An unusual slant on offering a single selection for our occasional series, Desert Island Chesterton, is provided by Garry Nieuwkamp, a doctor on the NSW Central Coast who is a regular contributor to The Defendant. He compares this challenging process to choosing musical pieces from the vast output of the movie composer, Ennio Morricone.
Some years ago I managed to persuade James Valentine, who hosts a programme on ABC radio, to invite me on as a guest music presenter. He used to have a weekly segment where he’d invite a musician onto his programme to discuss their musical influences, and to introduce three songs that reflected this influence.
As I have been a fan of the music of Ennio Morricone ever since I heard that haunting opening refrain to Jill’s theme from ‘Once Upon a Time in the West’, I have been persuaded that the world would be a better place if only more people would listen to the maestro. With that in mind, I emailed James Valentine, with the confidence of an obsessive, and all but demanded that he invite me on to discuss Morricone’s brilliance. He agreed.
Like our friend Chesterton, Morricone has had a prodigious output – more than 400 soundtracks. So the problem of choosing only three pieces of music from this huge repertoire was daunting.
Adding to this challenge was the necessity of appeasing a large and international fan base that took an interest in what my choices might be. There was a general consensus on the Morricone message board that one of the pieces would have to be ‘On Earth as it is in Heaven’ from ‘The Mission’. Three themes, like the Trinity, are woven into one almighty wall of sound. A sacramental worldview as Chesterton would say.
Again, there was general approval that ‘Ecstasy of Gold’ from ‘The Good, the Bad and the Ugly’ would be a reasonable choice. But it was with the third selection that things went a bit “Lord of the Flies.” Morricone, like Chesterton, has mastered a number of genres, so the need for variety suggested that the third choice should come from one of the political soundtracks, like ‘Sacco and Vanzetti’ or ‘Casualties of War’, or maybe from one of the comedies like ‘Il Vizietto.’
But if it is the idea – in Chesterton’s description of music – of the ‘shapeless and liquid element of beauty, in which a man may really float’ that best represents Morricone’s brilliance, then one of the religious soundtracks like ‘Moses’ or ‘Padre Pio’ or ‘Il Papa Buono’ would be a better selection. Whatever the determination, the choice was never going to be easy.
The third choice would entail leaving out extraordinary works of musical brilliance. How does one choose between ‘The Legend of 1900’ and ‘Malena’, or between ‘Once Upon a Time in America’ and ‘Fateless’? Nevertheless, the radio programme dictated that a choice had to be made and so I went with ‘Baci Dopo Il Tramonte from La Venexiana (The Venetian Woman)’. Not orthodox, not heretical, but safe.
Now here I am with a choice of a different kind, but with remarkable similarities. Both Morricone and Chesterton have extraordinarily large bodies of work. They can be profoundly spiritual but not averse to a laugh. One lives in Rome, the other turned to Rome. Choosing a work from either entails leaving out an equally brilliant work that would have been a legitimate choice.
But like ‘The Venetian Woman’, I’m not going with the orthodox or the heretical but with ‘Lepanto’. It has echoes of Macaulay’s narrative poems, Lays of Ancient Rome, and I can hear the laughter of Chesterton, Bentley and Oldershaw in every one of its lines. It has knights and heroes and sultans and popes. It has queens and kings and crescents and crosses. It has galleys and guns and colonnades and captives.
It doesn’t have dragons but has Azrael and Ariel. It has Solomon and St Michael and Don John laughing. It has princes and turbans and peacocks in gardens (and these are a few of my favourite things!).
It has King Phillip with a face of fungus and kettle- drums galore. It has might and right and trumpets that sayeth ha! It celebrates a battle won and a battle at sea, and so for a ‘desert island choice’, it’s the Chesterton for me.