Friday, May 14, 2021
Wednesday, May 12, 2021
But Goldberg’s is the ‘shtetl square’ baruch hashem... The owner’s a virulent asshole, and one should not excuse the behavior of great geniuses, but dear god does the pandemic made us all miss that place: old frummies haggling Talmud, orthodox mothers shushing their children, old ladies with platinum perms playing bridge while they complain about middle aged children while gossiping about everybody else’s. The gorgeous bubbly frummette in her 20s they force to take the orders so that we’re put off from yelling at the staff from the moment we enter. The mentally challenged guy always wiping down the coffee station. The guys behind the take home counter always yelling at each other. Hear O Israel, the Lord our God, the Lord is Bagels.
DH had a Scriabin video today, and it jogged the memory....
Come on, you know it too. Of course it's Putin. This is just attack #1 and Vladimir Putin has twenty surprise attacks planned - each more surprising than the next(!).
Monday, May 10, 2021
What the hell, let's do one more.
Sunday, May 9, 2021
Global warming will put a giant, unprecedented wave of immigration on America's doorstep, and the number of poor in America will be exponentially larger than now - the only solution is to say to the poor: 'there's nothing fair about how we treat you, but we will help you if and only if you get an education.' And we have to mean it, because the rest of the USA has its own behavioral carrots and sticks - if we do not solve the problems of our cities, we will all die along with them.
Busoni's opera, Doktor Faust, is not necessarily the greatest musical rendering of Faust - surely that has to be Berlioz who puts all the fun into the music that one might accuse Goethe of lacking (though not for lack of trying...), but Busoni's is surely the closest to Goethe in spirit, and as consequential to understanding the music of the 20th century as Elektra or Wozzeck, and yet it is no more an opera than Goethe's Faust is a play. I do not expect to see Doktor Faust in the opera house more than once, if I ever see it at all. I suspect that Doktor Faust works best on recording, in the opera house of the imagination. To dramatize the ideas of Faust, you need to be a true man of the theater which neither Busoni nor Goethe were. I could listen to Berlioz's Faust on repeat every day for a month with nothing but delight, and Gounod's Faust is of course one of the most effective works of opera ever created - a trashy period piece that takes only three good singers to feel like one of the towering art works of all time, and Boito's Mefistofele is it's own bizarre kind of personal masterpiece - the metaphysics of Wagner and Germany externalized into Italian opera much as Russians composers externalized great works of their own literature. I highly doubt that seeing Busoni's Faust on a stage with scenery and live music would add anything to the experience which contemplation in front of a speaker system can't provide better, and I'm not even sure it's a good idea to listen to all of Busoni's Faust at one sitting...
Busoni's Faust has no true drama, no coloristic effects, it is one of the few works of opera that truly rises to philosophy. Perhaps it would work better in concert performance, but it is a beguiling mystery of a piece, opera for a post-operatic age when it's easier to contemplate its musical mysteries one scene at a time rather than be held captive in a theater which inevitably has no idea how stage it. Perhaps, at least in that sense, its closest operatic relative is Bartok's Bluebeard's Castle.
Goethe's Faust is a slog to read. Every slightly bigoted German stereotype that instinctually crosses any of our minds is provoked by Faust - hours and hours of reading about soul-states with a depiction of humor and wit that seems entirely divorced from laughter. And yet memory plays tricks - like so many long musical works, so many books that seem a torture to sit through have delayed rewards in infinite quantities, and I would not take back my 'Summer of Goethe' in 2017 for all the world even as I have no plans to repeat it. Goethe is as much a fact of world literature (a term he coined) as Homer or Shakespeare or The Bible or Pushkin and Tolstoy. To understand human beings, to understand the world, to understand how to live a fulfilling life, you have to get your head around some of Goethe. He is the final poet of nature before the Industrial Revolution began to tame it and officially put human beings at the center of the terrestrial landscape. He is the great poet of metaphysics - not quite science, not quite religion, but that neither region in which the noumenal and phenomenal worlds seem fused. He that 'great link' between modern German philosophers. One generation to the past lies the scientific positivism of Kant, believing that spiritual and physical can be united, one generation later lies the almost religious-seeming Hegel, who believed that the spiritual world was animating history itself, evolving us to become ever higher states of being. And among the great writers, he is easily life's best guide to fulfillment and third in wisdom only to the Old Testament and Shakespeare.
