Beginnings and endings

A New Year’s essay on music and chess

Many years ago, when I was studying for my PhD, my supervisor, the music analyst Derrick Puffett, remarked to me that it was odd that music scholars tend to spend much more time analysing how a piece begins, rather than how it ends. I think that this was a slightly barbed comment, given that I had just presented him with several pages of text and a complex graph analysing how the whole of Der Abschied, from Mahler’s Das Lied von der Erde, grows out of the single stroke on the tam-tam that begins it. Der Abschied is the last movement of Das Lied von der Erde, and its title means ‘The Farewell’, so I was at least writing about a sense of ending as well as concentrating on a beginning.

This post is appearing on 6 January, traditionally celebrated as the Feast of the Epiphany, marking the visit of the Magi to the infant Christ. It is the end of Christmas, and the beginning of the new year. Entirely suitable for some reflections on beginnings and endings, then.  T. S. Eliot also noted the relevance of beginnings that seem like endings in his poem on the Epiphany story:

[…] I had seen birth and death,
But had thought they were different; this birth was
Hard and bitter agony for us, like Death, our death.

(T. S. Eliot, ‘The Journey of the Magi’, 1927)

A sculpture of the Epiphany in Notre Dame cathedral, Paris. Two of the Magi appear to have brought chess-themed gifts. (Image: Bridgeman Education)

I have often thought about Derrick’s remark concerning beginnings and endings. It is quite true that analyses of musical works do often spend a lot of time on the opening of a work.  For more than two decades I taught music analysis to undergraduates studying at the University of Oxford here in the UK, and every year I tried to dissuade them from beginning their essays with the phrase, ‘In bar one…’.

The Encyclopaedia of Chess Openings runs to five thick volumes.

It is  also, of course, usual to write about the ‘opening’ of a game of chess. Indeed, the tendency to concentrate on openings is even more pronounced in writing about chess than in writing about music: hundreds and hundreds of volumes have been written about openings; they are often the largest section in a chess bookshop or a keen player’s library. At the beginning of the game, the first player has a choice of twenty possible legal moves. While some are much more popular than others, every single one of the twenty has been tried in master-level play at some point. Even apparently weird choices such as 1.Na3 (the ‘Sodium Opening’) have some theory attached to them.

Chess endings also have a five-volume encyclopaedia.

Endings, of course, are similarly fascinating to chess players, and endlessly discussed and analysed.  As the number of pieces left on the board diminishes, the paradoxical truth is that the need for precision and calculation actually increases. In the opening, almost all of the 400 different positions that can result from each player making a move can be viably played by either side; in an ending, there are often a similar number of possible legal moves as in the opening, but there may be whole sequences of play where only one of the moves available to either player can avoid defeat or secure victory.

A musical opening, and its ending

I now want to explore this inter-relationship of beginnings and endings in both music and in chess. My aim is to show once more how closely related these two ‘arts of playing’ can seem as technical, creative activities. To begin with, here is a remarkable opening to a piece of music. Indeed, one of my favourite pieces of music, both to listen to and to use in teaching. It is Mozart’s String Quintet in C, K515, composed in the Spring of 1787.

Mozart’s String Quintet in C, K515, bars 1-5

Here is a performance of this wonderful work. For the moment, you only need to listen to the first nine seconds; I urge you to come back and listen to the whole thing after you finish reading this post.

So, why did I describe this opening as remarkable? Well, as I used to point out to my student analysts, you can tell just from these first bars that the movement they introduce is going to be exceptionally long. In fact, I believe that the first movement of this quintet is the longest movement in ‘sonata form’ that Mozart ever wrote, at 368 bars. For comparison, the first movement of Mozart’s longest symphony, No. 41 ‘Jupiter’, K551, written the following year, is 313 bars long. I wrote a post early in the history of this blog entitled Is writing in sonata form like playing chess?, and it is not surprising that this form gives such a good example of how an ending is implied in a beginning.

