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Category: people to ponder

happy birthday, Joni Mitchell

clouds

  Nuages / Clouds 

 

      Fernand Léger

 

         _________

 

                         for Lajla, and, of course, Joni

 

in my German class in Dresden, I

was asked, since I was from 

Canada, to translate into German

a Canadian song, my teacher

suggested something of Joni 

Mitchell, someone she profoundly,

she said, admired, was I the one

to choose Both Sides Now“, or 

was she, I can’t remember, but 

that was the song I translated


Rows and floes of angel hair
And ice cream castles in the air
And feather canyons everywhere
I’ve looked at clouds that way


But now they only block the sun
They rain and snow on everyone
So many things I would have done
But clouds got in my way

I’ve looked at clouds from both sides now
From up and down, and still somehow
It’s cloud illusions I recall
I really don’t know clouds at all

Moons and Junes and Ferris wheels
The dizzy dancing way you feel
As every fairy tale comes real
I’ve looked at love that way

But now it’s just another show
You leave ’em laughing when you go
And if you care, don’t let them know
Don’t give yourself away

I’ve looked at love from both sides now
From give and take, and still somehow
It’s love’s illusions I recall
I really don’t know love at all

Tears and fears and feeling proud
To say “I love you” right out loud
Dreams and schemes and circus crowds
I’ve looked at life that way

But now old friends are acting strange
They shake their heads, they say I’ve changed
Well something’s lost, but something’s gained
In living every day

I’ve looked at life from both sides now
From win and lose and still somehow
It’s life’s illusions I recall
I really don’t know life at all

I’ve looked at life from both sides now
From up and down and still somehow
It’s life’s illusions I recall
I really don’t know life at all”

it could be my anthem

 

 

as it happened, Lajla, my teacher, who

who has since become a dear friend, 

in fact, meine beste deutsche Freundin, 

didn’t let me finish reading meinen 

übergesetzten Text for the class, it 

would’ve been too long

 

I still regret the unrecognized work

I did, but mostly I rue the fact that  

the other students never got to 

hear the sublime ending of the

song

 

 

R ! chard

 

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the essential Romantic violin concertos

the-violin-1916.jpg!Large

   “The Violin (1916) 

        Juan Gris

            _____

if I was able to bring up a list of 
ten top Romantic piano concertos  
throughout the 19th Century earlier
can number of violin concertos 
only three essential ones, with,
however, two other significant 
such compositions, which remain, 
for one reason or another, 
peripheral, secondary  

more about which later

but the exalted three are situated
conveniently, the first, at the very 
beginning of the Romantic Era, 
Beethoven’s magisterial, even 
extraordinary, Opus 61 in D major
1806, and close doubly with the
two others, Tchaikovsky’s
resplendent workwords cannot 
do it justice, and Brahms’ no less
transcendental one, at its very end, 
1878, none are negligible, it’d be 
like missing the Eiffel Tower while 
in Paris, skipping the pyramids 
along the Nilethey are part of our 
cultural consciousness, it would 
be an utter shame to pass them 
by, they are our glory, our 
magnificent heritage

it should be noted that the 
concerto, be it for violin, piano, 
cello, what have you, a soloist 
in concert with an array of 
instruments, is the perfect allegory 
for the Romantic Era, an individual 
in contention with a community, 
under the influence of a conductor, 
a mayor, a mentor, a polity, the
individuality afforded by the 
proclamation of human rights in 
the aftermath of the French 
Revolution, and its social 
consequences, musically 
manifested

the match might be fraught, 
should be, though with 
compromise, considerate 
accommodation, fruitful, 
hopefully even transcendental, 
if not at least entertaining, 
cooperation, music seems to 
infer eventual concord, 
congress, harmony, a way out 
of, even dire, distress, or at 
least point the way toward it

concertos die out, incidentally, in 
the 20th Century, you don’t hear 
of very many, if any at all, after 
Rachmaninoff, they are gone,
much like later, in the 1950s, the 
waltz, forever, with the wind

may they rest in peace


R ! chard

cuisine, modern art

still-life-food-glasses-and-a-jug-on-a-table-1640.jpg!Large

    “Still Life. Food, Glasses and a Jug on a Table (1640) 

           Pieter Claesz

               _______

if I’ve been trying to show off Beethoven,
and other Romantic artists, painters, 
poets, composers, as prophets in a
post-Christian, secular environment, 
their modern equivalents show up in,
of all places, cuisine in the 21st Century,
where chefs have become the new, and
dominant, expression of art, if you can 
believe it, but trust me 

