Saturday, 11 August 2018

Programme Notes – String Sextets

Programme Notes – String Sextets

String Sextet from Capriccio (Op.85) —  Richard Strauss  (1864-1949)

Capriccio was Richard Strauss' final opera, written in the early years of the 2nd world war. Sublitled "A Conversation Piece for Music", the opera is long, conversational, and theoretical, as it discusses the relative merits of words, music (and dance), and in consequence it has not proved poplar. Countess Madeleine has to choose (as a future husband) between a composer and a poet. The sextet is the work of the former and is heard in its entirity early in the 1st act. (The opera ends with the Countess secretly wishing to retain both the magic of words and music.)

String Sextet (Halbr. 224) — Bohuslav Martinů (1890-1959)

i. Lento/Allegro, ii. Andantino/Allegro scherzando/ Andantino, iii. Allegretto poco moderato
Martinů’s sextet was written in less than a week in 1932, which may to some extent explain its organic unity, if not its structural originality. His catalogue for that year contains 22 other compositions.  It was awarded first prize in a competition funded by Elizabeth Sprague Coolidge, but Martinů initially ignored the telegram announcing his success, assuming it to be a joke. It was first performed in Washington the following year. Martinů, born in a provincial town in Bohemia, impressed his fellow citizens who raised enough money to send him to study at the Prague Conservatoire, where (however) he did not thrive and was eventually dismissed at the age of 19 for "incorrigible negligence". At the age of 33 he left Prague, which he found too conservative, for Paris, where he married, took lessons with Roussel, and stayed till the Germans invaded. Though formally this work is in 3 movements, the pulse goes: slow/fast//slow/fast/slow//fast. It begins in C minor in a mood of 'uncertain pessimism', but concludes in an extrovert D major.

"String Quintet in C major " —  Luigi Boccherini (1743 – 1805); arr. Johann Christoph Lauterbach (1832 – 1918)

The first thing to remember about Boccherini is that he was himself a cellist; and clearly enjoyed the richness achieved by adding an extra cello to the classical (Haydn) quartet.  It is strange to reflect that 120 years ago the music of the Baroque was so thoroughly neglected that it was possible for musicians such as Lauterbach to 'discover' these rich and 'unknown' archives and attempt to present them to the public in the best light he could. Today's arrangment takes movements from 4 different Quintets of Boccherini (indicated below by their Gérard numbers and dates) written between 1779 (Boccherini, happily married, with 2 daughters and enjoying royal patronage in Madrid), and 1789 (Boccherini widowed and his daughter and his royal pupil dead). 
1. Andante con moto (G 349, 1789); 2. Menuett (G 314, 1779), and trio (G 318, 1779);
3. Grave (G 325, 1780); 4. Rondo (modified from G 310, 1779).

String Sextet in G major Op.36  —–  Johannes Brahms (1833 – 1897)

i. Allegro non troppo; ii. Scherzo (Allegro non troppo/Presto giocoso); iii. Adagio; iv. Poco allegro

Very few string sextets were written between those of Boccherini and those of Brahms. However, the rich and bass-heavy modification of the classical quartet, with its extra viola and extra cello, obviously appealed to Brahms. This sextet (Brahms' 2nd), was written during the summers of 1864/65 in the country near Baden-Baden, when Brahms was still only 31, but living now in Vienna and finding his mature voice. His devotion and enduring fondness for Clara Schumann is well know; less well known is the fact that (in 1858/9) he passionately loved and was briefly engaged to Agathe von Siebold. The engagement ended and rings returned when the bad reception of Brahms' 1st piano concerto (in 1959) induced feelings of inadequacy. To escape, Agathe left Germany (in 1864) to become a governess in Ireland while this G major sextet seems to be Brahms' attempt at catharsis. There is a Clara-based motif that pervades the meditative and complex slow movement, but, at the passionate climax of the 1st movement, Joachim points out the notes A-G-A-D-H-E. (An excellent essay can be found at