The point is that Mozart’s opening bars announce themselves to be written in what is usually called the ‘Classical Style’, which relies on balance and symmetry of design; but at the same time they deliberately disrupt this balance. Mozart’s tune is very simple: just an arpeggio outlining a C major chord, played by the cello, and finished off (with a little twiddle) by the first violin. Not unlike another deceptively simple tune written by Mozart in the Summer of the same year (1787), featuring two arpeggios, and very well known:

Mozart, Eine kleine Nachtmusik in G, K525, bars 1-4

Returning to the tune that opens the quintet: it is apparently very straightforward, but there is one unusual thing about it. The tune is five bars long, when in the classical style, you would expect it to be four bars long, like the tune that opens Eine kleine Nachtmusik. Instead of a two-bar phrase answered by another two-bar phrase, the quintet opens with a three-bar phrase answered by a two-bar phrase.

So what is the effect of this lop-sided phrasing? In order to achieve the balance that the style in which he is writing requires – in order to obey the rules by which his music communicates – Mozart answers his five-bar phrase with another one. This creates a balanced, but still rather oddly-shaped, ten-bar period overall. Mozart then ‘balances’ these ten bars with another ten-bar period leading to a cadence. But by the end of bar nineteen, this curious competition between balance and lop-sidedness requires an entire bar of silence in bar twenty to ‘make up’ the proportions of the whole. And then, to use a chess term, Mozart plays an ‘opening surprise’:

Mozart String Quintet in C, K515, bars 17-25 (c. 0:25-0:35 in the video above)

The surprise is that in bar 21, Mozart reprises the opening of the work, with two differences: firstly, the violin begins the tune and the cello answers, instead of the other way around; secondly, and much more strikingly, the repeat is in the minor key, C minor instead of C major.

I hope that this has managed to explain why I said that the opening five bars could not belong to anything other than a long work in sonata form. Five bars are balanced by five bars. These ten bars are balanced by a further ten (the proportions only completed by a gap), and these twenty bars, which get no further in terms of form than most pieces of this sort do in eight bars, are then ‘balanced’ by a completely surprising reprise. Given that the form still requires a contrasting ‘second subject’ to be set against this first tune, you can see that Mozart is settling in for a lengthy operation: what turns out, in fact, to be a brilliant display of his total command of musical style and form. In fact, this fits in with what we know of Mozart’s reasons for writing this quintet. In 1787, he took out an advert in a Viennese newspaper, offering three string quintets for sale, in manuscript, copied under his personal direction and available from his publisher. In other words, he was at a point in his career where he wanted to make money from selling works directly to performers, rather than relying on a wealthy aristocratic patron (although he spent plenty of time cultivating the latter when he could). In contrast to Haydn, who remained a court servant more or less throughout his career, and anticipating Beethoven, who was to arrive in Vienna just a few years later, Mozart was behaving as an entrepreneur, a fully independent professional composer. All of which is a rather long way of saying that this quintet (and its companion, K516 in G minor – Mozart never got round to writing the third promised quintet, and had to arrange an earlier work instead) was written as a display piece, to show just how brilliant Mozart’s technique could be.

Having dealt with this work’s opening, what about its ending? I could of course write at great length about the way this movement finishes, but what I want to do is to point out how its conclusion, like its great length, is made necessary by the way that it opens. Its ending grows out of and finally resolves the imbalances of an overall well-proportioned design. In doing so, the ending carries within itself the legacy of the opening.

Here is the moment that heralds the very last phase of the movement. These are the bars that lead up to what a music analyst like me would probably call the ‘structural close’, the point after which the tonic chord is prolonged to the end – to borrow a phrase beloved of chess commentators, after this point it is ‘just a matter of technique’.

Mozart, String Quintet in C, K515, bars 256-272

Here, Mozart overlaps versions of the two-bar phrase with which the first violin originally answered the cello, in five-part canon. There are entries of the phrase on every instrument in turn, each coming one bar after the previous one, as I have annotated in the red boxes. As the first violin then leads the movement into the coda, the interruption to the opening at bar 21 still survives, with a hint of the minor key in the second viola and cello (the blue box). If you want to listen to this bit, it can be found at about 10′ 10″ to about 10′ 50″ in the video above.

A chess endgame, and its beginning

Mozart displays his brilliance of technique in  handling imbalances to achieve unsurpassable mastery of the situations he creates. That sentence could equally be written of the current World Chess Champion, Magnus Carlsen. Which goes a long way towards explaining the origin of the epithet I did not invent, but used in a previous post, Magnus Carlsen: the Mozart of the chess board.

