Friday, 13 January 2017






After an interval of almost eleven years the audience and critics alike gathered with great anticipation in a first performance of a new work by the composer Perkin Campbell. The vultures sat wide-eyed with dinner on their minds (and on their neck ties) as if staring into an open grave in which Perkin was about to be buried – ‘we have come to honour and pay our last respects to the great man who today ascends upon noble wings of gossamer towards the heights of heaven!’ Yet there was a remarkable absence by the composer which was notable to all the insect-brained thugs of the musical press who had the power to restore or ruin reputations!
Campbell, who had not known the delightful sound of applause too often, was described as a ‘long-haired knight of British serialism’ and his compositions were likened, perhaps too harshly, to a ‘man shitting peas into a china teapot!’ But Campbell’s glory days were far behind him and now he had resigned himself to the slow and gradual grind of teaching composition theory to a new generation of ‘long-hairs’ and short-hairs alike at one of the more prestigious of Oxford Colleges.
It is true that Campbell had been one of the leading British exponents of ‘experimental music’ and had he been born fifty years earlier there is no doubt he would have been one of the ‘bright young things’ who talked a great deal about art and produced very little of it. In fact, Perkin first came to the attention of the public, achieving some notoriety with his first major work the ‘Snoring Sonata’ of 1973 which draws upon the ‘exposition, development and recapitulation’ of its theme using sounds ‘nocturnally nasal’. The piece later became a tour de force in his short repertoire and made his name in the world of classical music. His second acclaimed work was his ‘Nose and Throat Quintet’* two years later in 1975, which explored further Campbell’s interest in the twelve-tone system as developed by Arnold Schoenberg and the Second Viennese School. Perhaps not achieving the recognition it deserved, nevertheless, it hailed Campbell as one of the most creative and innovative of British Avant-Garde composers of his time!
Throughout the summer of seventy-six Campbell worked on his next big composition which he completed the following year – his ‘Bowel Concerto in Two Movements’ (1977); unfortunately the premier coincided with the Queen’s Silver Jubilee celebrations that year and incorporated elements of the National Anthem. The Queen was decidedly not amused to say the least and even his greatest admirers thought he had become disturbed mentally and he lost all respect as a serious composer! Following the fiasco of the Concerto, all work dried up apart from a few film score offers and TV commercials which were indeed few and far between. He was lambasted in the British press and caricatured carrying a porcelain ‘urinal’ wind instrument everywhere he went! Critics said that Campbell had lost his mind and his direction and there were many disparaging comments and derogatory pieces written about the once brilliant composer Perkin Campbell.
But now he was bored – tired of having to teach compositional skills to imbeciles and the tediously dull with their ‘media’ chatter; tired of his whole existence!
The lights were lowered and the first movement began! ‘Finally’ declared the music press, two weeks before the performance, ‘a new work from Campbell!’ Not since his ‘Anne Boleyn Suit’ which utilised ‘random notation’ had the public heard anything and now his magnum opus – Nanette and Nothingness, a massive choral symphony was being performed.
It was a cold and dreary January evening and Perkin sat at home amidst the tattered threads of his life. Christmas had come and gone as it usually does and Perkin was glad of it, he couldn’t bear the whole affair, not since he was a child and saw his Uncle Charlie dressed as the Christmas Fairy doing something unmentionable with the turkey! The experience scarred him for life and now he couldn’t look at a turkey or any poultry for that matter without seeing his Uncle’s grinning face, all bloated and blotchy. And as for New Year that was a whole different story which is better kept covered up, just like Perkin usually is on New Years’ Eve, in his bed with cotton stuffed in his ears and in total darkness, he doesn’t want to hear any firework celebrations or god forbid, people having fun! No, this is an awful time of year for poor Perkin!
The second movement began!
Perkin, an eccentric and idiosyncratic man, did not, as I have mentioned, attend the performance. In fact, he was more afraid of what would be said of his drift towards the neo-classical than he was of the actual performance of his work. He had given so much of himself in his compositions that he felt extremely vulnerable; not since the terrible reviews of one of his earliest works ‘Sounds in Space I-IV’ (1970) had Perkin felt such pangs of anxiety. He did what he had learnt to do, retreat into his own comfortable dimension, well away from any ravenous public attention at his performances. Being a solitary sort of ‘old maid’ he refused to give interviews and discuss his work and the result was that he had become quite forgotten by the music world and only remembered by a select few who had interests in British serialism and its development, in fact, Perkin, by all accounts had died several times, according to one of the lesser accurate newspapers, of which they are numerous, if one reads such things!
The third movement began!
Perkin was reluctant to reveal the identity of ‘Nanette’ after whom the symphony was named but it is likely that she was one of his pupils, a fine Austrian pianist named Nanette Schumpfmeyer. Rumours at the time suggested he was in a relationship with the young woman but it was nothing more than an infatuation on his side; in fact, she acted as the muse to his creativity and was happy to do so! She would never know to what effect she had upon him for she filled his every waking thought and he venerated her into his ideal woman! Things could have been so different for Perkin had she shown him affection in return, but it was not to be! As a result, there had been a massive output in recent years of romantic works which he refused to show anyone and declared that they would be heard only posthumously!
The fourth movement began!
Perkin had been considerably unlucky in love and had remained a bachelor; his academic life in the college cushioned him from the outside world and gave him little opportunity to forge lasting relationships and besides, he was never comfortable around people and detested any form of intrusion upon his life. He did enjoy fishing and sometimes could be seen sporting his shotgun on the clay pigeon shoot, and on some occasions he could be seen furiously smashing a ball around the local golf course, but above all he much preferred listening to his favourite composers, such as Wagner, Messiaen, Sibelius and of course, J. S. Bach!
The choral symphony was drawing to a close. The blood-thirsty fiends were wiping the saliva from their lips and waiting to inject their reviews with the usual bile and sweet-smelling poison. The work was a combination of orchestra, voices and recorded sounds. In the final movement, following a short pause of silence is a loud eruption of a recorded gunshot which was slowed down to less than half-speed with echo and delay. As it rang around the auditorium, there was a deathly chill which seemed to penetrate the audience and then a tremendous applause broke out and the critics declared it a resounding success and a work of genius indeed; the spectacular savagery of the fourth movement had captured the torment and emotional torture of love’s loss and some were standing with tears in their eyes as they clapped. It seemed that Campbell had achieved recognition after all for an outstanding piece of orchestral composition, a work which would cement his name as one of the greats of British classical music!
Back at Oxford, Perkin sat in his richly decorated rooms, finished his half bottle of sherry, loaded a cartridge into his shotgun, placed his mouth around the barrel and pulled the trigger.


*It has become an ‘urban myth’ that during a performance of Campbell’s ‘Sneezing Sextet’, a member of the audience choked to death in the auditorium which gave Campbell the inspiration to write his atonal piece – ‘lung interruption’.

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