Wednesday, April 29, 2020

Coronavirus Phase 4

Phase 1: We hear about it in China, we wait for it to 'die out' as every other apocalypse does.
Phase 2: Shock - we don't know where it is, but it's here, we know it's coming, for all we know it's smeared on every wall and in every carpet's fabric, but still, we don't quite believe it.
Phase 3: Devastation - 2000 deaths a day, people you know have been sick, sometimes very sick, but it's usually not people whom you know, it's people whom you know know. Their premature deaths leave behind a trail of lives in severe disruption, and the people you know will never be quite the same thereafter.
Phase 4: Denial. Your right-wing relatives were already there. In two separate phases of denial, they previously parroted Rush Limbaugh that this was just a common flu, and then they parroted Sean Hannity that this would all be a flash in the pan, and now they're screaming Tucker Carlson that we're ruining the American economy forever over something that kills people who were old anyway.
Never mind that my closest childhood friend's 36-year-old first cousin is now dead, never mind that had people stayed outside, the totals would have been 600,000 by now rather than 60,000, never mind that these are people who want us to take pre-emptive preventative measures for terrorism and war at the drop of a hat (and sometimes correctly); what's important now is that they're getting their way, and more tens of thousands will die.
Let's face it, they're probably going to get their way on this over and over and over again. This is like that lame old blond joke (from back in the 90s when blond jokes were socially acceptable) about how the way to entertain a blond forever is to write 'turn over' on both sides of a piece of paper.
The way to make conservatives kill us all is not to encounter a virus that kills people, but rather a virus that kills the economy, and so tied are conservatives to the idea of vulture capitalist economic production remaining the engine of American life, that in order to prevent liberals and progressives and social democrats from enacting a more robust social welfare state, they would literally expend millions of lives before they ever concede an inch.
And if millions do die, Republicans will still find ways to justify it to themselves. All it would take to end this is for a national law that everyone stays in their homes, but to them that is the worst kind of governmental overreach. Even now, all it would take to get the economy going again is massive stimulus spending, not two trillion but ten trillion, paid in full by the taxes of corporations and billionaires and millionaires who have lived high off of government looking the other way at their exorbitance for forty years. It's never going to happen, and even if it did, the Left would pick apart the stimulus saying that this or that special interest is not getting its proper due and in their squabbles would take the eyes off the robber barons who'd put the money back in their pockets. But it does not change the fact that, in absolute terms that don't take the stupid and corrupt nature of human beings into account, the way to solve these problems is so friggin' easy.
But if millions die, (or should we say 'when millions die?' be it from cornavirus, or the economic collapse that follows, or civil unrest, or rising sea levels, or air pollution, or famine caused by rising temperatures), would Republicans even care? In this outbreak, it's New York suffering more than anywhere else, and Mitch McConnell means to bleed New York into debt, refusing to allow them government loans to pay off what they spent to treat coronavirus patients. But to be frank, it's not the worst thing he's ever done. New York in no way deserves what's happening to it, but New York is much too powerful; it sucks up the vast majority of America's best and brightest, who leave their towns and cities of origin to rot. Ironically, liberal New York has become Ayn Rand's dream of a meritocracy, where, even more than in past generations, the most self-motivated move to achieve ambitions that are, frankly, a little hollow.
But the next wave is the Deep South, the heart of Small Town America, where every government apparatus is in place to ensure that life as best it can remains exactly as it was from generation to generation stretching back even to the days of slavery itself. People rightly call the Modern Republican Party anti-democracy, and the evidence of that is laughably omnipresent so I needn't cite any examples. Their ruling elite is the direct descendants of their ruling elite in the 1600's, and they intend to remain the ruling elite until at least the 2400's. Republicans would counter that surely big cities like Boston, Chicago, Cleveland, New York, they all have their anti-democratic histories, and it's true, but there is no such thing as a flawless democracy, and every democracy has a dirty history. But progress in the North, Midwest, West, that was the rule. Progress in the south, that's the exception. Whatever party the Deep South claimed to vote, they were never a democracy.
If millions of descendants of their slaves die, what care they? That's millions fewer mouths to feed, millions who would insist on higher wages than the millions more Latin Americans fleeing the famine and chaos of Global Warming who will do anything at all to cross our border, and will be grateful to work for even less money than African-Americans do.
And if millions of their white employees die, they might be a little sadder, at least they'll shed a few crocodile tears, but even if their machinations were still more naked and bold, who would ever stop them? Who could? Who has?
Political parties in America used to be loose baggy coalitions of irreconcilable opposites, and every wing would have to come together to find a consensus leader for their party platform whom, through a mixture of ideology and political talent, could ameliorate every coalition wing. There were surely disasters along the way: Pierce and Buchanan, Warren and Coolidge, the VP nominations of Aaron Burr, John C. Calhoun, and Andrew Johnson. But we had not come nearly so far yet as a country, as a society, or as a better world which we Americans were fundamentally the ones to put in place.
But Republicans are absolutely correct about one thing: democracy has its limits, and when the process becomes too democratic, the world lurches back toward authoritarianism. There is one party in America that became much too democratic, and because it became so democratic that every process is held up until every wing is completely satisfied, they opened the door for the most nefarious elements of the other party to institute monolithic authoritarian control. On the Democratic side, if you're dissatisfied with the outcome, you hold up the process until you achieve the desired result, and you convince yourself that the opposite wing is just as bad as Trump. On the Republican side, if you're dissatisfied with the results, you stay silent, or you're no longer a Republican.
The tipping point is not 2020, but 2022, when Republicans can redistrict America to be a minority-party controlled country for a generation, for a century, forever. Every year, Republicans become more and more a cult of death, inching bit by bit to totalitarian control. Every loss of power loses them less seats than the one before, every gain of power gains them more. The Supreme Court edges further and further right, first to a conservative majority with swing voters, then to a decisive conservative majority, then to a conservative supermajority. Reagan's Bismarck becomes Trump's Kaiser Wilhelm, next will come Ludendorff, and after him...
Millions can die before they will ever concede that their ideology is a dark mark on history, and millions probably will. And so bent are they on wresting government control from business that the the Schicklgruber of the future may not be a head of state but rather a CEO. Because, of course, 'tyranny can only come from the government, it can never be caused by private enterprise.....'
(probably needs a better conclusion)

