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Three Short Poems About Winter

Winter Mornings in Transylvania
Mrs Dracula loved to hear
Mr (while he was enjoying his bowl
of fiber) Dracula hum
lullabies to their dear
vambini. Who then slept the whole
day in their hibernaculum.

The Ghost of New Year’s Eve Past
For winter, it was damn hot
in the middle of the shemozzle. Dead
it was most certainly not—
the crowd was loud, and totally sozzled.

Diana’s Rum Coffee
A better drink in winter you will not find:
along with fresh coffee, she gives you rum,
sugar, cinnamon, cloves, an orange rind,
and more sugar … ends in a tasty residuum.

From the YouTube Music Video Archives: Clarinet Quintet in A major by Mozart & Clarinet Quintet in B minor by Brahms

The most abstract idea conceivable is the sensuous in its elemental originality. But through which medium can it be presented? Only through music. Kierkegaard, Either/Or

In the comments to the post of the Grieg Piano Concerto last week, Mr JOB and I had a brief exchange about the musical value of the 12 tone scale. For JOB, Schoenberg and his followers are engaged in a perversion of music, while I did my best to defend Schoeberg and especially others who, to my ears, have made good use of dodecaphony, and then some——Bartók and Lutosławski in particular.

I thought about posting something especially modern and outré, but then I realized that would be churlish and decided to take another route instead.

This week I’m offering two of my all-time favorite pieces of music, named above. The Mozart Quintet (K. 581), was written in 1789 for the clarinetist Anton Stadler, who famously helped invent the basset clarinet to play in the same range as a basset horn. Mozart wrote both this quintet and the (incredibly beautiful) clarinet concerto with this lower register clarinet in mind.

Similarly, Johannes Brahms wrote his Clarinet Quintet in B minor for the clarinettist Richard Mühlfeld. It was published in 1891 as Opus 115 (of 122 total) and bears a number of similarities to Mozart’s quintet from a century before. There are very fine descriptions of the piece at Wikipedia and at The Clarinet Pages, but one thing I’d like to point out is that the Brahms is as much a prototypical minor key piece as the Mozart is of a major key. While the different keys obviously reveal much different moods, I think it would be a mistake to assume that the choice of key/mood is somehow historical. Obviously Mozart (and Bach and Handel) wrote works in minor keys, Brahms wrote in major keys (although it makes a kind of obvious sense that towards the end of his life, Brahms would write a work frequently described as “autumnal” in a minor key). And though he was composing in the latter half of the 19th century, I have a hard time seeing Brahms classified as a Romantic. I suppose this is to ever-so-slightly denigrate composers I would classify as Romantic: Chopin, Liszt, Wagner—”excessive”, as JOB wrote. Brahms emphasizes classical forms (sonata, symphony, etc.) far too much, as well as something I can’t quite name in his style. Lutosławski once called him “a reactionary composer”, and maybe there is something to that.

The two quintets make an obvious pair, but the reason I chose them after last week’s exchange with JOB is that I think they also reveal something about the history of music. I may not be a musicologist, but I’d like to play one on this blog, and what I hear in the Brahms quintet is a much thicker or denser chromatic array than what I hear in the Mozart quintet. I think this is evident in the first bars of the Mozart, which begins with the strings before the clarinet comes bubbling up and then descends on steps that are remarkably beautiful imitation of the rhythm already established by the violins. As far as I can tell, the Brahms achieves an entirely different effect: yes, the strings begin and the clarinet follows, just as in Mozart’s quintet, but the clarinet then proceeds to pull the strings into it’s own melancholic tones. There are more glissandi and less stability all the way around. The three note motif Brahms uses repeatedly to interrupt the musical argument strikes me as a vain attempt to pull back from the gloominess and instability.

