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Saunterings:  Walking in North-West England

Saunterings is a set of reflections based upon walks around the counties of Cumbria, Lancashire and North Yorkshire in North-West England (as defined in the Preamble). Here is a list of all Saunterings so far.
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179.  A Kendalian Intermezzo

I had a date with the Westmorland Orchestra at the Parish Church, Kendal and I thought I’d fulfil it by walking from Windermere. But it was too hot for that. I settled for a saunter around Kendal. Some readers have commented that my outings are too energetic to be considered saunters. This one was not energetic enough. It was only afterwards that I thought I’d amuse myself with these words.

kendal parish church Right: Kendal Parish Church, 1914. (My camera took a break from Sauntering too. I'll use a few old photos - about as old as the music I was to listen to.)

I walked to the river where I found an unoccupied shaded bench. It seemed wise to rest upon it, and all other unoccupied shaded benches that I saw, for a few minutes. The river was very low with pretty floating carpets of white flowers (that may be water crowfoot or water starwort, I read). All the many weirs were revealed. Most of them are so low themselves that they cannot have been functional weirs in the sense of serving some riverside mill. Probably they were just to pause the flow of the river, which is notoriously liable to flood the town of Kendal.

There were many notices by the riverside path advising me of the extensive works underway to protect Kendal. I understand that these plans are controversial locally but I cannot comment in detail. I can only hope that the Kendal Flood Risk Management Scheme proves to be £76 million well spent.

I ambled on, past Stramongate Bridge, over the new footbridge, back over the A6 bridge, past Beezon Fields, which notices said had been restored but looked little different to me, on nearly as far as the railway bridge, and then turned away from the river. It became hotter, noisier, and sweatier. I was in need of an ice-cream. As usual, when I needed one I couldn’t find one. Eventually, I found a place to queue for my rum-and-raisin, and as I waited a lad walked up with his half-consumed ice-cream and threw it in the bin. His father walked by and said that he always does that. Well, it’s none of my business but I think that the father needs to have a serious discussion. It is against all known natural laws for a child to throw half-an-ice-cream away.

stramongate br Left: Stramongate Bridge, 1891.

I settled with my rum-and-raisin in the shade of Westmorland Shopping Centre in Stricklandgate. It is good to see that Westmorland, despite being abolished in 1974, lives on. After the ice-cream I retired to the cool of Waterstones, where I read through most of the books on the travel-writing shelves. I don’t actually buy books in Waterstones anymore – not after my experiences trying to sell The Land of the Lune. I found that, although 99% of the sales were local, Waterstones would only sell the book if I sent parcels of the books to their warehouse in Folkestone, from which the books were parcelled back to Lancaster. One Christmas the parcels couldn’t keep up with the sales, so I arranged with the Lancaster Waterstones manager to smuggle books in by the back door while he somehow fooled the computer to let him sell books he didn’t (according to the computer) have. It is a shame that this farcical system has led to the demise of so many independent booksellers.

stricklandgate Right: Stricklandgate, 1984 (before it was pedestrianised).

Emerging into the sunshine, I thought that I deserved a cappuccino. I sat for quite a while on Highgate (the A6 through Kendal), with a view of the Town Hall, which was flying a large Ukrainian flag, as was the Parish Church. After meeting up with Ruth for between-rehearsal-and-concert fish-and-chips, I entered the sweltering church and settled in my pew. The conductor gave us a warm welcome but it was more than warm – too hot for hundreds of people to sit together motionless for two hours. But we had to.

highgate Left: Highgate and Town Hall.

The programme was all-Russian, which with the Ukrainian flags aloft set me thinking. I often wonder as I am sat in a concert what is passing through the heads of all the other people sat there. Are they all 100% focussed on the music – unlike me. I don’t know enough about classical music for it to keep my brain fully occupied.

I once took a course on Russian music. On reflection I think I was less interested in the music per se than in the context in which it was written. In the mid-19th century some Russian composers began to seek a distinctive Russian style of classical music, different from the established western European traditions. So even then Russia was grappling with its semi-detached European status.

Borodin (1833-1887), the composer of the first piece on the programme, the Overture to Prince Igor, was a member of the ‘Mighty Handful’ of explicitly Russian composers. Borodin was less dogmatic than the others, partly because he was only a part-time composer. He was a chemist by profession. I don’t know who Prince Igor was but I am certain that he was Russian.

concert programme Right: The concert programme.

