Tuesday, August 28, 2018

INEP #25: Werther, Onegin, and Darcy - Beginning

So a few dozen of you, if you really care, might have asked where your once faithful correspondent has been. The answer is, he's been practicing violin, he's been addicted to duolingo and is trying, in his usual overly ambitious way, to learn four different languages simultaneously - and has so far progressed enough that he can at least say 'apple' in all four; and he's been searching his mind for a podcast format that would bring him and you the best possible results and satisfaction, only to draw the conclusion that he should keep doing this podcast exactly as it is without the slightest possible change.

But most of all, he's been reading, trying to learn the secrets of writers much better than he'll ever be, trying to figure out where his old fictional podcast, the podcast he was really passionate about making, perhaps mistakenly passionate, went off the rails, and trying to learn from the old masters how to make a coherent narrative and actually read the books he's always pretended he's finished, and occasionally never started.

So I want to talk in this podcast about three very similar characters from three truly cosmic masterpieces. Some books are Masterpieces with a Capital M. You approach them with awe, but it's almost impossible to approach them with love. Goethe's Faust is a great example of that.

The neglect of Goethe in our era and place is one of the great scandals of modern intellectual life, because more than any writer I can think of, Goethe is exactly what we need right now. Is Goethe as boring as his reputation? Well, the only answer I can give from personal experience that has integrity is... often. But Goethe's peaks are so high that he's worth the valleys.

Goethe wrote 80 books, so it's not like I can give any kind of comprehensive overview of his work or define it in any truly meaningful way. But I can certainly contrast his two most famous works. One is a legendary and thin-aired Himalaya of World Literature - which, of course for those in the know, is a term Goethe invented. The other is one of Germany's most beloved books, a book whose reputation he could never live down because everyone wanted him to write another Werther, but Goethe, as genius must, was always evolving, always searching for new avenues of interest and expression to add to his storehouse of knowledge and reevaluate his wisdom. More than any more proper philosopher, he was perhaps the truest thinker the modern world ever had; the reason being that he was unencumbered by any system at all, and rather left his theories messy, half empirical, half Cartesian, and a third half metaphysical, and rather than fit them into neat proscriptions of any straightforward theory, he hedged his bets, never settling on any fixed truth as any one who values the truth ultimately must.

B. How, by embracing the spiritual world, Goethe was the central figure in neutralizing religious dogma's stranglehold, and how he did so.

C. Goethean Evolution and how we Americans have a fixed sense of identity rather than a continuously evolving one.

D. How we have to recapture some of the interconnected metaphysical outlook of the 19th century Europeans and be content to evolve or else we will not see the connection between the dots that can solve the existential crises of the 21st century: mass extinction, bioterror, nuclear proliferation, ecological catastrophe.

When Facebook Becomes Blogging

I finally couldn't take it anymore and I defriended a few Brit socialist Corbynistas - a few of which were genuinely eminent intellectuals - after being dared in his facebook feed by one of them for anyone to do it if I had anything at all nice to say about Jonathan Sacks. I guarantee the dude doesn't know a single other person who might have something nice to say about Rabbi Sacks, so I had no reason to wonder whom he could have ever been speaking. At least I had a few Corbynistas cramming up my feed to whom I occasionally addressed in recent days. I don't even like a lot which Sacks stands for, but Sacks is pretty much the exact locus point of modern Judaism. If a person isn't an antisemite before he says that he can't be friends with a person who has anything nice at all to say about Rabbi Sacks, he's definitely an antisemite afterward. I really unloaded on the dude and I blocked him before I could get any response. I'm sure the response I got was as blisteringly personal as I gave. I'm not sorry to have done it. It never stops being amazing how smart people can be such idiots and it wouldn't matter that the guy is a maniac but he is beginning to accumulate real prestige and power in music, much more than I ever will. I'm just a pygmy whose name shows no signs of getting any bigger, so I don't know how somebody that eminent could feel so provoked by me. I was quite fascinated by him, not just because his writing on music is better written than just about anybody's who had saner beliefs, but because he really does love classical music even if his love can be as warped as Klingsor's ( look him up...), and that's extremely rare in my generation. When you're an American of our generation, living among so many classical musicians, experts even, who seem to have such little love for it, see no value in what they do, and want to gleefully slam the door on the entire classical tradition, it's incredibly refreshing to talk to the few knowledgeable people of my generation who don't seem like they think the whole thing is completely useless. And furthermore, in spite of his Marxism he lives a kind of glamorous jet set European lifestyle full of bildung and kultur that a pointy egghead like me always dreamed of having, not filled with sailboats or paragliding, but concerts and museums and books. The hypocrisy was both kind of hilarious, and also quite reassuring that somebody, anybody in the world at all, could still do it on an academic's salary.

