Thursday, November 29
The contradictions that are found in opus 23 reappear in the Serenade for clarinet, basset-horn, mandoline, guitar, violin, viola, violoncello, and a deep male voice, opus 24. Here the fourth movement, a setting of Petrarch's Sonnet no. 217, may be called strict twelve-tone. The singer repeats the same twelve notes twelve times; but since a line of Petrarch has only eleven syllables, each successive verse begins one note earlier in the twelve-note series and has a different melodic configuration. The series is therefore not a melody but a premelodic idea, used to furnish the stuff of melody. This is not new: both Beethoven and Brahms used motifs this way, but neither had conceived of a set of pitches as entirely divorced from their rhythmic and harmonic implications. The motif, which has always a specific contour, a profile, in becoming a series loses this attribute of shape. The series is not a musical idea in the normal sense of that phrase. It is not properly speaking something heard, either imaginatively or practically; it is transmuted into something heard.
The motif, on the other hand, is an idea heard, and Schoenberg's development of motivic material in other pieces of the Serenade is remarkably sophisticated, particularly when compared with the simple-minded, obsessive repetitions of the Petrarch sonnet. In most of the Serenade, this complex motivic elaboration and an atonal language are put to work in the re-creation of late eighteenth- and early nineteenth-century phrasing. The evocation of the elegant surface of the past was by 1923 as much a part of Schoenberg's music as of Strauss's (in Ariadne auf Naxos) or Stravinsky's (in Pulcinella and L'Histoire d'un soldat). A high price was set on charm. The ostensibly light character of the Serenade, opus 24, is still a stumbling block in appreciating its merit; its high gloss can awaken resentment. There is no contradiction, however, between its highly experimental character—its technical adventurousness, in fact—and the bland efficiency with which it turns back to the past. The experiments are designed to recapture the security of a vanished classicism; the smoothness of surface is a measure of their success.
-- Charles Rosen arnold schoenberg
Arnold Schoenberg: Serenade op. 24 (Excerpts)
Posted by rb at 11/29/2007
Wednesday, November 28
The sight of anything extremely beautiful, in nature or in art, brings back the memory of what one loves, with the speed of lightning. That is, ...all that is beautiful and sublime in the world takes part in the beauty of what one loves, and this unexpected glimpse of happiness immediately fills the eyes with tears. This is how love of the beautiful and love give each other life.
-- Stendhal On Love
Translated by John Sell
Posted by rb at 11/28/2007
Monday, November 26
There existed long ago in Tibetan, Indian and partly also in Chinese Buddhism the idea that the religious practice of meditation serves the goal of producing within the still living and mortal body the diamond body, into which you move, so to speak. Already in this lifetime you use your diamond body more and more as a dwelling place, so that at the moment of death, like a skin which falls off from a fruit, this mortal body falls away and the glorified body, or in Eastern language, the diamond body, is already there. The glorified body, a sort of immortal substance as carrier of the individual personality, is already produced by religious practice during life-time. The same idea, which is strange to official Christian teaching, does come up vigorously in alchemical philosophy. The alchemists, too, strove from the beginning to produce such a glorified or diamond body. In order to build up this glorified body, called the philosopher's stone, you must repeat the whole process of creation.
-- Marie-Louise von Franz Patterns of Creativity Mirrored in Creation Myths
Marie-Louise von Franz
Tom Waits with Kronos Quartet: Diamond in Your Mind
Posted by rb at 11/26/2007
Saturday, November 24
Now that the leaves have achieved
their riotous colors, and are scattering
back to their original condition of soil,
now that the nests are all visible—
I can study what it means
to be perfectly balanced, how
to shelter my bowl of emptiness,
how to wait for my bird to return.
-- Philip Terman, from Book of the Unbroken Days
Posted by rb at 11/24/2007
Thursday, November 22
Peter never stopped running or looked behind him until he got home to the big fir-tree. He was so tired that he flopped down upon the nice soft sand on the floor of the rabbit-hole, and shut his eyes. His mother was busy cooking; she wondered what he had done with his clothes. It was the second little jacket and pair of shoes that Peter had lost in a fortnight. I am sorry to say that Peter was not very well during the evening. His mother put him to bed, and made some camomile tea; and she gave a dose of it to Peter! "One tablespoon to be taken at bedtime." But Flopsy, Mopsy and Cotton-tail had bread and milk and blackberries, for supper.
