The Pick - Notes and Letters

October 6, 2011

Notes and Letters


How and what does music manage to communicate - and how far can the process be described in words? Does contemporary physics confirm ancient ideas about "the music of the spheres"? What has made Sir Peter Maxwell Davies, one of today's leading composers, turn to characters ranging from the demigod Orpheus to the deranged King George III? And might it make sense to describe Gustav Mahler, who died a century ago, as the first modern celebrity?

All this and much more comes up for discussion at this new festival, which takes over King's Place for the weekend of 7-9 October and operates at the interface between words and music.

The opening night features the London debut of the "spoken-word musical" Say Hi to the Rivers and the Mountains. Jonathan Coe's story of thwarted love on a housing estate, which follows its central characters from childhood to middle age, is interwoven with music by Sean O'Hagan of the High Llamas.

Later, former children's laureate Michael Rosen joins forces with the Homemade Orchestra for a glorious mixture of poetry, jazz, nonsense, whirring cars and wailing solos.

Helen Berry, reader in early modern history at Newcastle University, unearths some gripping and salacious stories of the "castrati and other curiosities of Georgian England".

And Marina Warner, professor of literature, film and theatre studies at the University of Essex, gives a talk illustrated with lavish musical extracts considering why composers have kept returning to the tales and unique atmosphere of the Arabian Nights.

Although many attempts at symphonies in words and novels in music have been spectacular failures, Will Self argues that musical and literary forms have also exerted significant and fruitful influences on each other.

Author and comedian A.L. Kennedy reflects on the links between writers' speaking voices, the voices they carry around in their heads and the voices they create on the page. Simon Rees, dramaturge of the Welsh National Opera, explores the challenges libretto translators face in getting the words to fit the music. And other translators look at how highly distinctive "voices" can be made to "sing" in another language, with Anthea Bell surveying a career ranging from Asterix cartoons to Stefan Zweig and other literary classics, while Ros Schwartz and Sarah Ardizzone describe their experiences of translating The Little Prince in its original form and as a bold new graphic novel.

Nor will letters in the missive sense be neglected. Diana Athill discusses her correspondence with the American poet Edward Field, which was published this year as Instead of a Book: Letters to a Friend. And novelist Ahdaf Soueif recalls the Letter to Cairo she wrote for BBC Radio 4 at the start of the recent uprising - and why she has continued her one-sided dialogue with her beloved native city.

to read this article.

Register to continue

Get a month's unlimited access to THE content online. Just register and complete your career summary.

Registration is free and only takes a moment. Once registered you can read a total of 3 articles each month, plus:

  • Sign up for the editor's highlights
  • Receive World University Rankings news first
  • Get job alerts, shortlist jobs and save job searches
  • Participate in reader discussions and post comments