Back in my very early days, when Brisbane had the reputation of being Australia’s biggest country town, I enjoyed attending the Queensland Symphony Orchestra’s Youth Concert Series. These were especially designed to introduce us into the music and etiquette of classical music. Now I stress the word etiquette because there were certain standards of behaviour to which a live audience was expected to adhere: no talking during the performance, no coughing, no shuffling of restless feet, no leaving before the end. But the biggest demand of etiquette was: do not applaud until the music has actually finished.
For example, many symphonies are divided up into four movements with a pause of several seconds between each section. With rare exceptions, the four movements of a symphony conform to a standardized pattern. The first movement is brisk and lively; the second is slower and more lyrical; the third is an energetic minuet (dance) or a boisterous scherzo (“joke”); and the fourth is a rollicking finale. The conductor may even explain this pattern to his youthful audience, just prior to the performance. But what he does not explain is the pause between each section, during which break the audience may cough, shuffle, or look at their programmes, but, under no circumstances, clap.
Of course, being youthful and inexperienced, the audience would sometimes forget to be restrained and break out into spontaneous applause, myself included. The conductor would ignore us with his back turned and simply wait until the clapping had ceased before commencing the next section of the music.
To me though, the end of a section would often be the most dramatic, especially for the conductor – would we, or wouldn’t we? Of course, it wouldn’t have worried Beethoven in later life when he was conducting his own works: he was stone deaf and would have gone on conducting whether the audience was listening or not.
It is fitting that we end this series by returning to whence we set out: the Redcliffe Peninsula, and to its world famous export, The Bee Gees. In recent years the Council has renamed a whole street after them and decked it out with memorabilia from their singing career.
On his most recent visit to Redcliffe, Barry Gibb, the oldest and only surviving member of the pop group, told a reporter of the life changing decision they had made as young teenagers. Like many others with too much time on their hands, the three brothers amused themselves by stealing goods from the local shops. However, Barry’s conscience got the better of him, and he took his younger siblings, Maurice and Robin, and their contraband good out to the end of the Redcliffe Jetty and announced to them that they had to make a decision: do we carry on with our stealing or do we do something useful with our lives?
They threw all their stolen goods off the end of the jetty. The rest is history…
Recent speakers at my Probus club have reminded me of the travelling days of my more youthful times. They spoke of expeditions ranging from Lightning Ridge and Carnarvon in outback Australia to traversing the Sahara Desert in a Kombi van.
My own youthful travelling days were not nearly as exciting: I flew to London in 1968 on a working holiday. But I did meet my future wife, Phyllis! When I first met her, I was very impressed with a vinyl record album of hers by the Irish singing group, the Johnstons. Phyllis’ favourite track was called ‘I Never Shall Marry’ (I didn’t take the hint), but I loved the title track ‘Travelling People’ and, although I was not an Irish tinker on which the song was based, I certainly identified with the lyrics: ‘I’m a freeborn man of the travelling people, Got no fixed abode, with nomads I am numbered…’ It was 1968 after all!
As I write this week’s blog contribution, I am reminded of this song as I contemplate another sojourn away. Phyllis and I are once again returning to the UK and Ireland, probably for the last time; and although we won’t be using the traditional tinker’s mode of transport (and I don’t think they are now ether) I like to think that we are still travelling people, and at our time of life, it shouldn’t be any other way. For as the song ends… ‘Your travelling days will soon be over.’
When I first heard that our next Probus guest speaker was to be Professor Peter Roennfeldt whose topic would be Madame Mallalieu, (an early colonial musician), I immediately thought of Lola Montez. How wrong I was, for Madame Henrietta Mallalieu (nee Percival) and later known as Mrs Willmore, was one of Queensland’s greatest musicians. Well known for her chamber music and solo piano performances across a 60-year career, she was also ‘undeterred by popular prejudice’ in becoming the colony’s leading female organist, and was closely associated with the Willis pipe organ which is now the cultural showpiece of Brisbane’s City Hall.
Henrietta Willmore believed in women’s political rights and responsibilities. She served on the executives of the Queensland Women’s Suffrage League and the Woman’s Franchise Association of Queensland. She was a founding member of the Brisbane Women’s Club and was president of the Queensland Women’s Electoral League’s Toowong branch. During World War I, she was President of the Belgian Relief Fund for which she was awarded the “Medailles de la Reine Elisabeth”.
Henrietta was organist at St John’s Pro-Cathedral from 1882 to 1885, at Wickham Terrace Presbyterian Church and at other churches, and pioneered organ recitals and organ-based concerts in Brisbane.
In recognition of her advocacy for women’s political and social rights, the Willmore Discussion Club, which was formed in her honour, commissioned the Willmore Memorial Chair for Women’s College at the University of Queensland.
Her wartime charitable work was also recognised by the King of Belgium. Henrietta’s legacy lived on, notably through her family’s bequest of their Toowong home as a female music students’ hostel, known as QCWA’s Mallalieu Home.
Sadly, Henrietta’s names (she was married four times) are all but forgotten today. However Professor Roennfeldt from the Queensland Conservatorium of Music has now recorded her achievements in a new book entitled ‘Madame Mallalieu – an inspiring musician and her legacy for Queensland’.
