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Category: Beethoven

Dmitri Shostakovich – “Symphony No 4” in C minor, opus 43

portrait-of-joseph-stalin-iosif-vissarionovich-dzhugashvili-1936.jpg!Large

   “Portrait of Joseph Stalin (Iosif Vissarionovich Dzhugashvili) (1936)

                   Pavel Filonov

                           _________

if you’ve been waiting for a Shostakovich 
to write home about among his early 
symphonies, here’s the one, his 
Symphony no 4 in C minor, opus 43 will
knock your socks off from its very 
opening gambit, have a seat, settle in, 
and get ready for an explosive hour

the Fourth was written in 1936, some 
years after the death of Lenin, and the 
instalment of Stalin as the supreme, 
and ruthless, authority, after several 
years throughout the Twenties of
maneuvering himself, cold-bloodedly,
into that position 

from Stalin, Death is the solution to 
all problems. No man – no problem.

fearing retribution after Stalin had 
criticized his recent opera, Lady 
Macbeth of Mtsensk“, Shostakovich 
cancelled the first performance of 
this new work, due to take place in 
December, ’36, others had already 
suffered internal exile or execution 
who had displeased the tyrant, a 
prelude to the infamous Great Terror

the Symphony was eventually played
in 1961, 25 years later, conducted by
no less than Kirill Kondrashin, who’d
partnered Van Cliburn a few years 
earlier in Cliburn’s conquest of Russia
but along with this time however the 
long-lived Leningrad Philharmonic 
Orchestra 

to a friend, I said, this is the biggest
thing since verily Beethoven, no one 
has so blown me away symphonically 
since then

he looked forward, he replied, to 
hearing it 

the Fourth Symphony has three distinct 
movements, to fit thus appropriately the 
definition of symphony, though the first 
and third have more than one section, 
something Shostakovich would have 
learned from already Beethoven, it gives 
the opportunity of experiencing a variety 
of emotions within one uninterrupted 
context, add several movements and 
you have a poignant, peripatetic musical 
journey, more intricate, psychologically 
complex, than many other even eminent
composers, Schubert, Chopin, 
Mendelssohn, even Brahms, for instance 

it’s helpful to think of film scores, and 
their multiple narrative incidents,
brimming with impassioned moments,   
however disparate, Shostakovich had 
already written several of them

let me point out that Shostakovich’s 
rhythms are entirely Classical, even 
folkloric in their essential aspects, 
everywhere sounds like a march, 
proud and bombastic, if not a 
veritable dance, peasants carousing,
courtiers waltzing, and repetition is
sufficiently present to not not 
recognize the essential music 
according to our most elementary
preconceptions

but the dissonances clash, as though 
somewhere the tune, despite its rigid 
rhythms, falls apart in execution, as 
though the participants had, I think,  
broken limbs, despite the indomitable 
Russian spirit

this is what Shostakovich is all about, 
you’ll hear him as we move along 
objecting, however surreptitiously,
cautiously, to the Soviet system, like 
Pasternak, like Solzhenitsyn, without 
ever, like them, leaving his country 
despite its manifest oppression, and 
despite the lure of Western accolades,
Nobel prizes, for instance, it was their 
home

and there is so much more to tell, but
first of all, listen

R ! chard 

  

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Dmitri Shostakovich – Symphony no. 1, opus 10

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     “Portrait of Dmitri Shostakovich (1963) 

             Martiros Sarian

                    ______

after being transfixed, rendered aquiver, by
this mesmerizing conductor in a performance
I can only remember for his magnetism, 
expressive fingers performing arabesques of 
such exquisite sensitivity, eyes that melt, 
light up, gleam, glitter, at every ebb and flow 
of the turbulent, towering, music, eyebrows 
that, blonde, cherubic, angelic, display with 
manifest intention, the spiritual implications 
of every musical turn, a youth only, in my 
senescent estimation, taking on the conquest 
of the 21st-Century world, lately installed as 
conductor, most illustriously, of both the 
Royal Liverpool, in 2005, and the Oslo, in 
2011, Philharmonics

