Woodwinds, Wine and Wind: Huntington Estate Music Festival 2018

HE FEstival 2018The challenge of reviewing a music festival is daunting: so many concerts, so many players. And then of course there’s so much wine and fellowship – not conducive to reasoned debate and scholarship. But then your correspondent has always left the learned discussions to the experts. Here you will get the personal reflections of a dilettante. FWIW, if you will.

Last Sunday saw the end of the 29thHuntington Estate Music Festival. Its illustrious past embraces the Australian Chamber Orchestra years, and then the Musica Viva era. Different in so many ways but one thing has remained constant: an intensely personal touch which leaves the audiences and musicians with a feeling of friendship and family which is particularly special. This year was no different.

The cold winds tried to cool the spirits this year. But musical and personal communication warmed the Barrel Room such that mere climate became irrelevant. Don’t stop the music!.

There were two particular threads to this year’s festival: a focus on English composers of the 20thcentury (Britten, Bliss, Bridge, Elgar, Finzi, Vaughan Williams, Grainger) and a concentration on woodwinds, with clarinettist Sebastian Manz and oboist Juliana Koch performing a wide range of works. Of the two, Sebastian Manz was the performer with personality and strength who drove the high levels of excitement which we have come to expect from good music festivals. This is not to demean Koch, a fine oboist who performed with precision and care. Just she was less exciting a performer. Australian composers, both living and dead also received attention with Carl Vine allowing himself a brace of his own works, along with Roger Smalley, Nigel Westlake and Stuart Greenbaum. If the purists prefer to claim internationalist Percy Grainger as Australian, then he can be included here too. There is more on the two young Australian composers later. One of them is female which will hardly allay the concerns of those who demand more women composers in their programming. There were no other female composers featured during the festival.  I suspect the happy audience didn’t notice.

The highlights of the festival were too numerous to detail, but some warrant particular mention. Amongst the necessary “tops of the pops” standards were the Weber Clarinet Quintet where Manz was joined by the Goldner String Quartet. While always a crowd pleaser, in this work Manz delivered a revelatory reading which owed much to his skills communicating new clarinet sounds and sensibilities to a, sometimes, jaded audience. (Did we really need “Death and the Maiden” again?) It was as if hearing Weber’s work for the first time. Manz, who as a young student was strongly influenced by Benny Goodman’s melding of classical and jazz, has clearly embraced the jazz idiom and incorporates it into his own, personal, interpretations. Then, later, it was educational to hear his Mozart Clarinet Quintet, again with the Goldner. It was a clear and precise rendition, without mannerisms, a performance which could not offend the most puritanical of musicologist. At most Manz allowed himself a couple of finely crafted ornaments in the slow movement. This was pure joy. Was the influence of Sabine Meyer on show? Perhaps. She taught Manz free for a year in his formative youth.

It would be remiss not to mention the Concertino for Oboe, Clarinet and String Orchestra by Alexandre Tansman, a Polish composer who lived mostly in Paris in the first half of the 20th Century. In this work a chamber orchestra of strings from the Australian National Academy of Music joined with Manz and Koch to deliver a resounding and joyful performance which displayed the soloists’ skill in both duet and conversation, as well as wild delight. Festival music at its best.

Artistic Director Carl Vine, whose final Huntington Festival will be in November 2019, programmed two premieres by young Australian composers. The first, “Interwoven”, a string quartet by Elizabeth Younan was a moving work in which differing musical ideas are interwoven to form a complex whole. The composer says the work finishes with a “rush of joy and hope”. The Orava Quartet delivered this with convincing style.

The second premiere, a string octet by Harry Sdraulig, was equally impressive. While an integrated work, there were elements of conversation, or interaction, between the two quartets which suggested to your correspondent that the players should better have been opposed rather than integrated as is the common practice for the better known octets. The work has some beautiful lyrical elements and wonderful moments for viola. It is a fine addition to the limited string octet repertoire, although not quite on the scale of those which are often selected as the big work to end events. It is salutary to observe that Musica Viva has been instrumental in encouraging the composition of at least three string octets, the others being from Jakub Jankowski and Nicole Murphy.