During the late 1960’s like so many young Australians I was drawn to live in London’s Earls Court (known to all then as ‘Kangaroo Valley’). However, although I was fascinated by the whole ‘sex, drugs, and rock ‘n roll’ revolution of which London was at the centre I never fully embraced it. Perhaps as a Pharmacist, I had medicated too many drug addicts at Boots Piccadilly pharmacy.
Recently, to see what I’d missed out on, I read Richard Goldstein’s book ‘Another Little Piece of My Heart’. Here are some of the quotes I found most interesting:
It was the great temptation of the sixties, the ghost of Rousseau that haunted every Freudian of my age. What lay beneath the layers of repression?…I was sick of living in a world whereto social order was all too obvious. That’s why the hippies were so appealing to people like me. They represented liberation from reality.
That was the whole problem with the counterculture. There was no will to form institutions that could transmit values, only a feeling that everything worth learning could be comprehended in an instant or immediately felt.
No one makes great art out of contentment with the world…
But in 1967 the hip thing for a chat show was to have a professor as a guest. ..They had to have an outsize sense of their importance, a blind confidence in their ideas, and a conviction that they could single-handedly alter the course of history. Most important…they had to be entertaining.
By getting us used to what, formerly, we could not bear to see or hear, art changes morals.
Perhaps this is always what it’s like to live in revolutionary times, the sense that everything is coursing toward a destiny that seems irrational and immanent (inherent).
I often found myself thinking about how other radicals had coped with the failure of their revolutions. How did the young visionaries of 1848 deal with the suppression of their noble dreams? What did partisans in the Paris commune think when their defeated comrades were executed by the thousands? How did Communists who deeply believed in the triumph of the proletariat live with the tyranny of Stalin? Some of them recanted in bestselling books, others clung to the long view of human history while settling down to raise ungrateful children.
I think our young people of today live in equally revolutionary times, and wonder how our radicals will cope when they fail.
It always amazes me how a chance encounter can so much influence our lives. For example, the great 19th century German composer, Ludwig van Beethoven found the following text in the French egyptologist, Jean-Francois Champollion’s “The Paintings of Egypt,” where it is set down as an inscription on a temple to the goddess Neith:
“I am that which is. I am all that was, that is, and that shall be. No mortal man has ever lifted the veil of me. He is solely of himself, and to this Only One all things owe their existence.”
Beethoven had his copy framed and kept it constantly before him on his writing desk. The relic was a great treasure in his eyes.
‘Trip to Italy’, a film and TV series of recent times, featured in its soundtrack a recurring theme comprising a loud, sustained chord that resolved gradually into a slow expansive melody of great aural beauty. It was so perfectly matched to the action, especially the sedate yachting scenes, that I wondered just how the director came to select such a piece of music. Did he have all this music already in his head, or did he visit a library of background music and ask for a suitable piece? Indeed, how does any director, especially for TV documentaries, select the background music?
Evidently other viewers of ‘Trip to Italy’ had also liked the piece which, thanks to Google, was identified as ‘At Sunset’ from ‘Four Last Songs’ by German composer, Richard Strauss, and composed just before his death at 85. Interestingly, the premiere was given posthumously at the Royal Albert Hall in London on 22 May 1950, sung by Flagstad, accompanied by the Philharmonia Orchestra conducted by Wilhelm Furtwängler. The performance was made possible due to the magnanimous effort of the then Maharaja of Mysore, Jayachamarajendra Wadiyar Bahudar. Though he could not be present, the music-loving maharaja put up a $4,800 guarantee for the performance, so that the Four Last Songs could be recorded for his large personal collection – then estimated at around 20,000 records – and the recording then shipped to him in Mysore.
I find it interesting to know what projects famous artistic people were working on when they died, and how it intertwined with their lives at the time. Here are some of my favourites:
A month before his death at 93, film actor, Christopher Lee, had signed up to star with an ensemble cast in the Danish film ‘The 11th’.
Richard Wagner, the 19th century German composer was planning another opera ‘Die Sieger’ (The Victors). I read somewhere that a teenage Adolf Hitler tried his hand at completing it.
David Lean, the British film director, was about to begin filming Joseph Conrad’s book ‘Nostromo’ when he died. In 1997 Alastair Reid directed it as a British-Italian television drama miniseries.
Stieglitz Larsson who wrote the ‘Millennium Trilogy’ died shortly after delivering the manuscripts and so could not witness the book and films subsequent huge popularity.
In the summer of 1959, Boris Pasternak, Russian poet and author of ‘Doctor Zhivago’ , began work on a drama to be called ‘The Blind Beauty’. It was to be a drama of the 19th century in Russia with its main event the liberation of the serfs. He envisioned the drama as an ambitious trilogy, but unfortunately only lived to complete the first act.
After he had finished ‘Once Upon a Time in America’ in 1984, Sergio Leone wanted to make a war epic film based on Harrison Salisbury’s book ‘The 900 Days: The Siege of Leningrad’, about the Eastern Front during World War II. Leone settled on the idea of following an American war photographer, to be played by Robert De Niro, as he found himself trapped in Leningrad for years during the German siege of the city. Leone secured $100m in financing and the cooperation of the Soviet government and had hired regular collaborator Ennio Morricone to compose the score when he suddenly died of a heart attack in 1989 at the age of 60.
I had been writing about Moreton Bay for 25 years when Rosemary Opala supplied her sketch of what she imagined would be my final words as I disappeared beneath the surface of the bay’s waters….glug..glug…