Friday, April 30, 2021

Underrated Classical Musicians: David Zinman (again)

 It's a little shocking but a Zinman Les Noces and Petrushka just appeared online. The Les Noces is very very good and very very slow, not 'Stravinsky's birthday-album' slow, but this is Les Noces under a microscope. Once the performance gels after some spottiness toward the beginning, you hear every line, and yet it doesn't sound cold at all. This is probably the warmest and most 'singing' Les Noces you'll ever hear, which considering the source is quite a surprise. Zinman has always been so fleet and balletic. Zinman is older and clearly suffering from some of old age's frailties in recent years, it's a shame that now when he's finally a semi-celebrity, he can't communicate with orchestras with that Carlos Kleiber level technique he used to have.

It's hard for those who've rarely heard him live to have any idea just how great he gets. Live recordings are certainly better, but it's impossible on record to hear how distinctive and individuated Zinman's music making is. What is awe-inspiring in the concert hall is just fastidious and vaguely exciting, while the mic flatters a reckless one like Gergiev who gets to edit out all his mistakes.
In some ways it's easy to feel a little sorry for Zinman. Not counting Lenny, who is much more than a conductor, Zinman is honestly the greatest to ever come from the US bar none. It's not even really a competition. Levine steeply declined, MTT and Slatkin were always erratic, Previn stopped caring past a certain point, and Maazel was always... Maazel... and who else over 75 ever had enough of a career to show all they could do?
Zinman also didn't do himself any favors with his choice in rep. He's as good in Haydn and Mozart as Mackerras, but the world has hardly a shred of evidence. This is a Monteux pupil who learned everything from Monteux's during PM's brief golden age with the LSO. But only a little French music and early moderns, and he does both fantastically. 'Serious musicians' and 'stars' don't concentrate on that stuff, they concentrate on Mahler, Brahms, Beethoven, and Zinman was always just kinda.... he was perfectly fine in that stuff, but anybody who wants us to hear every detail in Mahler isn't really getting the point. The one 'gigantismus' composer he really nailed was Richard Strauss, the Wagnerian who secretly always wanted to be Mozart or Mendelssohn.
Zinman's American through-and-through. He certainly had his frustrations, but he was never a tortured artist like Tennstedt. He's a New Yorker in the same generation as Mel Brooks, perhaps most at home in ever-so-slightly lighter repertoire like Mozart and Berlioz and Ravel and Stravinsky that can still be plenty serious, and he was penalized for being too much fun. This is a conductor who earned spending money during his conservatory days by doing standup comedy at night. Bernstein talked to the audience, but in Baltimore, Zinman literally made a series of what he termed 'casual concerts' which he wanted to get on radio or TV to be the classical music equivalent to Garrison Keillor or David Letterman.
There are plenty of famous names that do Mahler and Beethoven who are not much better than OK at it, but they're thought of as revelatory in it because their ethos seems so much more serious (make your own list, I'm not tempting the lion's den...). Zinman's now been before the public.... forever... and he's finally gotten noticed for it, but he's still completely misunderstood, and hopefully there are all kinds of archival recordings from all the various places he conducted which give enough of the feel of a Zinman concert can correct the 'record.' This performance is a little more like it, because it shows that Zinman's a deep and original musician to have insights that literally nobody else has. This is a Les Noces which sounds like nobody else's.

