Sunday, February 26, 2006

Lion is party animal in Indian 'Sesame Street'
By Justin Huggler in Delhi
Published: 27 February 2006
India is to get its own version of the children's programme, Sesame Street, complete with a giant psychedelic lion who is supposed to be descended from maharajahs and who loves bhangra music. The television show, which will be launched this summer, has been adapted for Indian children.The main action will take place in a galli - one of the narrow side streets that are choked with cycle-rickshaws, cows and market stalls.
The Indian version, named Galli Galli Sim Sim, will be centre on a corner store rather than a bakery, as in the American show. Elmo and Big Bird are expected to make an appearance. But they will be joined by four puppets created for Indian audiences, the most exotic of which is Bhoombah, a lion with red, blue and purple fur, who is supposed to hail from the royal family of Bhoombagarh. There may be a slight satirical note in the fact that Bhoombah is something of a party animal - the scions of several of India's old royal families have a reputation for enjoying the party life.
The central character will be Chamki, a puppet of a five-year-old girl dressed in the uniform of a government school. Her best friend is Googly - named, of course, after the cricket delivery. And there is Aanchoo, a storyteller who is transported to another place when she sneezes.
The producers say the cast will represent the range of India's different ethnic and regional peoples. So the owner of the corner store, played by a human actor, will speak several Indian languages, while his wife comes from the north-east, where you are more likely to find noodles than chicken tikka.
India is to get its own version of the children's programme, Sesame Street, complete with a giant psychedelic lion who is supposed to be descended from maharajahs and who loves bhangra music. The television show, which will be launched this summer, has been adapted for Indian children.The main action will take place in a galli - one of the narrow side streets that are choked with cycle-rickshaws, cows and market stalls.
The Indian version, named Galli Galli Sim Sim, will be centre on a corner store rather than a bakery, as in the American show. Elmo and Big Bird are expected to make an appearance. But they will be joined by four puppets created for Indian audiences, the most exotic of which is Bhoombah, a lion with red, blue and purple fur, who is supposed to hail from the royal family of Bhoombagarh. There may be a slight satirical note in the fact that Bhoombah is something of a party animal - the scions of several of India's old royal families have a reputation for enjoying the party life.
The central character will be Chamki, a puppet of a five-year-old girl dressed in the uniform of a government school. Her best friend is Googly - named, of course, after the cricket delivery. And there is Aanchoo, a storyteller who is transported to another place when she sneezes.
The producers say the cast will represent the range of India's different ethnic and regional peoples. So the owner of the corner store, played by a human actor, will speak several Indian languages, while his wife comes from the north-east, where you are more likely to find noodles than chicken tikka.

Monday, February 20, 2006

Thursday, February 16, 2006

Blogs to riches!

Tuesday, February 14, 2006

Noor Inayat Khan

Noor Inayat Khan (1914 - 1944)
In 1940, soon after the start of World War Two, a beautiful young woman calling herself 'Norah Baker' enlisted into the WAAF (the Women's Auxiliary Air Force). In fact, the RAF's new wireless operator was a member of a titled Indian Muslim family, and had been raised in Paris.
In 1943 she saw a notice calling for volunteers who spoke French for 'special work', and applied to join. She was soon enrolled as a nurse in the First Aid Nursing Yeomanry - the usual cover for female agents - and was trained as an undercover SOE radio operator.
Her trainer reported that although Noor was a woman of character and determination, he felt she was too emotional to be a field agent. Despite these reservations, however, Noor was flown into France by RAF Lysander on 16 June 1943, to become the radio operator for the 'Cinema' circuit in Paris.
From the start she was on the run. Soon after she arrived she was stopped while moving her radio. The Germans demanded to see what she was carrying. Coolly she replied that it was 'a ciné-projector'. The Germans checked and, astonishingly, believed her. It could not last, however, as the Gestapo rolled up the underground networks, torturing and interrogating their prisoners.
Some talked and sold their secrets for their lives. Others did it for money. On 13 October Noor was captured after a Frenchwoman betrayed her to the Gestapo. Noor never talked, but had unwisely kept copies of all her secret signals, and the Germans were able to use her radio to fool London into sending new agents - straight into the hands of the waiting Gestapo.
Noor was not to be beaten however, and in a daring breakout she escaped from her prison, only to be recaptured within hours.
This time the Germans were not so patient with this brave young woman. In November 1943 she was sent to Germany in manacles. A year later, she and three other SOE women agents were taken to Dachau and shot.
For her courage, in 1949 Noor Khan was posthumously awarded the George Cross.