Progamme notes – Haydn, Ravel, Schumann

Progamme notes – Haydn, Ravel, Schumann

String Quartet in E flat Op.76 No 6  –  Franz Joseph Haydn (1732 – 1809)

i. Allegretto – Allegro; ii. Fantasia (adagio); iii. Menuetto (presto); iv. Finale (allegro spiritoso)
Haydn is regarded as the 'Father' both of the symphony and the string quartet (and arguably of sonata-form as well). This combination of 4 string instruments, regarded by some as the apex of western music if not of western culture itself, apparently arose by the mere coincidence of the 18 year old Haydn being invited to compose something and having exactly these players to hand. He wrote such an engaging piece that he was encouraged to write more works for this combination; eventually he was to write 83. Ours is the 80th, written in 1797, after which Haydn turned to oratorios. The first movement is in strophic variation form (verse, or verse and chorus), the second is a slow and harmonically wandering fantasy in the semi-remote key of B. The minuet is unusually fast (more Scherzo than minuet?), while the last movement (in 3/4 time, as are 3 of the 4 movements) is in sonata-form with its characteristic, and indeed defining, modulation into the dominant and return to the tonic.

String Quartet in F, Opus — Joseph-Maurice Ravel (1875 – 1937)        

i. Allegro moderato, Très doux; ii. Assez vif, Très rythmé; iii. Très lent; iv. Vif et agité
Ravel tried 4 times for the Prix de Rome (awarded annually since 1663 for painters and sculptors, but extended to musicians in 1803), but failed each time to names now long forgotten (André Caplet, Aymé Kunc, Raoul Laparra, Victor Gallois). This piece, composed 1903, was his final attempt (in 1905) and was eliminated in a preliminary round, the ensuing controversy leading to the resignation of the director of the Conservatoire. Ravel admitted its imperfections but insisted that it embodied his aims. It has become a staple of the repertoire, and will be familiar to the many viewers of BBC's 'Chamomile Lawn'. Innovative and exploratory rather than revolutionary, Ravel's quartet, while dedicated to Fauré, is clearly influenced by Debussy's earlier Quartet, and like that work adopts César Franck’s ‘cyclic form’, in which each movement is a fresh transformation of a germinal theme. Its first movement is in a sort of quasi-sonata-form, for, instead of developing from F major towards C major (the dominant), Ravel favours the more distantly related keys of D minor and A minor. (He extends this idea in the second and fourth movements where the note A acts as a pivot between the major and minor modes.) The second movement achieves its effect by flying pizzicato figures and a strong rhythmic conflict between 6/8 and 3/4 meters.  In the slow third movement the key sequence is even more advanced as A shifts to A sharp, then enharmonically to B flat, to G flat minor, and to G flat major (as remote from F as you can get). The rhythmically complex finale (largely 5/8 time) returns to A, before eventually descending to F major for its exhilarating conclusion.

String Quartet in A, Op.41 No. 3  ———  Robert Schumann (1810 – 1856)

i. Andante espressivo - Allegro molto moderato; ii. Assai agitato; iii. Adagio molto; iv. Finale Allegro molto vivace - Quasi Trio
Before his marriage to Clara Wieck in 1840, Schumann composed only for the piano; thereafter he composed also songs (1840), symphonies (1841), chamber music (1842), and choral works (1843). Today's quartet, and its two preceding quartets, all written in 1842, have been regarded as overly pianistic. It is true that they differ from the standard quartets of the period, in timbre particularly. Though there is plenty contrapuntal writing, there is also writing that would look like chords on a piano score, all 4 instruments in phase and with the same rhythm. But these works should not be overlooked on that account alone, for they are deeply serious contributions by an outstanding composer, and contain unique qualities of melody and mood. No. 3 is by far the most often played. One of the persistent motifs is a drop (or a rise) of a 5th; quite a jump. It is first heard at the very beginning of the first movement; and again at the very end of that movement, where it seems we are to end on the dominant, and only on the last beat of the last bar do we fall back to A (the tonic, or 'home note' for this movement). Another feature is the frequent use of unsettling rhythms; off beat notes for 16 bars at a stretch, or notes starting at the end of one bar and tied over to the next. The Agitato 2nd movement is particularly varied in terms of rhythm; it contains a risoluto section that sounds almost like a separate movement. The finale is a sort of Rondo, but with a section marked Quasi Trio in Clara Schumann's edition of 1881, of slower tempo and different mood as is characteristic of Minuet and Scherzo movements, but unusual in Rondo finales.

