orchestra. At the time of A Study in Scarlet when Sherlock Holmes goes to her concert, she was known by her first husband's name, Neruda. She would own and play The Ernst 287 until 1911 and this is the very instrument Holmes would have so enjoyed.
The Ernst.

Holmes comments: “I want to go to Hallé’s concert to hear Norman Neruda this afternoon. . . . Her attack and bowing are splendid. What’s that little thing of Chopin’s she plays so magnificently: Tra-la-la-lara-lira lay.” Watson then adds in his own voice, “Leaning back in the cab, this amateur bloodhound caroled away like a lark while I meditated on the many-sidedness of the human mind."

The Ernst provenance has been painstakingly traced and details may be read here .

I can find no recording of Wilma Norman-Neruda BUT for your pleasure AND as today's #MusicofUndershaw selection I have this link to an all-too-brief, tantalising 22 seconds of beautiful music played by Ruggiero Ricci: Here is the 1709 Ernst Stradivarius Number 287 - the very instrument Sherlock Holmes heard in the talented hands of Wilma Norman-Neruda The Glory of Cremona .

Wilma Neruda.

Saturday, May 26, 2012

"At the St. James's Hall" - 26/5/12 - MusicforUndershaw

"All  the afternoon he sat in the stalls wrapped in the most perfect happiness..."  
   ("The Red-Headed League".)

On the afternoon of Saturday, October 11th, 1890, John Clay and his confederate, Archie, were burrowing relentlessly from Jabez Wilson's cellar toward a vault beneath the City and Suburban Bank. Meanwhile, Sherlock Holmes and Dr. Watson relaxed at the Saturday "pop" concert at St. James's Hall, Piccadilly, listening to the virtuoso Spanish violinist, Pablo Sarasate.

Opened in 1858, to the design of Owen Jones who decorated the interior of The Crystal Palace, St. James's Hall had frontages on Regent St. and Piccadilly. Built jointly by music publishers Chappell & Co. and Cramer & Co., it was London's foremost concert venue until demolition in 1905.

Last concert 1905.

With a capacity of 2000 people in the Alhambra-style main hall, which housed the Monday & Saturday"Pops" classical concerts, the Hall had smaller performance rooms and a restaurant. One of these side halls was the permanent home of the Christy Minstrels (later the Moore & Burgess Minstrels).

If George Bernard Shaw is anything to go by, the minstrel troupe's playing could often be heard in the main hall, making for a  surreal musical experience. In January, 1890:

"At the Hallé orchestral concert... I was inhumanly tormented by a quadrille band which the proprietors of St James's Hall (who really ought to be examined by two doctors) had stationed within earshot of the concert-hall. The heavy tum-tum of the basses throbbed obscurely against the rhythms of Spohr and Berlioz all the evening, like a toothache through a troubled dream; and occasionally, during a pianissimo, or in one of Lady Hallé's eloquent pauses, the cornet would burst into vulgar melody in a remote key, and set us all flinching, squirming, shuddering, and grimacing hideously"
That Lady Halle was, of course Wilma Norman-Neruda, one of Holmes's favourite violinists. One assumes there were times Holmes quietly cursed the "wild strains of brazen minstrelcy" rising from the room below.

Interior St. James/s Hall.
The violinist, Rachel Barton Pine, gives an illuminating account of Pablo Sarasate's career in the 1890's here .

I have three Sarasate pieces to listen to, this day in 2012. 

1. Rachel Barton Pine playing his "Airs Ecossais" first performed by Sarasate himself in the St. James's Hall, May 28, 1894. As this is a month after the return of Sherlock Holmes, as recounted in The Empty House I like to think Holmes managed to catch the performance: Airs Ecossais.

2. Amazingly, recordings exist of Sarasate playing his own works in 1904. Listen to the man and the instrument Holmes loved, playing Zigeunerweisen: Sarasate in 1904.

3. Finally, my Sarasate Piece-of-the-Day, dedicated to the #SaveUndershaw Campaign.
Watch and listen to the fabulously talented Henryk Szeryng play Sarasate's Zapateado: MusicofUndershaw .

