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Category: Glenn Gould

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

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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

“Death and the Maiden” – Franz Schubert‏

 "Ophelia" -  John William Waterhouse

Ophelia (1889)

John William Waterhouse

___________

though death is not an especially
appealing topic for many, it was
nevertheless of fundamental
consideration during the
Romantic Period

Goethe, the German poet, had
already created a sensation
with his The Sorrows of Young
Werther
, a young man,
disappointed in love, takes his
own life, a potent seed for the
new era, secularism was
overtaking theocracy, the
autocracy of the Christian
Church was giving way to the
prevalence of human rights,
a private opinion, well disputed,
was holding sway against the
rigidities of religious orthodoxies,
science and reason had been
chipping away at the very idea
of God

but with human rights there was
the question of personal
responsibility, if not an imposed
authority, then each man, woman
was in charge of his, her own

the fundamental question,
therefore, was Shakespeare’s
To be or not to be, or, for that
matter, Burt Bacharach’s and
Hal David’s What’s it all about

this is not me, this is Albert Camus
talking, who formalized the situation
in the 1940s

“There is but one truly serious
philosophical problem, and that
is suicide. Judging whether life
is or is not worth living amounts
to answering the fundamental
question of philosophy. All the
rest — whether or not the world
has three dimensions, whether
the mind has nine or twelve
categories — comes afterwards.”

after Werther, Madame Bovary followed,
Anna Karenina, suicide had become an
option, the penalty was no longer
opprobrium, castigation, as it had been
under unforgiving religious constraints

death itself, fatefully rather than
personally determined, was, of course,
no less considered when the era of
heartfelt declarations dominated,
Mendelssohn had written his
Quartet no 6 in F minor, opus 80
for his deceased sister, Beethoven
and Chopin, each his Funeral March,
either, incidentally, still iconic, and
perhaps the most poignant work
of all in this manner, Schubert’s
Death and the Maiden, a precursor
of his own much too premature
demise

this is music as if your life depended
on it

watch, listen

Richard

psst:

the Alban Berg Quartet, a group who
set the standard for several significant
string quartets in the ’80s, do no less
with this one

you’re not likely to see a better
performance of it ever, nor, for that
matter, of anything, pace even Glenn
Gould, a statement I think nearly
against my religion

you be the judge

at the XVth International Tchaikovsky Competition – Bach‏

"J.S. Bach, Wohltemp. Klav. Bd. I, No. IV. (Extrait) / (Duo de Tristesse)" -  Robert Strûbin

“J.S. Bach, Wohltemp. Klav. Bd. I, No. IV. (Extrait) / (Duo de Tristesse)” (1957)

Robert Strûbin

________

if I’ve been getting on their backs
about their Bachs at the Tchaikovsky
Competition
, it’s that they’re playing
Bach as though he were mediocre
Beethoven, it’s like asking Duke
Ellington to be Pink Floyd, it’s just
a completely different generation,
era

Bach wrote for the harpsichord, a
precursor to the piano, it could not
control the volume, nor the length
of a note, the pianoforte came
along to resolve both issues

therefore before Beethoven, who
made full use of the new invention
and worked hard the pianissimos
and the fortissimos, to degrees that
often became either inappropriate
or too authoritative, indelicate or
obnoxious if you’re not in the mood
– I remember wanting to play his so
solemn 111 at my father’s funeral,
but realized late that the first
movement was not especially in
that situation warranted, nor even
parts of the transcendental, but not
always not obstreperous, adagio –
and thumbed thus his nose at the
aristocracy, who earlier, before
the citoyens had demanded their
rights and when the world had
been considered to be of a
rational, logical order, a clock,
and as regular, would never have
tolerated such impudence

Bach and Mozart do not sway
much from strict rhythm, neither
do they alter volume much at all

so that the constant display of
heartfelt Bach and passionate
Mozart becomes cloying, and
not at all what these Classical
and Baroque masters would
have approved of

nor Beethoven, nor Chopin, for
that matter, whose strict tempo
markings didn’t include much
rubato, ritardandos, which you
could think of as milking a note,
putting velvet on your canvas,
it doesn’t work, the composition
itself unaided by bathos, pathos,
delivers, check out, of course,
Glenn Gould

Andrei Korobeinikov sat me right
down the other night with his
arresting BWV868, thrilling,
followed by more dazzling
pyrotechnics, though he fizzled,
and fractured his Beethoven, the
very 111 I care so much for, I
couldn’t even finish, you don’t
need a velvet canvas behind the
111, neither cloying ritardandos,
just skill, nor tangles of notes,
for that matter

Richard

the flow (with a representative performance of Bach)

"The Kitchen"  - Pablo Picasso

The Kitchen (1948)

Pablo Picasso

________

having forgotten that I’d left a candle
in the kitchen, I thought, is that what
you’re going to strike me with,
Alzheimer’s

and then I thought, who’s you

certainly not some Creator with a
white beard and a vengeance, or
even, for that matter, without a
vengeance, even empathy, a
buddha, a guardian angel

no, “you” would be the order of
things, the flow

I spread my arms, and ceded to
it

to be one with the flow, I thought,
that’s the Force, there was no
getting around it

to be at one with the Force,
listen

then I remembered the chicken
drumsticks in the ginger cherry
sauce I’d left in the oven

which turned out nevertheless
perfect

Richard

psst:

for perfect coconut rice,
1 cup of coconut milk,
available in most high-end
food stores, one of water,
one of rice, of course, your
pick, bring to a boil, lower
heat, simmer covered for
45 minutes, an hour, or as
soon as you remember
you left it on the stove,
turn off heat, add a
tablespoon of butter, lime
juice

serve with chicken
drumsticks in ginger
cherry sauce

and, of course, wine

Beethoven Cello Sonata no 3, opus 69 – Gould/Rose‏

 "A Day in March" - Robert Spencer

A Day in March(1918)