Vasily Petrenko led me back to Shostakovich,
after his monumental Tchaikovsky 5th,
whereupon I’ve undertaken a chronological 
review of all Shostakovich’s symphonies, 
something I did long ago with Beethoven’s 
sonatas, to my great cultural advantage, it 
was a journey that informed me not only 
intellectually but, even more significantly, 
spiritually, taught me about patience, tumult, 
and the wisdom, even glory, one acquires in 
resignation, so long as you hold onto your 
principles, your core 

you look back, I told a man once, and you 
see what you’ve come through, and you 
are proud, you recognize the hero that 
you are, or weren’t

we have only our poise and grace to lend 
to the world, or our venom and invective

but I digress

here’s Shostakovich, his First, in a line 
of Shostakovichian explorations

if you’ll join me

R ! chard

an homage to the victims of the Titanic

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  The Fighting Temeraire tugged to her last berth to be broken up (1839) 

          William Turner

                _______

while I’m on the subject of threnodies
which is to say “song[s] of lamentation
for the dead”, as I earlier statedlet me 
bring your attention to this extraordinary 
piece, an homage to the victims of the
Titanic
 
it doesn’t even have a title, much as 
Mozart and Haydn didn’t before music 
went mainstream, into public forums 
rather than merely aristocratic salons, 
and when an identifying moniker 
instead of a number became manifestly 
more practical, especially when the 
emerging Middle Classes were 
becoming the ones who were paying 
the composer’s bills, at the opera 
houses and the other sprouting 
concert venues, when some composers 
had even up to 32 sets of piano sonatas 
to remember, three and four often to 
a single set, opus number, as many as 
there are movements in a very sonata

and that’s not counting the numbered 

symphonies and string quartets of 
theirs, left to similarly calculate, 
decipher, extricate

it doesn’t have a title, I think, because
to my knowledge, it is the first of its
kind, a composition created by 
computer, for computer, an entirely 
self-contained digital work of, 
manifestly, art – I’d been waiting, 
diligently, for one – and like Beethoven, 
after the work was done, the artist(s)
just felt the title best left to the 
wordsmiths, thus – you’re welcome –  
Threnody for the Victims of the 
Titanic

sure, computers have done practical
things before, admirably, but never 
told a story, and certainly never one 
as profound as this one

these are the last moments of the 
Titanic, digitally reproduced, in real 
time, 2 hours and 40 minutes, they
are mesmerizing, you don’t want 
to miss a thing

there are no voices, apart from a 
few radio transmissions at the 
start, spotting the iceberg, calling 
out commands to beware, stop 
the engines

afterwards only silence, and the 
sound of the waves, the churning
of the engines, which have been 
restarted, sounding as rhythmic, 
incidentally, and numbing, as the 
wheels on the railroad tracks of
Steve Reich‘s Different Trains“,
another powerful threnody 

later the flash and crack of flares,
the crunch of the ship sinking  

the pervasive, however disrupted, 
silence and the inexorable passage 
of ever ticking time combine to be, 
thereafter, transfixing, meditative, 
ultimately transcendent, a fitting 
setting for a threnody 

I know of only another work to take
you to that venerable place,
Beethoven’s opus 111

and often enough Pink Floyd, for 
that matter, and the visionary 
Alan Parsons Project, of course, 
discoursing on inexorable Time 

and, now that I think of it, Elgar‘s
The Dream of Gerontius, whose 
character goes from his deathbed 
in the first act, to his afterlife in 
the second, effecting transcendence
for us by, yes, ingenious 
metaphorical proxy

but I digress

what I call Threnody for the Victims 
of the Titanic is a narrative with 
sound, not a movie, not a television
program, it has more commonality 
with a musical production than 
anything else but painting in art 
history, though its means are 
intuitively literary, ship stories go
back to The Odyssey through
Gulliver’s TravelsTreasure 
Island and to one of my very 
favourites, Ship of Fools“,
relatively recently

