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Category: films to ponder

at the movies – “Phaedra”

phaedra-and-hippolytus-1802.jpg

     “Phaedra and Hippolytus (1802) 

            Pierre-Narcisse Guérin

                   _____________

Phaedra, according to Greek myth, fell
in love with her stepson, and, of course,
ruined, for everyone, everything 

she’s been represented in music by
composers from, at least, Rameau,
1733, to, here, now, Benjamin Britten,  
1976by way of even Tangerine
Dream, 1973, however peripherally, 
and the hits just keep on coming

in literature, the story goes back to 
Euripides, 480 – 406 BCE, through
Jean Racine, 1639 – 1699, poet at 
the court of Louis XlV, the version 
that I studied in French Literature,
along with, in English, Shakespeare,
who was doing courtiers, rather, 
and royalty there, then, incidentally, 
instead of the Continent’s iconic 
Mediterranean figures – it remains 
my favourite play in my mother 
tongue, next to, for me, its only 
other equal, Cyrano de Bergerac

but I’d never seen a production of 
Phaedra until this searing, 
modern, rendition, set in, relatively 
contemporary, Greece, London, 
and Paris, with the irrepressible, 
the irresistible, Melina Mercouri
torrid temptress, the very goddess 
Herahereand Anthony Perkins
perfect as her suitor, a youth still, 
pulsing with a young man’s 
unbridled intentions

sparks fly, from moment to 
incendiary moment – I had often 
to pause to catch my breath – 
portents of an inescapable, and 
eventually epic, indeed mythic, 
apocalypse

watch, if you dare


R ! chard

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Piano Concerto no. 5, opus 73, “Emperor” – Beethoven

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     All About Eve (1950)

            _______

while I’m on the subject of concertos,
there’s one concerto that cannot be 
overlooked, the very epitome of 
concerti, their summit, apex, their 
very pinnacle, Olympus, compared 
to other less mighty compositions,
Beethoven’s Fifth Piano Concerto,
the piece I would take with me to a 
desert island, used to even walk 
along the seashore in the privacy of 
my headphones nights, after dinner, 
taking in its cadences, its wisdom,
under the moon, the stars, along 
the, however temperamental, 
ocean waters, transported 

indeed this very version of it, Glenn
Gould’s, Beethoven’s, in my mind,  
oracular equal

Beethoven made literature out of 
music, progressed to the point of
delivering a very philosophy, 
Gould took the prevailing 
Romantic aesthetic of the time,
Arthur Rubinstein being a prime
example, for instance, and gave 
us the music of the Information 
Age, the mathematical precision 
of computers, people could hear 
it, perhaps not even knowing how,
why

briefly, Gould eschews – Gesundheit
the hold pedal, the sustain pedal, on 
the piano, he’d grown up on Bach, 
made him his specialty, but Bach
had no sustain pedal on his 
harpsichord, Gould transferred this 
process to later, more rhythmically 
malleable, works, making obvious 
thereby their inner workings, 
something like reading blueprints, 
his interpretations give us the bare, 
and revelatory, bones of these later 
masterpieces, without the sometimes 
facile effects of Romanticism, think 
of rubato, for instance, the ability to 
stretch a note, not possible on the 
harpsichord, but often overused in 
Romantic renderings, a cheap trick, 
like paintings on velvet

Gould would have none of that, he
shows you the composer’s 
compositional brilliance, without 
fanfare, just the facts, no pedal, 
which at the time was completely 
revolutionary, much like computer 
science was thenand algorithms 

here’s something else about Gould,
more savourymaybe, he was called 
in at the last minute to perform this
piece when the planned pianist, of 
considerable renown, wasn’t able to 
make it, Gould hadn’t played it in a 
number of years, but showed up the 
next morning to deliver, the rest is,
as they say, history

that’s All About Eve up there, but 
for pianists, Glenn Gould is Eve 
Harrington, though without her
predatory instincts, nobody now 
remembers the other pianist
unless you were there, interested,  
listening, piano’s Margo Channing, 
even if I named himhowever 
consummately accomplished he 
might’ve been, a man I profoundly 
admire, remains, cruelly, essentially 
unremembered 

imagine


R ! chard

“Something for Everyone” – an intermission

Neuschwanstein_castle

 Neuschwanstein Castle

                   __________

to my mind, the already formidable 
then Angela Lansbury, 1970, 
should’ve been at least nominated 
for an Oscar, not to mention won 
it, for her indelible impression of
Countess von Ornstein, an 
aristocrat if there ever was one,  
in the delightful Something for
Everyone

she has no money left after the 
Second World War, but lives still 
in her castle, which remains, as 
stipulated in the relevant 
documentation, in the family 
into perpetuity

but she has trouble getting the 
strawberries which she feels 
are her right still, among other 
threatened entitlements, out of 
her sheer nobility 

the young Micheal York, as Konrad,
on a bicycle trip through Austria, 
sees the castle – Neuschwanstein,
in actuality, Ludwig ll‘s pied à terre
in Bavaria, standing in for the one 
supposed to be in Austria – and sets
out to transform it into his own 
domain 

there’s yodelling, and dirndls, and 
lederhosen aplenty, not to mention
a great deal of skullduggery, but it’s
a fairy tale, and, as such, leads to a
happy, of sorts, ending 

don’t miss it


R ! chard

Cello Suite no 5 in C minor – J.S. Bach

the-cellist.jpg!Large

        The Cellist (c.1917) 

