Magazine article The Spectator

Music: Last Words

Magazine article The Spectator

Music: Last Words

Article excerpt

This, my 479th, is to be my last contribution as a regular columnist to The Spectator . I have written here for 33 years and 4 months, a way of life really, and one I have greatly enjoyed. I thank Auberon Waugh in absentia for suggesting me to Alexander Chancellor in the first place; and Charles Moore for keeping me on in the early years, once we were up and running. I also thank three quite exceptional arts editors: Gina Lewis, Jenny Naipaul and the doyenne of these pages, Liz Anderson.

Things have moved on from my habitual think pieces, outraged rants, ad hominem demolition of palpable idiots written in the back of aeroplanes. Perhaps if I had shot less often from the hip I would have been saved some of my more unfortunate calls to order, like the occasion I was summoned to Buckingham Palace for a dressing-down, resulting in the imposition of the Official Secrets Act. It was fun, though, in retrospect. I still stand amazed at the power of the written word. People will tolerate almost anything but being on the wrong side of a published opinion.

My first column was dated 8 January 1983. I wrote it under the pseudonym A.S. Henry, a camouflage I kept up for six months. Before me, an irregular music column had been written by Anthony Burgess from his mobile home in southern France. The main problem with this arrangement had been the difficulty of conveying black vinyl LPs to him for review. Something more reliable was needed, and until 1989 I was asked to write fortnightly, alternating with Rodney Milnes on opera. That was the year I also wrote a cricket column, soon abandoned for similar reasons to those I have just outlined -- it is hard to keep abreast of games that take five days from the back of an aeroplane. Neville Cardus, my model, had done rather better.

Filing copy before the advent of email was an inexact science. Of course one could risk putting the piece in the post, but that meant being ahead of oneself time-wise. The surest method was to type it out (double spaced) and push it through the letter-box of 56 Doughty Street. We rarely used fax for some reason, but I did once, in 1985, send in an article by telex. I was working with the Dutch Chamber Choir in Amsterdam, where the deadline had caught me on the hop. …

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