Choirs old and new

Sadly I’ve decided to stop singing with the Clerkes in York, an excellent and fun chamber choir which I have been a member of for six months. While I’ve enjoyed the time I have spent, and I’ve tried various things to make it work, it’s just too much; and I think there’s a skill in identifying when something is no longer good for you (even something, paradoxically, which is fun and fulfilling). It’s all about balance, and identifying the moment when the scales tip. Continue reading “Choirs old and new”

A new look…

I’ve given two of my sites an aesthetic revamp (this one, and Yorkshire Language Solutions). I think the result is a major improvement. I’m not too sure about the background here, still, and might have another look at it. I wanted a background image which complemented the colour scheme of the theme I’ve chosen, and so far the best I have found is a close-up of an artwork by Clare Woods. I do still want to use the header image, a picture of my son running down a country track in our village, but it is all Yorkshire autumnal browns and greens, and doesn’t really go. Well, although fun, this will have to be put aside for now.

Tweet Titian! Some wonderful poetry guidelines.

Having been alerted to this fun competition via a Twitter contact, I had a great deal of fun composing an entry. I wanted to share on here the guidelines for writing your poem, provided for the National Gallery by George Szirtes. I’m not generally a poet as I prefer writing prose, but these beautifully composed points could inspire any kind of writing, including art history, and could even inspire structures of thought which might not even necessarily reach incarnation via the written word.

  • Writing poems about paintings is not a matter of description. It is a matter of passing through. What you see and know accompany you.
  • You pass through into a perception you don’t yet understand. You watch and listen as you move. You are inside it, looking around.
  • You may know something of the artist, you may know something about art. That knowledge is your sense of direction.
  • Your medium is words. Words are the air you breathe in the imagined space of the image. It is the rhythm of words, their colour and weight.
  • The picture is speaking to you. It speaks to memory and the unknown. You enter and discover. You go your own way.

– George Szirtes

Tweet Titian! | Twitter poetry competition | The National Gallery, London.

Allegri’s Miserere and some happy mistakes

I discovered a strange musical fact the other day, which is that the high C in Allegri’s Miserere shouldn’t be there at all, and is due to a transcription error. Surely one of the happiest errors ever made!

If you don’t know the piece, or can’t picture how high a high C is and what might be special about it, set aside a few minutes to discover it. It is worth your time.


I’ve chosen a version with a young boy chorister instead of an adult soprano – adult sopranos do sing it (I heard a version by The Sixteen recently, who are touting themselves around a lot at the moment, particularly if you listen to Classic FM) but there’s a special purity in the voice of a treble.

Oddly it was in the Youtube comments that I discovered that the high C wasn’t originally written by Allegri. In all likelihood, it is due to  Mendelssohn, who transposed everything up a fourth which was how he had heard it performed. Then, when one section of Mendelssohn’s transcription was stuck back together with some other sections the wrong way round – an error which was cemented in the 1880 edition of Grove’s Dictionary of Music and Musicians – the result is the heart-stoppingly strange and beautiful version which has remained with us ever since. A more careful account of how this happened can be found here.

Even more extraordinary is the popular legend of how the work came down to us. Apparently the score was kept secret, and its revelation was an excommunicable offence. It seems that the fourteen-year-old Mozart heard the piece in the Sistine Chapel, where it was regularly performed, made a transcription from memory when he got home, and it is this transcription which finally made it into the public domain with its publication by Dr. Charles Burnley in 1771. Here and here are some sources.

I intend to keep an eye out for other happy mistakes which, in fact, have created cultural artefacts of great beauty, or which had long-lasting positive effects on the world. If you know of any, please tell me about them. In the meantime, a piece about unintentional inventions, and finally, particularly for the translators among you, a fun piece from Cracked about mistranslations that changed the world.