Friday, 3 August 2018

Petition to Rescind Article 50

Over 188,000 people have now signed a petition asking the Government to “Rescind Art.50 if Vote Leave has broken Electoral Laws regarding 2016 referendum”. The Government replied to signatories as follows:

“The British people voted to leave the EU and the Government respects that decision. We have always been clear that as a matter of policy our notification under Article 50 will not be withdrawn. The British people voted to leave the EU, and it is the duty of the Government to deliver on their instruction. There can be no attempt to stay in the EU.  The result of the referendum held on 23 June 2016 saw a majority of people vote to leave the European Union. This was the biggest democratic mandate for a course of action ever directed at any UK Government. Following this, Parliament authorised the Prime Minister to trigger Article 50, passing the EU (Notification of Withdrawal) Act…....”

It is true that the referendum gave a small majority to the Leave campaign (a margin of 1.27 million in an electorate of 46.5 million), and it is understandable that the Government regards it as its duty to deliver Brexit. However, it seems to me that the person who framed the Government’s answer did not understand the complaint being made in the petition. It is being claimed that the 2016 referendum is flawed because the electoral law was broken.  There is no virtue in adhering rigorously to a flawed referendum. 

If it is proved that electoral law was broken, I would not (myself) ask for immediately reversal of the leaving process, but a pause; and a rethink of the possibility of a second referendum. A second referendum would be enormously expensive and unsettling. But it would in no way disregard or disparage the will of "the people”. The Government maintains that "the people" still want to leave the EU, as was the case in June 2016. Confirming that opinion would enormously strengthen the Government’s position. But reversing the result in a second referendum would suggest that the public had not been adequately informed in the lead up to the 2016 referendum. To suggest that this would lead to a succession of referenda is silly; a clash between the 2016 referendum and a 2018 referendum would only lead to a further referendum if it could be shown that the 2018 result was also flawed, like the 2016.

Yours sincerely, Ian West
Ian West
9 Thenford Road, Middleton Cheney,

Sunday, 15 July 2018

The Role of the Citizen

The Role of the Citizen

International Law: Part 2 – The Role of the Citizen.

(It is the essential rôle of the citizen to require cases to be brought to the International Court; and to read, and publicise, the Court’s findings.)

Where does law get its legitimacy? Is it not, ultimately, from common consent?  A law is a statement proscribing or requiring an action but framed in such a way as to maximise the extent of agreement inside the polity that will be governed by that law.  There is little difference in this essential regard between laws inside a state and laws governing actions between states (or between citizens of one state and those of another), except that there is need of (i) a special court  to formulate International Law and (ii) a mechanism for finding and expressing the required consensus. Well, there is an International Court — the International Court of Justice established in the Hague in 1945 by the Charter of the United Nations. But is there a mechanism for finding and expressing the required consensus, without which the law is simply hot air?

It is illegal to kill people in all civilised states, except when the state is at war, whereupon it becomes accepted practice to kill enemy soldiers. (But not enemy civilians, nor random people, nor to use poisonous chemicals, nor cluster bombs, etc.) Why is it regarded as legal to kill enemy soldiers when a state is at war? Surely because society, and common sense, condones killing enemy soldiers (when they are the aggressors), on the grounds of self defence.   

Isabel Hull wrote an excellent article [1] in the London Review of Books (2018, vol. 40/8, pp. 25-6) reviewing the no-doubt equally inspiring book by Hathaway and Shapiro (2017) titled "The Internationalists and their plan to outlaw war" [2]. What a bold and brilliant plan; because states (it seemed, in 1918) could see no possibility of excluding war from their repertoire. But citizens did feel it was necessary to distinguish between acceptable and unacceptable war. The four heroes of Hathaway and Shapiro’s book are: Levinson (1918), Shotwell (1924), Welles (1942) and Lauterpacht (1941). The first three, in the USA, successfully brought sharper definitions of legitimate and illegal wars into international pacts and declarations, and the last, in Britain, successfully argued the consequences of these declarations in making conquest by war illegal. 

The concept that territory changes hands only by consent, never by force, has become a centrepiece of modern international law.  Since 1945 there have been relatively few unprovoked acts of aggressive conquest: the invasion of East Timor by Indonesia in 1975 [3], the conquest of Kuwait by Iraq, and of Balkan neighbours by Serbia spring to mind, but were unsuccessful. Israeli expansion in 1967 was (perhaps) provoked, (though their subsequent movement of population into occupied territory [probably] breaks the Geneva Convention of 1949 [4]). And the Russian re-annexation of the Crimea in 2014 — was that by invitation of a suppressed population?  When is secession legal? When is the suppression of secession legal? (The confederate States of USA, East Timor, The Crimea, the Basques, Catalonia, Scotland?)

