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Category: positions to ponder

Beethoven / Schubert piano trios

newborn-baby-on-hands.jpg!Large.jpg

     Newborn Baby on Hands (1927) 

             Otto Dix

             _________

once I learned to read music, which  
is to say, to pay attention when I was 
listening – the line of the melody, its
development, the counter melody,
its development, the recapitulation,
of either, or both, the changes in 
volume, tonality, the changes in 
pace, rhythm – the grammar of 
composition began to make itself
evident, felt, like the work of verbs, 
nouns, adjectives in sentences

the particularities of the composer 
then, much like the colours on a 
painter’s palette, made themselves 
manifest, the trick is there are no 
words in either of these arts, one  
must understand them with the
senses

two stories

I’d had an aneurysm, my sister 
was there each day to hold my 
hand, as I lay silently, patiently, 
recovering, any noise was 
painful, even excruciating

years later, all I could do, she said, 
was hold your hand

all you could do, I retorted, 
utterly confounded, there was 
everything in your hand, your 
love, your prayers, your attention
and devotion, all of those things,
I said, are what kept me alive

later, extrapolated that that must 
be how a newborn baby understands,  
through the senses, like we do music 
and paintings 

another

when many years later I was 
volunteering at the local palliative 
care unit, I was asked to sit with 
a mother whose family would 
meanwhile take their lunch
together, the mother, incoherent 
and distraught, was all ajitter
in her bed

I sat by her, put a hand on her 
arm, gently, and began to chant 
a mantra I’d recently taken up in 
meditation, something repetitive 
and calming

little by little her tremors slowed,
stopped, and then she began to
sing, to mumble, to murmur, to 
intonerow, row, row your boat, 
over and over again, in a 
corroborating rhythm
acknowledging, mystically, 
magically, our transcendent 
connection

here’s some Beethoven

here’s some Schubert

try to tell them apart


R ! chard

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pension protest, à la Russe

miriam-dances-1931.jpg!Large.jpg

  Miriam dances (1931) 

       Marc Chagall

             ______

a couple of retired Russian ladies spoofed 
a video that student airline pilots had 
performed, that shocked their academy,
who wanted the boys expelled

in protest, other Russians started sending
in their own versions of the dance, but these
two ladies, nothing at all like Tina Turner
turned out to be the Internet sensation

read all about it here, click on each of the
videos there, the girls’ and the boys’, you’ll
love ‘em


R ! chard

String Quartet, opus 77, no 1 – Joseph Haydn

the-red-cape-madame-monet.jpg!Large.jpg

      The Red Cape (Madame Monet) (c.1870) 

              Claude Monet

                    _______

                                              for my mom

that’s a lot of Haydn, I said to my mom, 
when I saw the list of my transmittals in
her hotmail, hm, I wondered, maybe it’s 
too much

then I said, but it’s like when we’ve 
toured, for instance, our European 
art galleries, me propounding on 
the paintings, as I am wont, however 
incorrigibly, to do, but now, note, you 
can tell the difference between your 
Monets and your Klimts, however 
similar their perspectives

or like your tour guide taking you
recently through Argentina, 
highlighting spots, in the space of 
a month only, the same amount of 
time I’ve spent for the music of 
Haydn

pronounced, incidentally, I specified, 
like “hidin'” in English, not “maiden”, 
just sayin’

