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Forward: 100 Years of the City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra is published by Elliott and Thompson on 29 November 2019, and is available from the CBSO website on 14 November 2019.

It’s been a while since I wrote here, and the only real excuse I can offer is that in January 2018 I was commissioned by Stephen Maddock and Abby Corfan of the CBSO to write a new illustrated history of the orchestra to celebrate its centenary in 2020. It was a thrilling commission to receive, but also an overwhelming one. With a copy deadline of Christmas 2018 – and no relaxation in my usual working schedule – that meant devoting almost all of my free time in 2018 to research in the CBSO Archive, reading some 61 books on the general subject, conducting interviews with over 30 living witnesses of the CBSO story (including Sir Simon Rattle, Andris Nelsons, Mirga Grazinyte-Tyla, Sakari Oramo and Simon Halsey), and then untangling various (often conflicting) narratives to write the story – trying all the while to make it both historically rigorous and an entertaining read. The aim was to create a sort of ‘100th birthday gift’ from the CBSO to its supporters: something that they could genuinely enjoy.

And then, after submitting the manuscript, there was almost as much work to be done again: proofreading, rewriting and discussing the design with my brilliantly sympathetic and patient editor Olivia at Elliott and Thompson; then seeking out around 100 historical images and obtaining the necessary legal permissions – a task in which I was helped, with enormous patience, imagination and enthusiasm, by my old CBSO colleague Maria Howes. The CBSO Archive is full of rarely-seen treasures; the aim was to get a few of them out there for people to enjoy. This sort of thing, for example:

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CBSO associate conductor Harold Gray rehearses a group of management and music staff in Haydn’s ‘Toy Symphony’ some time in the 1970s – percussionist Annie Oakley (left) assists.

You wouldn’t imagine how much legwork is involved – even obtaining the necessary permissions for the cover image, Concerto by Alexander Walker, took us about two months of research. Who owns the intellectual property of a deceased Catholic monk, who had taken a vow of poverty? This was exactly the sort of thing I didn’t expect to learn when I started out on this project, and which kept me, Maria, Abby, and Olivia and her team busy right through until the end of last month (Even the index required weeks of work). Whereupon we all breathed an enormous sigh of relief and I, for one, cleared off on holiday to look at more Austro-Hungarian relics in Transylvania.



Even the title took some thought and a few drafts. Forward is the motto of the City of Birmingham, and the book is about the city as much as its orchestra. The two cannot be separated and both share the same ambitious, forward-looking, sometimes impatient outlook – a subject that I’ve written on before now.

Anyway, it’s with the printers now – and rather to my surprise I feel distinctly nervous. It feels a bit like waiting to go onstage; there’s already been some press and part of me is terrified to see what glitches and howlers we missed (there are always some), just as an equal, if quieter, part of me is excited to see how people react. Above all, I hope that readers enjoy it, and that it deepens their enjoyment of and appreciation of the CBSO. It’s on sale from the CBSO website from 14 November and from Amazon and all good real-world bookstores from 28 November 2019. I may well be talking about it again…

Forward, looking backward


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It was very wet in December. That’s my excuse for those shoes.

Life comes at you fast, they say: Forward was published in November and for the next few weeks it seemed like there was hardly a night that I wasn’t at a CBSO concert or at CBSO Centre, signing copies. It was exhausting but huge fun: not just because of the many kind comments about the book itself, but also because it was a chance to meet and chat to the CBSO’s supporters. That was always my favourite part of the job when I was duty manager for concerts at CBSO Centre – the enthusiasm that people feel for “their” orchestra is genuinely touching, and the stories that they have to tell of their concert-going activities are endlessly enjoyable. I spoke to ex-players, ex-singers, and audience members with memories stretching back to the George Weldon era in the late 1940s. Since I always intended the book to be a centenary gift from the orchestra to its friends and followers, this was enormously gratifying.

Maria & Forward

My fabulous colleague Maria made the whole thing possible (and discovered most of the best pictures). When the  very first copy of the book arrived at CBSO Centre, the occasion  seemed to call for at least one bottle of fizz.

But it was still something of a surprise to realise that it was actually out there, making its way in the world and being read far beyond Birmingham. I popped into Waterstones on New Street and Foyles in Grand Central to sign copies. “It’s nice to have something in the local history section that isn’t Peaky Blinders” commented the manager. I gave an interval interview about the history of the orchestra on BBC Radio 3, and recorded a series of short films for the CBSO website. The Spectator kindly asked me to write something about the history of the CBSO for its Christmas edition, and BBC Music Magazine followed suit shortly afterwards.

Then there were the reviews, which if I’m honest I dreaded – but since I dish it out regularly as a critic, I was hardly in a position to expect sympathy. In fact, reviewers seem to have been very positive. I was particularly delighted to be reviewed in The Oldie; Richard Osborne wrote that “Such books can be a terrific bore but this is a gem: a lovingly researched, entertainingly written and handsomely designed and printed volume”. Jessica Duchen gave the book one of her end-of-year personal “Awards” on her long-running blog: “gorgeously produced, seamlessly readable, superbly expressed and full of splendiferous anecdotes. A wonderful anniversary tribute to the orchestra, with the lightly-worn engaging touch of the insider who knows exactly how it really works”.

John Quinn, on MusicWeb International, did the book proud: “Richard Bratby has told the story uncommonly well. His style is eminently readable and clear. It’s obvious that the book has been scrupulously researched.” Nigel Simeone, in Gramophone found it “thoroughly engaging” and Norman Lebrecht, in The Spectator (a review of which, like the Gramophone write-up, I knew nothing in advance), noted – with typical acuity – that “no nation state in modern times has chosen great leaders so unerringly well as the CBSO”. BBC Music Magazine gave it five stars.


John Suchet was kind enough to endorse the book, so it was a lovely coincidence that we both ended up signing at the same table at Symphony Hall on 22 November. One purchaser wanted John to sign Forward instead of me: and who can blame them?

Since then…well, we all know the story and the fact that the book is currently only available for purchase online is of no significance beside the fact that the CBSO’s long-planned centenary celebrations are on hold and that everyone involved with the orchestra is intensely, anxiously trying to find a way to salvage something. There isn’t much comfort to be had in the current situation, and I’ve never believed that history repeats itself.

