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Month: April, 2012

l. I thought once how Theocritus had sung – Elizabeth Barrett Browning

from “Sonnets from the Portuguese

1. I thought once how Theocritus had sung

I thought once how Theocritus had sung
Of the sweet years, the dear and wished-for years,
Who each one in a gracious hand appears
To bear a gift for mortals, old or young:
And, as I mused it in his antique tongue,
I saw, in gradual vision through my tears,
The sweet, sad years, the melancholy years,
Those of my own life, who by turns had flung
A shadow across me. Straightway I was ‘ware,
So weeping, how a mystic Shape did move
Behind me, and drew me backward by the hair;
And a voice said in mastery, while I strove, —
‘Guess now who holds thee?’ — ‘Death,’ I said. But, there,
The silver answer rang, — ‘Not Death, but Love.’

Elizabeth Barrett Browning


despite trying to deflect attention from her own love
and muse, her husband, by calling her collection of
poems Sonnets from the Portuguese“, as though these
were translations from existing texts, no such template
exists, so that the truth, the now legendary truth, has
always been known

there is no higher Romanticism than these poems


psst: Elizabeth was six years older than her husband,
she was already 39, when they met, this adds
context to the poem, she had also been always
very sickly, deathly frail

“I love your verses” – Robert Browning‏

I am overwhelmed, a letter from Robert Browning to
Elizabeth Barrett Browning congratulating her on her
poetry, and essentially declaring his, ultimately
legendary, love, they hadn’t even met yet, no wonder
I love Robert Browning

later she would write her Sonnets from the Portuguese“,
he would become, well, of course, him

“January 10th, 1845
New Cross, Hatcham, Surrey

I love your verses with all my heart, dear Miss Barrett,–and this is no off-hand
complimentary letter that I shall write,–whatever else, no prompt matter-of-
course recognition of your genius and there a graceful and
natural end of the
thing: since the day last week when I first read your poems, I quite laugh to
remember how I have been turning again in my mind what I should be able to
tell you of their effect upon me–for in the first flush of delight I thought I would
this once get out of my habit of purely passive enjoyment, when I do really enjoy, and thoroughly justify my admiration–perhaps even, as a loyal fellow-craftsman should, try and find fault and do you some little good to be proud of herafter!–but
nothing comes of it all–so into me has it gone, and part of me has it become, this great living poetry of yours, not a flower of which but took root and grew… oh, how different that is from lying to be dried and pressed flat and prized highly and put in a book with a proper account at bottom, and shut up and put away… and the book called a ‘Flora’, besides! After all, I need not give up the thought of doing that, too, in time; because even now, talking with whoever is worthy, I can give reason for my faith in one and another excellence, the fresh strange music, the affluent language, the exquisite pathos and true new brave thought–but in this addressing myself to you, your own self, and for the first time, my feeling rises altogher. I do, as I say, love these Books with all my heart– and I love you too: do you know I was once seeing you? Mr. Kenyon said to me one morning “would you like to see Miss Barrett?”–then he went to announce me,–then he returned… you were too unwell — and now it is years ago–and I feel as at some untorward passage in my travels–as if I had been close, so close, to some world’s-wonder in chapel on crypt,… only a screen to push and I might have entered — but there was some slight… so it now seems… slight and just-sufficient bar to admission, and the half-opened door shut, and I went home my thousands of miles, and the sight was never to be!

Well, these Poems were to be–and this true thankful joy and pride with which I feel myself. Yours ever faithfully Robert Browning”

recently I saw a show, an opera cabaret they called it,
Sonnets from the Portuguese had been set to music, for
soprano, mezzo, tenor, and baritone, two men, two women,
music by a local composer, lyrics of course by Ms Barrett

except for the first piece, the prologue, the letter above

can you even dig it, for me cerebral nirvana

what the opera cabaret lacked in polish it made up for in
evident devotion, nor did the music disappoint, an esoteric
idea had been brought to heartfelt life enough to entertain
and indeed to inspire