I can’t but urgently enough recommend,   
should you be at all interested in the  
evolution of creative genius, 
Chef’s Table“, an already 5-year-old 
series on Netflix, $9.99 a month, with 
a first month free trial, a show that 
gives you, to my mind, front row 
seat for the manner in which an artist
becomes an expression of, a lighting 
rod for, social change, a picture of 
the juice it takes to produce such a 
person

who could be any one of us, all that’s
needed is a conscience

and maybe, admittedly, a muse


R ! chard 

psst: a few of their restaurants I’ve 
          virtually visited 

          Osteria Francescane – with a friend, 
          we decided we’d have the foie gras
          as a starter, snails and hare with 
          “aromatic herbs” for our primi, but
          she’d have the beef, I’d have the 
          suckling pig as secondi

           Attica’s set menu doesn’t give you
           much of a choice, though it promises
           utter, and I believe them, excellence

           Alinea, where eating is more than 
           even just a designer meal, but a
           very transcendental experience 

Piano Concertos 2, 3, 4 – Beethoven

the-liberty-leading-the-people-1830.jpg!Large

     “Liberty Leading the People (1830) 

             Eugène Delacroix

                    _________

                               for everyone, with great gratitude, 
                                  who reads me, I mean only to 
                                     bring poetry, which is to say,
                                        light

though I’d considered leaving the 
Romantic Piano Concertos behind
to explore other areas of the period
in this survey, it seemed unfair,  
indeed remiss of me, not to include 
the three among my top ten that I 
haven’t yet highlighted, Beethoven’s 
2nd, 3rdand 4th Piano Concertos
Opuses 1937and 58 respectively,
after all, these are where the spirit 
of the age, the Zeitgeist, was 
constructed, like a building, with 
walls, windows, a hearth, all of 
which would become church, 
then a Church, and by the time of 
Brahms, a very Romantic Cathedral 

the foundation had already been laid 
by Mozart with his 27, but music had 
not yet become anything other than 
an entertainment by then, or 
alternatively, an accessory to 
ceremonial pomp and circumstance, 
see Handel and England for this, or 
liturgical stuffsee, among many 
others here, Bach

but with the turn towards 
independence of thought as the 
Enlightenment progressed, cultural 
power devolved from the prelates, 
and their reverent representations, 
to the nobles, who wanted their own 
art, music, which is to say, something 
secular, therefore the Classical 
Period, 1750 – 1800, in round figures

then in the middle of all that, 1789, 
the French Revolution happened, 
and the field was ripe for prophets, 
anyone with a message of hope, 
and a metaphysical direction, midst 
all the existential disarray – the Age
of Reason had set the way, 
theoretically, for the possibility of a 
world without God, something, or 
Something, was needed to replace 
the The Trinity, the Father, the Son, 
and the Holy Ghost, Who had been 
seeing Their supremacy contested 
since already the Reformation 

Beethoven turned out to be just
our man, don’t take my, but history‘s 
authentification of it, see the very
Romantic Period for corroboration

in a word, Beethoven established 
Faith, a Vision, not to mention the 
appropriate tools to instal this new 
perspective, a sound, however
inherited, musical structure – his 
Piano Concertos TwoThreeand 
Four, for instance, are paramount 
amongst a host of others of his  
transcendental revelations

briefly, the initial voice, I am here, in 
the first movement, is declamatory, 
even imperious, but ever 
compositionally solid, and proven, 
tempo, tonality, recapitulation, the 
materials haven’t changed from the 
earlier Classical epoch, just the 
design, the interior, the 
metaphysical conception

his construction is masterfully
direct, the line of music is 
throughout ever clear and concise, 
despite flights ofoften, ethereal, 
even magical, speculation, you 
don’t feel the music in your body 
as you would in a dance, as in the 
earlier eraof minuets, but follow 
it, rather, with your intellect, you,
nearly irresistibly, read it

but the adagio, the slow movement, 
the middle one Classically, is always, 
for me, the clincher, the movement 
that delivers the incontrovertible 
humanity that gave power to the 
Romantic poet, who touched you 
where you live 

Beethoven says life is difficult, and
eventually, at the end of his Early, 
Middle and Late Periods, life may 
even have no meaning
 
but should there be someone, he 
says, who is listening, Someone – 
though implicit is that one may be 
speaking to merely the wind – this 
is what I can do, this is who I am
 
and while I am here, however 
briefly, am not insignificant, I 
can be worthy, even glorious, 
even beautiful, I am no less 
consequential, thus, nor  
precious, than a flower

for better, of course, or for worse


R ! chard

Piano Concerto no 1 in D minor, opus 15 – Brahms

the-wanderer-above-the-sea-of-fog.jpg!Large

    “The Wanderer above the Sea of Fog (1818)

