30 Aug

Beethoven’s Funk

My first meeting some fifteen years ago with a man who is now among my closest friends ended up in a triple-forte row. Over supper in the restaurant, I mentioned that I had just bought Andras Schiff’s recordings of all the Mozart piano sonatas. My friend, who shall remain nameless – but who’s name actually is Alexander Boot – a man with a well-tuned ear for the apt phrase – said, “I call him Andras S**t!”

He was right. I hardly played the recordings and last year i gave them away. I feel rather guilty about giving them to someone else, feeling it’s a bit like serving your pal a piece of dodgy pork.

Well, I must be a glutton – not for dodgy pork, but for punishment. For last evening I switched on the wireless to listen to Schiff – now Sir Andras – conduct the excellent Leipzig Gewandhaus in a performance of Beethoven’s Seventh Symphony at the Proms. The Leipzig musicians played with their usual clarity and tone: but what they had to play, how they were directed to play was an atrocity. I have never heard anything so palpably awful since a performance of Mahler’s Second by James Loughran in the Free Trade Hall in 1975.

That Schiff could do such dirt on Beethoven’s Seventh, one of the liveliest symphonies in the repertoire! It dragged along like a lump of dead meat.

But you know how you do: I persevered, hoping for it to get better. Surely in the presto scherzo he would liven up a bit? No. Not in the allegro con brio finale either – the movement which Nietzsche extolled as “the apotheosis of the dance.” Last night it was more like the apotheosis of lumbago. To say it was spiritless would be to insult all the shades in the graveyard.

Beethoven’s first two symphonies are conventional 18th century style pieces recalling Haydn. (Characteristically, Beethoven, having had lessons from Haydn, claimed he learnt nothing from him. Yes, well, even Homer nods now and then. But the third, The Eroica burst into the world like an exploding galaxy. Music was never the same again. Beethoven seemed – yes, even Beethoven – to need a period of recovery after The Eroica and indeed the fourth is a fairly conventional affair – and no worse for that, by the way. Then he’s back to being a whirling dervish again in the tearaway fifth: that dazzling C-major chord which erupts towards the climax of the last movement…well, it’s what he heard in Haydn’s The Creation, isn’t it? The revelatory “Let there be light!” after the representation of chaos.

The old man needed a breather again and he takes it in the leisurely pastorale of his sixth. Only then does he feel ready to hurl the seventh at us. Another breather in the (almost) dainty precision of the little eighth; before the desert storm of the ninth.

How could Sir Andras perpetrate such an affront to Ludwig van? He made even the costive lushness of Karajan sound spritely. I could have done with a dose of Furtwangler or Leonard Bernstein.

Did Sir Andras get his knighthood for rescuing stray dogs, or what?

(I hope Mr Boot doesn’t mind my telling you this. But you were right, Alex. By hell you were right!)

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29 Jul

Prescribing the disease as the antidote

Forgive me, Father, for I have sinned.

I’ve been reading about pop music again. To make matters worse, I have compounded my fault by reading a BBC preview about tonight’s “Bowie Celebration Prom.” Here is what it said:

“How to turn a David Bowie tribute from an evening of cover versions into something better? The key seems to be the Berlin collective Stargaze, a young group of post-jazz players who will be the backdrop against which a sequence of guest singers (including Marc Almond and John Cale) will perform Bowie classics. Earlier (7.30pm), veteran maestro Bernard Haitink conducts Mahler’s Third Symphony.”

I am having difficulties with some of the wording in that preview.

What is “post jazz”?

How can the word “classic” appear next to the word “Bowie”?

Blasphemously, the providers of this rubbish describe Bowie as a rock “icon.” In truth, he was an overblown representative of the trashy mass culture industry, which is not about music of any sort, but about advertising and money.

Remember H.L. Mencken: “Nobody ever lost money by underestimating public taste.”

I don’t mind – big of me, eh? – if those deprived of a decent education by generations of lousy state schooling and the dumbed down mass media want to get together to listen to trash.

But I do mind when the trash is imported into the realm of what formerly stood for quality. Classical music concerts are the antidote to the banal noises of pop music.

The devotees of pop music have hundreds of TV and radio stations which broadcast nothing but pop and rock.

