(The blogger’s nightmare scenario. You spend the best part of a wet day drafting a post, tweaking the title, adding photos, and then, knowing that you need to take a couple more photos in the morning, and with my routines disturbed by not having my critical editor (F) on hand this last weekend to check things before publication, you somehow manage to sign out without saving the draft.
So this morning when I anticipated a quick edit I looked in vain for any trace of yesterday’s work. Zilch. The crazy thing is that on a separate page, late on in the evening, I’d added a couple of snowdrops to my mid season list (yet to be published) and managed to save that tiny update. So, deep breath, this will be a complete post rewrite, but today is SUNNY. So it will have to wait. And perhaps in the context of this post, and its theme of patient long term effort, it’s rather appropriate. It began, I think, something like this….)
“The soul needs to look out at things and find rest and peace and beauty in the things that the eyes are seeing. I think that’s a need. It’s a need as much as having a roof over your head and food in your stomach”.
By chance I’d happened to catch the beginning of Desert Island Discs (D.I.D) last week, with Anna Pavord as castaway, and although I can’t recall reading any of her gardening writings, I knew she was a heavyweight and stayed to listen to the whole radio programme.
I was instantly hooked, both by her expressed thoughts and life story, the innate enthusiasm and zest for life in her voice (I couldn’t believe she is 77) and even better her choice of music, which cut across the genres, and included several pieces which were new to me. If you didn’t catch the programme, it’s well worth a listen. Click here.
The first piece which was completely new to me was Consolation No. 3 by Liszt. If I have ever heard it, I certainly couldn’t have named it, and she introduced it by saying that Schubert, Chopin and Liszt now seemed to be her favoured composers. Snap. This is a perfectly pitched melody for late November, and the mood in the garden, if not inside, with hints of brighter days ahead. A perfect piece to listen to on a dark evening, or grey wet day.
Click below for a recording made decades ago by Artur Rubinstein.
The second piece was chosen by her to remind her of her childhood growing up around Abergavenny in South East Wales, where the sounds of male voice choirs were a constant feature in village life in some of the valley communities. Interestingly she chose a recording of the wonderful hymn “How Great Thou Art”, ( Mor Fawr Wyt Ti) sung in a Welsh translation by Cor Orpheus Treforys (Morriston Orpheus Choir).
I notice that Anna Pavord is described as a pantheist, and I’d suggest it’s difficult for anyone to listen to this rendering of the hymn and not be “moved” in some way, even without knowing what all the words actually mean. This hymn itself has a multinational origin, click here for how it’s developed and migrated over decades from origins in Sweden in the early twentieth century via Germany, Russia and eventually translation into English in 1949 by Stuart Hine, a missionary to Russia. I couldn’t find an exact date, or person responsible for this Welsh translation version.
But hearing this Welsh version jogged my memory, about the power of Welsh Male Voice Choir singing. So I dug out the CD recording we’d made at Gelli Uchaf, way back in 2008, by Cor Meibion Llanymyddyfri (The Llandovery Male Voice Choir.). This was part of what was meant to be a creative triptych of mine up here – my DVD ROM moth project, recordings of the Dawn Chorus made here, and the very human sounds of a local male voice choir. At that point the choir had never made a recording in their 60 year history, so plans were made, songs chosen (mainly Welsh) and rehearsed, a day booked, a sound engineer hired, copyrights paid for, and on a typically wet day, the 30 strong choir, incredibly smart in their finery, together with conductor and pianist crammed into the big room in our longhouse. Fiona, as always, worked wonders with the art work, and you’ll see that “How Great Thou Art” was indeed one of the selections – though sung in English as a solo by Alun Davies, a local sheep farmer, and recorded whilst the rest of the choir had squeezed into the Gegin (kitchen) for lunch.
I hadn’t realised until I took out the CD inserts to photograph them for this piece, that back then Michael Eavis, of Glastonbury Festival fame, chose this same hymn as his single preferred piece of music when he was castaway on D.I.D, in 2008. And he specifically said he loved to have it on the radio as he was driving through the majestic Welsh scenery…
But also on our CD, and slotted in and recorded on the day with no advance warning to me, was an achingly beautiful song “Y Dref Wen”. I’d never heard this before and asked Alun after they’d recorded it what the lyrics were about. He was a little vague, and some research by me was needed. I’m guessing very few readers will ever have heard this, but do follow the links to 3 versions of it below, and do try to work out firstly whether you enjoy it, and secondly how much the recording style plays on its emotional impact, and indeed what you think the song is all about (if you don’t understand Welsh). The final version is by its contemporary composer, Tecwyn Ifan, and includes translations of the lyrics, which give a hint as to why Alun was maybe a little reticent in translating its meaning to me, as someone born over the dyke, but now living in an old long white house, having restored it from dereliction, and with fire back in the hearths…
But the middle version of the song, an amateur recording of the annual concert in 2010 of Cor Meibion Llanelli captures the real emotional impact of what I heard, for the first time, in our living room all those years ago. It still makes the hairs on the back on my neck stand up, even just typing this. Great emotional power.