I could add Mutiny on the Bounty“,
Moby Dick“, “The Caine Mutiny 

in art, a precedent would’ve been set
in our collective consciousness by 
William Turner‘s celebratedThe 
Fighting Temeraire …, but I would 
mention as well Caspar David 
Friedrich‘s The Wanderer above 
the Sea of Fog for its existential
pertinence

a few literary points I’d like to stress
to back up my overt adulation, I find  
it impressive that the Classical rules
of tragedy have been maintained, 
unity of action, time, and place, 
prescriptions going back to 
Aristotle‘s Poetics in our cultural 
history, to profoundly express 
tragedy, iconic, epic, misfortune

not to mention the Classical musical
imperatives of tempo, tonality and 
repetition, none of which can be 
faulted here in this consummate 
composition

there is a no greater leveller of tempo 
than time, larghissimo here*, in the 
largest sense of that word, the 
cosmic, the inexorable pace of 
temporality in our brief heavens

a greater leveller of tonality neither  
is there than the rigorously impartial 
hum of the imperturbable Cosmos 

nor is there greater repetition than 
uniformity, however disrupted by  
however fervent ever human 
intervention, see Sisyphus, or 
Martha in “Who’s Afraid of Virginia
Woolf for iconic disrupters

R ! chard

*   Shostakovich had asked the 
     Beethoven Quartet to play the first 
     movement of his 15th String Quartet,
     “Elegy: Adagio“, so that flies 
     drop dead in mid-air, and the 
     audience start leaving the hall from 
     sheer boredom  

     well this inspired elucidation is even  
     slower than that

“First Piano Concerto” – Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky

concerto-1975

      “Concerto (1975) 

               Jack Bush

                         _____

if there’s a piece that defines Classical music
for most people, encapsulates it, even for 
those who aren’t especially interested in 
Classical music, that piece would be, I think,
Tchaikovsky‘s First Piano Concerto

strictly speaking Tchaikovsky isn’t a Classical
composer, but a Romantic one, the Classical 
period in music having been transformed 
some years earlier into the Romantic period
by none other than Beethoven1770 – 1827, 
perhaps the most transformative composer 
of all time – Tchaikovsky‘s First Piano Concerto
was written in the winter of 1874 – 1875, pretty
well at the end of the Romantic Period, which 
then ceded to the Impressionists, just to get 
our periods right

what the Romantic Period added to the 
Classical Era was emotion, sentiment – note 
the use of tenuto, for instance, beats being 
drawn out, languidly, longingly, for pathos – 
what it maintained was the structure, the 
trinity of Classical conditions, rhythm, tonality, 
and repetition, which is why even the most 
uninformed listener will usually be able to 
sing along throughout the entire performance
the blueprint is in our collective blood, in the 
DNA of our culture

to remain present a piece must remain 
relevant to the promoter, an interpreter must
have reason to play it, substance surely plays 
a big part, but technical considerations play 
perhaps an even greater role towards a great
work’s longevityChopsticks“, for instance, 
is good but it won’t fill a concert hall  

unless, of course, it’s with Liberace

the “First Piano Concerto” of Tchaikovsky is 
the Everest of compositions, emotionally
complex and technically forbidding, nearly 
impossible, it would seem, were it not for 
those few who’ve mastered its treacherous 
challenges, conquered its nearly indomitable  
spirit

Van Cliburn put it on the map for my 
generation, with a ticker tape parade in 
New York to confirm it

Martha Argerich later on kept the ball rolling

and now Behzod Abduraimov, a mere youth, 
born in 1990 in UzbekistanTashkent, delivers 
by far the best performance I’ve seen since,
giving it new life for the new millenium
 
behold, be moved, be dazzled, be bewitched  

Behzod Abduraimov, watch

Richard

the wall

colors-for-a-large-wall-1951.jpg

   “Colors For A Large Wall (1951)