Is it so unreasonable to ask that one station might remain clear of this disease?

(That review reveals very clearly the Beeb’s order of values: “Veteran maestro Bernard Haitink conducts Mahler’s Third Symphony” is appended as an afterthought.)

Furthermore, Father, I confess to being an elitist. But what’s the alternative – to be a mediocratist?

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29 Jul

The Religion of Peace and Love: Overseas Branch

The European mass media has devoted hundreds of hours and thousands of pages to the murder of an elderly priest in Normandy.

Understandable, because this occurred in our own backyard. But let’s put this atrocity into perspective.

David Curry, president and CEO of Christian Watchdog Group Open Doors, has reported that in 2015, more than 2,000 churches in Africa were attacked by Muslim arsonists and murderers and more than 7,000 Christians were killed. Muslim terrorist organisations such as Islamic State, Al Shabaab and Boko Haram are particularly keen to perpetrate wholesale slaughter inside Christian places of worship.

Mr Curry added, “In Nigeria, an average of five churches are attacked every Sunday.”

Similar figures are reported for the persecution of Christians by Muslims in Ethiopia, Somalia and Sudan.

Syria and Iraq were home to populous and flourishing Christian communities for two thousand years.

But Christianity has been almost completely wiped out in those countries.

The same goes for all the North African nations, as well as for Saudi Arabia, Iran, Afghanistan and Pakistan.

In the face of these massacres, genocide by any other name, taking place across three continents, I don’t want you to be disheartened.

Instead you should turn for reassurance to the people in authority, and to those who really know what’s going on: The BBC, The Guardian, Theresa May, Jeremy Corbyn, the Archbishop of Canterbury and the Pope.

These luminaries constantly give you all the reassurance you could possibly need. they are unanimous in saying:

“THESE ATROCITIES HAVE NOTHING TO DO WITH ISLAM!”

There now, that feels better, doesn’t it?

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28 Jul

Defiling the stars

Evil communications corrupt good manners.

The brilliantly successful programme to land a spacecraft on a comet has come to an end. Contact has been lost with the module and there is no possibility of its being re-established.

So – the ineffably fatuous BBC Radio Four programme Inside Science, presented by Adam Rutherford, mourned this moment of loss, said how touching and evocative the whole experience had been

So – how does the BBC do “touching” and “evocative”?

By saying  goodbye to the spacecraft by means of five or six extracts of rock music

I thought; O music of the circling spheres, accept this audible filth, our only tribute

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27 Jul

Is it weak to keep your trap shut?

Prince Harry says: “It is OK to suffer, but as long as you talk about it, It is not a weakness.”

I sympathise. He has had a an emotionally tough start in life since his mother was killed in a car crash when he was only twelve. I’m sure that sometimes it is helpful to talk about one’s sufferings, though I’m suspicious when it comes to the various “talking therapies.” I was once in a drinks reception in a livery hall in the City of London and found myself in conversation with a Freudian psychiatrist. He asked me what it was like to be a priest and I answered as honestly as i could. I said, “But it must be difficult to be a psychiatrist and have to sit there listening to someone’s outpourings for hours.”

He replied, “Who listens!”

It’s good to talk, they say. And perhaps the buttoned-up heart and the stiff upper lip are not always the best responses to our troubles. But over these last few decades we have swung so far in the other direction with our armies of agony aunts and counsellors. There’s something sickening about all this emoting, letting it all hang out.

I remember an accidentally hilarious, and very telling incident, from 1994. A posse of journalists was taken across to Normandy to report on the commemorations of the D-Day landings of fifty years earlier. The commemorations included some re-enactment of the battle. Upon their return, the journalists were offered counselling.

An eighty-year-old veteran commented: “I was there for the real thing in 1944, and we weren’t offered any bloody counselling! We’d have told ‘em where to stick it!”

I cannot stand the way we medicalise human pain and misery.

Actually, I try to take my guidance from a quite different source:

“He was oppressed and he was afflicted, yet he opened not his mouth: he is brought as a lamb to the slaughter and as a sheep before her shearers is dumb, so he openeth not his mouth.” (Isaiah 53:7)

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10 Jun

Don’t mention the civilisation!

