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Category: positions to ponder

Piano Concerto no 1, opus 15 – Beethoven

Jolson_black

      Al Jolson, in “The Jazz Singer” (1927)


              _________________

 


in order to abate my discomfort, my

consternation, after meeting up with

one of the candidates I considered

favouring in the upcoming election,

I put on Beethoven’s Firstwhich,

incontrovertibly, from the first few 

notes, did the trick, took me out of 

politics and the uncomfortable 

present, into metaphysical 

pertinence, and magic

 

I’d referred to the issue of blackface,

a searing issue at present in the 

media, I said, what about Laurence 

Olivier doing Othello, Placido 

Domingo doing the very same Moor,

not to mention Al Jolson doing,

unforgettably, My Mammy 

 

but picked up that neither the

candidate, nor his mentor, standing 

by his side, had any idea what I was 

talking about 

 

Placido Domingo, I said, one of The

Three Tenors, remember them

 

the aspiring representative indicated 

a dim recollection, his accompanist 

admitted to having nebulously heard

of him, them, somewhere

 

OMGess, I reared, I’m talking to the 

next generation, maybe even the 

generation after that, who have no

recollection, no understanding of

where I come from, it was, to say

the least,  unsettling, discomfitting, 

sobering 

 

there was no one at home with whom 

to commiserate when I arrived, 

answering machines only at the end 

of every line, I resorted, therefore, 

not unwisely as it turned out, to the

said Beethoven, who was, as usual, 

lifesaver

 

listen

 


R ! chard

 

 

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“The Seven Last Words of Our Saviour on the Cross” – Joseph Haydn

lord-s-crucifixion-1990.jpg!Large.jpg

     Lord´s Crucifixion (1990) 

 

           George Stefanescu

 

               ____________

 

 

my sister is not well, her situation, 

though blessed throughout with 

grace, is dire, in such moments I 

turn to music for consolation, for 

courage, and for a serene 

acquiescence to whatever might 

be the outcome, the hour that I 

spend thus with her becomes in

that light a meditation, a mass,

private prayer

 

I’ve lit a trinity of candles in her

honour, one nearby for our dad,

gone these already thirty years, 

on something of an altar I’ve 

fashioned, however all the while 

unconsciously, about my 

fireplace, by their flickering 

silence, I find a place for 

solemn contemplation 

 

The Seven Last Words of Our

Saviour on the Cross is to my 

mind Haydn’s greatest 

masterpiece, its subject is

self-explanatory, but you might

want to read again here what I 

wrote about it earlier for 

greater context 

 

it is sung in the Oratorio de la

Santa Cueva, the Oratory of 

the Holy Cave, in Cádiz, Spain

for which it had been originally

composed

 

it is transcendent

 

 

R ! chard

 

 

 

who’s afraid of the subjunctive

impression-sunrise.jpg!Large

Impression, Sunrise” (1873)

Claude Monet

________

who’s afraid of the subjunctive

much like Elizabeth Taylor as Martha
in “Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?”,
my answer is, I am, George, I am

the subjunctive is an esoteric mood,
even more abstruse in English than
in other languages, where the verb’s
conjugation highlights its presence,
in English, it’s nearly identical to the
indicative, the mood everybody
instinctively speaks in, facts

the subjunctive is about aspiration,
like the conditional, abstract, not
real, but its intention, rather than
the conditional’s inherent
impediment, a condition, shoots
for the stars, isn’t introspective,
but adamant, imperative

it is necessary that one be, it is
urgent that one have, it is
important that one effect, a
particular thing or event, all
subjunctives after the
doorkeeper word, “that”

one finds the subjunctive in
Shakespeare, master of grammar,
perhaps unparalleled in English,
a lot – O, that this too solid flesh
would melt, / Thaw and resolve
itself into a dew!
– and follows
with Elizabeth Barrett Browning –
Pardon, o pardon that my soul
should make, / Of all that strong
divineness which I know / For
thine and thee …,
for instance,
who is so profoundly indebted to
Shakespeare for her aesthetics

one wondrous day, I realized that
Proust’s entire À la recherche du
temps perdu
, his “In Search of
Lost Time
“, my Bible, was set in
the, French however, subjunctive,
the mood, there as well, of
possibility, therefore rather than
the definitive recreation of an
earlier time, Proust was
describing a sensibility, a personal
interpretation of a previous reality,
however bolstered by intimate and
apparently precise recollection of
shimmeringly imprecise, though
personally accurate, impressions

note here the similar preoccupations
of Proust’s contemporaries, the, aptly
named, Impressionists

everything, Proust was saying, as
were also the Impressionists, is in
the eye of the beholder

the subjunctive is the mood that
sets this instinct in motion

R ! chard

psst: Somerset Maugham I remember
being noteworthy as well for his
immaculate use, in his South
Pacific tales, of the subjunctive,
extremely elegant in its refined
construction, even with its
English austerities, like making
lace out of mere cloth, impressive
despite its impracticality, or
perhaps even because of it

on ego, in particular, mine

luncheon-in-the-studio-1868.jpg!Large

       “Luncheon in the Studio (1868)

