Archive for the ‘Music’ Category

Daily Office: Friday

Friday, November 13th, 2009


¶ Matins: In an over-and-above beautiful essay, Jonathan Raban recollects that he was taught to read, first, by his mother, and then, by William Empson. But Seven Types of Ambiguity opened his eyes to more than texts. (London Review of Books)

¶ Lauds: With trademark lucidity, Anne Midgette finds similarities between the troubles that newspapers are suffering these days and the woes of symphony orchestras. Not only that; she puts her finger on what’s wrong wrong with plans to “save” them. (Washington Post; via Arts Journal)

¶ Prime: At You’re the Boss, Barbara Taylor writes about her entrepreneurial brother-in-law’s search for “an Internet business.” What kind of business?

¶ Tierce: At Brain Pickings, Maria Popova directs our attention to a handsome new book about information design, The Visual Miscellaneum, by David McCandless.

¶ Sext: Scouting New York, which has just turned one year old, continues its exploration of the city’s out-of-the-way cemeteries. Moore-Jackson, in Woodside, looks like a destination park, but Scout tells us that it’s all locked up. (How did he get in, we don’t wonder?)

¶ Nones: Although Peter Galbraith doesn’t appear, at first glance, to have done anything wrong, he doesn’t seem to have been much concerned about the appearance of impropriety. While in some sort of complicated, conditional contractual relationship with a Norwegian drilling company, he participated in Iraqi constitutional negotiations (as an adviser, obviously) that resulted in Kurdish control over oil revenues. As a result of both factors, he stands to gain about $100 million.

¶ Vespers: In today’s Times, two good-sounding books received generous coverage in the form of news stories. That ought to do it so far as the Grey Lady is concerned. Neither book warrants coverage in the Book Review. (Janet Maslin gave Mr Agassi’s book a guarded rave in the daily paper.)

The first is Andre Agassi’s memoir, for which T J Moehringer, Pulitzer Prize winning author of The Tender Bar served as “midwife.” Mr Moehringer insists that he did not ghostwriting, but only coaxed Mr Agassi into writing a good book.

 The other book is high-end furniture restorer Maryalice Huggins’s Aesop’s Mirror: A Love Story. Although we’re looking forward to reading this book, we don’t want to read any more about it.

¶ Compline:  Compline: Gene doping is already prohibited by the World Anti-Doping Agency, but fat lot of good that is going to do the inspectors, given the difficulties of detection. (Short Sharp Science)

Daily Office: Tuesday

Tuesday, November 10th, 2009


¶ Matins: Paul Krugman addresses our most dangerous problem: the growing power of a right-wing rump without any interest in governing and with every intention of preventing others from governing: “the GOP has been taken over by the people it used to exploit. (NYT)

¶ Lauds: Duran Duran bassist John Taylor, who “became a teenager in 1972,” fears that the Internet has not been a positive force for popular culture. He seems troubled by the fact that it makes too much old stuff too easy to get, thus reducing the need for new stuff. (BBC News; via Arts Journal)

¶ Prime: Felix Salmon disagrees with Wall Street Journal writers on the subject of Ken Lewis’s “mettle.”

¶ Tierce: Meryl Gordon’s discussions with some of the Marshall Trial jurors makes for fascinating reading at Vanity Fair.

¶ Sext: Choire Sicha remembers “vividly” where he was when The Wall Fell — although he didn’t know a thing about it at the time. (The Awl)

¶ Nones: George Packer reminds us why the Wall fell when it did, in a piece about the uniqueness of 1989 in Europe. (The New Yorker)

¶ Vespers: Tim Adams talks about Alan Bennett‘s new play, The Habit of Art — a little. Mostly he appreciates a writer who, against all the odds, has become a beloved fixture in Britain. (Guardian)

¶ Compline: Jonah Lehrer registers a new study about the “privileged” sense of smell. (Frontal Cortex)

Daily Office: Wednesday

Wednesday, September 30th, 2009


¶ Matins: Jonah Lehrer meditates, briefly but beautifully, on a connection between the recent findings about social networks (the viral spread of obesity, &c) and free will.

