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Month: December, 2015

Piano Concerto no 1, opus 15‏ – Beethoven

 "A New Year's Nocturne, New York" - Childe Hassam

A New Year’s Nocturne, New York (1892)

Childe Hassam

_________

for the past several days, I’ve been
humming the first two movements
of Beethoven’s First Piano Concerto,
the opus 15, being carried away by
the exhilarating energy of its
initial, adamant and authoritative,
dazzling and irresistible “allegro
con brio”,
followed by the melting
beauty of its contrasting counterpart,
the meditative and enchanting “largo”,
the final “rondo – allegro sostenuto”
is coming along, but by that time I’m
out of wind and lost in wonder at
Beethoven’s already accomplishment,
the final movement is like the
strawberry on top once I’ve had the
prerequisite cheesecake, verging on
anticlimactic, however thrilling

his First is actually his second piano
concerto, written in 1797, but
composed after his opus 19, written
in 1787, not published until 1801,
either way a new voice was evident

Beethoven’s music was written for
a larger stage, no longer the salons
of the aristocracy, nor, for that matter,
the pews of the fragmenting Christian
Church, the growing middle class
was becoming able and willing to
spend and splurge on frivolities and
entertainment, theatres, concert halls
were popping up, and prospered

Beethoven had to dazzle a
heterogeneous crowd, no longer
just a circle of familiars

listen

and watch, Leonard Bernstein is
spectacular

this is my New Year’s Eve Vienna
performance no matter who is
doing it there this year, nor, for
that matter, that it wasn’t even
performed for New Year’s Eve,
for me, it catches fire, inspires,
it is my New Year’s resolution

I hope it’ll do the same for yours

cheers

Richard

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“Christmas Oratorio” – Johann Sebastian Bach‏

"Nativity" - Piero della Francesca

Nativity (1470 – 1475)

Piero della Francesca

__________

on the first day of Christmas, which
is to say December 25, 1734, the first
cantata of Bach’s Christmas Oratorio“,
“The Birth”, was presented at the
Nikolaikirche, or the Church of St
Nicholas
, in Leipzig

it was followed by five other cantatas,
each corresponding to its own
elaboration of the holy event

the Annunciation to the Shepherds, December 26, 1734
the Adoration of the Shepherds, December 27, 1734
the Circumcision – if you can believe it – and Naming of Jesus, January 1, 1735
the Journey of the Magi, January 2, 1735
and the Adoration of the Magi, January 6, 1735

the cantatas are usually played in
groups of three, or in their entirety,
to more easily accommodate too
either long, or short, performances
– the cantatas last only about 25
minutes – though Leipzig, and other
neighbouring communities might
still adhere to their more reverent
original position

an oratorio, of course, is an opera
without sets or costumes, usually
associated with religious services,
and, quite specifically, mostly, with
Bach’s, of whose manifestly prolific
output an astonishing 209 still
survive

a cantata is a work for voice and
instrumentation in several
movements, or contrasting musical
episodes, in Bach’s liturgical ones,
four voices, usually, cover the
ranges, soprano, alto, tenor and
bass, they tell the story, while the
choir stand in for the angels

this performance, conducted by the
eminent Nikolaus Harnoncourt, is
from the Nikolaikirche in Leipzig
itself, the Oratorio‘s very cradle,
its stunning altarpiece, flanked by
two mighty Christmas trees, is
glorious

incidentally the soprano and the
alto voices are taken over here by
cherubs, in the obvious guise of
prepubescents, you can tell by
their missing wings

their more stentorian counterparts,
tenor and bass, are aptly authoritative,
arresting, you’ll feel utterly blessed

here’s the text in English

Richard

psst: merry, incidentally, Christmas

 

“Tissue Gallery” – Loretta Collins Klobah‏

"Flower in a Jar" - Bada Shanren

Flower in a Jar (1689)

