Thursday, October 12, 2006

Funny how things turn out

When I was around 14, a few cultural bits & bobs expanded my mental horizons. Or, more accurately, exploded them.

1. Half way up the music block stairs at school, I heard heaven incarnate. It was the Ernest Reid Choir (our school contributed to the RFH children's concerts) rehearsing the Faure Requiem. Somehow - goodness knows how, because I can't sing to save my life - I got a place in that choir and found myself participating in the performance. I've been hooked on Faure ever since.

2. Being a ballet addict, I happened to see a one-acter by Frederick Ashton called 'A Month in the Country' - music by Chopin, dancers including Anthony Dowell (angelic dance hero) and Lynn Seymour. Story by a Russian chap with a long name. Soon afterwards, my mother gave me a slender book and said "You might like this." It was a black Penguin called 'First Love', by the same Russian writer: Ivan Turgenev. She was right.

I sensed even then that what I loved in Turgenev & what I loved in Faure was essentially the same: a particular sensibility, a slightly despairing yet more than usually acute sensitivity to the condition of the human soul. Of course, I had no idea they'd known each other.

3. Birthday treat: a trip to the cinema to see a French masterpiece from the 1940s entitled 'Les enfants du paradis', starring the genius mime actor Jean-Louis Barrault. It blew my mind. Still does.

4. Same cinema (Hampstead Everyman), which used to have this kind of thing all the time: Jacques Tati. 'Les vacances de M. Hulot'. Have I ever laughed so much, before or since? (hmm, maybe at 'The Producers'......)

Now, 26 years on, I couldn't help noticing that my script for St Nazaire involved the whole lot. 'Le chant de l'amour triomphant', after the story by Turgenev on which the Chausson Poeme is based. Turgenev is ever-present in the script. Faure, who sat at his feet for 4 years while courting Marianne Viardot, daughter of Turgenev's beloved Pauline, formed the climax of the first half. The actress performing it was Marie-Christine Barrault, niece of Jean-Louis. The town turned out to be virtually next door to Saint-Marc, the home ville of 'Les vacances de M. Hulot' (read more about it here).

None of that was intentional: it's been pure coincidence the whole way. To the extent that I could start wondering whether any of it was coincidental. Funny how things turn out....