I gathered that she’d ‘ve sensed by 
now, if she’d been listening, which she 
said she had, mornings over her 
coffee, what a string quartet is, four
movements, different tempos, fast
at first, a joyful introduction, 
followed by a lament, then a spirited 
third movement, for countereffect, 
then a big fourth movement finish

also, the internal structure of each 
movement would’ve been internalized,
theme, a counter theme, a 
recapitulation of both, or either, all of 
it, probably unconsciously, which is 
how art fundamentally works till you
meticulously deconstruct it

the string quartet is the work of Haydn, 
the house that Haydn built, from 
peripheral aristocratic entertainment, 
like modern day artists sporting their 
wares in noisy restaurants, to the 
glamour of taking on, in concert halls, 
Europe, Brunelleschi did a similar, 
sleight-of-hand thing with his dome 
in Florence for its oracular Cathedral

remember that the string quartet lives 
on as a form, where no longer does 
the minuet, for instance, nor the 
polonaise, nor even the waltz, not to 
mention that concertos, and  
symphonies have become now  
significantly subservient to movies, 
secondary players


watch the instrumentalists here live 
out, in Haydn’s Opus 77, no 1, their 
appropriately Romantic ardour,
something not at all promoted in 
Haydn’s earlier Esterházy phase, to 
raise their bow in triumph, as they 
do at the end of most movements
is already an indicationnot at all 
appropriate for the earlier princely 
salons, that times have changed

Haydn was a prophet, but also an
elder, with an instrument to connect 
the oncoming, and turbulent, century 
to the impregnable bond of his 
period’s systems, the legitimacy of 
the autocratic, clockwork, world, 
Classicism, the Age of Reason, the 
Enlightenment, for better or for 
worse

we are left with its, however ever 
ebullient, consequences

enjoy


R ! chard

String Quartet in C major, opus 76, no 3, “Emperor” – Joseph Haydn

Ludwig_Streitenfeld_001.jpg

    Francis II as Holy Roman Emperor (1874)

          Ludwig Streitenfeld

               _____________

Haydn’s String Quartet, opus 76, no 3
is nicknamed the Emperor cause the 
second movement, the poco adagio;
cantabile, is a recapitulation of an 
anthem Haydn had earlier written for 
Francis ll, the Holy Roman Emperor
– not, incidentally, for Napoleon, the 
Emperor of the moment, who was to 
defeat Francis lleventually, at the 
Battle of Austerlitz, December 2, 1805, 
thereby dissolving that Holy Roman 
Empire, which had been established 
by Leo, the very Pope, lll when, on 
December 25th, 800, which is to say 
preceding Austerlitz by a thousand 
years, he crowned Charlemagne its 
Emperor 

Haydn must’ve been a monarchist


you’ll recognize that second movement
as the present day anthem of Germany

but listen to how Haydn makes it glisten, 
explicitly, with articulations and filigree 
that render it utterly irresistible

the adagio is usually the moment that
remains immutable, if the composer
is doing hir stuff, it’s the one you walk 
home singing, the faster movements,
however histrionic, are nearly a dime 
a dozen, though ever nevertheless 
often dazzling 

this adagio is utterly Romantic, though
I’m sure Haydn didn’t know what he 
was doing, cause despite their push
against the democratic surge, even 
monarchists, princes, dukes, dutiful 
composers, were finding, and voicing, 
their personal, and individual, which 
is to say, their democratic, opinions, 
however aristocratic their pedigree

artists had done a similar thing when 
their personalities began to single 
themselves out as especially gifted 
when the Renaissance was 
happening, it was now music’s hour, 
individual voices were staking their 
claim, Haydn’s manifestly superior 
based on talent and, after widespread 
economic affluence, audience appeal, 
Haydn’s commercial boots were made 
for walking, and he filled them both
magnificently and incontrovertibly

the poco adagio; cantabile is not 
courtly music, it reaches for not
merely elegance, but the heart,
we’ve entered another 
transformational generation, 
something like the revolution 
that triggered change in the 
cultural upheaval of the1960s 

our first step then was the Beatles, 
theirs was Haydn, or rather Elvis
Presley shoring up the Beatles, 
Beethoven was more aptly John,
Paul, George and Ringo 


but watch the rapture on the players’ 
faces, Francis ll would’ve been 
appalled, much like parents in my 
generation facing the pill, drugs, 
unorthodox sexual couplings, and, 
of course, raucous and unruly rock 

music

today, under the spell of the 
Romantic Period, and encouraged
by that very Sexual Revolution, the
Calidore String Quartet’s Elysium
their evident blissemotionally 
manifest, and utterly arresting, sells 
tickets, for better orhopefully not, 
for worse

but you call the shots, to decorum or 
not to decorum, that is the question

watch, wonder, listen 


R ! chard

merry C***mas

don-quixote-1955.jpg!Large

       Don Quixote (1955) 