For more information, click here and here. More here & here

Noor Anayat Khan: The princess who became a spy
She was a Sufi pacifist who fought for Britain and died at the hands of the Gestapo. As a new biography separates truth from myth, Boyd Tonkin celebrates the remarkable Noor Anayat Khan
Published: 20 February 2006
This is the story of a young Indian Muslim woman who joined a secret organisation dedicated to acts of sabotage, subversion and terrorism across Europe. A fierce critic of British imperialism, she worked with passion and audacity to damage and disrupt the forces of law and order. Captured, she proved impenitent and uncontrollable. She died a horrific death in custody. And now, perhaps, is the right time to revisit the life of Princess Noor-un-nisa Inayat Khan, George Cross, Croix de Guerre with gold star, MBE: the British secret agent who was kicked into a "bloody mess" on the stone floors of Dachau concentration camp through the night of 13 September 1944, and then shot with the word "Liberté" on her lips. Hers, after all, is a remarkable chapter in the history of Muslims in Britain and the West.
For more than half a century, myths, misconceptions and outright fantasies have crowded around the memory of Noor Inayat Khan. She was the first female radio operator sent into Nazi-occupied France by the Special Operations Executive (SOE). Through the frantic, terrifying summer of 1943, the untried 29-year-old spy found herself virtually in charge of Resistance communications in the Paris area as the Gestapo arrested cell after cell around her. The daughter of a famous Sufi mystic and musician, and an Indianised American mother, she was remembered by all as a "dreamy", sensitive child. Yet Noor the spy became a tigress whose bravery and defiance startled - and outraged - her German jailers and torturers. A few responded differently. When told during his postwar interrogation about her death in Dachau, Hans Josef Kieffer - head of the Gestapo headquarters in Paris - apparently broke down in tears.
Controversies and rumours still abound. Noor's posthumous career as a war heroine began in earnest in 1952, when her friend and comrade Jean Overton Fuller did her best to dispel the fog of confusion and misinformation left by her death in a book, Madeleine - Noor's Resistance codename. Maurice Buckmaster, Noor's colonel in SOE, and the top cryptographer Leo Marks both recalled her in their memoirs with an intense, possessive - but rather patronising - affection that often makes for more heat than light. Marks, briefed to expect as his latest apprentice a "potty princess", typically begins his recollections of their first encounter by writing that "no one had mentioned Noor's extraordinary beauty".
From her spellbound SOE trainers at Beaulieu Manor to the governor of Pforzheim jail who came almost to revere the prisoner he kept in chains, Noor left no one unmoved. Yet her quiet charisma made fancy corrupt fact. In recent years, two colourful novels have embroidered her tale with the interests and penchants of their authors: the French writer Laurent Joffrin's frankly romanticised All That I Have, and Shauna Singh Baldwin's more politically engaged The Tiger Claw.
However, the recent declassification of personal files has allowed the always-murky deeds of SOE and its "F Section" agents who spied (and died) in France to emerge further into the light of history. Fresh material surfaced when, last year, Sarah Helm's A Life in Secrets traced the biography of Vera Atkins: the SOE staff officer who, plagued by remorse at the hideous fate of so many of her F Section "girls", made a secret postwar enquiry into their betrayal and capture. Now, Shrabani Basu - a historian and journalist based in London as correspondent for an Indian newspaper group - has pieced together Noor's story more fully and reliably than ever before in a new biography, Spy Princess.
For Basu, "60 years after the war, Noor's vision and courage are inspirational". She has proposed to English Heritage that a blue plaque should mark Noor's address at 4 Taviton Street in Bloomsbury, and a decision will be made in June. Thanks to her book, a new generation can grasp what Noor did, and how she did it, with much greater clarity. Yet the "why" remains, in some sense, as elusive as ever.
Noor Inayat Khan was the great-great-great granddaughter of Tipu Sultan, the Muslim ruler of Mysore whose celebrated military prowess stalled the advance of East India Company forces at the end of the 18th century. Ever after, the British in India treated the family with the utmost suspicion. Yet Hazrat, her father, turned his back on this rebel and warrior tradition when he became a Sufi teacher and founded an order to spread - via music - his peaceful, tolerant and non-dogmatic faith to the world. A gifted singer and instrumentalist from a family of virtuosi, he met his American wife on tour in California. By the time Noor was born, in January 1914, the Inayat Khans were living and performing in Moscow, and her mother, the former Ora Ray Baker, had donned sari and veil as "Amina Begum".
After an infancy in the chilly wartime squares of Bloomsbury, Noor grew up in the suburbs of Paris, at "Fazal Manzil": a much-loved house in Suresnes outside which a military band still plays in her honour every 14 July. The eldest child of four, seen by all as kind, vague and artistic, she suddenly had to take charge of the family when her father's death on a visit to India in 1927 left her mother immobilised by grief. For the first, but not the last, time, crisis turned Noor the dreamer into Noor the leader.
In the 1930s, Noor studied music (especially the harp) at the Paris conservatory, and child psychology at the Sorbonne. She also became a talented writer and broadcaster of children's stories. On Amazon you can find Noor's Twenty Jataka Tales (1939): charming Buddhist fables in which, eerily, animals overcome their fragility to perform feats of bravery and sacrifice. At this time, she got engaged to a pianist of Jewish origin, one aspect - together with rumours of a later, wartime engagement to a fellow British officer - of a still-mysterious emotional life.
After Germany invaded France in June 1940, Noor the Muslim Sufi pacifist - and passionate believer in India's right to independence from colonial rule - made the moral choice that fixed the course of her life, and death. She and her brother Vilayet decided, in the face of Nazi aggression, that non-violence was not enough. They jointly vowed that they would work - as Vilayat told Shrabani Basu in 2003 - "to thwart the aggression of the tyrant".
Surviving the chaos of the mass flight from Paris to Bordeaux, they made a dramatic seaborne escape to England. There, Noor volunteered for the WAAF (Women's Auxiliary Air Force) and started on the long road of signals and wireless training that would lead her - a woman raised in France, perfectly bilingual, and with advanced radio skills - to recruitment as a secret agent in November 1942. Selwyn Jepson, the novelist-turned-spy who first interviewed her for SOE, later found himself remembering Noor with a "very personal vividness... the small, still features, the dark quiet eyes, the soft voice, and the fine spirit glowing in her". No one ever forgot Noor, or ever felt indifferent about her, though some SOE trainers doubted her suitability for espionage and tried to block her progress into the field.
