O’Brian’s recreation of composers

Paul Bettany as Maturin and Russell Crowe as Aubrey in Grasp and Commander. (twentieth Century Fox)

Having simply had a capital meal of lasagna to rejoice a removing of sutures from the hole left by an extracted tooth, I’m reminded of a passage I marked years in the past in Patrick O’Brian’s The Nutmeg of Comfort, 1991, fourteenth in his collection of Napoleonic period sea novels, which I’m rereading. Within the margin close to the passage are the scrawled names of Russell Crowe and Paul Bettany, actors who performed Captain Jack Aubrey and his ship’s surgeon Stephen Maturin, so I had most likely simply heard of the film patched awkwardly from a number of books within the collection, and thus I most likely learn Nutmeg in in 2003. The film was referred to as Grasp and Commander: The Far Facet of the World. Although fantastically filmed, it was one thing of a disappointment.

Anyhow, this passage opens after Aubrey suggests to Maturin that they proceed a musical recreation they typically performed (after meals on board) as amateurs on violin and cello. Right here is O’Brian’s description of the sport:

The sport they performed was that one ought to improvise within the method of some eminent composer (or as practically as detached talent and a need of inspiration allowed), that the opposite, having detected the composer, ought to then take part, accompanying him with an acceptable continuo till some given level understood by each, when the second ought to take over, both with the identical composer or with one other.”

The sport’s final around the captain claims to have received.

“Successful, for all love: how your growing older reminiscence does betray you, my poor pal,” stated Stephen, fetching his ‘cello. They tuned, and at no nice distance Killick [Aubrey’s manservant] stated to his mate, “There they’re, at it once more. Squeak, squeak; increase, increase. And once they do begin a-playing, it’s no higher. You’ll be able to’t inform t’different from one [one tune from another]. By no means nothing a person may sing to, whilst drunk as Davy’s sow.”

“I bear in mind them within the Energetic: however it isn’t as power as a wardroom filled with gents with German flutes, bellyaching night time and day, like we had in Thunderer. No. Dwell and let dwell, I say.”

“Fuck you, William Grimshaw.”

Killick’s response to the sort, forgiving sentiment of his mate Grimshaw places me in thoughts of my emotions towards … effectively, I can’t go there. However the recreation Aubrey and Maturin performed I discover intriguing. As a non-musician who loves classical music (as readers of this weblog are effectively conscious), the sport strikes me as effectively past the extent of taking part in that could be practiced in moments of leisure by beginner musicians in the present day. I hope I’m improper, however in studying passages like this (and plenty of others within the 21 volumes of the Aubrey-Maturin collection), I’m persuaded that every one the endeavors of Western civilization (and perhaps others, as are sometimes described within the exploits of those historic novels) have in the present day reached ranges perishingly low. That’s actually true of structure.

Aubrey and Maturin performed their recreation in round 1814. As I say, I think about that in the present day’s younger musicians – beginner or skilled, and absolutely among the many most civilized of individuals – would hardly be able to such an erudite musical recreation. Once more, I hope somebody will inform me I’m improper. However all you want is eyes to know I’m proper about considered one of civilization’s highest achievements: structure. As with music typically, structure achieves magnificence (and with it, towering mind) solely by constructing upon and studying from the achievements of the previous.

(Right here is an fascinating put up from 2012 about Aubrey and Maturin as musicians on the web site Boston Musical Intelligencer.)

About David Brussat

This weblog was begun in 2009 as a function of the Windfall Journal, the place I used to be on the editorial board and wrote a weekly column of structure criticism for 3 many years. Structure Right here and There fights the model wars for classical structure and towards trendy structure, no holds barred.

Historical past Press requested me to jot down and in August 2017 printed my first guide, “Misplaced Windfall.” I’m now writing my second guide.

My freelance writing on structure and different matters addresses problems with design and tradition domestically and globally.

I’m a member of the board of the New England chapter of the Institute of Classical Structure & Artwork, which bestowed an Arthur Ross Award on me in 2002.

I work from Windfall, R.I., the place I dwell with my spouse Victoria, my son Billy and our cat Gato.

If you need to make use of my writing and modifying to enhance your work, please electronic mail me at my consultancy,, or name 401.351.0457.

Testimonial: “Your work is so fantastic – you now enter my thoughts and write what I
would have written.”

– Nikos Salingaros, mathematician on the College of Texas, architectural theorist and writer of many books.

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