              Max Weber

                 ______

what struck me immediately upon hearing
the bow’s very first strokes on the violin in 
this Fifth Cello Suite of Bach was that the 
mood was not only brashly Romantic, but 
quite specifically Russian Romantic, right 
up there with Dostoyevskyand Fiddler 
on the Roof, dark brooding colours at 
first, followed by long plaintive musical 
phrases, you can even hear the sound of 
the steppes, I thought, stretching out into 
the endless distance, this performance,  
surmised, is not, other than 
compositionally, Baroque, not to mention 
not even German 

yet as played by Mischa Maisky, it’s one 
of the best versions of the Fifth I’ve ever 
heard, and if it works, who’s to complain

but more context – Bach never gave not 
only textural indications, but not even 
tempos to his pieces, apart from the 
very dance terms that identify the 
movements, so what, therefore, is the 
specific pace, you’ll ask, of a courante, 
for instance, you tell me, I’ll reply

in other words, the modular terms were 
significantly looser in the early 18th 
Century than later, when metronome 
markings would begin to demand more
accurate replication of the artist’s 
explicit specifications – Beethoven 
especially made sure of that, by 
requiring accurate renderings of his   
mood or pace indications, largo,  
allegro, andante, for instance, still less  
strict than the stipulation later for exact 
musical beats per minute – trying to 
keep pace with a prerecorded tape, for 
example, as in again the industrially 
driven, which is to say emotionally 
indifferent, context of the seismic 
Different Trains“, masterpiece of a 
more technically conditioned era

I don’t think that Bach would at all have
been disappointed that the heirs of his 
fervent, though more genteelcreations 
might’ve morphed into something 
profound for other groups, be they 
national, or of a class, or of even a 
generation, of people, which is to say 
that these works have superseded 
their merely regional intent, and have 
reached beyond space and time, the 
very purview of music, to speak a 
common and cooperative, indeed a
binding, language

I said to my mom the other day that if
we all sang together, we could save
the world


R ! chard

psst: Maisky’s encore,, incidentally, is from  
          the Bourrée” of Bach’s Third Cello  
          Suitenote this contrastingmore  
          courtly – more refinement, more 
      reserve – rendition, you can even 
          hear, not to mention see, in this
          particular instance, not Russian 
          steppes, but European trees on 
          their baronial estates, if you lend  
          an attentive ear

String Quartet, Opus 33 no 3 – Joseph Haydn

the-music-lesson.jpg!Large.jpg

        “The Music Lesson (c.1769) 

             Jean-Honoré Fragonard

                       __________

by 1781, Haydn was, along with Mozart,
the most celebrated composer in Europe,
and via publication of his musical scores,
his compositions would’ve been played 
even in smaller communities, where 
string players would’ve blossomed 
everywhere for there being no television

only two generations ago, my own family
sported, if not violinists, remarkable 
fiddlers – see, for comparable example, 
Deliverance“, I have old movies at home 
of my own kin doing such wonders

the Opus 33, no 3 is no longer, you’ll note, 
especially courtly, this is music to heed,
pay attention to, not meant to be 
background

nor is it

in the first few bars of the very first 
movement, Haydn’s got you riveted,
you know you’re going to get your 
money’s worth, and you do, in 
exponential spades 

you’ll note there are no dance 
references, cerebral tempo markings 
only allegro moderato, scherzo: 
allegretto, adagio ma non troppo, 
finale: rondo – presto – which means 
the music will be entirely edifying, 
not carnal, sensual, music is 
specifically becoming an intellectual 
exercise, a new, as it were, language, 
no longer doing tribal tribute around 
bonfire, it’s speaking rather than 
pulsating

pay attention to the vehemence,
the stark contrast between the 
opening statement in the second
movement and its response, a
nearly unnerving juxtaposition

pay attention to what Haydn does 
to the entire first section of the 
adagio ma non troppo, the third 
movement, with the recapitulation 
of the themes by introducing very 
magic in the superimposed 
peregrinations of the first violin,
to entirely enchant and exalt the 
original musical proposition

and that final exit in the last
movement, after so fiery a
rondo presto, urgent and 
even confrontational

but ever so brilliantly, in the last  
few moments, rendered courtly, 
respectful, deferential, indeed 
the very Classical spirit of 
Haydn


