Friday, July 16, 2010
Sunday, July 11, 2010
Saturday, July 10, 2010
Vacation's Over - Ricochet.com
Obama Oratory Overrated? - Ricochet.com
Sunday, March 14, 2010
My wife and I are season ticket holders to the Shakespeare Theatre downtown and yesterday we saw their production of Henry V. It was rainy and dreary outside and I was tired. I had no desire to sit for three hours watching a play. I would have preferred to take a nap. I actually felt very sleepy and closed my eyes for a few minutes about ten minutes in. When I opened them I felt refreshed and it was just about that time that I started getting in the flow of the play, i.e. when the rhythms of the Shakespearian language start to become understandable. My wife and I both agree that in nearly all the Shakespeare we see it takes a few minutes of listening to the Shakespeare’s Elizabethan cadences before we start to get it. After that, if the production and the acting are any good, we’re home free.
And boy was this one good. The title of this post is taken from the famous St. Crispin’s Day speech Henry gives to his men before their decisive battle with the French:
Michael Hayden plays Henry and he is very nearly perfect in the role. The historical events of the play concern the English victory over the French at Agincourt in 1415 in which heavily outnumbered English, spurred on by Henry’s speech, soundly defeated the French and Henry has himself declared successor to the French crown. But the play is really about the maturity of Henry into a great man and leader. The former Prince Hal, a frivolous playboy, gives up his former ways upon becoming king and learns the lessons and burdens of leadership. The speech is rousing not simply for its inspiring words but because we in the audience realize that Henry has now achieved true greatness. Hayden does a wonderful job showing us this growth, aided by the simple production that lets Shakespeare do the talking. I kept thinking all the way through (until the final scene) how well-structured the play was. Each scene builds upon the last, telling the historical story while at the same time showing the maturity of Henry, the difficult decisions he must make, the way he handles power. I had associations flashing through my head to other historical and theatrical events all the way through the play. Considering the changes that come over Henry once he becomes king I thought of the changes that are said to have come over Octavian (the future Emperor Augustus) when he learned that Caesar was dead and had chosen Octavian as his successor. Two scenes put me in mind of Michael Corleone in The Godfather movies. The first, when three former associates attempt to betray him, he hugs the one who he was closest with, and we know he will die: “I will weep for thee / For this revolt of thine methinks is like / Another fall of man”. It reminded me of the scene on II when Michael learns of Fredo’s betrayal and kisses him: “You broke my heart Fredo. You broke my heart.” Later, when Henry’s old drinking buddy Bardolph (played by the marvelous Floyd King, who by now must be considered a Washington D.C. institution) has been caught robbing a church, Henry has him brought before him. Bardolph, thinking his old friend will show leniency, greets him happily, “My King!” Realizing upon Henry’s silence the gravity of the situation, he utters with a catch in his voice “My Hal”, a plea to Henry to remember the good old days. It does him no good and Henry orders his execution. This reminded me of the scene in part one of The Godfather when Tesio, having betrayed Michael, stops and turns to Tom Hagen as he is being led off to his own execution: “Can you get me off the hook Tom? For old time’s sake?” Henry sobs over Bardolph’s dead body once everyone leaves and we realize with a shudder the burdens and sacrifices of a leader. Finally, the night before the big battle reminded me of Washington with his troops the night before the Delaware crossing, when all seemed lost. A play that can conjure up so many profound historical and theatrical situations is doing something right. In Shakespeare Theatre’s production of Henry V, nearly all is right.
Only one part of the play seemed wrong, and that is Act V consisting mostly of Henry’s wooing of Katharine, the daughter of the French King. Historically it points out the symbolic and literal union of England and France (which would be very short-lived) but as part of the play it seems out of place, a purely comic act after such a dramatic battle. It dissipates some of the energy from the play, which would better have ended at the end of Act IV, after the final battle. But this is a quibble. This Henry V is not to be missed.
The play runs through April 10 so you still have time to see it.
