Binder : The Piano Concertos

For a study of Binder’s forty-nine symphonies, see here.

Binder wrote two piano concertos. The first, Piano Concerto In B Flat On A Theme Of Glinka, was for many years, too many to count, thought to be based on a theme by the Russian composer Mikhail Ivanovich Glinka (1804-1857). Scholars pored over his scores, trying to find the theme which had inspired Binder, in vain.

The mystery was solved when a researcher found a scribbled note in the margin of a newspaper cutting at the bottom of a box of Binder’s miscellaneous papers. The discovery, incidentally, happened on the very day of a different discovery, when Pickles, a black and white Collie, rooting about in a suburban hedge in Beulah Hill, South Norwood, found the Jules Rimet trophy which had been stolen four months before the start of the 1966 World Cup foopball tournament. Pickles’ owner received a financial reward; the only reward gained by the finder of the marginal scribble was the undying gratitude of Binder enthusiasts.

What the note revealed was the true identity of Glinka. This was not the Russian composer, but an affectionate nickname given to the landlady of the dilapidated seaside boarding house where Binder lived during a particularly wretched decade. Glinka was rakishly thin and angular and had a certain corvine air, and she whistled while she worked. One of her whistlings enchanted the impecunious composer. He may even have intended the tribute of a piano concerto to mollify Glinka and stop her bashing relentlessly on his door every day demanding the rent, which Binder always had great difficulty cobbling together. He was making a living at the time as a seaside resort piano tuner, in a seaside resort with few pianos.

Glinka’s whistle must have been something to hear. The Piano Concerto certainly is, though you will probably want to wear ear-muffs. It’s that kind of concerto.

Binder’s second piano concerto, the Piano Concerto In B Flat On A Theme Of Glinka Again, is a very different work. One critic, whose ears were pretty fantastic as critical ears go, said that it was hard to believe it was the work of the same composer. Where the first concerto is redolent of marshland and biscuits, the second has a sort of guttersnipe snippiness. Where the first is piquant, the second chunters. The theme itself is rendered by the sizzling of sausages in a frying pan, which was possibly an allusion by the composer to Glinka’s impossibly greasy breakfasts. At the première of the work, in Pointy Town’s pointy town hall, the overenthusiastic sausage sizzler allowed spitting fat to set fire to the trousers of the brass section, next to which he was stationed with his Calor Gaz picnic hob. The performance ended in disarray and the insistent ringing of alarms and the arrival of fire engines, elements which Binder planned to incorporate into a third piano concerto. He never completed this work. Actually, he never even started it. He fell hopelessly in love with the flapper Poopsie Clutterbuck who was allergic to pianos, and who convinced Binder to concentrate on his symphonies, bagatelles, and threnodies.

Glinka’s dilapidated seaside boarding house fell into further dilapidation. The landlady sold it to a simple-minded fool, and retired to a different seaside resort, further along the coast, where she was often to be seen tottering along the pier, supported on sticks, her whistling drowned out by the ferocious shrieking of gulls and gales.

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