Respect

23rd January 2004 at 00:00
RESPECT: THE FORMATION OF CHARACTER IN AN AGE OF INEQUALITY. By Richard Sennett. Penguin pound;8.99

As a young man taking singing lessons, I was fascinated by Schubert's hair-raising song, "Der Erlkonig", attracted by the genius of the relationship that Schubert creates between the agonised voice part and the fierce turmoil of the piano.

In this book, which regrets the damage and conflict caused by lack of respect across social and economic divides, Richard Sennett refers at some length to the way that pianist Gerald Moore and baritone Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau achieve mutual respect in their definitive recording of "Der Erlkonig". The singer, he suggests, sees rather than a hierarchical "performeraccompanist" relationship, something beyond that, where each relates in his own way to Schubert. "The talent of both men lies in their capacity to translate inkblots into feeling."

Were we able to cleave more readily - notably in education - to that kind of different but equal craftsmanship, rather than to meritocratic achievement, the world would, literally, be a better place.

Professor Sennett's book is a restless and disjointed mixture of anecdote, memory and argument, but it's always easy to read. A timely warning of the dangers of inequality not just of wealth and status but of personal worth.

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