Friday, March 12, 2010
- I’m very much looking forward to HBO’s The Pacific, which starts this Sunday night. I’ve long thought that Band of Brothers, HBO’s 10-part series about the 101st Airborne’s experience in the western theatre, was some of the finest television I’ve ever seen. Maybe the finest. My wife and I are re-watching it in preparation for The Pacific and it’s as good as I remember. If The Pacific can match its predecessor, we are in for a treat.
- The Obama administration has apparently come to the conclusion that health-care must be passed if they are to have any future success at all. Moving on to other things is not an option, they believe, because if health-care fails Obama’s presidency is as good as over. He’ll suffer the same fate that brought Jimmy Carter down: the abandonment of an administration by the president’s own party. People forget that it was the loss of faith in Carter by the Democrat-controlled Congress that finally made him a non-entity as president. The Obama administration knows that the failure of health-care reform means they will suffer a similar fate. The Democrats legislators who walked the plank for Obama on cap-and-trade and health-care only to watch him fail (over and over again) will never do it again. They’ll know his political muscle has all but vanished and they’ll go back to looking out for their own skins. So Obama and Reid and Pelosi are doing everything they can to get this monstrosity passed, damn protocol, damn Senate rules, damn the Constitution. The “Slaughter Rule” of “deeming” a bill to have passed when it’s never been voted on, the use of reconciliation for purposes it was never intended, the contemplation of using a Biden override of the Senate parliamentarian’s rulings, are all outrages worthy of banana-republic style political thuggery.
- Of course, if health-care does pass, especially using the tactics under consideration, the mid-terms could be Armageddon for the Democrats. Dick Morris is claiming up to 80 house seats could switch to the Republicans if that happens. I don’t know about 80 but I think 60 is a good bet, and the Senate would be up for grabs. I’ve long argued that it would be the best thing that could happen to Obama because, like Clinton after the 1994 debacle, he’d be forced to govern from the center. Rich Lowry over at NRO is arguing the same thing this morning. But the question remains: can Obama govern from the center? Can such a committed ideologue sacrifice his life-long beliefs and certainties and actually compromise? I’ve said it here before and I’ll say it again: I don’t think he has it in him. He said as much himself when he claimed he’d rather be a one-termer who got things done that a two-termer who didn’t affect much change. His health-care gambit is his shot at history and he knows it. If it passes, even if he doesn’t get re-elected, he believes he’ll go down in history. I believe it will be more like infamy.
- I’m happy to hear that Tiger Woods is planning on returning to golf soon. The game needs him. While I was disappointed to learn of his behavior I was not overly surprised. A young man, the most well-known athlete in the world, has dozens of beautiful women throwing themselves at him everywhere he goes and he succumbs, happily, to the temptation. Why is that surprising? Surely it was wrong given that he is married, but the media coverage was more than a little creepy. Moreover, why Tiger felt the need to apologize to anyone but his wife, his family, and his sponsors is beyond me. He certainly didn’t owe me an apology. For those who feel like he let down parents who’d held him up to their children as a role-model, well, I’d argue that those parents were being naive, knowing what we know about the behavior of the average athlete. The whole thing was ugly, as much for the media’s behavior as Tiger’s. I’m just glad he’ll be back on the course soon. Hoping that the media will concentrate on his golf game rather than his personal life is probably too much to ask for.