As for the place of each piece in the history of music, I think it’s fair to say that Mozart’s quintet might well be the zenith of the classical era, Brahms’ obviously towards the end. The tonal system established by Bach (or in that era) was the flowering of many centuries of tradition. Truly, it was a great and beautiful achievement. But this development couldn’t simply stop there. Composers developed a kind of game in which they found ways and reasons to use notes outside the key in which any given piece of music was written. There was kind of destiny at work between the Baroque of the 17th Century and the Serialism of the early 20th. For all I know, future history will reveal that the tonal system of the Classical era really was the greatest way that sound can and ever will be organized. Given the monumental nature of St. Matthew’s Passion or The Messiah or Le Nozze Di Figaro or Beethoven’s String Quartets, it doesn’t at all seem like an unreasonable prediction.

It’s certainly hard to find anything resembling “the sensuous in its elemental originality” in anything by Stockhausen or Babbit. But I find it hard to fault Schoenberg and his followers for trying something new. Not because the diatonic scale was finished, but because the diatonic scale was itself developed by musicians who were trying something new.

“the sensuous in its elemental originality”

I don’t have anything else to post today, so I’m bringing up one of my comments from the Mahalia Jackson post below. Because it’s so important that everything I write has at least a chance of being read …

Rufus had mentioned that Mahalia Jackson made for an interesting pairing with the Kierkegaard quotation, which got me thinking about what exactly he meant (Kierkegaard, that is; Rufus is clear enough).

The most abstract idea conceivable is the sensuous in its elemental originality. But through which medium can it be presented? Only through music.

I include it with all those Music Video posts because I imagine some kind of justification is needed. Kierkegaard wrote it in Either/Or, about the opera Don Giovanni specifically, which makes perfect sense given the Don’s erotic proclivities.

What I think he means by “the sensuous in its elemental originality” is longing or even appreciation, not yet described or perhaps even consciously understood, and fundamentally erotic in nature. The “sensuous”, or the source of feeling—waves on the beach, a bird in flight, the opposite sex—is certainly physical, but the feelings aroused are abstract. Even if science now teaches us that these feelings are basically material, the rush of blood and chemicals in the brain, they are initially felt as something that beyond their material being.

Music is the medium that seems least material and is therefore best suited to express the abstract. And this makes sense if we consider that, even if music has a material basis in acoustic vibrations, it is for all intents invisible—the mathematical nature of rhythm, counterpoint, melody, harmony and all the rest are often described as form, but what the content actually is is a little more mysterious. With lyrics there are at least images inferred by words, and the nature of those images is the subject of much debate these days. For Kierkegaard, it was enough for the libretto to match “the sensuous in its elemental originality”.

The sensuous is most strongly felt as an erotic force, and Kierkegaard’s point, I think, was not only that music was ideally suited for Don Giovanni, but that Don Giovanni as a subject was the highest expression for music. Whether it’s the Don singing Finch’ han dal vino or Taylor Swift singing Style, the love song is primal because it’s about love and ideal because it is a song.

What then do we make of Mahalia Jackson singing Take My Hand, Precious Lord, much less I Know that My Redeemer Liveth or Wachet auf, ruft uns die Stimme? There’s a tendency now to emphasize the essentially erotic nature of religious feeling, and I think because Kierkegaard was similarly trying to sublimate his own erotic longing to attain the sublime, he tended to emphasize the destructive side of that longing. Somewhere else on this blog I wrote that Kierkegaard would have been an entirely different philosopher if he had take Le Nozze de Figaro as a model instead of Don Giovanni. It’s no less concerned with the havoc wreaked by the erotic, but much, much more forgiving of the human actors so tangled up in blue.

And in the same way Le Nozze is forgiving, Wachet Auf might be in search of something much different than the erotic. Or it might just be an entirely different order of sublimation.

On Valentine’s Day Artur Rosman made a slightly different point on the nature of the erotic and it’s relationship to song. It’s more Catholic, and includes twerking, and you can read it here.

Hard Questions

ada2

In the comments to the previous post, Duffer asks some hard questions of writers and maybe a few readers of Korrektiv.

Can we please get over Walker Percy? How many Walker Percy conferences must one attend in a lifetime?

As for myself, I can only say to the first, “Not yet, I guess”, and to the second, “Well, three anyway. Three and a half, if we count the opening of the WPC back in 2010 (or thereabouts).

