On April 23rd 2016 – and probably throughout the entire year – we will celebrate the 400th anniversary of the death of William Shakespeare. By ‘we’ I mean not only England and the English, or the United Kingdom and the British, but all nations and cultures of the world where Shakespeare is a passion, pastime or of any scholarly interest. And that necessarily embraces the whole of civilisation. As the holder of the Guinness World Record for performing the Complete Works single-handedly non-stop (five days without sleep – never again), I’ll certainly be raising a glass or two to the world’s greatest poet-playwright.
My record still stands after 25 years, and has just been re-published in the 2013 edition of the Guinness Book of Records. I will forever be grateful to those fine English teachers I had at school – Roger Calvert, Daphne Cooper and Jean Tidy – who between the years that spanned my O-levels and A-levels introduced me to Julius Caesar, Twelfth Night, Antony & Cleopatra, Coriolanus, Measure for Measure and King Lear. From the academic confines of the classroom to the emotional exuberance of the school play, I found my soul simultaneously steeped in dramatic greatness, lyrical beauty and profound wisdom: ineffable, noetic, passive – it was like a religious experience. Every visit I made to Stratford-upon-Avon became a pilgrimage: sometimes wrestling with darkness and devils, and then rejoicing with angels and ministers of grace. Continue reading →
Prom 18: Beethoven Symphony No.9 in D minor, ‘Choral’. Daniel Barenboim conducts the West-Eastern Divan Orchestra and the National Youth Choir of Great Britain (Royal Albert Hall)
“By assiduous labour you shall receive Mozart’s spirit from Haydn’s hands,” mused Count Ferdinand Waldstein, as he packed the young Ludwig van Beethoven off to Vienna to fulfil his dreams. Little could Bonn’s great patron of the arts have known that Beethoven’s own hands would surpass those of Haydn, his tutor, or that his spirit would soar above that of Mozart, his inspiration and muse.
This evening marked the culmination of Daniel Barenboim’s complete Beethoven symphony cycle at the Proms – the first by a single maestro since Henry Wood conducted them in 1942. I have either watched them on TV or listened on Radio 3, and it has been a mesmeric, occasionally revelatory cycle. Continue reading →