(NOTE 5/18/20: it would appear my dollar number was 'right on the money' as it were....)

My Personal Mahler Library

In light of this article that devastated me, realizing that this is truly the end of an era that it's a miracle lasted this long:

My Personal Mahler Library:

Mahler 1:

Total View: 

1. Dmitri Mitropoulos/Minneapolis Symphony 1940
2. Budapest Festival Orchestra/Ivan Fischer 2012
3. San Francisco Symphony/Michael Tilson Thomas 2002

Classical: Bruno Walter/Columbia Symphony 1960
Romantic: Rafael Kubelik/Bavarian Radio Symphony 1979 (live)

Rare: Herbert Kegel/Dresden Philharmonic 1979 (total)
Dusseldorf Symphony/Adam Fischer 2017 (total)
or Pittsburgh Symphony/Manfred Honeck 2008 (romantic)
or Tokyo Metropolitan Symphony/Eliahu Inbal 2013 (total)
or Cologne Gurzenich Orchestra/Markus Stenz 2012 (total)

Mahler 2:

Total View: 

1. Michael Gielen/SWF Symphony 1996 
2. London Phiharmonic/Vladimir Jurowski 2013
3. Ivan Fischer/Budapest Festival Orchestra 2006


1. Concertgebouw Orchestra/Bernard Haitink 1985 (live, no studio) 
2. Otto Klemperer/Bavarian Radio Symphony 1965
3. New York Philharmonic/Bruno Walter 1958


1. Leonard Bernstein/New York Philharmonic 1963
or Leonard Bernstein/New York Philharmonic 1987

2. Simon Rattle/City of Birmingham Symphony 1998 (not the famous 1987 recording)
3. Michael Tilson Thomas/San Francisco Symphony 2004
4. Klaus Tennstedt/London Philharmonic 1989 (live) 

Christoph Eschenbach/Philadelphia Orchestra 2009 (romantic)
Cologne Radio Symphony/William Steinberg 1965 (classical)
or Concertgebouw Orchestra/Otto Klemperer 1951 (classical)
or Israel Philharmonic/Zubin Mehta 1988 (live) (classical)

or Bruno Walter/Vienna Philharmonic 1948 

Mahler 3:
Total View: 

