11A066 Salmon with Bruckner by Jim Davies, 3/7/2011    

Let me explain what I ate for Sunday dinner yesterday.

It was poached Norwegian salmon with dill seasoning, asparagus, sauce Hollandaise and jacket potatoes; accompanied by vin blanc ordinaire and washed down with Espresso coffee and cognac, with the utterly magificent Bruckner's 8th Symphony playing in the background. It was a feast fit for a king of bygone times, yet it wasn't all that expensive.

The salmon had been flown in from Norway and presented on a slab for my selection, all at $8 a pound - equivalent to about 17 silver grams per kilogram. Prior to recent decades the King of Norway himself could not have obtained it at that price, no matter how eagerly Oslo fishermen and oarsmen had rushed to fulfil the Royal pleasure. The asparagus came from 3,000 miles in the other direction, just South of where the wine was vinted, and the potatoes came from nearby Maine. The cognac was from - where else - France; and the coffee had been brought North from Columbia. The whole meal could not have cost more than $7 each, including the air freight from places 6,000 miles apart, yet that price competes with a fast meal at McDonald's. All this was the result of free enterprise. Government contributed nothing. Not to the growing of the vegetables, nor to the fishing, nor to the invention of the aircraft. This is a tiny example of what even partially free business can deliver, in the eager pursuit of profits.

Bruckner's work greatly enhanced the feast. He was a somewhat timid Austrian, living from 1824 to 1896 in humility, and a devout Roman Catholic. About the latter, I don't care; his music is wonderful, I'll forgive him. The Eighth is my favorite, with one theme (musicologists say there are four, but I don't care about that either - I know what I like, when I hear it) repeated, enhanced, played fast and slow, soft and loud, on one and then another group of instruments with intricate variation for a total of 80 minutes - one of the longest symphonies in all classical music. Derek Watson says Bruckner regarded it his "finest work, causing him the greatest emotional strain of his whole career." Hear some of it on YouTube. My CD was played by the Berlin Philharmonic, conductor Lorin Maazel. in 1990 - as tense a time as any in German history.

I "discovered" Bruckner in 1976, in London. The Royal Albert Hall presents concerts, with cheap tickets provided you don't mind not sitting down; it's a circular hall and the top tier is a stone floor encompassing perhaps three quarters of the circle, from which one can look down on the orchestra. Patrons there "promenade", ie walk. I think it was one of a series of the annual "promenade concerts." Those with better heels do get plush seats, on other tiers. A century earlier, Bruckner himself had performed on its organ. The symphony was memorable and magnificent. I was fully sold.

Anton Bruckner, too, owed nothing to government. He worked as a simple music teacher, greatly admiring Wagner and to my ear composing in a style somewhere between him and Mahler and perhaps Brahms. His fame grew gradually, coming to fruition only after he turned 60. There is hope for some of us yet.

The good things in life do not come by government decrees, but in spite of them; when plain people are free to do what they do best.

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