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Category: music to ponder

the ‘wall

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    “A Sunday on La Grande Jatte (1884)

           Georges Seurat

                 ________

should you know Vancouver, you’ll
recognize, nearly immediately, the 
Seawall on this video, before even 
a minute has elapsed you spot the 
Westin Bayshore coming at you, 
nearly perilously, before the speeding 
bullet that takes you on the journey 
turns the crucial corner on the paved 
path that wends its way afterwards
around the peninsula

on foot, this takes about three hours,
but here, inspired by the music of Pink 
Floyd, on a deft reinterpretation of the 
title and music from The Wall“, their 
oracular masterpiece, an inspired 
cyclist brings this local trajectory to 
psychedelic life, if you can stand the 
unsettling disjunction between his 
dizzying speed and the grandeur 
of the transcendent, immutable,  
coastlines

you’ll need, I suggest, seatbelt,
but the ride is wild

the journey ends abruptly, both 
geographically and musically, 
just down the street from my place, 
across the road from recently 
favourite restaurant, with a view, 
just as transcendent, however not
at all disappointingly mutable, of 
the Pacific sunset, whenever we, 
family and friends, eat there

R ! chard

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the milonga

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   For a Better Life III 

          Fabian Perez

             ________

milonga, a song with a syncopated 
beat, is the musical form that gave 
birth to the tango, I wondered what 
one could be after my mom brought
my attention to one in a program for 
an upcoming event in our cityI had 
to look it up 

my only clue was that it was by 
Astor Piazzolla, the Argentinian who 
in the 20th Century reinvigorated the 
tango nearly all by himself, but in 
translation from Spanish to English,
milonga still came up milonga, what 
could milonga be, I asked 

here then, by Astor Piazzolla, is
what we’d be hearing

you’ll want to pay attention too to  
the paintings of Fabian Perez, also 
an Argentinian, which visually 
accompany the music, they are 
equally as seductive as the 
irresistible Piazzollan rhythms  

on the program as well, for a 
completely different musical 
experience, is Mozart’s Clarinet
Quintet, a piece I wrote about 
several years ago here, but must 
revisit, there is no more beautiful 
clarinet quintet, in my estimation,
and not many musical pieces are 
either as beautiful 

I won’t say a word about the other 
piece on this eclectic upcoming
programbut to say that I’d arrive 
after the intermission

R ! chard

on the origins of the waltz

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       Waltz (1891) 

         Anders Zorn

        ____________

had the waltz been confided to any 
other but the Johann Strausses, 
father and inveterate son, we may
never have distinguished it from 
the polka 

at the start, this amorphous new 
dance was deemed shameless, 
even shocking, by a scandalized
apparently, aristocracy, used to 
the more discreet, less conjugal, 
minuet

some nobles, sowing wild
irresistible oats, however, at the
festivities of their more irreverent 
servants, brought the new dance 
back home to their more informal, 
less stuffy, entertainments, avidly, 
though surely under their hats

to BelvedereSchönbrunneven 
Schloss EsterházyHaydn‘s  
stately old stomping haunt

thus was the waltz born, whirling 
indiscriminately like a polka at first
with indefinite stillhowever, timing

which then was reduced to only ever 
3/4 time, by the Strausses, the metre 
in which this comment, coincidentally, 
is written

read it aloud, you’ll want to wrap 
your arms around the nearest  
partner, assure you, and whirl, 
twirl, deliriously surrender

had we not had the Strausses, neither 
had we had Fred AstaireGinger Rogers,
Shall We Dance” from the glorious 
“The King and I”, nor the irrepressible 
So You Think You Can Dance either

nor me, for that matter, writing in 3/4 
verse, essentially, dactylic poetic metre 
about these celebrated accomplishments, 
something I deem eminently worthy of
reporting 

such is the impact of veritable art, I
warrant, the waltz was not inevitable

listen to Strauss Jr’s’ “Wiener Blut”, 
Viennese Blood“, or … Spirit
in English, for instance, for 
corroborating confirmation, and
corresponding, however inadvertent,
even, inspiration   

ever 

R ! chard

Nobuyuki Tsujii / Chopin

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     “The Old Blind Guitarist (1903) 

