Would anyone go to a blockbuster still life exhibition? I would, even if by the end I longed to escape and hungered for a landscape or figure. It’s hard to find a book on still life, but it might be soothing to indulge oneself in something so limited. Still life, or it could equally be Roman Britain, the history of Australia, French tapestries or the Palliser novels.
Small differences would become important. And there’s a lost language of allegory and symbols to learn.
And seventeenth-century lemons, pomegranates, loaves and fish have more DNA, more layers of reality, than their etiolated supermarket descendants.
We rarely see a butcher (or butchery, as they call them in Africa), never mind abattoir. In the middle east, even urban families are about to start slaughtering animals in their own bathrooms for Eid al-Adha.
Jacopo da Empoli (1551-1640), Still Life (c 1625)
Luis Meléndez (1716-80), Still Life with Apples, Grapes, Melons, Bread, Jug and Bottle
Odilon Redon (1840-1916), Flowers (1903)
George Clausen (1852-1944), Michaelmas Daisies and Cornflowers in a Jug (1940), exuberant piece painted at the age of 88
The Chinese Pot (still life by Clausen, old post).
Archive for the 'Uncategorised' Category
Top three: teacher, architect, doctor.
Then felt I like some watcher of the skies
When a new planet swims into his ken,
Or like stout Cortez when, with eagle eyes,
He stared at the Pacific, and all his men
Look’d at each other with a wild surmise,
Silent, upon a peak in Darien.
Keats, of course. From On First Looking into Chapman’s Homer. A Petrarchan sonnet written in iambic pentameters.
The planet was Uranus, identified by Hershel in 1781, the year of the Iron Bridge, before Keats was born, and the first to be added to the list since antiquity. It is visible to the naked eye, but had been thought to be a star.
The discovery of four moons of Jupiter by Galileo, and of five of Saturn, one by Huygens, four by Cassini, preceded Hershel’s discovery. Jupiter’s Ganymede and Callisto may just be visible with the naked eye.
Herschel went on, after a few years, to discover two Uranian moons, followed by two more of Saturn.
The first four asteroids were discovered during Keats’s boyhood. Three of them are at the extreme margin of visibility with the naked eye. The first was observed on the first day of the nineteenth century.
The first Europeans to see the east coast of the Pacific were members of Vasco Núñez de Balboa’s expedition. Wikipedia: “Keats had been reading William Robertson’s History of America and [...] conflated two scenes there described: Balboa’s finding of the Pacific  and Cortés’s first view of the Valley of Mexico . The Balboa passage: ‘At length the Indians assured them, that from the top of the next mountain they should discover the ocean which was the object of their wishes. When, with infinite toil, they had climbed up the greater part of the steep ascent, Balboa commanded his men to halt, and advanced alone to the summit, that he might be the first who should enjoy a spectacle which he had so long desired. As soon as he beheld the South Sea [Mar del Sur] stretching in endless prospect below him, he fell on his knees, and lifting up his hands to Heaven, returned thanks to God, who had conducted him to a discovery so beneficial to his country, and so honourable to himself. His followers, observing his transports of joy, rushed forward to join in his wonder, exultation, and gratitude’ (Vol. III).”
“Keats’ generation was familiar enough with the polished literary translations of John Dryden and Alexander Pope, which gave Homer an urbane gloss similar to Virgil, but expressed in blank verse or heroic couplets. Chapman’s vigorous and earthy paraphrase (1616) was put before Keats by Charles Cowden Clarke, a friend from his days as a pupil at a boarding school in Enfield Town. They sat up together till daylight to read it: ‘Keats shouting with delight as some passage of especial energy struck his imagination. At ten o’clock the next morning, Mr. Clarke found the sonnet on his breakfast-table.’” No source given for the quotation.
The earlier lines:
“Much have I travell’d in the realms of gold,
And many goodly states and kingdoms seen;
Round many western islands have I been
Which bards in fealty to Apollo hold.
Oft of one wide expanse had I been told
That deep-browed Homer ruled as his demesne;
Yet did I never breathe its pure serene
Till I heard Chapman speak out loud and bold:”
Landscapes (old post).