- American Idol has got a lot to answer for. The wretchedness of the singers on the show have ingrained a certain style of singing into an entire generation of American youth. You know what I mean, that cloying, over-emoting, hyper-melismatic style that most of these children employ. They think it’s the way to show emotional expressiveness but of course it does just the opposite, revealing them to be the phonies that they are. Add to that the song choices of many of them, the type that dominates in this musically-challenged age: dreary, lacking in melody and personality, lyrically without imagination, like reading pages from a diary. Where have all the songwriters gone? We watched one season of American Idol, the year when Carrie Underwood won, and then we swore off it. Until this season, which I am watching because my wife is forcing me to. She is watching because her sister is forcing her to and she didn’t want to do it alone. And you know what? I’m glad I’m watching. Why? For one reason only, and her name is Crystal Bowersox. Have you seen her perform? This girl is the real deal, a young lady just dripping with talent. And, glory of glories, she knows how to sing. (There are many, many people with vocal talent who don’t know how to sing.) This sweet young thing who grew up on a farm and had never watched American Idol before she appeared on it, is steeped in the style and aesthetics of mid-60s Atlantic Records soul and rhythm and blues. Her voice, her guitar playing, her very persona, are saturated in it. Toss in a little country rock and gospel, shake it up, and you’ve got Crystal Bowersox. And she has taste – she knows a good song when she hears it, no doubt because she has grown up listening to good songs. So far she has sung songs written by Carole King, John Fogerty, and Tracy Chapman. And every song has had her own personal stamp on it. I’m tempted to call her a natural but performances like those she has given so far are the product of much thought and practice. To seem effortless takes hard work. Whatever happens to her on the show from here on in doesn’t really matter – she’ll get a recording contract (I’ll be in line for her records) and she’ll go far, so long as America still has any musical taste whatsoever. One of my favorite things about her is the way she looks at the judges when they are telling her what they though of her performance. Rather than being giggly or intimidated by them, the look on her face is almost contemptuous, though it’s probably more accurately described as indifferent. And she’s right to be indifferent. There is nothing those judges can tell her that she doesn’t already know. Single-handedly, Ms. Bowersox can help American Idol atone for many of its sins, simply by reminding Americans what good music sounds like. She is the very opposite of everything American Idol has always stood for.
- My own personal music education continues. I am well on my way to reaching my goal of learning fifty new classical music pieces during the 2010 year. I’d itemize them all for you but it’s too much work. Suffice to say I’m immensely enjoying much of the new music I’ve learned. A lot of it is chamber works, string quartets mostly, by Beethoven, Schubert, and Haydn. Beethoven is and always will be the master in my book but Schubert’s later string quartets, his piano trios, and his string quintet are all marvelous – he was a man of the first rank and he wrote music of astounding depth and beauty. I love, love, love it.
- To end this thing, let me give you a little Beethoven, with whom I’m ending this post, and a little Band of Brothers, with which I began this post. Episode 9 of BoB is the one where the 101st discovers the concentration camp. Who else is the history of western music can evoke the sorrow and tragedy of such a thing but Beethoven? The below is the beginning and the end of Episode 9. The middle shows the horrors of the Holocaust and it’s what the music being played is referring to. It’s music of utter beauty, sorrowful beauty, despairing beauty, set against the backdrop of human tragedy.
Wednesday, February 10, 2010
I’m currently reading a wonderful book, Lewis Lockwood’s Beethoven: The Music and the Life. While he gives the reader a short biographical sketch of Beethoven’s life and times, Lockwood concentrates primarily on the music, analyzing nearly every work Beethoven produced. For the major works these analysis’ can be four, five, six pages or more. Lockwood’s great gift is the ability to explain these mostly instrumental works in language the general reader can understand and appreciate. His analysis always adds to one’s listening pleasure, even with works I’ve been listening to for years and know by heart. After reading Lockwood, one approaches the piece with a fresh ears and a new perspective.
Of course, it’s taking me forever to get through the book. Once Lockwood starts discussion of a work it does not do to simply continue reading. I have to listen to the work, often twice, once while reading Lockwood’s analysis, the second time without. Yesterday, for instance, I read Lockwood’s takes on the 4th, 6th, and 8th symphonies, works I am not as familiar with as the 3rd, 5th, and 7th. I then listened to each while reading Lockwood’s breakdown of each. I then re-listened to the 4th and 6th, before I’d had enough music for the day. Three hours later and I had covered about twelve pages. At this rate, I’ll finish the book by June.