They failed, and within days of her arrival in France in June 1943 she had proved them wrong. As the broken Prosper network of Resistance cells collapsed, Noor dodged from safe house to safe house in Paris, outwitting the Gestapo and transmitting messages with immense speed and accuracy in hostile conditions. "Single-handedly," according to Basu, "she did the work of six radio operators." In London, code-master Leo Marks noted that "her transmissions were flawless, with all their security checks intact".
With F Section still in disarray, but starting to rebuild thanks to her work, Noor was finally betrayed in October - probably by Renée Garry, sister of her first contact in Paris. Within minutes of being taken to the Gestapo HQ at 84 avenue Foch, she had climbed onto a bathroom window ledge in an escape attempt. Forced by the Germans to keep up radio transmissions (the "radio game" inflicted on captured agents), Noor duly sent the agreed 18-letter signal to alert SOE about her capture. It was ignored: one of a catalogue of SOE blunders. Later in her interrogation, she joined with other agents to plan another daring escape that involved loosening, and then removing, the bars on their windows. It almost succeeded - ironically, a simultaneous RAF air raid on Paris prompted a sudden security check.
Now viewed as incorrigibly dangerous and uncooperative, Noor was sent in November 1942 to Pforzheim prison in Germany, where - bound by three chains, in solitary confinement - she endured 10 months of medieval abuse. She ranked as a Nacht und Nebel ("Night and Fog") inmate, earmarked only for oblivion and death. Shackled, starved, beaten, she never talked. Then, in September 1944, came the transfer to Dachau along with three other female agents, and the end of her sufferings.
Knowing the whole truth - or almost the whole truth - about Noor does not make her any less paradoxical. Basu, who quashes so many myths about this "Muslim woman of Indian origin who made the highest sacrifice for Britain", also stresses that she fervently backed the struggle for Indian liberty. Indeed, Noor shocked - and maybe rather impressed - the interview panel when she went for an WAAF commission in 1942 by arguing that, after the war, she might feel obliged to fight the British in India. That makes her - although a commissioned British officer, and a holder of the George Cross - a curious national heroine. As for her Muslim identity, the Inayat Khans' brand of all-inclusive Sufism would count as heresy or worse to the kind of hardliner who now presumes to speak for Islam in and to the West.
The key to her career may be that this child of a liberal, cultured home freely chose her fate. She chose to fight Nazism; she chose to do it alongside the British; she chose the risks of espionage; and she chose to stay in Paris when SOE ordered her home. At a memorial service in Paris, General de Gaulle's niece summed up her achievement: "Nothing, neither her nationality, nor the traditions of her family, none of these obliged her to take her position in the war. However, she chose it. It is our fight that she chose, that she pursued with an admirable, an invincible courage." When she died with "freedom" on her lips, it was hers. And it was ours as well.
Shrabani Basu's 'Spy Princess: the life of Noor Inayat Khan' is published by Sutton Publishing (£18.99). She will be talking with Ian Jack and MRD Foot at the Nehru Centre, Indian High Commission, 8 South Audley Street, London W1, on 1 March
This is the story of a young Indian Muslim woman who joined a secret organisation dedicated to acts of sabotage, subversion and terrorism across Europe. A fierce critic of British imperialism, she worked with passion and audacity to damage and disrupt the forces of law and order. Captured, she proved impenitent and uncontrollable. She died a horrific death in custody. And now, perhaps, is the right time to revisit the life of Princess Noor-un-nisa Inayat Khan, George Cross, Croix de Guerre with gold star, MBE: the British secret agent who was kicked into a "bloody mess" on the stone floors of Dachau concentration camp through the night of 13 September 1944, and then shot with the word "Liberté" on her lips. Hers, after all, is a remarkable chapter in the history of Muslims in Britain and the West.
For more than half a century, myths, misconceptions and outright fantasies have crowded around the memory of Noor Inayat Khan. She was the first female radio operator sent into Nazi-occupied France by the Special Operations Executive (SOE). Through the frantic, terrifying summer of 1943, the untried 29-year-old spy found herself virtually in charge of Resistance communications in the Paris area as the Gestapo arrested cell after cell around her. The daughter of a famous Sufi mystic and musician, and an Indianised American mother, she was remembered by all as a "dreamy", sensitive child. Yet Noor the spy became a tigress whose bravery and defiance startled - and outraged - her German jailers and torturers. A few responded differently. When told during his postwar interrogation about her death in Dachau, Hans Josef Kieffer - head of the Gestapo headquarters in Paris - apparently broke down in tears.
Controversies and rumours still abound. Noor's posthumous career as a war heroine began in earnest in 1952, when her friend and comrade Jean Overton Fuller did her best to dispel the fog of confusion and misinformation left by her death in a book, Madeleine - Noor's Resistance codename. Maurice Buckmaster, Noor's colonel in SOE, and the top cryptographer Leo Marks both recalled her in their memoirs with an intense, possessive - but rather patronising - affection that often makes for more heat than light. Marks, briefed to expect as his latest apprentice a "potty princess", typically begins his recollections of their first encounter by writing that "no one had mentioned Noor's extraordinary beauty".
From her spellbound SOE trainers at Beaulieu Manor to the governor of Pforzheim jail who came almost to revere the prisoner he kept in chains, Noor left no one unmoved. Yet her quiet charisma made fancy corrupt fact. In recent years, two colourful novels have embroidered her tale with the interests and penchants of their authors: the French writer Laurent Joffrin's frankly romanticised All That I Have, and Shauna Singh Baldwin's more politically engaged The Tiger Claw.
However, the recent declassification of personal files has allowed the always-murky deeds of SOE and its "F Section" agents who spied (and died) in France to emerge further into the light of history. Fresh material surfaced when, last year, Sarah Helm's A Life in Secrets traced the biography of Vera Atkins: the SOE staff officer who, plagued by remorse at the hideous fate of so many of her F Section "girls", made a secret postwar enquiry into their betrayal and capture. Now, Shrabani Basu - a historian and journalist based in London as correspondent for an Indian newspaper group - has pieced together Noor's story more fully and reliably than ever before in a new biography, Spy Princess.