General ignorance, by the citizens of the world, seems to emerge as the main obstacle to the application of International Law, for each case has still to be decided by the bulk of the world’s citizens (being not themselves involved in the dispute). It is clearly impossible for more than a handful of skilled jurists in each country to command the facts and comprehend the principles at issue sufficiently to make a sensible assessment. So we need the International Court to consider each case and publish their findings. Currently, there seems little pressure from governments to bring cases to the International Court. Perhaps the sovereign powers tend to regard any intervention by the International Court as an infringement of their own sovereignty. And there seems to be little public pressure on the newsmedia in civilized countries for information. So, it is the essential role of the citizen to require these cases to be brought to court. And to read, and publicise, the Court’s findings.

It has been argued that judgements by the Internation Court are futile if there is no mechanism for forcing the penalties that the Court may hand down [5]. I argue that this is no longer true. Information transfer is now so swift and easy that a widely held judgement against a rogue country will have, in a short time, impact sufficient to influence law-breakers.

(This continues my investigation into the slow process by which we evolve International Law; a folk process; almost a religious process. )

1.          London Review of Books (2018, vol. 40/8, pp. 25-6)
2.          Hathaway and Shapiro (2017) The Internationalists and their plan to outlaw war
5.         Ranyard West (1945) Psychology and World Order, Penguin Books, Harmonsworth, UK.

Monday, 7 May 2018

Nationalism: the greatest enemy to happiness today

International Law: Part 1 – Nationalism

     "Wherein", asks C.E.M. Joad in 1939, "is to be found the greatest enemy to the happiness of contemporary man?" In poverty? In pain? In the wickedness of the human heart? Possibly and perhaps. But these have oppressed men in all times; they were not distinctive of 1939. Twentieth century man (Joad suggested) suffered more from the unchecked power of the Nation State, than from pain, poverty, or personal brutality.
      "The Nation State regards itself as the sole arbiter of right and wrong, claiming to be both judge and jury in its own cause, acknowledges no law to govern is relations with other States and no morality in restraint of its designs upon its neighbours. Over the lives and liberties of its citizens it exercises an absolute control. It requires of them a willingness to kill other human beings whom they have never seen, whenever it deems the mass slaughter of the members of some other State to be desirable, and conceives that its welfare may be promoted by exacting from them the most horrible sacrifices, in order that they may harm the citizens of its alleged enemy.....
     "It tramples upon the liberties of individuals in order to establish its independence. While proclaiming its determination to be free, it deprives its citizens of their freedom......
     "The State is an anachronism. With its trade restrictions and tariffs, its customs and quotas, it sets up barriers between itself and its neighbours and seeks to the best of its ability to impede the manifest drive of our civilization towards unity. ...(driven by)...the abolition of distance.....It is only 150 years ago that it took a man as long to travel from York to London as it now takes him to fly from London to New York. The future holds in store advances no less remarkable than those of the past......... Today we can fly in the air; tomorrow we shall fly in the stratosphere." (Joad writing, we should remember, in 1939).

     I admire Joad's clarity, and vision. So much he got right! Yet the shrinking of distance that has seen a man walk on the moon, and that has sent this week a rocket to land on Mars (!!), has not yet welded Europe into a Federal State, nor abolished the concept of protective tariffs. At least this seems to be the case in the slower-moving parts of the Anglo Saxon world, like Derbyshire and Detroit. 

(This is the beginning of an investigation into the slow process by which we evolve International Law; a folk process; almost a religious process. )

Friday, 20 April 2018

Syria may have used toxic chemicals against civilians

Ian Blackford (SNP MP) spoke on the Radio 4 Today programme (14th April 2018 at 08:45 hrs) on the question of bombing Syria as a rebuke for its possible (or probable) use of chemical weapons against civilians. His emerged as one of the most considered and constructive voices to speak in public on the subject over the last few days. From repeated interruptions, it was hard to hear what he was trying to say, but it sounded as though he thought Britain's actions should be:
[1]  within International law;
[2]  tending to strengthen the authority of international institutions such as the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) and the United Nations (UN), rather than undermining them;
[3]  part of a clear strategic plan, such as isolating rogue states;
[4]  seen as having a clear trajectory other than merely bombs, and more bombs.

I think the same. In the event, I think our actions were none of those.

