The Man Who Mistook returns home

The Man Who Mistook returns home


norman lebrecht

October 10, 2017

I was present when Michael Nyman’s chamber opera on a musician with dementia received its world premiere in the unexpected setting of London’s Institute for Contemporary Arts on October 27, 1986.

I shall be there again when the opera returns to the ICA on November 30, in the company of a new work by Kate Whitley, titled Unknown Position.

What comes round…




  • John Borstlap says:

    What an appropriate subject for Nyman’s opera.

  • John Borstlap says:

    One of the ills of contemporary music life is the appearance of a half-seriously meant new music which is, however, firmly rooted in pop music, or else film music. This then considered, by many people who don’t like modern music, as a viable alternative. But it is not, it exploits the well-meaning ignorance of people who otherwise could have been won over for classical music, but who merely support the rise of populism. Nyman, Louis Andriessen, and many more of such types, represent the primitive, juvenile spirit of the age which wants to do away with anything reminding it of its inferiority. Pluralism is a great good, but only if things of different nature and sophistication exist next to each other – and not on places where they have nothing to seek.

    I remember the magical film ‘Prospero’s Books’ by Peter Greenaway, a superb creation but entirely spoiled by the awful, vulgar and flat ‘music’ by Nyman. A good example of musical understanding today: people can be sophisticated artists in their own right but when the subject is music, they fall back upon pop.

  • Frederick West says:

    Thanks, good point well made.
    I’m going to have a try at contemporary music at Huddersfield soon. I have no real preconceptions but what the hell!
    It’s a ‘free’ day but I will go with an open mind and see what transpires.
    I was there at the first festival in the 1970s and even performed in some works if George Crumb, it was very enjoyable and fun.
    Nevertheless, I go with foreboding. Will the novelty wear off ?
    I’ll give it a try but I have a real sense that it will be a fruitless journey.

    • John Borstlap says:

      Also apparent fruitless journeys can be immensily rewarding. Maybe you enjoy an entirely refreshing and stimulating experience of a visionary utopia behind the ever-withdrawing horizon, or a pulverizing aural attack upon the nerve system, or just flat, acoustic processes which don’t care a damn about what the listener thinks, or feels because it is something in and for itself only. But it will be instructive, and possibly, there will be some real music there. Even in prison sometimes the sun rays slip through the bars.

  • Jerry says:

    JB has a point audiences hate contemporary music, it sucks and is dead boring. They can only programme the wretched stuff by sandwiching it between a dollop of Mozart, Haydn or Beethoven. I see many folk at Wigmore Hall going to the bar when summat new is going to be played. Generally we feel composers today have lost the plot, they need to wise up and write for the ear again. I bought a CD of J M Hauer piano music for a joke, it was terrible stuff and have left it in my local charity shop. I noticed it is well stocked with Glass and Birtwistle etc but no one buys any.