#46 For whom the bell rings

from Newsletter 46
I recently came across this quotation attributed to an early seventeenth century Italian writer and sometime composer – Pietro della Valle –
“ Playing on an instrument, no matter how well it’s done, when it goes on for a long time is boring; indeed it has often happened that a little bell has to be rung to make them stop”.
This made me think of what has become a central theme of Cobwebs, that music making is the important thing rather than listening to the results.
If an audience had been packed into Powell Hall at Sedbergh to listen to a complete run through of Bruckner’s third symphony there may well have been many little bells ringing (not that we would have heard them). Especially if listeners do not know the work, close to an hour of Bruckner could seem a very long time. Yet from the players perspective it flashes past.
Our 2009/10 season has included some very substantial works. In addition to Bruckner there was Mozart’s Requiem, Carmina Burana, Beethoven Piano concertos 3 and 4, Harold in Italy, Firebird, Planets, Schubert’s Great, Elgar cello concerto and Nielsen’s 3rd Symphony. Having played in most of these I can remember extreme concentration, lots of effort, satisfaction on managing to navigate particularly tricky passages, pleasure at being in the middle of a wonderful sound, but never boredom.
Maybe the concentration span of the average Italian in the 1600s was not much superior to what it is today? Probably it comes down to the difference in involvement – passive rather than active. I imagine there are many different reasons why people enjoy Cobweb events but most will agree that playing a piece of music gives a greater insight than simply listening to it.
There must surely have been many opportunities to play music in Rome during his lifetime, but Pietro may not have had the confidence or ability. If only Cobwebs had been there to help him he might have been able to dispense with his little bell!
By Howard Rocke

Posted by Catherine Shackell