Poem: Poem VI

A poem by Derek Jarman (1942-1994), written in 1965:

Poem VI
The days are numbered,
For us, and the old man
collecting pennies under
the bridge.
For he is in disguise
and has attended the concert –
before us,
But now he plays his
violin in a way which
demands our sympathy.

(From Sketchbooks, reprinted in The Observer Magazine, 2013-08-25, page 25).
Previous poems here.

Influential Music

Having written posts on influential non-fiction books and on influential fiction books, I thought it interesting to list pieces of music that have  influenced me.   To start with, I’ve confined myself to western art music (aka “classical” music).   Jazz and world music to come in due course.  The music is listed in alpha order of  composer surname.

  • Adams:  Phrygian Gates
  • Arriaga:  String Quartets
  • Arriaga:  Symphony
  • Bach:  Double Concerto for Violin
  • Bach: Piano Concerto #1
  • Bach:  St. Matthew Passion
  • Bach:  St. John Passion
  • Bach:  Mass in B Minor
  • Bach:  The Well-Tempered Clavier
  • Bach:  Cantatas
  • Bach:  Toccata and Fugue in D minor
  • Bach:  Partitas and Sonatas for solo violin
  • CPE Bach:  Magnificat
  • Beethoven:  Piano Sonatas
  • Beethoven:  Symphonies 3, 5 and 9
  • Beethoven:  Piano Concertos
  • Beethoven:  Piano Quartets
  • Beethoven:  Piano Trios
  • Beethoven:  Violin Concerto
  • Bernstein:  Overture to Candide
  • Binge: Elizabethan Serenade
  • Cage:  Music for prepared piano
  • Cherubini:  The String Quartets
  • Chopin:  Preludes
  • Debussy:  Preludes
  • Farrenc:  The Piano Quartets
  • Farrenc: The Symphonies
  • Feldman: Triadic Memories
  • Glass: Koyaanisqatsi
  • Handel:  Messiah
  • Haydn:  Sturm und Drang Symphonies
  • Haydn:  The Creation
  • Haydn:  The String Quartets
  • Hummel:  Trumpet Concerto
  • Maxwell Davies:  Eight Songs for a Mad King
  • McPhee:  Tabu Tabuhan
  • Meale:  Clouds Now and Then
  • Mendelssohn:  The String Symphonies #7-12
  • Mendelssohn:  Magnificat
  • Mendelssohn: Hebrides Overture
  • Mendelssohn:  Octet
  • Mendelssohn:  String Quartets and Quintets
  • Mendelssohn:  Piano Trios and Quartets
  • Mendelssohn: Overture to a Midsummer Night’s Dream
  • Mendelssohn:  Elijah
  • Mendelssohn:  Violin Concerto in E minor
  • Mendelssohn:  Violin Concerto in D minor
  • Mendelssohn:  Concerto for Piano and Violin in D minor
  • Mendelssohn:  Songs without Words
  • Montague: Piano Concerto
  • Mozart:  Last 3 symphonies
  • Mozart:  Requiem
  • Mozart: The String Quartets
  • Nishimura:  Bird Heterophony
  • Nyman: Songs for Tony
  • Ore: Codex Temporis
  • Orff:  Carmina Burana
  • Penberthy: Saxophone Concerto
  • Reich:  Nagoya Marimbas
  • Reich:  Music for 18 Musicians
  • Riley:  In C
  • Roman: Drottningholm Music (Music for a Royal Wedding)
  • Schumann:  Dichterliebe
  • Schumann:  The Symphonies
  • Sculthorpe:  Sun Music III
  • Shostakovich:  Concerto for Piano and Trumpet
  • Shostakovich:  Incidental Music for Hamlet
  • Shostakovich:  24 Preludes and Fugues for Piano
  • Stockhausen:  Stimmung
  • Stravinsky:  The Rite of Spring
  • Takemitsu:  A Flock Descends into the Pentagonal Garden
  • Tchaikovsky:  Symphonies #4 and #5
  • Tchaikovsky:  Violin Concerto
  • Vanhal:  The Symphonies
  • Wagner:  Prelude to The Mastersingers of Nuremburg
  • Xenakis:  Metastaseis
  • Xenakis:  Pithoprakta.