1. Rafael Kubelik/Bavarian Radio Symphony 1967 (studio or live)
2. Budapest Festival Orchestra/Ivan Fischer 2017
3. Chicago Symphony/Jean Martinon 1967

1. Bernard Haitink/Concertgebouw Orchestra 1983 (live)
2. Riccardo Chailly/Concertgebouw Orchestra 2004
3. Michael Gielen/SWF Symphony 2007

1. Leonard Bernstein/New York Philharmonic 1960
or Leonard Bernstein/New York Philharmonic 1986
or Leonard Bernstein/Vienna Philharmonic 1973
2. Klaus Tennstedt/London Philharmonic (? on BBC)

Rare: Tokyo Metropolitan Symphony/Eliahu Inbal 2013 (total)
or Minnesota Orchestra/Klaus Tennstedt 1981 (live) (romantic)
or Cologne Gurzenich Orchestra/Markus Stenz 2012 (classical)

Mahler 4:

Total Views:
1. Leonard Bernstein/Vienna Philharmonic 1973
2. Rafael Kubelik/Bavarian Radio Symphony 1970ish
3. Simon Rattle/City of Birmingham Symphony 1996?
1. Claudio Abbado/Lucerne Festival Orchestra 2009
2. Paul Kletzki/Philharmonia Orchestra 1958
3. Esa-Pekka Salonen/Los Angeles Philharmonic
1. Leonard Bernstein/New York Philharmoni 1960 or 
Leonard Bernstein/Concertgebouw 1986
2. Klaus Tennstedt/London Philharmonic 1981ish
3. Michael Tilson Thomas/San Francisco Symphony 2004

Rare: Eliahu Inbal/Tokyo Metropolitan 2014 (romantic)
or Herbert Kegel/Leipzig Radio Symphony 1979 (romantic)
or Karel Sejna/Czech Philharmonic 1954 (total)
or Bruno Walter/Vienna Philharmonic 1950 (live) (classical)
or Benjamin Britten/London Symphony 1961 (total)
or Pittsburgh Symphony/Manfred Honeck 2010ish (romantic)
or Simon Rattle/Vienna Philharmonic 1994 (romantic)
or Pierre Boulez/Cleveland Orchestra 1997ish (classical)

Mahler 5:

Total View: 

1. Bavarian Radio Symphony/Rafael Kubelik 1971
2. SWF Symphony/Michael Gielen 2000
3. Tokyo Metropolitan/Eliahu Inbal 2013


1. New York Philharmonic/Bruno Walter 1947
2. Concertgebouw Orchestra/Riccardo Chailly 1997


1. Berlin Philharmonic/Simon Rattle 2002
2. Pittsburgh Symphony/Manfred Honeck 2010ish

Rare: Frankfurt Radio Symphony/Eliahu Inbal 2000 (live) (total)
or Vienna Philharmonic/Claudio Abbado 1980 (live) (total)
or Cologne Gurzenich Orchestra/Markus Stenz 2009 (classical)

or Leipzig Gewandhaus Orchestra/Vaclav Neumann 1965 (classical)

Mahler 6:

Total View: 

1. City of Birmingham/Simon Rattle 1989
or Berlin Philharmonic/Simon Rattle 2019
(note: Rattle has the most complete view of Mahler 6 there has ever been, holding the 19th century and the 20th in perfect balance, but the recorded sound serves him badly in both performances, and consequently neither recording quite does justice to what he accomplishes live.)
2. London Philiharmonic/Klaus Tennstedt 1991 (live)
3. Philadelphia Orchestra/Christoph Eschenbach 2006

1. Bavarian Radio Symphony/Rafael Kubelik 1969 (preferably live but also studio)
2. London Symphony/James Levine 1977
3. Cleveland Orchestra/George Szell 1966 (live)

1. Vienna Philharmonic/Leonard Bernstein preferably 1988 but also 1976
2. WDR Symphony/Dmitri Mitropoulos 1959
3. Philharmonia Orchestra/John Barbirolli 1967

or Berlin Philharmonic/Herbert von Karajan 1977 (live) (total)
or Melbourne Symphony/Mark Wigglesworth 2007 (live) (classical)
or Cologne Gurzenich/Markus Stenz 2014 (classical)
or Singapore Symphony/Eliahu Inbal 2019 (romantic)
or Verbier Festival Orchestra/Ivan Fischer 2014? (total)
or SWF Symphony/Michael Gielen 2007 (classical)

