ROGER WEBB Bartleby
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Amazing. Groovy. Weird, Pastoral. Jazz. Funky. Modal. And all at the same time.
So, some history and context for you.
Bartleby or rather Bartleby The Scrivener: A Story Of Wall Street started life as a short anonymous work written for publication in 1853. Its first appearance was over two installments that year, in the November and December issues of Putnam’s Monthly Magazine.
The Bartleby story is simple – a Wall Street firm hires a scrivener by the name of Bartleby, who, after joining, refuses to do any work at all, using “I’d prefer not to” as his ongoing and effective excuse (a bit like my kids all the time in fact). This infuriates all the other staff and the situation spirals into madness.
Bartleby appeared three years later as a short story in The Piazza Tales, revealing the writer to be Herman Melville. Since then it has risen in stature, and has been firmly placed as a short form classic. It offers readers a subtle journey into mental illness and explores isolation in the work place and in society in general. It’s not a particularly cheerful read, but Melville’s subject matter and observations are more relevant now than ever.
Over the years the story has been adapted for radio, stage and screen. In 1970 a filmed version was made in the UK, transporting Bartleby from New York to London, and from the 19th Century to the late 1960s. Starring Paul Scofield (as the accountant) and John McEnery (as Bartleby) it offered a stark, depressing and darkly comic view of office life, ending in a hunger strike and ultimately death. So not a swinging London movie by any stretch of the imagination.
The film was shot around London Wall and was produced via Twickenham Studios (for interiors shots), which was a commercial set up co-owned by Kenneth Shipman. One of his fledgling composers at the time was pianist Roger Webb (1934 – 2002), who put together a most extraordinary and effective soundtrack. To my ears it’s a mixture of jazz and British pastoral sadness. A perfect blend of late 1960s jazz underground and brooding depression.
This is the first time this Bartleby score has ever been issued.