But one constant of the CBSO’s history has been the depth of the support that it has received from the community that it serves; that, and a near-miraculous ability for doing great things under intense pressure. The CBSO has turned a crisis into a triumph quite a few times over the last 100 years. Things are worryingly quiet at the moment – though as the orchestra’s CEO Stephen Maddock pointed out a few weeks ago, if you think planning a concert season is hard work, just try cancelling one. But we wait; we hope; we keep the faith. Let’s hope the dawn is not far away.

Potting history


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An unconventional guide to the CBSO’s 1949 season – commissioned by Ruth Gipps and published in “Play On”, the orchestra’s short-lived first in-house magazine.

Forward: 100 Years of the City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra is published by Elliott & Thompson on 29 November 2019, and is available from the CBSO website from 14 November 2019. I will be signing copies at the CBSO concert at Symphony Hall on Saturday 23 November.

A few weeks ago I wrote a short article about the writing process for the CBSO’s in-house magazine, Music Stand. Here it is:

It’s January 2018. Stephen Maddock and Abby Corfan have just asked me to write a new centenary history of the CBSO, to be published in November 2019. And I’m sitting there in Starbucks at Symphony Hall: flattered, of course. Excited, obviously. But also, if I’m honest, feeling a little bit like I’ve just been asked to level Barr Beacon with a teaspoon.

I mean, where to start? There’s already one excellent history of the CBSO. Crescendo!, by Beresford King-Smith, was published in 1995 and it’s a tour-de-force – unsurprisingly, since Beresford was on the CBSO staff for more than half of the orchestra’s entire history, and also created (and for many years curated) the CBSO’s archive. I’d be drawing heavily on his work whatever I did, so I headed over to Sutton Coldfield for a chat. Generous as always, Beresford gave his blessing, and encouraged me to use many of the terrific unpublished anecdotes that never made it into the final version of Crescendo!

Still, the question remained: what could a new book bring to the party? Obviously, I’d need to chronicle the 25 years (a quarter of the CBSO’s existence) that have elapsed since Crescendo! appeared. As a staff member from 1998 to 2015, I’d witnessed many of those years at first hand, but if there’s one thing that a History degree teaches you, it’s that personal memories are unreliable things. Eleven months isn’t a long time to research and write a book, so I began by scheduling interviews with as representative a selection of long-serving CBSO veterans as time and travel allowed.

I was thrilled that each of our living music directors (Simon, Sakari, Andris and Mirga) made time to talk to me – and startled by how candid they were. Former Chief Exec Ed Smith plied me with excellent wine at his London club; Sheila Clarke didn’t hold back (I’d hoped she wouldn’t); Mike Seal spilled the beans on the CBSO football team, and of course Stan Smith – the 96-year old father of our CBSO “family”, who played in the first violins from the 1950s through to the Rattle era – had some irreplaceable memories to share. Hearing about the premiere of Britten’s War Requiem from someone who actually played in it isn’t so much a perk of the job as an unforgettable privilege.

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But as I dug back beyond living memory, the archives took over – and that’s where it got really intriguing. I was too late to talk to Louis Frémaux (even if he’d been willing), but a personal statement, enbargoed during his lifetime, means that for the first time we’re able to read his side of the controversy that led to his sudden resignation in March 1978. Further back, through the music directorships of Hugo Rignold and Andrzej Panufnik, the Holocaust survivor Rudolf Schwarz and the former racing driver George Weldon; well, the more I rooted around, the more vividly they sprang to life. And then on past Leslie Heward (I’d love to have heard him conduct live) and a youthful Adrian Boult, to 1920 and the orchestra’s founder, the brilliant but clearly maddening Appleby Matthews.

I wanted to tell this story in full colour. When I was duty manager at CBSO Centre, I loved chatting to audience members about the orchestra, and I’ve tried to recreate the pleasure of those conversations – to put together a proper 100th birthday present for our audience, a lively and entertaining narrative with no specialist knowledge required. Along the way, we’ve aimed to share as many treasures from the archive as possible. Picking out the illustrations (there are over 120, many unseen for decades) has been huge fun (Maria Howes, of the marketing team, has a real eye for a quirky visual). Stephen was also anxious for me to explore some of the bigger themes of the CBSO’s first century: there are chapters devoted to touring, recording, new music and the Chorus. Much of the established history of UK orchestras is, in reality, merely the story of London orchestras. In the areas of public funding, education work and opportunities for women, Birmingham was decades ahead of the field.

So when I’ve encountered someone particularly interesting, I’ve paused to enjoy their company. Orchestras attract outsize personalities, and the CBSO story is full of them, from founding father Granville Bantock and his homicidal parakeet Scheherazade, to second oboe Ruth Gipps, who’s only now starting to receive her due as a major post-war composer. I’ve tried to let the audience have its say too – remembering always that this is Birmingham’s orchestra, rooted in its city, and growing and changing with it. Who’s to say that a concert in Vienna’s Musikverein touched more lives than one at Saltley Coliseum – or whether Elgar got a bigger ovation than AR Rahman? (spoiler alert: he didn’t). There are so many tales to tell that we’ll never run out of new perspectives. I’ve chosen the ones that I enjoyed the most; and I really hope that you enjoy them too.

(Not) bathing with Hercules


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The bath complex and Cerna bridge at Baile Herculane


Suddenly, and without warning, an ornate and incongruous watering place called the Baths of Hercules rose from the depths of the wild valley. The fin-de-siècle stucco might have come straight out of an icing gun; there were terracotta balustrades, egg-shaped cupolas and glimpses through glass double-doors of hydrangeas banked up ornate staircases…an echo of the Austro-Hungarian Empire at its farthest edge…

From the moment we each read that passage in Patrick Leigh Fermor’s Between the Woods and the Water, it was a certainty that some day we’d try and see this place for ourselves. So last September we travelled to Romania to visit Baile Herculane. Leigh Fermor had hiked and bivouacked through the southern Carpathians; we drove down out of our usual exploring-territory of Transylvania to the bottom of the Cerna valley, a few miles above the border with Serbia and the point where the Cerna meets the Danube in the gorge known as the Iron Gates.



“Paddy” had visited Baile Herculane in the summer of 1933, when, although already part of Romania, it was still in most essentials the Habsburg resort-town of Herkulesfurdo / Herculesbad. Even at the turn of the century, it had been fairly remote – the frontier between Austria-Hungary and the pre-1920 Kingdom of Romania ran along the east side of the narrow Cerna valley, just a short distance above the town. But it had been glamorous: like all the smartest spots in Central Europe, it had been frequented by the Empress Elisabeth of Austria (aka “Sissi”), and the town still has its own anecdote about her visits – how she took moonlit strolls incognito in the wooded valley and, after being offered refreshment by a young shepherd and his wife, revealed her identity and became godmother to their newly-born child. Naturally, this is now commemorated on a fridge magnet.