Bada Shanren

________

the only thing I’ll say about this poem
is that it’s about human tissue, also
that you’ll never forget it

though difficult perhaps, it is entirely
worth the journey – not only through
the stylistic thickets it might present
technically, but amongst the assorted
homuncul[i]” it more substantially,
even clinically, describes – for the
spotlight it presses onto our world,
not to mention its own manifest
artistry

alliteration, for instance, the limpid
lilting of its language, hand in hand
with its kindred, and complicit,
onomatopoeia, enumeration, prismatic
facets of an idea like aspects of an
iridescent gem, vivid, vital metaphors,
apt allegories, the very literary lot, to
relay a big picture, then an even bigger
picture, then a transcendence, an
expression of very grace, poetry
of the very highest order, of which
even a Homer, I warrant, would sing

Tissue Gallery“, my poem of,
at least, the year, and likely in my
memory forever

that’s, as I said, “the only thing I’ll
say about this poem”

Richard

_____________

Tissue Gallery

On the fifth floor
of the medical school,
sequestered from public view,
a black slab lab table
lined with old apothecary jars and twist-top jars
sealed with paraffin wax,
a shoal of not-fish treading bronzy water,
each homunculus labelled
in terms of in-utero days and weeks.

In this jarscape, a palm-size one
sitting with legs crossed,
arms raised protectively,
clasping the top of his head
like a child expecting blows in a parental brawl,
and this golem, a perfect mini-person,
holds fingers curved lightly in front of him,
as if playing a piano chord,
and this quelque chose has blackened soles –
in the womb,
a douen meant to range the barefoot forest,
those faceless stillborn and early-dead children with backward feet,
who lure human playmates to the woods
and fill their always hungry mouths with little crabs.

All casualties are clipped
with yellowed plastic navel clamps
that look like bones.
Here are twins, one larger than the other,
one malformed
with hydrocephalitic-fissured face
and this one’s wrinkly forehead,
the face of a worried eighty-year-old concentrating
on his death, an extra epaulette flap on his shoulder,
as if he is sprouting wings;
triplets like three piglets,
one with lots of hair,
one with cauliflower, puckered ear,
one with a purple-black hand reaching out of the water,
as if in hope to be rescued from drowning.

The thirty-six-weekers are not stored in glassware.
A perfect pair, girl and boy, are on separate cookie baking sheets,
wrapped in sterile pads, their swaddling blankets.
They are not desiccated, withered, mummified,
quick-frozen, frost-nipped, or sealed in wax.
They look like leatherette dolls in mid-kick stop-motion animation,
as if they’d only now stopped breathing.

Girl was a low birth weight,
vagina snapped as tightly shut as the seam of a walnut.
Boy is not the color of life, a rich-colored brown boy
bleached-out to plasticine-pale, dun-white.
Still, on his cheek-ear-hair, the almost feel of life.
The abdomen is caved in,
and the testicles are paper-thin, black, crumpled leaves.

Some in the grey jars were named and tagged on the wrist.
I was told that I cannot tell you the names.
It is a secret between the women
and these medical anomalies.
One is named for a hurricane.

The resto muertos have closed eyes and African features.
They were not colorfast,
so the chemicals have bleached them to albino.
The women, who came with gravid uterus to Puerto Rico
from the Virgin Islands, seeking to save or end pregnancies,
do not know that the small ones are still here
curled in their womb poses,
each blanched
in its lit-glass aquarium,
lolling in solvent tinted the color of beer, brandy, honey, oil, or perfume.

These small floating gods in primer paint, never to be besprinkled
with blessed water to help them cross over,
never to evaporate, dust-scatter, or waste — they are here and not here!
What is the shelf-life of the unborn?

In the Caribbean, women must travel
from island to island
to get needed health care,
and so these doodads
were not carried home but donated,
no one knows how long ago.

I have been invited here by a doctor who loves the arts,
and whom I like.
I was told beforehand only that I would be seeing human tissue.
He proposes collaboration, an artistic public exhibition
of these impossible children,
who will never utter “peacock,”
“butterfly,”
“confetti,” “crazy quilt,” “cashmere,” or “soap.”

Skullduggery.
Monster Midway. Gaff joints. Shell games. Sideshow piebald children.
Human oddities and the science of teratology.

At home, I whisper to the midnight page,
Women of the Virgin Islands, Sistren,
I saw them, and they are okay.
Your small ones are still on Earth!