Monday, 2 April 2018

Government Spending

The Benefits of Government Spending

     In July 2016 I showed [1], in a very simple and straightforward way, how raising taxes and spending the money thus raised can cause an immediate increase in GDP, while at the same time allowing increased expenditure on infrastructure. My simple model (detailed in Table 2 below, and in [1]) shows how money is recycled; one man’s spending is another man’s income, and so on repeatedly, towards a limit. My analysis has not been widely heeded by the media, and maybe it should be restated. It also raises a number of issues that I did not discuss, such as: who should spend our money — the citizen or the state, and is VAT better than income tax?  I extend the analysis and the discussion here.
     In Table 1 below, I start with an notional GDP of 100 (arbitrary units) and using the estimates discussed earlier (and listed in Table 2) for amount spent on raw materials, infrastructure, luxury goods, taken in tax, or wasted, I come up with different percentages of GDP recycled depending on the tax regime (and my assumptions on how the tax is spent – see Table 2). The recycled GDP will itself split as before, and some of it will itself be recycled. But this is not an infinite regression; there is a mathematical limit given by the formula 1/(1-x), where x is the fraction recycled (e.g. 0.556). We see that recycling adds considerably to the final GDP, and more so in the high-tax regimes.        

I do not think this point has been often made in the literature generally available to the public: that raising the level of taxation can increase GDP.

Table 1.  Initial GDP set at 100 arbitrary units. With recycling it swells to > 220
Income tax rate (p/£)
VAT tax rate (p/£)
Percentage of GDP recycled (=x)
Total Additional GDP at limit (i.e. 1/(1-x))
Total final GDP including initial injection
Percentage of GDP spent on Raw Materials
Percentage of GDP spent on Infrastructure
Percentage of GDP wasted
Percentage of GDP spent by citizens
Percentage of GDP spent on VAT-able goods
Percentage of GDP spent on VAT-free goods
Percentage of GDP collected in tax

There are a number of other points that can be illustrated with this simple model besides that just made about the importance of recycling GDP.  

Crucial to the effect of GDP recycling lies the question of what the government does with the taxes it collects. In the model here, it is assumed that some is spent on infrastructure, and it will be noted that higher taxes allow a proportionally higher annual spend on infrastructure (and waste). But a much larger fraction of government income is assumed to be spent on salaries (nurses, police, teachers, etc.), and on benefits (which I have treated as GDP, for it will be spent as such). To keep the modelling simple I have assumed the same split of government resources in each tax regime; so higher grovernment revenue pours more money into the pockets of millions of people. Hence the positive effect on GDP. If the model allowed foreign trade, and people spent their money on foreign cars, the spent money would not recycle as our GDP; it would figure in the economy of the car-makers.

You might wonder why this route of “Tax and Spend” has not recommended itself to governments before now. But of course, taxes take money out of the pockets of the wage-earners. Spending power is particularly hit for what I have called “voluntary spending” or “VAT-able spending”; essentials are slightly protected. Few politicians care to campaign for votes with a proposal to raise taxes, even if that is the sensible thing to do.

Table 2.  Variables used in the model and values assumed in calculations. Only the GDP (i.e. the ‘wages’) is recycled. The model assumes no foreign trade. ‘Waste’ refers to submarines and paperclips. If any reader has accurate data on these issues they can insert their own figures here, and write to me.
Value assumed
Input GDP for round 1
Arbitrary, e.g. B£
‘Average’ income tax rate
20 or 30
‘Average’ VAT rate
20 or 30
Portion of net income spent VAT-free

Part of VAT-free -> wages

Part of VAT-free -> raw material

After VAT, part -> wages (i.e. GDP)

After VAT, part -> raw material

Fraction of total tax on wages

Fraction of total tax on benefits

Fraction total tax on infrastructure

Fraction of total tax on waste

There was a theory, promulgated by some macro-economists, that lowering taxes will leave more money in the hands of the spending public, who will spend it and boost GDP. But will they spend it? And what will they spend it on? It is paternalistic to suppose that the government will spend more wisely than the citizen; paternalistic and perhaps also over-optimistic. Our governments since the credit squeeze of 2007 have shown no great wisdom in leading the way towards economic recovery. They have beggared the health service, given tax cuts to those on super-tax rates, and flooded the banks with fake money, ostensibly to cause inflation. On the present model we can see why tax cuts can fail to simulate the economy, when accompanied by spending cuts.