Thursday, 31 March 2016

The First Rule of Surgery

Ask any layperson ‘What must the surgeon be careful to check before he sews the patient up again?’ and you will of course get the reply ‘That he hasn’t left anything inside.’

Yesterday our local doctor cut me open again, because when I was in hospital recently for a minor operation, the surgeon — yes, left something inside. It was only some old stitches but it was enough to cause the wound to suppurate and need urgent medical attention. I was surprised such things could still happen, but the doctor said ‘Oh that’s nothing Simon; the other day a surgeon left his mobile phone inside someone.’

Wednesday, 30 March 2016

Melanie Klein

Today is Melanie Klein's birthday, or would be were she still alive. (She was born in 1882).
Melanie who? It's possible that the only Melanie you know of is the one who made that wonderful song 'Brand New Key', (You know, the one about bicycles and roller-skates.) Melanie Klein was a psychoanalyst who developed the theories of Freud in her own sometimes rather strange way, with her ideas on 'Projective Identification' (now generally accepted by nearly all psychoanalysts) and the 'Good' and 'Bad' breasts (not quite so generally accepted.) Her great achievement - she shares the honours with Freud's daughter Anna - was to show that, contrary to the beliefs of many in the psychoanalytic movement, even very young disturbed children could be helped by psychoanalysis.

Tuesday, 29 March 2016

A Book at Bedtime

That was the title of a BBC programme on, I think, Radio 3. They had decided that 11 p.m. was the correct bedtime for decent God-fearing people, and so for fifteen minutes each evening someone would read the next chapter of the current book.

For myself, I have deliberately made my bedside bookshelf short, so as to avoid teetering piles of half-read books. Current contents are:

1) ‘Music in the Castle of Heaven’ by John Eliot Gardiner. This has to be the best general overview of Bach’s life and works ever published. Gardiner conducts performances of Bach that are about as ‘authentic’ (given that of course we have no actual contemporary recordings) as they could be, thus enabling us to hear the works with almost the freshness and surprise with which people heard their first performances. Unlike so many ‘serious’ books about music, which proclaim with pride their ‘freedom’ from ‘technical jargon’, this book is not afraid to use some; it assumes the reader has some knowledge of music and wants to learn more.

2) ‘The Motive for Metaphor’ by Henry Seiden. This is a collection of very brief — two or three pages each — essays on individual poems or poets written from the point of view of a psychoanalyst. Ever since Freud himself, psychoanalysts have acknowledged that many of their insights have been anticipated by poetry. It is a much less demanding book than that description might suggest; indeed I’d have preferred something a bit deeper.

3) Η Μενεξεδένια Πολιτεία (The Purple City) by Άγγελος Τερζάκης. A novel, set mostly in Athens, about an unsuccessful lawyer and his family. It was a present from a friend, but recommended by another friend, whose other recommendations I have not usually liked. But reading it is of course good for my Greek, and I am less than half-way through; let us hope it improves.

4) The Summer 2015 issue of ‘In Other Words’, the journal for literary translators. My delay in reading it is not entirely due to it lateness in reaching me; I read the thing more out of duty than for pleasure. An unwieldy parasitic superstructure of ‘theory’ has been erected on top of the real business of literary translation by people who write dull articles and who (most of them) can’t translate for toffee. There is usually little of interest or use to actual translators, but there are sometimes exceptions, not least on the rare occasions they deign to publish something of mine.

5) ‘An Introduction to Music’ by David Boyden. This is the textbook we used when I was training to be a school music teacher. A general history of so-called ‘Classical’ music from the middle ages to the early twentieth century, with some theory and consideration of things like sonata form. Not quite as superficial as the title suggests.

6) Marianne Moore’s Complete Poems. There are about 250 of them and, poetry being the single malt of literature, I am reading them at the rate of just one a day. Eliot thought highly of her, but I find her pretty impenetrable, mainly because her poems seem to rely on special knowledge, usually something she has read. The notes sometimes give details of this reading, but poems really have to grab you before you look at the notes. I shall persevere; she’s supposed to be good and it’s probably my fault I don’t much like her stuff.

7) ‘My Teaching’ by Jacques Lacan, translated into English by David Macey. This is supposed to be Lacan’s most accessible work, which doesn’t bode well for his others. I’m never sure about Lacan: most of the time he seems to be, like so many other 20th century French intellectuals, a pretentious bullshit artist. But reading him one has the suspicion there might be something there. At his best, he seems to be saying opaquely and gnomically (perhaps poetically?) exactly the same things that Freud said with admirable clarity a hundred years ago.