       Ellsworth Kelly

          __________

talking about walls, isn’t it only a few
years ago we were tearing one down

here is Roger Waters and several
other outstanding guest artists, in 
very Berlin, July 21, 1990, celebrating 
its demise

a little earlier, C***mas, 1989, only
moments after East Germans had 
been allowed to visit West Germany,
essentially giving way to the 
dissolution of the barrier, Leonard
Bernstein conducted Beethoven’s
Ninth Symphony, changing the 
word “joy” from the title of Schiller’s 
poem, appropriated by Beethoven 
for his great fourth choral movement, 
to “freedom”, giving new meaning, 
and new life, and new inspiration,  
to Beethoven’s always resounding 
nevertheless masterpiece

how soon we’ve forgotten

Richard

psst: let’s paint the wall

on art, its purpose

poet-with-flower-2008-jpgblog

                                Poet With Flower (2008)

                                          Stefan Caltia

                                                 _____

wherefore art, I’ve long and often wondered,
with only a wink to Juliet’s Romeo, for my
question dug deeper, why, indeed, itself art

we build our souls on the stories we’ve 
heard, the impressions we’ve received
from voices that spoke directly to our 
senses, painters with paint, musicians
with music, writers with words, poets 
with poems

it started with fairy tales, which told of
right and wrong, good and bad, courage,
kindness, responsibility, and dire 
consequences for discord

Biblical stories also took up a lot of my own
childhood, Jesus, Adam and Eve, Moses
and the Ten Commandments, this last 
reinforced by Cecil B. DeMille’s epic

but soon enough it was Oliver TwistLittle
Nell, and by an inescapable authorial leap, 
since these were all by an irresistible 
Charles Dickens for a guy my age, Sydney
Carton, who valiantly stands in for his
friend, Charles Darnay, at the guillotine, a 
quantum, even existential, leap from 
Peter Pan and Mary Poppins 

though I had the good fortune to learn to 
read and write music as a boy, play music, 
learn about Bach, Brahms and Beethoven, 
it didn’t take anyone else much more than
their enthusiasm to see what the Beatles
were similarly doing, the Rolling Stones, 
the Supremes, they were not only singing, 
but making history, shaping it, and us, we 
followed the questions they rose, their 
responses, the effects upon ourselves
for nothing is considered until it’s 
mentioned, spoken, made clear, and they
were those prophets

the same goes for art, we see as we see
cause Monet, Picasso, Warhol showed 
us how to see, what to look at

and of course poets, Shakespeare, 
RostandDanteGoethe, to inform, each,
their individual language, and culture

I have been Philip CareyScarlett O’Hara, 
Blanche DuboisGary Cooper in High
Noon“, both Martha and George in 
Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf“, lately 
I’ve been even Hank Williams

as Babette would say, a French doll who 
gets abducted in Raggedy Ann and Andy:
A Musical Misadventure“, an animated 
movie from the Seventies, – oo aahrr yoo 

Richard

psst: all of them have been me too,
      incidentally

” Shakespeare and Politics”- Professor Paul Cantor

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 On The Waterfront. Set Design For Shakespeare’s Drama

   “The Merchant Of Venice” (1920)

 

      Alexandre Benois

 

                 ________

 

 

though this recommendation might seem 

erudite, esoteric, indeed eccentric, if not

even improbable, I vaunt this invaluable 

series to the stars, Professor Paul Cantor

of the University of Virginia, speaking from 

Harvard, however, here, shines such 

glorious light on the already extraordinary 

Shakespeare so as to make him the equal 

of very  Beethoven, poets of nearly 

supernatural ability 

 

Professor Paul Cantor views Shakespeare 

through Shakespeare’s understanding of  

politics, comparing his political settings – 

commercial Venice, imperial Rome, 

medieval and Renaissance England, 

Denmark under a Christian king – to not 

only shed light on those individual 

political systems alive at a time when 

democracy was being born, but as well 

on Shakespeare’s own unexpectedly 

probing philosophical insights in the 

matter of governance, right up there 

with John Locke and Machiavelli

 

who’d ‘o thunk it 

 

the professor is engaging throughout, his  

information entirely absorbing, you’ll come 

out a new wo/man

 

 

the lectures are not short at an hour, twenty
minutes, I break to powder my nose, get a
a glass of wine, even answer the phone to,
of course, preferred only parties, but have 
been returning addictively daily 

 it’s a heady indeed addiction

 
 
