Sir Patrick Moore, Xylophonist and Composer | Classical music reviews, news & interviews
Sir Patrick Moore, Xylophonist and Composer
The people's star-man was an avid composer, with three operas and 70 marches and waltzes to his name
The astronomer Sir Patrick Moore was a keen composer of decided musical preferences, and no mean xylophonist. The news of his death on Sunday reminded me of my hugely enjoyable encounter with him - for musical reasons - for the Daily Telegraph in October 1998, heralding the release of a recording of his tunes.
PATRICK Moore is hammering the living daylights out of the xylophone in his dark, cluttered drawing-room. Over it hangs a sharp message to visitors: "No, you may NOT put your cup on the xylophone". I have a sudden vision of him attacking an offender with his mallets.
When I arrived at his house in the clear-skied, seaside Sussex village of Selsey to interview him about the first CD of his musical compositions (to be released by Cavendish next month), I had asked him if he would play. He hoists himself up obligingly, and gets thoroughly waylaid trying to set up his accompaniment tape.
"Should have sorted this out," he grumbles, the familiar Churchillian face scowling, monocle gripped in the right eye, the body arrestingly large in its roomy black suit. But he has been in hospital, he says, hence the disorganisation.
Tension steadily mounts as the recalcitrant cassette-player disgorges first a snatch of orchestral waltz, then a bar-room piano. "Oh no, I hate tapes," wails Moore. But persistence wins the day, and at last he has the tape machine running, and is battering on the wooden keys, faster and faster, leaving the faint, tinny band far behind.
Moore, as all viewers of The Sky at Night know, is an innately funny man - both boffin and buffoon. Here is the man who commentated on the moon landings, who mapped the moon for NASA and who has an asteroid named after him, playing "Penguin Parade" and thrilling at critical tributes such as: "He writes marches of which Sousa would have been proud". Three days after my visit, Moore is due to start recording his CD, on which he will play the xylophone.
"Yes, but I don't want to play it. I am a composer, not a performer," he says regally. The Royal Scottish National Orchestra are recording the works, including the "Woodland Suite", in which "the first movement was written when I was 13, the second when I was 71, and you cannot tell the difference." He heaves with hilarity: "You cannot tell the difference..."
Isn't that rather odd? Haven't his musical tastes changed at all? "No, never did." He avoided jazz, preferred the Strausses, Gilbert and Sullivan and Sousa.
What about the Beatles? "Oh, I remember having a drink with the Beatles when they were starting out. I don't like their music. The music I like, and like to write, belongs not to 1998 but to 1898. I'm open about that."
Well, I try, what about modern composers? "Oh, Chopin, Grieg, Rachmaninov, I love. I went to a Prom two years ago and there was a very modern piece of music on that sounded exactly like a cat-fight. Birtwistle. That's who it was. Not difficult but impossible. I can't make head nor tail of it." He juts out his chin, and his monocle falls out.
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