Tuesday, January 30, 2007

Modern Architecture

Tom Wolfe's short work, From Bauhaus to Our House, is little more than a screed against the excesses of modern architecture. While agreeing with many of his conclusions, I found the style and tone of the book to be inappropriate for the purpose of serious art/architecture criticism. Written in 1981, it seems dated with a quarter century of architectural progress having occurred since it was published. There are references to other art forms, music in particular, that demonstrate an unfamiliarity with the material. The result of these references led me to question Wolfe's knowledge of architecture. While Wolfe has been one of my favorite authors with works like The Right Stuff and A Man in Full, this book will not be placed together with those favorites. An alternative for those who are interested in the spirit of twentieth century architecture may be found in the work of Louis Kahn.

From Bauhaus to Our House by Tom Wolfe. Bantam Books, New York. 1999.

Monday, January 29, 2007

Frederick Delius

Today marks the birthday of Frederick Delius, a somewhat neglected composer who was born in England to German parents and spent most of his life out of the country, briefly in America and settling in France, where he was living when he died. While Delius wrote operas, orchestral and vocal works, it is one of his smaller works that is my favorite. The Florida Suite is a delightfully melodious and soothing group of evocative pieces by Delius. This is his earliest orchestral work dating from 1886-87. It was inspired by the composer's residence on a Florida orange plantation (Solano Grove) near Jacksonville. The Suite is in four movements: the first is subtitled "Daybreak-Dance" and the "Dance" section (probably the best-known part of the suite) is also known as "La Calinda" due to its later use in the opera "Koanga" (1895-97) under that name. The second movement of the Suite is titled "By the River" , specifically the St. Johns River that flows through the Grove. Like the river the music flows melodically. The third movement, Sunset-Near the Plantation resembles the first movement with a slow introduction and a fast section subtitled "Danza", again with similar percussion especially the tambourine. (the slow section returns at the end in this case.) The last movement is titled "At Night" and demonstrates the influence of Wagner. The movement quotes from the rest of the Suite except for the third movement. There is even a hint of the Good Friday music from Wagner's Parsifal portrayed naturally in the context of Delius' early style. A much slowed-down and disguised version of the "Calinda" theme of the first movement ends the Suite. Delius style is hard to classify but certainly wonderful to hear.

Sunday, January 28, 2007


Last night I attended a performance of Igor Stravinsky's The Rite of Spring by the Chicago Symphony Orchestra under the baton of Esa-Pekka Salonen. This exciting work, subtitled Scenes of Pagan Russia in Two Parts, still is able to send chills up my spine with its' daring rhythms and harmonies. From the opening bassoon solo the melodies that emerge from the various wind instruments are strikingly dissonant. The music continues with increasing complexity, discord and a variety of rhythmic and melodic figures. Through the use of ostinato and variations in pulse of the music the effect is exhilarating for this listener. Salonen provided energetic leadership for the CSO which performed this difficult work with excellence. As I study Stravinsky's music over the next few weeks I expect to experience additional musical thrills.

Friday, January 26, 2007

Now, Voyager

Walt Whitman's poem, Leaves of Grass, includes many memorable lines and stanzas. One of those that haunts my memory, while not the longest, is the following (1871-72):

The untold want, by life and land ne'er granted,
Now, Voyager, sail thou forth to seek and find.

I hope that in my reading and living I am able to keep these words in mind and always move forward, seeking the dreams that are not easily granted to those who marvel at the wonder of life.

Wednesday, January 24, 2007


One of the many delightful piano works by Claude Debussy that I enjoy is his Sarabande from the suite Pour le Piano. Completed in 1901 and premiered in January , 1902, this melancholy piece with its seventh and ninth chords must have seemed daring for the time. I find it serenely beautiful, calming to the spirit both when played and listened to.