But what a fucking price to pay for it. The inability to relate at all to anyone not exactly like him, the surrender of every independence of mind because everybody's intimidated to voice thoughts outside the party line. As jealous as this clearly enormous ego of mine is, I also pity these people. They have more privileges than anyone would ever know what to do with, and it's never enough. They have to live with so much repression that even just a few negative words about what they believe drive them to such enormous rage that they can't even be friends with people who disagree. And for guys like that, all their outrage is purely abstract. It's not like they are ever personally affected by all the newspeak they spout; one way or the other, their position at the top of world society is completely unassailable. At least I put up with reading their crap about Corbyn for a period of years. How fragile can people be?

I'm sure I have more to say about this or related topics later, this will do for now...

Sunday, August 26, 2018

When Facebook Becomes Blogging

Conservatism will always be with us. It is as natural to the human condition as the urge to liberality, the urge to make all things socially just and equal, and the urge to submit one's will to an authority figure. We all have those urges somewhere within us, and we all have to live with those who choose to respond to different parts of our native selves than we do, and we have to respect those who make incorrect worldviews into something with which people can live.
McCain was the example in our time of Aristocratic Conservatism, a conservatism of duty and public service which believes that the privileges he inherited required him morally to give back to a country which gave him so much. This is the conservative tradition of Eisenhower, Adenauer, De Gaulle, Churchill, Teddy Roosevelt, Bismarck, Disraeli, and Edmund Burke, which now seems to be taken up by Merkel and Macron. It's a conservatism that only opposes the extension of freedom because the extension of freedom for those who are not free may dramatically curtail hard-won freedoms of others. McCain's conservatism knew that there was no world in which the upper class could ever be threatened by those beneath them unless those beneath them were provoked to do so. It is the conservatism we need from our Republicans. When allowed to flourish, it can be of enormous welfare to the un-prosperous in already prosperous societies, when allowed to die out, the conservatism which replaces it can destroy the lives of millions.
We are all thrown into this world with people with whom we could not disagree more strongly. Our only option is to respect those people with other opinions who are not so fanatical in their beliefs that they chase an extreme version of them. Without them, there is only a liberalism that curdles into revolution, and a conservatism that desiccates into tyranny.

Monday, August 6, 2018

Idea for Podcast Series: The 'Greatest Generation' of Composers

No, it's not the actual greatest generation. Even if that existed, this might not be it, and even if it were, how can one prove it? There is no 'greatest' anything in art, one can't quantify quality, one can only talk about various kinds of greatness. Perhaps people can objectively value one kind of greatness over another as being more essential to our quality of life, but even if we could, how do we quantify an essence?

Perhaps the only way to do so is by its uniqueness. And in the sense of what is unique, this period of composition - composers born between 1855 and 1885, is in many ways the most unique for reasons which we can get further into over these dozens of episodes. The basic thesis is this: 'absolute music' was so important to the life of the middle class over the long 19th century that this music, with its definite rules of tonality and sonata form, with its millions of amateurs who mastered instruments and learned to be musically literate just as they were literate in any language, accumulated ever new ways to be complex and unique until the invention of the electronic recording, which completely changed our relationship to music. Musicians and music lovers who did not remember a time when we could listen to music without playing it thought of music differently, wrote music differently, played music differently, listened to music differently. The era from which they emerged was a long and glorious sunset. With the dawn comes the excitement and hope for ever new possibilities, but also the necessity of re-learning from scratch everything we once thought we knew. 