There is for this post, on this date, only one game which is ideally suited to be placed beside Mozart’s wonderful display of how openings and endings reflect each other: the sixth game of the recently-concluded World Chess Championship, in which Carlsen defeated his latest challenger, the Russian Grandmaster Ian Nepomniatchi. This game was the first decisive one of the match, by far the most interesting, and indeed the turning point: after this game, ‘Nepo’ collapsed and Carlsen won easily, with a score of 7.5 / 3.5 after just eleven of the scheduled fourteen games.

This game was the longest in the match, and indeed the longest game in the history of chess World Championships. Even more reason to place it alongside Mozart’s longest sonata form movement. Like the quintet, the game began conventionally enough, Carlsen playing 1.d4 (P-Q4) and Nepo answering 1…d5 (…P-Q4).  A completely ordinary beginning, just as an arpeggio is the most ordinary of tunes with which to begin a piece of music. But on move six, Carlsen introduced the first hint of imbalance with a rarely-played move, not unlike Mozart’s decision to create a five-bar phrase out of his opening material:

Carlsen vs Nepo, Game 6, White’s 6th move

And two moves later, Carlsen brought about a position never seen before in any recorded chess game:

Carlsen vs Nepo, Game 6, White’s 8th move

The imbalance in the position, which in general terms remains very even, already indicates that Carlsen is anticipating a long game, in which he will attempt to demonstrate his superiority in understanding the potential of the imbalance he has created. And this he does: I am not going to comment on the ‘middlegame’ of this tremendous contest any more than on the middle part of Mozart’s quintet, except to show the moment at which Carlsen chose to make the imbalance a structural feature of the game, so to speak, when he exchanged his queen for Nepo’s two rooks on the twenty-sixth move:

The equivalent to Mozart’s technically accomplished five-part canon is the moment at which Carlsen decided to sacrifice a rook and reduce the struggle to an unbalanced collection of just a few pieces on each side, on the eightieth move of the game:

Carlsen vs Nepo, Game 6, White’s 80th move (Carlsen has taken a pawn and delivered check)

Thirty-five moves later, Carlsen steered the endgame to a total of just seven pieces:

Here begins the equivalent of the musical coda: an exercise in pure technique, as Carlsen, keeping all his pieces close together, gradually pushed his two pawns up the board towards the ‘final cadence’ of queening one of them. Here, he was following a mixture of calculation and creative instinct truly the equal of Mozart’s, since the ‘correct’ moves at each turn can only be calculated by powerful computers. The actual moment at which Nepo (a phenomonally strong player) eventually went astray was on his one-hundred-and-thirtieth move:

Carlsen vs Nepo, Game 6, position after White’s 130th move

Here, Black has twenty-six legal moves; more than the twenty available on the first move of the game. Of these twenty-six, only two avoid defeat. Nepo chose one of the other twenty-four moves, the entirely reasonable-looking Qe6 (…Q-K3), pinning the white rook:

Carlsen vs Nepo, Game 6, Black’s 130th move

For the curious, the two moves that preserved the draw were …Qb1 or …Qc2 (…Q-QN8 or …Q-QB7). As one Grandmaster commenting on the game put it, ‘Who knows why?’.

From here, though, with the certainty of a ‘strong perfect cadence’ in the Classical Style, Magnus Carlsen brought about his challenger’s resignation in another seven moves:

Carlsen vs Nepo, Game 6, position after White’s 137th move (the end of the game)

The final position of the game still reflects the opening: the choice of queen’s pawn rather than king’s pawn on the first move of the game leads directly to the king’s pawn and king’s bishop’s pawn being the two that eventually survive to reach Black’s end of the board; the imbalance introduced on moves six and eight leads directly to the unbalanced forces on the white and black sides with which the game ends. Just as Mozart’s final section perfectly reflects the opening of the quintet, Carlsen’s brilliant endgame grows perfectly out of the apparently quiet opening of the game. This is indeed a display by a true World Champion.

In my beginning is my end

The subtitle of this concluding section is taken from T. S. Eliot, whose reflection on the Epiphany I quoted earlier. ‘In my beginning is my end’ is the opening line of ‘East Coker’, the second of his Four Quartets. The poem is a meditation on time, and its final words are ‘In my end is my beginning’, reversing the formulation with which it starts. It is a powerful notion, that as a process unfolds in time, each phase it passes through is both determined by what came before (in my beginning is my end), and yet a transformation of it (in my end is my beginning). It might describe a meaningful human life; it might also describe a meaningful piece of music (the collection is called Four Quartets in allusion to Beethoven’s last string quartets, whose effect Eliot was trying to reproduce in poetry); or it might also describe a satisfying game of chess. Beginnings and endings demarcate and define a span of time, and the way something begins can determine how it is likely to end.