¶ Lauds: Barbra Streisand sings some great songs  (for a change) at a great venue — how like “the good old days” is that? (via Speakeasy)

¶ Prime: A disturbing report finds that the profession of journalism is no longer open to the children of working-class families. (via MetaFilter)

¶ Tierce: In the ancient port of Muscat, a photograph stabs an expatriate with nostalgic longing.

¶ Sext: The McFarthest Map, at Strange Maps.

¶ Nones: The decision to shut down two media outlets, already regretted by the Micheletti government, makes the fairness of the 29 November elections even less likely.

¶ Vespers: James Wood aims his gimlet glance at the novels of Richard Powers. A bit of ouch, what?

¶ Compline: Arthur Krystal’s essay, “When Writers Speak,” reminded us of a Bloomsbury anecdote.


Nano Note: Beethoven in camera

Saturday, September 26th, 2009


For a long time, I’ve been wanting to put together a playlist of Beethoven’s 32 piano sonatas, in order of publication (which is to say, in opus-number order). Now that I’ve done it, I want to make a few variants, and one of them, at least, is going to have to be structured in compositional order, or it won’t work any better than the publication order.

That’s because there are no piano sonatas with opus numbers that fall between 60 and 68 — the opus numbers of the Fourth and Sixth Symphonies. Nor can any fall between the numbers attached to the Seventh and Eighth Symphonies, which are sequential (92 and 93). A playlist that lines up the symphonies and the sonatas in opus-number order is unlistenably imbalanced. Nearly a third of the sonatas precede the First Symphony. The Second Symphony follows the 18th Sonata (the “Hunt”). Three sonatas later, we reach the Third.  Only the 23rd Sonata, the “Appassionata,” falls between “Eroica” and the string of three symphonies that I mentioned at the beginning of this paragraph. Four sonatas, including “Les Adieux” but also two shorter sonatas, fall between the Sixth and Seventh Symphonies. After that, there’s the massive chunk of the final five sonatas. On top of which: the Choral Symphony. End of playlist. From a programming standpoint, it’s a disaster.

So I’m going to do a little research — rather, I’m going to hope that a little research will break up these alternating masses of symphonic and solo music. Perhaps it won’t. In that case, I doubt I’ll listen to the sonata-symphony playlist more than once.

Meanwhile, I’m going to line up the sonatas with the string quartets and the piano trios, with perhaps the Piano Quartet (Opus 16) and the String Quintet (Opus 29) thrown in for good measure. Beyond that, my familiarity with Beethoven’s chamber music peters out. (I’m not including the popular Septet, Op 20, because, like Mozart’s Horn Quintet, K 407, it is entertaining concert music on a reduced scale, not true chamber music.

OMG! The violin sonatas! Of course I’ll throw them in, too. 

Daily Office: Friday

Friday, September 25th, 2009


¶ Matins: David Kushner files a report from the future — where everyone drives a Neighborhood Electric Vehicle. (via The Morning News) 

¶ Lauds: Forget the Summer of Death: Blanche Moyse turns 100.

¶ Prime: Mistaking the complex for the profound — always a problem for us smartypants. David Hakes, an academic economist at Northern Iowa U, admits that he committed preference falsification.

¶ Tierce: The Aesthete notes an interesting sale at Christie’s: Ismail Merchant’s knick-knacks will go on the block in a few weeks.

¶ Sext: We like Balk’s take on the 19-pound baby.

¶ Nones: More on Manuel Zelaya:

He’s sleeping on chairs, and he claims his throat is sore from toxic gases and “Israeli mercenaries” are torturing him with high-frequency radiation.

We’re not making this up! (via The Awl)

¶ Vespers: Esquire executive editor Mark Warren writes about the surprise literary thrill of discovering Sartre’s Nausea in Baytown, Texas.

¶ Compline: Josh Bearman writes about automata, the fancy toys, such as Vaucanson’s Duck, that may bring the word “animatronic” to mind. But automata actually do things.