Mahler 7:
Total View: Lucerne Festival Orchestra/Claudio Abbado 2006
Classical: Concertgebouw Orchestra/Bernard Haitink 1985 (live)
Romantic: Vienna Philharmonic/Leonard Bernstein 1976
or New York Philharmonic/Leonard Bernstein 1985

Vienna Philharmonic/Simon Rattle 1995 (live) (romantic)
or London Philharmonic/Klaus Tennstedt 1993 (live) (romantic)
or Cologne Gurzenich Orchestra/Markus Stenz 2013 (classical)
or WDR Symphony/Gary Bertini 1991 (live) (classical)
or Dusseldorf Symphony/Adam Fischer 2016 (total)
or SWF Symphony/Michael Gielen 2007 (classical)

Mahler 8: (I'm not convinced I understand it)

Mahler Das Lied von der Erde:

Total View: 

1. Berlin Radio Symphony/Kurt Sanderling/Fanilla/Schreier 1982 (live)
2. BBC Philharmonic/Raymond Leppard/Baker/Mitchinson 1977 (live)
3. Concertgebouw Orchestra/Carl Schuricht/Thorberg/Ohlmann 1939 (live)
4. Bavarian Radio Symphony/Rafael Kubelik/Baker/Kmentt 1970 (live)
5. Vienna Philharmonic/Bruno Walter/Ferrier/Patzak 1952 (live or studio)


1. Philharmonia Orchestra/Otto Klemperer/Ludwig/Wunderlich 1967
3. SWF Symphony/Michael Gielen/Kalisch/Jerusalem 2011

1. Vienna Philharmonic/Leonard Bernstein/Fischer-Dieskau/King 1966

Concertgebouw Orchestra/Eduard van Beinum/Merriman/Haeflinger 1956 (classical)

London Symphony/Simon Rattle/Gerhaher/O'Neill 2016 (live) (romantic)
or Cleveland Orchestra/George Szell/Baker/Lewis 1970 (live) (classical)
or Vienna Symphony/Carlos Kleiber/Ludwig/Kmentt 1970 (live) (classical)

Mahler 9:

Total View: 

1. Berlin Philharmonic/Claudio Abbado 1999
2. Bavarian Radio Symphony/Rafael Kubelik 1967

3. Vienna Philharmonic/Bruno Walter 1938

1.Berlin Philharmonic/Leonard Bernstein 1979
2. Berlin Philharmonic/Simon Rattle 2008

3. Berlin Philharmonic/John Barbirolli 1964


1. Concertgebouw Orchestra/Bernard Haitink 1969 
2. Leipzig Gewandhaus/Riccardo Chailly 2013 (video)

3. Budapest Festival Orchestra/Ivan Fischer 2015 

Rare: Vienna PHilharmonic/Dmitri Mitropoulos 1960 (romantic)
or Moscow Radio Symphony/Rudolf Barshai 1993 (classical)
or Cleveland Orchestra/George Szell 1968 (classical)
or Israel Philharmonic/Paul Kletzki 1954 (total)
or NHK Symphony/Eliahu Inbal 1994 (romantic)
or Cologne Gurzenich Orchestra/Markus Stenz 2014 (clasical)

Mahler 10:
"Total View": German Youth Philharmonic/Rudolf Barshai 2001 (the only performance that convinces me so far)

