Track 1: Nightmare, Artie Shaw
Nightmare, by Artie Shaw. This is Classical Break, on Somer Valley FM, and I’m Rupert Kirkham. Today’s programme comes by kind permission of the Nabbital-Crashe family, from the famous Tudor manorhouse of Numbleigh-On-The- -Hill, one of the most haunted houses in England. The script, written by Mike Burrows, is a celebration of Halloween.
Untouched by contemporary attitudes to property and squatters, Halloween, a night for ghosts and spirits, exists largely in corner-of-an-eye paleness amid fierce red and yellow tints of trees, mists and bittersweet drifts or upward spirals of blue smoke and memory from bonfires and chimneys: in the shadows, uncertain sunshine and early lamplight experienced in old limestone houses and buildings, and the vast darkness and distant, flame-like lights of an Autumn night out-of-doors, which might as well be as far-off as the stars or moon between clouds. Is it merely the chill of approaching winter that one suddenly feels – or a presence of the long, unhappy past? The stories of the past are acted out still, as our stories move on. Some griefs – and happinesses – are not to be effaced, whatever the living may think.
A ghost for every room or alcove and every passageway. And one could go further in a country home, as the Otherworld’s fairies and witches of old belief are held back by articles of iron, moving water and prayer, and are known for their tricks.
Here, as one dunks one’s Sainsbury fig-roll in Kenco Really Rich in the front room of Numbleigh, and Mike takes a gingerly look at the antique Green Man andirons beside the Winchester stone fireplace, it may be Autumn, and it may be superstition, but where generations of landowning families and their servants have lived, light and shade shift or are meaningfully still; where cold sinks into the bones and there is the sense of centuries co-existent with our own, we may be feeling a closeness to the ghost-world . Now that Mrs Nabbital-Crashe has returned to the stone kitchen and Amazon.uk , we must express our gratitude to the Nabbital-Crashe family for their hospitality, not that there is a blazing log-fire of welcome, or any kind of fire, for that matter, in the grate.
Here’s a Lyric Piece by Grieg, one of his popular character-pieces for piano. This one, the 5th number of the Seventh Book, Opus 62, is entitled simply, Phantom. Is this ghost a haunting memory of an event or person, or the ghost of a lost feeling or opportunity? A melody generated by rhythm and phrase-structure and embroidered by trills, repeated notes and harmonies that look forward to Debussy, the entity passes before one’s view, the inspiration of an Autumnal-seeming moment. There is no contrasting material.
Track 2: Phantom, Grieg
Thomas Hardy and Gerald Finzi – two atheistic masters of the uncanny. Finzi devoted many years to reading and setting the poetry of the sage of Max Gate. His Hardy songs are arguably among the finest English vocal works produced in the 20th Century. Here is the evocative song, Voices From Things Growing In The Churchyard, the penultimate number of his cycle, By Footpath and Stile for baritone and string quartet.of 1921-22. The composer withdrew the cycle after publication, as immature, and it was edited and republished in an edition by his friend and fellow-composer, Howard Ferguson, in 1981.
The poet imagines the inhabitants of the churchyard rising, in that they speak through flowers, grass, trees, leaves and berries in the wind. From rapt opening through a lutenist-like strain, and characterizations of the voices, the scrupulous compassion of both poet and composer finds some sunshine between occurrences of the refrain, “All day cheerily,/All night eerily”.
Track 3: Voices From Things Growing In The Churchyard, Finzi
One of the ghosts of Numbleigh is, of course, that of the Henrican Sir Amyas de Hoote, the founder of a dynasty and doomed to haunt the stables and the neighbouring rough country for hunting on the Sabbath: he has become a Flying Dutchman of county circles, an awful warning to the hunter. The de Hootes owned the house and estate from the dissolution of the monasteries until the late 18th Century, when all was gamed away on Mr Bunn by the latest head of the family. The gamester, Sir Edward, knew people who attended Hellfire Club parties, and, being a gambling-enthusiast with a system, built a Temple of Fortuna on the South side of the park. It was converted into the ruined folly it is a year later.
Cesar Auguste Franck, pianist, organist and teacher, enjoyed two periods of inspiration – beginning as a piano-virtuoso and composer of trios and glittering pieces for solo piano, when he was mocked for his full name – more recognizable as Caesar Augustus – and ending as a well-regarded church musician and important and much-loved figure at the Paris Conservatoire, when he took to writing orchestral tone-poems and a symphony, besides advancing his reputation as a composer of chamber-music and instrumental pieces of great maturity.
His highly schematic tone-poem, Le Chasseur Maudit, The Accursed Horseman, was inspired by a German Ballad written in the 18th Century by G.A. Burger. The introduction evokes the auditory and spiritual tussle between the huntsman’s call on horns and tolled-over peace of the Sabbath countryside: the huntsman’s call comes out uppermost; in blustery air, with asides for the bystander’s reflections, the reckless lord’s horse begins its wild, staggering career over all physical obstacles, urged on ever more madly...
