8 August 2021

Watching the River Flow

 Flow, River, Flow.....

I am at The Bridge, watching the river flow....  

Simon Russell Beale, or Simon Beale as he was at Clifton College when I called the roll....  is also at The Bridge, construing Johann Sebastian Bach as a difficult father.  Photography is not allowed in the theatre, so this is an artist's impression of SRB as JSB.....

In October 2010 Mr Beale wrote, in his Foreword to Nicholas Kenyon's Pocket Guide to Bach, that the book tells the story of a man who from an ordinary family background, with a thorough but unexceptional education, a man who wrote dazzling music that summons up the sensual, everyday pleasures of the world around us, could then push himself to produce work that touches the face of God.....

Although it's an interesting play, with some effective moments and fine acting, in general it exudes a shortage of drama, and the paragraph above does more for me than the interactions of the actors on the stage, with - in my mind - the dumpy, argumentative maestro taking me back rather to Clifton in the mid-70s than Leipzig in 1750.  And I suspect Simon Russell Beale, despite his love for Bach, knows it's something of a Mess in B minor.....

Outside the theatre the river flows on under the bridge.....

It's good to be back in the city, even if only very briefly.  Life hasn't stopped, yet, though the streets are still relatively quiet.....

Tottenham Court Road

It's good to be out and about, moving freely through the arcades,

Burlington Arcade

The side streets,

Colville Place

And the parks, where the air is green and perfumed.....

Gordon Square

In Leicester Square, the Bard is having a wash and brush up,

And in Trafalgar Square the police seem relaxed,

One with no tie and bursting at the belt; the other neat with pink accessories

I drop in to The National Gallery to pay homage to my namesake kneeling in a cloth of gold in the Wilton Diptych:

I pause to admire a guitar solo in the San Pier Maggiore Altarpiece:

Wander down The Avenue at Middleharnis, one of my all time favourite places:

Meindert Hobbema

Then take a stroll in the beautiful Tuscan countryside: 

The Assumption of the Virgin: Francesco Botticini

Before pausing to look at life on the Grand Canal in Venice:


It's great to roam again, even if, when I turn to look at a mirror; I see an old man, puzzled by this streaming world, distressed by infirmity, unsure about the past, the present or the future....  Something like Johann Sebastian Bach toward the end of his life....

Rembrandt: Self Portrait at the age of 63

It's great to roam again, even if only in my mind's eye. So, back outside, I see a Virgin and Child.  Well, perhaps not exactly that, but the tenderness of mother's attention and the cool confidence of the child make me wonder at the ongoing flow of humanity and its resilience.

So, bach (sic) to the river, and that swirling coalescence of notes and molecules that rises and falls with the tide, but continues incessantly under the bridge.  Watch a bubble, or an eddy, and see it disappear.  Watch a leaf, or a discarded bottle top, watch it spin and dip and carry on, towards the sea and some form of watery death. Hear the embellishments, the cadenzas, the repetitions....

The river flows
It flows to the sea
Wherever that river goes
That's where I want to be

The Ballad of Easy Rider as sung by Roger McGuinn, but derived from a note on a paper napkin by Bob Dylan, follows the current, which perhaps began with Edmund Spenser in Prothalamion.... 

People dance in the evening, the river slipping away past us all, tugging at our lives, eroding the time we have left, while shining Godzillas reach for the clouds on the far bank.

T S Eliot took up the theme in part three of The Waste Land, The Fire Sermon:

By the waters of Leman I sat down and wept... Sweet Thames, run softly till I end my song,
Sweet Thames, run softly, for I speak not loud or long.

Youth seems oblivious of the drift. Wachet auf, ruft uns die Stimme......

And, from another angle, the Shard rises to the heavens: Der Himmel lacht! Die Erde jubilieret....

I wonder.  I wander.  My head returns to another song about the river.  Ewan MacColl's Sweet Thames, Flow Softly.  Although it has nothing, really, to do with this piece, it is a beautiful song about London and the river, and never better performed than by Christy Moore with the damaged angel SinĂ©ad O'Connor (Shuhada Sadaqat) harmonising shyly in the chorus.  Have a look and a listen:  https://youtu.be/Tgwtl-s0CNI

So then, into the fading night, join me by the riverside, while lights glisten on the surface and  Bob and Leon join in the ruffling waves:

But this ol’ river keeps on rollin’, though
No matter what gets in the way and which way the wind does blow
And as long as it does I’ll just sit here
And watch the river flow

Watching the River  Flow
Bob Dylan, 1971

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