Amnesty International yesterday published a report into racist incidents in Germany. Amnesty’s spokesman Marco Perolini said.”With hate crimes on the rise in Germany, long-standing and well-documented shortcomings in the response of law-enforcement agencies to racist violence must be addressed,”

You have to admire his self-confidence in his assumption that his international pressure group – not without its own political and sectional interests – has the authority to say what must happen to political and social policy in a sovereign nation state.

So far as I know, no Germans voted for Amnesty in state elections in that country – for the very good reason that Amnesty put forward no candidates to stand in the democratic process.

“The number of racially-motivated attacks has never been as high as now in the history of post-World War II Germany,” according to Selmin Caliskan, Amnesty International’s director in Berlin.

Perolini says, “Racist violence must be addressed.”

But how is it to be addressed? I suppose it depends what we mean by racist violence. This becomes pretty clear if you read further into Amnesty’s high-minded, and high-handed, report. The pressure group is complaining that Muslim immigrants into Germany are being roughly treated by some native German people; and they add that this is compounded by institutional bias against immigrants by the German authorities.

It is as well to get this clear from the start. Otherwise, you might think that Amnesty were referring to the racist violence perpetrated by Muslim thugs and rapists against German women. But no, they don’t mean that at all.

Perhaps they were referring to the institutionalised racist violence which Angela Merkel has committed against the whole nation by her encouraging a million Muslims to take up residence in Germany last year alone – and with the promise of many more to come?

Europe has historically fought wars to keep these aliens – these foreigners with a religion, culture and way of life at odds with and a threat to – Europe’s traditions and practices. To invite very large numbers of such aliens to come in and take root is to do racist violence on the grand scale to the whole country and, by extension, to the whole continent.

But of course, Amnesty are not talking about this either.

At present, Germany is not being defeated by alien foes. Germany, under Frau Merkel, is committing national suicide.

This is leading very speedily to the destruction of 1000 years of European civilisation

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08 Jun

The Father of Lies

Has the Archbishop of Canterbury now descended so far into the realm of unreality that his utterances disqualify him from the holding of his high office? He does not speak out of Christian conviction but from a Panglossian mess of evasion and political-correctness.

Yesterday he declared Nigel Farage’s  warning that European women are increasingly in danger of being raped by migrants to be “absolutely unacceptable.”

But Mr Farage spoke the truth.

Where has the effete and absurd Mr Welby been living these last few years?

Did he not read about the wholesale rapes and assaults by migrants in Cologne at the New Year? Does this pusillanimous buffoon, cocooned against reality by his own fantasies and wishful thinking, not know that, owing to the influx of Muslim migrants, Sweden is now second only to South Africa in the number of rapes?

I hesitate before intruding into the Most Reverend idiot’s hermetically-sealed conscience to offer a few contradistinctions:

Sexual violence in Germany has skyrocketed since Angela Merkel allowed more than one million mostly male migrants from Africa, Asia and the Middle East into the country. The crimes are being downplayed by the authorities to avoid fuelling anti-immigration sentiments:

“The moment they [male migrants] see a young woman wearing a skirt or any type of loose clothing, they believe they have a free pass.” — Restaurant owner at a mall in Kiel.

“Every police officer knows he has to meet a particular political expectation. It is better to keep quiet [about migrant crime] because you cannot go wrong.” — Rainer Wendt, head of the German Police Union. “We, the police, are warning about a potential breakdown of public order this summer, when women who are lightly dressed are confronted by young male migrants.”

I could bore you with a score of such reports, including our own shameful refusal to acknowledge the rapes and other sexual assaults, similarly perpetrated over many years, on young girls in a dozen English towns and cities.

If it is the duty of every Christian to try to discern the truth and proclaim it, how much greater does this responsibility belong to a Prelate?

But this risibly inadequate man, this dissembler and false prophet, studiously refuses to notice what is staring the less distinguished among us in the face?

Outraged as we must be, we are yet reluctant to speak the words of Oliver Cromwell to Justin Welby:

“You have sat here too long for any good you have been doing lately… Depart, I say; and let us have done with you. In the name of God, go!”

