Pointless absurdity, the true mark of civilisation

Posted on Wednesday, January 5, 2011

There are many reasons to write a piece of music. One reason that is too often overlooked in the world of contemporary music is to honour innocence, absurdity, pure unbridled child-like enthusiasm. We play music after all.

Christopher Rush tells a story in his book 'To Travel Hopefully' about the journalist Bernard Levin who, after witnessing scenes of terrible hopelessness and cruelty in the old Soviet Union flew directly to Copenhagen. At lunch the next day he ordered an 'ice cream surprise' which came with mini sparklers and a little flag which ran up the flagpole to proudly flutter at the top. This caused Levin to break down in tears as weeks of nervous exhaustion caught up with him, and he realised that "what he had been missing most in the Soviet Union was just such pointless absurdity, the true mark of civilisation".

This suddenly struck me as one of the driving forces behind my desire to set Philip Pullman's story The Firework Maker's Daughter which goes into development workshops with The Opera Group/ Royal Opera House later in Feb. At the end of Pullman's story, several of the characters finally discover their calling and form a travelling entertainment troup they call 'The Melody Boys'. The conceit we're planning is that the performance we see of will be the story of The Firework Maker's Daughter, as told by The Melody Boys, with the chaotic and wayward Rambashi as Master of Ceremonies. Of course ironing out the details of how exactly we do that will be a long and important journey, but I'm determined apart from anything else, that we will have fun at the workshops!

To quote Pullman himself on the story:

"I think that fairy tales, for this is a fairy tale, are ways of telling us true things without labouring the point. They begin in delight, and they end in wisdom. But if you start with what you think is wisdom, you'll seldom end up with delight - it doesn't work that way round. You have to begin with fun."



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