The Spectator

Letters | 25 July 2009

Spectator readers respond to recent articles

Wagner wallows

Sir: Michael Henderson states (Arts, 18 July) that Wagner’s music reveals the aspects of the human personality that we try hardest to suppress. Certainly many deep ideas and emotions are revealed. But instead of purging the emotions with pity and fear, and achieving a catharsis, Wagner wallows in them, exalting primitive values, ignoring or despising detachment and reason. A genius of the first rank, but highly undesirable.

David Damant
London WC2

Long echoes

Sir: My old friend Peter Phillips (Arts, 18 July) observes that ‘St Paul’s Cathedral in London has such a long echo that a composer might want to build in extra rests for the sound to clear’, but uncharacteristically errs when he goes on to say: ‘I can’t think of a single piece that obviously takes this into account.’

There is just such a piece, by the 18th-century composer, cuckold and drunk Jonathan Battishill, who had been a boy chorister at St Paul’s. His fine setting of Isaiah lxiii 15, O Lord, look down from heaven, was written for the cathedral and derives its most striking effect from dramatic pauses at the agonised entreaty ‘Where is thy zeal and thy strength, the sounding of thy bowels and of thy mercies toward me?’ Readers who frequent quires and places where they sing will know that in today’s parishes this… er, passage is usually… well, bowdlerised.

Richard Abram
Wanstead Park, Essex

Causeway and effect

Sir: I refer to the article written by Prue Leith and published in your magazine (‘Depressed? You soon will be’, 11 July) without any reference to us first to comment or to check accuracy. As a successful private concern, it is inevitable that from time to time someone’s imagination will run wild and such a story will be written.

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