"I cannot live without books." -- Thomas Jefferson

Thursday, September 30, 2010

Lord Berners: Composer, Writer, Painter by Peter Dickinson

In the world out there, Lord Berners is known as a classic British eccentric, and second for his composed music.  I only know him through his memoirs and short fiction, which is remarkable.  He was also a painter of some talent, but the works strikes me a little too Sunday school painting.  But any man that has his horse in his living room is ok with me.  He also color dyed the feathers of the local pigeons around his home - which is about the size of New Jersey.  In other words he was rich, really rich, and did what we wanted to do.  For instance he liked to be driven though the local village while he wore a series of masks.

Often compared to Erik Satie (for the eccentricity as well for his music) Berners is one of those classic figures in Pre-world war 2 England.  Surrounded by servants and witty people (Cecil Beaton, Constance Lambert, etc) and a very close relationship with Diana Mitford, better known as Diana Mosley aka as Hitler's close friend.

Peter Dickinson has put together an equally eccentric book on Berners.  Mostly consist of interviews with people who knew Berners (for instance Diana Mosley - a fascinating interview) and it is interesting how one story is told through various individuals.  For instance did he have lunch with Hitler?  Some say yes, but Mosley says it didn't happen.  But people want to believe it happened! 

Also interesting in this volume you get Berners record collection at the time of his death, and a list of music sheets he owned as well.  The book is almost like a Peter Greenaway obsessive piece of work.   What I found interesting is that most of his friends didn't really care for his writing as much as for his music.  But even that, they think of his work as "light."  Only the great contemporary British composer Gavin Bryars sees Berners as a subversive artist - and I think that is a correct way of looking at his work.   So as the majority  in this book sort of poo poo his writing, I totally disagree with that critical thought. 

Lord Berners is an interesting composer, a so-so painter and a magnificent writer.  That's Tosh's opinion at the very least!

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