Bon weekend à tous!


Daily Office: Thursday

Thursday, September 24th, 2009


¶ Matins: Michael Specter takes a good look at the potentially scary field of synthetic biology — and does not panic.

¶ Lauds: Booing at the Met: Luc Bondy’s Tosca. (Not to be confused with Puccini’s, no matter what they sang. Maybe Sardou’s, though.)

¶ Prime: Engineering in the Age of Fractals, or “Why Bankers Are Like Bacteria.” (via Felix Salmon)

¶ Tierce: Abe Sauer’s quite informative Essay Touching Upon the Economics of Britney Spears’s Circus Tour Show in Grand Forks, North Dakota; or, Don’t Blame Ticketmaster.

¶ Sext: It’s a bit early for us, but our cousin Kurt Holm will be on the Early Show tomorrow morning, and CBS Studios at 59th and Fifth will be the place to hang out.  (Between 7:15 and 9, I’m told.) This week at notakeout: Mark Bittman guests!

¶ Nones: Yesterday, we were reminded of Il Trovatore. Today, it’s Rodelinda. How did Manuel Zelaya get back into Honduras? The sort of question that never comes up in genuine opera seria. Maybe this is opera buffa.

¶ Vespers: The book to read before it’s sold over here: The Queen Mother: The Official Biography, by William Shawcross. Why? Because she was “Past Caring.”

¶ Compline: Mash-ups considered as the model for creative intelligence, at The Frontal Cortex.


Nano Note: Endless Summer

Sunday, September 13th, 2009


Chieli Minucci’s “Endless Summer” comes from an album of the same name that I bought at HMV one day, when there was still an HMV store where Best Buy is now. I had been spending a lot of time in the jazz section, building up a basic collection of classics. On this particular day, “Endless Summer” was playing on the shop’s sound system, and, despite long experience with the disappointments of buying music that’s playing in record stores, I had to have it. I had to have it even after the clerk told me that the rest of the album was “not as good.” And even though that turned out to be true, I have loved “Endless Summer” ever since. Why?

The answer must lie in the mystery of the harmonies. “Endless Summer,” part riff, part tune, never actually comes to an end, but keeps modulating into repetitions: it ought to be quite tedious. But it triggers a composite sense memory that lies very close to my sense of well-being: having spent a summer afternoon at the pool, I’ve showered and dressed and am about to go out for the evening, probably to a party at somebody else’s house. I am anywhere between sixteen and thirty years old, and I am probably in Houston. It could be 1977, when the easiest summer of my life. The sorrow of my mother’s illness and death was behind me, and the travails of law school lay unimaginably ahead. I had moved back to my parents’ house in Tanglewood, to help to take care of the place while my mother failed, and then to keep my father company in my desultory fashion. I was through with Houston in the way that you are through with high school after graduation. I had a lot to learn about enjoying life, but, at 29, I thought that I knew what I needed to know about having a good time. I would be in my fifties when I woke up from this delusion.

I have no desire to go back. It’s like the summer during which Kathleen and I spent alternate weekends at Fossil’s house in the Pines — great fun, but once was enough. Everything that was scintillating about 1977 is there in “Endless Summer,” even though the song hadn’t been written yet. Perhaps that’s the secret of its appeal: it carries no associations with the period, in the way that favorite pop songs do. (At the time, I was discovering Manhattan Transfer and August Darnell, and my favorite song was Al Stewart’s “Year of the Cat” — music that stirs up more realistic and complicated memories of that summer.) It just reminds me of what it felt like to feel good.

If the parties never lived up to expectations — never nearly — “Endless Summer” does not remind me of that disappointment. It simply distills the pleasure of looking forward to something, such that now, when I hear the song, I feel the pleasure without actually looking forward to anything at all, except, perhaps, the possibility that, just this once, the song itself will be endless.

Daily Office: Tuesday

Tuesday, September 1st, 2009


¶ Matins: Our hero: Judge Arthur Schack, who has rejected 46 out of 102 foreclosure claims in the past two years.