For Basu, "60 years after the war, Noor's vision and courage are inspirational". She has proposed to English Heritage that a blue plaque should mark Noor's address at 4 Taviton Street in Bloomsbury, and a decision will be made in June. Thanks to her book, a new generation can grasp what Noor did, and how she did it, with much greater clarity. Yet the "why" remains, in some sense, as elusive as ever.
Noor Inayat Khan was the great-great-great granddaughter of Tipu Sultan, the Muslim ruler of Mysore whose celebrated military prowess stalled the advance of East India Company forces at the end of the 18th century. Ever after, the British in India treated the family with the utmost suspicion. Yet Hazrat, her father, turned his back on this rebel and warrior tradition when he became a Sufi teacher and founded an order to spread - via music - his peaceful, tolerant and non-dogmatic faith to the world. A gifted singer and instrumentalist from a family of virtuosi, he met his American wife on tour in California. By the time Noor was born, in January 1914, the Inayat Khans were living and performing in Moscow, and her mother, the former Ora Ray Baker, had donned sari and veil as "Amina Begum".
After an infancy in the chilly wartime squares of Bloomsbury, Noor grew up in the suburbs of Paris, at "Fazal Manzil": a much-loved house in Suresnes outside which a military band still plays in her honour every 14 July. The eldest child of four, seen by all as kind, vague and artistic, she suddenly had to take charge of the family when her father's death on a visit to India in 1927 left her mother immobilised by grief. For the first, but not the last, time, crisis turned Noor the dreamer into Noor the leader.
In the 1930s, Noor studied music (especially the harp) at the Paris conservatory, and child psychology at the Sorbonne. She also became a talented writer and broadcaster of children's stories. On Amazon you can find Noor's Twenty Jataka Tales (1939): charming Buddhist fables in which, eerily, animals overcome their fragility to perform feats of bravery and sacrifice. At this time, she got engaged to a pianist of Jewish origin, one aspect - together with rumours of a later, wartime engagement to a fellow British officer - of a still-mysterious emotional life.
After Germany invaded France in June 1940, Noor the Muslim Sufi pacifist - and passionate believer in India's right to independence from colonial rule - made the moral choice that fixed the course of her life, and death. She and her brother Vilayet decided, in the face of Nazi aggression, that non-violence was not enough. They jointly vowed that they would work - as Vilayat told Shrabani Basu in 2003 - "to thwart the aggression of the tyrant".
Surviving the chaos of the mass flight from Paris to Bordeaux, they made a dramatic seaborne escape to England. There, Noor volunteered for the WAAF (Women's Auxiliary Air Force) and started on the long road of signals and wireless training that would lead her - a woman raised in France, perfectly bilingual, and with advanced radio skills - to recruitment as a secret agent in November 1942. Selwyn Jepson, the novelist-turned-spy who first interviewed her for SOE, later found himself remembering Noor with a "very personal vividness... the small, still features, the dark quiet eyes, the soft voice, and the fine spirit glowing in her". No one ever forgot Noor, or ever felt indifferent about her, though some SOE trainers doubted her suitability for espionage and tried to block her progress into the field.
They failed, and within days of her arrival in France in June 1943 she had proved them wrong. As the broken Prosper network of Resistance cells collapsed, Noor dodged from safe house to safe house in Paris, outwitting the Gestapo and transmitting messages with immense speed and accuracy in hostile conditions. "Single-handedly," according to Basu, "she did the work of six radio operators." In London, code-master Leo Marks noted that "her transmissions were flawless, with all their security checks intact".
With F Section still in disarray, but starting to rebuild thanks to her work, Noor was finally betrayed in October - probably by Renée Garry, sister of her first contact in Paris. Within minutes of being taken to the Gestapo HQ at 84 avenue Foch, she had climbed onto a bathroom window ledge in an escape attempt. Forced by the Germans to keep up radio transmissions (the "radio game" inflicted on captured agents), Noor duly sent the agreed 18-letter signal to alert SOE about her capture. It was ignored: one of a catalogue of SOE blunders. Later in her interrogation, she joined with other agents to plan another daring escape that involved loosening, and then removing, the bars on their windows. It almost succeeded - ironically, a simultaneous RAF air raid on Paris prompted a sudden security check.
Now viewed as incorrigibly dangerous and uncooperative, Noor was sent in November 1942 to Pforzheim prison in Germany, where - bound by three chains, in solitary confinement - she endured 10 months of medieval abuse. She ranked as a Nacht und Nebel ("Night and Fog") inmate, earmarked only for oblivion and death. Shackled, starved, beaten, she never talked. Then, in September 1944, came the transfer to Dachau along with three other female agents, and the end of her sufferings.
Knowing the whole truth - or almost the whole truth - about Noor does not make her any less paradoxical. Basu, who quashes so many myths about this "Muslim woman of Indian origin who made the highest sacrifice for Britain", also stresses that she fervently backed the struggle for Indian liberty. Indeed, Noor shocked - and maybe rather impressed - the interview panel when she went for an WAAF commission in 1942 by arguing that, after the war, she might feel obliged to fight the British in India. That makes her - although a commissioned British officer, and a holder of the George Cross - a curious national heroine. As for her Muslim identity, the Inayat Khans' brand of all-inclusive Sufism would count as heresy or worse to the kind of hardliner who now presumes to speak for Islam in and to the West.
The key to her career may be that this child of a liberal, cultured home freely chose her fate. She chose to fight Nazism; she chose to do it alongside the British; she chose the risks of espionage; and she chose to stay in Paris when SOE ordered her home. At a memorial service in Paris, General de Gaulle's niece summed up her achievement: "Nothing, neither her nationality, nor the traditions of her family, none of these obliged her to take her position in the war. However, she chose it. It is our fight that she chose, that she pursued with an admirable, an invincible courage." When she died with "freedom" on her lips, it was hers. And it was ours as well.
Shrabani Basu's 'Spy Princess: the life of Noor Inayat Khan' is published by Sutton Publishing (£18.99). She will be talking with Ian Jack and MRD Foot at the Nehru Centre, Indian High Commission, 8 South Audley Street, London W1, on 1 March