We’d read that time (and communism) had been cruel to Baile Herculane. This remarkable blog by some rare British visitors to the area in the late 1960s shows the town still spotless and thriving. Nick Hunt, who traced Leigh Fermor’s footsteps in Walking the Woods and the Water in 2013, was much more downbeat. But since he’s downbeat about everything that we tend to find most romantic, we went anyway – having taken the precaution of booking a hotel in nearby Drobeta-Turnu Severin instead.

In reality, it was like stumbling upon the remains of an abandoned civilisation. The entire historic centre of the 19th century spa is still standing and instantly recognisable from old pictures and descriptions – but it’s as if the whole town was somehow shut down en masse a couple of decades back, and now, in September 2017, was on the point of vanishing altogether into the wilderness. Paddy called this chapter of his book “The End of Middle Europe”, but when we arrived it felt like it had long since ended.


Hercules has kept the faith, though, as Paddy noted: “The Victorian statue of the lion-pelted and muscle-bound bruiser, which dominated the centre of town, showed that ancient glory had returned”. Not so much that, perhaps: the exteriors of the elegant 19th century townhouses around him had new paint, but the buildings themselves were empty apart from an ad-hoc souvenir shop. A busker sat on the pavement playing the opening melody from Enescu’s Romanian Rhapsody No.1 on a tin whistle. The little octagonal Catholic church (Romania is predominantly Orthodox) at the end of the main square was open, and still apparently expects seasonal worshippers from all parts of the former Empire.


I’m pretty sure this former hotel was one of the stucco-covered belle-époque extravaganzas that so astonished Paddy after his trek through the forests. Looking at it today was heartbreaking, though there were a few indications that restoration might be imminent.

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The west side of the town was dominated by the huge, ornate Baths building. It’s still magnificent, though it’s entirely shuttered off and the elegant iron bridge across the Cerna is unsafe to use.

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We’d hoped to take a dip in the thermal pools, and online research showed that one bath at least (attached to the Hotel Cerna) had still been operational in the summer of 2016. Too late: the door was locked and “Inchis” was chalked on the door with no further explanation. It’s under the red curved corrugated roof here – still looking spotless beneath the crags on the east side of the valley.

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This was Sissy’s villa, and opposite it, the former Kursaal. Both looked reasonably OK from the outside, and there were information boards explaining their historic importance, but they were deserted nonetheless.

We found the old casino too: this was where Paddy spent a big night out and where in 1933 “the crowded tables, the dance band and the dancers filled the dining room of the Casino with brio and schwung“. It’s undergone some restoration by the local council, but much of the original décor remains untouched, by the look of it.

Yet Baile Herculane still felt playful as well as melancholy, somehow. A Romanian friend told us that it’s a favourite holiday spot of her father’s, and there were plenty of visitors. There’s a cluster of brutalist, Communist-era hotels further down the valley, all of which apparently do a decent trade. And when the sun broke through the clouds, the flowerbeds were colourful, the box hedges neatly tended, and you could sense something of the holiday mood that Paddy described: “the comic and engaging charm of an operetta”.

Literally. Paddy commented that “a more knowing traveller might have caught a whiff of Offenbach and Meyerbeer, a hint of Schnitzler”. I thought I was imagining things when I heard a snatch of Tales from the Vienna Woods carried on the breeze; it segued into Les Patineurs and then Gold and Silver. It turned out that there was about to be an open-air wedding in the garden outside the Casino, and the organist was warming up the crowd on his Yamaha keyboard. While we watched, the fountains spurted into life. Since the sun was out, we bought ice creams.

The clouds spilled in over the mountains as we left Baile Herculane, and a full-dress Carpathian thunderstorm broke as we arrived at the railway station, a couple of miles away at the foot of the valley. An electric loco clattered through with a four-coach local train to Turnu Severin, but it was pretty clear from the architecture that, small though it is, Baile Herculane’s railway station was always intended as the spa’s main portal to Vienna and Budapest. A display in the waiting room  recounted the days when the Orient Express would stop here during the spa season, so travellers from Paris to Bucharest or Istanbul could break their journey at the resort.

Then we headed south towards the Danube, and the Iron Gates – which is another world, and another story, really.





Victor Hely-Hutchinson’s Box of Delights


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The wolves are running

I first published this post about a forgotten giant of Birmingham musical life and his solitary, much-loved seasonal masterpiece a few years ago on an early, now defunct iteration of the CBSO blog, and I’ve reposted it on a couple of subsequent Christmases. I’m hoping to write something more substantial about Victor Hely-Hutchinson in time for the CBSO’s centenary in 2020, but in the meantime, this always seems to draw a reasonably lively response. So in the spirit of the season, I hope you’ll forgive me for putting it up again. Happy Christmas, folks!


So here it is, Merry Christmas, and we have it on unimpeachable authority that everybody is having fun. Forgive me: I lived in Wolverhampton for eight years (well, it was good enough for Percy Young) and Noddy Holder is like a god there.

I’m not the world’s greatest fan of seasonal pop music. But I am, however, a fan of Victor Hely-Hutchinson’s A Carol Symphony – a work with a deep connection to the English Midlands, and not just through its association with successive dramatisations of The Box of Delights. Here’s a blogpost I wrote in 2009 about the music and its (largely forgotten) composer. When it was first published I was delighted to receive a charming and kindly email from the composer’s then-78 year old son Christopher, who was living in Ludlow. Hopefully he still is.


Victor Hely-Hutchinson (1901-1947)

When I was 11, my younger sister and I were both captivated by the BBC’s TV adaptation of John Masefield’s The Box of Delights. She liked the fantastic story, and the Christmassy atmosphere; I liked the steam trains. But one thing that we both loved, and which seemed to capture the whole wintry magic of the thing, was the signature tune – which we could tell, even then, was “proper” music, not just a typical children’s TV theme (this being the early 1980s, the lack of synthesizers was the giveaway). Here’s that title sequence in full (warning, unseasonably noisy Youtube advert may play first!).