¶ Lauds: Jeremy Denk at the Highline Ballroom: Bach, Ives, Chopin, Liszt, T-shirt and running shoes. Alan Kozinn reports.

If classical music is dying, as we’ve been hearing for years, why are so many rock clubs suddenly presenting it? And why are so many people, with the young outnumbering the old, coming to hear it?

¶ Prime: How about some advice? We may not follow it, but we’re always interested in hearing what someone else considers to be good advice. Especially when it’s phrased as a reminder: “My needs don’t motivate anyone.”

¶ Tierce: Tom Vanderbilt argues persuasively for treating vehicular offenses as no less serious than other criminal acts. (via  The Morning News)

¶ Sext: Mary Pilon reports on “recession haircuts” at the Journal. Alex Balk: Please, don’t let the Seventies happen again!

¶ Nones: East Timor — ten years on: “Mixed emotions.”

¶ Vespers: Philip Lopate talks about his recent Notes on Sontag, at The Millions.

¶ Compline: Ann Leary contemplates Moses Pendleton’s sunflowers.


Daily Office: Wednesday

Wednesday, August 19th, 2009


¶ Matins: (Note: this item is not about classical music.) In her WaPo piece about classical-music CDs, Anne Midgette labors under the impression that serious music recordings require the brokerage of a healthy “industry.” We agree with Henry Fogel: leaving industry behind is what’s healthy. (via Arts Journal)

¶ Lauds: Why is Britain’s National Trust spat taking us back to the 1640s? Surely not just the coincidence of princes called “Charles”?

¶ Prime: Robert Cringely thinks out loud about the ethics of technology. He used to think that Google’s motto was silly, but not anymore.

¶ Tierce: Is it possible? The Marshall Trial’s case for the prosecution was slated to end yesterday— two days into the trial’s 17th week. On Friday, the jury and the court will take a two-week vacation.

¶ Sext: At The Onion: “Film Adaptation Of ‘The Brothers Karamazov’ Ends Where Most People Stop Reading Book.” And where is that? 

The 83-minute film, which is based on the first 142 or so pages of Fyodor Dostoevsky’s acclaimed work, has already garnered attention for its stunning climax, in which the end credits suddenly appear midway through Katerina’s tearful speech about an unpaid debt.

(via The Morning News)

¶ Nones: China is upset with Australia, about Uighur leader Rebiya Kadeer’s visit. When will China learn that foreign public opinion can be controlled no better by overt interference than by armed occupation?

¶ Vespers: Amazing news! Six million subscribers take Reader’s Digest. Still! So don’t over-interpret news of the publication’s bankruptcy filing.

¶ Compline: Natalie Angier writes lucidly about a murky subject: stress. Bottom line: it’s up to you to break out of the stress feedback loop.


Daily Office: Thursday

Thursday, August 13th, 2009


¶ Matins: Great news! Our trade deficit widened, as we imported yet more junk in June! That must mean that our economy is doing better, right?

¶ Lauds: A new artists’ colony — this one just for composers — will start up in Westchester next month. (via Arts Journal)

¶ Prime: The shipping news: Los Angeles/Long Beach would rank as the world’s fifth busiest container port, if they were tabulated together.

¶ Tierce: The case that has everything keeps on giving. Subway stabbings! (Almost.)

¶ Sext: Can powdered wigs be far behind? The spoofsters at Being Tyler Brûlé staff the eponymous (amd still fictional) airline.

¶ Nones: Hugo Chávez declares that golf is not a sport; officials move to close courses.

¶ Vespers: Now that everybody seems to be reading The Age of Wonder, Richard Holmes’s book about a handful of scientists working between the heydays of Enlightenment and Romanticism, we are ever more mindful that science, however bound to numbers (rightly so!), is practiced by messy human minds.

¶ Compline: Jonah Lehrer on the self: a ghost that runs the machine. “The self feels like a singular thing – I am me – and yet it comes from no single brain area…”


Daily Office: Tuesday

Tuesday, August 11th, 2009


¶ Matins: What’s so productive about “Gross Domestic Product,” asks historian Eric Zencey? A re-think of GDP for a greener world.