Oh, and then there’s my Kobo, which is an Amazon-free version of the Kindle. I keep putting more and more stuff in it, mostly downloaded free from Project Gutenberg. Among other things I’m reading Rebecca West’s novel ‘The Judge’: her analysis of the thoughts and behaviour of her characters is almost as detailed (and sometimes almost as tedious) as Proust’s.

Monday, 28 March 2016

The Brontë Sisters

I’ve just remembered another anecdote of the Brontë  sisters. It seems two of them were out walking one Spring day during the lambing season, and one remarked to the other ‘Aren’t the little lambs sweet!’ ‘Yes,’ replied the other: ‘especially with mint sauce.’

These are the Brontë sisters. I’m pretty sure the one on the left with the weird eyes is Charlotte; not sure of the other two which is Anne and which Emily. The brother Branwell is not present, which is probably just as well by all accounts.

Sunday, 27 March 2016

A Terrible Beauty is Born

W.B. Yeats had, unsurprisingly, a complex attitude to the Easter Rising and Irish Nationalism in general. He loved Ireland, but like so many lovers thought that gave him the right to mould her to his heart’s desire.

Of his many poems around the subject, ‘Easter 1916’, whose refrain I quote above, is the best-known and is being bandied about this centenary Easter. Less well-known, except for its final line, is this one:


Incidentally the horrors of over-specialization are nicely illustrated by a woman I met who was doing a degree in ‘Colonial Literature’ or some such, with special reference to Chinua Achebe’s novel ‘Things Fall Apart’. She had no idea where Achebe had got his title, and seemed indeed to be rather vague about who Yeats was. (By the way, I have no degree in any kind of literature, and having met people who do have one, I think I prefer to do without.)

Saturday, 26 March 2016





IRISHMEN AND IRISHWOMEN: In the name of God and of the dead generations from which she receives her old tradition of nationhood, Ireland, through us, summons her children to her flag and strikes for her freedom.

Having organised and trained her manhood through her secret revolutionary organisation, the Irish Republican Brotherhood, and through her open military organisations, the Irish Volunteers and the Irish Citizen Army, having patiently perfected her discipline, having resolutely waited for the right moment to reveal itself, she now seizes that moment, and, supported by her exiled children in America and by gallant allies in Europe, but relying in the first on her own strength, she strikes in full confidence of victory.

We declare the right of the people of Ireland to the ownership of Ireland, and to the unfettered control of Irish destinies, to be sovereign and indefeasible. The long usurpation of that right by a foreign people and government has not extinguished the right, nor can it ever be extinguished except by the destruction of the Irish people. In every generation the Irish people have asserted their right to national freedom and sovereignty; six times during the last three hundred years they have asserted it to arms. Standing on that fundamental right and again asserting it in arms in the face of the world, we hereby proclaim the Irish Republic as a Sovereign Independent State, and we pledge our lives and the lives of our comrades-in-arms to the cause of its freedom, of its welfare, and of its exaltation among the nations.

The Irish Republic is entitled to, and hereby claims, the allegiance of every Irishman and Irishwoman. The Republic guarantees religious and civil liberty, equal rights and equal opportunities to all its citizens, and declares its resolve to pursue the happiness and prosperity of the whole nation and all of its parts, cherishing all of the children of the nation equally and oblivious of the differences carefully fostered by an alien government, which have divided a minority from the majority in the past.

Until our arms have brought the opportune moment for the establishment of a permanent National, representative of the whole people of Ireland and elected by the suffrages of all her men and women, the Provisional Government, hereby constituted, will administer the civil and military affairs of the Republic in trust for the people.

We place the cause of the Irish Republic under the protection of the Most High God. Whose blessing we invoke upon our arms, and we pray that no one who serves that cause will dishonour it by cowardice, in humanity, or rapine. In this supreme hour the Irish nation must, by its valour and discipline and by the readiness of its children to sacrifice themselves for the common good, prove itself worthy of the august destiny to which it is called.

Signed on Behalf of the Provisional Government

Thomas J. Clarke,
Sean Mac Diarmada, Thomas MacDonagh,
P. H. Pearse, Eamonn Ceannt,
James Connolly, Joseph Plunkett


A Nation Once Again

It is 100 years since the Easter Rising in Dublin. That was ruthlessly suppressed of course, with hasty trials and many hangings. Among those imprisoned, though he escaped hanging, was Eamon de Valera, who later became Prime Minister of the Irish Republic.