Jeremy Brett muses on the MusicofUndershaw.

No better way to end this post than to return to St. James's Hall to watch Brett's Holmes enjoying virtuoso violinist Bruce Dukov's recreation of Sarasate playing the Bach E major Prelude: Off to Violinland!



Friday, May 25, 2012

The Power of Music - A Jubilee Serenade for Undershaw.

Conan Doyle outside Undershaw.

"Hand me over my violin and let us try to forget for half an hour the... miserable ways of our fellow-men".
                                                                                      (Holmes: "The Five Orange Pips").

May 25, 2012 - and what to do now the case for Undershaw has been presented and thousands worldwide await the High Court decision?

WELL...I'm going to take a leaf out of Conan Doyle's book and put my faith in the power of music by tweeting and blogging daily pieces of music associated with Sherlock Holmes, Conan Doyle and the Britain of Victoria's Diamond Jubilee of 1897, the very year in which Conan Doyle took up residence in his beloved fairyland home.

AND...I send these musical ambassadors through the ether of our world wide web to work their diplomatic magic on the owners and arbitrators of a future for Undershaw. 

FOR..."Do you remember what Darwin says about music? He claims that the power of producing and appreciating it existed among the human race long before the power of speech was arrived at. Perhaps that is why we are so subtly influenced by it. There are vague memories in our souls of those misty centuries when the world was in its childhood."
                                            (Holmes: "A Study in Scarlet".)

At Undershaw it is always 

A home - no matter how humble - is never just bricks and mortar. The house Doyle built may not be of outstanding architectural significance, but that's an irrelevance: old spirits yet inhabit that Empty House.

To borrow from Vincent Starrett: "Shall (he) not always live in (Undershaw). (Is he) not there instant, as one writes...So (he) still live(s) for all that love (him) well in a romantic chamber of the heart, in a nostalgic country of the mind: where it is always 189(7)".

This Jubilee year of 2012, the nation is spending much time, effort and money on...nostalgia. And this should be a reminder, a wake-up call to those who may so easily have forgotten the crucial importance of those "misty centuries" that make us more than mere flesh and bone.

This brief Blog is my introduction to a week - or month - of music associated with Sherlock Holmes, Arthur Conan Doyle and the 1897 Jubilee - and I shall tweet or blog a new piece daily until the day of judgment, believing, with William Congreve that:
"Music hath charms to soothe a savage breast, to soften rocks, or bend a knotted oak."

Watch and listen to 90 year old Jack Leroy Tueller, movingly relate his experience of the power of music during World War Two. Please click this link for Youtube video:
The Power of Music  

We are, in 2012, closer than we think to 1897. I was privileged to know my father's mother many years before she died: she, who had been born in 1886 and was herself but one person away from the previous century. Our modern cinema, television and computer screens carry new-minted images of Doyle's great detective and account for much of the current world-wide protest concerning Undershaw. But those images ( and those soon to be broadcast of Elizabeth's Jubilee) are only possible because of Victorian cinema pioneers.

 In 1897, R.W. Paul produced the following state-of-the-art movie of Queen Victoria's Diamond Jubilee Procession: Please click this link for video from Youtube:


"That he could play pieces, and difficult pieces, I knew well, because at my request he has played me some of Mendelssohn’s Lieder and other favourites."
                                        (Dr. John Watson: "A Study in Scarlet").

What more fitting for my first selection than one of Mendelssohn's "Lieder ohne Worte" - the phrase translates as "Song without Words" (we have heard all the words for Conan Doyle's home - now let the music of Undershaw be heard!).

Here is Lied ohne Worte No. 1, Opus 30 in Liszt's arrangement for violin and piano: please click the link for Youtube video:

The Mendelssohn, Watson!

I shall tweet each daily selection. If you wish to hear the Music of Undershaw each day, please follow me on Twitter



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Thursday, May 17, 2012

Creatures of the Abyss - THE EMPTY HOUSE (4)

Lord & Lady Curzon, India, 1902.
"The parallel is exact."

