mussel

Sir Colin Davis 1927-2013, RIP

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Thank you for posting this sad news, mussel. He was fun to watch and listen to. I didn't know Davis was a knitting man:

In private he was cerebral, courteous, good-humored and almost delicate in manner. Toward the end of his life he had become something of a sage, wont to puff on his pipe and knit — another of his passions — in quiet introspection at his elegant north London townhouse.

“Conductors,” he once said in an interview with The Times, “are paid to think, and that’s what the job should be about: sitting at home thinking: What is this piece? How can I set it up to sound its best and live on, because there’s nothing to replace it with just yet?”

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I didn't know about the knitting either, though he doesn't seem to me the first man I've run across who did. But the obituary was more startling to me in revealing another custom of his:

Mr. Davis was forthcoming about his own mortality, and even confessed to a British radio psychiatrist that hardly a day passed in which he did not think about his death. He chose to conduct Mozart’s Requiem for his 80th birthday concert.

The British newspaper The Telegraph reported that he kept a life-size skeleton in the first-floor drawing room of his London townhouse. “Just a reminder,” he would tell visitors.

But it almost completely scants his performances and recordings of Mozart and Haydn, highly regarded by some of us fans at the time and now as well, and - perhaps because of - his complaint, if I remember correctly, that the "period instrument crowd" have "high-jacked" (his term) that repertory. But it does reveal some of the process and personality behind the excellence of his results - the nub of the matter, which dirac quotes, his study of the score itself, his concentration on the piece - and his independence of mind. He used his own head when someone else might more have followed accepted practice or the fashions of the time.

My own favorite choice for a music critic of perception, Bernard ("B.H.") Haggin, describing that excellence in the mid-'80s, found

in Colin Davis a conductor and musician of outstanding powers operating with complete unself-conscious absorption and impressive efficiency in his task of getting an orchestra to produce effective and convincing realizations of whatever work he performs.

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Here he is, from about a year ago:

His most coruscating views are reserved for the near tyranny currently wielded over 18th-century repertoire such as Bach, Haydn and Mozart by "historically informed performance" specialists. He is concerned that many symphony orchestras have been scared away from some of the greatest music ever written.

"I think those people hijacked that repertory to give themselves something to do," he says. "The way they play Baroque music is unspeakable. It's entirely theoretical. Most don't play the music because it's moving, they play it to grind out theories about bows, gut strings, old instruments and phrasing. I've heard Bach especially mangled, as though he has no emotional content.

"Roger Norrington plays Berlioz's Requiem without any vibrato – it must be a foretaste of purgatory! And John Eliot Gardiner can be horribly theoretical. People may say: "Well, in those days they didn't play it with vibrato." But perhaps if they had, they would have preferred it.

"Besides, to play such vocal melodies without vibrato doesn't accord with what was written," he points out. "Geminiani [1687-1762] wrote that you should play the violin as if it was the most beautiful voice. I've never heard a voice sing with no vibrato. It doesn't make sense."

How would he ensure a strong future for classical music? "Relatively simple things, like making sure every child is musically literate," says Davis, "as the Hungarians used to. It could be done, if anybody had any imagination. The LSO and other orchestras do what they can, taking instruments into schools, trying to get kids interested."

Rest in peace? Do not go gentle, Sir Colin!

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Jack Reed:

I didn't know about the knitting either, though he doesn't seem to me the first man I've run across who did.

He's not the first I've run across, either. I just didn't know he was a knitter.

Certainly Davis was never afraid to express an opinion, even if he alienated others at times. Very much an independent spirit, like Berlioz, a favorite of his.

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When I added to my LP collection in college, I spent every extra dime on Davis's Mozart and Berlioz opera recordings.

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Very much an independent spirit, like Berlioz, a favorite of his.

With Haggin, I think of Berlioz as one of the two great originals of Nineteenth-Century music (the other being Musorgsky).

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Another tidbit from mussel's link.

By his own admission, Mr. Davis was hotheaded and short-tempered in his younger years, and his relationships with musicians and musical organizations were often tempestuous. After succeeding the revered Georg Solti in 1971 at Covent Garden, he was booed by the audience and reacted by booing back and sticking out his tongue.

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