Wednesday, 11 April 2012

First Performance

Fantasy Bob has often wondered what it would be like to have been in the audience for the first performance of a truly great work. For example, had he managed to get to the St Thomas Church in Leipzig 285 years ago today, what would he have thought?

Bach's incomparable St Matthew Passion is believed to have had its first performed on 11 April 1727, Good Friday. Had FB missed it though he would have had to wait 4 days for its next performance on 15 April 1729. And that was it for another 9 years when it was next performed on 30 March 1736. The work was not heard outside of Leipzig until 1829, when Mendelssohn performed an abbreviated and modified version in Berlin to great acclaim.  Now it can be heard dawn to dusk on YouTube.

What did those first audiences hear? Did they recognise the greatness pouring over them, or did they just think that the background music was an inoffensive accompaniment to their slumbering in the church pews? FB has been in the audience on several occasions to hear new commissions. He regrets that none of them have been memorable, such is the nature of modern music. Some will have been atmospheric and been effective in their own way. Perhaps in 100 years these works will be revered.  But FB has yet to feel that he has been bathed in newly formed greatness.

Is there any correspondence with this in sport - does an audience recognise greatness immediately? The great batsmen and bowlers have all made a debut - many would have been lauded as greats from the start of their careers. But many debuts were unsucccessful, and indeed given the greatness that was to come, embarrassing. FB noted a few of those disappointing debuts a few months ago and they are all interesting stories.

Tip Foster
But there have also been highly successful debuts. The highest innings scored on Test debut was in 1903 by Tip Foster who scored 287 against Australia at Sydney. This is still the highest innings by an English player in Australia despite Cook and KP's efforts last year. Foster is the only man to have captained England at both cricket and football. His business commitments restricted his test appearances to 8 and his soccer caps to 6. He died at the age of 36 from complications associated with diabetes. FB thinks that the crowd in Sydney surely would have recognised Foster as in the St Matthew Passion class.
Narendra Hirwani
The highest aggregate score in a debut match belongs to West Indian Lawrence Rowe who in 1972 against New Zealand in Jamaica followed up his first innings 214 with 100* in the second innings. Rowe had an interesting handicap for a cricketer - he was allergic to grass.  He saw a lot of it in that match - he is one of only 2 players to score centuries in both innings on debut, the other being Yasir Hameed of Pakistan against Bangladesh in 2003.  While Rowe's average in 37 Tests is a respectable 43.55,  it is not quite the St Matthew Passion grade.  Hameed similarly has not confirmed the St Matthew class of his debut.

Albert Trott
But what about bowlers? The best figures for a debut match are Narendra Hirwani's 16 for 136 against W Indies at Chennai in 1988, closely followed by Bob Massie's 16 for 137 at Lords in 1972. They both took 8 in each innings. There have been 4 other 8 wicket hauls by debutant bowlers - the best is Albert Trott's 8 for 43 against England at Adelaide in 1895.  Neither Hirwani nor Massie went on to true greatness, although Trott's claim to St Matthew class is strong.

Trott played Tests for both England and Australia and is the only player ever to have hit the ball over the pavilion at Lords.  He was the best all rounder of his day by a long way. In his benefit match in 1907 he took four wickets in four balls, and then followed up with a second hat trick later in the innings.  One of only 2 instances of 2 hat tricks in an innings in First Class cricket. But his life ended in tragedy - he died at his own hand in 1914.  Ars longa vita brevis.

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