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07 Jun

O brave new world that hath such people in it

There is nothing more heavenly than a summer day spent at a county cricket match. The only problem is that you may have to go through purgatory and halfway through hell to get there.

Yesterday I took the train from Eastbourne to Hove to watch the Sussex-Essex game. Opposite me sat three obese, shouty, fully tattooed and trashily bejewelled representatives of the underclass. I should say they sat only intermittently, for they kept getting out of their seats and running about in pursuit of their offspring, a lad aged six or seven.

To say that the boy was unruly would, I suppose, be an insult to what his minders would describe as his right do just as he bloody well liked. Or rather they would surely have said, what he f****** well liked, for the F-word was the predominant feature of their social intercourse: the carriage was, for instance, “…too f****** hot and too f****** crowded.”

The boy expressed his freewill and exercised his right to do as he f****** well pleased by running up and down and kicking passengers randomly. He had clearly been taught the merits of inclusivity and non-discrimination, for he was perfectly non-selective in those he chose to kick: old ladies, that posh-looking young woman trying to read The Guardian, other of his contemporary oiks – and me.

He even poked a nearby baby in the eye.

His minders were hugely entertained by his antics and cheered him on vigorously. The three of them and their kick-boxer offspring ate noisily, endlessly, crisps, chocolate bars other slimy, runny sweet stuff and some provender which I couldn’t identify but which smelled of sick.

Only their latitude concerning the boy’s foul conduct was not consistent. From time to time their approval would be withdrawn and, in their robust and stentorian vernacular, they would rise up – or rather waddle up sweatily – and assume the proper dignity of responsible parenthood, as in, “Cum ’ere you little f*****! Why woz you kicking that Mrs?”

Then one of the minders would smack him. The next minute another of them would say, “You’re your mam’s little prince, int yer!”

It was the boy himself I felt most sorry for. Alternately doted on and reprimanded, caught between cloying sentiment and sheer brutality, there was no possibility of his learning how to interpret human responses to his behaviour.

A little boy already facing a life totally demoralised.

Lurching from indulgence to terror and back again inside two minutes. And this pattern repeated, world without end.

What would he be like in fifteen years’ time? Like his parents, of course: his fat-legged dad, his savage, loud-mouthed mam and her chav of a sister – if it was her sister.

The whole carriage knew they weren’t underprivileged or socially-excluded or deprived – or, as we used to say, poor – for they announced several times to the whole carriage that they were going on a fortnight’s seaside holiday.

No, they weren’t poor. They were the products of our secularised educashun and welfare system.

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06 Jun

Bishops are no laughing matter

You have to laugh…

THE Archbishop of Wales, Dr Barry Morgan, and seven other bishops are among 37 faith leaders who have signed a letter warning EU referendum voters against “undermining” the international institutions charged with tackling the great challenges of the day.

“Faith is about integration and building bridges, not about isolation and erecting barriers,” they wrote, in a letter to The Observer, published last week. “As leaders and senior figures of faith communities, we urge our co-religionists and others to think about the implications of a leave vote for the things about which we are most passionate. . . So many of the challenges we face today can only be addressed in a European, and indeed a global, context: combatting poverty in the developing world, confronting climate change and providing the stability that is essential to tackling the current migration crisis.

“We hope that when voting on 23rd June, people will reflect on whether undermining the international institutions charged with delivering these goals could conceivably contribute to a fairer, cleaner, and safer world.”

Surely it would be rude to laugh at these noble sentiments?

It would – if they were noble. And even if there was a smidgen of truth in them.

But the bishops are wrong to claim that leaving the EU would  mean “isolation and erecting barriers.” Getting out of the EU customs union would tear down barriers between Britain and the rest of the world – with countries with which presently we are not allowed to trade, unless we pay prohibitive tariffs.

But more serious even than this – so perhaps we shouldn’t laugh after all? – is the bishops’ reference to “the things we are most passionate about.”

And what are these things? The Gospel, the Creeds, the Sacraments, Christian mission? Of course not. These men are bishops, after all. Their stated passions include “combatting poverty in the developing world.” Yes, but this is best achieved by free trade – a thing which the EU explicitly forbids.

