Saturday, December 30, 2006

End of Year

And since to look at things in bloom
Fifty springs are little room,

About the woodlands I will go

To see the cherry hung with snow

At the end of the year, this year in particular, these lines of A. E. Housman's poem come to mind. They seem appropos due to both the delight that a little snow (for decorative purposes only) would bring, and the melancholy tinge to the thought another year passing.

Friday, December 29, 2006

Colas Breugnon

I have an affinity for the music of Russian composers. One of my favorite compositions, and less familiar than many, is the delightful overture by Dmitri Borisovich Kabalevsky, Colas Breugnon, Op. 24. This is the overture for his opera based on the original story by Romain Rolland (1919), of Jean-Christophe and Nobel Prize fame. The overture has interesting, even tantalizing harmonies and an orchestration that suggests that Kabalevsky studied the Rimsky-Korsakoff Principles of Orchestration well. My favorite recording remains that of the Chicago Symphony Orchestra led by Fritz Reiner.

Thursday, December 28, 2006

Commonplace Books

'Book by Book'

“'Tis the good reader that makes the good book; a good head cannot read amiss: in every book he finds passages which seem confidences or asides hidden from all else and unmistakeably meant for his ear.” Ralph Waldo Emerson

This is a fascination, interest, perhaps passion in which I indulge my eclectic interests. The commonplace book seems to suit my peripatetic mind.  It is a writer's personal collection of quotations, observations, and topic ideas. Called florilegia ("flowers of reading") in the Middle Ages, commonplace books were especially popular during the Renaissance and into the 18th century. For some writers, blogs serve as contemporary versions of commonplace books. The classic is Auden's A Certain World, but I was lured into exploring this genre by Michael Dirda's own contribution, Book By Book. It is a book-lover's delight and has led me down many trails that I will share another time.
While Dirda recommends Auden, of course and Cyril Connolly's An Unquiet Grave; I have taken up the challenge of one of my favorite authors, D. J. Enright. So it is with delight that I am exploring, slowly savouring, his own " kind of a commonplace book", Interplay. It is here that I will be able to meditate on the pleasures of reading, mulling both thoughts and words - perhaps cogitating some new ones of my own.

Tuesday, December 26, 2006

War and Innocence

All Quiet on the Western FrontAll Quiet on 
the Western Front 

"The wisest were just the poor and simple people. They knew the war to be a misfortune, whereas those who were better off, and should have been able to see more clearly what the consequences would be, were beside themselves with joy. Katczinsky said that was a result of their upbringing. It made them stupid. And what Kat said, he had thought about."  - Erich Maria Remarque, All Quiet On The Western Front, Ch. 1

All Quiet On The Western Front by Erich Maria Remarque was published in 1929, and it was the author's way of coming to terms with the war. Parts of the book are autobiographical. The work also has a history with censorship--the book was banned in Germany. Rereading Erich Maria Remarque's All Quiet on the Western Front , I was moved by his contrast of the innocence of the 19 year-old (teenage!) boys and the horrific scenes of trench warfare. The opening chapter, especially, where the one young boy who had the temerity to disagree with the military mindset of his schoolteacher was the first to be slain. But not just slain, rather left to die and only shot as he dragged himself back toward his comrades. This was bitter scene, but it would soon to get worse, much worse. This is by far the best fictional account of the Great War, or of any war. I wonder if it is any easier being taken out by a sudden explosion from a roadside bomb? I wonder.

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Sunday, December 24, 2006

Cinema Comments

The History Boys
(Film based on the Play)

This film is directed by Nicholas Hytner and written by Alan Bennett based on his award-winning play. It is a mesmerizing meditation on the meaning of education, history and life. Set in a boys' school in northern England in the early 1980's Bennett creates characters that share wonderfully witty dialogue as they attempt to learn about life, love and themselves; all whilst studiously preparing for the entrance exams and interviews for admittance to Oxford & Cambridge. The boys effortlessly quote Auden, Larkin and Hardy while melding popular culture, enthusiastically acting out cinema endings and singing songs, with their more serious studies; all under the tutelage of their professorial mentor played with grace and tremendous humanity by Richard Griffiths. Bennett's dialogue positively sparkles and borders on the Shakespearian, that is when it is not directly quoting the Bard. The acting by the boys is quite natural; the lead boys, Dakin, Posner and Scripps are especially convincing. I enjoyed reading the screenplay which stands on its own and is a wonderful complement to the film (which bears repeated viewings). It is fascinating the way the screenplay was edited for the final film production. This is definitely my favorite film of 2006. It contains four of my favorite things in life: music, poetry, history and boys.