A Study of History, Vol X, OUP, 1954
Architectural style: a kind of postmodern neoclassical, esp one characterised by broken pediments, split gables and brightly coloured faux-balconies with X railings. Used in corporate headquarters from the London suburbs to Bangalore.
Andrew Cover, a friend of mine, coined this c 2000.
Back September 22.
Horn Trio. Barenboim, Perlman, Clevenger. Second movement, 2:58-3:32.
Back September 6.
Since I mentioned Hammersmith and Gustav Holst in the last post (including comments), here is Holst’s enigmatic Hammersmith (1930): a prelude and a scherzo. Eastman Wind Ensemble, Frederick Fennell. I wonder what Miss Strudwick thought of it.
Back August 17.
Back August 9.
Odd, in a way, to write a C major symphony in 1940. Having juxtaposed Stravinsky and one arch-conservative, Rabaud, let’s put him next to Hans Pfitzner now. Pfitzner, born 1869, returns to his romantic roots, defying the twentieth century, as he had not quite done, for example, in his C sharp minor symphony of 1932, in a 1940 symphony in C.
Allegro moderato, Adagio, Presto. Premiere October 11 1940, I presume in Berlin. Performers here not stated. Pfitzner recorded it with the Berlin Philharmonic, as did Furtwängler with the Vienna Philharmonic, but this isn’t either of those:
Here’s the Stravinsky Symphony in C (he began it in 1938). Moderato alla breve, Larghetto concertante, Allegretto, Largo – Tempo giusto, alla breve. Premiere November 7 1940, Chicago Symphony Orchestra under Stravinsky. This is Solti with the same orchestra:
Back July 20.
Back July 5.
Extended absence merely pressure of work.
I’ll continue this little 1914 music sequence on May 9.
Ravel began composing it in March 1914. During the summer of 1914, he worked in the French Basque commune of Saint-Jean-de-Luz. He had been born across the bay in the Basque town of Ciboure. His mother was Basque.
At the same time he was working on a piano concerto based on Basque themes entitled Zazpiak Bat (The Seven are One, referring to the seven traditional Basque provinces). Although abandoned, it left its mark on the trio.
The outbreak of war in August 1914 spurred him on to finish the trio so that he could enlist. He finished it in September. He was accepted as a nurse’s aide by the Army in October. In March 1916 he became an ambulance driver at the Verdun front (Vaughan Williams did the same job with the Royal Army Medical Corps in France and in Salonika). He fell ill at the end of that year and was demobilised in March 1917.
Movements are marked Modéré, Pantoum (Assez vif), Passacaille (Très large) and Final (Animé).
Yehudi Menuhin, violin, Gaspar Cassadó, cello, Louis Kentner, piano, 1960:
Not an ideal recording technically, but nor is the equally musical Jeanne Gautier, André Lévy, Vlado Perlemuter, 1954, also on YouTube.
A good student performance is by Iason Keramidis, Felix Drake and Lidija Pavlovic, Hochschule für Musik Karlsruhe, July 13 2012:
At the beginning of this work, aren’t we close to the world of On Wenlock Edge? Vaughan Williams had studied with Ravel, who was his junior by two and a half years, in Paris for three months in early 1908. In February 1912, he attended the French premiere of On Wenlock Edge in Paris at which Ravel played the piano part. Isn’t it possible that the influence went both ways?
In music in the German-speaking world there was jitteriness in these years, but not the stillness and vulnerability which one hears in some French and English music on the eve of 1914.
Ravel, Ciboure, 1914
… or, The last season
It is impossible to imagine two composers more different than Stravinsky and Henri Rabaud (1873-1949), who was known for his tirades against modernism.
The phrase “Stravinsky and Rabaud”, and the other way round, does not appear on the internet.
Yet the two notable operatic premieres in Paris in the last season before the outbreak of the Great War were oriental fairy-tales by them. Rabaud’s five-act Mârouf, savetier du Caire was performed at the Opéra-Comique on May 15. Stravinsky’s Debussyan three-scene Le rossignol at the Palais Garnier on May 26.
