Friday, 5 December 2014

Canine Musical Appreciation

There is a Mickey Mouse cartoon in which Pluto, or is it Goofy, anyway a bloodhound-like dog, cruises around the neighbourhood and is attracted by music playing on people’s radios. He sits, bobbing about to the music, and eventually starts to howl along, until he is chased away. I may have mentioned before in this blog a stray dog which used to sit in front of an East European brass band which was playing in the big square in Monastiraki, in Athens. It would sit quietly until the trumpets came in, when it would start to howl. Not, it seemed, in any discomfort — it was free to wander off whenever it chose. I think it enjoyed the trumpets, whose notes are much richer in ‘Upper Partials’ — the higher harmonics — than other brass instruments. No-one chased it away; people, including the band members, liked it.

Lately, Ellie, the dog who lives with me, (a Pluto/Goofy type) has developed a similar reaction to music. Fair enough, she has always howled if I played the trumpet, but then so would you. No, it’s not just that: more recently, she has set up long loud howls when I play an old Rebetika recording: a chap called Jack Grigoriou, playing bouzouki, accompanied by simple guitar arpeggios. The piece is called ‘To minore tou Deke’ and is an extended ‘Taximi’ or improvised introduction, which only at the end breaks into a well-known tune. It is a very fine piece, and was until today the only recorded piece to which Ellie reacted. But this evening she set up long-drawn-out howls when I played a recording of a Mozart string quintet: the late one, K516 in G minor. I had to turn it off, which rather annoyed me. The Grigoriou piece too is in a minor mode — not quite the minor scale we are used to in ‘Western’ music, but with the flattened third characteristic of minor modes.

I shall investigate further, but it looks as if Ellie, a mournful-looking (though generally happy) beast may have a particular thing about pieces in the minor.

But perhaps Ellie’s howling was threnodic: today is the anniversary of Mozart’s death in 1791. A death date shared with Nelson Mandela, which brings me rather tortuously back to yesterday’s subject: the case of the white policeman who strangled a black man to death. Or, as those experts in pussy-footing circumlocution the BBC put it, the policeman who was ‘Involved in the death of an unarmed black man, who was put in a stranglehold.’ ‘Involved in the death.’ Yes, I suppose he was. I suppose you could say that Crippen was ‘Involved in the death’ of his wife.

Here are pictures of Ellie, Mozart, and Mandela:


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