Which is fine. I am enjoying my foray into classical music immensely. I love this stuff. My goal at the start of the year was to learn, really learn, one new piece of classical music per week. I shortly thereafter modified the goal to learn 50 new works this year, as I could not listen to simply a single piece of music during a week. I’m mixing it up, listening to what I want when I want. I may listen to fifteen or twenty works in a given week. Eventually, I’ll winnow down what I like the most, re-listening over and over until I’ve got it down, and the work will be added to my list of favorites, i.e. it will become part of my life, a piece of music I’ll listen to for the rest of my days.
One of the most interesting parts of Lockwood’s analysis is when he explains devices Beethoven used that had been used earlier by other composers, usually Mozart and Haydn, who both had great influence over Beethoven’s development (Haydn was actually Beethoven’s teacher in 1792, though it was a disappointing relationship for them both.) That Mozart and Haydn influenced each other is without doubt. Though Haydn was 24 years senior to Mozart, they became great friends and admirers once Mozart arrived in Vienna at the age of 25 in 1781. It can be argued that Mozart, child prodigy that he was, did not become a truly great composer until he came under the influence of Haydn. Almost all of the works considered Mozart’s greatest came after he arrived in Vienna and his friendship with Haydn. Was Haydn the deciding factor in Mozart’s musical maturity? It can also be argued that Haydn, prolific as he had been for the previous twenty years, did not achieve his full greatness until his association with Mozart - Haydn’s most admired works were written during the 1780s and 1790s, when he was in his fifties and sixties. Like Bird and Magic, and Evert and Navratilova, they pushed each other to greater and greater heights, heights they never would have achieved otherwise, and in the process they defined the classical style. When we talk about the “classical style” we are really talking about the music of Haydn and Mozart and what they achieved: the development of the symphony, the concerto, and the string quartet; the organization of the orchestra; the sonata allegro form, especially, but also the formalization of minuet and trio, rondo, and theme and variations. But we mean something more when we invoke the term “classical style” than simply form and structure. It has to do with order, rationality, taste, and a particular emotional restraint, i.e. Enlightenment ideals brought to the musical world. Haydn and Mozart were children of the Enlightenment and their music reflects those ideals.
So here is my question, the one this blog post was originally supposed to be about. Mozart died at the age of 35 in 1791. Beethoven arrived in Vienna as a 21 year old a year later, brimming with talent and ideas. Had Mozart lived until the age of 70, he would have died in 1826, a year before Beethoven. If this were the case, how would Mozart’s music have been affected by Beethoven’s? The title of this blog post comes from an early score of Beethoven’s in which he wrote, “This entire passage has been stolen from the Mozart Symphony in C.” Can we conceive of a time in our hypothetical world when a fifty-some year old Mozart would have written on one of his own scores, “This passage has been stolen from Beethoven”?
Certainly Mozart, genius that he was, would have recognized Beethoven’s own genius. But would have have approved of Beethoven’s music? Would he have been dismayed at the direction Beethoven took the music and the forms that Mozart helped to create? Beethoven, after all, was not a child of the Enlightenment. That world was dying fast during his adolescence. The French Revolution would put a nail in its coffin, and Napoleon would shovel the dirt on top of it. Beethoven was a man born of the heroic age, a great admirer of Napoleon (until he declared himself emperor) and of himself. Indeed, Beethoven thought of himself and his music as heroic, an opinion that likely would have baffled Haydn and Mozart. Certainly Beethoven used the forms and structures defined by his predecessors, but he used them for his own expressive purposes, playing with them here, distorting them until they were almost unrecognizable there. But what is more is the emotional extremes that is often present in Beethoven’s music. What would Mozart have thought?
On page 170 of his book, Lockwood excerpts this from a letter Mozart wrote to his father in 1781:
[P]assions, violent or not, must never be expressed to the point of disgust, and music must never offend the ear, even in the most horrendous situations, but must always be pleasing…in other words, always remain music.
Lockwood then goes on to explain:
Clearly enough [Mozart’s] music, in all its facility, formal perfection, and wide range of expression, conveys the sense that its emotional life is contained within well-defined boundaries. Raising the notion of emotional moderation, balance, and restraint to the level of an aesthetic category, we can argue that it is a primary factor in Mozart’s aesthetic philosophy.