¶ Lauds: A new business plan for classical musicians: don’t seek shelter in a large and venerable organization. Andrew Druckenbrod explains musical entrepreneurship.

¶ Prime: The economics of farmers’ markets could use a design boost. Alissa Walker reports at GOOD.

¶ Tierce: Kate McLaughlin, 19, heads off to Northwestern — for law school. somewhat more remarkably, she graduated from the University of California at San Diego two years ago. What do you think about this kind of precocity?

¶ Sext: Sebastian Münster’s map of Europe, upside-down, at Strange Maps.

¶ Nones: In Sunday’s Times, a long overdue explanation of the Honduran political divide.

¶ Vespers: Jenni Diski reflects on the art of the late Stanley Middleton, a Booker Prize winner whom we hadn’t heard of.

¶ Compline: Andrew Sullivan, in his tenth year of Daily-Beast-ing, resumes the practice of taking August off.


Nano Note: Degl'orridi abissi

Saturday, August 8th, 2009


Right before the end of the opera that bears his name, Handel’s Xerxes — Serse, in Italian — sings an aria that I like a whole heck of a lot more than the very famous one with which he opens the so-called comedy. That would be “Ombra mai fu,” almost certainly the one number from Handel’s catalogue that’s up there with such Verdi hits as “La donna è mobile.” Everybody knows the tune, even if nobody has ever heard it sung. But, as I say, I like Xerxes’s last aria, “Crude furie degl’orridi abissi,” much better. The famous aria is wonderfully stately and all that, but “Crude furie” scores a perfect ten as a ridiculous temper tantrum. What could be more operatic than a comically-presented temper tantrum?

Mozart’s entry in this field, “Smanie implacabili,” from Così fan tutte, is the reigning masterpiece, and, as with Handel’s aria, the joke lies in the the orchestral commentary. Mozart scores Dorabella’s grandiotically despairing plea to the furies with a wallpaper of sweet Bronx cheers. Handel is a bit simpler: his violins mock Xerxes’s clueless tirade with cheekily swooping scales. Up and down they run, and they’d make you seasick if they didn’t have your eyes rolling. The eye-rolling is what I love about the aria; it gives me a clear and distinct idea of what Kathleen must be thinking while I storm about the apartment in search of a misplaced Book Review.

Although I know Così fan tutte as well as I know my own name, however, you mustn’t think that I’m a scholar of Handel operas. So not! But I came to listen to Serse and Rodelina a thousand years ago thanks to the Brian Priestman recordings on Westminster. As I recall, Canadian mezzo Maureen Forrester sang the title role in Serse, and I hope that I’ll be able to recapture her performance on CD (or MP3) one of these days. For the record, this marks the first time that I’ve ever thought that somebody did a better job than Anne-Sofie von Otter. But it’s early days; I only listened to the new recording for the first time yesterday.

I played “Crude furie” seven times in a row, steadily increasing the volume each time. There was nothing else in the world that I wanted to listen to while this state of play lasted.

Daily Office: Friday

Friday, August 7th, 2009


¶ Matins: Food for thought this weekend: Alain de Botton proposes ”A Kinder, Gentler Philosophy of Success,” in a presentation at TED. The main point: make sure that your idea of success is your own idea.

¶ Lauds: Every time Jeremy Denk adds a new bit of music appreciation to his blog, the technical support gets better. Now, we think, it has caught up, in a piece about one of Brahms’s three sonatas for violin and piano (all beauties).

¶ Prime: Felix Salmon: “When Stretching the Accordion Makes Sense.” Makes sense! It sounds like the best idea ever. But it does pit one idea of growth against another.

¶ Tierce: Meet Judy Natkins — you can see her in court.

¶ Sext: For those of you who haven’t seen Elizabeth Moss off the Mad Men screen, there’s Amy Heckerling’s Intervention parody.