Monday, January 22, 2007

The Octopus

While more than a great read, I cannot pretend to agree with the dire determinism of the author, Frank Norris. This novel of California wheat farmers versus the Railroad (the 'Octopus' of the title) is in the naturalistic tradition of Zola. In fact I was reminded of my reading of Germinal at times while rereading this classic, yet flawed, novel. Norris tends toward hyperbole at times and the prose can be somewhat melodramatic, yet it is a lucidly written novel with fascinating characters. The poet, Presley, is one character who particularly fascinated me. Presumably a stand-in for Norris himself, Presley is able to comment on the action and almost persuade the people to rise up against the Railroad; however, he is ultimately unsuccessful in changing their fate determined by Nature. Norris planned a trilogy based on his story of 'Wheat' but only finished one more volume, The Pit, before his untimely death.
Lord Byron

It seems appropriate to briefly meditate upon the poetry of Lord Byron on this, his birth date. In particular I turn to his poem 'On this Day I complete my Thirty-Sixth Year'. This poem appeals to me neither for the greatness of its lines nor the acuity of its poetic strains, but for the beauty and sadness of its meditative thought. The opening stanza, for example:

'Tis time this heart should be unmoved,
Since others it hath ceased to move:
Yet, though I cannot be beloved,
Still let me love!

Byron's passion for his young Greek page, however unrequited, reminds me of similar feelings shared by so many of us in the ensuing years. He goes on to recount the fear of aging and the pain of his longing among other feelings. I wonder if he would have traded a few more years of such feelings for the few months that remained in his brief life?

Saturday, January 20, 2007

Memoirs of an Emperor

In 1951 Jules Romains, commenting on the most recent work by Marguerite Yourcenar, said that she had a writing style "of near constant perfection and felicity". He was referring to her novel, Memoirs of Hadrian, and more than fifty years later all I can do is concur and add a few more superlatives to describe my reaction to Yourcenar's novel. She captures the spirit of one of the truly great Roman emperors. Hadrian was a builder, a dreamer and a spiritual man with a particular eye for youthful male beauty. All this and more is expressed in the flawless prose of Ms. Yourcenar. With her other works, especially The Abyss, Alexis, Coup de Grace and Fires, she created an oeuvre that is a reader's delight. One of my favorite authors.

Friday, January 19, 2007

Hommage à Auden

A More Human Universe

We look up at the stars above and realize
How little we know -- what a masquerade
Of consciousness we live -- our guise
For a reality that stands alone.

How great is the gulf between the stars
And those below, who dream of cares
So small? Our sky includes both Mars
And other celestial beauties for our wonder.

We look to the sky above and are alone,
Vulnerable to the reality we live below.
Do we hope to share in the infinite one,
With the stars as companions to our being?

The feeling of the stars, in its icy gravity,
Displays nothing that points toward
A more human universe.
Can we bridge the gulf with knowledge?

No, not knowledge, but wisdom acquired
By facing the certainty of each moment lived.
The reality of roles and missions discovered
And fulfilled is moving us closer to the stars.

(August, 1992 (2003))

Thursday, January 18, 2007

Le livre de Baudelaire

Between 1887 and 1889 Claude Debussy composed his Cinq poemes de Baudelaire. Strongly influenced by his recent exposure to the work of Richard Wagner, particularly Tristan and Parsifal, Debussy used a lush chromaticism to complement the sensation-drenched verses of Baudelaire's poetry. This is particularly evident in his setting of the poem Harmonie du soir in which the music evokes the mysterious relation of colors, sounds and scents. Debussy matches the structure of the poem where the second and fourth lines of one quatrain become the first and third of the next. Indeed, where Baudelaire uses the phrase "valse melancolique" Debussy introduces a waltz fragment. This group of melodies is given a beautiful treatment in John Adam's excellent orchestration. I find Debussy's early music revelatory and his melodies are seldom more appealing and sensual than in this early opus.

Wednesday, January 17, 2007

Between Silence and Light

The architectural vision of Louis Kahn is presented in John Lobell's beautiful book, Between Silence and Light: Spirit in the Architecture of Louis I. Kahn. Kahn's vision is one of depth and breadth going to the fundamentals of his art and aethetic. Not only an architect, but a creative thinker, he designed many wonderful buildings including the Salk Institute and the Exeter Library. It is in his buildings that we see the depth of his feeling for humanity and the realization of his vision. Some of his work is highlighted at Kahn's buildings.

