Love is all there is


At the end of it all, after fifteen hours of rollercoaster music, words and drama, Brunnhilde gives thrilling voice to:

Siegfried! Siegfried! See!
Brünnhild’ greets thee in bliss

And spurs her horse, Grane, onto Siegfried’s funeral pyre, to burn in the arms of her hero.

Know’st thou now to whom
and whither I lead thee?
In fire radiant, lies there thy lord,
Siegfried, my hero blest.
To follow thy master, joyfully neigh’st thou?
Lures thee to him the light with its laughter?
Feel, too, my bosom, how it doth burn;
glowing flames now lay hold on my heart:
fast to enfold him, embraced by his arms,
in might of our loving with him aye made one!
Heiajaho! Grane! Give him thy greeting!

(Leipzig Opera projected a deliberately archaic 1904 translation by Frederick Jameson. Even those of us for whom English is a native language, struggled. Reck? Rede? Reft? Leman? Guerdon?)

Whatever – the hall of the Gibichungs then catches fire, the Rhine bursts its banks, and Valhalla, the fortress of the gods, burns and falls. Only the Rhinemaidens rejoice in the gold they’ve repossessed, stolen from them fourteen and a half hours earlier. We’re back where we started.

Was it worth it?

Well, for a start, it’s a different world. The Gods have perished, the world ash tree has become kindling, and the Norns (finally!) have abandoned their wretched spinning of Fate. Fate has been fulfilled, Fate itself is broken.

We must make what we can of that, and of what remains – a world redeemed by love. Amidst the chaos of World Order’s end the orchestra plays the serene and uplifting motif of Redemption. There is hope.

Most of Wagner’s protagonists wanted a different ending – untrammelled power for Wotan, and for Alberich too (neither is the other’s moral superior), five-star hotels and first-class travel, perhaps, for Gutrune, a comfortable married life for Siegmund, eternal life and youth for the minor gods – but power ended up corrupting its possessors, love proved insufficient, both as instrument and consolation, and possessions have proved a curse. Only love – intense, transient and fragile – has possessed true value. It might have been lost, thwarted or defeated, but at its most intense it was eternal.

In Wagner’s music-theatre love creates a world outside time, neither living nor dying. an ideal independent of embodiment, or knowledge or character. It has no future, no past.

It’s noisy, too.

And if that’s how it was for Wagner, he was a lucky man, though the rest of us would gladly do without the liebestod and the immolation, and settle instead for a milky drink at bedtime.

But even Philip Larkin, whose English blood flowed more temperately than Wagner’s, had this to say of an effigy of a married couple, hands clasped in death, on an Arundel tomb:

Time has transfigured them into 
Untruth. The stone fidelity
They hardly meant has come to be  
Their final blazon, and to prove  
Our almost-instinct almost true:  
What will survive of us is love.


For more about love, power, redemption, music and musicians see gigglemusic.

Hard to love

If I were to come across Siegfried on a dating site (Tinder, I think, not Grindr), I’d swipe him left without a moment’s hesitation.

His profile might look like this:


Siegfried 2 (2)

Name: Siegfried von Walsung

Gender: Teutonic

Languages: German, Woodbird

Occupation: Swordsmith, dragon-slayer

Sexuality: There was a moment on the mountain top when I thought Brunnhilde was a man, but on the whole I think I’m straight…

Body type: Athletic (though can look paunchy and middle-aged)

Fetishes: Armour’s nice

About me: Uneducated, ungrateful and unfeeling. Also cruel and violent if crossed. Courageous (I feel no fear – does that make me brave?). Like older women, especially if they’re family (I never met a woman before I met Brunnhilde, and it was kind of exciting to discover she’s my aunt).