I asked my father if he knew what it was – not realising that a pre-war radio dramatisation of The Box of Delights, with the same music, had become a seasonal classic for an earlier generation. Or that my father – at much the same age – had asked exactly the same question. He pulled out a Classics for Pleasure LP with a snowy landscape on the cover. The piece on it was called Carol Symphony, and the composer was Victor Hely-Hutchinson.

Carol Symphony cover 1

Sleeve art the way it used to be.

The record-sleeve told us that he’d been born on Boxing Day 1901, and had been Regional Director of Music for the BBC in Birmingham. It wasn’t very easy to find out much more back then, but it is now, and for the full story, there’s an excellent online biography by his son John. In short, Christian Victor Hely-Hutchinson was born in Cape Town, studied music with Charles Villiers Stanford and Donald Tovey, and at the age of 12 played a Mozart piano concerto with the LSO. In 1933 he landed the Birmingham job, and rapidly involved himself with every part of the city’s musical life – not least the 13-year old City of Birmingham Orchestra and its then music director Leslie Heward.

Hely-Hutchinson never held an official post with the CBO – but he was a tireless supporter of the Orchestra throughout the 1930s and 40s. The CBSO’s performance record-cards from that period are dotted with the initials VHH – indicating that he’d written the programme notes for a particular work. He gave pre-concert lectures (he took a doctorate in 1941, though he’d held the Chair of Music at Birmingham University since 1934). He appeared as piano soloist with the orchestra, notably in Mozart concertos, and in 1944 he performed his own rhapsody The Young Idea (intriguingly subtitled “cum grano salis”) with George Weldon conducting. It’s recently been recorded by Dutton.

And he did it all with consummate professionalism. The CBO’s manager Gerald Forty (of the piano-makers Dale, Forty) remembered that:

His quiet confidence was most reassuring. I see him in my mind’s eye, sitting at my desk. He knocks out a half-smoked pipe, his inseparable companion: fills it, lights it, takes a few puffs – finds it won’t draw – scrapes it out, refills it, wastes more matches – and so on da capo. While my ashtrays were being filled, his mind was concentrated on the matter at hand, and with a remarkable economy of words, he stated his views and recommended a solution.

Leslie Heward

Leslie Heward

But it was during wartime that Hely-Hutchinson gave his greatest service to the CBO. In early 1940, while working as a volunteer Air Raid Precaution warden, he performed (from memory!) a complete cycle of Beethoven Piano Sonatas at the Birmingham and Midland Institute – in aid of Orchestra funds. Meanwhile, he corresponded regularly with Leslie Heward, then recovering in Romsley Sanatorium from the TB which was to kill him just three years later. When Heward died in May 1943, Hely-Hutchinson rallied to the support of the CBO. As Forty recalled:


Birmingham Town Hall in wartime. Hely-Hutchinson took part in ARP fire drills on the roof.

The problem of finding another conductor at short notice and of maintaining a full complement of players with War staring us in the face, was one of extreme perplexity; but Victor solved it by the apparently simple expedient of doing the entire job himself – including the compiling of programmes, rehearsing the orchestra (which he did anonymously and gratuitously for many years), conducting the concerts and dealing efficiently and decisively with the innumerable emergencies…

Hely Hutchinson was initially unconvinced by Heward’s successor, George Weldon, but with typical fair-mindedness was happy to revise his opinion after Weldon had settled into the post a year or so later:

“I want to tell you how right I think you were about George Weldon – and by the same token, I was wrong – eighteen months ago” he wrote to a colleague in June 1944. “As a pure musician, I cannot think him the equal of Leslie, but then, practically nobody is, and some of George’s performances – notably of Mozart – made me feel that he has the root of the matter in him”.

The following year, Hely-Hutchinson was offered the post of Director of Music for the BBC in London, and swapped his home near Droitwich for one in St John’s Wood. But he remained a familiar face in Birmingham music, and there was genuine shock in the city in March 1947 when the news arrived that he had died of pneumonia, aged just 45. The CBO paid its own tribute three weeks later, when Weldon conducted the first performance of Hely-Hutchinson’s recently-completed Symphony for Small Orchestra. (The concert was broadcast, and an incomplete recording survives in the CBSO archive).

Somehow, in this short but full musical life, Hely-Hutchinson found time to compose around 150 original works. The best known (by a country mile) is the Carol Symphony, from 1927, but there’s also an irresistible setting of Old Mother Hubbard “in the style of Handel”, which amusingly skewers the absurdities of baroque vocal style; and two shorter works, the Overture to a Pantomime and The Young Idea. Both have recently been recorded. They all show superb craftsmanship, a masterly ear for orchestral colour and a warm, thoroughly engaging sense of musical humour. They’d all merit an outing in the concert hall.

But the Carol Symphony has never quite left the repertoire (the most recent Birmingham performance was in December 2000). Far more than a mere seasonal medley, it’s actually a lovely and very English folk-song sinfonietta in four movements, in the spirit of Moeran, Vaughan Williams and John Ireland.

It’s packed with good things: the bustling mock-baroque figuration of the first movement (a sort of chorale-prelude on O Come All Ye Faithful), the jazzy, Walton-esque verve of the scherzo (God Rest Ye Merry); splashes of Handel, Elgar, and polytonal Stravinsky; the way Here We Come A-Wassailing trips in on the woodwind as the fugal finale bounds towards its grand, horn-trilling finish. And above all, that slow movement, in which Hely-Hutchinson sets the Coventry Carol to bleak, frozen harmonies that anticipate Vaughan Williams’ Sixth – and then, with dancing harp, muted strings and finally full orchestra, lightens our darkness with the gentlest and most enchanting setting ever made of The First Nowell.

A Box of Delights, indeed. Whatever else we remember him for, in the Carol Symphony Victor Hely-Hutchinson gave us something very special, and enduringly beautiful. Hely-Hutchinson’s CBO colleague and friend Gerald Forty, once more:

The Carol Symphony has become a standard Christmas piece for the City Orchestra: may it long continue to figure in those programmes as a reminder of the well-loved man to whom the City of Birmingham Orchestra and the Birmingham musical public owes so much.

Any copyrighted material is included as “fair use”, and will be removed at the request of copyright owner(s).

Review: English Symphony Orchestra in Cheltenham


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Johannes Brahms

JB in the ‘Nham

The Birmingham Post isn’t always able to post online everything that I’ve written for its print edition, so – after a suitable time lag (ideally you should go out and buy the paper) – I’ll be posting my recent reviews here. As per the print edition, they’re all fairly concise – just 250 words. This is of a performance at Cheltenham Town Hall on Tuesday 21 November 2017.