Monday, April 27, 2020

Underrated Classical Musicians: Johann Kuhnau

Johann Kuhnau was Bach's immediate predecessor at the Thomaskirche in Leipzig. The star of Bach is so all-absorbing that it's often difficult to remember that Germany was experiencing a full musical Renaissance at the time, and Bach was only its brightest light in the retrospect of a hundred years later.
Exactly a hundred years before Bach, Heinrich Schütz brought the influence of the Italian Renaissance to German music and was the historical transition figure who brought the center of musical gravity northward. Of course, that negates all sorts of great German composers of his time like those in the Praetorious family, but if Bach can stand for all of Germany in 1720, then Schutz can stand for all of Germany in 1620.
If you don't look past Bach, you miss Pachebel, Buxtehude, Kuhnau, Frohberger, Telemann, Fasch, Graupner, and Sweelinck. These are really wonderful composers, and if you don't believe me, listen to this Biblical Sonata by Kuhnau, telling the story of David and Goliath like a symphonic poem for keyboard.
Obviously Kuhnau does not have Bach's all-consuming counterpoint and rigor, the loftiness and compassion, the sense that you're hearing, as Jeggy might put it, music from the castle of heaven. But in its place is one of those qualities which Bach didn't concern himself with all that often: narrative. Bach could surely tell stories in music, no one who writes the St. Matthew and John Passions couldn't, but he generally had loftier aims than to tell all the didactic stories that could be told to you on any church window.
This is just a fun, 11 minute piece of music of a lightness that Bach would almost never permit himself. You can almost hear how much more agreeable a person Kuhnau was than Bach. This is clearly meant to be as a church lesson, but an enjoyable church narrative. You can almost see the little kids on the pulpit acting out everything Kuhnau depicts and their parents laughing. This is a very different sort of Baroque than Bach's, one that is life-sized, agreeable and sociable. When the Leipzig town elders bristled at Bach's seriousness, you can almost hear them in your mind's ear whispering to each other "Ach! Vy kennt das Wichtigtuer be more like Kuhnau!'

Biblical Sonata No. 1 by Johann Kuhnau
I. The Boasting of Goliath
II. The Trembling of the Israelites
III. The Courage of David
IV. The Combat between the Two and Their Struggle
V. The Stone Is Throw from the Slingshot - Goliath Falls
VI. The Flight of the Philistines
VII. The Joy of the Israelites over Their Victory
VIII. The Musical Concert of the Women in Honor of David
IX. The General Rejoicing and the Dances of Joy of the People
Biblical Sonata No. 1 by Johann Kuhnau
I. The Boasting of Goliath
II. The Trembling of the Israelites
III. The Courage of David
IV. The Combat between the Two and Their Struggle
V. The Stone Is Throw from the Slingshot - Goliath Falls
VI. The Flight of the Philistines
VII. The Joy of the Israelites over Their Victory
VIII. The Musical Concert of the Women in Honor of David
IX. The General Rejoicing and the Dances of Joy of the People

Sunday, April 26, 2020

ET: Almanac

When the mind is employed in finding facts, its sheer success inhibits it sooner or later from fact finding uninterruptedly ad infinitum. Sooner or later it finds itself so formidably beleaguered by the mass of facts which it has gathered round it that, until it has sorted them out and arranged them in some kind of order, it can no longer sally into the universe to gather more. Then the mind changes its activity perforce and employs itself for a season in making syntheses and interpretations. Yet now, once again, its sheer success inhibits it from working, uninterruptedly and ad infinitum, at bringing order out of chaos. Sooner or later, it finds that it has reduced to order all those materials which it had collected in its last fact-finding reconnoissance. Fresh facts now must be found before the process of synthesis and interpretation can be carried further. And so, in due course, the mind changes its activity once more and issues out, by the new paths which it has cleared for itself, into the Universe that ever awaits its coming in order to gather facts there again, as before, until the time approaches for the next attempt at synthesis and interpretation on a new plain and perhaps on a larger scale. No collection of facts is ever complete, because the Universe is without bounds. And no synthesis and interpretation is ever final, because there are always fresh facts to be found after the first collection has been provisionally arranged.

- Arnold Toynbee

Saturday, April 25, 2020

When Facebook Becomes Blogging

Hundreds of millions still don't get that we're living now in a very different country. A lot of older people bemoan the decline of bipartisanship on the national stage, but that was only possible because the US played by a very different set of rules on the world stage, where sentimentalism about the intentions of foreign actors gets more millions killed than would be killed if you accept you just have to do some pretty disgusting things. That is politics practiced as it is in reality, and that's what Mitch McConnell, Newt Gingrich, Karl Rove, Steve Bannon, all practice. They brought all the rules of the Cold War back to the national stage in a way we hadn't seen since the days before Roosevelt. A lot of historians could call this era 'The Cold Civil War,' and like the Cold War, if it doesn't get hot, it's partially by luck. Bernie Sanders, whatever bad one can say about him, gets it just as Marxists around the world do, and he's playing by those same brutal rules to get the country he and his supporters want, just as anti-democracy right-wingers around the world like Mitch McConnell do. Joe Biden, whatever good one can say about him, is the perfect emblem of someone who doesn't get it, and even after all this believes in the good intentions of people who have none. To beat these obstacles, we need a good-hearted Machiavelli, and Joe Biden is not that. We did, though, have a nominee in 2016 who very well might have been....