R ! chard

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 

  

threnodies: to the victims of Hiroshima, of the Holocaust, and to the Canadian North

The Scream, 1893 - Edvard Munch

       The Scream (1893) 

             Edvard Munch

                    ____________

before we leave too far behind the 
anniversary of the annihilation of
Hiroshima, August 6, 1945, let me 
introduce you to a piece that 
purports to pay it homage

if I didn’t bring it up before, it’s 
because the date was wrong, but
especially because the work 
offends me, the only thing I like
about it is the title, a thing of 
beauty, poetry – Threnody to the
Victims of Hiroshima – a threnody
is a song of lamentation for the 
dead, which worked for me, this 
one, no further than its title

there is nothing remotely 
reminiscent of the tragedy
throughout the piece, it is a 
collection of academic exercises,
pretensions, I think, without a 
heartbeat 

let me compare Steve Reich’s 
threnody to the victims of the 
Holocaust, the other signature 
Twentieth Century atrocity, his 
Different Trains“, a work in three 
movements, America – Before the 
War”, “Europe – During the War”, 
and After the War”, for string 
quartet and tape, upon which 
Reich has recorded interviews 
with people relating impressions 
from before the warduring, and 
after, according to the movements

the quartet, you’ll note, must keep 
time with the tape, and in this 
production visuals have been 
effectively added 

Glenn Gould had done something 
like this several years earlier,
incidentally, in his The Idea of 
North“, a threnody itself to that 
very idea, a masterpiece, a
groundbreaking transcendental
work of the imagination, with 
overlapping voices, which is to 
say human counterpointthough 
without string quartet

you’ll note that distressing tonalities
affect throughout this other, much 
more successful however, tribute
but the different rhythms of the 
recurrent, which is to say minimalist, 
rails keep you emotionally, as it were, 
on track

Different Trains is appropriately,
and profoundly, commemorative, 
not to mention unforgettable 

Richard

“Cairo Time”

street-in-cairo.jpg!Large

     “Street In Cairo (1873)  

             Konstantin Makovsky

                         ____________

many years ago, when I was in my 
skittish twenties, and the world had 
opened up to me as I’d started work 
at an international airline, I opted 
to go to Tunisia, less harried than 
Morocco, I thought, and probably
less expensive 

a friend had asked to come along,
who worked for the same company 

Judy was my age, honey blond, lithe,
curvaceous, voluptuous, though
ever entirely unassuming, we made  
a lovely pair

but soon the locals had our number,
understood that I was merely her
friend, no challenger for her 
affections, somehow

from our seaside hotel in nearby
Hammamet, a coastal resort, we set 
out our first day for the nearby capital, 
Tunis, a dusty town, I remember, a 
cowtown, or a camel town, north of 
the Sahara Desert, with shoddy 
buildings and not much else, I was 
young

we found ourselves on the Boulevard 
Habib Bourguiba, the name of the first
President of the Republic of Tunisia,
not paved then, or with what we used  
to call soft shoulders, when the 
pavement doesn’t reach the sidewalks, 
where we looked for a restaurant or a 
coffee house to get our bearings 

inside a nondescript place we found
for lack of anything else, we sat down,
had a coffee, looked around

it didn’t take long for us to realize that
Judy was the only girl in the place, so
we finished our fare and took off

when all the men in the place followed

we found a cab to take us back to the 
hotel and didn’t return to Tunis apart  
from accompanied 

but that’s another story

it’s seemed so hard for me to explain
this to people who haven’t experienced 
this discomfort cause this kind of
indignity is so foreign to us, offensive
and hard to imagine

but a film I just saw about Cairo, 
Cairo Time“, gives a good impression 
of the differences in our cultures

were it only for this insight, I wouldn’t
suggest this movie, but because it is
a wonderful travelogue through this
remarkable city, with views of bazaars,
pyramids in the distance, and all of it 
in splendid cinemascope and colour, 
the film is a marvel 

Patricia Clarkson, an actress I greatly
admire, plays the role Katharine 
Hepburn played in Summertime“, 
one of my all-time favourite movies,
of a woman alone in a city, needing
to trust in the kindness of strangers 

Clarkson‘s kind stranger is no slouch 
either

watch

Richard

“When You Come” – Daniel Goodwin

800px-Accolade_by_Edmund_Blair_Leighton.jpg

            “The Accolade (1901) 

           Edmund Blair Leighton

                     ___________

When You Come

When you come to greet me, shyly, 
wearing nothing but your love for me
I will come to meet you halfway
like a falcon returning to your wrist.

And when you raise your arm,
trembling ever so slightly,
I will alight and let you pull
the velvet shroud over my eyes. 