               Pablo Picasso

                      ________

to watch Nobuyuki Tsujii play the 
piano, a piano he cannot see, nor
anything else around him, not 
even his fingers, is a wonder, 
one beholds the work of the 
imagination taking place inside 
tenebrous, one would’ve 
supposed, cerebellum, a place 
without height, depth, width, 
without the idea, even, of, verily, 
spatial dimensions

not only has he had to imagine 
Chopin’s extraordinary, admit it, 
First Piano Concerto therehe’s  
had to imagine himself playing  
it, playing it before even 
international audiences – here
the 2009 Van Cliburn Competition, 
in which he tied for first place – 
despite surely profound physical, 
moral, emotional impediments, 
mountains most, I’m sure, 
couldn’t climb

it is to see the face of an angel
think, to watch him, only angels,
I believe, can do this sort of thing

watch, be inspired

and the Chopin is terrific

R ! chard

on “Elegy for the Victims of the Tsunami of March 11, 2011 in Japan” – Nobuyuki Tsujii

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    Tsunami (1998) 

         Jacek Yerka

          __________

while watching Nobuyuki Tsujii play the
extraordinarily demanding Tchaikovsky 
First Piano Concerto on television the 
other night, with no less than Valery
Gergiev, conducting the resident 
orchestra at the Mariinsky Theatre in 
Moscow, for its White NightsI was 
wonderstruck by the challenges a 
visually handicapable pianist would 
have to conquer in order to reach 
such an apogee 

everything must be learned by ear, all
items must be discovered tactually, 
from the piano itself to the very 
individual keys, not to mention 
the player’s very own fingers

there can be no visual contact with a 
conductor, either, for cues, for 
instance, nor for any other 
accompaniment, for neither even an 
audience, it would all take place in 
the dark recesses of the head, the 
amorphous and, I suppose, 
confounding, cerebellum

later he played for an encore his own 
composition, Elegy for the Victims of
the Tsunami of March 11, 2011 in Japan“,
a fine addition to my budding collection 
of threnodies

and a very, very moving piece

an elegy, incidentally, is usually written,
while a threnody is composed, but these 
terms are often used interchangeably, as, 
indeed, they are here

you’ll note the utterly Classical mode of
composition of the Elegy“, it adheres to  
a uniform tonality, a consistent tempo, 
and the grounding and comfort of 
repetition, returning always to the main, 
endearing air, rather than more modern 
tripwires and stridencies, traditionalism 
being not an inappropriate, nor ineffective,
mode of address for honoured forebears 

long live Classicism

 

R ! chard

on “Song to the Moon” – Antonin Dvořák

rising-moon-1964

   “Rising Moon (1964)

          Hans Hofmann

              __________

the moon was out last night, grand
upon the starlit evening, either 
waxing or waning, I’m not sure, but
not full, a gibbous moon, above the 
buildings that scrape, in my big city 
neighbourhood, in the very Cubist 
manner, the night sky, see above

I’d been listening to Renée Fleming
singing Dvořák‘s Song to the Moon
in my head since I’d seen her do it, 
on television, in a summer evening 
concert at Schönbrunn, Vienna, some
few days ago, sheit, had been utterly, 
sublimely, enchanting, I’m a Cancer, a
moon child, I speak to the moon

to the moon, I said, moon in the dark
heavens, who steal into every home
and hearth at night, find my beloved
and tell him what is in my heart, rapt 
as I was in the spell of my special
planet, my personal orb, and the 
enveloping Dvořákian magic, though 
there’s been no beloved lately, just 
trailings of the latest one who broke, 
of course, my heart, which gives more 
pathos, however, incidentally, to my 
singing, I’ve giddily gathered

at home, I found Renée Fleming doing 
the piece on the Internet, entirely as 
splendidly, earlier, at London’s Royal
Albert Hall, September, 2010

listen

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

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

“My Romance” – Carly Simon

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       Hot Jazz (1940) 

               Franz Kline

                        _____

in this video of one of her concerts, 
Carly Simon tells the story of how
when she told her special guest on
the program, Harry Connick Jr., that
he was born the same year as 
Sgt. Pepper, he answered, Sgt. Who

