Lest the title generates an undue level of excitement, I should stress that my work on temporal mechanics has yet to bear fruit. I remain unlikely to encounter a vortisaur or to have an adverse effect on my grandparents’ courting. Nevertheless, by journeying to Scotland I have managed, in a very real sense, to travel into the past. This is not to impugn the state of the proto-nation north of the Border, but merely to recognise the current climatic differences between the Athens of the North and the Hampton of the South. Daffodils and magnolias, whose blooms are a distant memory on the south coast, are in very robust flower in Scotland. I feel like I have been granted a very welcome second spring – even one accompanied by unexpected warm sunshine!
My second bite of the vernal cherry was a bonus, but enjoying the past was the primary driver for my visit to Edinburgh (and beyond). It was the work of Johann Sebastian Bach that drew me north, as performed by the Dunedin Consort – which means that both the performance and the instruments were appropriate to the time of Herr Bach. The performers were, fortunately, of a more youthful vintage – though I suspect some of the audience may have known JS personally – and at least some of the instruments were likely to have been more recent reproductions of the period originals (or were suspiciously shiny, if not). The first gig was the St Matthew Passion (the “Harris”) at the Queen’s Hall in Edinburgh – enjoyed from the front row of the circle, proof of how well my war against acrophobia is going. Despite being a Godless heathen, I managed to do this on the highly appropriate date of Palm Sunday (yes, the pun was fully intended: need you ask?). The music is divine (in both senses, I suspect) but I have to say that no-one emerges with much credit from St Matthew’s storytelling – including both the aspects of God involved (the Holy Ghost does manage to escape without a stain on its reputation – or could only be indicted for sins of omission). For a story about forgiveness, there does seem to be an awful lot of blame bandied about. Was the early church hoping to fund itself with the aid of ambulance-chasing lawyers? My saviour was crucified on an unsafe cross, but with the help of bloodsuckinglawyers.com I won 40,000 sesterces and promotion to the Equestrian class? I think we can all agree that I made the right choice not to pursue my early theological promise (yes, he is going to mention his O level in Religious Studies again).
My second dose of Bach occurred yesterday, even further north in St John’s Kirk in Perth. This was for the St John Passion – though the wrong St John, as the kirk is dedicated to St John the Baptist. The good folk of Perth do rather seem to have lost their heads (heids?) when it comes to this particular saint, with two churches dedicated to him within less than 100 yards of each other. (Yes, I do realise that last sentence could be considered to be in rather poor taste, but it’s been nearly 2000 years). The Dunedin performance includes not only the passion itself, but also additional organ music and singing that would have been part of a period performance. We even had a sermon just before half-time, courtesy of the Church of Scotland. Whilst I could happily have missed this last (though the minister did have a lovely accent), the added music really made the evening something special – the aria Er es vollbracht and the final motet was especially stunning. It is hard to imagine a better performance of the SJP and well worth the (roughly) 800 mile round-trip that I made to enjoy it!
So, even without a madman with a box – though frankly, who needs a Time Lord for that, I could easily supply both myself – I can thoroughly recommend a little time travel.