The struggle for a united independent Ireland is not over: the province of Northern Ireland, often incorrectly called Ulster, is still part of the United Kingdom.

Friday, 25 March 2016

Thursday, 24 March 2016

The Nobel Prize for Poetry

Winners of this have to wear penguin suits and deliver a long speech to the Swedish Academy; they also have to deliver a shorter speech at, I think, the celebratory dinner. Soon after the Greek poet Odysseus Elytis won, the longer of his speeches appeared in Greek newspapers, and was subsequently translated into English. (Twice; the better of the two translations is by my friend David Connolly, who had the privilege of working with Elytis himself.) But I don’t think the shorter speech has ever been published, at least not in English translation. I have just been translating it for a forthcoming book to be published by Aiora of Athens. Here it is:


Your Majesties, Your Highnesses, Gentlemen of the Academy, Ladies and Gentlemen:

The journey of Odysseus — whose name I happen to have been given — never ends, it would seem. And that is fortunate. One of our greatest contemporary poets told us that the deepest meaning of the journey isn’t the arrival in Ithaca, which is a finishing, an end: it’s the journey itself; the adventures and the learning.

Man’s need to discover, to understand, to make myths about all that surpasses Him seems incurable. We all have a thirst for miracles; an urge to believe in miracles; all we have to do is to be ready; to wait. I, in my turn, in devoting more than forty years of my life to poetry, did nothing else. I crossed mythical seas, stopping, and getting to know, so many places.

And, lo and behold, here I am today in Stockholm, my only treasure a few Greek words. Humble words but living, because they are on the lips of a whole people. They are three thousand years old, but as fresh as if just drawn from the sea, from the pebbles and weed of an Aegean shore: from the deep blue and total transparency of the æther. The word ‘Ouranos’ (sky); the word ‘Thalassa’ (sea); the word ‘Helios’ (sun) and the word ‘Eleftheria’ (freedom). I lay them respectfully at your feet. To thank you; to thank the generous people of Sweden and their leading intellectuals who, turning away from majority criteria, show every year that they have that secret ability to renew the Miracle.

Thank you.


Wednesday, 23 March 2016

International Women’s Day

Was on March the 8th, and I’m afraid I didn’t mark it in any way. Here, to make up for it, is what has long been my favourite passage from Charlotte Brontë’s ‘Jane Eyre’, published in 1847. But first, in case you didn’t know it, the Brontë sisters sent the manuscripts of their first novels to the London publisher John Murray under male pseudonyms, fearing they might be ignored as women. Murray liked what he read and wrote to the sisters asking them to come and see him. At that point they felt they must ‘confess’. To his credit, (and I know a number of things to his eternal discredit), Murray responded that he couldn’t give a nun’s wimple what sex they were, come anyway. And of course he published ‘Jane Eyre’ and, I believe, several other of the Brontë novels. Here, anyway, is that passage from ‘Jane Eyre’:


"I tell you I must go!" I retorted, roused to something like passion.  "Do

you think I can stay to become nothing to you?  Do you think I am an

automaton?--a machine without feelings? and can bear to have my morsel of

bread snatched from my lips, and my drop of living water dashed from my

cup?  Do you think, because I am poor, obscure, plain, and little, I am

soulless and heartless?  You think wrong!--I have as much soul as

you,--and full as much heart!  And if God had gifted me with some beauty

and much wealth, I should have made it as hard for you to leave me, as it

is now for me to leave you.  I am not talking to you now through the

medium of custom, conventionalities, nor even of mortal flesh;--it is my

spirit that addresses your spirit; just as if both had passed through the

grave, and we stood at God's feet, equal,--as we are!"
This is Jane's first meeting with Rochester,
when neither knows who the other is.

Tuesday, 22 March 2016

Camel-Swallowing and Rising Organs

I was planning to write today about one of my piano teachers, and I shall in a moment, but this morning on both BBC and VOA I heard of an exercise in camel-swallowing that I cannot let pass without comment:

President Obama of the U.S.A. is currently visiting Cuba, where he has had the astounding gall to ask for ‘improvements’ in its human rights record. (I think he means improvements in its human rights, rather than in the record of them, but let that pass; it’s been some time since we have had a literate American president). Now whatever happens elsewhere in Cuba, and certainly I know of writers critical of the government who have been imprisoned, (in America such people are not imprisoned or even tried; they are hounded out of their country and sometimes suffer unfortunate fatal accidents), there is one place in Cuba where people are held without trial in cages whose use in a zoo would be illegal, and subjected relentlessly to torture to extract ‘confessions’. It is called Guantanamo Bay; it is owned by America and the vile people who do the caging and torture are Americans working for the American Government.