In placing a masterpiece by Mozart alongside a masterpiece by Carlsen, I have intended to show how the combination of rule-respecting technique, precise calculation, and creative flair are united in the minds of both the composer and the grandmaster. Beyond that, I have wanted to unpick a little more the reasons why music and chess can both provide metaphors that illuminate aspects of lived human experience. Both music and chess can illustrate our instinct as creative human beings to make sense of the world around us and our path through it. Framing my attempts to analyse great music and a recent great chess game with quotations from T. S. Eliot may seem pretentious; but I believe that the correspondences I have tried to describe here account for a large portion of the enduring fascination both of music that appeals to the intellect, and of the Royal Game.

After a long pause in my contributions to the blog, as the whole world has paused in the midst of a global health crisis, I offer these observations to my readers with very best wishes for the coming year of 2022.

Chess and music in a time of pandemic

A review of the extraordinary year 2020

It is well over a year since I last posted to this blog, with musings in November 2019 on a Renaissance painting, Baugin’s story about chess and music. It is over a year since I last faced a chess opponent over the board, a game in December 2019 where I essayed the Réti opening (a hommage to Réti the Modernist) and lost rather tamely. It is also nearly a year since I last gave a pre-concert talk, before the Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment’s concert of Mozart’s last three symphonies at the Southbank Centre, London, in February 2020.

What has happened since then has been the Covid-19 pandemic. A global health crisis that has caused such widespread disruption to every aspect of life that no sense of “life as normal” has been felt anywhere, at any level of any society. Like many middle-class professionals in the developed West, my own life has been profoundly affected while I have been personally insulated from the worst consequences of the emergency. I have remained healthy, as mercifully have the other members of my household (two of whom are in the “vulnerable” and “extremely vulnerable” categories of risk from the virus). I have colonised my daughter’s bedroom while she has been studying at university, and worked from home.

While millions in the UK have been prevented from working at all, my own working life has become considerably busier. I have been profoundly grateful to be employed by a university that has spent fifty years acquiring expertise in distance teaching, but life has been filled with online meetings, revision of student assessments, and a much more complex process for editing and presenting multimedia teaching materials during a time when no-one is allowed into the office.

So I offer no apology for the lack of posts to this blog. Moreover, I can assure my still-growing number of readers and followers that I have quite a long list of posts planned and started, but not yet finished. But I do feel some responsibility not to let an entire calendar year pass without some thoughts and observations on what has happened to the two areas of human activity to which this blog is devoted.

The Chess and Music blog in a time of pandemic

One of the things that has surprised me during 2020 has been that lots more people have been reading this blog since I stopped posting to it.

2020 has seen further growth in readers of The Chess and Music Blog, topping 5,000 views in the year

Whether the tedium for millions of enforced time at home during the pandemic has been influential or not, the numbers are clear: as time passes, more and more people stumble upon and explore this blog. This is something that is obviously very satisfying for me, especially given the fact that I do virtually nothing in order to promote it. As I have remarked in previous reviews of my readership, The chess and music blog: one year onChess and music: another year passes and Who reads the Chess and Music blog?, I am constantly astonished as I acquire new visitors from every corner of the globe. During 2020, the countries that have been added to the tally on the home page have included Uganda, Cameroon, Trinidad and Tobago, Bolivia, Macau (please, no arguments about whether it counts as a country: WordPress lists it separately and that’s good enough for me), and tiny Sint Maarten (ditto as to its status as part of The Netherlands, and not to be confused with Saint-Martin – they are both of course part of St Martin). Welcome all.

The most popular posts viewed this year, again somewhat to my surprise, have been the pair on John Cage written in 2019: John Cage and his musical chess pieces: Part One and John Cage and his musical chess pieces: Part Two. These probably come closest of all my posts to being a proper piece of musicological research, which may be a lesson for the future.

The most remarkable day for the blog, however, was October 12 2020. On this single day, rather than the usual average of ten or twelve views, the blog recorded a massive 243 views, by 207 different people (or, at least, from 207 separate internet devices). 

