Much of my time recently has been devoted to the new songwriting book which I hope to finish in the next month, at which point I’ll post some information about it. It is due for publication in 2014. Over the next couple of months I’m teaching some tutorials on Ralph Vaughan Williams and Igor Stravinsky. Last weekend I gave a lecture on the biographical tradition associated with John F. Kennedy for a Kennedy day school run by Oxford University Department of Continuing Education.
The title of this blog alludes to two things. First, the film A Late Quartet which I saw recently and can recommend. It’s a film about a string quartet that have been playing together for several decades and become famous. Suddenly, for reasons of age, one of the players develops a medical condition which means he can no longer play. This initiates a landslide of internal problems within the quartet. In the latter stages of the film the plot becomes almost Jacobean in its perversity and strained in its ingenuity. But nevertheless it is an engaging drama about adult themes such as long-term relationships, partnership, self-denial for the good of the group, redemption and of course music-making. One of the best things about this film is that it takes music very seriously and as a thing of great value – which these days is to be welcomed. The title is a playful allusion to the celebrated late quartets of Beethoven which are widely considered one of the greatest achievements of Western music and as possessing a particular profoundity sometimes manifested by artists in their last years.
My other quartet is an English rock band, the wonderfully named Wishbone Ash. I’ve been re-listening to some of their classic early 1970s music, including the album Argus which was voted Album of the Year 1972 by readers of the music paper Melody Maker (quite an accolade for the period given the competition). Argus has been remastered twice in the last decade. By all accounts the 2007 Deluxe version is the one to get. The band were famous for developing twin-lead guitar arrangements, where each guitarist takes a single melodic line in harmony with the other. Their sound was hard rock but with a curious lightness about it, helped by the mild distortion on the guitars, and strong melodies supported by harmony vocals. I like their very Englishness, which at one time might have been held against them, but now seems authentic and full of character, and the lyrical sweetness which sometime surfaces in the music – most notably in a track like ‘Persephone’ and the doubled lead guitar solos on ‘Throw Down The Sword’.