Tuesday, February 07, 2006

Edicts of Ashoka

"Dhamma sadhu, kiyam cu dhamme ti? Apasinave, bahu kayane, daya, dane, sace, socaye". [Dhamma is good, but what constitutes Dhamma? (It includes) little evil, much good, kindness, generosity, truthfulness and purity.]


Edicts of Ashoka

Growth in essentials can be done in different ways, but all of them have as their root restraint in speech, that is, not praising one's own religion, or condemning the religion of others without good cause. And if there is cause for criticism, it should be done in a mild way. But it is better to honor other religions for this reason. By so doing, one's own religion benefits, and so do other religions, while doing otherwise harms one's own religion and the religions of others. Whoever praises his own religion, due to excessive devotion, and condemns others with the thought "Let me glorify my own religion," only harms his own religion. Therefore contact (between religions) is good. One should listen to and respect the doctrines professed by others. Beloved-of-the-Gods, King Piyadasi, desires that all should be well-learned in the good doctrines of other religions.
Those who are content with their own religion should be told this: Beloved-of-the-Gods, King Piyadasi, does not value gifts and honors as much as he values that there should be growth in the essentials of all religions. And to this end many are working -- Dhamma Mahamatras, Mahamatras in charge of the women's quarters, officers in charge of outlying areas, and other such officers. And the fruit of this is that one's own religion grows and the Dhamma is illuminated also."