Tuesday, January 16, 2007

Amherst Belle

Willam Luce's play, The Belle of Amherst, is a dramatic delight. It effectively conveys the lonely, yet poetry-filled life of Emily Dickinson. Lovely throughout, her muse lifts her spirit and vicariously we participate in the beauty of her art.
Books in my life

I was reminded while reading the blog at Cafe Hayek of the importance of your parents in shaping your life. Certainly they make a significant contribution which in my case includes my love of books. I remember books in our living room, not only on the shelves but being read by my parents. From the earliest that I can remember I had my own personal books along with a book shelf and my own desk. My books included some, like Alice in Wonderland and Through the Lookingglass, that I still have and cherish and reread. This love of books included regular visits to the library as well, imbedding the images of its rooms in my mind almost as clearly as those of my own home. If asked why do you read I must answer: I read to live.

Monday, January 15, 2007

The Magic Mountain
The Magic Mountain 

For I must tell you that we artists cannot tread the path of Beauty without Eros keeping company with us and appointing himself as our guide.
Thomas Mann

When thinking of The Magic Mountain and Hans Castorp, the young protagonist of the novel, I cannot help but consider both the similarities in the depiction of male your to that in Death in Venicethat is so central to Mann’s own internal struggles, and the loss of innocence resulting from Hans' gradually increasing knowledge. As he learns from discussions with Settembrini and Naphtha he gradually grows into a young man of some little wisdom. This includes a number of lengthy philosophical debates between Herr Settembrini and Herr Naphta. These philosophical debates are central to the message of the novel raising questions and speculations that mirror our own. The world of Hans Castorp, upon leaving the sanatorium, becomes a mirror for ours. Who is our Mephistopheles?

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Saturday, January 13, 2007

A House for Mr. Biswas
A House for Mr. Biswas by V.S. Naipaul

"He read political books. They gave him phrases which he could only speak to himself and use on Shama. They also revealed one region after another of misery and injustice and left him feeling more helpless and more isolated than ever. Then it was that he discovered the solace of Dickens. Without difficulty he transferred characters and settings to people and places he knew. In the grotesques of Dickens everything he feared and suffered from was ridiculed and diminished, so that his own anger, his own contempt became unnecessary, and he was given strength to bear the most difficult part of his day: dressing in the morning, that daily affirmation of faith in oneself, which at times for him was almost like an act of sacrifice." 

This is a moving account of the life of the title character with all the humor requisite in a Dickensian novel of forthright, if prolix style. Well-constructed with memorable set-pieces, this book is one I will remember in spite of its weaknesses. Reading A House for Mr. Biswas was both encouraging and discouraging for me in different ways. Naipaul's love for his family and his detail portrayal of the Indian culture in Trinidad was both beautiful and moving; but sometimes the detail seemed to get in the way and disturb my thought rather than motivate my reading. Too many members of the extended family were limned as spiteful and disagreeable to allow the book to be appealing for all of its' many hundreds of pages. That having been said, there was a pleasure to be gained from wading and waiting through the prose. The moments of beauty spoke to this reader of the promise of further good writing from this author.

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Friday, January 12, 2007

Dear Gustave, Dear Adrian

In the end naivete lies at the bottom of being, all being, even the most conscious and complicated. (Thomas Mann, Doctor Faustus)

Spun in the seams of light
Parting the clouds of sight,
We see the vision of man
Decayed by his own destiny.

Just as we want to look
Past our own self to the book
We create, history stands astride
Our vision of all humanity.

Marking time in the closeness
Of all this academic business,
You live the passion of words,
I, the music of eternity.

Each of us frames our genius
In the light of those around us,
Spinning our artful inspirations
Outward with eternal creativity.

Grasping the slender threads
Of light that become mere beads,
We part from our original vision
As we reach for infinity.

Crushed by the weight of eons
We join the good Europeans,
Falling evermore downward while
Creating our world's modernity.

(Music Lessons, 1991)

Thursday, January 11, 2007


Debussy's Premiere Arabesque is a work with evanescent charm that is a delight to the ear. I particularly enjoy the luminous simplicity and the shimmering surface of his first published piano opus. I will be focusing on the music of Debussy over the next month and hope to experience the harmonic wonders and melodious charms of his creations.