Wednesday, April 28, 2021

The Reset Button

The big reset is upon us. Everybody's ready to go back 'into the wild' and do everything right that they got wrong or took for granted before 'the thing...'
It probably won't be much of a reset, we all enter social situations thinking we can control how we socialize, only for the socialization to control us. If you really control the way you interact with people, something's wrong, interaction's a two way street - sometimes a 30way juncture, and you're not just controlling yourself but controlling others.
Socialization's a big adjustment though, and it's how much more depressing when we really don't want to resocialize? Some of us don't want to go back to our old lives. Truth be told, the plurality of my social interactions depressed the crap out of me since fall 2015, and the thought of going back makes me a little nauseous. Even so, I know my newly sober self will want to party like it's 2019... it'll be colossally hard to resist: parties, bars, shows,... and when you don't drink, oh my god every moment socializing is a puddle of anxiety.
It's not my choice of company that's tough, so many of them are better than me; it's the choices the company makes. I don't like their choices, they don't like mine, and for years we've tried not to yell at each other and cooperated as people with two different sets of values do when squished into a small circle of people who run into each other on a regular basis.
The problem's pretty simple, and I'm sure I'm far from the only person who feels this way: what do you do when you value different things from virtually everybody you know? Whether they're conservatives or progressives/socialists, if they either get up in the morning to preserve the 'the way things were', or the revolutionary possibilities of social justice, how do you interact with them knowing that you'll always be mistrusted for not committing to their program 100%? When so many of them say, over and over, that disagreements are worth breaking friendships over, do they not mean what they say? Often, they're breaking their rules by remaining friends with me. If any of us really spoke to each other and got into what we really thought, there'd be so many differences and so many points which they'd find me unforgivable that they might wash their hands of me forever.
So if social death is coming: what the hell have they been waiting for? Is it worth keeping friendships going when you know in your bones that, for whatever reason, your dash on the rocks is inevitable?
I'm only 39, but so far I've watched my whole life as all the ideas and institutions I ever believed in came apart: American liberalism and secular Judaism, arts & humanities free from the corporate meddling, inquiry without surveillance or censure, scholarship for its own sake and not a wing of activism, awareness of historical patterns and dangers, reform over revolution, political lobbying rather than street volatility, and more trivially,... classical music...
The statistics all say the same thing: so much worse is yet to come. What can one person's life matter compared to all that loss? Any lone voice is powerless an army of screamers. So few people seem to care about what I care about, but I try to operate under the principle that you shouldn't judge individuals morally by what they're passionate about, something so many of them would never do. Most of them think I'm judging them anyway.... Maybe a little, but only enough to forgive them the difference in a way that I suspect they would never forgive me. I might rant my judgements all the time, but long as you accept that we have to disagree, I'm always there for more. But I never cease my amazement that you're still there for more, dear friend, and always worry you won't be much longer.
We all have deep regrets, if you don't you're lying or in denial. My biggest regrets are in the distant past. We all have mistakes, some of them might be terrible, but I know I've tried damn hard to do well by others. If others aren't satisfied, and over the years they've communicated their dissatisfaction by volume, we all eventually learn that 75% is their problem, not yours. Work on the other 25% is your entry point to being a decent person, but only 25% is you, the rest is a combination: 25% the people around you you can change, 25% the people around you you can't change, and 25% luck. You do the best you can to be what other people need, but sometimes you're going to fail, and your failures will be uncomfortably huge. People will either forgive or they'll hold grudges, but if they hold grudges, that says more about them than you. I have bigger concerns and much bigger regrets than anything I've thought aloud, said with premeditation, or done in recent years. If I failed to act well, I know it's not for lack of effort, but regardless of that, I've had the sense for well over five years that 'social doom' is coming. I could have acted like a saint to others my entire life, and eventually this graphomania of mine would write out something people decide is unforgivable, and whether cancellation is a thing for people who aren't the least bit eminent, I could lose dozens of friendships and career opportunities
The solution should be simple: either stop writing or stop self-publishing. That ain't gonna happen.... I'm more than 2000 pages into writing 'what I think'. Most of it is online forever and the whole point was to put it online. If anybody wants to find something objectionable I wrote, it's all there, you're free to read any time. Fortunately, I'm saved so far by you finding me too boring to read more than my first paragraph. Many thanks to you for your clemency.
So enough about me, what about you, dear friends? And many of you are dear friends even if most friendships are fleeting. The reset button on all our lives is about to be pressed. We're all going back 'into the wild', and even if we think we're going to be germaphobic or agoraphobic on our way out, the ungovernable instinct will not be to party, it'll be to bacchanal and say yes to life in a thousand ways we wouldn't last year. When all this is over, everybody will discover friends in unbreakable marriages filing for divorce, everybody will discover friends opening their marriages when the only open space used to be for Jesus. Everybody will have people they see a lot more than they did, and people they see a lot less.
For most of 2022-23, 90% will drink more, do more drugs, have more hookups, spend more money, quit secure jobs, let kids do stupid shit, travel to unsafe places, join destructive political movements, and not be there properly for people we love. We're all college freshmen again. Whether we plan it or not, we're all gonna do all the things we said we'd regret not doing, and we're gonna regret all of it.
The drama of all this will be past anything we've ever experienced. The least dramatic people will have existential fights online. People who keep their tempers in check will do things to get slapped and punched. Saints will be sinners, angels will be demons, and just as each of us became something we never thought we'd be during all this, there will be a still different self which grows out of whatever's next. Some shitshow clusterfuck version of you is your future, it's my future, it's the future of everybody who can't help but crave the social instinct, hasn't had any of it in 18 months, and never realized how much we missed it.
Whichever of us are still friends in 2024, we will get through it to the other side. The people we hang out with will be unrecognizable from whom we do now, and even if they're not, we'll all be unrecognizable when we next see each other. We're almost done, the worst is self-evidently to come, and y'know what? It's fine...
As my father always sang:
"make new friends,
keep the old,
one is silver
and the other is crap."