Sadly some members of the choir felt that the singing and recording on the day weren’t up to scratch, so the triptych never materialised, and was restricted to the DVD Rom and a bird song CD, but Fiona was able to burn a few copies for those members of the choir who valued it. It’s great to see though that they went on to record a CD of their own in 2013.
Moving onto another side, or face of the circle, (do circles have sides?), and continuing the musical theme of this post, we were really fortunate to be able to listen to another fascinating concert of piano music at the excellent Rhosygilwen venue (Click here) a fortnight ago, given by the young American/Serbian pianist Ivan Ilic.
Beginning with the first piece ever composed by Beethoven at the age of 12, “Variations on a Theme in C Minor”, it was hard to believe someone so young could compose so beautifully…
Ilic then introduced the small audience to a composer unfamiliar, I guess, to many – Antoine Reicha. Antoine was a Czech born contemporary of Beethoven’s playing in the same Bonn Court orchestra as a young teenager. Reicha then moving around Europe, meeting up again and remaining friends with Beethoven throughout their lives, and ending up as a professor in composition at the Paris conservatoire. Here he tutored a number of students who became eminent composers – Berlioz, Gounod, Franck and even Liszt. So a key person in classical music training, in that era of Greats, particularly in the subject of composition.
He also composed his own music, but little of this was ever played widely and the manuscripts lay undiscovered in the archives of the French National Library until very recently. Ilic is now recording a series of CD’s to showcase Reicha’s music for the first time, and it was remarkable to be informed that the major piece in the night’s programme, Reicha’s Grande Sonate in C major, was probably receiving its British premiere, in West Wales, over 200 years after its composition. Click here for some samples of this previously unrecorded work, and here for more thoughts by Ilic on his project.
Another one of Anna Pavord’s insights into gardening…
“But I had at least begun to understand that gardening, if it is to be satisfying, requires some sense of permanency. Roots matter. The longer you stay put, the richer the rewards.”
… seems appropriate to quote after this week saw me introducing the local gardening club to the life, background and gardening works of Frank Cabot. I’ve mentioned him before in these posts, since he was the major benefactor in the very early years of the Aberglasney Restoration Trust. I was indeed very fortunate to meet him briefly on his last visit to Aberglasney for a trustees meeting, which by chance coincided not just with an exhibition of my moth photos and moth art being hung in the mansion, but also with me arranging to be there on the same day as Frank Cabot, to meet a friend.
A man of great charm and enthusiasm, even then at 83, he produced in his latter years not just a wonderful book on the creation of his major family garden at Les Quatre Vents, (The Greater Perfection) but also a slideshow illustrated DVD lecture, which is what we showed to Cothigardeners. This selects 5 of the 32 design elements of his garden and discusses how they came into being. Many took decades to reach fruition, from the initial idea and planning to the final execution or maturity of plantings. It made me reflect, once more, on how fortunate we are to have owned our property now for nearly 25 years, and indeed to have more of a feeling of being rooted in this place, as indeed many of the plants we’ve put in over the years have become. Click here for both a 4 minute video clip from the film, and a detailed biography on the site of The Garden Conservancy, a charity he established to preserve and restore gardens mainly in America, but also a few, like Aberglasney, around the world.
This sense of the real value of lives rooted in the landscape, and/or garden moves me onto the final theme word of this post, which also takes us back to the first.
The Lost Words is a very recently published book, a collaboration between Pembrokeshire based artist Jackie Morris, and Cambridge based author and English Don, Robert Macfarlane. The starting premise for the book was that before every new edition of The Oxford Junior Dictionary (OJED), an assessment is made of words which are dropping out of usage, on the basis of computerised trawling of millions of written words directed at the appropriate age range. Click here for the initial outrage and discussion on its ditching of 50 “natural” words from its latest edition. Click here for more on Jackie’s and Robert’s approach to creating the book, which is a large format, beautifully illustrated work with full page illustrations to accompany the poems or spells that Robert has written for each of the words, from the natural world, which no longer feature in the OJED.
Examples of the “Lost words” are wren, otter, weasel, willow, acorn, bluebell. No longer used sufficiently often by youngsters to merit definitions.
If you’re as shocked as we were that children are now so frequently devoid of such links to the natural world around them, do think of getting hold of a copy of this book for yourselves. Or your children. Or grandchildren. A work of real beauty to treasure over the years.
And maybe Robert is right. If we read these spells, and wish….perhaps we shall respect and preserve them more, and not just the words, but the objects themselves, and value their pivotal places in our history and culture.
And what sort of words have taken the place of those “LOST”, you might ask?
The large paintings that Jackie has created and are used throughout the book often start with extensive base layers of gold leaf, around which she paints her richly coloured images, and gold seems to have been a dominant treasured experience in the garden in the first 3 weeks of November, as many of the remaining trees put on a final show, occasionally gilded more exquisitely with low morning or evening sunshine.
Golden soul inspiring moments to bring me full circle?
(Addendum – Having spent all day rewriting this and just getting it published, I thought I’d go to my other web pages to work again on the snowdrops. Whatd’yaknow...there’s my original version stupidly drafted by me on Saturday as a page, and not a post….Ah well, I prefer this latter version anyway.)