Looking for: Glorious brides


Nonsense aside, what’s there to like about Siegfried? He’s an oafish idiot, too stupid for fear (courage is surely the mastery of fear, not its absence). He’s only attractive if he can sing well, as last night’s Siegfried (Stefan Vinke) did (though not quite as well as Brunnhilde (Daniela Kohler)). The idea of Siegfried as the epitome of German manhood appals me, so let’s be grateful that the modern German adolescent venerates Conchita Wurst.


What did Wagner, and his devotees, see in Siegfried? The strong, free man, unburdened by expertise? The man of destiny?

Freedom lies in knowledge, in education and compassion, in the rejection of the seductive lies that underpin nationality. A proper fear of what can go wrong with the world is part of freedom too. Fear is good.

As it happens, Siegfried’s incinerated remains are buried beneath a monument on the outskirts of Leipzig. It’s a shrine to the marvels and mysteries of masculinity (vats of testosterone were mixed with the concrete used for its construction). The vast granite structure has lasted a thousand years. Some say Siegfried merely slumbers (members of the ADF on the whole) but they’ve waited in vain, so far, for his return. What’s more, his reassembly would be a harder task than Siegfried’s re-forging of his father’s shattered sword. There’s no more than an egg-cup of cinders. Wrest Nothung from the granite block in which it’s rested since the curtain came down on Gotterdammerung and you might acquire the mantle of heroism yourself.

On the other hand, better don’t try. We’ve had enough of heroes.



You need more than love

You Need More

Dexter Dalwood‘s You need more than love hangs in the hallway of my flat in Prague. It’s a realist’s take on the Beatles’ All You Need is Love. Party over, drumkit and flowers abandoned, the Summer of Love has given way to an Autumn of emptiness.

Wagner’s Die Walkure, which I saw last night in Leipzig, is another (though lengthier) demonstration of love’s insufficiency. We want to believe that love can conquer all. Fricka will encourage Wotan to help Siegmund defeat Hunding. Brunnhilde, Wotan’s daughter, will drag so many dead heroes back to Valhalla that the hall will soon be full of mead-swilling, sword-swinging louts. Wotan’s rule will be assured ad infinitum, just like Putin’s. Siegmund and Sieglinde will live and love each other forever, never mind who does the ironing. They’ll breed more Walsungs and wrest the ring from Fafner’s grasp. They might even return it to the Rhinemaidens, though I’m less sure of that – love doesn’t necessarily exclude megalomania. Whatever, they’ll all live happily ever after.

But that’s not how it goes, and it probably wouldn’t engage us as deeply if it did (though we’d be done in two days and it would cost us less). Happy endings are rarely persuasive. The runes inscribed on Wotan’s spear, Fricka’s responsibilities as Minister of Marriage, Wotan’s duty to punish the transgressions of his daughter, all conspire to thwart Wagner’s Summer of Love.  Compelling and irresistible it may be – some think it the supreme form of human bliss  though I prefer music –  love nevertheless isn’t enough, whether filial, conjugal, paternal or incestuously romantic (Sieglinde and Siegmund, after all, are siblings). It doesn’t protect. It doesn’t pay the bills. It doesn’t preserve world order.

That may not be good news but it’s true.

Find out more about love, music and musicians on gigglemusic.

You don’t need love


If you’re hairy, stubbly, shabby and malodorous, Wagner seems to say, choose lucre over love. It’s clearly the right choice for Alberich. Rejected by a trio of shallow, promiscuous Rhinemaidens, too lazy to find his inner beauty, and humiliated by their emasculating mockery, Alberich does the right thing, IMHO, foreswearing the complications and disappointments of love in favour of money and power.

Such a shame, then, that his blue-collar talents for physical cruelty and exploitation prove no match for the patrician white-collar wiliness of head-god Wotan and his mob. The world, then as now, belongs to the Establishment, to the idle, hypocritical rich and their retinues of legal experts, fixers and money men.

