The Railway Children & Schubert's Quintet In C Major, D. 956Monday, January 10, 2011
Saturday promised to be a confrontation-free day as our recently teenaged granddaughter had decided to skip the mandatory Saturday visit. She opted to go to town with a friend. This did not happen so we picked her up at home and in the car she gleefully wolfed down the half of the Japadog that Lauren had declined to try.
We went to the main branch of the Vancouver Public Library. It is a place of solace, pleasure and excitement. Lauren had a pile of books but Rebecca decided to read her school library Harry Potter’s in the comfy VPL chairs.
It was at the VPL’s sort-of-random DVD section that I found the gem. It is a remake of the wonderful Railway Children based on the 1906 novel by the Fabian founder Edith Nesbit. We had all enjoyed the 1970 version that starred my favourite Jenny Agutter. This 2000 version brought back Jenny Agutter as the mother, and not as the eldest daughter. Would it be as good?
On the way home Rosemary had to buy vegetables that I was going to barbecue along with some chicken breasts. The girls decided to stay in the car. Rebecca was reading her Harry Potter in the back. I decided to try something. I slipped into the car’s CD player a CD to see what would happen. It played for about three minutes when Rebecca, on cue (bless her!), asked, “Is that the Pacific Baroque Orchestra?” “No, it’s Franz Schubert's Quintet in C Major, D. 956 performed by Pamel Frank and Felix Galimir on violins, Steven Tenenbom on viola and Peter Wiley and Julia Lichten on cellos. It is, I believe, one of the most beautiful pieces of melody ever written.” She asked for the liner notes and after a while went back to reading her book.
As this happened I remembered how when I was almost her age my teacher in Buenos Aires would drone on, every day, for about ten minutes in her raspy Spanish. She was reading to us a biography of some composer called Franz Schubert. I had no clue why she read this to us every day.
Our meal was excellent thanks to the fact that Rosemary insisted I buy a barbecue vegetable basket (made of non stick coated metal.) It was difficult to find such an item in winter but Canadian Tire obliged.
After our meal we sat to watch The Railway Children. From Lauren, up and with a fire going in our den we enjoyed the film (and Jenny Agutter). When I took the girls and their mother home, Hilary asked, “What’s that music, it sounds familiar?” It’s Schubert’s Quintet in C Major,” Rebecca answered.
Miss Tink & English Trains
Coda: I wrote the above on Monday January 11. After Dinner Rosemary and I watched John Taw as Inspector Morse (based on the novels by Colin Dexter). The episode (the only Morse I found at the VPL on Saturday) in question, Dead on Time featured the slow movement of Schubert's Quintet in C Major, D.956. I am lifting this from the London Times Archives.
From The Times
April 13, 2007
A musical Endeavour
As a live concert celebrates the music of Morse and the 20th anniversary of the programme, its creator picks his top tunes from the series
Let me be bold at the outset and suggest that, of all the arts, music is the most able to give expression and form to our innermost feelings. And here I have been asked to say how important music was for me in ITV’s Inspector Morse.
Now, the very last thing that viewers want is an intrusive, semi-continuous, sometimes deafening soundtrack to their viewing; yet music can be a wonderfully appropriate accompaniment to many programmes, as it was — perhaps especially so — to Inspector Morse .
Fairly early on I was aware of this, since Blackwell’s Music Shop in Oxford reported that it had had many calls asking for the title(s) of various pieces played in the episodes. How come?
Unless one is a genius (which I am not) a writer of fiction will often, almost necessarily, be semi-autobiographical in the delineation of the main character and his tastes. Thus, as early as the opening of the second novel, Last Seen Wearing , Morse found himself in the New Theatre in Oxford, eagerly awaiting the love-duet at the end of Act I of Die Walköre. This was wholly appropriate, since my own musical tastes, like Morse’s, have centred predominantly on the latter half of the 19th century, especially on Wagner (of course!), Bruckner, Mahler and (later) Richard Strauss. For some reason Baroque music has never had quite the same thrilling appeal for me or for Morse.
Clearly therefore the tastes of Morse largely mirror my own. And such tastes, featuring frequently in the novels, obviously had some significant influence on the hugely talented maestro who was commissioned to be the music supremo for the TV series, Barrington Pheloung.