         Caspar David Friedrich

                  _____________

if Beethoven built the Church, along 
with Goethe maybe, of Romanticism, 
and be assured Romanticism is an 
ideology, a moral outlook, a 
motivational perspective, much like 
the economy is nowadays, 
supplanting any more humanistic 
imperatives, Brahms put up one of its 
Cathedrals, just listen, the First Piano
Concerto is a monument, as mighty 
as the Cologne Cathedral musically,
right next to Bonn, incidentally,  
Brahms‘ birthplace

with the disintegration of the 
supremacy of the Catholic deity 
at the onset of the Protestant 
Reformation, Luther, Calvin
Henry Vlll and all that, bolstered
by new discoveries in scientific
speculation, that the earth wasn’t 
flat, for instance, that it revolved 
around the sun rather than the 
other way around, contradictory, 
though convincing, voices began 
to abound, excite question  

in the 18th Century, the Age of 
Reason, the Christian Deity fell,
never effectively to be put back 
together again, see for Its final
sundering, Nietzsche

in France, after the Revolution
the Church was officially removed 
from political consideration, 
countermanding its centuries of 
morally heinous depredations, 
the United States had already at 
its own Revolution separated it 
from State  

Romanticism was an answer to 
a world wherein there might not 
be a God, a world with, however,  
a spiritual dimension, to respond 
to the clockwork universe 
envisioned by the earlier epoch,
the Enlightenmenta world where 
everything could be categorized,
analyzed, predicted

Romanticism called for the 
inclusion of inspiration in the mix,
there are more things in heaven 
and earth, Horatio, than are 
dreamt of in your philosophy, 
as Shakespeare would, for 
instance, have it – “Hamlet”,
1.5.167-8 
 
poets became prophets thereby, 
if they could manage it, very 
oracles, the world was blessed 
with, at that very moment, 
Beethoven, far outstripping the 
likes of, later, for example, Billy
Graham, or other such, however
galvanizing, proselytizers, 
whose messages would’ve been 
too, to my mind,  literal

for music cannot lie, obfuscate, 
prevaricate, music cannot be 
fake  

and then there was Schubert
and Chopin, TolstoyDickens
Elizabeth Barrett Browning
Roberther husband, 
TchaikovskyCaspar David
Friedrich, the Johann Strausses,  
ByronShelley, Keats, whose 
artworks, all, are as profoundly 
in our blood, our cultural system,
as, if not more so than, our 
present information about the 
details of our Christian myths, 
despite superfluity of them 
even, throughout the long 
indeed Middle Ages, and right 
up to, and including, the still 
fervent then Renaissancefor 
better or for worse still, for us

what Romanticism did, and 
specifically through the work 
of these seminal artists, was 
give each of us a chance, 
show us how to come 
through trial and tribulation,
what a faith does, any faith

it said, here, this is my dilemma, 
and this is how I deal with it

for me, Beethoven’s 32nd
Piano Sonata is, soundly, the 
epitome of that, but listen to 
Brahms put a stamp on it
with undaunted authority

we might be ultimately of no 
consequence in an indifferent 
universe, they say, but, hey, 
this is what we can do, and 
do gloriously, while we are 
at it

Woody Allen picks up the 
purpose in our own recent 
20th Century, following in 
the earnest footsteps of his 
Existential mentor, the much 
too dour, think, Ingmar 
Bergman  

but that’s another story
entirely 


meanwhile, listen

also watch, the conductor here
complete delight, is right out 
of Alice in Wonderland“, 
promise you’ll love it


R ! chard 

Piano Concerto no 3 in E-flat major, opus 75 – Tchaikovsky

so050050

        gargoyle at Cologne Cathedral

                    ______________

if I’m including Tchaikovsky’s Third
and last, Piano Concerto in my survey, 
it’s not because of its excellence, it is, 
indeed, severely flawed, but because 
am a completist – if I’m visiting the 
Cologne Cathedral, ergo, for instance, 
I’ll make my way to the very top, 
however treacherous might be the 
stairs, the gargoyles being worth it, 
not to mention the view  

first of all, it’s incomplete, Tchaikovsky
died before finishing it, you can’t blame 
him for that, though he was, curiously, 
complicit in his own demise, but I don’t 
believe this composition and his death 
are that intimately interrelated

it has only one movement, but has 
nevertheless been termed a concerto 
on the, debatably unsound, strength 
of its intention

briefly, and this is my opinion, the
movement has no lyrical moment, 
no melting melody to float you out
of the recital hall as you exit
nothing to hum, nor to whistle as 
you wistfully wend your way back 
home, nothing to remember but 
flash, braggadocio, bombast, 
expert fingers strutting their 
dazzling, even, stuff, style over 
substance, I venture, won’t be
enough to whisk you into the 
following centuries