¶ Nones: We thought it might be Iran aiming to shut down Twitter, but it was more likely Russia and Georgia, trying to shut down one another — propaganda-wise, at least.

¶ Vespers: Some Friday fun from Tao Lin, at The Stranger. ”The Levels of Greatness a Fiction Writer Can Achieve in America (From Lowest to Highest).”

¶ Compline: The weekend must-read: Jonah Lehrer’s “The Truth About Grit.” At last, a truly cogent demolition job on IQ testing (and testing in general).

¶ Bon weekend à tous!


Daily Office: Wednesday

Wednesday, August 5th, 2009


¶ Matins: Josh Levin consults “the world’s leading futurologists” to hear how the United States might come to an end within the next century. Not that it will; just, how it might. (via The Morning News)

¶ Lauds: Anne Midgette considers the pros and cons of tweeting at classical-music concerts. An intriguing discussion that left us feeling somewhat frustrated.

¶ Prime: We’re very heartened by the news that one of two bidders for the Boston Globe contemplates running it as a not-for-profit operation.

¶ Tierce: Christopher Shea may be forgiven for wondering: “But how many pieces about Child’s cultural significance can media outlets run before it starts to look as though reporters and editors have a financial stake in the forthcoming Nora Ephron movie about her?

¶ Sext: We may have found the killer ap for the iPhone: Diaroogle. (via This That These & Those)

¶ Nones: The Miskito population of Eastern Nicaragua renews its bid for independence.

¶ Vespers: The protagonist of Ian McEwan’s next novel, likely to be called Solar, sounds familiar, but we’re not naming names.

¶ Compline: Brooks Peters engages in “battle royale” with pretentious but ignorant mispronunciations of French words.


Daily Office: Tuesday

Tuesday, August 4th, 2009


¶ Matins: David Carr writes about The Party. You know the one! The Talk launch, which happened ten years ago last Sunday. Remember? When the Web was a “niche”?

¶ Lauds: Alex Ross’s New Yorker column on the wealth of interesting music available through Internet portals, “Infinite Playlist,” hits a lot of bases, but keeps running.

¶ Prime: Thinking of “investing in art”? Felix Salmon: Don’t be daft.

¶ Tierce: Compare and contrast these contemporary fines: $675,000 for file sharing in Massachusetts; $1300 for second DUI arrest. Get your dose of righteous anger at World Class Stupid — it’ll make you laugh before you can rant.

¶ Sext: Here’s something useful to fight about while we ponder Michael Pollan on cooking and couches: the (Scottish or English) origins of haggis.

¶ Nones: Sometimes, ceremony matters. A lot of Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s former cronies stayed away from his “endorsement.”

¶ Vespers: Here’s a wonderful new literary game from LRB: take the title of a famous book and attach it to the name of an author who (a) couldn’t possibly have written it or (b) would have turned in a very different text.

¶ Compline: David Bromwich writes about “America’s Serial Warriors,” captured at Tomgram. (via The Morning News)


Daily Office: Friday

Friday, July 31st, 2009


¶ Matins: The Urban Mole won second prize; I’d have made it the first-prizewinner. (via Good)

¶ Lauds: A forgotten instrument from a famous score has been re-invented (one hopes!): the steel glockenspiel that Mozart had in mind for The Magic Flute.

¶ Prime: One of the biggest problems in the way we do business — literally — is the slapdash way in which we do or don’t clean up after ourselves: “When Auto Plants Close, Only White Elephants Remain.”

¶ Tierce: Unexpected but inevitable: what happens when lightweight Smart Cars are parked near canals. (via Infrastructurist)

¶ Sext: How To Cook Like Your Grandmother. (via  MetaFilter)

¶ Nones: After more than six years of expense, it has come to this:

“If there ever was a window where the seeds of a professional military culture could have been implanted, it is now long past. U.S. combat forces will not be here long enough or with sufficient influence to change it,” wrote [Col Timothy R Reese]. “The military culture of the Baathist-Soviet model under Saddam Hussein remains entrenched and will not change. The senior leadership of the I.S.F. is incapable of change in the current environment.”