Soprano Taryn Fiebig played an important role at the festival. Her Schumann “Liederkreis” Op 39 was quite delightful, although could have been even better had her diction carried the German text through the hall. A German text alongside the English translation would have helped the audience. Similarly, the beautiful concept of Samuel Barber’s “Hermit Songs”, based on snippets written by medieval monks and nuns in the margins of religious manuscripts, would have been greatly enhanced had the audience been provided a text to illuminate their enjoyment. In the event a fine work was reduced to indifference. Taryn Fiebig’s unprogrammed intervention in which she accompanied herself on cello was also less than successful. She rendered three arias which lacked form and style, works which she clearly knew well, but failed to embrace while having to play her own accompaniment. Perhaps had she selected works written specifically for singing cellist this segment may have worked better (Gramata Cellam from Peteris Vasks, or Uluru Song from Martin Wesley-Smith come to mind).

Pianists were in abundance of course with Jayson Gillham, Amir Farid and Musica Viva Future Maker Aura Go all contributing to the overall program. Particularly noteworthy were Gillham’s performances of works by Stuart Greenbaum and Percy Grainger. Pure enjoyment. Amir Farid’s playing of the complex piano part in the Frank Bridge Piano Quintet, along with the Orava Quartet, was impeccable with fine articulation and sensitivity. He is a wonderful chamber musician.

There was of course much more. A musical feast accompanied by a feast of food and wine, delivered by a family with whom, over the years, many attendees have formed a fine bond. It is worth the drive to Mudgee. And next year will be the thirtieth anniversary, Carl Vine’s last as Artistic Director. Perhaps a good reason to come along?

 

Note: Artists for 2019 include: The Australian String Quartet; Arcadia Winds; Ian Munro; Goldner String Quartet and a world-famous violist. Further details to be announced.

 

 

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In Remembrance of Richard Gill

While your correspondent did not know Richard Gill personally, the character of the man was such that many who did not nevertheless felt they did. His influence was all embracing; the intensity of his message unavoidable. So, like so many others,I feel the urge to pay some sort of tribute. Back in 2015 I penned a piece on music education prompted by two inspirational people. Richard Gill gave the Peggy Glanville Hicks Oration that year. I repeat my blog post in his memory. While my words may not sufficiently reflect the stature of the man, those of many others, in the last few days, have made up for my inadequacy. May his legacy grow.

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Major Performing Arts Sector Under Review

The Framework for the Major Performing Arts sector in Australia is being reviewed, driven by the Federal  Department of Communications and the Arts.

Your correspondent finds it interesting that of the MPA companies that regularly send emails, marketing material and the like, only one has seen fit to alert their stakeholders to the survey and suggest participation. The Australian Brandenburg Orchestra sees broad input into the considerations as important. (Stop the presses: Belvoir have just also put out the call!) Who would not agree? The attacks on the MPA sector by the small end of town back in the Senator Brandis days might suggest that an avalanche of submissions will be received bad mouthing the larger players. There was something of a diatribe from Scott Rankin from Big hART carried in ArtsHub earlier this month but that appears to be about it. Perhaps all the others are keeping their views to themselves and just submitting responses quietly. It seems there have been some 2000 submissions so far so perhaps there is more going on. A quick and unscientific Twitter search suggests the only organisation calling for submissions other than state arts departments is BlakArt. Good for them.

From the antediluvian perspective of your ageing correspondent there is a need to maintain something like the MPA framework. There is a distinct role for the large companies, and some justification for separating the funding from the small, medium and independent sector. It is the natural order of things that the smaller players will be the leaders in innovation and the contemporary. No one wants to see Sydney Dance Company do “The Nutcracker” or Chamber Made do “Aida”. But these sorts works do need to be staged from time to time as part of a vibrant arts scene. Is there need for some cultural change on the part of MPA companies? Almost certainly yes. But give them credit where it may be due. You never hear mention from the complainers of the likes of the Melbourne Symphony Orchestra’s “Metropolis” series. It’s been going for twenty years. And while admittedly part of a festival, the South Australian Opera did stage Brett Dean’s “Hamlet”. Over the years your correspondent has enjoyed some remarkable events, all at the hands of the majors: Steve Reich’s “Piano Phase” at the Sydney Opera House, “Nixon in China” in Adelaide, “Madelaine Lee” by Opera Australia (or was it the Australian Opera then), “Bliss” courtesy of OA, and a whole raft of good times courtesy of Musica Viva. Sydney Theatre Company did “Secret River” and the Sydney Dance Company “Nude Live”. Perhaps these are just the unspecified half dozen good guys referred to by Scott Rankin in his ArtsHub piece. But it is the experience of a single participant, so must therefore be limited.