The Rabaud, which was revived at the Opéra-Comique last year, was based on The Arabian Nights, with a libretto by Lucien Nepoty. The Stravinsky, which is set in ancient China, on Hans Christian Andersen, with a libretto by the composer and Stepan Mitussov. Stravinsky had begun working on it in 1908, but put it aside to work on the three Diaghilev ballets.
The premiere of The Rite of Spring (surely the most overrated work of the twentieth century) had taken place at the Théâtre des Champs-Élysées on May 29 1913.
The two operas do not inhabit entirely different worlds. Music has become marooned in a kind of static orientalism. Charles Friant, tenor, Dans le jardin fleuri, from Mârouf, a beautiful example of a style of French singing, now lost, which gives meaning to an opera like this:
Le rossignol, scene 1, performers not stated:
Géori Boué (still living), soprano, 1948, Pourquoi ces mots inattendus, from Mârouf (will open in a new window):
André Gaudin, tenor, 1930, A travers le désert, from Mârouf (will open in a new window):
Darius Milhaud’s third string quartet, opus 32 (1916) is subtitled En souvenir du printemps 1914 and has two movements, both marked Très lent.
The second movement contains a setting of words from the journal of his Catholic friend Léo Latil, also from Aix-en-Provence, who was killed at Souain in the Marne on September 27 1915. I’ll quote them in a comment when I find them. The first quotes from his own earlier setting of Latil’s poem Le rossignol.
“My adolescence was lit by the glow of two wonderful friendships.” One was with Latil. The other was with Armand Lunel, a Juif du Pape and the last known speaker of the Judeo-Provençal Shuadit language, a now-extinct Occitan.
From Notes without Music, quoted at The Eastside View (my links):
“Leo … attended the Catholic school [...]. We became firm friends. He worshipped music and admired my early efforts with passionate conviction; he made me share his admiration for Maurice de Guérin, and we loved to discover contemporary poets together. I think Leo would probably have become a country priest. The infinite tenderness in his gaze betrayed a tendency to melancholy and a tormented sense of anxiety. He kept a diary that was one long lamentation in which spiritual weariness and painfully intense religious feeling, dominated ever by a deep spirit of sacrifice and absolute resignation, were interwoven with a passionate love of nature, of flowers, and of the exquisite blue lines of the horizon at Aix. He was a dreamer, in love with solitary brooding, but he accepted my presence. We often went for walks together; he would always take the same direction, toward the Étang de Berre, west of the town, where the softly curving hills merge into the immensity of the plain, on the edge of which stood Cézanne’s property, Jas de Bouffan, with its famous row of poplars gently suffused with the colours of the setting sun. [Milhaud himself is often called a musical Cézanne.] We never wearied of walking along between the fields of wheat, blue-green in spring, bordered with almond trees in bloom, dwarf oaks, and pines, through exquisite landscapes, some of which, like the Château de l’Horloge, evoked historical memories: according to Chateaubriand, it was in this solid, roomy farmhouse that Napoleon spent the night on his return from Elba. Sometimes we went as far as Malvalat, the Latils’ estate near Granettes, a village that took its name from the painter Granet, who lived there […].”
Same source (I have the book, but not to hand):
“Léo was stationed at Briançon in the Chasseurs Alpins. He looked on the war as a mission, a solution to his personal problems, and got himself sent to the front as soon as he could.”
“On September 27, 1915, as I was going across the Place de Villiers [in Paris, where he was studying], I felt an exceedingly acute physical pang, which lasted several seconds. I immediately thought of Leo and feared that some disaster had befallen him. Later I was to learn that I had felt this pain at the very moment of his death. It was at the height of an offensive in Champagne; he had been wounded, but though no longer able to handle a rifle, he refused to be evacuated, so that he might take part in the attack with his comrades. He was mown down by the German machine guns at the head of his company while encouraging his men. His family sent me a copy of his will; he had left me his diary. He had deposited it, together with my letters, in an old wooden chest, an eighteenth-century sailor’s trunk; I added the letters I had received from him. Subsequently Dr. Latil [Léo’s father, a doctor; George Butterworth’s was a solicitor] had a selection of his letters and extracts from his diary published by Plon. This supreme testimony of his pure Christian faith and spirit of self-sacrifice was singled out for mention by Barres on account of the nobility of its thought. While I was in Brazil I had a hundred copies of Leo’s poems privately printed. A few months after his death, I wrote my Third String Quartet, dedicated to his memory. This consists of two very slow movements, in the second of which I introduced a soprano voice singing a page from Leo’s diary, ending: ‘What is this longing for death, and which death does it mean?’ This sentence had haunted my imagination ever since I had read it.”