¶ Vespers: Will Blythe writes up the new new Thomas Pynchon novel — a noir detective story — at The Second Pass.

¶ Compline: At the Frontal Cortex, Jonah Lehrer discusses some recent findings about television as a balm for loneliness.

¶ Bon weekend à tous!


Daily Office: Friday

Friday, July 24th, 2009


¶ Matins: Two related safety stories this week, at Infrastructurist: Rail/Road Safety; Cells and Speed.

¶ Lauds: Alexander Hemon’s playlist for writing.

¶ Prime: In ”Too Small to Fail?“, Jay Goltz issues a call for better training for small business owners.

¶ Tierce: Even though the 13 week-old Marshall trial hasn’t even gotten to the defense, there seems to be a wilting factor, as if everyone from the judge on down were just too tired of all this nonsense. In any case, no reports have been filed this evening with any of the papers. Or hadn’t been, when we last looked an hour or so ago.

We were going to invent something, and tell you that the Marshalls, having followed our coverage of the coverage, took advantage of an early recess to drop by our apartment, and that, while Mr Marshall took a little nap, Mrs Marshall turned on her Southern charm (to which we’re so susceptible!), and we suddenly realized what a lovely woman she is. That we’d be posting soon from a guest room at North Cove, or Cove Point, or Cape Fear, or whatever they call the place up in Maine.

¶ Sext: Coming soon to Pi Mensae: Howdy Doody.

¶ Nones: Kudos to President Obama for weighing in on the “stupidity” of the arrest of Henry Louis Gates in his own Cambridge home.

¶ Vespers: Mark Athitakis, at The Second Pass, writes about an out-of-print novel by Ward Just, a writer whose work we almost always find totally engaging.

¶ Compline: This weekend’s indispensable reading is Slavoj Žižek’s essay, in the London Review of Books, “Berlusconi in Tehran.” New meaning is given to the phrase, “constitutional democracy.”  

¶ Bon weekend à tous!


Nano Note: O sink hernieder

Saturday, July 18th, 2009


When I was in college, I took a heroic view of Tristan und Isolde. Musing over a remark that I’d heard, according to which German musicologists regarded  Tristan  as the perfect opera — a view that made sense to me, even if I wasn’t always in the mood to listen to the alleged perfection — I saw Tristan and Isolde as Olympian lovers who were willing and able to go a lot further to gratify their passion than anybody I knew. Wagner’s great achievement was to do the lovers justice by composing music that captured — a significant choice of words, I now think — a transcending, self-immolating love that could find resolution only in death.

When I say that this was an adolescent understanding of the opera, I don’t mean to condescend. I recognized that I knew nothing about love (nothing at all); and I was on the lookout for pointers. I did not long for love; on the contrary, I wanted to watch out for it. An opera that never shut up about the connection between love, on the one hand, and night, oblivion, and death, on the other, seemed very wise to me, and possibly full of prophylactic hints. At the same time, I wanted to be swallowed alive and completely roasted by Love — which is very much the same thing as not longing for love. Like any teenager, I wanted excitement without consequences.

In my middle years, I thought a lot about the love potion that Isolde slips Tristan — or, rather, that Brangäne slips Isolde. Isolde has asked her companion to prepare a lethal cordial that she will share with the man she hates most in the world — Tristan, the foreign murderer of her fiancé, Morold. Whether Brangäne makes a mistake and chooses the wrong bottle, or quietly overrules her mistress’s suicidal command, the result of drinking the philtre is undying love. The enemies become lovers, just like that.

Wagner may have been innocent of Freudian insight, but he knew his Shakespeare, and a huge chunk of Act I of his opera is taken up by Isolde’s protesting too much. Counting the ways how she hates Tristan, Isolde makes it clear that no other person on earth appears on her radar. If Tristan were dead — her fondest wish — she’d be lost, which is why she decides to kill herself along with him.

In a word, there is abundant evidence, at least for modern eyes to see, that Tristan and Isolde are in love before they drink the potion. When the potion doesn’t kill them (and certainly Tristan also expects it to), it allows them to acknowledge their mutual longing.