Lest readers get the impression nothing needs to change, far from it. But the best approach is to strengthen the best parts of the majors, encourage culture change and perhaps introduce some form of peer review. Not for funding allocation, but to ensure the prime criteria for being an MPA company are being fulfilled. Limit the tenure of artistic directors? Perhaps, but then there are the likes of Carl Vine at Musica Viva. There will always be exceptions.

For what it is worth, quoted below is your correspondent’s final comments as submitted in the final survey box. There was scope for 4000 words. Here are just a few hundred. Let the other pontificators quote the malleable statistics and write learned essays. But whether you agree or disagree, you should have your say. the link is here.

“It has been disturbing in recent years to see how the arts practitioners have turned against themselves with the small to medium sector aggressively attacking the MPA companies for perceived (and sometimes real) failings. This is usually prompted by dissatisfaction about funding and a belief that the MPA sector sucks an unjustified proportion of funding from the available pool. The MPA sector needs to do a better job of promoting the work it does alongside their conventional mainstage activities which tend to receive greatest criticism. In addition the MPA sector needs to strengthen its collective voice in advocating for the broader arts sector, for better funding for all, for the development of sound policy and the development or creation of institutions and infrastructure which benefit the sector as a whole. While the big end of town will always receive much criticism, individual MPA companies can do a much better job of explaining their broadly based activities. And of course some can do a better job of programming the under-represented (women, indigenous, Australian etc.) But that notwithstanding, the sector should not succumb to the introduction of quotas or the like which would potentially lead to compromises of various sorts. It should be part of their culture.

There also needs to be a clearer framework for evaluating whether MPA companies are fulfilling their roles. Evaluation should be regular, if not on-going. It should not have to wait for a major review such as that of opera companies which was the catalyst for change at, for example, South Australian Opera. Perhaps some sort of regular peer review could be introduced to assess whether MPA companies are operating according to the funding priorities. Aside from ensuring companies were encouraged to address shortcomings early, this would also help to answer the often claimed fault that funding for MPA companies is not peer reviewed.”

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Melbourne International Chamber Music Competition: all over for another four years. Thanks @MusicaVivaAU #MICMCM2018

Your correspondent is still recovering from some hectic days in Melbourne. After a conscious decision not to review individual performances or to pick winners it seems, nonetheless, that quality will out even in the earliest moments of competition. You may have heard it streamed on 3MBS but nothing can compare with hearing it live. The wonderful CutCommon asked me to reflect on the eight days of competition. Here, with their permission, is a link to your correspondent’s thoughts about the event.

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Goings on in South Melbourne: The Melbourne International Chamber Music Competition @MusicaVivaAU #MICMC2018

Your correspondent has been enjoying the crisp winter air of Melbourne and the joys of South Melbourne. Those in the know may wonder whether this refers to the coffee culture, the South Melbourne market, the rattle of the trams (that’s “streetcars” for readers from the Americas). No. The justification for ten days down south is the Melbourne International Chamber Music Competition. Sydney has rugby league and the piano competition. Melbourne has AFL and the chamber music competition. And indeed Melbourne has a large audience of serious aficionados who are prepared to undergo seven hours a day of serious listening in the South Melbourne Town Hall.

Having sworn off foolish pursuits like picking winners or reviewing performances it nonetheless moves your correspondent to again refer to the special joys, the emotional charge, that sometimes comes from live, and only live, performances. There have been many fine performances so far, and indeed the first round is one concert short of ending, but tonight’s concert was one of those special ones. Regular readers may recall that your correspondent is a fan of Haydn and Mozart and decries the current fashion to play these often delicate works as if from a different era. And indeed the required performances of Haydn, Mozart or Beethoven have, in the main, been big and bold. But tonight, by chance, two ensembles were featured who clearly believe what your correspondent does: Mozart and Haydn trios and quartets require a light and deft touch.