Richard Arnell

RICHARD ARNELL A PERSONAL TRIBUTE
by Dr. David C.F. Wright
© David Wright Ph.D This article, or any part of it, must not be reproduced in part or in whole in any way whatsoever without prior written consent of the author.
(Photograph © Avril Curzon 1997) If there were to be a debate on who was the greatest living British symphonist, Richard Arnell would arguably be among the leading contenders. Many years ago, when I was exclusively steeped in atonal, serial and experimental music, I unintentionally heard the finale of Arnell’s Symphony no 5, Op. 77, which he had composed in memory of his father. It was big, romantic, lush, tuneful, colourfully orchestrated and full of life. It possessed a transcendent power to transport the listener to a ‘better world’. In fact, a friend, having heard the work several times drifted into sleep in the finale on a later occasion and when I woke her she remonstrated with me, saying, "I thought I was in heaven, listening to the music of angels!" This symphony bowled me over and destroyed any prejudices that I previously had. It is a symphony that has the rarest of qualities in that it is a work of which one can never tire ... but then, as I was to discover later, that could be said of all Arnell’s symphonies, and many other of his works as well. That this splendid work is not available on a commercial recording is unforgivable. The distinguished conductor, the late Bryden Thomson told me that it was ‘a work to fall in love with’. Another musician said, "Arnell is the English Rachmaninov!" My friend was not referring to anything pianistic but to the sheer beauty of Arnell’s melody and orchestration. If you like Rachmaninov’s orchestral scores, you will equally value Arnell’s, yet it must be emphasised that his music is his own, clearly unique and personal. The eminent Irish composer, Gerard Victory, said of Arnell’s Symphony no 3, Op. 40, and this Fifth Symphony, "I wish I had written them!" Of all my many correspondents, the symphony they most want to hear and have recorded is Arnell’s Fifth. Letters to this effect regularly appear in music journals.
Richard Anthony Sayer Arnell was born in Hampstead, North London on 15 September 1917, to Richard Sayer, a builder and Héléne Marie (née Sherf). Tony was an only child and had his first piano lessons with his governess, Marjorie Calder. He attended Hall School, a preparatory school in Hampstead (1924-7), and University College School, also in Hampstead (1927-35) where, in his spare time, he formed a dance band and made 16mm films. He attended the Royal College of Music from 1935 to 1939, studying the piano with John Dykes, and composition with John Ireland, having been recommended to the RCM by Dr Richard Chanter, the music master at his last school.
In 1938 the students at the college performed his now forgotten Violin Concerto. His first professional broadcast was that of his Classical Variations, Op. 1, for strings, relayed on WQXR, New York on 31 December 1941. But it was probably his Overture: New Age, Op. 2, that established him as a composer. It was first performed in Carnegie Hall, under Leon Barzin in 1941.
Tony, as he is known to his friends, had visited the New York World Fair in 1939. Then war broke out and he had become a father. The British Consulate advised him to stay in America. He was drafted into the US Army in 1943 but later rejected on medical grounds.
Arnell has always hated war and revolution. He had been born during the First World War and his mother died in the blitz in 1942. This loathing of war, and the emotional involvement with it, led him to set Sir Stephen Spender’s The War God, Op. 36 in 1945, premiered in New York under Bernard Herrmann that year having been commissioned by CBS. It was originally scored for soprano, chorus and orchestra but, in the mid 1980s, it was revised as his opus 155 and scored for narrator, soprano, brass, percussion, synthesisers, chorus and tape. The revised version was premiered at St Johns, Smith Square on 14 March 1987 with the composer as narrator and Miriam Bowen, the soprano soloist. Olivia Blackburn is the excellent soprano soloist in the performance I have of Ode to the West Wind, Op. 59, which displays the mercurial purity of her voice in the compelling vocal line of this work. It is a work to treasure having been written for Emily Hooke who never performed it. It was premiered by Jennifer Vyvian and Sir Thomas Beecham. Tony writes well for the voice and it is a pity he has not written more vocal works, although, in a recent conversation he has told me that he is currently working on two song cycles.
In his first years in America, Arnell wrote his Sinfonia quasi variazione, Op. 13, which is his first symphony but he did not allocate it a number ‘wondering whether it was really a symphony!’ He composed a splendid orchestral score for Robert Flaherty’s documentary film, The Land. Arnell enjoyed America and from 1943 to 1945; he was a consultant for the BBC North America Service. He lived a Bohemian existence with his first wife and daughter in rented bedsits and even had to rent a piano.
While in the States Arnell met Sir Thomas Beecham who was to give Tony eight premieres, both in England and America, including Arnell’s first commercial recording, the Ballet Suite: Punch and the Child, Op. 49, with the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra. Arnell was friendly with John Barnett, the associate conductor of the New York City Orchestra who liked the overture: New Age, but a proposed performance was rejected by the orchestra’s committee. One of America’s most aggressive critics (he was later to ‘savage’ Arnell’s Symphony no. 1, Op. 31, sometimes known as the Chamber Symphony) had Sir Thomas’s ear and told him about Tony who was summoned to the Ritz in 1941. On the telephone, Arnell told the conductor that he had several orchestral works, which brought the response, "Bring a suitcase full, my boy!"
The Symphony no. 1, is a very attractive work full of melodic invention, an enviable clarity of texture and a welcome contrast of energy and tenderness. It is eminently likeable but never trite or banal. It has a freshness to commend it as well. The Symphony no. 2, Op. 33, was written in New York in 1942 and, while Beecham wanted to perform it, it had to wait until 1988 for its premiere in a broadcast by the BBC Philharmonic under Sir Edward Downes. Again, it is a work of translucent texture and clarity. One may detect some minor influences of Hindemith and, perhaps, a few Sibelian chord progressions. The music has a brightness, a cheerfulness that one might not have expected from the dark days of the war. It is engaging music conveying the promise of something held in reserve. The slow movement reveals such insight as orchestral solos comment on the themes. While the music is deeply felt, it is not oppressive or intrusive but retains its simplicity, which, in itself, and, perhaps, paradoxically, enhances its profundity; there is a glowing warmth, not a burning heat, there is sentiment but no sentimentality. The orchestral solos seem to conjure up human voices making the symphony intimate as well as intriguing. Even when the music becomes agitated, the composer is always in control. A soaring violin theme towards the end of the second movement is all too brief to do justice to its beauty. Nostalgia is also here but not of the wallowing kind. The finale makes melodic statements which are initially reserved in their presentation, thus heightening our expectation that the music will eventually explode, and it does indeed build up through the natural process of the musical arguments, achieving a commendable grandeur. As with all his music, there are no pompous or empty gestures. Arnell is out to write music, not to swank. As in the Symphony no. 1, and indeed much of his orchestral works, Arnell treats the orchestra as intimate groups of people and not as a machine, thus displaying his musical humanity.
