Better The World With A Song
A Jubilee Cantata
Music by Barry Booth Lyrics by Cornelius Booth, Fran Landesman, Barry Booth and Barry Fantoni
In Beyond the Pleasure Principle (1920), Sigmund Freud recalled observing his young grandson playing a game of his own devising, involving a wooden reel attached to a length of string. The boy would sit in his cot holding the end of the string and repeatedly throw the reel away from him and then draw it back towards him. As he threw it away from him, he would make a sound which Freud deduced meant 'away' or 'gone'; when he pulled it back towards himself he would make a different sound which seemed to mean 'here' or 'present'.
Freud's interpretation of this childish game was that the young boy was compensating himself for the absence of his mother by 'staging the disappearance and return of the objects within his reach'. By repeating an unpleasant experience he was learning to overcome the anxiety it caused him. 'At the outset he was in a passive situation - he was overpowered by the experience; but, by repeating it, unpleasurable though it was, as a game, he took on an active part'. It is, of course, impossible to know whether the child was playing the game, or the game playing the child.
In Elizabethan and Jacobean drama the game of chess was often used as a symbol for human life and government. In chess the most powerful piece is the queen, and in my own life I have always been grateful for the reassuring sense of stability that the presence of our Queen has provided in an ever-changing world.
The second half of the 20th century saw the very meaning of modernity undergo many dramatic changes. It was a period of personal and cultural crisis grounded in a profound sense of loss.
There was the loss and fragmentation of several of those cherished 'master narratives' which previously had seemed to offer coherent meaning and significance to life.
In recent years, traditional ways of thinking about history, religion, language or selfhood could no longer be relied on to deliver a unified, fixed and authoritative standard by which to measure culture and consciousness. All previous organising structures were felt to be under challenge. Indeed, many people experienced strange uncertainty about their true identity. Through all these years our reigning monarch steadfastly demonstrated that although 'things fall apart', the centre can indeed hold.
The way in which she has borne the awesome responsibilities of her positions, not only at the apex of the British constitution but also as Supreme Governor of the Church of England, with such extraordinary dignity and humility is clear indication that she takes her coronation oath 'to govern her people in accordance with their laws and customs' desperately seriously. It is the full embodiment of her role - in current fashionable parlance, her 'job description'. Her role is to be there while governments come and go. Such immense strength of character, willpower and devotion to duty are lamentably uncommon nowadays and too often there are deplorable signs that who she is and what she does are taken for granted. Instead, we should more properly regard our Queen as a paradigm of the steadfast reliability and stability she constantly displays.
To many people, London may lately have appeared as a city on the brink of collapse. But our overriding aspiration must be to rebuild and recreate upon and above ruin. We must surely look forward to an encouraging and positive prospect of wholeness and coherence snatched from chaos; a Phoenix rising from the ashes of 'imperial catastrophe'.
As we rejoice in celebration of this Golden Jubilee, let us confidently anticipate some truly 'anni mirabiles'.
God save The Queen.
Jubilee Cantata 2003, 'Better The World With A Song' offers no one point of view, no single style, idiom, register, or recurrent and linking linguistic or musical device which could define a subject, in the sense of a dominant speaking or singing persona.
There is no sense of an overall subject matter, or argument, or myth, or theme for the cantata to be unequivocally about or to embody.
There is an occasional absence of obvious conventional poetic features, such as meter, rhyme, stanza or any regularity or recurrence or set of symmetries, which could constitute formal pattern in any classical sense at all.
It is totally non-integrative and anti-discursive, its parts connected by neither causes, effects, parallelism, nor antithesis.
It is a concert-like mélange or montage of glimpses, gestures, images, echoes, voices, phrases, memories, fragments of speech, song, and quotation. It consists of a plethora of signifiers that are often completely unconnected to any set or sequence of recognisably related signifieds in a represented world.
It is a cyclorama of fragmentation and discontinuity, referring, if at all, mainly to itself.