Bliss Symphony

Last week I spent two days at work carrying out Taber abrasion tests, and after several frustrating attempts, I finally managed to persuade Microsoft Excel to create a graph containing the weight-loss data from four different samples. Then I noticed that the lines on the chart had been picked out in red, blue, green and purple – the names chosen by Arthur Bliss for the four movements of his Colour Symphony.

The boring chart on the screen suddenly began to shimmer with possibilities; I imagined the regular axis markings replaced by musical staves flecked with notes and treble clef motifs in the four colours, gleaming softly in the light from a distant star.. The five black lines, tired of holding the music in place began to quiver like plucked strings, plaiting themselves into ornate Celtic knot designs.

The structural formulae of pigments – carbazole violet, pyrrolidone reds, phthalo greens and Prussian blue – appeared in endless faint repetitions like the watermark in a foreign banknote, occasionally stuttering into bold colour and tumbling off the screen…

Bliss, bliss, bliss I thought; ‘which is the bliss of solitude’. And this reminded me of Alex, the grim anti-hero of A Clockwork Orange. He was fond of declaiming ‘blissety-blissety-bliss’. After Stanley Kubrick died in 1999, the film made a brief reappearance on the UK cinema circuit.

Journal Entry, 28 Mar 2000:
Got train up to Preston then B’pool, went to West Coast Rock Cafe; a bit like the Great American Disaster, great chargrilled burgers. Went to Trades, booked in, went round pubs and back to hotel.
Next day went to see ‘Clockwork Orange’. Cinema unchanged since the seventies – three quid to get in, wood-panelled auditorium (with toilets inside the cinema!), dusty glass counter and elderly usherette selling bags of Revels – perfect for watching an old film! The ruched curtains in front of the screen made a harsh whirring noise as they were drawn up. Afterwards, I joked that ‘an intellectual is someone who can’t listen to the William Tell Overture without thinking of the orgy scene from Clockwork Orange’.

William Tell? I recall a few years back hearing (on Radio Three) a Sunday afternoon concert from the Royal Albert Hall at which the Vienna Philharmonic was conducted by Bobby McFerrin. As part of the performance he sang the cello line from one of Vivaldi’s concerto pieces, explaining that since musical instruments were so expensive back then, all the girls at the convent would be expected to learn to vocalise solo parts in this manner.
As an encore, the brass players delivered the opening fanfare of Rossini’s William Tell overture; but then, instead of playing the rest of the piece, the members of the orchestra sang the lines (da-da-dum-da-da-dum) in perfect, ornate harmony. It was glorious to hear, and was greeted by wild cheering at the end. My diary entry for the occasion reads simply: Sun 7 Sep 2003, ‘Have just heard the Vienna Phil playing Bolero and singing William Tell. Fantastic!’
McFerrin’s remarkable achievement is discussed in a business research paper by Donna Ladkin entitled Leading Beautifully (The Leadership Quarterly, v.9, 1, Feb 2008) as an example of excellent communication.

And since Vivaldi was called The Red Priest, and Rossini means ‘little redhead’, we return to the ‘Red’ movement from the symphony by Bliss….

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