X

Create an account to continue reading.

Registered readers have access to our blogs and a limited number of magazine articles
For unlimited access to The Spectator, subscribe below

Registered readers have access to our blogs and a limited number of magazine articles

Sign in to continue

Already have an account?

What's my subscriber number?

Subscribe now from £1 a week

Online

Unlimited access to The Spectator including the full archive from 1828

Print

Weekly delivery of the magazine

App

Phone & tablet edition of the magazine

Spectator Club

Subscriber-only offers, events and discounts
 
View subscription offers

Already a subscriber?

or

Subscribe now for unlimited access

ALL FROM JUST £1 A WEEK

View subscription offers

Thank you for creating your account – To update your details click here to manage your account

Thank you for creating your account – To update your details click here to manage your account

Thank you for creating an account – Your subscriber number was not recognised though. To link your subscription visit the My Account page

Thank you for creating your account – To update your details click here to manage your account

X

Login

Don't have an account? Sign up
X

Subscription expired

Your subscription has expired. Please go to My Account to renew it or view subscription offers.

X

Forgot Password

Please check your email

If the email address you entered is associated with a web account on our system, you will receive an email from us with instructions for resetting your password.

If you don't receive this email, please check your junk mail folder.

X

It's time to subscribe.

You've read all your free Spectator magazine articles for this month.

Subscribe now for unlimited access – from just £1 a week

You've read all your free Spectator magazine articles for this month.

Subscribe now for unlimited access

Online

Unlimited access to The Spectator including the full archive from 1828

Print

Weekly delivery of the magazine

App

Phone & tablet edition of the magazine

Spectator Club

Subscriber-only offers, events and discounts
X

Sign up

What's my subscriber number? Already have an account?

Thank you for creating your account – To update your details click here to manage your account

Thank you for creating your account – To update your details click here to manage your account

Thank you for creating an account – Your subscriber number was not recognised though. To link your subscription visit the My Account page

Thank you for creating your account – To update your details click here to manage your account

X

Your subscriber number is the 8 digit number printed above your name on the address sheet sent with your magazine each week.

Entering your subscriber number will enable full access to all magazine articles on the site.

If you cannot find your subscriber number then please contact us on customerhelp@subscriptions.co.uk or call 0330 333 0050.

You can create an account in the meantime and link your subscription at a later time. Simply visit the My Account page, enter your subscriber number in the relevant field and click 'submit changes'.

Please note: Previously subscribers used a 'WebID' to log into the website. Your subscriber number is not the same as the WebID. Please ensure you use the subscriber number when you link your subscription.

Culture House Daily

When The Spectator helped butcher Richard Strauss

11 June 2014

10:34 AM

11 June 2014

10:34 AM

To be honest I’m not certain that Michael Nyman, The Spectator‘s music critic in the late 60s, was one of the performers on this infamous (and in my opinion greatest) recording of Richard Strauss’s Also Sprach Zarathustra. But what is certain is that Nyman (alongside Brian Eno and Gavin Bryars) did become an enthusiastic member of the Portsmouth Sinfonia and had been a fan ever since he first witnessed one of their deliberately execrable concerts:

‘I sat through the first half… and I was so moved and entertained and excited by the music that I went up to Gavin [Bryars] in the interval and said, ‘Is there a spare instrument? I’d like to join.’ They had a spare cello, so suddenly I was playing In the Hall of the Mountain King in the second half.’

For those who don’t know what was so special about the Sinfonia, listen to the recording above. We’re not talking about a few fluffed notes. What you hear is cataclysmically, self-destructively awful playing. And though it’s hard not to laugh, the point was deadly serious. The orchestra was packed with the cream of the British classical avant-garde, its logic rooted in the most eminent ideas of contemporary composition and its achievements were in some ways a pinnacle of experimentalism.

[Alt-Text]


The point was no one was told to play badly. Everyone had to play either an instrument that they couldn’t play well, or in a way that meant that playing well wasn’t an option. Everyone had to be trying their very best in other words – even if that still meant playing their worst. The result was a glorious mess, producing a sound that was strangely fresh and powerful – and very funny.

It got them into trouble with publishers though. The orchestra’s manager Martin Lewis once told The Sunday Times how the publishing house of Also Sprach served the Sinfonia ‘with a cease-and-desist order’.

‘To Lewis’s eternal regret, the case never came to court. “I wanted to bring the whole orchestra in as witnesses. They complained that we’d rearranged the piece, and we said, ‘No, we haven’t, we just haven’t been able to play it very well.'”‘

Anyway, happy birthday Richard Strauss. (I’m sure he’d understand.)

Subscribe to The Spectator today for a quality of argument not found in any other publication. Get more Spectator for less – just £12 for 12 issues.


Show comments
Close