“Brahms premiere” said the online listing, and who wouldn’t want to hear that? A couple of years ago Kenneth Woods and the English Symphony Orchestra recorded an orchestral version of Elgar’s Piano Quintet. Now Woods has orchestrated Brahms’s Second Piano Quartet Op.26 to create what’s effectively a completely new Brahms symphony.

I’m sceptical about orchestral versions of chamber works. Woods feels differently, and I’m not going to take issue with that here. This was a labour of love, created over the best part of a decade, and my only serious reservation in this spirited premiere performance concerned Woods’s decision to give the opening motif to a quartet of horns in their fearsome top register: though this was apparently the idea that inspired the whole project. So it’s a case of take it or leave it, and – notwithstanding an occasional feeling that it was all perhaps a little too colourful for Brahms – it was far too enjoyable to leave.

And so many of Brahms’s ideas translated beautifully: clarinet and horn duetting in the slow movement; bassoon plodding under a lilting oboe duet; and leader Tijmen Huisingh sweetly delivering his second movement violin solo as a sort of homage to the First Symphony. Woods’s realisation of the third and most understated movement, in particular, sounded as if Brahms had actually conceived it for the orchestra. Any Brahms lover would be fascinated to hear this orchestration, and under Woods’s direction the ESO played it with whole-hearted commitment and verve.

And if that leaves no space to discuss the first half of the concert, and Alexander Sitkovetsky’s sweeping, heroic performance of Elgar’s Violin Concerto, I can only apologise. It’s just that under Woods’s artistic leadership, the ESO is an orchestra that gives you a lot to talk about.

Review: James Ehnes plays Bach


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The Birmingham Post isn’t always able to post online everything that I’ve written for its print edition, so – after a suitable time lag (ideally you should go out and buy the paper) – I’ll be posting my recent reviews here. As per the print edition, they’re all fairly concise – just 250 words. This is of a performance at the Barber Institute on Wednesday 15 November 2017.

Ah, Bach. That’s what The Bluffer’s Guide to Music suggests you say if you’re ever stumped for opinions on old JS. He’s the greatest composer in Western music, you see. Everybody says so. And if it’s your job to have opinions on classical music, and you’re a Bachsceptic – you don’t care for fugues, say, or your enthusiasm for Lutheran dogma wears thin after the first hundred cantatas – you learn to keep that to yourself. What’s that, a whole evening of unaccompanied violin music? Ah, Bach!

That said, if any violinist could convince a doubter, it’d be James Ehnes – a virtuoso of golden tone and old-school brilliance, who never lets either ego or (commanding) intelligence get between him and the composer. He cut a smart if unassuming figure as he walked out at the Barber Institute. And then; well, the first thing you noticed was his sound – rich, firm, lustrous and layered. He’s generous with vibrato: there wasn’t a single coarse sound. From the very first notes of the B minor Partita, his violin sang.

But it danced, too. For every movement like the Fugue of the A minor Sonata – a study in controlled tension – there was something like the whirling verve that he brought to the finales of the A minor and C major Sonatas. Ehnes never imposed himself: the character here sprang from Bach, and it was unstinting, with the translucent sound Ehnes found for the A minor Sonata giving way to a solar radiance in the C major Sonata’s massive fugue. And every note felt honest. I’ve never seen a Barber Institute audience give a standing ovation before – and given the quality of so many of the Barber’s recitals, that’s saying something. Especially from a Bachsceptic.

Review: I Fagiolini at Birmingham Town Hall


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Rainy day in Venice

 The Birmingham Post isn’t always able to post online everything that I’ve written for its print edition, so – after a suitable time lag (ideally you should go out and buy the paper) – I’ll be posting my recent reviews here. As per the print edition, they’re all fairly concise – just 250 words. This is of a performance at Birmingham Town Hall on Thursday 9 November 2017.

“The Other Vespers” was the title of this concert by I Fagiolini, and it was a bit of a tease. I Fagiolini approach everything with a twinkle in their eye, and the photos in the programme showed them in Italy, larking about on Vespa scooters (get it?) and generally enjoying la dolce vita. The point was that this wasn’t the famous Monteverdi Vespers of 1610: but a sequence of sacred music by various Italian baroque masters that Monteverdi is known (or plausibly assumed) to have directed in Venice some decades later.

Cue baroque music on a truly luxurious scale. The eight singers of I Fagiolini under Robert Hollingworth were accompanied by a continuo of chamber organ plus various sizes of theorbo, as well as two violins and the six-strong English Cornett and Sackbut Ensemble. Together, the sound they made was refulgent, and glowed rather than dazzled: in works like Gabrieli’s 14-part Magnificat, the harmonies built and shimmered like clouds of incense.

Elsewhere, the ensemble was used more sparingly, and there were some delightful discoveries: an Ave Verum by Palestrina had a warbling solo cornetto (just one) added by the Milanese vocalist Bovicelli – a sound halfway between a cor anglais and a duck-call. Instrumental items, including a marvellously florid violin sonata by Uccellini were interspersed with the sacred numbers.

But everything, sacred or profane, was informed by the same sense of playful inventiveness. It danced, as well as sang, and singers and instrumentalists alike improvised and ornamented their melodies. And if (to modern ears) it felt slightly anticlimactic to end with a solo item – Monteverdi’s Salve, O Regina, sung with languishing sweetness – it was a useful reminder that the real stars here were the composers.

Review: The Golden Dragon (Music Theatre Wales)


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The Golden Dragon - credit Clive Barda

Male cast member playing a female but racially non-specific cricket.

The Birmingham Post isn’t always able to post online everything that I’ve written for its print edition, so – after a suitable time lag (ideally you should go out and buy the paper) – I’ll be posting my recent reviews here. As per the print edition, they’re all fairly concise – just 250 words. This is a review of a performance at Birmingham Rep on Tuesday 3 October 2017, originally published in the Birmingham Post on 5 October.

The Golden Dragon is a “Thai – Chinese –  Vietnamese” restaurant. Four chefs stand at their stations, dicing and frying. A fifth – The Little One – sits on the floor chopping peppers and pak choi, a martyr to toothache. And behind them sits the orchestra of Music Theatre Wales, conducted by Geoffrey Paterson: unlikely kitchen staff in aprons and headbands. Peter Eötvös’s 2014 chamber opera has a striking premise, and director Michael McCarthy’s production establishes it with brilliant economy.

