It is raining here in England. It isn’t as bad here in the South as the 12 inches that fell in one day up in the Lake District in the North West over the weekend where there have been major floods and at least one death. So who am I to complain?
It is still raining though and the skies are grey. My friend Horace the spider has gone, one of my favourite opera singers, the great Swedish singing actress, Elizabeth Soderstrom has died, the American Republicans are trying to spoil things for nice Barrack Obama and I have got the ‘flu.
So who am I to complain?
It isn’t the Mexican, swinish ‘flu, well I don’t think it is…maybe my Spanish isn’t good enough to tell. It all came on rather unexpectedly the other day. I went for a singing lesson in Brighton on Friday afternoon feeling a few degrees under. The rain was drizzling as I walked up the hill to my teacher’s house. Oddly these lessons happen in a street just behind the school that I attended between the ages of 13 and 18 so I have to pass the playing fields on my way to the latest piece of education in my life.
In those fields boys were playing rugby in the rain just like I used to have to all those years ago – they looked a bit better than me though as I could only ever do anything worth while in rugby when I was angry and that didn’t happen very often.
The lesson went well, even if my voice was more of a gargle than usual but by the time it was over I was feeling genuinely ‘flu struck.
I would have been “off games” at school but no such blessing now that I have control over my own life. These days I just have to get on with it but who am I to complain?
A few paracetamol, only two or you’re dead the doctors say, with a glass of water and then off to bed to sweat it out.
The trouble is that is so boring so I kept getting up and trying to be well again.
A nice uppa tea tastes like cleaning fluid, coffee, my principal addiction, is totally unpalatable and food is just not on the agenda. The very idea conjures up road kill and compost heaps.
So I look at the rain, listen to the rain and enjoy the view from the window as people hurry below me with umbrellas held down against the torrent.
Some music maybe? I am listening to classical music written in 1862 at the moment and the piece in the machine is Rossini’s La Petite Messe Solennelle.
Rossini now he will always cheer a guy up you would think…….one of my favourite composers, that perfect mix of humour, neurosis, melody and virtuosity. That should do the trick.
La Petite Messe Solennelle was his last major piece written for some over priviledged but probably mildly entertaining Parisienne princess’ private chapel where the orchestral forces were naturally pretty limited. Rossini therefore wrote it for chorus (of at least eight, he specifies optimistically), four world class operatic voices, two pianos and a harmonium.
I came across this work when I was still at school, yes, at the very establishment where those rain-sodden rugby players ushered in my malaise. As an enthusiastic singer at school I was thrilled when I first heard that we were to perform Rossini at a choral concert. The work has been playing somewhere in the back of my brain ever since.
So did it cheer me up? Did it heck!
There is one thing about singing the piece – it is exhilarating and complex piece which absorbed and amused me from day one – but sitting listening to it on a rainy day with ‘flu was something different.
The piano and harmonium parts combined with an ecclesiastical setting add a surreal and distancing effect to the expected combination of chorus and solo singers where often the vocal lines are straight from the old master’s high operatic style.
Rossini, who would die six years later from an unpleasant and painful condition effecting those anatomical bits that gentlemen shouldn’t mention, suffered from depression which may well have been behind his absurdly early retirement from opera at the rock’n roll age of 27 when he was the most famous and most successful composer in the World.
The handsomely romantic young genius then ate and joked his way to fat, wrote a tiny handful of pieces including this one and for all his witty dinner parties, his culinary expertise and his shrewd criticism of the World around him, he sunk into a slough of misery which you can hear behind the jauntiness of the music in his mass. The composer Meyerbeer, who was at the first performance left in tears.
So I wasn’t cheered up by Rossini, just as coffee could do nothing for me or, at a later attempt, a glass of Italian white wine which tasted like after-shave. None of these things cheered me up because I don’t really need cheering up.
I am not Rossini with his dodgy dangling bits, I am not playing rugby on a sodden pitch, I am not scraping sewage from the floor of my flooded house and I rather like the sight of rain on slate roofs and shining black umbrellas. I am not Barack Obama either who must awake every morning wishing he could get back under the covers with two paracetamols and a glass of water.
I am fine. I got to hear my friends the Foxes!’s new album which is great and a part of me felt like joining my American friends in Thanksgiving.