Tuesday, April 27, 2021

Bless Me, Ultima (probably deleted later)

I just don't get it. Here is a landmark of world literature, written by a Chicano American, an American revelation of fiction on the level of Moby Dick, Huck Finn, My Antonia, and Invisible Man. A work that's equal parts Cather, Marquez, IB Singer, Emily Brontë, Hawthorne, and Shakespeare. In 1972 it sold 300,000 copies purely by word of mouth, and then it disappeared. But unlike so many American one-hit wonders, Rudolfo Anaya plugged on to the very end - 35 books. Its author died in the last year, and as far as commemorations go, it was as though he never existed.
Bless Me, Ultima, is the perfect book for our time. A book as great as Melville ignored by the critical establishment because its writer was Chicano, and a book still ignored by the intersectional vanguard because.... why exactly?
If you want to read and promote a book that convinces the world that the lived experience of minority demographics can summon aesthetic glories which no other can summon, there it lies - the ultimate evidence that more equal representation benefits art, and yet when I go on goodreads, literally one person I know has read it, and one person has marked it as 'to read.'
But that's the thing.... The fact that Bless Me, Ultima still goes unnoticed in spite of its author's death, in spite of its extreme usefulness in proving right every claim about the benefit of listening to unheard voices, and however true that sentiment obviously is, what that makes this book is exhibit A that most people who talk about more equal representation in art don't care about art, they care about making art into an arm of ideological propaganda, and might let art and artists burn to the ground rather than let art exist as something more complex than the messages they want it to carry. Artists, as opposed to businessmen or scientists, have few real bases of power, and it's not like most artists have ever studied politics, so rather than revolutionize areas of human endeavor like technology or industry that demonstrably change people's lives, the world of woke goes after arts where most practitioners never had much power or security to begin with, and go through their days feeling so humiliated that convincing them of the necessity of a revolution is very easy.
Shame on both the literary establishment, so overwhelmingly white and male, for ignoring this book, and shame on the woke vanguard for ignoring its own best argument. This is the kind of book that whatever you're reading, you have to put everything down to read, it's proof that the Great American Novel may have been written by a person of color, and has been staring at us from our grandparents' shelves for fifty years; yet nobody knows about it, nobody shows evidence of wanting to find out about it, and nobody's shown any desire to search it out. You owe reading this book to yourselves, your students, your friends and family, your world.
In any event, I really like this book....