I’m now reading the poems


Mozart Sonata no 16, in C major, K545‏

though his Sonata no 16, K545, was not officially submitted
by Mozart until 1788, when he was 32, it sounds musically
now so elementary, so even folkloric in its structure and
cultural impact, that it seems composed at a much earlier
age, but no one knows 
it is also to my mind the most clear example of what is
meant when we speak of Classical music 
the structure is simple, each movement, of which there
are Classically three, and later four for gravitas, though
Mozart himself in his sonatas never exceeded three,
present an air, followed by a contrasting air, followed
by the whole thing over again, these segments, call and
response, like verse and refrain in folkloric melodies,
are easily identified and even to follow, with Mozart
I often sing along, even in the grander concert stuff 
significantly there is no other motive in Classical music
but entertainment, the Church had ceded its hold on
composers to aristocrats, who collected them like
paintings to adorn their courts, and the idea of
personal expression, as implanted by Beethoven
hadn’t yet taken hold, nor had the French Revolution 
for a good time, in other words, call Mozart, Haydn
is a lot of unadulterated fun too
Beethoven will allow us to express our feelings,
which in our age has permitted the wails of the
disconsolate to soar to often, I think, too egregious 
heights, to replace stalwart courage and honour,
exemplified symbolically in a culture by strict
refinement and courtesy, the very stuff of
Classical sensibility 
the piano had been a very recent invention, able for
having been tempered, where notes of all keys had
been adjusted in order to be superimposed on a
keyboard to easily swing, or to modulate, from one
key to another, A, Bb, C#, et cetera, and was in the
process of determining the very sonic landscape 
the new era would handle, the very adjustment,
the tempering, by definition supplanted the exact
tone of the key, to fit of course the more convenient
superimpositions, in other words we’ve become
fundamentally attuned to atonality, gotcha, do ré,
mi are off
you change keys for reasons of mood, major, minor,
or to accompany for instance in a more comfortable 
range another instrument or a singer 
in early Classical pieces keys don’t change much 
within a movement, if indeed at all, but do contrast,
at this point in musical history, from one movement
to another, this of course will change    
the Sonata no 16, K545, of Mozart, his Sonata facile,
or semplice, is played here by Gavin M. George, age 7
this doesn’t seem at all in this context inappropriate,
Mozart too was a wunderkind, a wonder, at that
precocious age 

“Pink Bunch” – Raoul Dufy

Pink bunch - Raoul Dufy

                                          “Pink Bunch  (1940)
                                                 Raoul Dufy 


the line between abstraction and representation, impressions of flowers becoming real flowers   in the imagination, with colour, texture, and nearly even dew
have a great day 



the “Ode to Joy”‏

the Ode to Joyfrom Beethoven’s 9th Symphonythe
last part of the fourth movement, not to mention the
entire 9th Symphony itself, is without question the most
celebrated piece of music in the service of humanity in 
the very history of music, it brings together everyone in
an appeal for universal concord, community and hope
through the example of the music itself, a splendid array
of people and purposes in one common inspirational
aspiration, that aspiration not in any way dominion
but universal joy 
can we do it 
they do it here, in spades  
a Japanese orchestra and chorus of ten thousand, yes, 
ten thousand, perform superbly this German composer, 
interesting considering our not so distant bellicose past, 
it is a Japanese tradition apparently at the end of
December, in commemoration in this instance, Osaka,
1911, of the victims of the recent tsunami, they play in 
complete and utterly admirable harmony, each doing 
splendid honour to each as indeed the music suggests 
we all should
maybe we can, maybe we are, doing it  
incidentally no one had included voices ever in a
symphony before Beethoven, the premiere must
have been extraordinary 
this performance sure is  
psst: Leonard Bernstein conducts the Vienna Philharmonic in
         the full symphony, Placido Domingo sings with the chorus,
         it’s 1970 