Now this is all a subjective matter but suffice it to say your correspondent was on the edge of his seat when the Trio Marvin played Mozart K502. It was bright, light, articulate and varied and the articulation, particularly from pianist Vita Kan was a sheer delight. Then, Trio Marvin followed up with some Peteris Vasks, to whit Episodi e Canto Perpetuo. What a magnificent work. It just seemed to make sense, unlike some of the sound and fury heard earlier. It works up emotionally to two false endings and then delivers a moving pastorale played first on the cello and then the violin before the two combine. Another climax follows followed again by a pastorale passing between the strings and leading to a peaceful conclusion. Of course all cellists love Vasks. If you don’t know why listen to his cello concerto and Gramata Cellam (The Book of the Cello).

As if this was not enough then the Goldmund Quartet came on stage to play Haydn Op 54 No 1. Again this was a revelation. Precise, detailed, varied with more light and shade than a forest. But again the lightness of touch was what moved the listeners. It is a rare skill. The following works by Ana Sokolovic Wolfgang Rimn were respectively amusing and intense. Beautiful.

So tonight was one of those concerts that make attendance at live events worthwhile. Your correspondent will keep kissing frogs for the rare chance of occasinal handsome princes (and princesses). The women and men of Trio Marvin and the Goldmund Quartet delivered in spades tonight.

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Beethoven by Ballot: @selbyandfriends at the City Recital Hall

Selby and Friends’ current concert tour carries the headline “Beethoven by Ballot”. Apparently subscribers were invited to suggest the Beethoven works they would most like to hear. It comee as no surprise, therefore, that the program was something of a “Tops of the Pops” event: the “Spring” Sonata, the Cello Sonata in A Major, and the “Archduke”. Plus a lesser known trifle, the Allegretto in B Flat WoO. 39, added to the program by Katherine Selby as a pipe opener so that the three players could start the evening together, her colleagues for the evening being young violinist Grace Clifford and a regular “friend”, cellist Clancy Newman.

The opening Allegretto was unremarkable, a light-hearted piece, short, more in the nature of a piano sonata with string accompaniment than a true piano trio. Apparently it was written by Beethoven as encouragement for a ten year-old piano student of his, Maximiliane Brentano, the daughter of his good friends Franz and Antonie Brentano.

Then followed the first of the two highlights of the evening, at least for your correspondent who first heard Grace Clifford play chamber music some four or five years ago with none other than Selby and Friends. On that occasion Grace was participating alongside violinist Elizabeth Layton, Clancy Newman and violist Tobias Breider, in what was a fine example of professional mentoring of an already outstanding young player. There was thus a sense of anticipation to see what the intervening years of study at the Curtis Institute may have wrought.

Beethoven’s “Spring” Sonata is such a joyful work, it was a delight to hear it played by a youthful musician with the ability to imbue the work with all its intricacies. The work is a true partnership between violinist and pianist and the understanding between the two was clear. This was a partnership, not of master and apprentice, but of equals. Grace demonstrated great skill as a chamber musician, one element of which is her ability to adjust between leadership and secondary roles as the work develops, executing a much underrated ability to play softly without losing intensity or purpose. It was not only the ability to play softly but at the same time to craft beautiful phrases from what a lesser musician may see as simple accompaniment. All Beethoven’s subtle and not so subtle emphases were there; beautifully crafted ornaments in the slow movement suggested a youthful, yet mature, understanding, while impeccable articulation, so vital in Beethoven, added to the beauty of the whole performance.

Clancy Newman’s performance of the A Major Cello Sonata was businesslike. He is a confident and occasionally showy performer and he made the most of the variety in the work. Your correspondent has always found the emotional content of the Beethoven cello sonatas somewhat lacking, so a business like performance of what might be considered a businesslike work is not inappropriate.