 

Mama don't allow

Norm’s latest entry in his Mommy and Daddy collection of songs is JJ Cale’s version of “Now, Mama don’t allow no guitar playing round here“.   The version of this song that I first recall hearing was that of The Limeliters, who do not refer (as Cale does) to “My Mama“.   So, I’d always understood the song to be about boarding-house owners, rather than natural-born mothers, and hence a fine metaphor for the suffocating nanny culture that was the US of the 1950s.  I cannot find their version online.
Of course, a mention of The Slightly Fabulous Limeliters would be incomplete without a reference to their song about Harry Pollitt, long-time General Secretary of the Communist Party of Great Britain.

Influential Books and Films

This is a list of non-fiction books, films and TV series which have greatly influenced me – making me see the world differently or act in it differently.  They are listed chronologically according to when I first encountered them.

  • 2022 – Stewart Copeland [2009]: Strange Things Happen: A Life with “The Police”, Polo and Pygmies.
  • 2022 – Young Royals. TV Series, Netflix Sweden.
  • 2019 – Mary Le Beau (Inez Travers Cunningham Stark Boulton, 1888-1958) [1956]:  Beyond Doubt: A Record of Psychic Experience.   
  • 2019 – Zhores A Medvedev [1983]: Andropov: An Insider’s Account of Power and Politics within the Kremlin.
  • 2016 – Lafcadio Hearn [1897]: Gleanings in Buddha-Fields: Studies of Hand and Soul in the Far East. London, UK: Kegan Paul, Trench, Trubner & Company Limited.
  • 2015 – Benedict Taylor [2011]: Mendelssohn, Time and Memory. The Romantic Conception of Cyclic Form. (Cambridge UP)
  • 2010 – Hans Kundnani [2009]: Utopia or Auschwitz: Germany’s 1968 Generation and the Holocaust. (London, UK: Hurst and Company)
  • 2009 – J. Scott Turner [2007]:  The Tinkerer’s Accomplice: How Design Emerges from Life Itself. (Harvard UP) (Mentioned here.)
  • 2008 – Stefan Aust [2008]: The Baader-Meinhof Complex. (Bodley Head)
  • 2008 – Pierre Delattre [1993]:  Episodes. (St. Paul, MN, USA:  Graywolf Press)
  • 2006 – Mark Evan Bonds [2006]: Music as Thought: Listening to the Symphony in the Age of Beethoven. (Princeton UP)
  • 2006 – Kyle Gann [2006]: Music Downtown: Writings from the Village Voice. (UCal Press)
  • 2005 – Clare Asquith [2005]:  Shadowplay: The Hidden Beliefs and Coded Politics of William Shakespeare.  (Public Affairs)
  • 2004 – Igal Halfin [2003]: Terror in My Soul: Communist Autobiographies on Trial. (Cambridge, MA, USA: Harvard UP)
  • 2001 – George Leonard [2000]: The Way of Aikido: Life Lessons from an American Sensei.
  • 2000 – Stephen E. Toulmin [1990]:  Cosmopolis:  The Hidden Agenda of Modernity.  (University of Chicago Press)
  • 1999 – Michel de Montaigne [1580-1595]:  Essays.
  • 1997 – James Pritchett [1993]:  The Music of John Cage.  (Cambridge UP, UK)
  • 1996 – George Fowler [1995]:  Dance of a Fallen Monk: A Journey to Spiritual Enlightenment. (New York:  Doubleday)
  • 1995 – Chungliang Al Huang and Jerry Lynch [1992]:  Thinking Body, Dancing Mind.   (New York: Bantam Books)
  • 1995 – Jon Kabat-Zinn [1994]: Wherever You Go, There You Are.
  • 1995 – Charlotte Joko Beck [1993]: Nothing Special: Living Zen.
  • 1993 – George Leonard [1992]: Mastery: The Keys to Success and Long-Term Fulfillment.
  • 1992 – Henry Adams [1907/1918]: The Education.
  • 1990 – Trevor Leggett [1987]:  Zen and the Ways.  (Tuttle)
  • 1989 – Grant McCracken [1988]:  Culture and Consumption.
  • 1989 – Teresa Toranska [1988]:  Them:  Stalin’s Polish Puppets.  Translated by Agnieszka Kolakowska. (HarperCollins) (Mentioned here.)
  • 1988 – Henry David Thoreau [1865]:  Cape Cod.
  • 1988 – Rupert Sheldrake [1988]: The Presence of the Past: Morphic Resonance and the Habits of Nature.
  • 1988 – Dan Rose [1987]:  Black American Street Life: South Philadelphia, 1969-1971. (U Penn Press)
  • 1987 – Susan Sontag [1966]: Against Interpretation. (Farrar, Straus and Giroux)
  • 1987 – Gregory Bateson [1972]: Steps to an Ecology of Mind. (U Chicago Press)
  • 1987 – Jay Neugeboren [1968]:  Reflections at Thirty.
  • 1985 – Esquire Magazine Special Issue [June 1985]: The Soul of America.
  • 1985 – Brian Willan [1984]: Sol Plaatje: A Biography.
  • 1982 – John Miller Chernoff [1979]: African Rhythm and African Sensibility: Aesthetics and Social Action in African Musical Idioms. (University of Chicago Press)
  • 1981 – Walter Rodney [1972]: How Europe Underdeveloped Africa.  (London: Bogle-L’Overture Publications)
  • 1980 – James A. Michener [1971]: Kent State: What happened and Why.
  • 1980 – Andre Gunder Frank [1966]:  The Development of Underdevelopment.  (Monthly Review Press)
  • 1980 – Paul Feyerabend [1975]: Against Method: Outline of an Anarchistic Theory of Knowledge.
  • 1979 – Aldous Huxley [1945]:  The Perennial Philosophy.
  • 1978 – Christmas Humphreys [1949]:  Zen Buddhism.
  • 1977 – Raymond Smullyan [1977]:  The Tao is Silent.
  • 1976 – Bertrand Russell [1951-1969]:  The Autobiography.  (London: George Allen & Unwin)
  • 1975 – Jean-Francois Revel [1972]:  Without Marx or Jesus: The New American Revolution Has Begun.
  • 1974 – Charles Reich [1970]: The Greening of America.
  • 1973 – Selvarajan Yesudian and Elisabeth Haich [1953]:  Yoga and Health. (NY:  Harper)
  • 1972 – Robin Boyd [1960]: The Australian Ugliness.

