Virginia Barton

24 August 2018: Musical bumps

24 August 2018


Gesamtkunstwerk. That’s the word I’m looking for.

“Total work of art, synthesis of the arts, aesthetics.” Most easily understood by an example, I think: The Ring by Wagner. Or (apparently) a building by Frank Lloyd Wright. Does not the word imply that you must be able to see? It’s not enough to hear it.

I heard (but didn’t see) the first Act of The Valkyrie on the wireless. Stunning even without the visuals. But did it qualify over the airwaves as Gesamtkunstwerk?

Answers, please.


It’s the height of the BBC Proms season and it hasn’t earned a mention here. This is not because I haven’t been listening; indeed I have almost every night. This year I don’t have the complete book of programmes that goes with the series of concerts. Which is a shame because it’s a good solid read with all the detail you could possibly want: vignettes of performers, composers and conductors; plenty of text describing the works being played, and all lavishly illustrated.

This is intended “to improve your listening experience” — not that it says anything so crass, but that’s what the book does. Even the ads for music schools and courses fascinate the stay-at-home reader/listener like me.


It has been an annual treat and I don’t know why I haven’t got it this year – well I do know, actually. For years BH bought it for me, and even when he could no longer go to WH Smith’s himself to get it, I did, and we maintained the myth that he had bought it specially for me.

(It was the same with flowers: he always bought them for me even when I chose them myself with my online shopping. “Thanks for the lovely flowers, darling!” I would say. I expect lots of you do the same.)


You run the gamut of emotions with music. Pain, joy, laughter, fear. Possibly all the arts have that effect, but personally, I find that the fingernails-digging-into-the-palm-of-the-hand sensation is more acute when listening to music than with any other artistic experience.

Leonard Bernstein was born a hundred years ago tomorrow, August 25th 1918. If any modern composer ever gave us the “tingle factor” it was he. Magical music that never fails to excite, draw tears or make you want to dance.

Bernstein is Gesamtkunstwerk, if anybody is!






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