Next we had the 2nd Piano Concerto of Rachmaninov (1873-1943). Being of a later generation, he presumably felt less need to proclaim his Russianness. He left Russia for the USA in 1918, after the Russian Revolution. This piano concerto, composed in 1901, is too familiar, partly because it was adopted for the film Brief Encounter, featuring Carnforth Railway Station. By the end of the slow second movement 74% of the audience had drowsed off. That’s an estimate since I had drowsed off myself. At least the third movement had some rumbustious passages to wake us up for some interval fresh air.

And then it was back inside to sweat through Tchaikovsky’s 2nd Symphony. Tchaikovsky (1840-1893) was of the same period as the Mighty Handful but he was not a member of it. The 2nd Symphony is the most explicitly Russian of his symphonies. Indeed, it is called the ‘Little Russian’, Little Russia being the name that (big) Russia bestowed upon Ukraine.

Tchaikovsky once said that Glinka’s Kamarinskaya, composed in 1848, was the acorn from which the oak of later Russian symphonies grew, which he tried to demonstrate by writing the final movement of the 2nd Symphony in the Kamarinskayan style. A simple motif 1-2-1-2-3-4-5-3-4-5, based on a Ukrainian folk song, is repeated over and over ad nauseam (and I do mean nauseam). It is not repeated exactly but with slight changes in instrumentation, volume, and so on, sufficient to ensure that any player that loses their place cannot easily regain it. Occasionally a second, more lyrical motif intrudes and that too is repeated over and over. We escaped from this battering into the first drops of a storm that never materialised.

This all-Russian programme was decided upon in 2021, before the Russian invasion of Ukraine, and what would it achieve to change it?  We are supposed to appreciate works of art as supra-terrestrial, separate from our everyday concerns. Is that possible?  Isn’t when, where and why a piece of music was composed – and is played – an essential part of its meaning?  Who can today listen to a concert of Russian music, with the flag of Ukraine flying above them, without thinking of the Russia–Ukraine conflict?

Could we have had instead a concert of Cumbrian classical music?  Probably not, for the good reason that there isn’t much of it. Why hasn't the Lake District inspired composers in the way that it has poets and artists?  Have any famous composers visited the Lake District, as, for example, Mendelssohn did Scotland?  If so, were any inspired to compose, as Mendelssohn was with Fingal’s Cave and the Scottish Symphony?

The most well-known – but hardly known at all – Cumbrian-born composer is probably Arthur Somervell (1863-1937), son of the founder of K Shoes, a major employer in Kendal for many decades. Judging from his list of compositions, even he wasn’t inspired to compose music relating to the Lake District. There are, however, a few pieces that declare an association with the Lake District and that could form an all-Cumbrian concert, such as:
    *  Tarn Hows – a Cumbrian Rhapsody, by Maurice Johnstone (1900-1976).
    *  Lakeland Summer Nights, by Arthur Butterworth (1923-2014). (This is a work for solo piano. I don't know how many parts there are to it. This link is to the second part, named 'Rain'.)
    *  Cloudcatcher Fells (with sections named Great Gable, Grasmoor, and so on), by John McCabe (1939-2015).
    *  Symphony No 3 (Westmorland) by Cecil Armstrong Gibbs (1881-1960). (This link is to just the first movement. The other movements are on-line too.)

Would anyone come to listen?

    Date: June 10th 2023
    Start: SD516922, Kendal Parish Church  (Map: OL7)
    Route: E – River Kent – N, NE on west bank – new footbridge – E, N on east bank – A6 bridge – SW, NW on west bank – near railway bridge – W, SW, SE – Stricklandgate – S – Parish Church (with many pauses and slight diversions)
    Distance: 2 miles;   Ascent: 10 metres

The two following items:
     181.   Trail-Blazing on Farleton Knott
     180.   Bowland at Heart
The two preceding items:
     178.   Back in the Saddle of Blencathra
     177.   Two of the 'Dales 30': Fountains Fell and Darnbrook Fell
Two nearby items:
     106.   Twelve Ponds and a Power Station
     131.   A Taste of the Kendal Mint
A list of all items so far:

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    © John Self, Drakkar Press, 2018-


Top photo: The western Howgills from Dillicar; Bottom photo: Blencathra from Great Mell Fell