Loretta Collins Klobah

 

“X-masis Coming” – Michael Sowa‏

 "X-masis Coming" - Michael Sowa

X-masis Coming

Michael Sowa

______

last week I interpreted for a man
from Morocco, his French wasn’t
sufficient for him to hold an
interview with his insurance’s
medical examiner, I was the
intermediary

he’d been hit by a truck, a
“camion”, he called it, not at all a
small vehicle, sustained bruises
and chronic pain that significantly
restrained him, he was 63, the
driver, turning right against his
red light, hadn’t seen him

a few days ago on my own way to
the airport, a man got onto the bus
in a wheelchair, found his assigned
place behind the wall of the driver’s
seat, at the next stop another man
got on with a cane and a metal brace
along his lower left limb, and sat on
the bench in front of the first man

jovially the two began to compare
each other’s situation

both had been hit by a car turning
right on a red, neither would ever
walk right again

drive carefully, the one you hit might
be an angel, trumpeting, ironically,
caution to the world

or is it, tragically, irony

see above

Richard

December, 2015‏

"December" - Theodor Severin Kittelsen

December (1890)

Theodor Severin Kittelsen

__________

for Susan

several years ago, a friend of mine
invited me to a concert, Sir Edward
Elgar
‘s The Dream of Gerontius“,
to my mind, a double mountain to
cross, both English and ceremonial,
this is not music you can dance to,
nor even dream on, but music that
demands your allegiance, as well
as your attention

to my mind English music, nearly
an oxymoron, remained stagnant
from Purcell, 1659 to 1695, to the
Beatles
, 1960 to 1970, with very
few exceptions, never managing,
mostly, to hold, even, a tune

ceremonial music suffered much
from its rigid partisan bent,
whether political or religious, try
singing La Marseillaise or
The Stars and Stripes if you’re
not of those nations, you are
instantly sidelined, a mere
spectator, try How Great Thou
Art
at a party, however
inspirational

but the ticket was free, my friend
couldn’t think of anyone else she
could invite who’d enjoy the show,
she’d received the tickets in a
bundle

Gerontius, an old man – you’ll note
the Greek root, geron, as in
gerontology” – is dying, fears the
other side, friends comfort him and,
in particular, a priest sends him on
his way, that’s act one

act two, he’s on the other side,
wherein the dream of being on the
other side, should he still be alive,
or the actuality of being on the
other side, confront him, have I
died, he wonders

I could tell you something about
that

an angel appears to lead him to,
the programme boasted, no less
than God eventually, in a burst,
for the occasion, of musical
pyrotechnics

well, I wondered, let’s see what
they’re going to do with that

it was unforgettable, though my
friend was somewhat more
equivocal, perhaps not as intent,
quite yet, as I was, about meeting
her divine

in search of something lately to
commemorate the several recent
worldwide atrocities, I quickly
settled on the only work I could
think of, apart from anything,
of course, by Bruckner, to mourn
appropriately

I found this extraordinary production
from no less than London’s St Paul’s

though not an oratorio, according
to the composer’s strict intentions,
Elgar‘s The Dream of Gerontius“, a
concert piece, is played here in a
church, an Anglican, indeed,
cathedral, despite the flagrantly
Catholic story being told, Elgar had
converted to Catholicism, the piece
transcends, however, religions

an oratorio, incidentally – not to be
confused with Ontario, the Canadian
province – is an opera conceived
without sets or costumes, usually
associated with significant religious
occasions

the text of “Gerontius” is taken
from a poem of Cardinal John
Henry Newman
, 1801 to 1890,
a Catholic convert himself, only
recently beatified, as a matter
of fact, not yet, however, for
insufficiency of miracles, it
would appear, canonized

The Dream of Gerontius is
Cardinal Newman‘s retelling of
Dante‘s Divine Comedy“, our
original tour guide through
Purgatory, Heaven and Hell,
Newman‘s take on it is
particularly poignant, Elgar‘s
musical accompaniment not
any less

the conjunction of divine,
composer, sacred venue and
superior performers is an
extraordinary occasion,
despite, not least, a
scratchy recording, the
experience here is
profound

bring your solemnity

Richard

by the way: December is the end of
the year, 2016 is already act two, are
you ready to meet your own God/dess