There, in a nutshell, is the essence of the classical style. Many considered Beethoven’s music vulgar. Would Mozart have? Would he have rebelled? Or adapted? Would the man with such a philosophy as described above accept Beethoven’s innovations and extremes?
I say, yes. Mozart was no dogmatist. He was always open to new ideas, or old ones (Mozart was greatly influenced by Bach, declaring upon hearing a Bach motet during a visit to Leipzig in 1789, “This is something to learn from!”) He took the style of his day and transformed it, perfected it, made it more beautiful. He also was an innovator in his own right, particularly with his operas and piano concertos, where he more or less defined double-exposition form. And, as the quote about Bach above shows, Mozart was always ready to learn. Within months of Haydn’s groundbreaking Op. 33 string quartets, Mozart had produced his own batch of six quartets in the same style, dedicating them to Haydn (the six “Haydn Quartets”). He had an ear for greatness and he no doubt would have recognized Beethoven’s greatness. He would have learned from Beethoven and used Beethoven’s own innovations for his own purposes. As for emotional expressiveness, Mozart did after all compose both the G Minor symphony and the D Minor piano concerto. While most of us think of lightness and beauty when regarding Mozart’s music, he was not afraid to express emotional turmoil in his music. So my own answer to the question of whether Mozart would have been influenced by Beethoven is an emphatic yes, making Mozart’s early death even more sorrowful. Below, in two parts, is the first movement of the D Minor piano concerto, perhaps Mozart’s most passionate work in a minor key, and a perfect example of his ability to adhere to structural form while expressing emotional turmoil. The wonder of Mozart is that is remains perfectly beautiful at the same time:
Monday, February 8, 2010
We didn’t need two feet of snow in D.C. - with another foot on the way - to finally realize that the global warming hoax is coming to an end. The evidence that is has been simply that – a hoax - has been piling up for months now, if not years. As it is, the blizzard of 2010 only goes to show that the globe is not warming but cooling, and it has been for a decade. The weather is changeable and unpredictable – who’da thunk it?
The news of global warming’s collapse has been coming so fast and furious that it’s hard to keep up with it all. This column in the Globe and Mail does an excellent job of summing up the recent scandals that have exposed this farce:
And now, the science scandals just keep on coming. First there was the vast cache of e-mails leaked from the University of East Anglia, home of a crucial research unit responsible for collecting temperature data. Although not fatal to the science, they revealed a snakepit of scheming to keep contradictory research from being published, make imperfect data look better, and withhold information from unfriendly third parties. If science is supposed to be open and transparent, these guys acted as if they had a lot to hide.
Despite widespread efforts to play down the Climategate e-mails, they were very damaging. An investigation by the British newspaper The Guardian – among the most aggressive advocates for action on climate change – has found that a series of measurements from Chinese weather stations were seriously flawed, and that documents relating to them could not be produced.
Meantime, the IPCC – the body widely regarded, until now, as the ultimate authority on climate science – is looking worse and worse. After it was forced to retract its claim about melting glaciers, Mr. Pachauri dismissed the error as a one-off. But other IPCC claims have turned out to be just as groundless.
Read the whole thing. I have been arguing for years that “global warming” is (was?) a myth perpetrated upon a gullible public for reasons that have nothing to do with concern for the environment. Rather, the leftists who push this nonsense are simply looking for a back-door, a trojan horse, to implement government policies that exert more control over the way you live your life. They hate capitalism and the creative chaos that comes with it because it allows individuals to make choices on their own initiative regarding how life should be lived. And that simply cannot be tolerated. The very essence of left-liberalism is that certain self-appointed elites should make these decisions for you. They know better than you. You shall not drive this type of car; you shall not use this type of light bulb; you shall not keep your thermostat above this temperature; you shall not live in a house larger than this size; you shall recycle; you shall not ask for plastic bags at the grocery store – the commandments of the global warming gods go on and on. But remember what I stated above: they have nothing to do with a concern for the environment. They have to do with running your life.
