Tuesday, 7 June 2011

Conversations conducted and overheard

LESLIE HOWARD piano Franz Liszt Variations on a motif of J. S. Bach: Weinen, Klagen, S180 (1862) (part 1), Recorded Columbus, Ohio 2009

At Broadcasting House today, studio 70A, talking to the magnificent pianist, Leslie Howard, who is a big warm man full of enthusiasm for his chief subject, Franz Liszt, about whom he is also encyclopedic. My questions deal mainly with the Hungarian aspect of Liszt and what he picked up from gypsy bands. I have some fourteen questions to hand but then it is natural to follow his own direction so the route between questions is slightly different from what I had planned, but all the better for that.

It was very enjoyable, and he too enjoyed it a great deal he said. How strange life is: my knowledge of Liszt is as the size of a pin in the proverbial haystack, but at least I know where the pin is. Providing the subject is the pin I seem to be knowledgeable, in every other respect I am an ignoramus. To labour an opportune figure of speech by reference to a quite different context, there are a good many angels dancing on that pin and watching them do so is a pleasure. Leslie Howard makes a very good angel and can dance on pins I haven't even heard of.


Another train and a series of overheard fragmented conversations. There is a universal truth here. Whenever two people travel together one has a loud voice and does almost all the talking, the other has a quiet voice and replies briefly, ever more briefly and ever more quietly, before fading right out. Two railway workers - or so I suspect from the context of their conversation - are sitting behind me after Cambridge. I can't see them but sense the loud one is of bigger, broader build than the other. The loud man is bluff and wants to talk. He talks romance and affairs at first, declaring that the one thing he would never be interested in is other men's wives. He is just not interested. It's unfair. It's immoral. He knows someone who has had just such an affair and though the bloke is a good bloke, this was wrong. People shouldn't do it. Stabbing people in the back is wrong, and he knows because he has been stabbed in the back by someone at work. And suddenly the talk switches to entertainment, to films and telly. He likes old telly programmes not the new ones, and begins to talk about Frank Spencer, which leads him on to Norman Wisdom. But there are good things on TV now too, and he tells the quiet colleague what to watch. He keeps forgetting the names of the films and gets annoyed with himself. The films he refers to as new are about ten years old. He himself can't be very old. Every so often he asks the quiet man a question and allows him to answer before taking off again on another theme. Sometimes it's just a rhetorical question. This time it's railway lines and stations, and where they used to go, and what remains of them now, though some he wonders about. Don't suppose you know, he asks the quiet man. The quiet man appears to know something or has an idea and is not completely rolled over, but is either happy or resigned to listening to the loud man. The loud man is dedicated to talk the way Leslie Howard is dedicated to Liszt. Talking is a pleasure to him, that is why he must keep the talk going with no break between subjects. He likes a bit of authority. He knows what he is talking about. Or has heard. Though sometimes he forgets a name. And everything is going to change in this area, he says, as we approach my station. Just you see! But I have to get off and will not find out why.

As I stand up and turn around I see he is short and stubby and the other man is tall and thin. That is how it must be. A variation on the old theme.


After tomorrow I am in Romania at a conference / festival on the Black Sea for a few days. I may be able to post from there using the hotel computers. We shall see. They were kind enough to give me a handsome prize (the Ovidius Prize) a few years ago. Great square stones in the sea. Stray dogs. Coaches to Mangalia and Constanza. The exile of Ovid. Bilingual and trilingual simultaneous translations. A paper to give (a very short one), a few poems to read (already translated). A country almost healed over since Ceausescu.

No comments: