Once Works Well was pure technology. Now it seeks merely to divert.
Pansy subjects - Verse! Opera! Domestic trivia! - are now commonplace.
The 300-word limit for posts is retained. The ego is enlarged

Saturday, 22 August 2009

Happy birthday, Yorkshire lass

Janet Baker
Born August 21 1933


Stark contrast with the manly role of knight,
The faintly pantomimic joke of dame
Arrived, the way things do, as a polite
If regal tick against the box of fame.
Singer and monarch shared the irony
Of heavy faces and of reticence
And thus the honour’s ambiguity
Tended towards the side of temperance.
A world away from deep-set souvenirs
Of Dido, Dorabella, Orfeo,
The Mahler songs and Handel’s baroque airs:
Intemperate outcome of a voice aglow.
The titled name a grace note lacking grace,
The music permanent in time and space.

6 comments:

Lucy said...

Yes, the ironic way the person being honoured and all that rather dead-weightiness sits against the 'voice aglow' and all that passion...

Intriguingly observed.

Barrett Bonden said...

Thanks for that. Glad you spotted it all. It occurred to me that readers from foreign parts, unaware of the idiocy of our honours system, might find it incomprehensible. Of course, there's always the L├ęgion d'Honneur. Somewhat drunk at a press conference I asked a beribboned French captain of industry whether he wore it with his pyjamas. His reaction showed I had touched a raw nerve.

The Crow said...

So, the honor is more of a burden?

Barrett Bonden said...

The Crow: Janet Baker retired about twenty years ago; she was Britain's greatest mezzo-soprano (probably Britain's greatest woman singer of modern times) and it was inevitable she would attract the sort of honours handed out by the Queen. (In fact I only recently discovered she was made a Companion of Honour, a much more worthwhile form of recognition). But whereas male singers are knighted (eg, Sir Geraint Evans) she became Dame Janet Baker. This has always seemed an ambiguously comic honorific and yet to some extent it suited her: physically she has a rather jowly face which resembles that of the Queen. All this official nonsense was in direct contrast with her achievements in music, some of which I have listed. Both Mrs BB and I are great fans and we recently went to a supposedly rated performance of Purcell's "Dido and Aeneas" which to us was a flop. Rather cruelly, when we got home, we played Dame Janet's version of Dido's Lament to reassure outselves about how it should sound.

Plutarch said...

I have know of your admiration for Janet Baker almost as long as I have known you. Your sonnet is testimony not only to the greatness of the singer and to the oddity of our honours system, but to the quality of the sonnet as a verse form which concentrates feeling and expresses ideas about them and their subject, briefly, and I'll say it again, wittily. Even the rhyming couplet at the end, with its 18th Century (it's worthy of Pope) undertones,carries with it into the year 2009, a pleasing irony.

Word verification, "shines" is appropriate appropriate.

Barrett Bonden said...

Plutarch: I owe part of the sonnet to Mrs BB. We had just listened to an LP of Bach arias and she turned to me with: "To be able to sing like that while looking like the Queen." My aim with verse is to recycle all the great observations I have been exposed to.