Not that I haven’t tried. There was that decade reading the classics of Greek and Latin literature, not to mention a number of extended trips to such exotic locales as Zembla and McLean Hospital (in search of the ghosts of Vladimir Nabokov and Robert Lowell, respectively). But for reasons I can’t quite fathom, I always find myself back with other dissenters from the dissent, in the scrambled geography of Feliciana Parish.

For instance, I’ve just started reading The Innovators by Walter Isaacson, author of the Steve Jobs biography and a former editor at Time. Isaacson himself explains the Percy connection here, and I suppose that’s one of the things that sparked my interest in the book. It’s pretty great so far, beginning with a chapter on Ada Lovelace, the daughter of Lord Byron and something of prophet of modern computers. A prophet and, as she herself would have it, a poet.

Her reengagement with math, she told her mother, spurred her creativity and led to an “immense development of imagination, so much so that I feel no doubt if I continue my studies I shall in due time be a Poet.” The whole concept of imagination, especially as it was applied to technology, intrigued her. “What is imagination?” she asked in an 1841 essay. “It is the Combining faculty. It brings together things, facts, ideas, conceptions in new, original, endless, ever-varying combinations….It is that which penetrates into the unseen worlds around us, the worlds of Science.” The Innovators, p18

This sounded awfully familiar to me. Where had I read this before? Oh, yes, of course … Percy wrote something similar to this in his last novel, The Thanatos Syndrome.

Little things can be important. Even more important is the ability——call it knack, hunch, providence, good luck, whatever——to know what you are looking for and put two and two together. A great scientist once said that genius consists not in making great discoveries but in seeing the connection between small discoveries. The Thanatos Syndrome, p3

Could that “great scientist” have been Ada Lovelace? Probably not, but the connection here is intriguing (to me, anyway). Ada Lovelace has an insight into the relationship between imagination and science in the early 19th century. Percy makes a comment based on a similar idea in a novel in 1987, by which time we might suppose Lovelace’s insight to be more commonplace——possibly picked up on by other mathematicians and scientists, some of whom Percy might have read.

But maybe an actual connection isn’t all that intriguing. Maybe it’s just true, or even a capital T Truth, but a Truth so general that anyone could make it, at almost any time. Causality and contingency be damned, maybe connections just are——between some things and other things, between people, between ideas, between propositions, between people and ideas and propositions … between anything and everything, so much so that I suppose there’s a possibility that in the end, none of it is much more than mildly interesting. Maybe it isn’t interesting at all.

But connections can take on a seemingly divine importance, as I was trying to get at in that poem last week, or as Catholics might more readily understand as the basis of the laying on of hands——we think, or at least hope that the Holy Spirit is guiding our way through these connections. Those we recognize, and probably many more that we don’t. Dash that “seemingly”!

Anyway, that’s one reason I can’t get over Walker Percy.

Angelico Nguyen Likes This.

LikesThis謝謝,保祿

Brushed Mohair Boyfriend Sweatshirt

brush jpg

 

Upstate, a weekend away from college,
Your roommate’s sister joined our coterie –
What boys define as men. With foliage
For fashion, the sunlight fading early
Became her figure’s fugue – so perfect, picturesque
In autumn, earthy, delicately picaresque.

The camera, tomorrow says, can’t lie:
About her marble skin, her hair a nest
Of robin’s wings – her emerald eyes rely
Upon arresting candor, prepossessed
As bees that flirt with failing thorn and dying rose –
But stuck in time, she strikes an adolescent pose.

