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Nobuyuki Tsujii / Chopin

the-old-blind-guitarist-1903.jpg!Large.jpg

     “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

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a contemporary haiku, on wine

haiku-poet-and-his-poem

     “Haiku Poet and His Poem (?) 

            Yosa Buson

               ________

a glass of wine, I sing,
two, in German,
go figure

R ! chard

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

tsunami-1998.jpg!Large

    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

the-fighting-temeraire-tugged-to-her-last-berth-to-be-broken-up-1839.jpg!Large

  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

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

“Cairo Time”

street-in-cairo.jpg!Large

     “Street In Cairo (1873)  

             Konstantin Makovsky

                         ____________

many years ago, when I was in my 
skittish twenties, and the world had 
opened up to me as I’d started work 
at an international airline, I opted 
to go to Tunisia, less harried than 
Morocco, I thought, and probably
less expensive 

a friend had asked to come along,
who worked for the same company 

Judy was my age, honey blond, lithe,
curvaceous, voluptuous, though
ever entirely unassuming, we made  
a lovely pair

but soon the locals had our number,
understood that I was merely her
friend, no challenger for her 
affections, somehow

from our seaside hotel in nearby
Hammamet, a coastal resort, we set 
out our first day for the nearby capital, 
Tunis, a dusty town, I remember, a 
cowtown, or a camel town, north of 
the Sahara Desert, with shoddy 
buildings and not much else, I was 
young

we found ourselves on the Boulevard 
Habib Bourguiba, the name of the first
President of the Republic of Tunisia,
not paved then, or with what we used  
to call soft shoulders, when the 
pavement doesn’t reach the sidewalks, 
where we looked for a restaurant or a 
coffee house to get our bearings 

inside a nondescript place we found
for lack of anything else, we sat down,
had a coffee, looked around

it didn’t take long for us to realize that
Judy was the only girl in the place, so
we finished our fare and took off

when all the men in the place followed

we found a cab to take us back to the 
hotel and didn’t return to Tunis apart  
from accompanied 

but that’s another story

it’s seemed so hard for me to explain
this to people who haven’t experienced 
this discomfort cause this kind of
indignity is so foreign to us, offensive
and hard to imagine

but a film I just saw about Cairo, 
Cairo Time“, gives a good impression 
of the differences in our cultures

were it only for this insight, I wouldn’t
suggest this movie, but because it is
a wonderful travelogue through this
remarkable city, with views of bazaars,
pyramids in the distance, and all of it 
in splendid cinemascope and colour, 
the film is a marvel 

Patricia Clarkson, an actress I greatly
admire, plays the role Katharine 
Hepburn played in Summertime“, 
one of my all-time favourite movies,
of a woman alone in a city, needing
to trust in the kindness of strangers 

Clarkson‘s kind stranger is no slouch 
either

watch

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