(Sherlock Holmes, 'The Empty House').

Readers of the long-anticipated new adventure would, in 1903, have been rewarded with a fictional version of this posed, symbolic photograph.

For the Viceroy of India and his wife read Holmes and Watson; the Bengal tiger: Colonel Sebastian Moran, hunted, baited, trapped and brought down.

It is an image in common currency at the time and thus ideal for Doyle's purpose - the credible re-establishment of Sherlock Holmes at the centre of Edwardian life. Coupled with the related (secular) metaphor of the Abyss, a parallel with jungle safari satiated the thirst for exotic adventure shared by Doyle and his avid readers. The implication is you have no need to travel to India for action - cling with Watson to the coat-tails of Sherlock Holmes and there is danger enough right here in London.

Moran is the personification of tiger as hunter and prey but Doyle delays the introduction of this image, intent first to establish Moriarty and his henchman as creatures of the abyss: 

 "I seemed to hear Moriarty's voice screaming at me out of the abyss...

A huge rock, falling from above, boomed past me, struck the path, and bounded over into the chasm. For an instant I thought that it was an accident; but a moment later, looking up, I saw a man's head against the darkening sky, and another stone struck the very ledge upon which I was stretched, within a foot of my head."
 Scylla & Charybdis by Henry Fuseli 1794-6

Holmes is still in mortal danger, caught twixt Scylla and Charybdis. Both the Granada series and BBC SHERLOCK  have Holmes in the cross-hairs of a sniper. Doyle prefers the more elemental, savage hurling of natural rock, reserving the image of Moran as shikari until the game is afoot and a re-galvanised Watson ('my revolver in my pocket and  the thrill of adventure in my heart') exclaims:
  ." I knew not what wild beast we were about to hunt down in the dark jungle of criminal London."...

 and Holmes is now termed 'the master huntsman'.

 In the gloom of Camden House the detective 'sprang like a tiger on the marksman's back'. Moran, in his early 60's, is presented as an aging, cornered wild animal, 'wonderfully like a tiger himself, and Holmes can crown the triumphant moment by drawing the exact parallel:  
"I wonder that my very simple stratagem could deceive so old a shikari," said Holmes. "It must be very familiar to you. Have you not tethered a young kid under a tree, lain above it with your rifle, and waited for the bait to bring up your tiger? This empty house is my tree and you are my tiger. You have possibly had other guns in reserve in case there should be several tigers, or in the unlikely supposition of your own aim failing you. These," he pointed around, "are my other guns. The parallel is exact."

All this is designed to remind the reader of the thrill of a chase coupled with the highest of motives. An exchange between Holmes and Moran in 'The Crown Diamond' crystalizes this impulse which is at the romantic root of these stories: 
"HOLMES: You used to shoot tigers?
COLONEL: Yes, sir.
HOLMES: But why?
COLONEL: Pshaw! Why does any man shoot a tiger--the excitement--the danger!
HOLMES: And, no doubt, the satisfaction of freeing the country from a pest which devastates it and lives on the population?
COLONEL: Exactly!
HOLMES: My reasons in a nutshell!"

In his Preface to 'The Casebook' Doyle defines these 'adventures' as 'that distraction from the worries of life and stimulating change of thought which can only be found in the fairy kingdom of romance'.

Indeed the terms 'adventure' and 'exploit' are his preferred labels for both the Holmes and Gerard stories. For the detective they may be 'cases' but for everyone else they are vicarious visits to the abyss of perilous adventure with one sure-footed, completely dependable guide - Sherlock Holmes.

Doyle would continue to visit the jungle in other works, notably the Professor Challenger novels and that strange story of 1913, The Horror of the Heights, in which:

"We read in the flight book that the aviator had an experience at 40,000 feet, meeting a new air-jungle world of semi-formed gelatinous creatures, one of which has a more solid form with tentacles and a beak, and does battle with them, surviving, returning to the ground. He vows to go back, at which point we assume he met his doom."
The story may be read here and an excellent article on the story from Ptak Science Books here .