Then it’s down to the cast and Eötvös’s glistening, juddering score. Metallic percussion and guiro become the clang of knives, synthesiser chords billow into the air like fragrant steam, and squirming clarinets evoke The Little One’s nagging pain. His rotten tooth is the centre of a nest of interlocked tales of exile, exploitation and economic migration. And amidst the restlessness of Eötvös’s music, he’s the one who finds a macabre sort of transcendence, and the opera’s final, darkly beautiful flight of lyricism.

It’s all performed with needlepoint precision and exuberant physical verve by a multi-tasking cast: Lucy Schaufer’s Woman Over Sixty had a rough-cut compassion, while Daniel Norman and Johnny Herford never overcooked the comedic potential of tattooed, bearded men doubling as hair-flicking air stewardesses. Llio Evans’s Little One was unquestionably the heart of the drama, tender-voiced and poignantly resigned to his / her fate.

But for all its inventiveness The Golden Dragon left a sour aftertaste, even beyond its stereotyped representation of Chinese restaurants as unhygienic sweatshops, or the fact that only the western characters are permitted names. Librettist Roland Schimmelpfennig’s mixture of narration and direct speech means that the characters never acquire more depth than a cartoon: a serious problem in a story that uses sexual violence as a rhetorical device. Still, a programme note in unreadable academic prose justifies it all by reference to (who else?) Bertolt Brecht. So that’s alright then.

Iceland’s Bell


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Iceland 182

“My lord has not seen Iceland rise from the sea…” – Flatey in Breidafjordur, September 2013 (picture by Annette Rubery)

I wrote this longer-than-usual article in 2009 as a guest post on a blog about 18th century history, and it’s also appeared here as well.  It’s meant as an introduction to a favourite novel by one of my literary heroes, the Icelandic Nobel laureate Halldór Laxness, and it’s not supposed to be definitive: it’s aimed at an English-speaking non-specialist readership, with no particular grounding in Icelandic literature or culture. I’ve had no further opportunity to write about Laxness or Icelandic literature, but I’d be very keen to do so! (Contains spoilers)

If you love the 18th century, chances are you have a favourite historical novelist. It’s a boom area in literature – and an opportunity for readers to slip, for a few hours, into a world of classical terraces, elegant ballrooms, colonnaded mansions and rolling parkland. But in the right hands, readers have shown themselves more than willing to move beyond the world of Jane Austen and into ever more exotic terrain. Rose Tremain’s 1999 Whitbread award-winner Music and Silence, for example, found a wide readership for a story set in the Royal court of 1630s Denmark.

So here’s a historical novel also set, in part, at the Danish royal court, covering (roughly) the period 1700-1730: the age of the Great Northern War. Epic in scope, it sweeps across nations and seas, a story of oppression, suffering and intrigue; of boisterous humour, deep poetry and star-crossed romance. It’s by a great novelist; in fact, a Nobel laureate. And yet it’s barely known in the English-speaking world. It’s called ĺslandsklukkan Iceland’s Bell – and it’s by the Icelandic writer Halldór Laxness (1902-1998).

To be fair, until recently you’d have had to read it in Icelandic, or maybe German. Incredibly, Iceland’s Bell was only translated into English in 2003 (it was first published in 1945). Philip Roughton’s translation (which I’ve used throughout; with Icelandic letters such as đ [pronounced ‘th’] used about as consistently as Wordpress allows me) has only now given this extraordinary novel to English-speakers. But the 18th century-loving community still seems to have been rather slow to seize on it.

Maybe that’s because Laxness is best-known as a literary modernist; the author of powerful social-realist novels like Independent People (1934) and visionary psychedelia (Under The Glacier – 1968). You certainly wouldn’t guess from the cover of the Vintage edition that this was a historical novel. Maybe it’s because of the notorious English-speaker’s allergy to literature in translation (though if you can handle Tolkien’s imaginary names and places, you should be able to cope with Laxness’ genuine Icelandic ones). And maybe it’s because when you open Iceland’s Bell, you enter an authentic, brilliantly realised 18th century world that’s startlingly different from anything in Austen or Georgette Heyer.

How different? Well, here’s the oldest surviving building in the Icelandic capital, Reykjavík. It dates from 1762 – in other words, a good half-century later than the period chronicled in Iceland’s Bell:

Adalstraeti 10

At the start of the 18th century, Reykjavík simply didn’t exist as anything more than a tiny fishing settlement, and it doesn’t feature in Iceland’s Bell (for Laxness’ take on Reykjavík, try his enchanting coming-of-age novel The Fish Can Sing). But the fact that this was one of the biggest and most impressive residences in Iceland gives you some idea what to expect in the novel. True, it’s a story of noblemen, elegant ladies, country squires and great estates – but don’t picture Palladian mansions and jardins à l’anglaises. A couple of the locations featured in the novel survive today. Bessastađir, just outside modern Reykjavík, was the seat of the Danish regent, and it’s still the residence of the President of Iceland.

Bessastaðir today

Bessastaðir today (Wikimedia Commons)

This is where Jón Hreggviđsson is imprisoned near the start of the novel, and although it was extensively rebuilt from the 1760s onwards, it’s still on the same site. Here’s how it looked at the start of the 19th century. Remember, in the period of Iceland’s Bell this was by some way the biggest and most impressive building in Iceland – and it wasn’t even as grand as the structures in this picture:


Bessastaðir in 1834

Only slightly less imposing were the houses of the Danish Monopoly Merchants – the officials licensed by the Danish crown to control and manage all trade with its colony of Iceland. From 1602 to 1786 trade with Iceland was rigorously controlled by Denmark, and in the period of Iceland’s Bell all trade was forbidden except through licensed Merchants in designated Monopoly Ports. The result, unsurprisingly, was poverty and famine. Most Icelanders were subsistence farmers or fishermen, living in turf-roofed cottages. (In the novel, Jón Hreggviđson is initially convicted as a “cord-thief”, and throughout Iceland’s Bell, a shortage of fishing-cord is reported as Iceland’s most urgent problem. Icelanders couldn’t even feed themselves without it). In such circumstances, the monopoly merchant’s houses were symbols of unimaginable power and wealth.