Oh yes, and the episcopal fancy of the moment: “confronting climate change.”

The words “God, Jesus Christ, forgiveness, redemption” appear nowhere in the bishops’ letter to The Observer.

The bishops seem not to notice that the EU is not a Christian polity. In fact it is hostile to Christianity. It does not reproduce Christian symbolism in any of its documents, publicity, logos etc. Its political morality is not based on The Ten Commandments and the Sermon on the Mount, but derived from the doctrines which appeared at the French Revolution, particularly the atheistic doctrine of universal rights.

The EU is militantly secular.

But then so are our bishops

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02 Jun

The Incredible Shrinking Church

The Anglican boat is still heading for the demographic rapids.

Official figures just announced say that between 25% and 40% of full time stipendiary clergy are aged over 60. Only 3.4% of all clergy are from black or ethnic minorities. In his commentary, the Church of England Director of Ministry, Julian Hubbard, writes: “While the number of stipendiary ordinations showed a welcome increase between 2012 and 2015, this is not sufficient to redress the gathering effect of clergy retirements predicted over the next ten years.”

He added, “The statistics on the age and ethnicity of clergy show that we still have some way to go to ensure that the whole cohort fully reflects the demographics of the wider community.”

Mike Eastwood, Director of Renewal and Reform, the Church of England’s main response to falling church attendance, said: “These figures support what we have been saying about the need for renewal and reform in the Church of England. Renewal and Reform is about a message of hope, through changed lives and transformed communities, as people discover their vocation to love God and serve others. Renewal and Reform is not a top-down project to fix the church, but a narrative of local hope in God shared throughout the church. As part of Renewal and Reform, we are currently consulting on how we better release the gifts of all Christian leaders in church and wider society, whether ordained or not.”

As a priest with 46 years service, let me try to interpret the ecclesiastical spin for you.

In a word, Mr Hubbard has looked in the cupboard and found it to be bare.  These numbers mean that the Church of England is very shortly going to be desperately short of full time, decently educated and properly trained priests. I will come back to the decently educated and properly trained aspect in a minute.

First, we notice the Church’s politically-correct obsession with racial quotas. St Paul said, “In Christ there is neither Jew nor Greek,” but the talkative old tentmaker did not foresee the preoccupations of the modern C. of E. Why this obsession with colour and racial origins? In Mr Hubbard’s contorted language, why should “…the whole cohort fully reflect the demographics of the wider community”? Why should the racial origins of the ministers be precisely proportionate to those of the parishes they serve? Everyone walking about has a brain (we suppose), yet hardly any of us are brain surgeons. Millions take the tube every day, but few actually drive the trains. And the euphemistic phrase “positive discrimination” cannot disguise the fact that the obsession with racial quotas is itself an example of racism.

Mr Eastwood’s verbose exposition of the policies of Renewal and Reform are all blather and bluster – a species of what in RAF slang was always known as “flannel.”

His peroration about the “…better release of the gifts of all Christian leaders in Church and wider society” is a glossy way of saying that in future the cash-strapped Church will resort to appointing unpaid layfolk to do the work presently undertaken by the stipendiary priesthood.

This will, of course, involve a further dumbing down to follow that which has been the norm in the C. of E. over the last forty years. When I was training for the ministry, some ordinands took degrees and higher degrees in theology and philosophy. But the minimum educational standard was impressively high, consisting of the 13 papers of the General Ordination Examination (GOE) – affectionately referred to as God’s Own Exam. There were 3 papers on Old Testament and 3 on the New; two on doctrine, another two on history, one on liturgy, one on pastoral studies and a final one on Greek.

Since that time, there has been a relentless falling off in which all kinds of ad hoc training schemes have come and gone, with the result that most clergy under the age of 55 know very little theology. Most of them have never so much as opened The King James Bible and The Book of Common Prayer, let alone used those books which used to be the head and cornerstone of English Christianity. The worst of it is there now exists – under the shibboleth of “anti-elitism” – a perverse institutional pride in knowing nothing.

Under all the spin, smoke and mirrors, the truth is that congregations will continue their precipitous fall and increasingly be taught and ministered to by people who are hardly qualified for the task.

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