I.M. Fred Waterworth

Whenever I have lived in one place for more than a few weeks I have tried to equip myself with a piano and then find a piano teacher. Thus I have had many piano teachers, most of them, frankly, no good as teachers, whatever their abilities as pianists. My present one, here in Greece, is the best ever; a very gifted teacher who begins to understand the quite special difficulties of an older person who knows a great deal about music, but can’t really play much.

Anyway, some of my piano teachers have been retired people living quiet and perhaps lonely lives, so very often we spent more time talking than playing. Or rather, teacher talked and I listened.

Fred Waterworth lived in a flat on the sea-front at Lee-on-Solent, between Portsmouth and Southampton. I say ‘lived’ and ‘I.M.’ because if he’s still alive he would have to be well over 100 years old. Once or twice a week I cycled from the Royal Naval Married Quarters where I was living to his house. Mostly he gazed soulfully out to sea at the window while I played the first movement of Beethoven’s C# minor sonata; the one known (though not by Beethoven) as the ‘Moonlight’. At half-time his wife would bring us tea and biscuits, and Fred would tell me anecdotes of his life. One of his fingers was flattened and spade-like at the tip; Lord knows how he managed to play just one note at a time with it rather than three. He explained it had been crushed under a rifle butt during the First World War, and the surgeon had wanted to cut it off, but he begged them to patch it up as best they could.

He had been a cinema pianist in the silent film days; peering sideways up at the screen and improvising along with the film. Then talkies came in and one might think he was out of a job, but no, like many others, his cinema installed an organ, all bells and whistles and coloured lights, like some nightmare of Scriabin’s, on which Mr Waterworth entertained the audience before the show and during the interval, and of course played the National Anthem (everybody standing at attention) at the end of the evening. This new arrangement left Mr Waterworth free to pop out while the main feature was on and get a jar or two at the adjacent hostelry; he just had to be sure to be back for the national anthem at the end of the film, and he always was.

Now those cinema organs were usually installed in what passed for an orchestra pit, and he actual console would rise on a hydraulic column in front of the screen, organist already playing, as the house-lights came up at the interval. One evening our hero, after perhaps a jar too many, came back in good time, climbed into his organ console, looked up at the screen, saw there was a good half-hour of film left to run, and dozed off. But in doing so he slumped forward onto the knob that set the hydraulics working — just as the film was reaching it climax, the view was obscured by the huge organ console slowly ascending to full height in front of the screen. Boos, jeers, screams, arrival of a furious manager, ‘Fred! Come down at once!’ But Fred was deeply asleep; no-one saw the end of the film.

Fred Waterworth’s career as a cinema organist ended that evening.

Monday, 21 March 2016

Normal Service Somewhat Grudgingly Resumed

When about a week ago readership dropped to about 8 a day, I said I would cease casting pearls, at least until someone asked me to write here again. I have been waiting, though not exactly holding my breath. Today, one person, (That's one, uno, ein, ena), an old friend whom I have not seen for some years, indeed wrote to ask. So, fair enough, I shall write here again, though I do wish more people would take a digitally interactive attitude. (That means get their fingers out and write to me.)

Tomorrow I shall post something about piano teachers; please hold your breaths until then.

Wednesday, 16 March 2016

Absent thee from felicity awhile

Readership of this blog having dropped to about 8 people (or perhaps one person 8 times, or...) daily, I shall refrain from casting pearls before you for a few days or perhaps longer. I will however resume posts if one, just one, person takes the trouble to e-mail, asking me to do so.

Monday, 14 March 2016

The Lighter Side of Traumatic Hæmopneumothorax

You didn’t know there was a lighter side? In fact, you’re not sure what…

Well, it’s when a chest injury causes blood and air to enter the pleural cavity around a lung on one side, so destroying the partial vacuum round it, whereupon that lung collapses and the downward movement of the diaphragm can’t pull air into it. If it happens on both sides at once it’s curtains within minutes by asphyxiation, unless someone does mouth-to-mouth resuscitation and keeps it up until someone comes along with a bottle of oxygen.