The Symphony no. 3, is a massive work in five movements lasting about sixty five minutes and is dedicated to the ‘political courage of the British people’. This also dates from the war years and in this symphony Arnell identifies with Britain and his own suffering people, including his mother, murdered at the hands of the Blitzkrieg. It is Arnell’s ‘eroica’, a heroic and noble work but not exaggerated in any way by stuffy pomp and pageantry. Arnell does not regard this as a war symphony, and it certainly does not portray the Nazi war machine or machine-gun fire as in Shostakovitch’s war symphonies. Rather, it is music of the invincible human spirit as opposed to Shostakovitch’s militarism or Mahler’s exhausting and overwhelming music especially his Symphony no. 6, which, incidentally, uses an anvil as does Arnell’s Sixth.
Space will not permit a detailed analysis of the Symphony no. 3 but in the opening prelude and first movement the message is clear. There is a quasi-march and a sort of fate motif. The music is strong, with a controlled patriotism, semi-brooding, thoughtful, introspective, self-examining and extolling the courage of the British people. Yet, thankfully, the music is not self-indulgent. The themes are memorable; one slightly hints at Country Gardens but what this opening movement embodies is the sensibility of the mature British people as well as their ability for harmless fun and their common spirit and bond. One clearly hears ‘music of courage’ and, while it is music of its time, it is music for all times and all peoples. Within its pages one can visualise children playing as well as people in the ‘services’, the devoted housewife, the loyal friend, the qualities of community spirit in adversity; all are paradoxically ‘aurally visible’ in this impressive music which is never exaggerated. We do not have extended passages of noise, the climaxes are natural progressions of music thought.
The symphony was first broadcast by the BBC Northern Symphony under Norman Del Mar on 16 April 1952 and the first concert performance was at the Cheltenham Festival on 9 June 1953 with the Hallé Orchestra under Sir John Barbirolli who insisted it be cut by some twenty minutes, a mistake if there ever was one. Leave this score as it is; it is his masterpiece. It might be thought that the next work in this genre fails to reach the same heights, yet the Symphony no. 4, Op. 52 does not disappoint. It appeared in 1948 shortly after Arnell’s return from America and was first performed by the BBC Northern Symphony Orchestra under Charles Groves. It is in three movements and the timpanist is given an important role and, indeed, introduces the opening melodic line, both gently warm and beautiful, interrupted first by the timpani and then the brass. Sinister elements appear but the melodic line, which is of considerable beauty, is never far away. The main allegro follows, always full of interest and vitality and the cheerful ebullience inherent in so much of Arnell’s work takes centre stage. It is rugged ‘outdoor’ music of great strength and determination. As with all his music that I know, there is a satisfying continuity, a resilience and compellingly memorable material. This could be interpreted as a victory symphony, a portrayal of triumph over the tyrant and of good over evil.
The second movement is sunny and the orchestration again demonstrates that uncanny ‘speaking’ and ‘intimate’ quality. It is this undeniable gift for communication that cannot but inspire the listener. And there is something exquisitely ‘English’ towards the end of this remarkably beautiful movement with its unforgettable melodic lines.
The finale begins with the timpani and gradually, and logically, the material takes shape and, again, there is this suspense, this ‘waiting for’ the convergence of all the ideas into a climax, and when it comes, one is not let down and the high spirits of the brass are most welcome.
Following the Symphony no. 5, about which enthusiasm is widespread there is a Wind Symphony, Op. 113 and the Symphony no. 6, subtitled ‘The Anvil’ written between 1992-94 as his opus 179. It is in four sections and the first begins with a piano chord and a clang on the anvil; the second section quotes from Shelley - "We are many" - and, as in the setting of his Ode to the West Wind is really about freedom; the anvil of this symphony may speak of both freedom and of peace with the Old Testament concept of converting both swords and spears into agricultural instruments. The third section uses the piano in a concertante style and the last section draws on the Ode to Joy from Beethoven’s Choral Symphony. It is peace and freedom and the absence of war and all and any hostilities that alone can bring joy, faith in God and trust in all fellow men. This symphony was premiered in a broadcast by the BBC Philharmonic under Adrian Leaper in 1995. Unlike its predecessors it displays striking dissonances, it is a compelling piece - Arnell is currently working on his Seventh Symphony which he is to call ‘M’ Symphony no. 7, for President Mandela.
Sadly, I only know two of Arnell’s six string quartets, the last four of which have all been premiered at the Cheltenham Festival, as was the String Quintet, which made its appearance in 1950. The Quartet no. 3, Op. 41, was written in New York in 1945 and its heart is its beautifully integrated slow movement. The Quartet no. 5, Op. 99, dates from 1962 and has been very well received at all its performances. As with the Symphony no. 6, there are some harsh dissonances and it has a novelty of form. The opening Andante maestoso is a canon on four subjects; there is a very attractive Andante, an accompanied cello solo, a duo for violin and viola, a trio and then all four players unite to conclude the work.
There are many other fine works; an exciting piano concerto, Op. 44, dating from his American years, and a second, Op. 110, entitled Sections written for John Ogdon and to commemorate the twenty-first birthday of the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra and first performed by Ogdon and the RPO under the composer at the Fairfield Hall, Croydon on 16 September 1967, a day after Tony’s fiftieth birthday. There is the popular Serenade, Op. 57, for ten wind instruments and double bass recorded by Karl Haas and the London Baroque Ensemble on a Pye record, and Nicholas Jackson recorded the organ music for RCA.
Since this article was first written in June 1996 for the BMS to publish in celebration of Tony’s 80th birthday, Robert Simpson and Sir Michael Tippett, leading British symphonists, have both died. There is, therefore, an even stronger claim to present Richard Arnell as our greatest living symphonist.
A leading British composer recently told me that Arnell’s symphonies were more substantial than those of Malcolm Arnold; more approachable than either those by Robert Simpson or Tippett; more melodic and far better structured than those by George Lloyd, and possess a wonderful colour not found in the symphonies of Edmund Rubbra. Yet the symphonies of these five composers are available on commercial recordings.
© David C.F. Wright 1996 - Revised 1997