The same thing goes for health care. The leftists who argue for a public option are not concerned about your health, nor are they concerned with lowering the cost you pay for the same services, all else being equal. They want public policies put into place so they can control your life in the manner they see fit: you shall not smoke; you shall not eat this or that food; you shall exercise daily; you shall keep your cholesterol levels below this number; we’ll decide when and why you can see a doctor; we’ll decide at which point you become more of a burden to society than we can justify.
Remember, it’s all about control and the leaders of these efforts are the mini-totalitarians who would do the controlling. We seem to have dodged the health care bullet for the time being and now global warming is dying a much-deserved death. Obamaism has been thoroughly rejected by the American public and the conservatives who were in the wilderness a year ago are now getting a public hearing. So I ask: Is the world coming to its senses?
I was on a classical music site a few weeks ago and someone linked to a youtube video of this young German girl playing the ballet music from Shubert’s Rosamunde. It was terrific. She’s not a pro but she’s quite good and I love that she plays in the sonata format – a simple piano accompaniment to her violin - and that she always plays the melody. My wife and I speculate that’s her instructor on the piano. On the related videos box noticed that she had some other videos so I began to search and, lo and behold, there is a complete youtube site of her videos, among other videos. Again, I believe the site must be run by instructor, who records and posts new videos every few days. At any rate, this young girl has given me much pleasure these past few weeks. Here she is from a few days ago playing some Mendelssohn. Just lovely.
Saturday, February 6, 2010
Have you anything to say to me?
Won't you tell me where my love can be?
Is there a meadow in the mist
Where someone's waiting to be kissed?
Terrific version below by Harry James and his band, vocal by Helen Forrest:
If you pay attention to this blog (all two or three of you) you will have noticed that all my audio emdeds disappeared awhile ago. That is because Imeem, which I was using for the embeds, was bought out by MySpace. So the Imeem site no longer exists and all my embeds are gone. I just modified the front page’s right-hand panel to embed Helen Merrill’s “What’s New” from lala.com. So that’s fixed. Now to go back into past posts and fix them.
Snow. Lots of it:
That’s the view from my bedroom window down to my deck. They say Dulles Airport, right down the road from me, already has over 20 inches and we’re supposed to get 6-8 more. Sigh. I will admit it is beautiful while it is falling. But it turns ugly real quick. And while I don’t normally mind the shoveling my back is already aching - I threw it out while shoveling last weekend’s snow and then pulled it again when shoveling the mid-week snowstorm. So the prospect of shoveling this much snow out with my back in the shape it’s in is not one I’m looking forward to. Ah, but we’ll survive. Someone tell Al Gore all is forgiven if he’ll just come shovel me out.
I decided yesterday – I’d been thinking about it for a few weeks – to try to get something out of facebook. Not sure if I’d mentioned it before but I find it mostly trivial, at best. Someone posts something about what they’re doing and then others come in and agree, with exclamation points. The content is more perishable than cotton candy. When I first joined a few years ago it was to scope out the site for a possible investment. But I couldn’t figure out what to do with it, since I had no friends on it and it had yet to catch fire like it now has. Since then I’ve added a few friends (mostly family) and come to the conclusion above. As it is used by most, it’s useless. I can see how it could be a grand place for like-minded people to seriously discuss issues and subjects they are interested in but I don’t see that happening within the limited sphere of my facebook world. So I thought maybe I would start posting a “Daily Intermission” usually a video or an audio post but maybe a quote that I find funny or interesting. I’ll post it out there and see if anyone comments. Yesterday my post was this:
I love this Haydn quartet. I love all of them from Op. 76, but this one is the one I know best so far. And it is lovely, and happy, and joyous, even in a minor key. Haydn made no apologies for his joyous music, stating (I’m paraphrasing) that The Lord had given him a joyful heart and his music reflected that.