Milhaud also composed:
Trois poèmes de Léo Latil, opus 2 (1910-16, Prière à mon poète [Jammes] et à la petite Bernadette, sa fille; Clair de lune; Il pleut doucement)
Quatre poèmes de Léo Latil, opus 20 (1914, L’abandon; Ma douleur et sa compagne; Le rossignol; La tourterelle) and
Poème du journal intime de Léo Latil, pour baryton et piano, opus 73 (1921).
He wrote other works with printemps in the title, including one for violin and piano probably in the spring of 1914. He set texts by Lunel, Jammes and Claudel in many more works, in each case up to the ’60s.
The death of Latil was the end of Milhaud’s youth. A rheumatic illness exempted him from fighting. It would confine him to a wheelchair for the second half of his life. But he did a different war work. Brazil entered the war in April 1917. A few weeks before that, he arrived in Rio to take the post of secretary to Claudel, who had been appointed France’s ambassador (ministre plénipotentiaire) to Brazil in the previous year.
He dedicated his second string quartet, opus 16 (not 12 as stated on YouTube, 1914-15) to Latil, perhaps on hearing the news of his death. The movements are marked Modérément animé, très animé; Très lent; Très vif; Souple et sans hâte – assez animé et gracieux; Très animé. Here it is, played, like the third, by the Quatuor Parisii:
Both paintings by Henri Le Sidaner.
A remarkable, little-known, bittersweet early piece by Heitor Villa-Lobos, Sonata-fantaisie for violin and piano no 1, Désespérance (Rio de Janeiro, 1912). Much disturbance under an at times Brahmsian (at the beginning even Bach-through-Brahmsian) surface.
A good performance of this not very despairing work, but the magical violin harmonics after 3:47 should be more delicate and the piano should have introduced that moment better.
Emmanuele Baldini (Italian living in São Paulo), violin, Pablo Rossi (Brazilian), piano, Sala Palestrina, Brazilian Embassy in Rome
Brazil declared war on Germany and Italy in 1942 and sent 25,000 troops to Italy.
There is a CD with Jue Yao, violin, and Alfred Heller.
Back April 22.
At the Canadian lunch in London in 1933 at which Kipling proposed the toast (last post), the seconder was Chesterton. No film (or none that I am aware of), but here is a complete sound recording.
Is there a complete recording of Kipling? The YouTube poster and commenters wrongly assume that Chesterton is speaking in Canada. Also, he is not “introducing” Kipling.
He refers to the President of the Royal Society of Literature, Lord Crewe.
I like his phrase “our more fatigued society” about Britain compared with North America.
When he reads poetry, Chesterton’s voice sounds almost classless, but there is an occasional lower middle-class twang here. Kipling’s accent is that of the broad English educated class, of which the Oxford accent and the BBC accent were distinct offshoots.
Who even knew that there was film of Kipling, and with sound?
Full text here (the Kipling Society has the year wrong and contradicts itself as to the day), with a link to notes. It’s a subtle set of remarks and a fine tribute to Canada.
“Although the summer sunlight gild
Cloudy leafage of the sky,
Or wintry moonlight sink the field
In storm-scattered intricacy,
I cannot look thereon,
Responsibility so weighs me down.
Things said or done long years ago,
Or things I did not do or say
But thought that I might say or do,
Weigh me down, and not a day
But something is recalled,
My conscience or my vanity appalled.”
Yeats, from Vacillation, not in the collection called Responsibilities, but a later one, The Winding Stair.
Back April 3.