Richard   

up my idiosyncrasies – Albertine‏

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            Wing Seller (2006)

               Stefan Caltia

 

                        _______ 

 
what are you doing, a friend of mine
asked when he called 
 
I’m reading my Proust, I answered,
comfy enough with my textafter 
years waking up side by side, to 
use the possessive adjective 
 
what’s going on, he inquired
 
Albertine is lying on his bed, 
recounted, asleep, she’s been there 
for the past ten pages, and she’s 
just now turned onto her stomach
 
 
there is not so much story as 
paintings, in Proustdetailed 
descriptions applied like strokes of 
colour to a canvas, that of recovered 
time, colours that are specific to a 
place and a period, like photographs 
showing in their very fabric their 
ancestry, their lineage
 
but in the elucidation of what he 
sees, or, more accurately, of what
he remembers, Proust delivers 
a work of the very highest art, a 
mixture of poetry and philosophy,
Beethoven did as much, see his
 
 
Proust’s French is essentially 
immaculate, his tone, however 
intimate, always erudite, aristocratic, 
perspicacious, wise, penetrating,
embracing, which is to say, French,
though German can be also
incidentally, pretty cerebral, English 
is narrative, just the facts, please, 
though often, I think, hilarious
 
 
Albertine had been one of the “young
girls in bloom” he’d met at Balbec, a 
seaside resort, with whom he’d 
undertaken an illicit affair, but 
whose faithfulness he doubted
 
as she lay on his bed at his Paris
apartmenthe replays all the 
speculations his imagination could 
provide, an endless set of variations
on his anguish, which is to say, his
jealousy, worthy of a very Othello
 
for ten pages he paints a picture of 
infidelities completely of his making,
which, of course, becomes the world 
he will respond to
 
it is all in our little heads, I surmise, 
however informed, intelligent, that 
we create our little realities, they 
have never been nearly enough, 
though, indeed, our lives depend 
on themhowever dutifully
considered, however unconsciously,
and ever convincingly, contrived   
 
make them, I submit, good ones
  
I imagine myself a poet, for instance,
how’s that for a shot in the improbable 
dark
 
 
Richard

up my idiosyncrasies – a bio

marcel-proust.jpg!Large

      “Marcel Proust” 
 
       Richard Lindner
 
          ___________
 
 
for a bio with which I’ve been asked 
to provide an online poetry magazine 
I’ve been encouraged to apply to, I’m 
submitting the following text
 
I thought you might enjoy it
 
 
Richard
 
           ______________
 
 
my name is Richard Bisson, from
which you’ll intuit my French 
Canadian background, though I 
write mostly in English, with no 
trouble however in French, my 
mother tongue is le français  
 
I am thus imbued, undoubtedly,
with that sensibility, my peers 
have been HugoFlaubert, and
most of all Marcel Proust, whom 
I imbibed for 33 years, in French,
page by page, reading each out 
loud as though it were my own, I 
cannot but be replicating now his 
rhythms, his aesthetic, his view 
of the world
 
it didn’t take me as long to read 
Homer, in the thunderous Robert  
Fitzgerald translation, – a mighty
roar resounding still from the 
ninth century before the Christian 
Era – from him I learned to speak 
from the heart, it’s not one’s style  
one has to master, but one’s 
humanity
 
Robert Browning gave me the 
dramatic monologue as a poetic
device, a gift he’d received from
 
Shakespeare himself, of course,
the unbridled freedom of his own 
literary imagination
 
Carl Sandburg‘s Chicago taught 
me to talk about every wo/man, 
about things even my own folks 
were doing
 
Collapsed showed me that even 
apparently inconsequential acts
can be poetry, poetry in the 
apparently humdrum 
 
Mary Oliver is a strong present 
influence
 
the cadence is entirely Beethoven,
with some help, I must admit, from 
the atonalists, SchoenbergBerg,
and Weberncommas are my bar 
lines
 
 
I call what I do prosetry, a word so 
new my computer won’t even let 
me write it, I’m a prosetrist, this 
word either
 