-- Beatrix Potter The Tale of Peter Rabbit
Posted by rb at 11/22/2007
By summer’s end there are
No more perfect leaves.
But won't you be ashamed
To count the passing year
At its mere cost, your debt
For every year is costly,
As you know well. Nothing
Is given that is not
Taken, and nothing taken
That was not first a gift.
The gift is balanced by
Its total loss, and yet,
And yet the light breaks in,
Heaven seizing its moments
That are at once its own
And yours. The day ends
And is unending where
The summer tanager,
Warbler, and vireo
Sing as they move among
-- Wendell Berry, lines from "Sabbaths 1998, VI"
Posted by rb at 11/22/2007
Tuesday, November 20
There's an exercise I do with my students where I ask them to draw a sort of blueprint of the house they grew up in and place a few things they remember around the house. And then, using those things, write a sentence about each of them, finally turning those sentences into a sort of poem of reminiscence. For me, the physical place—especially as it lives in memory—is an avenue into emotion and idea. It's a doorway through which you can apprehend those other things. Without that, I think I'd find it a lot harder to find my way to emotion, epiphany, whatever it is that's going to happen in a poem. The best poem is almost always the one that is unplanned. You're fretful throughout, thinking, "This one's going to crap out like they usually do." But then something wonderful and unexpected happens and part of the answer is place is an avenue to get to these other things.
-- Frederick Smock, interviewed in Poets on Place by W.T. Pfefferle
W.T. Pfefferle on Frederick Smock
Posted by rb at 11/20/2007
Wednesday, November 14
Sempre caro mi fu quest'ermo colle
E questa siepe che da tanta parte
De'll ultimo orrizonte il guarde esclude.
Ma sedendo e mirando interminati
Spazi di là da quella, e sovrumani
Silenzi, e profondissima quiete,
Io nel pensier mi fingo, ove per poco
Il cor non si spaura. E come il vento
Odo stormir tra queste piante, io quello
Infinito silenzio a questa voce
Vo comparando; e mi sovvien l'eterno,
E le morte stagioni, e la presente
E viva, e'l suon di lei. Così tra questa
Immensità s'annega il pensier mio:
E'l naufragar m'è dolce in questo mare.
I've always loved this lonesome hill
And this hedge that hides
The entire horizon almost, from sight.
But sitting here in a daydream, I picture
The boundless spaces away out there, silences
Deeper than human silence, an unfathomable hush
In which my heart is hardly a beat
From fear. And hearing the wind
Rush rustling through these bushes,
I pit its speech against infinite silence—
And a notion of eternity floats to mind,
And the dead seasons, and the season
Beating here and now, and the sound of it. So
In this immensity my thoughts all drown;
And it's easeful to be wrecked in seas like these.
-- Giacomo Leopardi
Translated by Eamon Grennan
Posted by rb at 11/14/2007
Sunday, November 11
VALENTINE: If you knew the algorithm and fed it back say ten thousand times, each time there'd be a dot somewhere on the screen. You'd never know where to expect the next dot. But gradually you'd start to see this shape, because every dot will be inside the shape of this leaf. It wouldn't be a leaf, it would be a mathematical object. But yes. The unpredictable and the predetermined unfold together to make everything the way it is. It's how nature creates itself, on every scale, the snowflake and the snowstorm. It makes me so happy. To be at the beginning again, knowing almost nothing. People were talking about the end of physics. Relativity and quantum looked as if they were going to clean out the whole problem between them. A theory of everything. But they only explained the very big and the very small. The universe, the elementary particles. The ordinary-sized stuff which is our lives, the things people write poetry about — clouds — daffodils — waterfalls — and what happens in a cup of coffee when the cream goes in — these things are full of mystery, as mysterious to us as the heavens were to the Greeks. We're better at predicting events at the edge of the galaxy or inside the nucleus of an atom than whether it'll rain on auntie's garden party three Sundays from now. Because the problem turns out to be different. We can't even predict the next drip from a dripping tap when it gets irregular. Each drip sets up the conditions for the next, the smallest variation blows prediction apart, and the weather is unpredictable the same way, will always be unpredictable. When you push the numbers through the computer you can see it on the screen. The future is disorder. A door like this has cracked open five or six times since we got up on our hind legs. It's the best possible time to be alive, when almost everything you thought you knew is wrong.