Olivier Messiaen – “Et exspecto resurrectionem mortuorum”

just in time for Easter here is something from
Olivier Messiaen, whom I consider to be, after
Shostakovich, the most important composer of
the Twentieth Century, and may one day, with
more distance, prove to be, of the two,
Messiaen, a devout Catholic, wrote specifically
to the glory of the Catholic God, an interesting
return to the music of the Baroque period, and
earlier, when the Church sponsored essentially
all the arts  
perhaps Messiaen is also a precursor – the Et
exspecto resurrectionem mortuorum“, which
I’m presenting, or, in my humble Latin,”In 
is from 1964 – of the resurgent fundamentalism
we’ve been witnessing in all churches,
synagogues, mosques, in our own times
Et exspecto resurrectionem mortuorum“, is
not at all Romantic, not even Impressionistic,
two world wars have been fought since, man  
has stepped on the unglorious moon, God even
died in the early sixties leaving us to reinvent
our own future, a time of youth and flowers,
and great indeed expectations, as it turned out  
the even profound assumptions of the earlier
order however, in the language of music
represented fundamentally by beat and tonality, 
hadn’t worked, couldn’t work anymore, having
been manifestly discredited, women had received 
the vote, financial and sexual independence,
traditional authority had been categorically
overthrown, there was no going back
Richard Strauss had already suggested this new
broader horizon, in 1896, with his “Also Sprach 
Zarathustra, a mighty work, made famous, even
unforgettable, by the movie  “2001: A Space   
Odyssey“, when the very sun bursts upon the
intergalactic universe to its interstellar strains
but Messiaen takes you even further into the
reaches of the infinite 
I couldn’t help thinking of a more adult Miró –
the individualized elements – but more profoundly 
metaphysical, I have rarely seen, heard, something
so transfixing, powerful, even the silences between
movements, there are five, are riveting
happy Easter


art and God

a friend asks 
       “Hi Richard,
        Just in case you don’t think I’m listening.
        Here’s a [YOUTUBE rendering] that I think illustrates what you so aptly  explained
        in [your reply to a friend] regarding the term ‘adagio’.
        On listening to the adagio
        pieces that you referred us to, they seem to suggest a leaving or going to “God”. At least ,
        that’s the sensation they provoke in me.
        What would you say to this?
all art, I believe, is a conversation with God, in undertaking to
create a painting, a piece of music, a work of literature, a poem,
all entirely abstract inventions, verily defined by their lack of
any utilitarian function, but imbued with merely intellect and
heart, which is to say, soul, the artist, anyone, has only two
impulses ever as instinctual guides, beauty and truth, beauty
and truth, concepts which when given essence and flight I
associate with a living God, any at least relevant God 
and I believe truth and beauty, therefore art, are the closest
we’ll ever come to knowing IT
so yes, “the adagio pieces that [I] referred [my friend] to, [do
indeed] suggest a leaving or going to “God”.” 
what do you think
psst: thanks E. 

Franz Lizst – Hungarian Rhapsody no 2‏

any one of the following outstanding interpretations
of Lizst’s Hungarian Rhapsody no 2, even individually,
will make your day, I promise, together, they’ll have
you rocking for surely a week 
Hanna and Barbera’s The Cat Concerto, with Tom
and Jerry, won the Oscar in 1947, Best Short Subject,
the Rhapsody itself is of course not a concerto, it 
was written for piano only, it’s been proven to be 
incontrovertibly enough, but was given an orchestral
backdrop by the studio for the film, henceThe Cat
Concerto, I’ll leave the portion about the cat in the
title undiscussed  
Liszt also rearranged himself, incidentally, his
immensely successful work for solo piano, adding
a superfluous, in my opinion, orchestra, any virtuoso
who could play this would leave his backup surely,
inexorably, in the dust
but I might be wrong
Victor Borge is an absolute comic genius in a
performance you’re not likely to soon forget 
Marc-André Hamelin, a French Canadian, is in my
estimation unmatched in the world today, he’ll
blow your socks off, you will be dazzled 
the unfamiliar part near the end of his interpretation, 
the part you’ve never heard before, is of Hamelin‘s 
own invention, a cadenza, an option fully granted in
bravura compositons by composers, allowing any
pianist to strut his, her, individual stuff, foreshadowing,
by the way, improvisation, jazz 
you’ll find Marc-André Hamelin in his extrapolation
to be nothing short of extraordinary