The people who do things and what they do

It’s a tough lesson to learn in life that the people you admire or idolize for their contribution in a particular arena (whether that be sport, art, science or something else) turn out to be people you can’t stand in terms of their character or political views.

You have to separate, for example, having a high regard for Ian Botham’s cricketing prowess from having a high regard for his personal character. In fact I can think of few sportspeople whose company I’d enjoy socially.

The same goes in many other spheres. Richard Feynman was a truly great physicist but I’ve never bought into the personality cult surrounding him. In fact I doubt I would have liked him very much at all if we’d ever met in person. They say you should never meet your heroes. They’re right.

Another example is Richard Wagner, a brilliant composer but really horrible man, who brings us to this clip from the end of Twilight of the Gods (the last episode of Series 7 of Inspector Morse, first broadcast in 1993).

I won’t spoil the plot if you haven’t seen it but it involves a famous opera singer, Gladys Probert, who visits Oxford to perform and receive an honorary degree. On the way to the ceremony she is shot, but was she the intended victim?

Opera-loving Morse is a huge admirer of Gladys Probert but in the course of his investigation he uncovers some unpleasant truths about her private life. He solves the crime but the case leaves him dispirited.

Here is the ending. John Thaw is Inspector Morse and Kevin Whateley is Detective Sergeant Lewis.

12 Responses to “The people who do things and what they do”

  1. Video blocked in the UK… Probably being held in detention by the home office…

  2. It’s a great scene, but I don’t get the whole Wagner. He’s a bit like David Beckham – more popular with the media and music enthusiasts than with musicians themselves. It’s puzzling how Wagner appreciation is portrayed so often as a mark of great intellectual depth…

    • Phillip Helbig Says:

      A big social event in Germany are the Wagner Festspiele in Bayreuth. Many people go just to be seen; certainly not all are really fans of Wagner. Angela Merkel’s husband, chemistry professor Joachim Sauer, is famous for being the husband of Angela Merkel, but not of the Chancellor. In other words, he doesn’t go along as the accompanying spouse to various events and so on as the “first gentleman” or whatever. However, he and Merkel are both fans of Wagner, so they attend the Festspiele (I’m sure that they are offered good seats), one of his few publich appearances in connection with his wife, which led a magazine to dub him The Phantom of the Opera. 🙂

  3. Anton Garrett Says:

    To me character is far more important than politics. I’ve had (different!) friends whom I consider both far right and extreme left.

  4. Dave Carter Says:

    Conversely, you can admire Bill Gates’ philanthropy, whilst still thinking his software is rubbish.

  5. Phillip Helbig Says:

    “Another example is Richard Wagner, a brilliant composer but really horrible man”

    Wagner’s music is better than it sounds.

    —Mark Twain

    • Anton Garrett Says:

      The Ring goes on a bit, but how anybody can not be blown away by Act 3 of Goetterdaemmerung is beyond me. Or the overture to Tannhaeuser or Rienzi or Flying Dutchman. Or plenty of Lohengrin. But spare me Parsifal; he took himself far too seriously by then, and it spilled over into the music.

      • telescoper Says:

        “Parsifal is an Opera by Richard Wagner which starts at half past five. Three hours later you look at your watch, and it’s quarter to six.”

      • Anton Garrett Says:

        That’s relativity for you!

      • telescoper Says:

        Calculate the value of gamma…

      • Phillip Helbig Says:

        When I give a lecture, I accept that people look at their watches, but what I do not tolerate is when they look at it and raise it to their ear to find out if it stopped.

        —Marcel Achard

  6. I love Wagner, but the music I prefer is that of a cat hung up by its tail outside a window and trying to stick to the panes of glass with its claws.
    (sorry, plagiarism)

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