It’s not as if love gets a very good press. Wotan’s tired, tedious marriage to hoity-toity Fricka is no advertisement for long-term love. Frolic with the Rhinemaidens and they’ll drag you down and drown you. As for lucre over love, Fafner and Fasolt – lumpen, trusting labour at its most worthy – are on Alberich’s side, renouncing claims to the voluptuous Freia in favour of a large pile of gold – though they fall out murderously just a few minutes later. (In any case, it’s hard to imagine Freia in the giants’ front room at Riesenheim.) As for the other gods – smug singletons every one of them.

The human frailties of Wagner’s characters in Das Rheingold – folly, hubris, vanity, cruelty, greed and spite – are sympathetically exposed by a Leipzig Opera production that emphasises the human over the divine or supernatural. It’s easier to empathise with an Alberich who doesn’t snarl.

Wagner’s protagonists are an unattractive bunch and I wouldn’t change places with any of them. Though the corpse count as the curtain comes down is one, I don’t think things will work out well for the rest of them.

The music, as always, is glorious – the tragedy of human fallibility beamed directly and powerfully to our hearts and minds in a way that no one else has managed.

Find out more about love, music and musicians on gigglemusic.

Bach’s Bongs

I’m bothered by Boris’s boorish ‘Bung a Bob for a Big Ben Bong’ and all the other brayings of the British Brexiteers. They don’t quite cause me sleepless nights but when I woke in the early hours of this morning to the bonging of Bach’s bells from the Thomaskirche, near my AirBnB in Leipzig, it was a sweeter sound, to my ears, than any Bong for Brexit could ever be.

I’m in Leipzig for Wagner’s Ring, and a preliminary evening of Bernstein’s Candide. Pacing the well-ordered streets of this cultivated German city I sense that its citizens are happily Leipziggers, Saxons, Germans, Europeans and citizens of the world, without the little-England identity angst so many of my fellow citizens feel.

If Big Ben bongs for Brexit it will toll balefully for me.


The Great Composers

No one likes to arrive too early at a party. There’s no one to talk to and nowhere to hide. You can’t leave without being conspicuously rude.  In due course you find yourself talking about car insurance (or worse still, Brexit) with other new arrivals. Of course, there’s the decor to look at (paintings you don’t much like) and there’s the buffet, tempting but as yet untouchable.

As hosts, though, we’re always grateful to those who arrive early and get things going.

New social networks have a hard time too. What’s the point of joining if no one’s there?

In gigglemusic, our new social network for classical musicians, we try to solve that problem by offering new users content that doesn’t depend on the community being large. We’ve uploaded the schedules of major classical music venues around the world (for the moment mainly opera houses).

We’ve also entered the ‘diaries’ of the world’s greatest composers – well, the greatest composers writing within the Western tradition or having some significant influence on it. By their diaries I mean their dates and places of birth and death (though many are still alive and kicking) and the dates and places of the first performances of their major works. Almost all of this comes from Wikipedia.

It may be a bit like trainspotting, but I, for one, find it mildly interesting to know where this or that masterpiece was first performed, and when.

To review a composer’s diary, start with People, open a profile, tap Diary and then scroll up to go back in time. Tap on an individual work to find out more. There’s usually a Wikipedia article to link to.


But who are the world’s greatest composers?

There’s no ideology behind the selection I’ve made, and no conscious exclusions (I’ve even included Carl Orff). They’re just the first 292 composers who came to mind, and for whom there was also a Wikipedia entry. I’m sure the assiduous researcher will detect unconscious bias, but if you do, please tell me who I’ve missed. There’s room for nearly everyone in gigglemusic.