 

                 Édouard Manet

 

                      _________

            

you think I’ve got a big ego, I asked
friend who’d just told me I had one,
not confrontationally 
but as a matter
of fact, I wasn’t offended, just curious,
I think I’m so humble, I answered,
usually, so deferential

she wouldn’t cede to my, to her,

manifestly improbable, argument 

 

what do you call ego, I asked

 

what the definition is in the dictionary,

she answered, and pulled out her cell

phone to prove it

 

sure, I said, I know what the dictionary 

says, but how does that apply to me

 

well, just what it says, she said

 

my mother reads in the paper that it’s

going to rain today, I said, then it 

doesn’t, and I retort that only the 

weather essentially knows about the 

weather, but she still keeps to the

prognostications

 

one night I said, look, mom, the moon 

is full, no, she answered, it’s a quarter 

moon, it said so on the calendar, look, 

I said again, it’s full, it’s a full moon, 

but she wouldn’t believe me, it turned 

out she’d been reading the previous 

year’s almanac 

 

print gives us Platonic ideals, standards

that we think definitive, I asserted, but 

everything is in the eye of the beholder, 

words are just approximations, nothing 

but meeting places where we toss around

disparate ideas no firmer, nor distinct,  

nor assured than conversations among

different languagesmiscommunication 

can be that wide 

 

my friend tells me just talking like that

is proof of my big ego, but I still don’t 

get it, I think I’m so courteous, 

fundamentally, so congenial and, you

know, nice, otherwise 

 

 

R ! chard

 

 

the conditional

if-once-you-have-slept-on-an-island-1996.jpg!Large

    “If Once You Have Slept on an Island (1996) 

 

           Jamie Wyeth


               ________

 

the conditional mood is easy, it always

follows if 

 

     if I had a hammer, for instance

 

or

 

     if I were a rich man

 

it is not a real event, as Classical 

representation would be in art, were I

to make that synesthetic juxtaposition,

which is to say, were I to replace the 

visual sense with that of letters, but

rather like Surrealismfor instance, 

in that other context, a superimposed

idealization

 

here’s a poem you’ve probably 

already heard, or heard of, through 

its final, and epochal, verse, Kipling’s

If“, a towering instance of moral 

suasion on our culture

 

       If you can keep your head when all about you

           Are losing theirs and blaming it on you,   

       If you can trust yourself when all men doubt you,   

            But make allowance for their doubting too;  

       If you can wait and not be tired by waiting,

          Or being lied about, don’t deal in lies,

       Or being hated, don’t give way to hating,

           And yet don’t look too good, nor talk too wise:

 

        If you can dream—and not make dreams your master;   

            If you can think—and not make thoughts your aim;   

        If you can meet with Triumph and Disaster

           And treat those two impostors just the same;   

        If you can bear to hear the truth you’ve spoken

          Twisted by knaves to make a trap for fools,

        Or watch the things you gave your life to, broken,

           And stoop and build ’em up with worn-out tools:

 

      If you can make one heap of all your winnings

            And risk it on one turn of pitch-and-toss,

      And lose, and start again at your beginnings

           And never breathe a word about your loss;

        If you can force your heart and nerve and sinew

          To serve your turn long after they are gone,   

       And so hold on when there is nothing in you

          Except the Will which says to them: ‘Hold on!’

 

        If you can talk with crowds and keep your virtue,   

           Or walk with Kings—nor lose the common touch, 

        If neither foes nor loving friends can hurt you,

            If all men count with you, but none too much;

        If you can fill the unforgiving minute

           With sixty seconds’ worth of distance run,   

        Yours is the Earth and everything that’s in it,   

           And—which is more—you’ll be a Man, my son!

   

in the spirit of juxtaposition, compare 

that to Polonius’ admonition to his son,

Laertes, upon that young colt’s imminent 

return to France, where he had earlier

been, reputedly, carousing

 

       Yet here, Laertes! aboard, aboard, for shame!

