‘… and don’t call me Shelley.’

brucknermemeAs it happens,  I’m not really the kind of person who pays attention to ‘internet memes’ based on photos of cute kids; but since this example is just about the only one I’ve ever seen that has a ‘classical music’ aspect, I thought I’d give it a go here — and do a little coding trick so that a music clip starts playing automatically…

[Don’t worry: it’s only a short clip. And in any case, there’s a real possibility that your own computer will block my ‘autoplay’ instruction — in which case you’ll have to click the following panel for yourself…  Either way, I’ll get back to you after the clip is finished!]

All right, that’s enough meme-based amusement for the time being.

Now, I don’t believe I’ve mentioned Bruckner before on this blog; but he is in fact a composer whose music is very important to me. And in the last few weeks his symphonic output has been on my mind a fair bit. Let me reveal a few of the reasons why…

bruckner-_34First of all, I was lucky enough to have an enquiry distributed worldwide by The Bruckner Society of America — since its head, John F. Berky, very kindly put a message of mine into a couple of the Society’s electronic mail-outs.

What I’d wanted to know was whether I could reach anyone who possessed (or just knew about!) any old off-air tape-recordings of music talks by Deryck Cooke, Hans Keller and Robert Simpson. Regular readers of this blog will know that these three figures from the old BBC are broadcasting heroes of mine, and that I’ve been circulating such appeals for ages (see here, for example). The sad truth, though, is that it’s getting harder and harder to find surviving recordings…


Robert Simpson (1921-97)

Happily, though, the ‘Bruckner community’ didn’t let me — or broadcasting history! — down: I had a reply from a chap who revealed that he’d actually kept two old recordings of talks in which Robert Simpson discussed Bruckner symphonies. Very generously, he then made CD copies and sent them to me in the post — and these discs will very soon be archived in a safe and secure place where music students will be able to access them. As the saying has it: ‘Result!’ — and a big ‘thank you’ to the Bruckner fan concerned.

Naturally, my sincere thanks go to John F. Berky and the Bruckner Society of America in addition: I do hope readers will have a look at their terrific website — and consider signing up for the regular Newsletter!

Shelleydvd.jpgAnother reason Bruckner has been on my mind these last several weeks is — believe it or not! — that someone mentioned to me that episodes from the old TV comedy Shelley (1979-84; 1988-92) have been released on DVD. When I was a kid, I used to be fond of this sit-com; and, though I felt that it had ‘run out of steam’ quite a long way before the end of its tenth and final series, I did see some of the later episodes as well. And in one of them — from the stage when the infamously workshy titular character had actually found a steady job in a TV advertising firm — I heard a line that my memory has preserved as follows, uttered at a point when (I think) some director of TV commercials was due to visit the office…

Shelley: Did you see his latest ad? It was terrible! The actors couldn’t act. The script was awful. And the music! It was like something from Bruckner’s Ninth…

https://quintessentialruminations.files.wordpress.com/2011/11/bruckner-conducting.jpgMe being me, I’ve always felt that this joke constituted one of those valuable ‘comedy barometer’ moments that popular culture sometimes provides. For it was obvious to me, back in the 1980s, that the audience didn’t need to know a thing about Bruckner — or even to have heard his name before! — in order to guess what the gag was all about: whoever this ‘Bruckner’ was, it was apparent that his ‘Ninth’ must be something huge, complex and heavy — the kind of music that wouldn’t be at all likely to make a positive impact in the tiny and lightweight medium of the TV ad.

Now, there’s something else l want to say about this gag; but first I want to reveal how the writers got a payoff from it a little later. Yes: according to my memory, it wasn’t long before Shelley went out into the corridor and bumped into the director in question…

Director: Oh, Shelley: tell me — did you see my new commercial?

Shelley: Yes, I did. And I thought it was … wonderful! Especially the music!

Director: I’m so glad you liked that: it was based on Bruckner’s Ninth…

And now that everyone is happily smiling, I’ll hit you with my ‘something else’. You see, I think what we’ve all been enjoying is a gag that wouldn’t work any more: we no longer have the kind of society in which a high-cultural reference of that kind is within imaginary reach of the general member of that ‘under-40’ demographic whose supposed needs and presumed spending power now dominate every facet of our culture. Since the late 1980s, I’ve actually watched our Bruckner gag becoming, as it were, more and more impossible — to the point that, today, I am absolutely convinced that an overwhelming majority of TV-viewing faces would go completely blank if a comedy show tried it on them.

And in case you don’t believe me, here’s an extract from a real conversation I had at coffee-time the other day with an office-worker in her mid/late 20s. She’s been to university; she can spell; she has a responsible job; and she earns more than I do. And yet…

Me: Do you ever watch TV sit-coms and things like that?

Her: Yes. Sometimes. Why?

Me: I’m just wondering about something I heard in an old comedy show. Do you know what ‘Beethoven’s Fifth’ means…?

Her: No.

https://i1.wp.com/www.austria.info/media/17083/thumbnails/00000019824-anton-bruckner-portraet-im-stift-st-florian-oesterreich-werbung-Trumler.3114700.jpg.3114713.jpgYou’ll see my point: if Beethoven and his Fifth Symphony — both of them formerly among the most universally known-about things to emerge from the world of ‘classical’ music — have receded from the consciousness of even university-educated people born after 1990, then ‘Bruckner’s Ninth’ is not going to be recoverable even as a comedy concept.

Which means, of course, that we need to do something about it. What follows is a short clip from ‘Bruckner’s Ninth’ which I’m hoping every reader of this posting will now share with the outside world by pasting my shortlink —


— into every online space they can think of: on Facebook, on Twitter, in emails to friends, and everywhere else. Our closing clip is less than two minutes long — yet it contains something very characteristic of this unique composer. A person who’s never heard a note of his music before will come away from this tiny extract having heard, at the end, a terrific example of what Deryck Cooke used to call ‘the Bruckner “blaze-up”‘…

So please do spread this about, people. In the nature of things, there’ll be a lot of folks out there who’ve never heard anything like this — and plenty of them will be grateful to have been led to it. Seriously: I mean it. I’ve taught courses on Bruckner, so I’ve seen it for myself.

https://markdoran.files.wordpress.com/2016/02/60f09-jan-van-endert-ghetto-blaster_ralffam2.jpgOf course, different people will be grateful for different reasons. One or two of them might find that a decades-old joke on a DVD finally makes sense to them. Others will actually have their musical minds blown when they hear our clip — and will begin a lifetime’s journey into the work of this great composer. And I daresay there’ll be more than a few who simply have noisy neighbours…


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