 Daniel Goodwin

                  —————–

courtly love, an idea of love that took 
shape in the 12th Century in what would
become France eventually, though its 
development soon touched all the 
countries, or kingdoms then, of Europe,
became the primary subject of poetry
and literature especially through the 
influence  of Eleanor of Acquitaine
without a doubt the most powerful
woman in Europe during her reign as 
Queen of France after her marriage to 
Louis Vll, which was annulled after a 
time for her having not borne Louis  
any sons, then with Henry, Duke of 
Normandy, who then became Henry ll
of England, with whom she had 
Richard l, the Lionheart, as well as the 
later King John – the wonderful film, 
The Lion in Winter” with Katherine
Hepburn as Eleanor is a brilliant 
account of her later life with Henry 
and their fractious sons, featuring 
as well Peter O’Toole as Henry, and a
young Anthony Hopkins as Richard

her patronage of the arts in general 
then, from her position of power, 
allowed, much as it would today any
potentate, the dissemination of 
courtly love as a cultural ideal that
ultimately led to some of the greatest 
works of our Western cultures, notably
Dante‘s The Divine Comedy“, where 
Dante courts chastely the married 
Beatrice, who becomes indeed even 
an intermediary for him during his 
passage through Paradise

the idea, through the interpolation of
the Catholic Church, was that courtly 
love should be pure, unconsummated,
a noble admiration and reverence of 
an object of adulation within the strict 
constraints of an impossible physical 
conjunction, the model being, of course, 
the emulation of the worship of the 
Virgin Mary

Cervantes‘ Don Quixote is a later 
example of this same disposition,
though by this time, 1605 to 1615,
the practice of courtly love had 
been sullied by too many evidently 
corrupt practitioners, and a more 
cynical therefore culture, so that 
Don Quixote despite his blameless
pursuit of Dulcinea, his unwitting
muse, is made out to be a fool 
given the context of his more 
contentious times, albeit a benign, 
and somewhat heroic, fool

but my very favourite such story is
that of Edmond Rostand‘s “Cyrano
de Bergerac“, whose long nose 
makes him disparage his own 
chances of ever achieving the love 
of his beloved, Roxane

José Ferrer got an Oscar for his 
superb performance of Cyrano in 
1950, but my ideal remains that of
Gérard Dépardieu, a complete 
wonder, in 1990, both very much, 
however, worth your time

all this as a preface to the poem 
above, When You Come, which 
seems to me of that tradition,
despite having been written in 
2014 according to its inclusion 
then in the Literary Review of 
Canada, perhaps because of the 
introduction of the falcon, not at 
all a contemporary image, but 
fraught with the impression of a
love that is all devotion instead 
of conquest, a kind of love that
in my particular circumstances 
I’ve come to reach for rather 
than anything less refined

true love, in other words, can  
never not love, as I’ve said earlier 

Richard

“Medea” – Euripides

medea-1898-jpglarge

       Medea (1898) 

       Alphonse Mucha

          ____________

catching up on my Greek tragedies 
for a course I’m following online, I
happened upon this marvel

Medea, by Euripides, was written 
in 431 BCE, the next significant 
playwright in world history was
Shakespeare, the Dark Ages had
been “Dark” indeed, it took a 
Renaissance, in fact a new 
flowering of Greek and Roman
arts and institutions to get us 
moving forward again, you’ll 
notice how much of Euripides 
there is in Shakespearenot to 
mention in the French Classicists, 
Racine and Corneille

none of these, incidentally, have 
yet been equalled, never mind 
surpassed, except by maybe 
Anton Checkov, the superb 
Russian playwright

Zoe Caldwell won the 1982 Tony 
Award for best actress for her
incarnation of Medea, she was 
up against Katharine Hepburn 
and Geraldine Pageno less, 
among other distinguished 
luminaries, this is, in other 
words, no ordinary performance, 
watch her turn a mere script, 
however incandescent, into 
set of spoken arias worthy of 
the most celebrated divas

everyone else in the play is also
strong, excellent, impeccable

note the application of the three 
unities, of time, place, and action,
there is no set change, everything 
takes place within 24 hours,
according to the dictates of the 
very plot, the action surrounds 
the expulsion from Corinth of 
Medea and her two, and Jason’s, 
sons, the restrictions of the form 
put the tension, the drama, utterly 
in the hands of the poet, the 
success of the work depends not
on stunts, special effects, but on
words, poetry

Aristotle says in his Poetics“, 
section I, part VI, “The Spectacle has, indeed, an
emotional attraction of its own, but, of all the parts,
it is the least artistic, and connected least with the
art of poetry. … Besides, the production of
spectacular effects depends more on the art
of the stage machinist than on that of the poet.”  

the three unities have no room,
therefore, for Spectacle“, their 
product must be reflections of 
the poet’s humanity, heart, 
straight through, if s/he can, 
to ours

Richard