Chopin, the other towering Romantic 
figure standing between the spiritual 
bookends of Beethoven and Brahms, 
wrote two piano concertos, of which 
his Second suffers from, essentially,  
not being his First, however mighty 
his Second herefor instance, 
proves to be in this utterly convincing 
performance, watch, wow

Beethoven, in other words, wrote the
book, two works, Tchaikovsky’s First
and Chopin’s First, tower above his 
in the public imagination during the 
ensuing High Romantic Periodafter 
which Brahms closes the door on the 
era with his two powerful masterpieces 
for piano and orchestra 

of which more later

there are other piano concertos 
along the way, but Beethoven’s 
five, Tchaikovsky’s and Chopin’s 
one each, and Brahms two are 
the basics – but let me add, upon 
further consideration, and for a
a perfect ten options, Liszt, his 
own, of two, First Piano Concerto –
what you need to consider yourself 
comfortably aware of the essentials 
of music in the 19th Century, the 
culture’s predominant voice then, 
until art, painting, took over as the 
Zeitgeist‘s most expressive medium
with Impressionism

of which more later

R ! chard

Piano Concerto no 2 in G major, opus 44 -Tchaikovsky

beech-grove-i.jpg!Large

    Beech Grove I (1902) 

           Gustav Klimt

                 ________

if a sonata, or any composition for one 
instrument, is a meditation, a rumination,
an introspection, a concerto is its entire
opposite, it’s a declamation, a very 
harangue, the performer is not only 
before an audience, but before an
orchestra, before the conductor of that 
orchestra, that soloist had better be, 
therefore, something

Tchaikovsky’s 2nd Piano Concerto 
hasn’t cut the cultural mustard, you’ve
probably never heard of it, never mind 
heard it, not even in the miasma of our 
collective unconscious 

why

who knows, it’s magnificent

I suspect that Moscow’s distance, 
St Petersburg’s, might’ve had something 
to do with it, Russia would still have been 
a backwater to Europe, regardless of what
Catherine the Great might’ve done for its
intellectual edification, indeed a veritable 
Elizabeth the First, Queen of England
she, in her sponsorship of the arts

something like that happened, but in 
reverse, to Gustav Klimt, Egon Schiele 
in art, SchoenbergBerg, Webern, the 
Second Viennese School in music, in 
literature, Robert Musil, his The Man
Without Qualities very rival to 
Proust‘s epic trip down memory lane, 
Remembrance …“, when the centre 
of gravity for the arts moved from 
Vienna to Paris in the late 19th 
Century with the advent of 
Impressionism

France had entered its Fourth
Republic by then, was to finally 
entrench its democracy, and we got 
MonetDebussy, and indeed Proust 
instead, not to mention all of that 
city’s celebrated others

leaving creative Vienna, meanwhile,
the undisputed engine of the Zeitgeist
the spirit of the times, for over three 
quarters of an earlier century, thereby,  
in the dust

New York would take over in the 
1950s, similarly, for a time, Andy
Warhol and The Factory, eclipsing 
any other town

in other words, location, location, 
location, in tandem with historical 
events


R ! chard

“Grand Piano Sonata” in G major, opus 37 – Tchaikovsky

blossoming-almond-branch-in-a-glass-with-a-book-1888(1).jpg!Large.jpg

  “Blossoming Almond Branch in a Glass with a Book (1888)

       Vincent van Gogh

             __________

if Tchaikovsky’s 2nd Piano Sonata hasn’t
remained in the canon, if it isn’t one of 
the pieces you’ve heard if only through
the grapevine, it’s, I suspect, cause it’s 
essentially not an advance on other more 
prescient works in the form, other more 
oracular compositions