             Pablo Picasso

                 _________

last year, my mom and I spent C***mas 
in Munich, attended mass at the
Heiliggeistkirche there, the Church of 
the Holy Spirit, a blessed event, this 
year, we’re spending it here in Vancouver,
she’s just down the street from where I
live, has just come back from three weeks  
in Argentina, with back to back stopovers 
in Montreal to visit the rest of our family 
there, me, I’m happy with my sedentary 
life, in this enchanted placeputzing and
writing poems

but this year, rather than shopping for 
gifts, I’ve determined to look for good
actions, volunteering is out, but little
acts of kindness, everywhere, are in
even big ones

a friend who’d been considering 
coming over for C***mas, from 
Victoria on nearby Vancouver 
Island, alone now after the demise 
of his wife last winter, compounded 
by the death of his only two kids, 
twins, many years ago, is now ill,  
my mom and I ‘ve determined to
visit him there should he not 
make it here

this seems to me to be more 
important, significant, than 
gifts


the moneylenders have now taken 
over the temple, it’s time to take 
back, put the C***mas back into, 
C***mas

find someone to be good to


and all the very, very best

R ! chard

psst: Don Quixote, see above, was 
          perhaps a dreamer, attacking 
          windmills he thought were 
          maleficent, but his vision, his 
          however impossible dream,  
          has lasted as an inspiration  
          for over 500 years  

           it’s never not time to pursue 
           one’s noble ideas

Symphony no 11 in G minor, opus 103 (The Year 1905) – Dmitri Shostakovich

bloody-sunday-shooting-workers-near-the-winter-palace-january-9-1905-1  Bloody Sunday. Shooting workers near the Winter Palace January 9, 1905” 

       Ivan Vladimirov

            ________

if you don’t find a lot to hang on to in
Shostakovich’s 11th Symphony, as I
didn’t, apart from his everywhere
ravishing instrumentation, it’s that 
the piece is a commemoration of a 
particular event in Russian history, 
Bloody Sunday, when the Tsar’s 
Imperial Guard opened fire on a 
crowd of unarmed protestors who 
had come to petition Nicolas ll for 
better work conditions, akinindeed, 
to slavery then, there, January 22, 
1905, the first stirrings, thus, of the 
1917 Russian Revolution, which 
installed the Bolsheviks, Leninism, 
then Stalinism, and so forth

Bloody Sunday can be compared to 
China’s Tiananmen Square, June 4, 
1989it seems totalitarian states will 
blithely resort to such dire measures

Shostakovich had been commissioned 
to write a symphony for the 50th 
anniversary of the event, January 22, 
1955

he’d been reinstated by Khrushchev  
after the death of Stalin, who’d 
excused the tyrant’s condemnation 
of Shostakovich by saying the despot 
had been too subjective, and rescinded 
the law which that earlier ruler had 
imposed requiring all artists to  
conform to party ideology, see Hitler 
again on that one, his proscribed
entartete Kunsthis interdicted
degenerate art

but for personal reasons, Shostakovich 
was unable to compose this new work 
until 1957, the year after the Soviets had 
quashed the Hungarian uprising of 1956
with tanks and ammunition, an event 
too reminiscent of, to the composer, the
earlier tsarist massacre, and horrifying

furthermore, his father had been there,
and spoke of children having been shot 
out of the trees as they merely watched
the proceedings, felled too suddenly, 
apparently, to wipe the smiles off their 
innocent still faces 

the Symphony is called The Year 1905“,
it is mighty, but is too local to effect any
universal understanding, I think, the 
program is too specifically Russian to 
evoke more than historical attention to
an unacquainted observer, listener