And when you look at the surviving examples – such as the Husiđ in the monopoly port of Eyrarbakki (1765), today a museum – it’s impossible not to do a double-take. This is the very house where Squire Magnús of Braeđratunga passes out in the pigsty after selling his wife for a keg of brennivín, in Part 2 of Iceland’s Bell (Laxness stayed in Eyrarbakki to complete the novel). It’s about as grand as Georgian architecture got in Iceland. And it’s not exactly Blenheim Palace:


Husiđ at Eyrarbakki

This is the world in which Laxness chose to set his great historical novel. Like many of his literary choices, it proved controversial amongst his fellow Icelanders. Laxness was at the height of his career; ten years later, in 1955, he’d be awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature. He worked on the book over the period 1942-45. On 17th June 1944, after seven centuries of foreign rule, Iceland finally achieved independence from Denmark – though with the superpowers already positioning themselves for the Cold War to come, the young Republic’s future looked far from secure. National pride, and nationalist passions, were burning high. Now, at this historic moment, Iceland’s leading writer published a novel set in the most humiliating period of Iceland’s history.

Laxness makes his intentions clear from his very first page:

There was a time, it says in books, that the Icelandic people had only one national treasure: a bell. The bell hung fastened to the ridgepole at the gable-end of the courthouse at Thingvellir by Oxará. It was rung for court hearings and before executions, and was so ancient that no-one knew its true age any longer. The bell had been cracked for many years before this story begins, and the oldest folk thought they could remember it as having a clearer chime. All the same, the old folk still cherished it.


The church at Thingvellir in 2009 – picture by Annette Rubery

Anyone who’s ever been on a “Golden Circle ” tour in Iceland will have visited Thingvellir – the breathtaking natural gorge where, for nearly a thousand years, the Icelandic Parliament, the Althingi met annually in the open air. Today it’s a World Heritage Site; a wooden church (dating from the 19th century) has replaced the 17th century courthouse. The old bell, sent as a gift to Iceland by King Olaf of Norway in 1015, and known to Icelanders under colonial rule as “the nation’s sole possession”, really existed. And what happens next – like many of the events in Iceland’s Bell – really happened, too:

One year when the king decreed that the people of Iceland were to relinquish all of their brass and copper so that Copenhagen could be rebuilt following the war, men were sent to fetch the ancient bell at Thingvellir by Oxará.

The king’s hangman comes from Bessasađir with a work party of convicts, and the bell is cut down.

The pale emissary took a sledgehammer from a saddlebag, placed the ancient bell of Iceland on the doorstep before the courthouse, and gave the bell a blow […] the bell broke in two along its crack.

The nation’s last treasure has been hacked down and shattered. Laxness’ message could hardly be more clear. He hasn’t just set his novel in the darkest period in Icelandic history – he’s beginning his story at its absolute lowest point. But there’s worse to come. There’s a famine, and an epidemic. By the end of Iceland’s Bell, the island itself has been put up for sale by the king of Denmark – and even he can’t find a buyer.

Meanwhile – and almost as an aside – Laxness has set his story in motion. As the cord-thief Jón Hreggviđson unwillingly cuts down the bell, he cracks a scurrilous joke about the king. That’s a criminal offence. The legal action that ensues becomes the driving force of the whole novel, expanding, twisting back on itself, and eventually, over three decades drawing the whole of Icelandic society into its coils – right up to the king of Denmark himself. It’s a classic Icelandic narrative gambit. Throughout the 1940s, Laxness was engaged in editing new editions of the medieval Icelandic sagas. The single, rash, action leading to a legal dispute that embroils the whole nation (and punctuated by set-piece courtroom battles at Thingvellir), is an archetypal saga narrative. Laxness conceived Iceland’s Bell as a modern saga, and the famous line from Njál’s Saga (known to every Icelander) is a sort of unspoken ground-bass to Iceland’s Bell: “With laws shall our land be built up, but with lawlessness laid waste”.

 Laxness borrows a literary style from the sagas, too. We never read his characters’ thoughts or inner emotional conflicts. Like the anonymous saga poets, Laxness simply describes their words and actions – and lets us infer the emotions for ourselves. Instead of manipulating the reader’s feelings, Laxness prompts them. The effect is clear, objective and yet, at the book’s great climaxes, overwhelmingly moving.

And make no mistake, this is a story of epic range and emotion. Jón Hreggviđson’s decades-long struggle for justice is its backbone, and there’s no doubt that Hreggviđson – an illiterate, impertinent peasant-farmer, with seemingly endless reserves of stoicism and a head full of garbled medieval ballads – is the novel’s central figure. Hreggviđson (and the lawsuits he pursued from 1683 to 1715) really existed, but Laxness makes this near-forgotten 17th-century criminal a figure of universal significance.


Egill Skallagrímsson – from a 17th Century manuscript.

He’s the eternal underdog; resourceful, facetious and seemingly indestructible. Icelandic readers will have found traces of favourite saga-characters in his make-up – the buffoonish Björn from Njál’s Saga, the bullish Grettír the Strong, and of course the great trickster-poet Egill Skallagrímsson. English readers might be reminded of Baldrick. But Hreggviđson is very much his own man. Whether conscripted into the Danish army or wrestling with trolls on an Icelandic heath; flogged, abused, and pushed around by the mighty, he always comes back with the proud assertion that he’s descended from the saga-hero Gunnar of Hliđarendi – and throws in an apposite verse of his favourite Elder Ballad of Pontus.

Against his story, and intertwined with it, another very different narrative unfolds. And for many readers, the romance of the Lady Snaefriđur, “Iceland’s Sun”, and the King’s Antiquary, Lord Arnas Arnaeus makes Iceland’s Bell one of the most touching love stories in modern literature. Snaefriđur (literally “Fair as Snow”) is one of Laxness’ most beloved creations: daughter of Iceland’s senior magistrate, sister-in-law of the Bishop of Skálholt, she’s universally admired as Iceland’s loveliest and most nobly-born heiress. We meet her first as a figure from a fairy-tale:

She wore no hat, and her head shone with dishevelled hair. Her slender body was childishly supple, her eyes unworldly as the blue of heaven. Her comprehension was still limited only to the beauty of things, rather than to their usefulness, and thus the smile she displayed as she stepped into this house had nothing to do with human life.


“Snaefridur, Iceland’s Sun” – costume design from the 1950 National Theatre of Iceland stage version.