Listening to the opera this afternoon, I saw that a great shift in my understanding of the opera had taken place. The story of Tristan and Isolde themselves was no longer very important; it was but an armature on which Wagner could hang music that I used to think represented passion. Now, however, I knew that the music was the passion. Even though I was calmly — to all outward appearances — dusting the mantelpiece and vacuuming the carpet, the entire passion of Tristan und Isolde coursed through me. I was not leading a secret life of banked passion, sundering, on an imaginary plane, my connection with the banal quotidian world, permitting myself an internal escapade, clothed in the drag of grand amour, while applying a damp cloth to the marble top of a commode. There was no discontinuity at all between giving the phalaenopsis its weekly sip of water and crying out the praises of Frau Minne, as Isolde does when Brangäne tries to take ‘credit” for the very inconvenient love of Tristan for his uncle’s wife. “O tör’ge Magd!” ripostes Isolde — “you foolish inexperienced woman!” Every time I hear that line, I feel the true lover’s incinerating contempt for the world, and/but there is no need for me to set any fires myself. On the contrary; I wipe the glass on Kathleen’s wedding portrait and set it back on the table. Unlike the ancient Celtic lovers, but thanks no end to Wagner’s music, I know what I’m doing.

Daily Office: Thursday

Thursday, July 16th, 2009


¶ Matins: “20 Bold Schemes” — that’s putting it mildly — for reversing climate change, the acidulation of seawater, and even for making bigger, puffier, whiter clouds! (Who can be against that?)

¶ Lauds: LA County Supervisor Mike Antonovich objects to next year’s production of Wagner’s Ring Cycle. (via  Arts Journal)

¶ Prime: For an “ownership society,” we have a tax code that inordinately favors indebtedness. Felix Salmon protests.

¶ Tierce: Today’s testimony by Astor nurse Pearline Noble generated two stories in the Post.

¶ Sext: Christoph Niemann is a Master of the Universe!

¶ Nones: In retrospect, it wasn’t such a good idea to bring Uighur workers to Guangdong.

¶ Vespers: John Self, intrigued by the kerfuffle surrounding Alain de Botton’s public unhappiness with Caleb Crain’s review of his new book, sat down and read The Pleasures and Sorrows of Work, and he finds himself “coming down on de Botton’s side.”

¶ Compline: Having sold the initial print run of 200 copies, the good people at Snarkmarket released the text of New Liberal Arts on line. Welcome to the new Maecenate? 


Daily Office: Tuesday

Tuesday, July 14th, 2009


¶ Matins: It’s  Bastille Day — but not in France. In France, it’s “La fête nationale.” What do you say to friends on le quatorze juillet?

You say, “Bonjour, madame,” comme d’habitude.

¶ Lauds: You know, before you even start reading, that Anthony Tommassini is not going to give Rufus Wainwright’s Prima Donna top marks. But if you read between the lines, his review begins to look like a rave.

¶ Prime: Robert X Cringely writes about the MADD strategies of Google and Microsoft, and how, if either of them suffers a mortal blow, it won’t have been aimed by the other.

¶ Tierce: Pardon me, but I’m no longer interested in the Marshall trial’s verdict, whatever it may be. I’m already casting the movie. Who wants to play Brooke Astor, banging her cane as she is “dragged” into the library? Or saying, “I feel like throwing food in someone’s face”?

¶ Sext: It’s very easy to make fun of Town & Country — if you’re not throwing up into an air-sickness bag — but Choire Sicha can be counted upon to do it well.

¶ Nones: We throw up our hands: both sides in the Honduras dispute request American intervention. What a sterling opportunity to make enemies and influence people to hate the United States.

¶ Vespers: At The Millions, novelist Sonya Chung tells us what it was like to meet her new book’s dust jacket.

¶ Compline: Meet the Schweeb. An amusement-park ride for the time being, it may become tomorrow’s urban transport. (Via Infrastructurist)