Adam (Adolphe)
Adams (John)
Adès (Thomas)
Albeniz (Isaac)
Albinoni (Tomaso)
Alwyn (William)
Arne (Thomas)
Arnold (Malcolm)
Auric (Georges)
Bach (Carl Philipp Emanuel)
Bach (Johann Sebastian)
Balakirev (Mily)
Barber (Samuel)
Bartok (Bela)
Bax (Arnold)
Beach (Amy)
Beamish (Sally)
Beethoven (Ludwig van)
Bellini (Vincenzo)
Bennett (Richard Rodney)
Berg (Alban)
Berio (Luciano)
Berkeley (Lennox)
Berkeley (Michael)
Berlioz (Hector)
Berners (Gerald (Lord))
Bernstein (Leonard)
Berwald (Franz)
Birtwistle (Harrison)
Bizet (Georges)
Bliss (Arthur)
Blitzstein (Marc)
Bloch (Ernst)
Blow (John)
Bologne (Joseph)
Borodin (Alexander)
Boulanger (Lili)
Boulanger (Nadia)
Boulez (Pierre)
Bowen (York)
Bozza (Eugene)
Brahms (Johannes)
Brian (Havergal)
Bridgetower (George)
Britten (Benjamin)
Bruch (Max)
Bruckner (Anton)
Bush (Alan)
Busoni (Ferrucio)
Butterworth (George)
Buxtehude (Dietrich)
Cage (John)
Canteloube (Joseph)
Carter (Elliot)
Chabrier (Emmanuel)
Chagrin (Francis)
Chaminade (Cécile)
Charpentier (Gustave)
Chausson (Ernest)
Cherubini (Luigi)
Chopin (Frédéric)
Cilea (Francesco)
Cimarosa (Domenico)
Clarke (Rebecca)
Clementi (Muzio)
Coleridge-Taylor (Samuel)
Copland (Aaron)
Corelli (Arcangelo)
Cornelius (Peter)
Couperin (Francois)
Cui (César)
Czerny (Carl)
Dallapiccola (Luigi)
Debussy (Claude)
Delibes (Léo)
Delius (Frederick)
Dittersdorf (Carl Ditters von)
Dohnányi (Ernst von)
Donizetti (Gaetano)
Dorati (Antal)
Dukas (Paul)
Duruflé (Maurice)
Dutilleux (Henri)
Dvorak (Antonin)
Einem (Gottfried von)
Eisler (Hans)
Elgar (Edward)
Ellington (Duke)
Enescu (George)
Erkel (Ferenc)
Falla (Manuel de)
Fauré (Gabriel)
Feldman (Morton)
Ferguson (Howard)
Ferneyhough (Brian)
Field (John)
Finzi (Gerald)
Francaix (Jean)
Franck (César)
Gabrieli (Giovanni)
Gershwin (George)
Ginastera (Alberto)
Giordano (Umberto)
Glass (Philip)
Glazunov (Alexander)
Glière (Reinhold)
Glinka (Mikhail)
Gluck (Christoph Willibald)
Górecki (Henryk)
Gounod (Charles)
Grainger (Percy)
Granados (Enrique)
Grieg (Edvard)
Grovlez (Gabriel)
Gubaidulina (Sofia)
Gurney (Ivor)
Haas (Pavel)
Handel (George Frideric)
Harty (Hamilton)
Haydn (Joseph)
Head (Michael)
Hindemith (Paul)
Hoddinott (Alun)
Holliger (Heinz)
Holst (Gustav)
Honegger (Arthur)
Howells (Herbert)
Hummel (Johann Nepomuk)
Humperdinck (Engelbert)
Ibert (Jacques)
Indy (Vincent d’)
Ireland (John)
Ives (Charles)
Jacob (Gordon)
Janacek (Leos)
Jolivet (André )
Joplin (Scott)
Kalivoda (Jan)
Kálmán (Emmerich)
Khachaturian (Aram)
Knussen (Oliver)
Kodaly (Zoltan)
Koechlin (Charles)
Korngold (Erich)
Krenek (Ernst)
Krommer (Franz)
Kurtág (György)
Lalo (Édouard)
Lang (David)
Lauridsen (Morten)
Leclair (Jean-Marie)