Robert Spencer

_________

hot upon having seen a tremendous recital
by two internationally renowned interpreters
of the cello sonatas of Beethoven, neither
could I find their own renditions on the
Internet but their individual performances
only of works by other composers, some
astounding, others not, nor performances
by other artists of the same works I could
wholeheartedly recommend, even the big
ones, sometimes they have an off night

but with Beethoven, Glenn Gould never
lets you down, he is, quite simply, ever
transcendent, watch his Cello Sonata
no 3 of Beethoven, opus 69
, with cellist
Leonard Rose, up as well to so august
a challenge, be unequivocally
transported, don’t not watch, just click,
wow

Richard

parsing art – a response to my mother

JohnSinger Sargent - "Mrs Edward L. Davis and Her Son Llivingston" (1890)

Mrs Edward L. Davis and Her Son Livingston (1890)

John Singer Sargent

______

about John Cage my mom writes,

“Hi Rick…..

When you called I had written the message but not sent it….I am trying again..

I cannot see people spending $100 or more and wasting almost 8 minutes of their time
to watch that crap…..

As for David Hockney…..well…..not my style….but for your sake I hope a lot of people like it…..

See you at 6 p.m……will give you enough time to digest what I said…..All my love….MOM….XXXX”,

most uncharacteristically, the last time
she used an epithet was when I landed
some Schönberg on her, which she
returned promptly and categorically,
that was some fifteen years ago, even
maybe twenty

bravo, Mom, for your robust opinion,
that’s what art’s about

but I’m reminded thereby that art is not
just for effetes, pretenders to arcane
insights, it’s for all of us, not getting it
is not necessarily our fault, sometimes
the artist is obtuse, even trite

what is true should be clear, I believe,
to everyone, which is why I ever adhere
to art, art cannot be anything other than
true, manifestly, else it falls apart

love you, mom

Rick

psst: if you’ve got quarters, please bring
some over tonight

Glenn Gould‏

Glenn Gould

Glenn Gould

_______


if you think I can talk, listen to Glenn
Gould
tell in spades what I’ve only
ever been able to tell in clubs, or,
as we say in French, trèfles, clover,
a piece of music can say more than
just hello, great ones are oracular,
even transcendent

if ever they made a movie of my life
I want Glenn Gould to play me, even
the wonderful Colm Feore, I think,
couldn’t as effectively manage it

Richard

psst: here’s more, incandescent, Bach,
Glenn Gould playing his signature
piece
, just click

Beethoven: piano concerto no 5, in E flat major, opus 73‏

"Beethoven" - Joseph Karl Stieler

A portrait of Ludwig van Beethoven (1820)

Joseph Karl Stieler

_____________

you might say a triumvirate of piano concertos dominate
our Western musical culture, a veritable trinity of pianistic
masterworks that tower over, and have ruled, our musical
consciousness throughout the modern epoch, the
Rachmaninoff 3 has been one of them, but the 5th of
Beethove
n is surely the granddaddy, the “Guppa” as a
favourite grandchild I know would say, the Olympian
Zeus, the Christian God the Father, of them all, in majesty
and authority, others quake in its overwhelming aura, it is
the sun to all the other stars

Glenn Gould is the standard still by which it should be
played, none yet, to my mind, has surpassed him

Karel Ancerl conducts the Toronto Symphony Orchestra,
a competent orchestration, overshadowed inevitably by
this prodigy, who nevertheless doesn’t ever flaunt his
finger play but remains faithful throughout to the
dictates, the tonal balances, of the music, it is 1972

I had mentioned “variations in volume, tempo, tonality,
the play of harmonization and discords” in Rachmaninoff
,
note the strict adherence to tempo here, even the fastest
runs of notes are grounded in beat, more solid, less elusive
than the iridescent Rachmaninoffian allusions to Debussy,
you could set a metronome to the appropriate tempo of
each individual movement in Beethoven, it would remain
constant, apart from a few restrained ritardandos near
the end of some musical elaborations, until its very final
apotheosis, beat was ever an anchor for the fulgurating
Beethoven, an article of faith from which he strayed only
with great circumspection

note the language is not emotional, passionate and ardent,
but philosophical, metaphysical, Beethoven is confronting
cosmological considerations, existential realities, not the
more emotional concerns that confound us every day, it’s
God he’s talking to, eternity, not the incarnate tendrils
of the moment, not the poignant stuff even of soon
through Schubert a Chopin, Beethoven was at the start
of that Romantic Movement, indeed its very first
proponent, but not quite ready to wear his heart itself
on his sleeve, but a more spiritual, probing reason, whose
ardent metaphysical ratiocinations would set all the others
on fire, setting the stage for all the other stars

later, if you haven’t guessed what it’ll be already, I’ll
supply you with the third concerto, the Holy Ghost, of
the trinity, the Apollo, god of music and the sun, among
our concert greats

Richard