PKOM at the Wigmore

This week, I was lucky to catch the first half of a concert by Finnish violinist Pekka Kuusisto and pianist/composer Olli Mustonen at London’s Wigmore Hall.   I heard them play Beethoven’s Violin Sonata in A (Op. 30, #1) and Mustonen’s Sonata for Violin and Piano, which was a world premiere.

As always with PK, the playing was superb and full of energy.   What he lacks in physical height, he more than makes up for in enthusiasm and pizzaz.  He is an extraordinarily talented violinist, and I try not to miss opportunities to hear him play.  (I have also heard him play piano, but the part was not a testing one.)

In the main, Beethoven’s violin sonatas do not impress me – our Ludwig couldn’t play the instrument nearly as well as he could play the piano, and this shows in his writing for the respective instruments.  I view these sonatas as really being piano sonatas with violin commentaries.  And, as so often with Beethoven, the music at some point comes to a stop, or nearly so, mid-way through the develoment section, like a clock winding down, and has to be re-started again.  What underlying psychological thing is going on here, I wonder, that this happens so often in B’s music?  After a while it becomes annoying, like a friend asking you the same unpleasant question every time you meet, and you end up wantIng to avoid talking with that person.

Mustonen’s Sonata was superb.  The programme notes warned us that he began as a composer of “Busonian neo-classicism”.   I thought this piece was not at all neo-classical, but also certainly not in the category of up-town modernist complexity.  The first part comprised an ever-present walking treble line of odd intervals by the violin, sequences of uneven lengths and different intervals not quite repeated exactly, with various waves of piano arising and decaying around this.   The particular odd intervals – tritones, sevenths – brought immediately to my mind some music of Australian composer Larry Sitsky, who studied with Egon Petri (1881-1962), who in turn was a student of Ferruccio Busoni (1866-1924).    The emotional waves of this first part were very stark.  Would I have thought of Sibelius and the forests of the North if I had not known the composer was Finnish?  I don’t know.

The transition between the second and third parts was slow and beautiful, and very moving, and the effects PK produced were simply stunning.  At one point, low trembling notes on the G string sounded like a breathy flute being played.  And a series of repeated patterns combining trills and vibrata on different fingers of the left hand, was very impressive.  Not at all clear how these effects were produced, but the independent but co-ordinated action of the left-hand fingers would have required long practice to achieve.  Perhaps the effect was partly due to rapid changes of speed and pressure on the bow, also.