Beethoven had paved the way for the 
Romantic Period, nearly invented it,
established incontrovertibly the 
dimensions of the sonata, notably its 
purpose, its structure, Schubert had, 
however belatedly, confirmed it, with 
works equal to his, and even, here 
and there, superior, listen

but having reached the summit of 
what a sonata could say, the form 
little by little withered in its several
Romantic permutations, Tchaikovsky
here, for example, and became mere
elaborations upon a waning theme 
rather than exciting, and revelatory, 
productions 

the sonata would survive, but  
transformed by another era, 
Impressionism, Tchaikovsky would
as well, of course, but not through 
his sonatas

his Second, however, is not not 
worth a listen, would you pass, 
for instance, on a less celebrated
perhaps, van Goghsee above

Tchaikovsky’s, therefore, Second

 
R ! chard

Piano Sonata in C# minor, opus 80 – Tchaikovsky

the-sonata-1.jpg!Large

The Sonata 

              Childe Hassam

                     ___________

                            for Sarah and Rachel, the daughters
                              of the son of a dear cousin, after a 
                                belated lunch recently, two young 
                                  girls14, 16, in bloom, as Proust 
                                    would say, who speak not only 
                                      music, but French and English,
                                        fluently, I checked – perhaps   
                                          even German, their Oma  
                                            lives with them – they also  
                                              play the flute, the piano,    
                                                and sing, what could be
                                                  I ask you, more beautiful,  
                                                   two young girls ibloom, 
                                                     indeed in very blossom   
                                        
                               or am I being too French
 
the form of the sonata had been established 
decisively during the Classical Period, out 
of the rudiments of Bach’s own such pieces
Mozart and Haydn had given the concept its 
final shape, its structure, three or four 
contrasting movements, by definition all 
entertainments

Beethoven kicked the entertainment part 
right out of the ball park, made his show 
into a veritable transcendental meditation, 
rather than to merely applaud, audiences 
gasped, were meant to be awed, as I still 
ever am by his musical speculations

but by definition as well, a sonata is a 
piece for a single instrument, therefore
inherently introspective, whether the 
player has an audience or not, soloists, 
note, play easily on their own

even an accompanied sonata, as violin
sonatas often are, for instance, or this 
one for two pianos, would lose the 
intimacy of a solo piece, for having 
someone playing, however compatibly, 
over one’s shoulder  

in other words, a piano sonata is, by
definition, a monologue, a soliloquy,
where notes tell the story that words 
would intimately, even confessionally,
in poetry, convey

the emotions that are elicited from 
a piece are as real as they would 
be from any literary alternative, 
except that they’re quickened, like 
aromas, through the senses, rather 
than through divisiveby definition 
confrontational, logic

rosemary reminds me always, for 
instance, of one of my departed 
aunts, like the taste of a madeleine 
dipped in tea opened the door for 
Proust to an entire earlier epoch, 
the seed, the subject, of his 
disquisition on Time, À la 
recherche du temps perdu“, An 
Exploration into Elapsed Time“, 
my own translation, none of the 
published proffered titles   
having rendered the subtlety  
of the shimmering original
  
rosemary, in other words, speaks,
if even only to me

listen to Tchaikovsky’s First Piano
Sonata, in C# minor, opus 80, one
of only two of his, what do you 
hear, think, feel


R ! chard

First Symphony, “Winter Dreams”, opus 13 – Tchaikovsky

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 Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky (1866)

            ______

                               for Elizabeth, who said she’d  
                                “be all ears once it happens“, 
                                     this first of my Tchaikovskys
                                               
the example of Beethoven was 
a hard act to follow, no one 
nearby, which is to say, in the
vicinity of Vienna, which had 
ruled the musical world for 
more than half a century, from 
Mozart to late Beethoven, 
would be able to match his 
eminence, not even the, 
however mighty, Brahms 

but in the East a star was born, in
1840, of extraordinary dimensions,
to tower above the High Romantic 
period, which shone with, were it 
not for its distance from the 
European central galaxy,  
comparable brightness  

Beethoven had written for every
instrument, every combination 
of instruments, every voice, 
every combination of voices, 
no other composer had, nor 
has since, done that but the 
incandescent Tchaikovsky
who’d ever ‘a’ thunk it

symphonies, concertos, string
quartets, sonatas, variations, 
ballets, operas, liturgical 
pieces, there wasn’t anything 
he didn’t touch, and transform 
into magic

here‘s an early work, his Opus 13
only, in order to get chronological 
perspective, and, as I pursue this 
compelling trajectory, a sense of  
his musical evolution, his First
Symphony, “Winter Dreams”*

listen for troikas flying across 
the steppes, hear the bells tingle 
from their fleeting carriages, be 
swept away by the exhilarating 
majesty


R ! chard

Simon Bolivar Symphony Orchestra,
      Joshua dos Santos, conductor