I’d visited a church in Rome, Sant’Agnese
fuori le mura, St Agnes Outside the Walls,
once, a place I would not miss were I ever
to return to that illustrious city, before even 
the Vatican, the Coliseum, et cetera, the 
church was built in the 4th Century and 
has weathered the ages, the vicissitudes 
of time, with all their impositions 

the mass was in Italian, however, not the 
Latin that had once united all Catholics
in a common set of sounds that had been
internalized to represent the message of 
the service

but now I could only recognize the form,
no longer the content, something like the 
response a person without the history
of Russia would have here, I would 
contend

this is the dilemma of this, however 
significant, composition, I find

you might also imagine that a tribute to
Canadian soldiers who’d died at, say,
Vimy Ridge, or Passchendaele, might 
not be as moving to someone who    
wasn’t Canadian 


Shostakovich received the Lenin Prize
for his achievement, one of the Soviet 
Union’s most prestigious accolades


R ! chard

Symphony no 10 in E minor, op 93 – Dmitri Shostakovich

self-portrait-with-stalin-1954.jpg!Large.jpg

     “Self Portrait with Stalin (1954) 

             Frida Kahlo

                 ______

Shostakovich’s 10th Symphony was a
success from the moment I heard it, 
it resolved issues for me I found 
difficult in his earlier showpieces, for
that’s what symphonies are, indeed
blockbusters

from the very beginning, Shostakovich
gives a musical theme, a few notes 
played by a solo oboe, an obbligato
that is then repeated with variations by
other instruments, if not by the entire
orchestra, this is an old trick of 
Beethoven

later movements do the same thing 
with flute, piccolo, or bassoon
obbligati, a particular device of
Shostakovich to indicate a lone,
individual voice amidst the clamour 
of military brass and proletarian
violins

but the tactic of repeating a theme, 
like rhyming in poetry, gives one a 
sense of position, which is lost if 
there’s no reiteration, no reference 
point, it’s like wandering off into a 
forest instead of into a park you 
could safely be enjoying, that had 
trails at least to let you know you 
weren’t far from civilization, 
signposts pointing out directions, 
whereas a forest could be a tundra, 
vast for miles, one could walk for 
days without being found, that’s 
the role of repetition, rhyme, a 
refrain, in music, getting one’s 
bearings

and incidentally, one could be 
walking around in circles in that 
forest and atonality wouldn’t be 
any help at all 


the Tenth has, however, all the 
guideposts throughout, one can 
tell where the music ‘s going at 
each and every movement, it was 
like finding my way home, the, long  
even at nearly an hour, soundscape 
whipped by leaving me breathless, 
awestruck, Shostakovich has hit 
here, I thought, my big time, it took 
him long enough


it was first performed just after the 
death of Stalin, March, 1953, was 
thus probably composed somewhat 
earlier, belying the supposition that 
Stalin‘s demise had affected the 
spirit of his composition, which is 
uncharacteristically cheery for him, 
to my mind, seems to have unleashed 
in him the dogs not of war and 
disillusion, but of fun, something that 
was happening to the entire 20th 
Century, for that matter, especially 
after the Second World War, even, it 
appears, however grimly, in Russia, 
oops, in the U.S.S.R


an aside – Mrs Premise had said of 
Jean-Paul Sartre, the expositor of 
Existentialism in the Twentieth Century, 
implications of which he related to us,
of living in world without God, in his
magnum opusBeing and Nothingness“,
to her Monty Python counterpart, Mrs 
Conclusion, in a hilarious skit of theirs, 
that Sartre wasn’t receiving that day, he 
was, according to his housekeeper, 
especially moody