So what reaction did I get from facebook. Bupkis. Nada. Nothing. Oh well, let’s see if today’s gets a response:
This was the highlight of HBO’s Rock and Roll Hall of Fame 25th Anniversary show for me. Bruce closing with “Higher and Higher” came close but this is simply too beautiful a rendition of this song to take second place. It’s perfect.
So let’s see what happens with my new project. I spent a good part of yesterday on youtube coming up with future “Daily Intermissions”. I think I will post them all here too, with commentary, and figure out how to lead the facebook crowd this way. I’m sure it can be done but I haven’t looked into it yet. Anyhow, I’ve got to go grab a shovel. And take a couple Aleve’s.
Sunday, January 24, 2010
Long time no see. I’ve been around, and engaged, but the blogging bug seems to be just a flicker nowadays. Part of it was the Christmas vacation. I was off work for seventeen straight days and never once felt like blogging. I was busy doing other things: spending time with family, listening to music, and watching movies - I must have watched 20+ movies during the month of December. Also, I read no books during the vacation (!) a period when I usually go through three or four.
So what’s up? Well, most importantly, it appears that Barack Obama is now a spent political force. The man who a year ago was hailed as The Messiah, “a sort of God,” “the word made flesh,” and who had commanding majorities in both houses of Congress now has little political influence. He over-read his mandate and overreached and now his agenda is toxic not only to a majority of voters but also to many in his own party. Dick Morris said the other day that Obama will never get another major piece of legislation passed and I agree with that with a modification: he’ll never get a major piece of left-wing legislation passed. Obama can still survive politically but only if he moves to the center. The problem is he may not be capable or interested in doing so – the man appears to have too much ego to compromise with the other side, and he is too true believer, too much a dyed-in-the-wool leftist. His answers during a town hall appearance in Ohio the other day seem to confirm that the election of Scott Brown (and Bob McDonnell and Chris Christie) taught him nothing. He still seems to think he can continue on the path he and his advisors set out on a year ago. That’s what happens when you live in an echo chamber filled with yes-men and sycophants - it becomes harder to get a grasp on reality. But the reality is that the liberal dream is over. Thank God (and Scott Brown) for that.
Enough politics. One of the movies we watched recently was Julie and Julia, which tells the stories of Julia Child’s beginnings as a chef in France, and Julie Powell’s attempt to cook (and blog about) each recipe in Ms. Child’s Mastering the Art of French Cooking in a single year. The movie was so-so. But it gave me an idea, which I mentioned back in a December post: to learn one new piece of classical music per week. (As I’ve mentioned before, I have trouble using the term “classical music” because “classical” actually refers to a period of concert music, the period roughly between Bach’s death in 1750 and Beethoven’s Third Symphony in 1805, the period dominated by Haydn and Mozart. But since most people understand the term as meaning a certain type of orchestral music no matter when it was written, I’ll use it here in that context.) And how am I doing with my plan? I’m pleased to say so far, so good. At this point I can say I’m familiar with the following new music:
Mendelssohn’s Violin Concerto In E Minor, Op. 64
Mendelssohn’s A Midsummer Night's Dream Overture
Mendelssohn’s Hebrides Overture
Mendelssohn’s String Octet In E Flat, Op. 20
Mozart’s Clarinet Concerto In A, K 622
Schubert’s String Quartet No.13 in A, D. 804
Schubert’s String Quartet No. 14 in d, D. 810, “Death and the Maiden”
Tchaikovsky’s Violin Concerto In D, Op. 35
Tchaikovsky’s Piano Concerto #1 In B Flat Minor, Op. 23
Bruch’s Violin Concerto #1 In G Minor, Op. 26
Elgar’s Cello Concerto In E Minor, Op. 85
