'Osanna in Excelsis' Johann Sebastian Bach
12 July 2016, 11:57
Variations on 'Cameron's Lament'
Improvisations and fantasies on David Cameron's humming
After announcing that Theresa May would be taking over as PM on Monday afternoon, David Cameron was caught on microphone humming a little tune as he went back into Number 10. And music buffs of the internet have been debating what it could have been.
Here's the original tune, as captured on the soon-to-be-former Prime Minister's lapel microphone:
Ever since, music geeks of the internet have been trying to work out what tune he was humming – and whether it told us anything about his state of mind and what the future might hold for the country.
The most popular verdict is that the little ditty is Cameron’s own variation on the spine-tingling opening of Shostakovich’s Fifth Symphony.
Here’s a direct comparison:
At this point, a little bit of musical history may be illuminating. Immediately before writing this symphony, Shostakovich’s opera Lady Macbeth of Mtsensk had been savaged in an article by Stalin himself as ‘coarse, primitive and vulgar.’ The dictator went on to say ‘things could end very badly’ unless he changed his compositional style. Shostakovich’s response was this symphony, which was subtitled: ‘a soviet artist’s response to just criticism’. Musicians and musicologists have debated pretty much ever since whether the symphony really is an attempt to toe the official line, or a cry of protest.
In short, David Cameron couldn’t have chosen a more politically charged piece to hum.
**cue conspiracy theories**
Another popular theory is that the soon-to-be-former PM is humming a theme from Wagner’s opera Tannhäuser. In short (and we are seriously paraphrasing), the opera is about sex and religion. So make of that what you will.
The theme in question is at 13.15 here:
A bit of a left-of-field suggestion this one, put forward by, among others, pianist Stephen Hough. This is a work which according to many, marks the final death throes of Romanticism. The piece is a symphonic poem telling the story of the doomed love between Pelleas and Melisande (SPOILER ALERT everyone dies). It wasn’t a hit at the premiere, though, with one critic writing: “Schönberg’s Pelleas und Melisande is not just filled with discords… but constitutes in itseld a discord lasting fifty minutes… What else might be concealed behind this cacophony is difficult to guess.”
Full marks for spotting this contender, music geeks of the world. Tara’s Theme from Max Steiner’s luscious score for the civil war epic does indeed follow more or less the same shape as David Cameron’s little ditty. But the notes don’t quite seem to match, suggesting this wasn’t the piece of music on his mind.
But what do *you* think he was humming?