is he free, asks Mrs Premise, he’s been 
investigating that one for years, the 
woman at the door replies, the kind of 
joke – in musical terminology, a scherzo – 
utterly cherishwitty, pithy, trenchant, 
if you’ll pardon my giddy digression

but I sense Russian counterpart in the
dour Shostakovich

 
it should be noted here, that the 
orchestra in the link I provide, is
the Simon Bolivar Youth Orchestra
of Venezuela, a country with its 
own political history of oppression, 
under the direction of the deservedly 
celebrated conductor, Gustavo 
Dudamelhimself a Venezuelan 

the struggle doesn’t stop, the oracular 
hits must keep on coming, go, Gustavo
Dudamel, go, Simon Bolivar Youth
Orchestra, go, Shostakovich


 R ! chard

patience

community

      Community 

             Vicente Manansala

                         _________

in the regular line at the market today, 
not the express line, the man ahead of 
me turned towards me and looked at 
my basket quizzically

are you after my crackers, I said,
jovially, I’ve been stocking up on 
a favourite brand on sale 

no, he said, but you could be in 
the express line with your only 
five articles

I don’t mind the wait, I replied, and I 
didn’t take the time to count

I hate waiting in line, he said, I want 
to get out of here as quickly as 
possible

I’ve slowed everything down to a 
snail’s pace, I said, it makes you, 
I think, a nicer person, plus you 
get to smell the basil and the 
raspberries

I guess I’m not a nice person, he 
countered, not at all, I replied, you 
are evidently friendly, you addressed 
me, you were concerned, put forth a 
desire to help

he glistened, blushed, was manifestly 
nonplussed, speechless, then his turn 
came up at the check-out counter

at the cash he glowered at some
empty baskets that had been left
there unattended, discombobulating 
his station, I refrained from  
instinctively moving them myself, 
since I would’ve lost my place in line 
in the process, and though I might 
sometimes be gracious, I am mostly 
not subservient, though that’s up still 
for some metaphysical consideration

I made it home with my five items,
the sky was blue, but again there’s 
smoke above the mountains 
shrouding the eastern horizon, 
from forest fires burning inexorably 
in our Interior

the sky is falling, we need to take 
care of each other, ourselves

R ! chard

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

on courage

aristotle-jpglarge

     “Socrates” 

            Luca Giordano

                    __________

  

following in the footsteps of Socrates,
who, I agree with the Oracle, has been 
ever the wisest man, one whose example 
I’ve followed since first hearing of him, let 
me query, what is courage 

a tentative definition would have one 
stating that courage is a determination
to overcome danger

but to use my own example, being called
courageous for surviving an aneurysm,
would this instance have qualified

where was my determination, apart from
waiting, submissively, for the axe to fall,
or to not fall, I felt no fear, merely time 
passing, not an ounce of determination

but what of those others who endure 
the pain often associated with dying,
agony, is that not a kind of enforced 
courage

so did I qualify

an aneurysm swells the blood vessels 
to the brain as the brain heals, but 
meanwhile the heart pumps a rhythmic
tattoo on those passages rendered 
more tenderso that a throbbing 
anguish is ever drumming its drill 
upon the cerebrum of the sufferer 

perhaps I did qualify

but Socrates brings up an interesting 
objection, can animals be brave, it 
would seem not, therefore courage 
requires self-consciousness, whether 
or not it is defiant or compliant 

and what about defiance before a lost 
cause, is that courage or doomed 
bombast

Aristotle adds to the mix the notion 
of a noble cause, not merely an 
instinctive, however, in the event, 
morally prompted, position

so what is courage, you tell me

I say that you know it when you see
it, the courageous act defines the 
word, not the other way around,

much like flowers are the result of 
their own efflorescence, not the 
manifestation of a preset Ideal

you are the measure of your own 
words

for better or for worse

Richard

psst: it is interesting to note that 
          according to the Bible, in the 
          beginning was the Word
          John 1:1, a convenient  tool  
          to impose order