After yesterday’s post about the beautiful, magnificent All Creatures Great and Small, it occurred to me that I wasn’t sure if Tristan was conducting Mussourgsky in the Mad Conductor scene in the book. So I went back and checked, and by God I was right:
Tristan raised his arms and gazed imperiously over his imaginary orchestra, taking in the packed rows of strings, the woodwind, brass, and timpani in one sweeping glance. Then with a violent downswing he led them into the overture. Rossini, this time, I thought or maybe Wagner as I watched him throwing his head about, bringing in the violins with a waving clenched fist or exhorting the trumpets with a glare and a trembling, outstretched hand.
It was somewhere near the middle of the piece that the rot always set in and I watched enthralled as the face began to twitch and the lips to snarl. The arm waving became more and more convulsive then the whole body jerked with uncontrollable spasms. It was clear that the end was near – Tristan’s eyes were rolling, his hair hung over his face, and he had lost control of the music which crashed and billowed around him. Suddenly he grew rigid, his arms fell to his sides, and he crashed to the floor.
Speaking of Tristan, meet his brother Siegfried:
I was turning to leave when he called me back. “Oh, there’s one other thing I’d like you to do today. My young brother is hitching in from Edinburgh today. He’s at the Veterinary College there and the term finished yesterday. When he gets within striking distance he’ll probably give us a ring. I wonder if you’d slip out and pick him up?”
“Certainly. Glad to.”
“His name is Tristan, by the way.”
“Yes. Oh, I should have told you. You must have wondered about my own queer name. It was my father. Great Wagnerian. It nearly ruled his life. It was music all the time – mainly Wagner.”
“I’m a bit partial, myself.”
“Ah well, yes, but you didn’t get it morning, noon, and night like we did. And then to be stuck with a name like Siegfried. Anyway, it could have been worse – Wotan, for instance.”
[Siegfried] look startled. “By golly, you’re right. I’d forgotten about old Pogner. I suppose I’ve a lot to be thankful for.”
What I love about these scenes – and others like it – is that All Creatures Great and Small and its sequels are books about a veterinarian. And yet author James Herriot throws in these little nods to the classical music world. It’s like having an inside joke with an old friend.
Do you have any other examples of classical music on the periphery, popping up in odd corners of ostensibly unrelated books and movies?