It was a privilege to be in the presence of such superb music played by these two virtuosos.

Here is another review of the same concert, by an anonymous blogger.   Following the review, the blogger cites PK’s recording of Vivalid’s Four Seasons, as “restrained”.   I wonder if he or she was actually listening!    We’ve had 60 years of elegant, effete and twee recordings of The Seasons, so we know what restrained with regard to this music means.  PK’s treatment is rustic and earthy and full-blooded, as if the entire ensemble had been taken outside and roughed-up in the mud of the farmyard, and the complete opposite of restrained!   A simply superb interpretation, original, fresh and compelling.  Your milage certainly can vary, as people say.

Mathematics in Britain

From the music critic of The Times, writing in 1952 (issue of 2 May 1952, page 8, column 6, review of The Background of Music, by H. Lowery, published in 1952 by Hutchinson):

At Redbrick [University] they treat mathematics as an instrument of technology; at Cambridge they regard it as an ally of physics and an approach to philosophy; at Oxford they think of it as an art in itself having affinities with counterpoint and dancing.”

Quoted (incorrectly) by Ida Winifred Busbridge, in a 1974 history of mathematics at Oxford University, here. (Note that Busbridge writes “music” instead of “counterpoint”.)
Oxford University was a strong supporter of Catholicism in Elizabeth I’s time (eg, it was home to Thomas Campion), while Cambridge and the Fens, due to their proximity to the Netherlands, was the centre for an extreme Protestant sect, called the Family of Love, or the Familists.    Elizabeth I’s religious policy often sought to find a middle ground between these two extremes.   These religious differences persisted, so that Oxford was again, in the mid 19th-century, a centre of Catholic, and, within the Anglican Church, Anglo-Catholic (“High Church”) ideas.   The Redbrick Universities (Liverpool, Birmingham, Leeds, Victoria University of Manchester, etc), mostly founded in the North and Midlands of England in the late 19th century or early 20th century, were the result of money-raising campaigns by local business people and civic worthies, who were often of a Nonconformist or Jewish religious background.   The name Redbrick arose from novels written by a professor of Spanish at the University of Liverpool, Edgar Peers, about a fictional northern university modeled on Liverpool.

I don’t think the distinct differences between Nonconformist, Protestant and Catholic world views could be better expressed than those here between the philosophies of mathematics of Redbrick, Cambridge and Oxford:   Nonconformism as pragmatic utilitarianism; Protestantism as serious reflection on life’s higher ends; and Catholicism as enjoyment of life and its pleasures!

Brass in Perth

Brisbane Excelsior Brass Band have won the 2013 A-Grade Australian National Band Championships, held in Perth, WA, last week.  Congratulations to all!

According to this band contest archive,  Excelsior have previously won the national championship in 2005, 2006, 2007, 2008 and 2010.  Some members of the band performed last year in a concert in Tyalgum, NSW, which I reported here, and in a concert two years ago in Bundamba to celebrate 125 years of the Salvation Army in Ipswich, Qld.

Composers concat

While making lists of artists whose work speaks to me, here’s my list of classical composers likewise.  Of course, I don’t necessarily like everything these composers wrote.

  • Johann Adam Reincken (1643-1722)
  • Johann Sebastian Bach (1685-1750)
  • Johan Helmich Roman (1694-1758)
  • Joseph Haydn (1732-1809)
  • Michael Haydn (1737-1806)
  • Johann Baptist Vanhal (1739-1813)
  • Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart (1756-1791)
  • Luigi Cherubini (1760-1842)
  • Ludwig van Beethoven (1770-1827)
  • Johann Hummel (1778-1837)
  • Franz Schubert (1797-1828)
  • Louise Farrenc (1804-1875)
  • Fanny Mendelssohn (1805-1847)
  • Juan Chrisostomo Arriaga (1806-1826)
  • Felix Mendelssohn (1809-1847)
  • Robert Schumann (1810-1856)
  • William Sterndale Bennett (1816-1875)
  • Neils Gade (1817-1890)
  • Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky (1840–1893)
  • Antoni Stolpe (1851-1872)
  • Claude Debussy (1862-1918)
  • Alfred Hill (1869-1960)
  • Colin McPhee (1900-1964)
  • Aram Khachaturian (1903–1978)
  • Dmitri Shostakovich (1906-1975)
  • John Cage (1912-1992)
  • Jim Penberthy (1917-1999)
  • Iannis Xenakis (1922-2001)
  • Morton Feldman (1926-1987)
  • Peter Sculthorpe  (1929-2014)
  • Toru Takemitsu (1930-1996)
  • Richard Meale (1932-2009)
  • Terry Riley (1935- )
  • Steve Reich (1936- )
  • Philip Glass (1937- )
  • Louis Andriessen (1939- )
  • Michael Nyman (1944- )
  • Barry Conyngham (1944- )
  • John Adams (1947- )
  • Akira Nishimura (1953- )
  • Cecilie Ore (1954- )
  • Pascal Dusapin (1955- )
  • Andrew McGuiness
  • Christophe Bertrand (1981-2010).

