Tuesday, 4 September 2001

Bach and Oscar Wilde

Listening to:

Bach, concerto for harpsichord and strings in G minor, BWV 1058. The CD on which this piece appears is part of a five CD set of Bach concerti. It’s very well documented. In particular, there’s a nice chart at the back of booklet explaining how Bach reused music from a variety of sources to write his harpsichord concerti. It appears that there is no extant harpsichord concerto of his that didn’t start out as something else. What’s more, even if the “something else” no longer exists, it’s apparently possible to figure out what it was. So, while this concerto (BWV 1058) corresponds to an existing violin concerto (BWV 1041, in A minor), the concerto in A major, BWV 1055, is based on a concerto in A major for oboe d'amore that is now lost.

The musical detective work that goes into this process of reconstruction and discovery is described a little in the booklet. There’s enough there to make me think that, one, it must be pretty neat, and two, it’s yet another of those jobs I am never going to manage to fit into my life’s schedule. That’s another to add to the list that already includes astronaut, conductor, and TV sports director (that last one might require further explanation later). Incidentally, the code for the CDs I’m listening to is Archiv 463 725-2, all the recordings feature The English Concert with Trevor Pinnock and date back to the early 80s.

Just read:

Oscar Wilde, The picture of Dorian Gray.

I read this over the weekend, and rather enjoyed it. It’s written in just the style I expected from Oscar Wilde, though this is the first thing I’ve ever read of his, and I’ve never seen any of his plays. (I did see the film of The perfect husband a while back and quite enjoyed it.)

The tone is definitely melodramatic, and over-the-top. There’s lots of description of rich surrounds, flowers, ornaments and general upper class trappings. There’s also quite a few witty asides, and epigrams, mainly due to the character Lord Henry. He is rather enigmatic in a “the devil is a gentleman” kind of way, and should probably be held responsible for Dorian Gray’s downfall.

In basic form, this novel is essentially a tragedy: Dorian Gray is seduced by eternal youth and comes to a sticky end. I don’t know that Wilde was entirely convinced by the requirements of the form though; I couldn’t help but feel that he didn’t really want to have to tell the tale of a downfall. It’s well done, and apart from a longish section in the middle that details a variety of pursuits that Gray takes up in order to give himself something to do with his life, reads very quickly.

I can’t help but wonder what a S/F author might do with the basic story. Has anyone ever written the story of someone who is given eternal youth, and then thinks hard about putting this unique opportunity to work? How would you conceal the fact of your immortality from the rest of the world? In an age of increasing centralisation and bureaucratisation, it might be quite hard to escape the notice of the state. I know I’ve read stories about people who have somehow managed the trick of establishing themselves, and who turn up in the 20th century having been born in the 15th, but this is less interesting. (From the film Interview with a vampire, I guess Anne Rice’s books might go on about this, but I don’t think all that vampire baggage is necessarily very helpful.) Such a story wouldn’t have the moral and dramatic oomph of Wilde’s novel, but done well, would surely be mentally stimulating. (For those that like that sort of thing, of course.)

To read next:

Another book with art in the title, James Joyce’s Portrait of the artist as a young man.