I want to link everyday experience 
with poetry, make poetry in the eye 
of the beholder, where truth and 
beauty lie
 
if people can see what I see, they 
can see that way themselves, it’s 
something one learns, and it’s all 
in the way one entrenches words 
and ideas
 
I eliminated the word “if” from my 
vocabulary once, for being then
too speculative, it changed my life, 
I’ve replaced it since with the word 
“miracle”, that has also changed 
my life
 
I am 67 years old
 
I live in Vancouver, Canada
 
I consider myself to be, at this 
point in my life, bibliosexual, I
sleep with my books, and we’re
all still getting along just fine 
 
may you be so blessed
 
 
Richard
 
psst: also Anaïs Nin, for the 
          intimacy of her diaries
 
          o, and Woody Allen, for
          giving up before his  
          nihilism and just 
          laughing

Beethoven – piano sonata no.31, op.110 (3rd movement)‏

woman-reading-in-a-garden-1903.jpg!Large

Woman Reading in a Garden (1902-03)
 
 

         _______


perhaps my best teacher ever was
my father, others never questioned
the orthodoxy, spewing out the
curriculum like it was sacred, dead,
untouchable, depriving it of its very
worth

my father was a philosopher, God 
was a question, not an answer, I,
at the time, needed an answer
 
we were sent to a Catholic school,
my sister and I, where God was in 
everything, everywhere, omnipotent,
omniscient, and, like a father then, 
autocratic, industrious, demanding,
not unopposed to punishment
 
sins against the Father could be 
summarized, at that age, briefly,
do not kill, do not lie, do not 
disobey your parents, do not 
cheat on your husband, wife, 
and follow all the rituals of the 
Church, the Ten Christian 
Commandments, brought to 
you universally then by Charlton 
“Moses” Heston, under the aegis 
 
none of these graded offences  
applied to me, really, then, but 
lying, and disobeying one’s 
parents, the others were all so 
remote as to be inconsequential, 
though the Church kept up on 
our family’s abrogations of 
religious rites – non-attendance 
at Sunday mass, eating meat 
on Fridays, worse – while 
nevertheless tending dutifully
to our wayward souls, they told 
us, holding out for a final repentant 
confession
 
we never lied at home, I’d lied about 
something once, and was so daunted
when my father probed, I sweated,
must’ve turned purple, not just red,
of embarrassment, I knew I couldn’t 
use that tactic again, I’d inexorably 
blush, flush
 
who put the Brylcreem on the dog,
he’d queried
 
not me, I trembled
 
my sister stood beside me, might 
not have even known anything 
about it, I can’t remember, though 
I recall her dismay, I think, at having 
been so blithely thrown under the 
bus, or maybe that’s just me 
extrapolating 
 
my dad turned back to what he’d 
been doing, having, I’d understood, 
got his answer, proving himself to 
be to me thereby omniscient, I’d 
have no chance, I gathered, against 
something like that, this turned me 
into a good, an at least conscientious, 
person
 
my teachers, paradoxically, only 
ever took marks off for technical 
stuff, Math, History, French, they 
never taught me lessons   
 
a teacher, once, had asked me to
stand at the head of the class and 
read a passage from Shakespeare,
be Romeo, Mark Antony, Lear, I
can’t remember which
 
“O, pardon me, thou bleeding 
piece of earth, / That I am meek 
and gentle with these butchers!”,
I uttered, fraught with emotion,
“Thou art the ruins of the noblest 
man / That ever lived in the tide 
of times”
 
in my mind and in my body I was 
Mark Antony there, shot through 
with the weight of his friend’s 
brutal death, his own irretrievable 
loss 
 
my teacher laughed
 
what, I asked
 
you’re right into it, aren’t you, he 
replied, and shut me up right there 
to any public display of expression 
 
 
I didn’t stop reading Shakespeare 
though, but by myself
 
later I read Homer, Ovid, Proust,
others, did the same with music 
and art, made countless lifelong 
friends thereby, people I’ve always 
been able to turn to, even just in 
ruminative thought as their stories 
still pervaded me, diligently leading   
still the way, like guardian angels,  
maybe
 
 
 
Richard