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Category: music to ponder

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

hot-jazz-1940.jpg!Large

       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)

wild-poppies-near-argenteuil-1873.jpg!Blog

     “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

“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

“Is Art Truth?”

paradise-jpglarge

  “Paradise” 

        Hieronymus Bosch

                   __________

Is Art Truth?“, a friend asks after speaking of 
its benefits, “Art accepts and tells the truth-Is
that it ?“, she inquires, wonders

art, like truth itself and beauty, is in the eye 
of the beholder, I submit, and therefore my 
definition is, once again, entirely personal, 
though I’ve rigorously plumbed it

it requires background

art died for a thousand years, it was 
essentially unrecorded, dormant from 
the fall of Rome to the Renaissance, nor 
promoted but for Catholic purposes, 
hence the majestic cathedrals and the 
magisterial altarpieces, works produced 
by, however, communities until eventually 
certain artisans were recognized as more 
inspired than others, and given autonomy

enter Duccio, for instance

in time these new, necessarily idiosyncratic
perspectives – see Hieronymus BoschDante
Alighieri – dominated, veering in their search 
for truth in their art and beauty – selling points,
incidentally – towards less strictly orthodox 
utterances

see above

art, and its contemporary science, were 
chipping away at ecclesiastical dogma

till God died, and artists continued their 
prescient march forward, shaping our 
zeitgeist, our spirit of the times, with 
their pronouncements for lack of any 
other guides

but the voices grew personal, see Mozart
often profound and prophetic, see 
Beethoven, till the confluence of disparate 
realities gave us secularism, each soul for 
itself as a tenet, a credo, a belief, a truth

what did they have in common

I believe it was their quest for beauty 
through truth, their quest for truth 
through beauty, with a nod here to 
the salient Keats 

art is prayer, a search for, as well as a 
manifestation of, one’s personal 
identification with the sacred

it is not truth, it is not beauty, it is the 
fervent intention itself, linked with a 
correspondent workmanship, craft, 
which inspires 

see for instance van Gogh for this, who, 
remember, nevertheless shot himself, 
artists are mortal, merely, messengers, 
ever, therefore, fallible, unsure, fearful 
even, often, of their, perhaps 
Promethean, fire

for consolation, or even maybe 
transcendence, see again,
pertinently here, Beethoven  

listen

Richard

psst: thanks, Joan

“Symphonie espagnole” – Édouard Lalo

the-treachery-of-images-this-is-not-a-pipe-19482-jpglarge

          La Trahison des images (Ceci n’est pas une pipe)
           / “The Treachery Of Images (This Is Not A Pipe) – (1948) 

                    René Magritte

                     ___________

                                                     paintings don’t lie,
                                                          music doesn’t either,
                                                              only words do 

                                                                                me

in this age of fake news, maybe the 
following piece of musicological 
misinformation shouldn’t be so 
surprising, yet there it is, flagrant,
disturbing and disorienting, and 
apparently irreversible

Édouard Lalo‘s Symphonie espagnole“, 
however acclaimed as such, is still to my
mind, and to several others concerned, a
misnomer, the Symphonie is actually a 
concerto, and can’t think for moment 
why Lalo would’ve called it otherwise

a symphony is an aggregation of sounds
to produce melodies and harmonies, a 
concerto spotlights a soloist, who 
generally determines the direction the 
music will follow

or soloists

once you have a concerto, you can no 
longer call it a symphony, it would be 
to disregard a defining element, like 
calling someone a girl once she’s 
become princessfor instance, 
complete with glass slippers and a 
tiara, it would be at the very least 
disrespectful, if not out and out 
dishonest

Lalo here is, however, magisterial, all 
five movements glitter with, for the 
violin, utterly magical moments, the 
violinist weaving wizardry minute by 
electrifying minute

after such a turn, one must allow 
Lalo to call his opus what he will,
I guess, forgive him his linguistic
trespasses

listen

Richard

psst: I have not accorded Bartók the same leniency
        for his Concerto for Orchestra, 
        however – the Lalo dilemma but in reverse,  
       an orchestra is by definition not a soloist 
         – for I’ve always found Bartók inscrutable, 
         sound and fury, here specifically, though 
         uncharacteristically scrutable in this 
         particular instance, signifying nevertheless,  
         I’m afraid, still nothing, no underlying animus, 
         philosophical, or existential, underpinning 
         but to kill time, a tragic and disqualifying, 
         flaw, unfortunately, in my, however humble  
         everopinion 

         but you be the judge

Rutebeuf’s Lament – Rutebeuf/Ferré

friends-since-childhood-2004-jpglarge

                      Friends Since Childhood” (2004) 

                                  George Stefanescu

                                         __________

having disparaged the only translation
I could find on the Internet of a poem
that is in French as famous as in 
English Elizabeth Barrett Browning‘s
How do I love thee? Let me count the 
ways.“, her 43rd “Sonnet[ ] from the
Portuguese”, I decided to translate 
myself the excerpt from “La Complainte
Rutebeuf“, of Rutebeuf himself, 1245 – 
1285, which became its indelible, and 
apparently timeless, virtual
manifestation

Rutebeuf’s entire poem is written in 
Old French, and excerpts of it were 
adapted into an updated French in 
1956 by Léo Ferré, a French
troubadour of the time, who then 
made it into a song that everyone
French remembers, despite, or 
maybe because of, its archaisms

though Ferré familiarized the French
for his listeners, it was still in an older
French, like rendering Chaucer‘s 
14th-Century English into Shakespeare‘s 
17th-Century counterpart tongue, “But 
look, the morn, in russet mantle clad, / 
Walks o’er the dew of yon high eastern 
hill”, “Hamlet”, act l, scene l, lines 166 
and 167, for instance

in my translation below, I eschew –
Gesundheit – such a daunting
challenge, but have chosen rather
to highlight the humanity that I find
especially compelling in the original
composition

Rutebeuf today would sound 
something of a cross between Harry
Nilsson and Bob Dylan, I think, of my
generationthe one for his 
straightforward simplicity, his crushing 
intimacy, the other for his social 
consciousness and probable greater, 
therefore, longevity

but will even Bob Dylan endure 800 
years

some will, some have, some do 

but who

we will never know

Richard 

           ______________

Rutebeuf’s Lament

What has become of my friends
that I had held to be so close 
and loved so dearly,
they were too carelessly tended
I think the wind has blown them away,
friendship has been forsaken.
And as the wind passed by my door,
took all of them away.