Beethoven conducts Fidelio

Beethoven conducts Fidelio Louis SpohrTuesday February 7, 1865The Guardian
Extracts from Louis Spohr's autobiography, translated from the German, Longman's, 1865
Beethoven had heard of me when I introduced myself, and received me with unusual friendliness. But it was an unpleasant task to make him hear me. I was obliged to speak so loud as to be heard in the third room off.
Beethoven's rough and even repulsive manners arose partly from his deafness and partly from his pecuniary circumstances. I asked him after he had absented himself for some days, "You were not ill, I hope?" - "My boot was, and as I have only one pair, I had house arrest" was his reply.

Beethoven had allowed himself to be persuaded to write a new overture for Fidelio (in E). For the first time I saw him direct [conduct]. It surprised me to a high degree. Seyfried [sic] related to me a tragi-comical circumstance at Beethoven's last concert.
Beethoven was playing a new piano forte concerto of his, but forgot that he was a solo player. At the first sforzando he threw his arms so wide asunder that he knocked both lights off the piano. The audience laughed and Beethoven was so incensed that he made the orchestra begin anew.
Seyfried bade two boys of the chorus place themselves on either side and hold the lights. One of the boys approached innocently nearer. When the fatal sforzando came, he received from Beethoven's right hand so smart a blow on the mouth that the poor boy let fall the light from terror.
The other boy, by stooping suddenly, avoided the slap. If the audience were unable to restrain their laughter before, they could now much less, and broke out into a regular bacchanalian roar. Beethoven got into such a rage that at the first chords of the solo half a dozen strings broke. Every endeavour of the real lovers of music to restore calm were fruitless. From that evening Beethoven would not give another concert. The deaf master could no longer hear his own music. This was particularly remarkable in the first allegro [of Fidelio]. Without knowing it, he was already from 10 to 12 bars in advance of the orchestra when it began the pianissimo. Beethoven, to signify this in his own way, had crept under the desk.
Upon the now ensuing crescendo, he sprang up high from the ground when, according to his calculation, the forte should begin. As this did not take place, he looked around in fright, and only recovered when the expected forte began and was audible to himself.
Fortunately this scene did not take place at the public performance, otherwise the audience would certainly have laughed again.

Monday, February 06, 2006

Wednesday, February 01, 2006