It happened to me just a week or two ago, fortunately on one side only. Off to hospital asap, where they cut a hole in my side and shoved in a pipe as fat as a garden hose to drain out the blood and general gunge. The horrendous operation (without anaesthetic beyond xylocaine round the hole) did have its lighter sides in a Quentin Tarantino / Sam Peckinpah sort of way, but the funniest moment came on the last day.

You see, my companion and I managed to convince them that staying in hospital one more day would make me just too miserable, so reluctantly they agreed to take out the pipe — drainage by now more or less complete — and sew up the hole. This was done by a young woman — a final year surgical student, I think — and I have no complaints; she was gentle and charming, and cobbled up the hole tightly. But then she was left holding the two free ends of the suture and looking puzzled; ‘What now?’ she said. ‘Well,’ I said, ‘You knot those two ends together and snip off the extra.’ ‘But…’ ‘You mean, you’ve studied surgery for several years, but don’t know how to tie a knot?’ ‘Well… Um…’

I couldn’t quite reach to tie it myself, but luckily someone else knew how to tie two half-hitches, though I should have preferred a reef knot.

In the unlikely event of the nice young lady’s reading this, I must emphasise that I’m not laughing at her, I’m laughing with her. As I said, she was gentle and charming, and if I ever need surgical help again I hope it will come from her, and I would be happy to show her the ropes. I mean, teach her a few basic knots.

Sunday, 13 March 2016

Yeats and Alchemy

Yeats’s poetry can, like Gaul, be divided into three parts: first there was the 'Celtic Twilight’ stuff: Not quite leprechauns and shamrocks, but only a step above. Then came the middle period of the great poems, the ones that make him a candidate for ‘Greatest English language poet of the twentieth century’: poems like ‘Sailing to Byzantium’ and (in my view his masterpiece) ‘Long-legged Fly.’ This was the period just before he got the Nobel (to which his response, on being told the news by ’phone, was ‘How much?’)

The prize came, as always, late, (remember Auden’s vertical and horizontal man), when Yeats had already gone a bit funny: he included the poetastic drivel of some silly little girl he’d fallen for in his 1936 version of the Oxford Book of Modern Verse, he flirted with fascism, and he was heavily into alchemy.

If you check out his late prose work ‘Rosa Alchemica’ you’ll see just how far gone he was towards the end. Fair enough, he did at least understand (I think) that the alchemical enterprise is not ‘really’ about turning lead into gold; that that is just a metaphor for the transformation of the intellect, of wisdom — of poetic sensibility, in fact — into spirituality, but even so, like all the alchemists, (and this is really a mystery, persisting to the present, witness L.M. Principe’s ‘The Secrets of Alchemy’) — he couldn’t resist all the physical — and actually irrelevant — paraphernalia of alchemy; ‘Alembic’, ‘Athanor’, ‘Lavacrum Maris’ and such-like; things the old loony had actually gone out and bought. (To tell the truth I rather like him for that.)

I’m not trying to reach any grand conclusion; this is just my blog. I just felt like drawing attention to the strange progress of one of the world’s great poets. It is, after all, the poets who show most clearly that Man is as much a spiritual as a material creature.

Saturday, 12 March 2016


That's all. Well, it's the reason for the lack of blog posts. Oh, all right, here's a picture:

Thursday, 3 March 2016


That is one of those lazy neologisms for people who aren’t really very clever with words: the sort of people who say ‘Hi!’ instead of ‘Hello!’ and pronounce ‘Communist’ ‘Commernist’. It means, of course, Britain’s possible imminent leaving of the common market. I promise to talk only about the more amusingly lunatic aspects of this deeply dull subject.

Travellers between France and England by the tunnel or the ferry may have been disconcerted by the fact that as one leaves England for France, one’s passport is checked, before entry to the tunnel or ferry, by French immigration officers rather than English ones. And in Calais, it is English officers who look at one’s passport. This is done so that anyone who doesn’t have the ‘right’ to make the crossing is stopped before even trying, so that the authorities in the country of arrival don’t have the bother of sending people who have come all the way over all the way back.

Now. The sort of people who want Britain to leave the common market are often the sort of ‘Disgusted of Tunbridge Wells’ types who are always moaning about Britain being ruled by ‘A bunch of bureaucrats in Brussels’, and who believe Britain is flooded with immigrants ‘stealing our jobs’ and no doubt raping our daughters, while living in luxurious mansions provided by social services at the good honest law-abiding British taxpayers’ expense.