12 October 2020 was an outlier in statistics

Of these 243 views, 230 were from Norway, and 228 of them were views of my profile of the last (defeated) challenger for the world title, Fabiano Caruana: hip hop chess. Now, 12 October fell in the middle of the first international chess tournament to be played “over the board” since the beginning of the Covid-19 pandemic, The 8th Altibox Norway Chess Tournament, won by the World Champion Magnus Carlsen. Although Fabiano Caruana did fairly well, finishing fourth in the ten-person field, I have absolutely no idea why more than 200 of the tournament’s online spectators (presumably) simultaneously decided to read about his musical preferences while he and Carlsen were resuming their rivalry over the board – on 12 October they played twice: the first game was drawn, and Carlsen won the second, “armageddon” tie-break game. If anyone else knows why this prompted such interest in my blog, please tell me. I do of course fervently hope that one of my Norwegian readers is the World Champion himself.

Chess in a time of pandemic

Death plays chess (Albertus Pictor, c. 1480. Image: Wikimedia Commons)

Mention of the Norway Chess 2020 tournament brings me onto what has happened in the world of The Royal Game this year. Chess can, of course, easily be played online. The World Champion has been at the forefront of organising online tournaments for the elite grandmasters who rely on competitive chess for their living. At the time of writing, eight of the very top players have just begun the final, knockout phase of the online “Airthings” Masters tournament.

Carlsen is playing Daniil Dubov in the first knockout round of the Airthings Masters tournament (sensationally, the World Champion was later knocked out by the young Russian grandmaster)

Online tournaments have certainly kept chess going as a professional sport: Magnus Carlsen, for instance, demonstrated in his first game against Dubov on the 29th December that his magic touch in endgames has not deserted him. Encouragingly, with all the potential for computer-aided cheating that comes with playing online, his win is one with which my own (very sophisticated) computer software would not have helped. After sixty-one moves, Carlsen and his opponent Daniil Dubov arrived at the following position: 

Carlsen (White) vs Dubov, position after Carlsen’s sixty-first move

The position certainly looks even, although White’s pawn is further advanced than Black’s. If I were playing either side, I would be happy to offer or accept a draw. But at this point, Dubov blundered. His move is one I struggle to see as an error, let alone a losing one:

Dubov plays 61…Ra2? (R-QR7?)

Now, if White takes Black’s pawn, then the black rook gives check, forces the white king further up the board, and the black king comes over to stop the white pawn. But the World Champion found a better, and winning, move: one that even my computer does not rate as the best choice:

Carlsen plays 62.Kd5! (K-Q5!)

The white king comes to the aid of his pawn. Dubov resigned ten moves later.

So chess has not ceased in the pandemic, neither at a professional nor an amateur level: at any moment, tens of thousands of online games are taking place on the many internet platforms available. My own local chess club now has an online version of itself:

About half of our usual members have signed up to the virtual chess club

And yet, what has been borne out most clearly and most painfully over the last year is the fact that online chess simply is not as rewarding as sitting opposite your opponent and pushing little pieces of wood (or more often plastic) around on a board of sixty-four marked squares. This is not just my opinion: Magnus Carlsen himself remarked how good it felt to be back playing over the board at the Norway tournament (he gets to play with exquisite wooden pieces, of course). And Grandmaster Daniel King, who maintains one of the most-watched YouTube channels devoted to chess, has also gone out of his way to cover the few “real life” tournaments to have taken place during recent months.

But this is beside the point. What the pandemic has shown more clearly than anything else is the fact that chess as an activity (whether thought of as a leisure interest or a competitive sport) relies on social interaction both for its appeal and its popularity. It only makes sense as a pursuit between friends: sitting down at a chess board is a gesture of friendship, not a challenge to a rival. Even if the comradeship extends only for the duration of the game, for that period the players are united in mutual effort to create something together. 

Well, perhaps I exaggerate. But the reason that mediocre amateurs like me never tire of sitting down to play is that we value the society of chess players. This is the reason that, along with the other members of my club (half of whom have not played at all, not even online, during the pandemic), I am ready to bid a hearty “good riddance” to 2020 with the genuine expectation that at some point next year (perhaps in September when the new chess season begins), we will once more sit in a rather draughty church hall and push small pieces of plastic at each other for hours on end.