The first item, Schumann’s Manfred overture, in the event, reported on the front page of The New York Times on the following day, that launched Leonard Bernstein’s career. The CBS radio introduction tells us what we need to know (the words “American-born” are key); the heady wartime singing of The Star-Spangled Banner is moving (you can hear that they are winning), the Schumann thrilling:
Benjamin Britten, fourth of six Songs from the Chinese for voice and guitar, opus 58, 1957; texts from Arthur Waley, translator, Chinese Poems, 1946; Lu You, twelfth-century Southern Song; Peter Pears, Julian Bream, 1963:
“In the southern village the boy who minds the ox
With his naked feet stands on the ox’s back.
Through the hole in his coat the river wind blows;
Through his broken hat the mountain rain pours.
On the long dyke he seemed to be far away;
In the narrow lane suddenly we were face to face.
The boy is home and the ox is back in its stall;
And a dark smoke oozes through the thatched roof.”
Playlist for the cycle, same performers:
The Big Chariot, from The Book of Songs, eleventh to seventh centuries BC
The Old Lute, Po Chü-i, Tang
The Autumn Wind, Wu-ti, Han
Depression, Po Chü-i
Dance Song, from The Book of Songs.
Back March 10.
One part of BBC music that is still up to par most of the time is Building a Library (Radio 3). Jonathan Swain last Saturday on Vaughan Williams’s ninth symphony (a kind of continuation of his sixth, also in e minor) proved that. But they need to do some living or recent composers: composers if not specific works. What to buy by Ligeti, Xenakis?
Quartet movement: Allegro vivace 1952
String Quartet 1961 To Alexander Goehr
- 1982 To Oriel Glock (In Memoriam)
- 1987 Reconstructed from 1977 sketches
Naxos Quartets 2002-07
- To Ian Kellam
- To Eric Guest
- Children’s Games To Giuseppe Rebecchini
- Lighthouses of Orkney and Shetland To Thomas Daniel Schlee
- To Alexander Goehr
- Metafore sul Borromini To Archie Bevan on his eightieth birthday
- To Her Majesty The Queen on her eightieth birthday
- To Kathleen Ollerenshaw
- To the memory of Fausto Moroni
Blake Dreaming String quartet and baritone 2010 Commissioned by Nicholas and Judith Goodison
Concerto Accademico String orchestra and string quartet 2012 Commissioned by Regia Accademia Filarmonica of Bologna and Stuttgarter Kammerorchester
Why this? I’m trying to get to know them.
I am starting with the seventh because of its affinity, via Borromini, with the tenth symphony, whose premiere I attended the other day.
Am also trying to get to know the third symphony (1984), which was inspired in part by the churches of Brunelleschi.
The seventh has been criticised for being all slow movements, seven of them. That is its virtue. It is not overly Beethovenian, nor agitated and expressionist, nor minimalist, nor monotonous, nor funereal.
A big Roman work to parallel the seventh quartet and tenth symphony is the tone poem Roma Amor (1998), which I heard at the Proms several years ago.
This is all a way into Max that does not go via the Orkneys.
Back January 19.
Back December 28.
Brahms, Zwölf deutsche Volkslieder, WoO 35, no 9, Altes Volkslied. Amadeus-Chor, Nicol Matt. Words in a comment. Rembrandt, The Evangelist Matthew Inspired by the Angel, Louvre.
Back December 5.
Michael Tippett dedicated his Concerto for Orchestra to Britten on his fiftieth birthday (last post). Performed LSO, Colin Davis, Edinburgh Festival, August 28 1963.
When I listen to it now, the theory of a “great divide” in his music between the works before and after King Priam seems mistaken. The Concerto for Orchestra seems to me to grow naturally enough out of the Corelli Fantasia and the piano concerto.
LSO, Colin Davis (not, I think, the premiere):
Tippett himself (not Meirion Bowen, I think) made a successful setting of the first movement for wind band (no longer on YouTube), called Mosaic (not a very wind-bandy name).
Was the only known photograph of Britten and Tippett together taken at a Britten fiftieth birthday party? Britten dedicated his church parable Curlew River to Tippett in the following year.
The London Sinfonietta’s 1986 Britten-Tippett Festival should be repeated.