I realized early on that I couldn’t simply listen to one piece of music per week, then only listen to another piece the next week, and so on. I had to mix them up, listening to what I felt like listening to at the time. So my plan has changed to learning 50 new pieces of classical music during the coming year. And what do I mean by learn? Well, to recognize it immediately upon hearing it is one yard stick, but more than that I want to really know the music as I know, for instance, much of Beethoven or Bach’s music. I want to know what form the music is in: for example, if the first movement of the Mendelssohn Violin Concerto is in sonata form (which it is) I want to know when we are in the exposition, when we move on to the development section, when the 6/4 chord is coming to introduce the cadenza, when we move on to the recapitulation, etc. Similarly, I want to recognize if a movement is a Theme and Variations, a Rondo, a Minuet, a Scherzo, etc. Now this is fairly simple with Haydn or Mozart because they developed and perfected these forms during the classical era and they held to them fairly strictly. Beethoven, of course, exploded all that, using the forms in a much looser manner, expanding and altering them for his own expressive needs. Beethoven freed composers from the strict adherence to these forms forever, so much so that, post-Beethoven, it was considered lacking in imagination if one were to simply state one’s themes, develop them, restate them, put a coda on the end, and be done with it. Composers during the romantic era which Beethoven initiated were compelled to use these forms in new and original ways in order to express their own personal visions. Now, this was both good and bad in terms of the music being produced, a subject which I’ll take up another time. But in terms of learning new music it almost always makes it harder to know where you’re at in a piece. Another thing that makes it harder is to listen to a music by a composer who lacks the melodic gift. If the stated themes are not instantly memorable melodies it again makes it harder to follow a piece. Now with some of the music I’m listening to right now this is not a problem as Mendelssohn, Schubert, and Tchaikovsky may be the three most talented writer’s of melody of the nineteenth century. With someone like Rachmaninov, whose much-loved Piano Concerto #2 I’m trying to learn, it is much more difficult because often, as lovely as it is, the music sounds like one long development section: much instability and dissonance, few closed cadences among the melodic lines. I have a feeling that with much late-nineteenth and early-twentieth century music I’ll be simply sitting back and enjoying what I can but not really understanding it much.
Once the Christmas vacation ended and I got back to the normal rhythms of life the urge to read returned. In keeping with my 2010 musical plan, I first read The Cello Suites: J. S. Bach, Pablo Casals, and the Search for a Baroque Masterpiece, by Eric Siblin, which received rave reviews over at Amazon. Unfortunately, while Bach’s Cello Suites are sublime, this book is not. It’s not a bad book by any means and I’m glad I read it. It tells the life stories of Bach and Casals in relation to the cello suites, along with the story of the authors discovery of the suites and subsequent research into them. There are six suites each made up of six movements so Siblin structured his book into six parts of six chapters, each with the title of a suite and a movement, an overly cute device in my book. As for the subject matter, it was interesting up to a point but since I knew the main facts of Bach’s life there was little new there for me. I knew nothing of Casals so almost all of his story was new to me. But while I get the fact that Casals was responsible for (re)introducing the forgotten Cello Suites to the public during the early twentieth century it seemed to me that for much of the book that the author was straining to link Bach, Casals, and himself to the suites. Bach’s catalog runs over 1000 pieces, and while the suites are wonderful so too is nearly all of what Bach wrote. He seems to have penned them and never given them a second thought. Casals is rightly associated with the suites but he also covered nearly every important piece of cello music in the repertoire; his life was not all about the cello suites though at times the author makes it seem that way. In a way the part of the book I enjoyed most was Siblin’s own efforts to learn about the suites. His story of a lover of rock and roll music (he’d been rock critic prior to writing this book) who became disillusioned with it and went off searching for something else is one I can understand. I’ve been there. That we both ended up at Bach and classical music was the original reason I picked up the book. Again, it’s not a bad book. There’s no crime in concentrating only on the cello suites. I simply felt the cello suites hook was overstated. If you find the subject matter interesting at all you you’ll probably enjoy this book.
I am now on the a book that I am reveling in, Beethoven: The Music and the Life, by Lewis Lockwood. Lockwood seems to have solved the problem of how to write about instrumental music. His descriptions of Beethoven’s music are wonderfully descriptive and a real asset to learning and understanding Beethoven’s music. I’m only 100+ pages into it but I’m loving it. And now I’m going to get back to it.