Tuesday, January 09, 2007

The Buddha of Suburbia

The Buddha of Suburbia by Hanif Kureishi is a wide-ranging coming-of-age tale whose narrator, young Karim Amir, discovers life and love in a series of picaresque adventures. With likable characters who change and grow in response to developments in their situations, I found this novel to be an irresistible read. The story is set in the London suburbs of the 70's and 80's and is replete with the cultural icons, musical and otherwise, of the times. Kureishi has a deft touch with both quirky characters and erotic situations, spun with a style that is infused with his cinematic eye. I look forward to his newest screenplay, Venus, for the movie starring Peter O'Toole.

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Monday, January 08, 2007


A crowded room with friends, warmly
Filled with chatting, buzzing. While sharing
Current memories of friendly

Within the buzz sensations of new
offerings, perchance of future memories.
Each a portence or promise of friendlier

Sunday, January 07, 2007

The History Boys
(The Play)

The award-winning play by Alan Bennett, The History Boys, is a great read. More devoted to the influence of words (the "dictionary" boy role of Posner) and music than the later screenplay for the movie (recommended), the play emphasizes the differing perspectives on education of the two lead teachers (Hector and Irwin). Without the need to "open up" demanded by film Bennett focuses on the schoolroom and uses subtle effects to effect his dramatic purpose. He is at his epigrammatic best and the performances in New York showed this as noted by the Advocate review. Bennett is successful in creating a delightful dramatic and comedic portrayal of ideas, all while evoking the spirit of bright young scholars at a key turning point in their lives. Notably, the lead boys (Posner & Dakin) share with their tutors in the pain and possibilities of the erotic nature of education espoused by Hector.
West Indies Girl

Wide Sargasso Sea is the luminous evocation of the youth and marriage of Mr. Rochester's lunatic wife by Jean Rhys. Imagined as Antoinette Cosway, the girl undergoes painful permutations on her short journey from the West Indies to a small prison-like room in Great Britain. I enjoyed the portrayal of the native patois and the tightly written narrative of Ms. Rhys. It was an entertaining, if painful, read. I look forward to reading earlier novels by Rhys (Quartet and Good Morning, Midnight).

Saturday, January 06, 2007

Clarinet Concertos

Concertos have been written for most of the instruments in the orchestra, in solo and various combinations. My favorites have always included the clarinet concertos. Aside from the glorious Mozart clarinet concerto and Nielsen's strikingly modern one, my favorite must be that of the French composer Jean Francaix (1912-1997). Francaix's music has a light touch, always full of vibrant melody and joi de vivre. Just so is his Concerto for Clarinet and Orchestra (1968). Technically demanding, the music glides on wings of song and soars, bring the listener's heart with it.

Wednesday, January 03, 2007

Notes on a Scandal

This riveting film stars Judi Dench and Cate Blanchett, both of whom give bravura performances. The screenplay by Patrick Marber is tremendous as well. The film presents a disturbing psychological drama that gives new meaning to the word "friendship". Dench's portrayal of an older friend to the younger Blanchett is blistering in its' intensity, while Blanchett is successful in portraying a young woman who, somewhat inexplicably considering her dazzling beauty, is compromised by an affair with an underage student. The difficulties which ensue are complex and you will cringe at the final scene. This will make my best ten list for the current season.

Tuesday, January 02, 2007

Music for each day

I carry with my on my search through life music that lifts me and helps me along the way. As I walk toward the exercise arena each morning the tunes flow from and through my mind, following the constant motion and beat of my footsteps. It is consolation - yes, and inspiration that moves me forward.

The Kingdom is one of Music,
Meaning for minds melded with those
Able to share the sphere of nature
And being. I live in a world
Real with reason as the fuel
For the spirit of man.

(From The Kingdom of Music, 1992)

Monday, January 01, 2007

Running & Being

I started the new year with a run in the park. For the several years now I have made the challenge and solace of running part of my life. Each time I start the day with a good run, either long or short, I feel better and sense an invigoration of my being. But it is basically to better my life that I run. Dr. George Sheehan said it best:

Run for my life. You had better believe it. (Running & Being, p.70)