He turned writing of cricket into art and writing of music into young love.
Neville Cardus transformed writing about cricket into art, just as he turned writing about music into the enthusiasm of first falling in love. Before him, fielders chased the crimson rambler across the greensward and wicketkeepers were the guardians of the wickets. Of course, he made much of it up, as later in life he admitted, but then only fiction penetrates into less easily apprehensible truths. I don’t believe for a moment that once when he congratulated Dick Tyldesley for admitting to an umpire he had not taken a catch fairly, Tyldesley replied West Houghton Sunday school Maister Cardus, or when the Australian captain Warwick Armstrong upbraided his leg break bowler Arthur Mailey for sharing his secrets with the English leg spinner Tich Freeman, Mailey repied art is international Mr Armstrong, or once when on the bodyline tour Douglas Jardine was swotting away flies an aggrieved Australian voice called out leave our flies alone Jardine. But would we be without these profound insights? There are no rations in an innings by Compton he wrote in 1947, Woolley leaning on his bat is one of the loveliest sights on a cricket field in 1929.
How he would have loved Botham and Pietersen and Shane Warne, let alone Geoffrey Boycott, who surely was the very incarnation of the northernness he understood so well. Once when Boycott was supposedly scoring so slowly that an English victory was being lost, Botham was sent in to run him out and went on to score a rapid century. Everybody was out on the balcony cheering wildly except Boycott, who was skulking in the pavilion muttering and what’s more he’s scoring all my bloody runs. Surely Cardus rose from the dead to write this story. He would have adored the Yorkshireness of Boycott much as he loved Emmott Robinson of blessed Cardusian memory, who God put on at one end at Bramall Lane instructing him mek sure tha gives nothing away Emmott.
The ground at Dover was a field of tents and waving colours, the players coming down the pavilion steps at Old Trafford a waterfall of white, a wet day at Lords a view coloured in lead and Indian ink, the heavy drops falling drip drip drip upon the pavilion terrace which might be called the Ghosts’ Walk, since the shades of so many cricketers of other days make it murmurous. Bradman “reminded me of the trapeze performer who one night decided to commit suicide by flinging himself headlong to the stage, but could not achieve the error because his skill had become infallible”. Grimmett “walks about the field on dainty feet which step as though with the soft fastidiousness of a cat treading a wet pavement. He is a master of surreptitious arts…to play forward to Grimmett, to miss the spin, and then to find yourself stumped by Oldfield – why, it is like an amputation done under an anaesthetic”. On what prosaic days are the cricket commentaries of The Guardian fallen.
“We still sit in the dark for hours seeing and listening as Wagner works his spell – Wagner the arch-egoist, most defiled of composers as a man, Jew-hater, Nazi before his time and all the rest of it. We sit there, while this same Wagner teaches us, in our own day of advancing nuclear science and technology, that the ever-opening wound of Amfortas, and the wound of the world, will be healed by somebody entirely unsophisticated and unscientific – made wise through compassion.”
“In the “Song of the Earth” he is perhaps less subjective than anywhere else. He found inspiration for this unique work in old Chinese poetry telling of the brevity of life, but also of its beauty and everlasting freshness of creation….Remember, when you hear the orchestration, so original and evocative, so finely spun in parts, coloured with exquisite tints in the “Autumn” movement, silver grey and murmurous, or in the “Youth” movement music enchanted out of the distant Chinese landscape – remember as you listen that Mahler never heard this work, he died before its first performance. The subtle tone chemistry he only heard in his brain and imagination. The recitative of the voice in the “Farewell” is silence made audible; the orchestration at the end is gossamer, with stardust on it. The end sings of the green earth that will blossom for ever”
‘’…though the music grew consequently in godlike stature and competence, diminished the poetic reflection of pathos momentarily, and also the sense of life’s frailty and ineffectuality which, as I like to think, the movement can express with rare humanity and poignancy. It is not easy for Toscanini, so masterful as he is to embody the godlike, to relax into a vein of the pathetic, even poetically or musically felt or conceived. The andante was pure song, with the simplest phrasing of the melody in the first dominant section; the warmth of harmony compelled unusual admiration for the beauty of Brahms’s scoring. Even here there was more pf magnificently controlled musical art than that of tenderness which so movingly could emerge from the masculinity and strength of Brahms. The allegretto was not allowed to reduce the stature of the performance in the slightest; this was not an escapist intermezzo; the energy remained purposefully directed and there was no hiatus at the descent of the trio…And all was a preparation for the finale, where the plucked strings came tragically out of the darkness…”
Where else could we find musical criticism that opens our hearts so directly, always hearing it fresh and new as if for the first time, that enriches our understanding so easily and deftly, that enters so exquisitely into the intentions of the great composers, that brings them into our living rooms and lets us meet them walking down the street, writing so infused with love and appreciated with such refined emotion it is so immediately comprehensible, that makes us too love them even more all over again?