The first sign of Barrington’s genius appeared earlier than the first sight of John Thaw, with the introductory theme-music — that fusion of a fine melody and the da-diddy-da-diddy-da rhythms of the Morse code. It was not, as some have supposed, a clever (surely far too clever) means of tapping out the letters of the latest crook’s name; and I should know this rather better than most, because in my army service I had been trained as a high-speed Morse code operator. (All of which, incidentally, had nothing to do with the naming of my inspector, who was christened after Sir Jeremy Morse.)
The signature tune was, quite simply, a poignant, haunting motif that set exactly the right tone and mood for the whole series; and after it, as the individual episodes developed, the subsequent music became integral to the actions and meanings of the scenes being portrayed.
Which are some of the specific scenes I particularly recall? Vivaldi’s Gloria from the opening of the very first televised episode, The Dead of Jericho, on January 6, 1987, with Morse arriving so late that he joined the choir only for the very last word; Maria Callas singing an aria from Tosca in Ghost in the Machine , hugely enjoyed by Lewis, although he was under the misapprehension that it was a number from Cats ; the magic of Ella Fitzgerald’s voice in Driven to Distraction ; Mozart’s The Magic Flute (passim) in Masonic Mysteries ; Schubert’s Quintet in C Major, especially its ethereal slow movement, in Dead on Time; the immolation scene from the finale of Götterdämmerung in Twilight of the Gods , always a must for Wagnerians; the prelude to Wagner’s Parsifal in The Remorseful Day . . .
If this all sounds a little on the unrelievedly serious side of things, there were several memorable exchanges between Morse and Lewis, often in the Jaguar. Parsifal, for example, had an encore, with Lewis giving Morse a cassette containing highlights from that opera and informing him of the conductor’s name, one “Nappersbusch”. Although Morse tried to express some minimal gratitude, he was unable to resist parading his own musical snobbery: “We usually pronounce him ‘Knapperts-busch’, Lewis.”
Again, as the two were driving along the dusty roads of Australia in The Promised Land, we heard blaring from the radio an original composition by Barrington, Truckin’ till I’m Dead — to Lewis’s delight and to Morse’s dismay. Nor could Morse conceal his revulsion in Cherubim and Seraphim when Lewis, standing beside him in a baseball cap, smiled down happily at a rave party below them and jigged from foot to foot like Nelson Mandela performing the African shuffle.
Most surprising of all was the occasion when Morse and Superintendent Strange were seated together drinking Guinness in a pub, with the jukebox blasting out a medley of traditional Irish songs; and when Morse went over to the barman and asked if he would turn the volume — up a bit!
If I had to choose my top desert-island clip it would be a toss-up between two. First, the last few minutes of Richard Strauss’s Der Rosenkavalier in The Promised Land , in which Morse is seen walking up the steps of the Sydney Opera House while everyone else is walking down. Does opera ever rise above such glorious heights? Second, the extraordinarily moving In Paradisum from Fauré’s Requiem , including the wonderful words “ et cum Lazaro, quondam paupere, ae-ternam habeas requiem ” (“and with Lazarus, once a poor man, you may have eternal rest”). Morse would have chosen this for his funeral service, as I probably shall for mine.
Finally, talking of desert islands, it may be of interest for readers to know that, as far as my fading memory can recall, John Thaw and I shared three of the same discs: the Schubert, the Fauré and Richard Strauss’s Four Last Songs.
And I know perfectly well that my thoughts and the thoughts of so many others in the Albert Hall concert on Thursday will be with my good friends John Thaw and Kevin Whately, who shared such a wonderful partnership in Inspector Morse.
–– The Music of Morse, Royal Albert Hall, Thursday (020-7589 8212). The concert will be broadcast on ITV3 on April 29 at 8pm. Colin Dexter's Inspector Morse novels are all available in Pan paperback
Music and drama
Twilight of the Gods
Planned as the final Morse, this 1993 episode saw an opera singer nearly killed by an assassin’s bullet. Appropriately, Wagner was the soundtrack.
Death of the Self
In Verona, Morse gets close to Frances Barber’s opera diva — and hears her mime (badly) as a real soprano soars through Signora, ascolta.
Stabbings at the amateur dramatic society’s production of The Magic Flute, and thankfully plenty of musical extracts to go with it.
Dead on Time
Did a terminally ill Oxford don kill himself, and should Morse have investigated? Schubert’s late, sublime String Quintet forms the eloquent backdrop.
Quintet in C Major, D. 956, Allegro ma non troppo
Live at the Zagreb International Chamber Music Festival 2008
Susanna Yoko Henkel - violin
Stefan Milenkovich - violin
Guy Ben-Ziony - viola
Giovanni Sollima - cello
Monika Leskovar - cello