Each minute, yesterday replies, construes
The truth of lies and strips from silks to flesh
What Madison Ave. only rues
But cannot refute. Context’s textile mesh
Imbeds in memory the silken worm of love,
But head cajoled the heart – till both could not believe

The evening air, so sharp and tang with leaves
In burning piles somewhere beyond the light
Of bonfires. Flame’s dancing logic still gives
Her face the look of truth while smoke and night
Still infiltrate her sweater’s cabled virgin wool:
It’s cold. She shivers, holds her hands in twilit fall –

And suddenly she looked at you across
The flame. You’d nursed your whisky flask to death;
Your eyes surmount their diffidence and toss
A glance her way. October steals your breath –
But dropping hands, she lets her eyes return to earth.
You wonder now what mocking god had given birth

To time and seasons. Heading back to school,
You thought about what could have been. You saw
Her once again – a final time – the cool
Of autumn giving way to winter’s raw
Emotion. Bundled up, she walked the whitened quad,
Her eyes as green as ever. Wink had passed by nod,

Your mute and shared admission fall occurred
At all. You turned to watch her slip away
Through snow that fell across the campus, blurred
Her lines, and failed to capture or portray
What, later, flying colors testified with lens
And film: that time and seasons hold no circumstance

With beauty’s rising smoke that, metal-blue,
Had veiled the milky spray of stars back then
When whiskey, fall and fire were all you knew –
Her fickle fame and fey adrenaline
Were waiting for the future, undeveloped prints
That cozened marketplace collateral. But since

That time, her rites of spring draw out modesty
In pencil skirts; her winter duffle makes
Its quilt-lined obsequies; her summers free
Bikini, brief and thong. But memory speaks
At last and turns the page to whiskey, fall and fire. You learn
For the first time: she’s autumn smoke, an ache, that burn

Of pure emotion, spilling now like ink
Across the colored capture, blotting out
The years, renewing face and form. To think
You knew her once so young. Without a doubt
Her eyes retain that fabled age of innocence –
What took J.Crew’s fall preview to experience.

Ficciones

The composition of vast books is a laborious and impoverishing extravagance. To go on for five hundred pages developing an idea whose perfect oral exposition is possible in a few minutes! A better course of procedure is to pretend that these books already exist, and then to offer a résumé, a commentary. […] More reasonable, more inept, more indolent [than other authors], I have preferred to write notes upon imaginary books.

— Jorge Luis Borges, preface to The Garden of Forking Paths, in Ficciones (New York: Grove Press, 1962), 15-16.


 

See also the Cubeland Mystic’s notes for an imaginary movie:

How about a two man movie? It could be called, Matthew, JOB, and Bourbon. You sit out on Matthew’s patio drink and discuss important stuff, but with a twist. The session turns into a discussion about the perfect movie, and then as the screenplay develops amidst shots, your dialogue would be interspersed with the actual scenes from the finished product that you are developing on the fly. It ends with the sun coming up over La Mesa. The last scene of the movie is Mrs. L picking up the empty bottle of bourbon throwing it in the trash, and saying something like “I wish they’d do some real work.” or some such. That’s the whole movie.

Let’s write it, right here in this post.

Cubeland Mystic, ‘Comment 14746’, Godsbody (September 2008; republished in Korrektiv).

Scroll down for the whole megillah.

Chelsea Revisited…

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A chapter devoted to Chelsea, titled “Daddy’s Little Girl,” portrays the former first daughter as scarred by life in the political fishbowl and the public humiliation of her father’s philandering, but also the entitled beneficiary of both her parents’ feelings of guilt over the weirdness of her upbringing. “When you screw a young White House staffer,” a source “very close to the Clinton family” told Halper, referring to the Monica Lewinsky scandal, “you’re paying the price for the rest of your life. When your daughter wants to buy a ten-million-dollar apartment, the question isn’t ‘Are you crazy?’ It’s ‘Where do I wire the money?’”

I’m only actually interested in this part of the story of the new book about the Clintons (yawn), but if you can bear it, the whole thing is here.

Up from the Comments

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This Week in Satanism*: Statutory Statuary

satan_statue

“The monument has been designed to reflect the views of Satanists in Oklahoma City and beyond,” temple spokesman Lucien Greaves said in a statement. “The statue will also have a functional purpose as a chair where people of all ages may sit on the lap of Satan for inspiration and contemplation.”

*A new and occasional feature here at the Korrektiv, designed to keep you informed about how special religious liberty is to everyone in the United States, even those down-home, old-fashioned, goat-sacrificing, black-Mass celebrating, pentagram-tatted folk who, you know, in every other way, are just like you and me!