The concluding Archduke Trio was very effectively crafted by the players melding as a true team; Kathy Selby as always rock solid, with the two string players working in unity of purpose to bring out the best elements of the work and to allow everyone to shine at the appropriate moments. While Clancy Newman, as the showman of the three, made strong statements from time to time, Grace Clifford was less demonstrative, displaying an ever-present understanding of how a chamber musician should blend as part of a unified whole. With a future in a world of superstars and showmen however, there may perhaps be value for her to stick her neck out a little and show off her technique. In the piano trio game there is plenty of scope for violinists to put themselves out there and emphasise a leadership role to the undoubted enjoyment of their listening public.

You can catch the remaining concerts in the current Selby and Friends tour tonight at Methodist Ladies College, Kew; the following concert in Canberra at the National Gallery is sold out; then March 17 in Mittaagong at The Playhouse and March 18 at the Uniting Church, Turramurra.

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Opus Posth No. 1: Works by Kathryn Purnell (1911-2006)

Kathryn PurnellSome years back your correspondent published a “Guest Blog” with a view to reissuing (if that is the right term) writings by skilled wordsmiths which seem to merit such rebirth. This current post is different in that the work published has so far (as far as can be established) not previously appeared anywhere. Why Kathryn Purnell? Simply because, apart from being your correspondent’s mother-in-law, she was a fine wordsmith, producing much poetry and prose. You can check out her current catalogue at The National Library of Australia which includes three recently published ebooks, available from Amazon or Kobo. These three novellas are varied in length and present stories set in London, Melbourne and Istanbul. Time poor? Read a novella.

A little background on Kathryn can be found on her Facebook page, but for ease of reference a short backgrounder follows:

“Kathryn Purnell embodied the soul and spirit of a creative writer. She maintained an intense interest in everything around her, the natural and spiritual worlds, the everyday and the eternal, diverse countries and their cultures as well as the human condition (of which she had an uncanny understanding). A gifted educator, she was an inspiration to many aspiring writers to whom she taught creative writing. She believed intensely in the need to encourage women writers, the constraints on whom she felt herself at a very personal level. Born in Vancouver, Canada in 1911 and baptised Catherine Isabell (Maxwell), she later morphed her personal names into Kathryn Isobel for reasons never clearly evident. Travelling by sea to Australia with her family as a young woman she met on board and later married scientist William (Bill) Purnell. In a marriage that lasted 72 years the partnership of two highly intelligent but very different personalities was not always smooth, but that notwithstanding the union delivered Kathryn a wealth of opportunity for international experiences rare for most living in those times. Bill Purnell’s work in the early years of UNESCO, as head of its Science Cooperation Division, took Kathryn to Paris to live in the early post war years, then to Cairo and later Jakarta. She travelled widely in Europe and later spent time in South Africa where her younger daughter lived for a time. When her husband’s ill health compelled the family to return permanently to Australia in the late nineteen fifties, Kathryn maintained her international links through involvement with the United Nations Association, and her work with women through the YWCA. It was particularly in this period of her life, with the common pressures of maintaining a family, supporting a husband in his professional life and finding time to create, that she felt most strongly the constraints and limitations placed on the female creative spirit by the societal practices and beliefs of the time. But create she did, both poetry and prose work. She also spent much of her time teaching aspiring writers, mostly women. Active in the Society of Women Writers, in 1998 she won The Alice Award, a biennial award for long term and distinguished contribution to literature by an Australian woman. Previous winners have included Eleanor Dark, Judith Wright, Mary Durack and Nancy Cato. After Kathryn’s death the Society of Women’s Writers Victoria set up the biennial Kathryn Purnell Poetry Prize in her memory. Other awards over the years included the State of Victoria Short Story Award and the Moomba Short Story Prize in 1966/67, The Society of Women Writers Poetry Prize in 1972, Maryborough Poetry Prize in 1975, an award in the Geelong Arts Festival 1976 and in 1979 she was the inaugural winner of the Charles Meeking Poetry Award for women. A resident of the suburb, in the early nineties Kathryn was appointed East Melbourne Writer in Residence. During this appointment she edited “The Beautiful Hill: An Anthology of Writing from East Melbourne”, a collection of short essays and poems written by local identities. In addition to her poetry, Kathryn left a fine legacy of prose writings, much of it unpublished. A current project will seek to redress this by e-publishing some of her novellas, short stories and her singular novel, the latter a fascinating story, with autobiographical undertones, covering the life of a young girl growing up in early twentieth century Vancouver, yet stretching to Cairo in the fifties.”

