Magazine article The Spectator

Tireless Activist

Magazine article The Spectator

Tireless Activist

Article excerpt

The death of Edward Said on 25 September from leukaemia deprived the musical world of one of its most tireless activists. Every article I have read about him since his death has mentioned his interest in music as if it were a desirable ornament, one of the many attributes which would justify the writer in going on to talk about what a renaissance man he was - though I noticed that no one ever referred to his involvement with tennis, which would have performed the task rather better. Music was far more to Said than that. Put it this way: I find that people who are only superficially involved with music tend not to write of the 'complexity, delicacy and power' of Josquin's mass-settings, because they have never heard a Josquin mass-setting. Said had heard every one I could find to send him, despite the fact that he had trained as a pianist in the straight up-and-down classical tradition, so often a cue for 'This is what I know about - isn't it enough to love Mozart?'

He knew about Mozart, too, writing a book about the Germanic tradition entitled Musical Elaborations in 1991, and contributing a regular music column to the Nation for many years. I first met him attending Tallis Scholars' concerts in New York City, both at the Lincoln Center and at St Paul's Chapel at Columbia University, which led to a few planning sessions about how we were going to fix a tour of concerts of polyphony in Palestine (among, or indeed contained by, other places). He was especially keen that we should go to the conservatoire in Ramallah, where subsequently his friend Daniel Barenboim did go at his instigation. Whether we could have sung anything as emotive as the Wagner that Barenboim conducted is doubtful, but Said took the line that his embattled people needed soothing as much as firing-up, and Josquin was as good as anyone at that. Eventually the tour was called off, awaiting the calmer times he didn't live to see.

Said's interest in music led him to cofound, with Barenboim, the West-East Divan Orchestra, which was specifically designed to bring Israeli and Arab musicians together. The critical success of the Prom which this orchestra gave last August must have been a heartening moment for both its founders, the symbolism of Barcnboim joining an Israeli and an Arab soloist in Mozart's Concerto for Three Pianos being lost on no one. …

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