geometric brightly coloured angles


Kenneth Gray, London
RE | Issue 19 | 2021


I was surrounded by bad music when I was young—either, in England, by my aunt, her fingers increasingly afflicted by arthritis, rehearsing Scarlatti sonatas endlessly on an ancient harpsichord; or, in Spain, by the drunken caterwauling of the village folk (and bad flamenco really is bad). Things improved as I got older.





Paco Toronjo

I grew up in a small and remote mining village in the Southwest of Spain. The area is famous for a particular type of flamenco, the fandango alosnero, which usually involves sitting around a table, taking it in turns to sing your life and drinking endless glasses of aguardiente (a wormwood liqueur best avoided). Outside of Spain, flamenco is widely misunderstood. Rather like the blues, the performers use music to elevate their often grindingly poor lives onto a different artistic plane. The Toronjos were a local family of miners, one of whom, Paco, achieved nationwide fame as the prime exponent of the fandango alosnero. Here he sings (with his brother on the first verse) that he has dreamed of his wife’s infidelity, to which the choir replies that only fandangos can bring you happiness.

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Juanito Valderrama

I come from a family of emigrants. My parents’ families have lived in Smyrna (now Izmir), Boston, England, Ireland, France, Scotland and Spain. I myself have circulated between Spain, France and England. I have a special bond with each country. I do not agree with the comment made by the UK’s former Prime Minister, Theresa May, that “If you believe you are a citizen of the world, you are a citizen of nowhere”.


In the village, rather than go down the mines, many young men would go to Germany, to work in the car factories there, and return a few years later driving a new Mercedes. This song is a pasodoble (a ‘double-step’ in Spanish) and speaks of the yearning emigrants feel for their home. Play it to any Spaniard living away from home and a cloud of nostalgic melancholy will descend.


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Janis Joplin

I won a scholarship to study mathematics at Cambridge University. Without that scholarship, it would have been difficult for me to matriculate as, being an overseas resident, I was not entitled to state support. In my essay for the general paper, I was asked to discuss the meaning of ‘freedom’. I drew a comparison between Jean-Jacques Rousseau (“Man was born free but everywhere he is in chains”) and Janis Joplin (“Freedom is just another word for nothing left to lose”). I wish I could remember what that comparison was—it quite eludes me now—but it must have impressed the scholarship board. Or they may have been having been keeping an eye on my financial situation.


Janis Joplin · Pearl  · Columbia Records, 1971 / 2010

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JS Bach

After arriving at Cambridge, I soon realised that I had neither the intelligence nor the application to be a successful mathematician, so I converted my degree course to law. However, I believe that the analytical skills I learned have served me (and my clients) well in my career. Others may argue that that claim only holds true in the context of chaos theory.


Bach is often cited as a mathematician’s composer. There is a swirling aural geometry in his work that reaches its apogee in the Well-Tempered Clavier, two books of preludes and fugues in each of the twenty-four major and minor keys.


Johann Sebastian Bach · Das Wohltemperierte Clavier  · András Schiff · ECM, 2012.

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Tomás Luis de Victoria

Great art can transport you from one state of consciousness to another: that is one reason why it is so often associated with religion. I have a penchant for requiems, not out of any piety (or morbidity), but because they are composed with a view to instilling a state of serenity in the grieving audience. They provide solace in difficult times.


There are many great requiems: most famously, those by Mozart, Brahms, Verdi and Britten. There are doubtless many being written now. I have chosen this one, composed by Victoria in 1603 on the death of the Dowager Empress Maria of Spain, for its austere polyphonic beauty.


Victoria · Requiem · Officium Defunctorum · 1605 · Gabrieli Consort · Paul McCreesh · DEUTSCHE GRAMOPHON, 1995.

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