Lehár (Franz)
Leifs (Jón)
Leigh (Walter)
Leoncavallo (Ruggero)
Ligeti (Gyorgy)
Liszt (Franz)
Loeillet (Jean Baptiste)
Lyadov (Anatoly)
Mahler (Alma)
Mahler (Gustav)
Marcello (Alessandro)
Martin (Frank)
Martinu (Bohuslav)
Mascagni (Pietro)
Massenet (Jules)
Maxwell Davies (Peter)
Medtner (Nikolai)
Mendelssohn (Felix)
Menotti (Gian Carlo)
Messiaen (Olivier)
Meyerbeer (Giacomo)
Milhaud (Darius)
Moeran (Ernest)
Monteverdi (Claudio)
Morricone (Ennio)
Moyzes (Alexander)
Mozart (Wolfgang Amadeus)
Mussorgsky (Modest)
Nancarrow (Conlon)
Nielsen (Carl)
Nono (Luigi)
Nyman (Michael)
Offenbach (Jacques)
Orff (Carl)
Pachelbel (Johann)
Paderewski (Ignacy Jan)
Paganini (Niccolò)
Paisiello (Giovanni)
Palestrina (Giovanni Pierluigi da)
Panufnik (Andrzej)
Parry (Hubert)
Pärt (Arvo)
Pasculli (Antonio)
Penderecki (Krzysztof)
Pepusch (Johann Christoph)
Pergolesi (Giovanni)
Piazzola (Astor)
Poulenc (Francis)
Previn (André)
Price (Florence)
Prokofiev (Sergei)
Puccini (Giacomo)
Purcell (Henry)
Quantz (Johann Joachim)
Quilter (Roger)
Rachmaninoff (Sergei)
Raff (Joachim)
Rameau (Jean-Philippe)
Ravel (Maurice)
Reger (Max)
Reich (Steve)
Reinecke (Carl)
Reizenstein (Franz)
Respighi (Ottorino)
Richardson (Alan)
Riley (Terry)
Rimsky-Korsakov (Nikolai)
Rodrigo (Joaquín)
Rossini (Giacomo)
Rota (Nino)
Rubbra (Edmund)
Saint-Saëns (Camille)
Salieri (Antonio)
Sammartini (Giovanni Battista)
Satie (Erik)
Scarlatti (Domenico)
Schnittke (Alfred)
Schoeck (Othmar)
Schoenberg (Arnold)
Schubert (Franz)
Schumann (Clara)
Schumann (Robert)
Scriabin (Alexander)
Sessions (Roger)
Shostakovich (Dmitri)
Sibelius (Jean)
Sinding (Christian)
Skalkottas (Nikos)
Smetana (Bedrich)
Smyth (Ethel)
Sondheim (Stephen)
Sorabji (Kaikhosru Shapurji)
Spohr (Louis)
Stanford (Charles Villiers)
Stenhammar (Wilhelm)
Still (William Grant)
Stockhausen (Karlheinz)
Strauss (Johann) I
Strauss (Johann) II
Strauss (Richard)
Stravinsky (Igor)
Suk (Josef)
Sullivan (Arthur)
Sweelinck (Jan Pieterszoon)
Szymanowski (Karol)
Tailleferre (Germaine)
Takemitsu (Toru)
Tallis (Thomas)
Tavener (John)
Tchaikovsky (Pyotr)
Tcherepnin (Alexander)
Tcherepnin (Nikolai)
Telemann (Georg Philipp)
Thompson (Virgil)
Tippett (Michael)
Tubin (Edward)
Turnage (Mark-Anthony)
Varese (Edgard)
Vaughan Williams (Ralph)
Verdi (Giuseppe)
Vierne (Louis)
Villa-Lobos (Heitor)
Vivaldi (Antonio)
Wagner (Richard)
Walker (George)
Walton (William)
Warlock (Peter)
Weber (Carl Maria von)
Webern (Anton)
Weelkes (Thomas)
Weill (Kurt)
Weir (Judith)
Widor (Charles-Marie)
Williams (John)
Williamson (Malcolm)
Wolf (Hugo)
Xenakis (Iannis)
Ysaÿe (Eugène)
Yun (Isang)
Zelenka (Jan Dismas)
Zemlinsky (Alexander von)