See Arnold Whittall, The Music of Britten and Tippett, Studies in Themes and Techniques, Cambridge University Press, 1990. And Ivan Hewett, Michael Tippett: a visionary in the shadow of his rival, Telegraph, October 19 2012.
Benjamin Britten was born on St Cecilia’s day a hundred years ago today.
Hymn to St Cecilia has words by Auden. Composed US, 1940-42. Text shown in clip. Kings College Choir, Sir David Willcocks.
His fiftieth birthday, fifty years ago today and the day of Kennedy’s assassination (last post), saw the publication of Tribute to Benjamin Britten on his Fiftieth Birthday, elegantly produced by Faber. Tributes by William Plomer, Imogen Holst, Ronald Duncan, Peter Pears, Yehudi Menuhin, EM Forster, Julian Bream, Aaron Copland, Francis Poulenc, Mstislav Rostropovich, George Malcolm, Kenneth Clark and others. Anthony Gishford, editor. 1963 was the year of the great Cello Symphony, of the Cantata misericordium, and of Nocturnal after John Dowland for guitar.
A conversation [...] took place in the nineteen-twenties between the Zaydi Imam Yahya of Sanʿa and a British envoy whose mission was to persuade the Imam to restore peacefully a portion of the British Aden Protectorate which he had occupied during the general War of 1914-18 and had refused to evacuate thereafter, notwithstanding the defeat of his Ottoman overlords. In a final interview with the Imam, after it had become apparent that the mission would not attain its object, the British envoy, wishing to give the conversation another turn, complimented the Imam upon the soldierly appearance of his new-model army. Seeing that the Imam took the compliment in good part, he went on:
“And I suppose you will be adopting other Western institutions as well?”
“I think not,” said the Imam with a smile.
“Oh, really? That interests me. And may I venture to ask your reasons?”
“Well, I don’t think I should like other Western institutions,” said the Imam.
“Indeed? And what institutions, for example?”
“Well, there are parliaments,” said the Imam. “I like to be the Government myself. I might find a parliament tiresome.”
“Why, as for that,” said the Englishman, “I can assure you that responsible parliamentary representative government is not an indispensable part of the apparatus of Western civilization. Look at Italy. She has given that up, and she is one of the great Western powers.”
“Well, then there is alcohol,” said the Imam, “I don’t want to see that introduced into my country, where at present it is happily almost unknown.”
“Very natural,” said the Englishman; “but, if it comes to that, I can assure you that alcohol is not an indispensable adjunct of Western civilization either. Look at America. She has given up that, and she too is one of the great Western powers.”
“Well, anyhow,” said the Imam, with another smile which seemed to intimate that the conversation was at an end, “I don’t like parliaments and alcohol and that kind of thing.”
The Englishman could not make out whether there was any suggestion of humour in the parting smile with which the last five words were uttered; but, however that might be, those words went to the heart of the matter and showed that the inquiry about possible further Western innovations at Sanʿa had been more pertinent than the Imam might have cared to admit. Those words indicated, in fact, that the Imam, viewing Western civilization from a great way off, saw it, in that distant perspective, as something one and indivisible and recognized certain features of it, which to a Westerner’s eye would appear to have nothing whatever to do with one another, as being organically related parts of that indivisible whole. Thus, on his own tacit admission, the Imam, in adopting the rudiments of the Western military technique, had introduced into the life of his people the thin end of a wedge which in time would inexorably cleave their close-compacted traditional Islamic civilization asunder. He had started a cultural revolution which would leave the Yamanites, in the end, with no alternative but to cover their nakedness with a complete ready-made outfit of Western clothes. If the Imam had met his Hindu contemporary Mr. Gandhi, that is what he would have been told, and such a prophecy would have been supported by what had happened already to other Islamic peoples who had exposed themselves to the insidious process of “Westernization” several generations earlier.
Toynbee’s distant perspectives are as dangerous as the Imam’s. The modern cultural interaction of the West with other societies was a subtler process than he acknowledges. He rarely examines its nuances. He had a rather superficial conception of what constituted modernity.
The Imam is, in Toynbeean terminology, a Zealot rather than a Herodian.
Britain in Yemen (old post).
Civilization on Trial, OUP, 1948
Back November 17.