Facebook Review:

Anthony Hopkins King Lear on Amazon: a cast to die for - Emma Thomson, Emily Watson, and Florence Pugh as the daughters. And this is clearly a 'family Lear' rather than a 'kingdom Lear.' All four are pretty damn good, but this was clearly done in three months, the full implications of it are not thought through, and there's a complete disconnect between what Hopkins is doing and what Thomson and Watson are. Hopkins's Lear is so thoroughly vile to Regan and Goneral that you completely understand why they rebel against him, but they suddenly turn into harpies and we're supposed to withdraw our sympathy as quickly after they thoroughly earn it. All three of them play villains so well that it's even more jarring to see them go from villain to victim and back so quickly.
The opening scene is done as a kind of contest of wills between Lear and Cordelia, a great idea, and Florence Pugh is the best thing in the whole movie, not a wilting flower but a rebellious teenager who's had it with her father's bullshit. But the parts of Edmund and Edgar are diminished to a nub and every time they come on stage it becomes a stupid sideshow, and the Fool gets even less airtime.
The best King Lear on TV is still Ian McKellen directed by Trevor Nunn. Every detail is so throughly thought through that it's, for once, a coherent telling of a Shakespeare play. Movies, on the other hand, have both Kurosawa's Ran and, especially, Kozintsev's King Lear in Russian, which along with (and especially) Kozintsev's Hamlet in Russian is one of the very great movies of all time.

Underrated Classical Musicians: Alexander Vustin

Alexander Vustin died this week of coronavirus. Vustin was a wonderful Russian composer who synthesized the music of socialist realism with atonality with postmodern eclecticism. Listen to this miraculous miniature: a perfect melding of Shostakovich, Schoenberg, and Schnittke. A tragic irony of this post is that this video comes from the youtube page of Dmitri Smirnov, a Russian immigrant composer to England who also died of coronavirus. We will probably also talk about him before too long.

Friday, April 24, 2020

Another Playlist

While obviously within the barriers of my upper-middle-class white angst, I can't overstate the amount of shit I've gotten over the years for passionately loving classical music. Bullied as a kid all the time for it in manners I still don't really care to elucidate, and for a number of years was completely ashamed to even admit I listened to the music, I even tried to pass myself off for a number of teenage years by saying 'I don't really listen to music,' and to this day I'm sometimes looked at with a suspicion of snobbery to this day by music lovers of other types that frankly I still find a bit ugly - as though one could ever say that one music is 'better than' another when 'better than' means so little in artforms that by their nature cannot be quantified.
But for me, the biggest difference between classical music and the American music nearly everyone we all know listens to is that the emotional stakes are so incredibly large that they foretell events like these, events of a size that have not existed within living American memory. And now that we're here, it feels yet again as though Bach, Beethoven, Mahler, Shostakovich, Schubert, Dvorak, Tchaikovsky, Mussorgsky, Tallis, Wagner, Verdi, Berlioz, Sibelius, Palestrina, Janacek, Elgar, Vaughan Williams, Bruckner, Suk, they foretold all this. History once was much more unpredictable than it is now, and they lived it all. Just as the old American religious music did, both black spirituals and white hymnals, and you find the hope of emerging from it all in soul music and some older jazz and blues too. Now that we're living through this, I think something resembling a golden age of American music and arts is coming to us, and it will be a reflection of having experienced all the suffering of these times, but until that happens, try listening to some of that outsize, bombastic, obsessively long traditional classical music. You may find in it a reflection of how you feel.

Verdi Requiem

Verdi Rigoletto

Verdi Otello

Verdi Don Carlo

Verdi Simon Boccanegra

more later probably....