Records and gambits

It would be wrong, though, to consign all that has happened in 2020 to oblivion. The astonishing form of the World Champion continues: when on 10 October Magnus Carlsen lost a game in the Norway Chess tournament, it brought to an end a streak of 125 games (since July 2018) without a loss, a record unlikely ever to be equalled by a reigning World Champion, and dwarfing Capablanca’s famous winning streak of 52 games (although that streak extended over a longer period of time, between 1916 and 1924).

And the most significant happening for the game of chess in 2020 may well have not been a game or a record at all, but a cultural event: the release in October on Netflix of the 7-part mini-series The Queen’s Gambit.

(Image: IMDb)

The most significant feature of this series about chess is that it is not a series about chess. It is a well-scripted and well-made drama about an orphan girl growing up in the America of the 1950s and 1960s, who turns out to have a remarkable and rare talent. This talent happens to be her ability to play chess; but the drama is about the challenges of poverty, abusive systems, sexism and the discovery of extraordinary gifts in adverse circumstances. In that sense, the chess is secondary.

For chess players, the series is a treat because the actual playing of chess looks real: unsurprising given that one of the technical advisers was the ex-World Champion Gary Kasparov, but the kind of thing that films often get wrong. Many Hollywood actors have given atrocious representations of playing the piano, for instance. Fortunately, The Queen’s Gambit gets that right, too.

Coming at last to the raison d’être of this blog, the connection of chess to music, music plays a crucial role in this chess-based drama. The central character, Beth Harmon, is saved from her life in an orphanage through being adopted by a wealthy middle-class American couple. It is her adoptive mother, Alma Wheatley, who enables her chess career to begin. Alma is frustrated and unhappy, partly through having been unable to pursue her own career as a musician. It is in fact through Beth’s attendance at an international chess tournament that Alma at last has a chance to perform before an audience, playing the piano in the hotel bar to deserved acclaim.

A more detailed discussion of music in The Queen’s Gambit may be a matter for a future post; for now, it is worth noting the way that chess and music have combined forces to entertain millions searching for newly-streamed television drama during lock-down.

Music in a time of pandemic

Death plays music (Basel, 1440. Image: Bridgeman education)

The image right at the top of this post really says all that needs to be said about music in 2020. It is a photograph of the Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra performing Mahler’s Fourth Symphony in April, hard though that is to believe. The concert hall is empty; the orchestra reduced to a mere handful of players sitting several metres from each other. They were actually playing an arrangement of Mahler’s work made for Schoenberg’s private concerts of new music given in Vienna in the early years of the twentieth century. The soloist, Christiane Karg, is singing of the joys of the heavenly life.

Music has been horribly affected by the pandemic, in ways that will take years, at the very least, to mend. Professional musicians the world over have seen their sources of income disappear overnight. Many have had no access to the various forms of state-funded support that have attempted to tide economies over the crisis. World-class performers with London orchestras have been stacking supermarket shelves or delivering parcels for online retailers.

There have, of course, been slight compensations. Just as technology has helped the game of chess continue while all chess clubs have closed, an enormous amount of creative energy has been focused on technologically-mediated musical performance. Musicians cannot, in real time, perform together over an internet link: the time-lag that is inevitable even with a super-fast broadband connection is an insuperable obstacle to that. But a lot of music has nevertheless been created in the time of pandemic. I was astonished and impressed by the professionalism and dedication of my own colleagues in our partner institution, a music conservatoire in London, who ran a virtual music residential school for our students in April 2020, even including sessions of non-synchronous improvised music making.  

As professional music making has all but ceased, the value of amateur music making has also been impressed on society as never before. To end this post, I want to invite you to enjoy a typical musical product of lock-down: a recording of Handel’s Hallelujah Chorus from Messiah assembled, over months, by members of my own church in Oxford. A very hasty ensemble performance during a brief period in which socially-distanced choir recording was possible began the process; individual choir members (including me) were encouraged and cajoled into recording single parts to a pre-recorded organ and conductor track; wait for the final “Hallelujah” to see the church’s “young singers” make a memorable final contribution to the whole. 

C’est magnifique, mais ce n’est pas la guerre, someone is alleged once to have remarked of the charge of the Light Brigade. This performance of Handel may not be professional music making, and may leave a lot to be desired in terms of ensemble, intonation, and accuracy. But it is magnificent, in its defiance of the constraints of the last awful year, and its promise of hope.

May I wish all of my readers a very much happier 2021.