For lovers of French history the following epic poem reflects on personal elements in the life of Louis 14th of France, The Sun King. The style is very different to Kathryn’s later poetry, probably having been written in the immediate post war years when she lived in Paris. Your correspondent thinks it is a gem worthy of preservation.

 

THE KING WALKS IN THE ORANGERIE

©

Mine is a tired ghost well acquainted with questions

still unsolved; consciously dissatisfied; harried

by avoidable mistakes; dismissing other ethical torts

of my historic times. A strange garrulous phantom

even irreligious now considering the murders I sanctioned in that cause;

the sacred promises I broke like a pagan at midsummer. A pagan

which indeed I have become since I died, rising up and down

from the soil to haunt my garden and spook the decline

of my maligned menagerie. I rarely wander now inside

my palace so perfectly restored with gold from the new

world. Even I cannot approve the recent treaties irredeemably

forced by hate in my long ballroom.

This last is a disgusting century

considering the technical advances

man does not improve

or justify his promise.

I have decided to depart with the last

blossoming tree in this potted

monarchical menagerie.

For me the flowers, animals and birds have easily deposed

ambitious men. I was encircled by them.

Women are softer if mischievous even gardeners

desire them. I am at depth a gardener. This garden

unlocked me season following season in carefully

constructed promenade, spring blossom, summer fruit,

the red glow of autumn, winter resting white, the constant

parade of flowers, the trees I know as friends.

Women so seasonal in beauty wit and laughter

were my necessity like the oranges I removed with plans

from Fouquet who stole from my treasury. He was the collector

of artists, Le Vau, Le Brun, Le Nôtre, destined for Versailles.

I was the gardener. Historians

may say Le Nôtre

made the garden.

It was I, Louis Quatorze, son

of Anne, taught by Mazarin, I

the fourteenth monarch ageing

from agile gay to sullen melancholy

made it grow. I was the gardener.

The menagerie was also mine.

The inner lodge of the chateau was always my retreat

from vulnerable childhood. Secure inside these woods

I could not hear the wild street cries of Paris. True

the mob came here to seize my final heir and Antoinette:

the demons stripped the palace but not the stones and brick

and not for a hundred years when even my eminent ghost

walked on the inner stair advice ignored and wraith unseen

by the sixteenth and his Queen. She built a little farm

for her pretence. His neglect included the half mooned

circle of my menagerie. Versailles was my sanctuary;

around it rose my glory, the great façade. Three hundred

seventy five elongated windows for the fabled view

across one hundred steps to the thousand fountain jets.

 

While I endured the levy my children played on the double stairway,

danced above the Orangerie, giggled at the gondoliers

imported from Italy to sing of Venetian love in a French lullaby.

How I wanted those children to be happy. Modern children

play but not so often die except in war. I sired seventeen;

have trouble now remembering the wisps beyond the seven

who survived and they took full life pride from the wombs

of several women. While princely young I loved Louise.

Her beauty produced a beautiful daughter. In my next phase

the wit of Montespan presented me with two. I recall three

adorable girls brought up by Maintenon who guarded my progeny

until her earthly end within the bigotry of her religious creed,

remember with an acute compassion the children who lived

to be my heirs. Madame the Queen bedded year by year

to leave my only son, raised by my brother Monsieur

for the safety of the crown until the Dauphin was grown

mature enough to produce a son of his own, my beloved grandson,

hope of my middle years, pleasing for the succession

protecting for the perpetuation the divine dynastic

right of kings, who loved my little one, the petite Bourgogne.

My favourite Marie Adelaide

whom they brought from Savoy,

delightful imperious child

of eleven betrothed to my heir

young Burgundy. It was she who

fell in love with my menagerie

which I gave her gladly.

How we adored her.

In her embroideries

she smelled sweeter than Le Nôtre’s

roses. She was a passion like my flowers.