HANNAH: The weather is fairly predictable in the Sahara.
VALENTINE: The scale is different but the graph goes up and down the same way. Six thousand years in the Sahara looks like six months in Manchester, I bet you.
HANNAH: How much?
VALENTINE: Everything you have to lose.
HANNAH: (Pause) No.
VALENTINE: Quite right. That's why there was corn in Egypt.
-- Tom Stoppard Arcadia
Tom Stoppard's Arcadia
Posted by rb at 11/11/2007
Saturday, November 10
After lunch I bicycled to Merton St. as arranged and called for Jenkin. We set off along Parks Road, then through Wolvercote and Port Meadow. We went by the tow path, between golden trees, crossing many bridges, to Wytham village. Here, in defiance of the notice "strictly private" we entered with bated breath just under a game keeper's house, where my bike made a great noise. We met no one. The wood was glorious. It contains all kinds: in places there are open glades of green trunked oaks and brown bracken, elsewhere the intensest thickets. We got into open country on top of the hill — grassland with a lot of little valleys walled (partly) with some kind of white rock. Below was a huge landscape, behind us the edge of the wood, chiefly silver birches. It was at once so lonely, so wild, so luxurious, that we both thought of Acrasia's bower of bliss. To add to that suggestion, Jenkin saw at no great distance, a very comely couple in flagrante.
We went down the other side of the hill, emerging on the road at Swinford Bridge. We turned right and came along the river bank under the side of the wood. At Godstow we had a cup of tea in the Trout Inn, and so back to town.
-- C.S. Lewis, journal entry 14 October 1922, in All My Road Before Me ed. Walter Hooper
Posted by rb at 11/10/2007
Saturday, November 3
When I think of our artistic age, I sometimes think of the recently remastered 1958 Prestige sessions John Coltrane: Fearless Leader. In these CDs you can hear Coltrane straining against the formal conventions of hard-bop standards. Particularly in med-tempo and upbeat songs like "Spring is Here" and "Come Rain or Come Shine," tempi are not only speeded up (as Miles Davis subsequently did with his own compositions from Kind of Blue), but sound rushed, as if Coltrane were not only impatient, but even frustrated with the constraints of convention. His solos seem jumpy and jittery, the trills ultimately don't lead him anywhere, that is, anywhere new. But you can hear the first signs of his odd fingerings and the beginnings of those rippling "sheets of sound" he became renowned for later in his own groups with "the quartet." Usually we think of 1961, specifically the Village Vanguard sessions, as Coltrane's breakthrough into free jazz, but the earlier sessions are interesting not only musically but also because they reveal Coltrane up against the limits of his age: there were few models for what would come next. In the following two years he'd work with Miles Davis and avant-garde players like Ornette Coleman and Don Cherry—so he seems in these late-fifties recordings, retrospectively at least, trapped in a musical culture that had exhausted its capacity for invention. The musical instrument and the word, in spite of our longing to make language an expression of individuality do not exist in a vacuum, do not remain static, as in Blake's parody of the "crystal palace" of heaven. I'm reminded of Mao Tse-Tung's famous aphorism: "Where do correct ideas come from? Do they fall out of the sky? No. Are they innate in the mind? No. They come from social practice..."
-- Ira Sadoff, in "History Matters: A Minority Report" American Poetry Review 36:6
John Coltrane: Fearless Leader
Sibelius and Coltrane on the town (Alex Ross on shared intervals)
Posted by rb at 11/03/2007