   “Harry, you were born the same year that 
                     Sgt. Pepper came out”, she said
   “Sgt. Who”, he answered

the same had happened to me when  
I’d told someone, a sprite, ten years 
younger, don’t ask, about my 
admiration for Susan Hayward
Richard, he asked, who’s Susan 
Hayward, to my utter consternation

I mean, Susan Hayward

you might not know who Carly Simon
is, nor even Sgt. Pepper, but the story 
is that those who once had been our 
very idols fade and become question 
marks in the eyes of the following 
generations

you might not either know who Harry 
Connick Jr. is, but listen to both of 
them here, Carly and Harry, put 
together an entertainment enough 
to turn an otherwise lazy hour into 
an unmitigated enchantment

Richard

“Daffodils” – William Wordsworth (an epitaph)

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     “Wild Poppies, Near Argenteuil” (1873) 

             Claude Monet

                  ________

                                                  for Pat

a dear friend passed away recently, 
Pat, the mother of my partner, who
passed away himself nearly 30 years 
ago, was already of a certain age at
which death follows closely tripping 
us up with itches and cramps and 
dire debilities as we walk along the 
winding road that isn’t that long any 
longer 

she’d already acquired Alzheimer’s 
though she read stillunderstood, 
even poetry, though she could not 
remember what had happened 
yesterday even, however traumatic, 
that she’d fallen the day before, for 
instance, and bore still corroborative 
angry scratches escaped her, left 
her puzzled, though never rattled,
ever compliant

you can forget all you want, Pat, I’d
said to her earlier in her prognosis,
but don’t ever forget I love you

since, during our regular Internet
encounters, along with her husband
on her end, she’s left the conversation
to him, but wraps her arms around 
herself and tells me she wants to hug
me, we always end our visit with I love 
you’s

when I went to visit her in hospital, 
where she’d ended up following more 
falls, which indicated eventually dire
complications, I brought her a teddy 
bear

here, Pat, I said, I can’t be here always 
to hug you, but you can think of me 
when you hug this bear

she died a few days later, the last 
words we said were, I love you, I
love you, before I flew back home 
to Vancouver from Victoria

I was sad, I lit candles, then a day 
later I thought, how do I get out from
under this somber cloud, I should  
listen for her, I remembered

talk to me, Pat, I’ll hear, I entreated

when my dad died, I’d said, talk to 
me, Dad, I’m your son, I’ll hear, and 
I did

when his sister died, a beloved aunt, 
I’d lit a scented candle inadvertently
in commemoration, when the air 
suddenly filled with the aroma of 
rosemary, which had wafted in on the 
exhalations of the candle to fuse with 
my own reveries in epiphanic, verily 
transcendental, conversation 

adagios, also, always remind me of 
John, Pat’s son

talk to me, Pat, say something, I 
said to the ether, and listened

last Thursday, at the service, turning
to the last page of the programme
which had been provided, I began to
read her favourite poem

I wandered lonely as a cloud, I read
but couldn’t make it through the next
line, tears welling up in my eyes, my 
mom, who was with me, holding my 
hand

thank you, Pat, I said, overcome with 
emotion, this poem would be her 
teddy bear to me

Richard

         ________________

Daffodils

I wander’d lonely as a cloud
That floats on high o’er vales and hills,
When all at once I saw a crowd,
A host of golden daffodils,
Beside the lake, beneath the trees
Fluttering and dancing in the breeze.

Continuous as the stars that shine
And twinkle on the milky way,
They stretch’d in never-ending line
Along the margin of a bay:
Ten thousand saw I at a glance
Tossing their heads in sprightly dance.

The waves beside them danced, but they
Out-did the sparkling waves in glee: –
A poet could not but be gay
In such a jocund company!
I gazed – and gazed – but little thought
What wealth the show to me had brought.

For oft, when on my couch I lie
In vacant or in pensive mood,
They flash upon that inward eye
Which is the bliss of solitude;
And then my heart with pleasure fills
And dances with the daffodils.

                         William Wordsworth