Thursday, May 13, 2010

Ariadne's thread...

[For notes on the Chorale's imminent Perpetual Light program and the music's connections to art, see the previous post, "Music and art and the Ineffable." For more context on this "lyric essay," see last month's posts, or just follow Ariadne's thread wherever the references lead].

"To be ugly, that is what Death is...As long as I am beautiful, I am 10 times more alive than the others."

Proclaims Cléo in Comme Toujours Here I Stand, in New York's Big Dance Theater production of same. Based on Agnes Varga's French Nouveau Vague film, Cléo from 5 to 7.

And echoing Martha Graham to Agnes De Mille: "There is no satisfaction whatever at any time. There is only a queer, divine dissatisfaction, a blessed unrest that keeps us marching and makes us more alive."

Martha Graham, alive and kicking--or dancing up a wall?--in Barbara Morgan's photograph, "Letter to the World (kick)."

Don't you love words that sound like what they mean? Kick. Splash. Pluck.

Onomatopoeia. From the Greek. Two words, actually. Meaning: "the name I make."

"Ancient Greek is like a big lion turning and turning in place before lying down," says the classicist, playwright and poet Anne Carson.

"And English a jumpy little cat." Thud. Bump. Meow.

"I have only ever had one goal, and that is to move," said composer and organist Louis Vierne.

"A north german contrapuntal temperament projected into the arioso south" is how the post-WWII emigrant composer Hans Werner Henze (b. 1926) tellingly described his self and style.

Ariosi being one of the first fruits of that self-imposed exile. It is a searingly beautiful (lyrical and atonal) series of arias and interludes for soprano, violin and orchestra on the classical poetry of Torquato Tasso.

Nocturnes and Arias, 4 Poems for Orchestra, and Five Neapolitan Songs, all HWH works warmed by the Mediterranean sun, basking and dancing in the same light-reflecting sea.

What parties Henze, Bachmann, Auden & Kallmann and Walton must have had on the legendary island of Ischia!

Did they speak Italian together? Play charades? Or multi-lingual word games? Auden would have won those, but I bet Henze would have won Pictionary (had it existed).

"Stanzas written in Dejection near Naples" is one of Shelley's exilic odes. It was set by another expat Entartete Künstler ("degenerate artist," an odious Nazi label), Berthold Goldschmidt (1903-1996).

"Lines written in an album, at Malta" by Lord Byron is the shorter (and more saccharine) poem with which Goldschmidt opens his Mediterranean Songs.

Ah, Keats. Alas, they were not thee.

Goldschmidt--like his degenerate colleagues Schulhoff, Braunfels, Haas, Krasa and Ullmann--deserves to be more widely played & sung & heard.

Must every labyrinth contain its own Minotaur?

James Stephens' "The Centaurs" stamp with "power and pride" in Goldschmidt's cycle (May Swenson's singular "Centaur" does not).

What essentially differentiates the Siciliana from the Barcarolle?

Is it simply the dotted rhythm of the former--so the latter could also be the former, but not necessarily?

Why do I care about this now, of all times, in the middle of Spring?

Schubert's Meeres Stille. Another song of the sea. Another eloquent Goethe setting. Sublime. Selah.

"Art is not difficult because it wishes to be difficult, but because it wishes to be art," Donald Barthelme wrote with particular pith.

Another artist deserving wider reception, Barthelme's eccentric, witty and individual short fiction is a product of its time. It also transcends temporality through the fierce intelligence of its author. What a rare pleasure to read smart writing that makes one think and laugh out loud.

His biographer, Tracy Daugherty notes Barthelme's style "requires a pinch of uncertainty so the energy of discovery can be built into the work."

Like gun-powder, that pinch creates an explosion when it is triggered and released. The "energy of discovery" literally hits the reader upside the head.

Barthelme died in 1989, at the age of 58.

The "posthumous reception history" of artists is a fascinating field.

Take for example, the Tudor composer Thomas Tallis (c.1505-1585). The most recent monograph on this great composer draws from his relationship to various periods in the centuries since his death, since so little is known about the biography of his life.

Reimagining (reinventing?) such shadowy life stories is grist for the mill of period dramas. Not afraid of the campy or gratuitous, Showtime's juicy drama,The Tudors gives us the artist-as-disheveled-and-eccentric genius with a queer Tallis (or at least a Questioning Tom).

When will David Markson's next "novel" appear?

Will this make it into mine?

"Borderland insanity, crankiness, insane temperament, loss of mental balance...when combined with a superior quality of intellect in an individual, make it more probable that he will make his mark and affect his age, than if his temperament were less neurotic."

William James thus affirms the "crazy, crackbrain'd" connection--however tenuous--between genius and madness in his ever-relevant The Varieties of Religious Experience.

"Superior intellect...seems to consist in nothing so much as in a large development of the faculty of association by similarity," James writes in a footnote that gives one pause. If "association by similarity" means metaphor, does it follow that poets are our intellectual superiors?

"Psychologists might write fascinating histories. Put professionals out of business. Megalomania for the Pharoahs...Melancholia for the Middle Ages. Schizophrenia in the eighteenth century," Bellow's cranky protagonist Herzog writes to his colleague Shapiro, before observing "a curious creepy mind, that one, convinced that madness always rules the world."

And here I thought it had. Ha!

How does one pronounce Barthelme?

Bart-Hell-Me? Barth-Ell-May?

Does that yield 6, 9, 18 possibilities? None of the above?

Reacting against the "feckless post-confessional" school of poetry, the Language poets emerged armed with the force of obscurantism. No one seemed to notice the redundancy of their name. But then, when the Note composers took over the academy, or the Guache painters the art-world, no one batted an eye either.

Is it evolving taste or shifting neuroses that accounts for my current fascination with the thorny music of Harrison Birtwistle?

(We were mad long before Lucia).

When will I open again the box containing Carson's latest "poem," Nox?

Birtwistle's Theseus Game sounds like it's winding down: could we already have reached the end of Ariadne's thread?

The five emaciated figures in the Giacometti courtyard refuse to answer.

TV Men: Can you please repeat the question?

No comments: