Jussi Bjorling’s secret to singing: line up ears up directly over shoulders (from David L. Jones)
OK, it's not true, but anything about Jussi Bjorling fascinates me. The great Swedish tenor was born in 1911 and died in 1960. I have recordings made a few days before his death of a heart attack in August of that year, and the singing in that magnificent last concert pours out in full voice and with all his incredible, expansive tone, as if nothing held him back, nothing restrained him. He knew, though, his heart, already weakened from previous attacks, could go at any moment. His singing is always moving, but this is especially moving.
I first heard him on ABC radio in 1971. I was sitting in my car in the car-port of the house I was lodging at when the announcer introduced, then played, two of Bjorling's most famous arias from 1944 - O Paradiso and Nessun Dorma. I was simply transfixed, overwhelmed. Sometimes a voice can do that. I couldn't move, couldn't contemplate leaving the car no matter how automatic that would be. I have been listening to him addictively ever since. Back then almost no one I met had ever heard of him. I had only seen one or two photos of him and could find almost nothing written about him.
Despite that his voice kept me company for pleasure and for solace year after year. He made me sing more, he kept me sane, I'm sure. Well, happier when I wasn't. I have most of his recordings now, often in vinyl and again on CD, and as the years have passed, more opera house recordings, rough in sound quality but fascinating, have become available. His radiant but melancholy voice is my most glorious happiness.
In recent years he has been voted in the UK and the US as the greatest opera singer of the century. He is without any doubt one of the greatest, regardless of polls. All thanks to CDs, of course, which resurrected his singing for us - and now you can see and hear him on YouTube. I even have a biography now, a book co-written by Andrew Farkas and Anna-Lisa Bjorling, Jussi's widow. It tells of his career and of his chronic alcoholism. Amazing he could sing, from the years of vocal work and the drinking, and yet his extraordinary technique carried him through it all.
Below is a piece - written by music teacher David L. Jones - about his observations of Jussi's technique. Perhaps it is true about the ears.
Our bookshelves are made of gorgeous WA jarrah and - thanks to the low-shine satin finish - they give off a subdued but distinctive glow between the rows of books and the golden pheasant (everyone asks about the stuffed pheasant) and the black graphite coloured hi fi. These reddish modular bookshelves are a work of high craft. They stand floor-to-ceiling in the main lounge and a ledge-space lower in my study - custom-made for our apartment by Jim of Xilo Furniture.
Jim designed and fitted them with enough modular flexibility for us to design (within his design) the shelf positions we wanted. Which also means we can change the shelving arrangement when or if we feel like it. It is deeply pleasurable to stand and admire them, and I do, regularly. They cost us about the same as a small second-hand car but they will be running as sweetly in twenty years. No maintenance. No accidents. Minimal drunk driving.
Bookshelves are essential for a writer and are allowed as an outright tax deduction by the Australian Taxation Office, or they can be slowly written off for years in the Depreciation Schedule. Ditto for the books. In our case, all two and a half thousand of them. This is enlightened and almost amazing. But a writer needs a library and over the years an obvious worldly irony asserts itself regardless: as the resource value of books increases, their monetary value tapers away to nothing. I sit in front of the main shelves and experience the endless immensities of these books for hours every week and never consider the money fading from them. There are however a few books that I hesitate to pick up because I know they will split apart - their glue has dried fatally; and some other books are too dusty for my nasal susceptibilities; and there are books on the shelves that refuse to interest me now, or in the past, but they might (who knows?) in the future, and so they are kept regardless.
The lounge is the more public book space – novels, biographies, general knowledge, dictionaries. In my study the book are more likely to be poetry (funny, that), art, theory and ... cookbooks. The latter only there because they need the deeper shelf I had made in my set-up for art books and vinyl records, though given that cooking comes second to writing in my daily life, it is perhaps fitting those books rest in my inner sanctum. I cook mainly from memory and invention, it has to be said but still, by appropriateness...
I can honestly claim going to these bookshelves several times every day. They are as visited as the kitchen and more visited than the shower. I read from them more often than I brush my teeth – and I am a regular brusher. They are arranged... ah, yes, everyone has an interest in this... NOT alphabetically, but in big groupings: novels from Britain, from Europe (each area, Russian fiction say, in sub-groups), the US, Australia. Books about ideas, politics, sociology, all together. Biographies together, with taller ones (why are biographies so tall?) on the same shelf and all books positioned according to height as well (tall books on higher spaced shelves). This can be tricky, though, a tall book sometimes hard to place in its proper group...
I reckon on knowing where everything is and I’m not bad, depending on how often my eye scans and re-news my visual memory of any grouping.
Everyone asks about the stuffed pheasant.