Her youth like mine cherished the menagerie. Mine

the power of a young king even then older than Adelaide

the year she died. When she arrived thirty reigning

years had spent enthusiasm; filched me away

from that first fascination, recaptured in her face.

I remembered that the King of Portugal had sent the elephant;

that I studied biology in the beginning, paid out

a hundred thousand gold Louis, made my menagerie

richer in fur and feathers than any other.

Secure and proud had opened the doors to public view,

a mistake of twenty years duration. Once an offer

is made it is difficult to cancel. It was the people broke

my spirit, hooted, bellowed and roared derision, trampled

the flowers, drunk with wine abused exotic elegance,

fouled the way in their hollering heard in constant din

above the roar of the lion.

I was over sixty when

she watched the menagerie with me,

my little Marie Adelaide come

to be married at twelve.

She adored the peacock strut, Quagga that rare zebra

now extinct; like me she stared fancifully

into the amber eyes of cats. The keepers loved her.

She had the tempers to make men laugh and yet obey,

a royal trait too shrewd for thoughtless edicts. She

cajoled Colbert and me to finance the menagerie

when costs grew inordinately heavy. Only they who

have fed a zoo can know the cost. She and I

would walk together at the sunset hour, an ageing King

bitter with memory, hand in hand with a vain humble child

preparing to be a Queen despite a disposition too loving.

She talked to me, cajoled the boy who was her husband,

spoke to the gardeners, the keepers, her favourite

fowls and animals in the menagerie, trying to please

them all. I see her still standing by idly absorbed

with hens and cabbages while I argued with Le Nôtre

who raised legumes instead of blooms in my greenhouses.

So it was not for me her small

white form returns. I hurry to speak

but she is gone like quicksilver.

Strange I should remember best

the love without desire.

It is not for me she searches.

She died of measles, a scourge

like the pox and faster,

a night and she was gone

still a young woman.

He who was my grandson followed

her soon after refusing to recover.

Outlive my heirs! It broke my

heart for as I lived I buried

every one except the wide eyed child

of five they brought to me

for blessing before I died.

He was a good king,

often we walked together here

where he was born and died. He

was always at home within my presence.

He shared my humours, grateful

I haunted the Regent when he

was young. As well his Queen

Marie Leczinska breathed her blood

into these roots with ten offspring

to place above the glory of mistresses

who were beautiful women. In that

he was more fortunate than I, yet

finally I had rather the menagerie

I made and the garden of Versailles.

My tulips, my daffodils, my stocks and jasmine.

Useless, Le Nôtre said agreeing with La Quintinie

smiling among the variety of vegetables raised for my table

arguing amiably while watching my face. Vegetables

with berries are beautiful food for birds and love as equally

are lilliums. Who in my day could say what was useless, not Le Nôtre

or Le Brun or Le Vau or even my clever exploiter Colbert

who played his part in this garden.

I did what I could for his sons.

He was a snob my brilliant financier

One never felt him satisfied.

How could he be?

Money was his forte. To me money

meant the satisfaction of my Orangerie:

Chinese they told me when I was first entranced.

When the oranges die I will go through their roots to the tomb

of Apollo, three hundred metres down the stairs

under the green carpet where the steps are mossy now and the border

trees velvet with golden lichen. At night now

only the satyrs stare at my apparition. The gates are locked. Moderns

may expect me there for by day I scare nobody. I am not

an unsightly spectre. My shade is friendly, haunting the Orangerie.

The worst I am called is vain. An artist leaves a painting,

a poet a poem. Musicians can be performed continually.

Only recently a performance of a petite suite in A

composed by me was mechanically recorded in the conservatoire.

Any peasant can leave his seed, the woman makes the child.

Knossos, Persopolis, Chambord, from roses and fleur-de-lis

monarchs build palaces. I the Sun King Louis,

out of everything I saw and knew, from moulding,

beading, panelling, gilding, water and symmetry,

using stone and ornamentation with inlay,

ormolu, enamel and clay, from leadlight,

parquetry, archeries and fountains I made Versailles,

fashioned gardens with waterways and my menagerie.

Depart a tired ghost

with the last tree in my Orangerie

I, Louis Quatorze who made Versailles.

 

Kathryn Purnell (1911-2006)

 

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