So the announcement today by France that if Britain does leave the common market then that reciprocal immigration border arrangement will end, and so the thousands of people (some of them with dark skins!) who are hanging around Calais hoping to find a way to get across to England will all be told by the French authorities  ‘Off you go chaps, get on the ferries or through the tunnel, we don’t mind’ is likely, as they say, to set the cat among the pigeons.

Wednesday, 2 March 2016

Dr John Dee

I have been reading the private diary of Doctor John Dee, the notorious Elizabethan — what? Satanist? Certainly he was accused of engaging in satanic rites, and a bunch of the ignorant, who always react violently when they come across anything beyond their minuscule understanding, ransacked his house, so many of his writings have been destroyed. He did indeed dabble in the occult, and was given to hearing and seeing what we should now call ‘ghosts’. But as with so many notorious types, his private diaries are for the most part rather dull, telling of new servants employed and how much he paid them, of family matters and the deaths or marriages of friends and such-like. One interesting thing is that Queen Elizabeth herself liked him. It seems she didn’t come in, but would take her coach to his house and hang about outside until Dr Dee came out, and they would have civilized chats about this and that. She probably found it refreshing to talk to someone who didn’t bow low and spread his cloak over puddles for her, but just chatted like a neighbour over the garden fence. Another mildly interesting thing about him is that, in a rather naïve attempt to make parts of his diaries even more secret, he wrote some passages in Greek. That is to say, in English but using the Greek alphabet. Though I would think anyone interested enough to want to read his diary would also be educated enough to decipher those passages easily enough.

Dr Dee’s life and interests lend themselves to fabulation, and that great fabulist Peter Ackroyd has written one or two interesting fictional works about him.

That’s all; I have no great revelations to make about him; just thought I’d like to mention an interesting chap.

Tuesday, 1 March 2016

Music in the Castle of Heaven

That’s the title of John Eliot Gardiner’s magnificent 600-odd page book about J.S. Bach. The title might seem off-puttingly gushing, but in fact refers to the ‘Weg zum Himmelsberg’, a painted cupola in a church where Bach worked. Besides it is clear that Gardiner really does consider Bach’s music ‘heavenly’, and that he is right.

Just as Alfred Brendel understands Schubert better than Franz himself did, so Gardiner understands Bach better than J.S. himself did. This book will tell you — I nearly said ‘all you need to know’ about Bach, but there is no end to what can be said about Bach, and it would be philistine to divide the knowledge into ‘needed’ and ‘not needed’. Certainly there must be very few people — and I don’t claim to be one of them — who could engage with all Gardiner has to say here. If you just want one book about Bach then this is the one, and it is a joy to have found it, also a relief: at least one other recent fat tome about Bach, Paul Elie’s ‘Reinventing Bach’, turns out to be a farrago of silliness and ignorance; I suppose it only got published because its publishers were even more silly and ignorant than its author.


It was serendipitously said by a schoolboy once that Bach was a ‘habitual father’, and the popular image of him is as the paterfamilias, surrounded by children who themselves became composers, and working respectably as Kappelmeister in various churches of which he was a pious and obedient member. Actually it wasn’t quite like that: his deeply spiritual interpretation of Lutheranism was in fact no longer fashionable, and he had many arguments with the church or city authorities who when not telling him how to compose made life difficult for him by paying him peanuts and fobbing him off with incompetent musicians.

On one occasion he called a certain bassoon player — the bassoon was only just rising from its clumpy honking peasant origins to being a sophisticated modern instrument; something wittily parodied later by Beethoven in his ‘Pastoral’ symphony — where was I? Oh yes; he called the bassoon player a ‘prick’.The bassoonist responded by lying in wait for him with a bunch of cronies in the town square one night, and hitting Bach with a cudgel. Bach drew his dress-sword in self-defence. Disgracefully, the authorities took the bassoonist’s side. This is just one, and a comparatively trivial one, of the vicissitudes that beset Bach, whose likewas often far more rackety than is generally imagined. But all his life, Bach just carried on writing music, signing each piece ‘S.D.G.: Soli Deo Gloria’.

There never was and never will be a greater composer.



P.S. Bach got his own back on the prick of a bassoonist by including in his next church cantata a long, difficult, exposed solo for bassoon.