Goethe's world of thought is neither scientific nor spiritual, neither rigorous nor chaotic, it's pure metaphysics, and can only be expressed through the infinite ambiguity of poetry. There is no system in Goethe, he is pure thought existing in the wild of his infinite brain and his thoughts ranged through literally every topic on earth and invented some besides. Even his poetry and theater expresses the infinite diversity of places to which his brain would lead him. To Goethe, the systemless thinker, the world is incapable of being understood, it is something which you can only experience one tiny piece at a time, and even if you accumulate millions of pieces, the world still defies explanation. Other poets of the sacred like Dante and Milton (and Wagner) predigest their answers, Goethe provides no answers except to tell us that life is an ever shifting process of pure motion. One can never understand the world, but to ever cease in the quest to understand it is living death. There are surely greater models for how to be a writer, but as a reader, as a listener, as a human, there is no greater model among the art of the world.
And it is therefore in Goethe that all these mysterious small fragments of the world are both menacing and delightful. Spooky could have been coined to describe Goethe at his best; mysterious and yet always inviting. All the many moods of human beings are just small, manageable manifestations of another small fragment of the incomprehensible world. I don't know the exact number of characters in Goethe's Faust, but it would not surprise me if there were more than a thousand. Goethe anticipates the archetypes of Freud and Jung by over a hundred years and in Faust gives voice to literally hundreds of human archetypes, all of which are true manifestations of the human spirit and together create a composite out of which later, more realistic writers like Tolstoy and Dostoevsky can create their plausibly living humans. And yet none of Goethe's characters is a composite human being, each just a mask, any one of which possessing no more claim to sophistication than the pageantry of a pagan festival.
I've learned through the painful experience of decades that I am nowhere near as intelligent as I pretend to think I am, but I'm not going to pretend that I think most people involved in the arts are particularly smart people - surely truly smart people choose less difficult professions... but intelligence is not a matter of native acumen. Just as native artistic talent can only be discovered by practice, intelligence can only be discovered through curiosity, reading the books, 'doing the homework' and 'showing your work.' The world's smartest people are usually dedicated white collar professionals who apply their intelligence to practical problems that improve people's lives. Experience has shown me that they usually have more trenchant insights into the arts than most artists and writers because they've lived an actual life in the world rather than a life in which art is all of which you know.
The result of that in the arts is unfortunate. There is surely a large place in music for naive talent that practices its craft with no recourse to anything but music, but there must be an equal place to what Schiller termed 'sentimental' talent. Not sentimental of course in the sense of sentimentality, but in the sense that one fits music to a pre-existing conception by composers who are not musical geniuses, but rather, geniuses who chose music - Berlioz, Schumann, Wagner, Smetana, Janacek, Ives... Busoni... It's amazing to think that such a naturally talented musician who played piano better than any musician of his generation was a sentimental composer rather than a naive one like the equally talented keyboardists Saint-Saens, Bruckner, Liszt (who surely tried to be sentimental), Beethoven, Mozart, and Bach but...
Busoni was clearly not a naive composer. Just listen to that fascinating beginning, which is clearly the ringing of churchbells, but it is orchestrated as though transcribed from the piano. Horns and strings in open fifths while Mussorgsky simply used bells. But it is perfect to set the scene for one of the world's most contemplative, and yes, spooky masterworks.
To be worthy of his source, Busoni had to create a completely different world of music. He clearly knew both his Verdi and Wagner, and as Faust continually pours his agonized heart out, you can hear Tristan, you hear Otello, Amfortas, King Philip, Wotan... but at the same time, operating on a deeper philosophical level than either Verdi or Wagner. Goethe's Faust is not about worldly pleasures, it's about an old intellectual's rejection of the rational, embracing the belief that there is surely something out there more transcendent than the creed of erudition and practical use upon which Faust lived his life, but since the only path available to medieval intellectuals was through the Church, Faust had been waiting for God to reveal that transcendence his whole life with no revelation.
What Goethe's Faust seeks from Mephistopheles is not delight or temptation, what he seeks is definitive answers in a world where nothing is definitive, and an answer to the question 'is there something transcendent to the world?' But the very nature of transcendence means that to answer that question would be a rational, factual answer, and is therefore impossible.
The only places where true evidence of transcendence seem present are in music, sex, science, and family. And the only place in art where transcendence can truly be conveyed is in music - no one can explain music, no one can explain its impact, and that is why 'transcendent' works of literature lend themselves so well to music and are set time and again: Faust, The Tempest, Orpheus, Macb*th, Moses, Midsummer Night's Dream, Pelleas and Melisande, keep being set. And this is why sacred music is a constant over hundreds of years.
The greatest glory of Doktor Faustus is its offstage choruses: Boris Godunov and Aida carried to the quantum level. Nothing in the libretto generally tells us what these choruses are: are they humans? Are they angels declaiming eternal praise? Are they demons mocking us? Are they the cry of human beings throughout history? Are they all of them combined or nothing yet conceived?
(listen, don't watch...)