       The wind sits in the shoulder of your sail,

       And you are stay’d for. There; my blessing with thee!

       And these few precepts in thy memory

       See thou character. Give thy thoughts no tongue,

       Nor any unproportioned thought his act.

       Be thou familiar, but by no means vulgar.

       Those friends thou hast, and their adoption tried,

       Grapple them to thy soul with hoops of steel;

        But do not dull thy palm with entertainment

        Of each new-hatch’d, unfledged comrade. Beware

        Of entrance to a quarrel, but being in,

        Bear’t that the opposed may beware of thee.

        Give every man thy ear, but few thy voice;

         Take each man’s censure, but reserve thy judgment.

         Costly thy habit as thy purse can buy,

         But not express’d in fancy; rich, not gaudy;

         For the apparel oft proclaims the man,

         And they in France of the best rank and station

         Are of a most select and generous chief in that.

         Neither a borrower nor a lender be;

         For loan oft loses both itself and friend,

         And borrowing dulls the edge of husbandry.

         This above all: to thine ownself be true,

         And it must follow, as the night the day,

         Thou canst not then be false to any man.



from Shakespeare’s “Hamlet”act 1, scene 3,

all, incidentally, in the imperative, the mood

of command, authority, however consequential

there, or not

 

 

 a film called “If…” is also worth visiting 

in this context, from the 1970s, with an 

iconic soundtrack that gripped the

generation then that heard it, listen,

watch, the Missa Luba, be gripped

 

R ! chard

 

 

 

from act 4, scene 3 – Othello

jealousy-from-the-series-the-green-room-1907.jpg!Large

 

when Desdemona learns that Othello

suspects her of adultery, she asks 

her maidservant

 

      Dost thou in conscience think,–tell me, Emilia,–
      That there be women do abuse their husbands
      In such gross kind?

 

Emilia, older, wiser, replies

 

      There be some such, no question.

 

 

       But I do think it is their husbands’ faults
       If wives do fall: say that they slack their duties,
       And pour our treasures into foreign laps,
       Or else break out in peevish jealousies,
       Throwing restraint upon us; or say they strike us,
       Or scant our former having in despite;
       Why, we have galls, and though we have some grace,
       Yet have we some revenge. Let husbands know
       Their wives have sense like them: they see and smell
       And have their palates both for sweet and sour,
       As husbands have. What is it that they do
       When they change us for others? Is it sport?
       I think it is: and doth affection breed it?
       I think it doth: is’t frailty that thus errs?
       It is so too: and have not we affections,
       Desires for sport, and frailty, as men have?
       Then let them use us well: else let them know,
       The ills we do, their ills instruct us so.

 

 

fall” in the second verse, for this is 

indeed a poem, in iambic pentameter, 

could easily be replaced by “fail

nearly even calls out for it, 

homophones but for the timbre of 

their vowels 

 

say that their husbands slack, she says,

then lists the several manners in which 

husbands might betray their marital 

duties, by “foreign, she means “other“, 

foreign to the family circle  

 

laps“, incidentally, is a wonderful 

metaphor to accompany “treasures,

suggesting intimate physical contact,

much more so, say, than hands

would’ve, for instance, been

 

restraint” means conditions, stress,

impositions  

 

scant our former having“, to diminish

that which formerly had been given,

of either material or psychological 

goods – “having” is a noun here, not

a participle

 

in despite, which is to say, “out of 

spite

 

galls“, a synecdoche for internal

organs, a synecdoche, the word

that means a part which signifies

the whole  

 

affection” is “lust

 

 

we’re equal partners, Shakespeare 

says, men and women, in a shared 

humanity, indeed Shakespeare is

one of the first Humanists after  

centuries of religious subjugation,

centuries of the suppression of

independent thought, a defining

notion, not incidentally, of the

Renaissance

 

 

R ! chard

 

“The Kingdom of Scotland vs the Weird Sisters”

macbeth-act-i-scene-3-the-weird-sisters-1783(1).jpg!Large

    “‘Macbeth’, Act I, Scene 3, the Weird Sisters (1783) 

           Henry Fuseli

               _______

if you thought The Kingdom of Denmark 
vs Hamlet was fun, you’ll love The 
Kingdom of Scotland vs the Weird 
Sisters“, U.S. Supreme Court Justice
Ruth Bader Ginsburg presides, with
the assistance of four other eminent
American judges, over the case in 
which the defendants, the witches 
who encounter Macbeth, are accused 
of concocting the murder of Duncan, 
King of Scotland, by that unsuspecting 
Thane of Glamis, soon to be Thane of 
Cawdor, not only predicting itbut 
verily perpetrating it

double, double, toil, indeed, and 
trouble, topical allusions flypithy, 
witty, pungent, delightful late night 
comedy fare, but of a more esoteric,
effete order 

watch, utterly enjoy


R ! chard

the Kingdom of Denmark vs Hamlet

ideal-portrait-of-shakespeare.jpg!Large

  Ideal portrait of Shakespeare (c.1775) 

         Angelica Kauffman

____________

since I’m on the subject of Hamlet
here‘s the most fun production 
I’ve seen since I can remember, 
the trial of said Hamlet before 
the High Court of the Kingdom 
of Denmark vs Himself, for the 
murder of Poloniuschief 
counsellor of the new King, 
Claudius, after the death of 
Hamlet, père, brother to Claudius, 
Greek, nearly, already, tragedy

Anthony M. KennedyAssociate 
Justice of the Supreme Court of 
the United States, presides, 
Abbe Lowell, counsel for both 
Jared Kushner, and Ivanka Trump
recently in the matter of Russian
interference, argues for the 
defense, while Jessie K. LiuU.S. 
Attorney for the District of 
Columbia, is the prosecution

the stakes are high, not only for
Hamlet

the participants put on quite 
show, however erudite, they 
all deliver in utter spades

you’ll relish the surprisingly 
multifarious quotations you 
might not, you thought, ‘ve 
got, of Shakespeare, you’ll be 
amazed to find that you’re not 
that much out of touch with 
these not so daunting, after 
all, considerations

much art, in other words, is only 
as far away as one’s curiosity, 
one’s acknowledgement, much 
of it is already in our system, in  
our cultural DNA, all that’s   
needed to take it in is our 
attention

watch


R ! chard

mass appeal, or “Missa Solemnis”, opus 123 – Beethoven

Hofkirche (Dresden Cathedral) and the Elbe River, Dresden, Saxony, Germany

    from the centre, the Hofkirche, the Dresden Cathedral, across from the 
    Augustusbrückeor Augustus Bridge, extends into the Zwinger, one  
    of three only palaces in Europe, along with Versailles and Vienna’s 
    Schönbrunndistinctly horizontally to the right, not to be confused 
  with a crook in the Cathedralan intolerable, were it so, ecclesiastical  
   gaffe, it ‘s now become one of the most significant art galleries in  
   Europe, the green rooves, to the right still, are the Semperoper‘s, the   
  black roof, nestling before it, an unforgettable Italian
  restaurant 

  before it all, majestically, the Elbe

        _______

from the very Semperoper in Dresden,
where I’ll ever remember seeing the 
worst “Barber of Seville” I’ve ever seen,
first balcony, left of centre, Figaro came 
out on a motorcycle, I ask you, it was 
downhill after that, my mom, beside 
me, was falling even asleep, we left at 
intermission, soldiered on to a 
restaurant overlooking the Elbe, Italian
if I remember, but utterly more enjoyable 
than the disappointing operatic option, 
there might even ‘ve been a moon at our 
tableside window, picturesquely 
shimmering on the river

but, hey, we both would‘ve stayed,
incontrovertibly, for this performance
Beethoven’s Missa Solemnis“, a late, 
and towering, entry, 1823, in his opus 
– second definition of that word, which 
is to sayhis entire output, all 135 
opuses, first definition there, discrete 
compositions – plus all his works 
without opus – first definition again – 
numbers, WoO

the plural of opusincidentally, can 
also be, both meanings, opera, just 
to confuse things, I use either
interchangeably, according to my 
narrative rhythm

 
missae solemnes, plural of missa 
solemnis, are a particularly Catholic
form of music, going back to the 
very Middle Ages, at which point 
religious art was all that really 
mattered, anything else was entirely
peripheral, of no consequence 

but Catholicism, and its Protestant
offshoots, which is to say, their 
common Christianity, remained 
culturally entrenched during the 
process of their slow disintegration

Nietzsche would, later, take care 
of that, but that’s another story

Beethoven, Mozart, Catholics, if, 
either, only by name, delivered 
missae solemneswhile Bach, 
Handel, both Protestant, 
delivered oratorios, with some 
intermingling

about which, later

Catholic, Protestant expression still
find, even strong, exponents at 
present, though the form is, 
essentially, outdated, our anthems 
are national, now, mostly, if even 
somewhat, that, halfheartedly, when 
notparadoxically, searchingly, 
hopefully, and maybe even
revolutionarily, again, ideological

imagine Imagine for instance, as 
suchjust click


R ! chard

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