Each of these podcasts will be no more than an hour long, with many recorded illustrations:

Unfinished Beginnings: Mussorgsky

Unfinished Beginnings: Bizet

Elgar the Pilgrim

Imperial Elgar:

Unimperial Elgar:


Verismo: Cav and Pag 

Verismo in Puccini:

Modern Puccini:

Mahler: Origins

Mahler: Originality

Mahler: Vienna

Mahler: Farewells

Mahler: The Anxiety of Influence

Debussy: Musical Stasis

Debussy: Musical Color

Debussy: Musical White and Black

Debussy: The Anxiety of Influence

Strauss: The New Poem

Strauss: The New Poem II

Strauss: Operatic Radical

Strauss: Operatic Conservative

Strauss: Collaborator and Mourner

Janacek: A Different Modernity

Janacek: Folklorist

Janacek: Slavophile

Janacek: The Power of Speech

Janacek: Old Man in Love

Delius in France

Delius in Germany

Delius and Fenby

Sibelius: Voice of a Nation

Sibelius: Ainola - Retreat to the Forest

Sibelius and the Gods

Sibelius in the Theater

Sibelius: The Road to Silence

Nielsen: Psychology

Nielsen at War

Nielsen: Tonality, Clarity, Strength

Busoni: The Piano Transcriber

Busoni Goes Home

Busoni's Faust

Busoni: That Piano Concerto

Koechlin: Forgotten Genius

Koechlin: Pantheist

Koechlin: Time Becomes Space

Koechlin: The Jungle Book

Koechlin: Hollywood

Schmitt: Imperial France

Joplin: American Bach

Joplin: Treemonisha

Beach: American Women

Price: African-American Women

Taneyev: The Russia that Was

Glazunov: The Russia that Was II

Arensky and Ivanov: The Russia that Was III

Zemlinsky: The Dwarf

Zemlinsky: Viennese Eros

Schrecker: Viennese Eros II

Schmidt: Viennese Eros III

Mystic Holst

Rural Holst

Choral Holst

Vaughan Williams at Cambridge

Vaughan Williams in France

Vaughan Williams's Women

Vaughan Williams in the Home Office

Vaughan Williams: The Lion in Winter

Reger: Variations on the Classical

Reger: Variations on the Baroque

Scriabin: Divinity

Scriabin: Ecstasy

Scriabin: Fire

Scriabin: Toward the Flame

Rachmaninov: Gold Watches and Hypnosis

Rachmaninov: Voluntary Exile

Rachmaninov: Involuntary Exile 

Ives in New England

Ives in Concord

Ives in New York

Ives in the Transcendent

Ives: The Anxiety of Influence

Ravel: The Apache

Ravel at the Opera-Comique

Ravel and His Mother

Ravel at War

Ravel: Le Jazz

Falla and Albeniz

Falla: Spanish Phantoms

Falla's Musical Puppets

Schoenberg: An Irritating Young Man

Schoenberg: Free Classical

Schoenberg: Other Planets

Schoenberg: The Twelve Commandments

Schoenberg: Arnie in America

Schoenberg: Arnie and Adolph

Respighi in Rome

Respighi in History

Respighi in Concert Mode

Bartok: No Hungarian Rhapsodies

Bartok: Rejected Love

Bartok: A Little Night Music

Bartok's Children

Bartok: East Meets West

Bartok in America

Bloch: Judaism Speaks

Bloch: Time Becomes Space

Bloch and the Quartet

Foulds: Forgotten Genius

Foulds: Mystic Researcher

Foulds: The World Requiem

The Kodaly Method

The Kodaly Voice

Szymanowski in France

Szymanowski's Men

Szymanowski in Poland

Stravinsky: Firebird

Stravinsky: Petrushka

Stravinsky: The Rite

Stravinsky: Leaving Russia

Stravinsky: Here Time Becomes Space

Stravinsky and God

Stravinsky and Gods

Stravinsky vs. Schoenberg

Stravinsky: The Anxiety of Influence

Villa Lobos and Bach

Villa Lobos and Brazil

Villa Lobos and Europe

Villa Lobos and the Guitar

Bax: Englishman Gone Irish

Bax: English Institution

Berg: Old Vienna

Berg: Wozzeck

Berg: Lulu

Berg: The Memory of an Angel

Berg: The Anxiety of Influence

Webern: Here Time Becomes Space

Webern and Science

Webern: Brevity is the Soul of...

Still need places for: Magnard, Dukas*, Bridge*, Suk*, Godowsky, Enescu*, Gliere, Kalinnkov, Liadov, Medtner, Myaskovsky, Stenhammer, Alfven, Wellesz, Casella, Braunfels, Albeniz*, Granados