Ding Dong

I loathe this carol. The lyrics, fay and falsely medieval, were quilled in the 1920s, though the tune comes from the 16th century (see Wikipedia).

Ding Dong! Noun or verb? I prefer to think of it as an imprecise exhortation, rather than a description. Do what you will, as long as it’s fun.

Inane as it may be, it’s a difficult carol – that drawn out (and mercilessly repeated) ‘Glor-or-or-or-or-or-or-or-or-or-or-or-or-or-or-or-or-or-or-or-or-or-or-or-or-or-or-or-or-or-ORIA’ is a well-known graveyard for the amateur choir. Breathing, timing and tuning – all pose their challenges. Leave it to King’s, if I were you.

In younger (even) crueller days I’d ask the village carol singers to Ding Dong on the doorstep, and they’d hoot joyously like a flock of demented owls.

If you’re eager to Ding Dong, do it on gigglemusic, the new social network for classical musicians. No mince pies.

And look for my gigglemusic discussion group – Ding Dong – Carols that Make you Cringe – if you feel like adding to the list.

God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen

Three years have passed, but here I am again – three years in which I’ve written an, as yet, undiscovered novel (a satire on corporate diversity policy), continued to manage and design software for systems@work, semi-retired from LLP Group, and with my husband, Petru and my brother Jonathan, designed and developed a new social network app for classical musicians – gigglemusic.

gigglemusic came to me in the forests of Costa Rica. At the beginning of 2018 I began to practise the oboe again after nearly thirty years of a somewhat occasional and undisciplined approach to music making. I now play for an hour a day at least, inspired by my Prague-based teacher Jan Thuri. I play mostly on my own, with the doors shut, or with my friend and pianist Seva, and when practising assiduously at a sweltering resort hotel on the west coast of Costa Rica in March 2018, it occurred to me how pleasant it might be to find musicians near me – a pianist, a flautist, a violinist, perhaps even another oboist, with whom I might do musical things.

gigglemusic is the result. It lets you find nearby musicians, nearby musical events and groups you might join. It lets you contact and befriend other musicians.

It needs users, of course. We released the product just three days ago, so it’s early days. But if you want to play with me, find me on gigglemusic.

Otherwise, in case you want to know where this carol comes from, gigglemusic tells me I’m approximately 4,930 km from the birthplace or Toru Takemitsu, 7,070 km from the birthplace of Percy Grainger, and 8,140 km from the birthplace of Gyorgy Ligeti.


Former Glory

In the Sixties and Seventies the Poet Laureate John Betjeman campaigned vigorously (and eccentrically) to prevent the destruction of Britain’s great 19th-century buildings – most notably Euston Arch, which formed part of Euston Station in London, one of several vast Victorian railway stations built in the capital during the 19th century. Sadly, he failed to preserve the Arch, but he succeeded later in saving St Pancras.

Euston Station, along with the Arch, was entirely demolished, and replaced with a hideous, now shabby and crumbling set of 1960s buildings. It is no joy to depart from or arrive at today’s Euston Station. The low-ceilinged railway shed is a stark contrast to the soaring arches of those at King’s Cross and St Pancras. It is hardly surprising that Euston Station is now also being considered for demolition and redevelopment. No voices are raised in favour of its preservation, as far as I know.


But, of course, tastes change in time, and we sometimes come to appreciate buildings that we initially loathe, and vice versa. For example, I now loathe the childish post-modernist buildings of the 1980s that borrow ideas from everywhere and have none of their own, though they seemed quite fun at the time. But I still loathe the fake-archaic styles of Poundbury that Prince Charles loves so much, and which represents a complete rejection of progress and change, and I suspect that I always will.

Architectural la-la land.