The Empty House establishes criminals such as Moriarty and Moran as creatures of the Abyss. But they are only one circle of a Dantean Hell implied by this current image that was very real to Victorian and Edwardian Londoners and, indeed, societies much further afield.
Asta Neilsen in The Abyss 1910.

The Danish film Afgrunden (The Abyss) shot in 1910 attests to the vibrancy of the image: here the abyss is populated by characters who fall from sexual grace into the sin of forbidden erotic passion. The film is worth watching for the astonishingly realistic acting of its female star, Asta Neilsen, and may be viewed here .

Most importantly, for Doyle's readers, London itself contained other versions of creatures of the Abyss. The Man with the Twisted Lip presents a frighteningly vivid picture of one vile alley to the East of London Bridge. The Bar of Gold in Upper Swandam Lane is but one example of countless opium dens in London's East End, "approached by a steep flight of steps leading down to a black gap like the mouth of a cave...
Through the gloom one could dimly catch a glimpse of bodies lying in strange fantastic poses, bowed shoulders, bent knees, heads thrown back, and chins pointing upward, with here and there a dark, lack-lustre eye turned upon the newcomer. Out of the black shadows there glimmered little red circles of light, now bright, now faint, as the burning poison waxed or waned in the bowls of the metal pipes."
What is most arresting about the ensuing story is not so much the secret life of Neville St. Clair as the undercover work of Sherlock Holmes. An argument may reasonably be made that Holmes' powers of disguise are just as important - and rare - as his deductive powers. The detective is well aware he is a spy in enemy territory, but has the skill and courage to blend in for days. Indeed, taking the stories as a whole, our general sense is that even Watson is never afforded the full picture of Holmes's activities. There are gaps, long periods, extended absences never accounted for in which Holmes could be...anywhere (in England or abroad) and probably is!
Thus does Doyle generate the over-arching notion of the great detective as upon eternal vigil, watching over us, unseen, often in danger, but unflinchingly in pursuit of all that disturbs the peace of the nation. He alone can go where others fear to tread and, occasionally, with Watson, we are afforded a taster of what it is like to visit the Abyss and return unscathed.
Doyle's readers responded to the religious implications of the abyss but were perhaps most afraid of the social version which pre-occupied so many minds of the time.
George Gissing's 1889 work The Nether World (see this article here ) is one of many and varied attempts to come to terms with conditions in London's East End. But I should like in concluding this piece on The Empty House to draw attention to the parallel afforded by Jack London's 1902 visit to the metropolis. 
Two matters first:
Camden (the empty) House is unusual precisely because it is empty - had the building been situated in London's East End, it would not have been vacant, but crammed to the rafters with multiple occupants paying exorbitant rents to absentee landlords.
Read Anna Strunsky Walling  first on the character of Jack London. She is prejudiced (head over heels in love) but illustrates the man's remarkable Shelley-esque personality and physical beauty. The link is here .
Think Oliver Tobias as Captain Croker  and I think we have something like Jack London.
Next, read a most illuminating article about Jack London's favourite work The People of the Abyss (1903). The article is here .
Centrally, take a look at the work itself, most tellingly read with the original photographs and join Jack London in his undercover visit to the Abyss. The link is here ; the parallel exact.
frontispiece to People of the Abyss 1903.

And, finally, take a look at this article from The Pall Mall Gazette for 29 October, 1891 which takes us to London Night by Night in the company of a certain Johnny Upright. The link is here .

A final word: in these posts on The Empty House I have tried to show with what imaginative skill and solicitous care Doyle set about the re-establishment of Sherlock Holmes at the centre of Edwardian life, through imaginative use of cultural metaphors in common currency at that fascinating time. And I leave you with the image of Holmes the Guardian, so familiar from the opening credits of Granada TV's excellent series.

The Last and Highest Court of Appeal.