The alert reader will notice the absence of Richard Wagner.   This is deliberate.

Irishness and Jewishness

A friend’s thoughtful meditation on the different natures of Irishness and Jewishness:

Irishness, at least in its North London manifestation, was clearly a much more inclusive category than I had been prepared for.  There were quite a few Black Irish people, and one or two Chinese ones.  There were a couple of others with what looked to me like Jewish faces, though they might equally have been Greek.
I don’t know how everyone in the room felt about this; but I do know that there was no outward sign that anybody had any feelings about it at all. Then and subsequently, I have never come across any handwringing about who the traditional music activities ought to be for, let alone ‘who is an Irish person?’ The activity was Irish in content, and that was enough.  Other, non-Irish people’s participation did not detract from its Irishness or threaten its existence or value.
In our community, interest by others in our culture is rarely taken at face value.  Although discussions about Jewish culture are often shot through with barely-veiled assumptions about cultural superiority, we are usually suspicious about anyone else wanting to partake.  Perhaps it’s because we are afraid that it won’t stand up to much scrutiny from anyone without a sentimental attachment to it; or maybe we are worried that they are only showing an interest so that they can insinuate themselves into our superior institutions. Why else would non-Jews be trying to sneak into our schools?
Either way, there is an all-pervasive obsession with maintaining and policing a boundary, with determining who is and isn’t entitled to come in.  Look at the selection processes associated with admission to Jewish schools, or the application forms for joining a synagogue.  No-one at Meitheal Cheoil ever asked me for my parents’ marriage certificate.
I don’t want to imply that Irish culture is inherently inclusive and anti-racist.  I’m sure that someone else could find plenty of counter-examples, together with joyous examples of Jewish inclusiveness and syncretism.  But I don’t think that the Jewish obsession with boundaries and separation, which make up an enormous proportion of our law and our lore, are merely accidental add-ons to our culture either. In biblical and talmudic Judaism, the principle of distinction and separation, and the importance of keeping things from mixing, is always imbued with a moral and theological dimension.
We are forbidden to mix meat and milk; fish and meat on the same plate; wool and linen in the same garment; and forbidden to yoke two kinds of animals to the same plough.  God does not like it when we mix things, stuff, or ourselves.  It’s worth remembering this next time you get into one of those discussions about the essential ethical core of Judaism.

 

Akira Nishimura: Bird Heterophony

Two weeks ago, the BBC Symphony Orchestra held a series of concerts at the Barbican and at LSO St Luke’s of new and 20th-century music from Japan.  Parts of these concerts were rebroadcast on BBC Radio 3.  A highlight was a work called Bird Heterophony by Akira Nishimura, who teaches at the Tokyo College of Music.  This music was loud, forceful and exciting, and very impressive.  It reminded me of those great early works of Iannis Xenakis, Metastaseis and Pithoprakta.    Much as I like the impressionism of Toru Takemitsu (whose November Steps was also performed), it is nice to hear modern Japanese music from a vastly different sound world.   It is a pity though about the title:  how much better the music could be appreciated if Nishimura had left the title abstract, rather than steering our mental imagery with a representational title.
The one recording seems to be unavailable, at least in the West.    Messages for the 21st Century Volume 1.   Orchestra Ensemble Kanazawa, under Hiroyuki Iwaki.   Deutsche Grammophon,  POGC-1719, 1993.
Meanwhile a clip of the performance is currently still available from the BBC Radio 3 website for the program, Hear and Now, 2 February 2013 edition.