There are some great buildings from the Sixties, Seventies and Eighties, but so much was so badly built, using new and untested materials, that much of it became ugly, stained and unusable in just a year or two. It leaked, or people peed in it. These were times, also, when architects believed that they knew better how people should live than people themselves. Vision is one thing. but prescription is another.

Large Victorian buildings, on the other hand, were generally well built, and though they suffered the usual wear and tear, they stood and continued to stand reliably and safely, and continued to be enjoyed. Fortunately, destruction is no longer the fashion, and many of them have been restored and incorporated cleverly into larger schemes that combine the modern and the old, imaginatively and beautifully. Paddington Station, Marylebone Station, Liverpool Street Station, Fenchurch Street Station, Kings Cross Station and St Pancras Station are still largely intact and will probably stand for many centuries to come.

I was changing railway stations in London a few weeks ago, crossing the road from Kings Cross to St Pancras. It was a sunny evening and London looked splendid. Though building work and restoration in this vast area of railway shunting grounds, gasometers and warehouses isn’t complete, it’s wonderful, especially, to see King’s Cross restored to its former glory. For years the splendidly  plain functionalist façade was obscured by a hideous Sixties pre-fab-style ticket hall.


Now the ticket hall has gone, and a vast modern replacement has been constructed to the side of the station, though it looks as if it has actually grown from the yellow brick.

The entire area between and behind the two stations has been brought to life with restaurants, bars, concert halls, apartment buildings and offices, giving the lie to the notion that areas surrounding railway stations must always be shabby. At the heart of the whole complex stand two great railway stations/hotels of very different styles-  Kings Cross (1852), presciently modern and simple,  and St Pancras (1868) unashamedly flamboyant and gothic.


Would Sir John Betjeman like what’s been done? Probably not entirely. He would decry the modern additions, I believe, but might at least have applauded their daring and the quality of their construction, certainly in preference to the shabby make-do of the Sixties and Seventies.

To Scrape or Not to Scrape?

I gave my first concert on a plastic reed on Saturday afternoon. It wasn’t the Strauss Oboe Concerto at the Royal Festival Hall, fortunately, but rather an intimate family concert to celebrate her 95th birthday at my mother’s sheltered accommodation in Salisbury (see Being at your own Pre-Funeral). I believe the average age was a musically tolerant 80.

I am an amateur musician, and have been playing the oboe for nearly fifty years, on and off. Over the last twenty years, more off than on, unfortunately, though there have been bursts of activity when I’ve found a piano-playing friend. I’ve always struggled with the making of cane oboe reeds. It takes hours, most of them are no good, and the good ones last two weeks or so. I’ve also found that I can’t buy ready-made reeds that suit me. So recently I’ve become rather excited about the new ‘plastic’ oboe reeds produced by Legere (see The Artificial and the Natural).

Well, I bought four of them and whilst bicycling in the Dordogne two weeks ago I adjusted them to my own liking – ruthlessly removing the hump-and-spine features of the ‘European Scrape’. I don’t mean I did this whilst actually bicycling. I mean at the end of the day in hotel bedrooms when there was nothing else to do.

I should point out that they are expensive, which I take as a measure of how far oboists will go to solve the reed problem.

I am, on the whole, pleased with the result and I got one of the four reeds to the stage of being the best reed in the box. So I played on it on Saturday – Poulenc, Bach, Boismortier, Stravinsky and Rossini, with my brother (flute), his partner (violin), and my two nephews (piano and bassoon). The result did not provoke a riot.


The oboe world is buzzing with curiosity about these reeds, so I’ve added my own comments in a short YouTube video – To Scrape or Not to Scrape.. I strongly believe that within a few years we’ll all be using them. Legere will inevitably produce different varieties and their materials will improve. Perhaps the price might also decline.

It’s years since I’ve played the oboe as frequently as I now intend to. Plastic has changed my life. Forty years ago when I began to play the oboe I could never have imagined that I might believe this.