Friday, 27 November 2009

A chocolate cello

Carl Friedrich Abel’s The Drexel Manuscript is one of the jewels in the repertoire of the viola da gamba, and Paolo Pandolfo’s recording of this collection is nothing short of sublime.

Hang on, some of you say. Have I lost my marbles? What am I doing talking about Baroque music on Bingley’s Blog?

Well, I could say that the beautiful, rich, chocolate brown tones of the viola da gamba remind me of the gorgeous brown sheens of Bingley’s coat. But that, though true, would be stretching things a bit.

The real answer though, lies in a painting. The sleeve notes to this CD include an illustration of a painting, by Gainsborough, of CF Abel. There he is in all his Baroque splendour, seated at a desk and composing away. Lying across his lap is the neck of a viola da gamba, a beautiful instrument and progenitor of the modern cello; and lying at his feet, in this very same painting, is a dog!

A lot has been written about Abel’s music, and justifiably so: he was a significant and prolific composer and a close contemporary of JS Bach. But not much is mentioned about his dog, which is a shame; and the iconography of 18th Century art notwithstanding, surely this is his dog

The relationship between dogs and artists is worth exploring, I think. Maybe not everyone is inspired by their dog, though there are certainly times when Bingley inspires some very strong emotions in me. Sadly though they’re not always of the creative variety!

But dogs are our companions and we spend a lot of time interacting with them. I for one allocate a significant part of each day to walking Bingley. Some of the time is spent playing together, some of that time spent in training sessions (no, I haven’t quite thrown in the towel yet!). But there are long spells when Bingley is off by himself on a sniffy ramble, and I have time to look at the views, listen to the bird song, and to think and reflect on all manner of things.

It’s easy to imagine that artists come up with some of their best ideas during these periods of dog-walking reflection. Certainly the atmosphere of the Drexel Manuscript is intensely reflective; and indeed the whole Consort repertoire has a beguiling solemnity and the rich, golden hues of a late autumn dog walk.

But I don’t know how dear old Carl would have got on with Bingley. Though I’m not a composer, I’m sure that I’ve been on the cusp of a Big Idea several times now; only to have my train of thought broken by the realisation that Bingley is eating or doing something he shouldn’t!

Our dogs can inspire great art, I’m sure of it. But perhaps it’s fortunate for all of us that Bingley isn’t the dog in that Gainsborough painting, because otherwise I doubt very much whether we’d be enjoying The Drexel Manuscript today!

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