As time strips the trees of their leaves,
when not a leaf on a branch remains 
that will not hasten to the ground,
and poverty befalling me, 
from every corner appalling me,
as winter edges on.
These do not lend themselves well to my telling
of how I courted disgrace,
nor of the manner. 

What has become of my friends
that I had held to be so close 
and loved so dearly,
they were too carelessly tended
I think the wind has blown them away,
friendship has been forsaken.
And as the wind passed by my door,
took all of them away.
Sorrows do not show up on their own,
everything that was ever to happen  
has happened.

Not much of common sense, a poor memory
has God granted me, that God of Glory,
not much in sustenance either,
and it’s straight up my butt when the North wind blows, 
sweeping right through me, 
friendship has been forsaken.
And as the wind passed by my door,
took all of them away.

                                 Rutebeuf

listen

Richard

“Octet in F major”, D803 – Franz Schubert

schubert-at-the-piano-ii-jpglarge

     “Schubert At The Piano II (1899) 

              Gustav Klimt

                  _______

there are reasons why an octet, a 
piece for eight performers, would 
be a rare occurrence in our modern
world, the most flagrant being the 
sheer number of players to 
assemble, all with international 
commitments, and all, more 
specifically, working individually, 
or in smaller composites

duos can play any choice of 
instruments, trios as well, but
quartets are usually, which is to 
say traditionally, comprised of 
only strings, first and second 
violins, a viola and a cello, 
these three groupings, duos, 
trios, quartets, are often already 
formed, play or meet together 
regularly

also musical compositions for such 
groupings abound, the canon is 
replete with music written for two, 
three or four instruments

but at five participants, a quintet, 
the combinations are less stable, 
there isn’t enough in the 
repertoire for four strings and 
clarinet, say, to play, so that a
clarinettist must be invited in
for such an occasion, any 
other alternative accompanying 
instrument would be fit in as
incidentally 

with six, of course, and upwards, 
you get egg rolls, anything can 
happen

but at eight, an octet, you need 
friends, people who’ll gather from 
their individual busy schedules to 
perform specifically together out 
of sympathy, much as friends 
would’ve back in the Nineteenth 
Century, before television, when 
the form took shape, to socially 
cut up the rug
 
if indeed it did take shape, cause I 
can think of no other octet, off hand
after Schubert’s glorious one 

Schubert’s Octet, the composition, 
with this particular octet, the group, 
is probably the best you’ll ever hear 
of either ever, Schubert’s D803 in F
major is everything you want 
Schubert to be, and in a generous 
indeed six movements, while
Janine Jansen and her friends, the 
octet performing here, with the 
requisite four strings, plus a horn,  
a bassoon and a clarinet, are 
magisterial, dare I say definitive, 
the standard now to exceed 

octets, incidentally, don’t do 
encores, for obvious reasons

enjoy

Richard

psst: for a comparable congregation 
         of friends, see Roy Orbison’s 
         Black & White Night“, equally
         as improbable, epic

Puccini on poets

cigarette-la-boheme-1879

                   “Cigarette La Bohême (1879) 

                             Théophile Steinlen

                                        ______

with a friend today over lunch I told 
her that we’d watched, my mom and 
I and a mutual friend, La Bohème“,  
an Australian production of it, Baz 
Luhrmann directing, a man we both 
knew, at my place last Sunday, we 
were all wowed by it, I extrapolated 

the only opera I’ve ever seen, she 
said, was La Bohème

where did you see it, I asked, and 
when  

with my first husband, she replied,
in Vienna 

was it wonderful, I inquired  

it was, she answered, I had on a 
long dress, my husband was in 
coat and, essentially, tails, we 
walked up a very long staircase, 
I  remember

coincidentally, the first time I’d 
seen “La Bohème was also in 
Vienna, I can’t remember the 
staircase, couldn’t remember what  
I wore, can’t even remember where 
I was sitting, what I remember, as
though through a telescope, darkly,  
was Mimi and Rodolphe looking for   
the key she’d lost, on their knees   
on the floor, in the dark cause her  
candle ‘d gone out, he’d put his out
surreptitiously too to  join her 

your little hand is so cold, he sings,
when he, unforgettably, finds it 

in this production, Rodolphe has  
found the key but conceals it 
from Mimi until she sees it in his 
eyes, he pretends to return it but 
instead manages to hold her 
hand 

your little hand is so cold, he 
sings, again unforgettably

there’s nothing to fear, he 
continues, the moon is out, let’s
get to know each other

who am I, he asks, to start the 
conversation, I am a poet, he 
declares, and proceeds to tell 
us what it is to be a poet 

you’ll be utterly enchanted

tell me about a world, I ask,  
without poets, tell me about  
a world without poetry 

where would we be without 
dreamers, I wonder, where would 
we be without dreams

watch here, and wonder

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