Posted by: Corri van de Stege | September 14, 2008

The Sunday Salon, classical music, books and writing

I sat down last night with my notebook to ‘play around’ with a few cues provided in my newly arrived coursebook for the advanced Creative Writing Course (yes, I’ve taken the jump and decided to go ahead with this and so I will have plenty to work on this autumn and winter) and then realised that it was the Last Night of the Proms  – the annual very English celebration of classical music, joining up the performance in The Royal Albert Hall with those in parks across the four nations: Hyde Park in London, Glasgow Green in Scotland, Belfast City Hall in Ireland and Swansea in Wales.  There was a time that I queued up and attended the odd concert in the Hall, that was at a time that  I could leave my job early (just round the corner from the Albert Hall) or was a student in London and with friends we could happily stand and wait until the doors opened and we could all take up our positions in the large hall, standing and waving and enjoying the music.

Last night I simply watched it from the comfort of my armchair, glass of wine nearby, and enjoyed the music through my stereo system, loud and joyful.  Sir Roger Norrington conducted but first of all there was the winner of the so-called Maestro competition, Sue Perkins, a comedian,  delivering her celebratory performance in style and with gusto.  You can read about it here.   It was great to see Sue and Lesley Garret performing together: a great female artist conducted by a great female artist.  How unusual is that? 

And then the Albert Hall performance?  That was sheer enjoyment, with amongst others, Bryn Terfel, pray-singing to the stars as Wolfram in Wagner’s Tannhauser:  ‘Die Seele die nach horenen……    , wenn sie entschlaft…….’ fragments of this song delivered with violinists caressing their strings,  the male players in white jackets, the female orchestra members in a dazzling variety of colours, bare shoulders, shimmering blue jackets, glossy hair in the middle of a blue ceilinged and adorned Albert Hall.  So different from the past when the orchestra members  mainly wore black, an odd wine coloured dress or skirt, but that was it.   Times are a-changing and for the better.

Helene Grimaud, the French pianist who has the condition called synaesthesia, where she  ‘hears’ in colours, played the most wonderful rendering of Beethoven’s Choral Fantasy in C-Minor, which is chrystallised so perfectly in Beethoven’s 9th.  And as you may remember from one of the meme’s, I love the sound of Beethoven’s 9th, and this precursor is on a par.   HG just plays those keys on the piano, the white and black ribbons, fingers moving, caressing and jumping across with a sound that almost vies for attention with the concentration on her face, walking her fingers, magically.

So much for writing and editing and getting started on my course, but writing this surely makes up for what I did not write last night?  It’s given me so much to think about, how can you write down sounds, how can you write down the sensations and overwhelming feeling that music can give you?  That, obviously, is part of the craft and the great challenge in writing well.  I will not give a complete review here of the whole evening, you may not get to the end of it, and I’m sure all the papers will have plenty to say, if not the website.  Words and sounds and sensations, they all have to tie up somehow in the story and perhaps an exercise in writing down what you sense (hear, smell, taste) is perfect!

And now for the reading bag: I’m doing well with short stories this week, I’ve received a copy of Shusha Guppy’s The Secret of Laughter, a collection of ‘Magical Tales from Classical Persia’.  They are lovely: each story starts with ‘Yeki bud, yeki nabud….’ – ‘once upon a time’ and they are mainly stories that the author remembers from her childhood, belong to her imagination and are part of her memory.  One or two taken from Firdowsi’s Shahnameh and Rumi’s Masnavi, are part of the Persian story tellers heritage.   I am reading this collection of stories as part of the publications in the ‘great myths’ series that I embarked on this year.  It is a beautiful collection and I will write some more on them in future.

Another book I’ve started and now almost finished is Olive Kitteridge by Elizabeth Strout – I’m sure one of you recommended it, but I cannot remember who it was, the book appeared on my tbr list and I happened to pick it up, slightly at a loss this week, not in the mood to read.  This is definitely a different approach to writing a story.  I am fascinated how the author keeps me enthralled and makes me want to read on.  The book reads like a collection of different stories that have somehow been joined together because Olive Kitteridge happens to walk across the view, or because someone mentions her name, spurious links that don’t actually say much about the main character, nevertheless help you build up the picture of the place she lives in, the people that surround her and the way they talk about her and how she talks about them.  It is quite a fresh approach to character development!  I do love the book and the way the story unravels itself.  But again, I’ll say more about it at some later stage probably.

And the: yes at long last I have written that review on Coetzee’s Disgrace and I’ll put it up this week.  Too much going for today!

Enjoy your Sunday – I’ve still got to read the papers, take a serious look at my coursebook (yes, must do that) and get rid of some of the ever growing weeds in the garden even this time of the year.  It looks a bit wild out there and it is actually not pouring down with rain.   I need two Sundays into one.



  1. There is nothing else quite like The Last Night of the Proms, is there? The Bears and I always stand and sing Jerusalem together and it’s seems to me to be the epitome of what it means to be English. And now the Autumn begins. Today is always the first day of Autumn to me and the fact that you are just about to start a new course only reinforces that. Good luck with it.

  2. I envy you! How I wish I was there!

    Waking upto SS after a day of serial blasts in Delhi

  3. I really enjoyed Olive Kitteridge earlier this year (my review is here if you are interested). The format of this collection was so great – making it feel like a novel rather than a collection of short stories.

    I’m looking forward to reading your thoughts on Disgrace!

  4. I also liked the way characters were revealed in Olive Kitteridge – thought it was a wonderfully unique approach.

    I especially loved the last story.

  5. Aha! You have a rainless day which is always inspiring with all that light. Meanwhile, over here, we have rain for the first time in more than a week and I am allowing it to keep me indoors and focused on cleaning two rooms, then slipping into paper crafting and maybe baking, you know, so the house smells good. In a nutshell, the rain is a relief from all that I had planned! (though I am a bit tempted to wander over to the bookstore in pursuit of the Olive Kitteredge book – terrilby curiuos!

  6. Ann D: yes, I just love this last night and the Jerusalem always makes me proud, and I’m not even English, but then I guess I have lived here for so much time of my life now that surely I count as an honorary one…. 🙂
    And by the way, I still have great difficulty accessing your website: the screen opens up and then jumps back to the introduction bit that lists the options… I’ll keep trying!
    gautami: I only watched it from my armchair but it was good nevertheless.
    Wendy: yes, I actually started it thinking I was reading a novel, but then realised I wasn’t. Fascinating!
    Oh; that’s a difficult choice! I’ve ended up enjoying this beginning of autumn pruning shrubs and cutting hedges (and, unfortutely, the wire of the hedgecutter with it… ooops – perhaps more about that this week).

  7. What an interesting blog! Will tune in.

  8. Olive Kitteridge sounds fascinating. I just found you. Will come back for another visit.

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