But Snaefriđur will soon learn about human life, and in full measure. Like Guðrún Ósvífursdóttir, the commanding heroine of Laxdaela Saga, she’s proud, determined and idealistic. She’s also in love – and is prepared to break the law, and bring about her own social and financial ruin rather than betray her emotions. One night at Thingvellir, she springs Jón Hreggviđson from the condemned cell and sends him with a ring and a message to her beloved in Denmark. Determined that if she can’t marry the “best of men”, she’d rather have the worst, she marries the brutish drunkard Magnús of Braeđratunga. Meanwhile she sacrifices her wealth, dignity and youth to pursue a long series of lawsuits against her true love, Arnas Arnaeus – who has ignored Hreggviđson’s message (but taken up his case), returned the ring, and quit Iceland in pursuit of a higher calling.

Iceland 151

Guðrún Ósvífursdóttir’s grave, from Helgafell – photo by Annette Rubery

Fire in Copenhagen, the final volume of Iceland’s Bell is dominated by his story, just as the second, The Fair Maiden is dominated by Snaefriđur, and the first, Iceland’s Bell focuses on Jón Hreggviđson. Court Assessor Arnas Arnaeus, the Royal Antiquary, is the highest ranking Icelander at the Danish court, and at first sight he’s little more than another Restoration dandy:

The aesthete in him spoke out from every seam, each pleat, every proportion in the cut of his clothing; his boots were of fine English leather. His wig, which he wore under his brimmed hat even amongst boors and beggars, was exquisitely fashioned, and was as smartly coiffured as if he were going to meet the king.

 But he enters Hreggviđson’s turf hovel in search of something more precious to him than his own status – fragments of old Icelandic parchments. His passion is the ancient literature of Iceland; to him, the proof that his stricken country once created great art. In his elegant Copenhagen townhouse, he collects a library of Icelandic sagas, ballads and poetry. Meanwhile he pays court (Fire in Copenhagen opens with a gorgeous set-piece description of a royal masque in the Danish capital), marries into money, and struggles to improve the lot of the Icelanders – making powerful enemies along the way. It’s all of it necessary to protect his priceless manuscripts, and sacrificing the love of his life is just part of the price that he decides to pay. The tragedy of their love is that Snaefriđur understands this too:

“Snaefriđur” he said as she turned to leave. He was suddenly standing very close to her. “What else could I have done but give Jón Hreggviđson the ring?”

“Nothing, Assessor”, she said.

“I wasn’t free,” he said. “I was bound by my work. Iceland owned me, the old books that I kept in Copenhagen – their demon was my demon, their Iceland was the only Iceland in existence. If I had come out in the spring on the Eyrarbakki boat, as I promised, I would have sold out Iceland. Every last one of my books would have fallen into the hands of my creditors. We would have ended up on some dilapidated estate, two highborn beggars. I would have abandoned myself to drink and would have sold you for brennivín, perhaps even cut off your head –“

She turned completely around and stared at him, then quickly took him by the hand, leaned her face in one swift movement up against his chest, and whispered:


She said nothing more, and he stroked her fair and magnificent hair once, then let her leave as she had intended.


The Great Fire of Copenhagen – contemporary print

Laxness based Arnas on the great Icelandic antiquarian Árni Magnússon (1663-1730). Magnússon, like Arnas Arnaeus, built a collection of Icelandic manuscripts in Copenhagen; and like him, led a troubled personal life. And his collection, too, was badly damaged in the Great Fire of Copenhagen in 1728, which forms the dramatic climax of Iceland’s Bell. But unlike Arnas’, it wasn’t completely destroyed. Three decades after Iceland gained independence, and Iceland’s Bell was published, the Danish government started to repatriate the Magnússon collection. Today, the manuscripts are protected by the Árni Magnússon Institute in Reykjavík, and the room that displays them in Reykjavík’s Culture House is a place of pilgrimage for lovers of European literature.


Arni Magnusson

Halldór Laxness doesn’t have quite such a happy end in store for his characters. But he wouldn’t be the writer he is if he didn’t somehow find hope in even the bleakest of circumstances. At one point in the novel, Arnas comments that his countrymen’s “one and only task is to keep their stories in memory until a better day”. In the closing pages of Iceland’s Bell, his life’s work is in ashes, Iceland is more abject than ever, and he has sacrificed love and career in vain. But one thing – one person – has survived it all; the indomitable Jón Hreggviđsson and his head full of poetry. Together, they ride to the harbour where Hreggviđsson, pardoned at last, is to take ship back to Iceland. And as always, the illiterate cord-thief has a verse for the occasion:

“Now I shall teach you an introductory verse from the Elder Ballad of Pontus, that you have never heard before,” he said.

Then he recited this verse:

“Folk will marvel at the story,
There on Iceland’s shore
When Hreggviđsson’s old grey and hoary
Head comes home once more.”

 After both had memorized the verse, they all sat in silence. The road was wet, causing the carriage to sway from side to side.

The Assessor remained lost in thought for some time, then finally looked at the farmer from Rein, smiled and said:

“Jón Marteinsson saved the Skálda. You were all that fell to my lot”.
Jón Hreggviđsson said: “Does my lord have any messages he would like me to deliver?”…

“You can tell them from me that Iceland has not been sold – not this time. They’ll understand later. Then you can hand them your pardon”.

“But shouldn’t I convey any greetings to anyone?” said Jón Hreggviđsson.

“Your old ruffled head – that shall be my greeting” said the Professor Antiquitatum Danicarum.

Arnas Arnaeus gives his life to the written word. Jón Hreggviđsson can’t even write, but his nation’s literary culture bubbles, unquenchably, beneath his “old ruffled head”. It takes a writer of Laxness’ vision to perceive that a nation’s literature can survive without books – but not without its humanity. When Laxness was awarded the Nobel Prize in 1955, the Swedish Academy’s citation was:

For his vivid epic power, which has renewed the great narrative art of Iceland.

 None of his novels embodies that spirit more stirringly than Iceland’s Bell. And nothing captures the spirit of the novel better than Laxness’ response to his career’s crowning moment. As the telegrams of congratulations poured in from around the world, Laxness realised that he couldn’t respond to them all. So he decided to respond only to one – a message of “lycka til” [congratulations] from the Sundsvall Society of Pipe Layers, in northern Sweden. In other words, sewage-workers. Praised by the whole world, Laxness was moved above all by the idea that “men who bent double over pipes, deep in the ground, should climb out of their drains in the midst of the winter in Sundsvall, in order to shout ‘hurrah for literature’”.

August 2009