A sudden whispering hush mutes even the huntsman’s horn... Note the tritone derived from his music – now overt and chilling... Diabolus in musica! Doom is sounding in strings and trombones... The swing of unearthly bells is in the eddying air of strings and woodwind... Final-sounding chords bring something else on the wind – agitated rhythms pass on to the Sentence. The Accursed Huntsman will hunt on to eternity, day and night, never to rest, driven on by the Wild Hunt of legend. And so, in the midst of horror, already whipping up on his way and moving into the far distance, he leaves us.From the standpoint of thematic transformation, scoring, sensitivity to the elements and instinct for theatre, it’s an extraordinary feat of imagination to have come from a dutiful church-organist and professor in his sixties.
Track 4: Le Chasseur Maudit, Franck
Spare a thought for those who have gone far beyond basking, sun-drenched naturism. Then again, although Summer’s over, think of how hot and weary of heat overdressed mortals can become. Surely, there is something to be said for supernaturism? As Dan Russo and his Oriole Orchestra opined in the 1920s, Tain’t No Sin to take off your skin and dance around in your bones!
Track 5: Tain’t No Sin, Russo
The Ghost’s High Noon, as everyone knows, is midnight. On October the 31st, the Eve of All Hallows, how much more evidently is that the case? We shan’t be at Numbleigh-on-The-Hill on the 31st. By all accounts, normal laws of physics are held at nought on the estate. If there’s Sir George, the dandy of Mayfair, taking off his skin and dancing in his bones in the library, here’s Lady Joan, the grey lady, dressed in monochrome Elizabethan fashion, who haunts the passageway to the master bedroom, her back to the viewer and alternately wringing her hands and weeping into a handkerchief. Her face ought to be a picture. More of her anon. Then, there are the portraits in the gallery at the top of the sub-neo-classical main stairs; a succession of wicked lords and ladies, all subject to the curse of the dying witch or abbot, and, come the night of the 31st, doing very well on it; stepping down from their gilt frames to be much as ever they were – or – as in the Gilbert and Sullivan operetta Ruddigore - to encourage the latest baronet to maintain their family tradition of at least one-crime-a-day wickedness.
Here, the ancestors sing of their delight in being ghosts.
Track 6: When The Night Wind Howls, Sullivan
From spirits who discover that, as they are ‘practically alive’ they need not be dead at all, to the world outside light opera. Every old ghost was a new ghost, once, stepping out of the sheath of flesh and blood much as imagined by the poetess, Fredegond Shove. The change here is made a still more solemn and mystical event, shimmering with wonder and compassion, by the magical realism of Vaughan Williams. Here is his setting of The New Ghost.
Track 7: The New Ghost, Vaughan Williams
Engelbert Humperdinck was a Wagnerist whose music turned principles of The Music of The Future and the Assembled Artwork of Music-drama as exemplified in the operas of The Master to as wonderful ends in such fairy-tale, childhood-centred theatre-pieces as Hansel und Gretel and Die Konigskinder. Here is the orchestral description of the Witches Ride, Prelude to Act Two of Hansel and Gretel.
The de Hoote family of Numbleigh boasted no known witches or warlocks, perhaps mainly as they kept themselves to themselves when not burning witches. The eccentric Sir Isaac, who flourished in the late 17th Century, manifests himself as a sulphurous stench in an outhouse now let to holiday-makers, but, however insistently the old ash-tree taps at the window on lonely nights, he was, in fact, a serious amateur chemist. The mysterious disappearances among villagers of his day, and odd goings-on both in the churchyard and on the bare turf summit of Numbleigh Hill were mere stories put about by the neighbouring gentry whose fortunes were ruined and whom, thanks to his own great good luck, he could kindly buy out.
Track 8: Witch’s Ride, Humperdinck
Lady Joan de Hoote, the Grey Lady mentioned earlier, endures unlifelike stature from the end opposite to that endured by some other celebrated ghosts. Some walk with their head tucked underneath their arm, while she walks the passageway to the master-bedroom complete at the top, but with miserable figure abridged at the knees owing to the vanity of her great-great-grandson: he it was who had the floor of the manor-house’s first storey raised by just over a foot in order to feel tall at least somewhere in his house. When she has her feet up and chews the spirit-fat with fellow-spectres, she most likely admits that the effect of keeping to the floor as it was in her day adds gratifyingly to her strange power.
Classical Break came from freezing Numbleigh Hall, courtesy of the present owners, the Nabbital-Crashes, to whom we extend a lighted swede-lantern and prayer for benighted souls. Do we accept their invitation to attend the Numbleigh Halloween-party? In lieu of that desperate act, we play out with the Grey Lady Joan’s favourite number, these days, according to Mrs Nabbital-Crashe. With Her Head Tucked Underneath Her Arm, performed by Cyril Smith and Rudy Vallee’s Connecticut Yankees! This was Classical Break, and I’m Rupert Kirkham. Today’s script was phoned in by Mike Burrows. Goodbye!
Track 9: With Her Head Tucked Underneath Her Arm, perf. by Cyril Smith and Rudy Vallee’s Connecticut Yankees.
-“My swede has no nose.”
-“Your swede has no nose? How does he smell?”