Friday, April 23, 2021

Underrated Classical Musicians: Alfredo Casella

The National Symphony is doing a major online broadcast next week on Monday of Alfredo Casella's Second Symphony - written right before World War I and sounding like it. It might be a masterpiece, I need to hear it about ten more times to decide. When I first heard this performance, I was absolutely convinced that here was one of the neglected masterpieces of the 20th century, and then I heard Noseda do it live with the NSO two years ago, and I came away thinking that this may not be the greatest symphony ever written, but it is, without a doubt, the loudest.
That's doubly interesting because Casella's composition teacher was Mr. Relaxation himself, Gabriel Faure, while seated near him in that Paris Conservatoire class was George Enescu and Maurice Ravel. While in Paris he knew all the great figures of his time like Debussy, Stravinsky, Falla, but his biggest influences were all in Germany: Busoni, Mahler, and Strauss, and he had correspondance with all of them.
Casella was part of an Italian composition movement called the generazione dell'ottanta (the 'generation of 1880') - him, Malpiero, Pizetti, Alfano, and... Respighi, the only one of them still regularly played. Working in the giant shadows of Verdi and Puccini, and with the expanded orchestras of Tchaikovsky and Richard Strauss permeating everywhere in the world, with Toscanini and de Sabata raising the quality of Italian orchestras, the '80 generation was the first generation of Italian composers to primarily focus upon orchestral music. There has never again been a dominant Italian opera composer.
Like so much of the best music, there is something in Casella 2 which catches the zeitgeist in a way that seems almost alchemical. The constant church bells, insistent drum beats, military marches, and generally ominous atmosphere, there is something obviously Mahlerian about it, and no secret as to why, Casella was such a huge Mahler-head that he made a two-piano arrangement of the seventh symphony. There are also moments in the Second Symphony which sound like Rachmaninov and Shostakovich too, but there is also something clearly Italian - old church modes go all through the work in a way they obviously don't in Mahler or Shostakovich. If the long long melodies with sweeping strings sound like Rachmaninov, this is a symphony the land of opera - if anything, Rachmaninov was trying to sound like Italian music, not the other way around.
The particular way Casella uses bells and cymbals for color (and harps for percussion) is entirely original. The result sounds not entirely dissimilar from Respighi, but in many ways more sophisticated. This is a much more ambitious orchestral work than any by Respighi, and more original too. Let's face it, Respighi is known for his giant sonic monoliths which sound uncannily like the music Mussolini must have heard in his dreams, but Respighi's best stuff, like the Boticelli Tryptich, the Boutique Fantastique, The Birds, the Ancient Airs and Dances, is on a much smaller scale.
Casella is clearly a more complicated personality, more intellectually sophisticated, more international in his outlook. Casella's career was so varied that, he is simultaneously responsible for putting on concert series that launched the revival of Vivaldi in the 20th century (along with, believe it or not, Ezra Pound), making editions of keyboard works of both Bach and Beethoven, working on collaborative theater works with Pirandello and putting on new music series with Gabrielle d'Annunzio, being the pianist of what's probably Italy's most famous piano trio in those years - the very originally named Trio Italiano, accumulating an enormous art collection in his spare time, and also - if you can believe it... being the music director of the Boston Pops in the years before Arthur Fiedler. His music is a reflection of that gigantic wedding soup of activity, and therefore sounds like no one else's in the same way that Busoni's and Mahler's did in the generation before him. You may or may not find this symphony as fascinating as I do, but even if it follows the form of yet another giant early 20th century symphony, there is no symphony quite like this.
Incidentally, Noseda is the greatest thing to ever happen to the National Symphony. He's frankly better than the current leadership at the Metropolitan Opera or the New York Philharmonic, so of course a larger organization is going to snap him up (probably the Covent Garden Opera in London) and like two-thirds of every other American orchestral golden ages, the conductor will leave before the good stuff even starts.

Wednesday, April 21, 2021

Underrated Classical Musicians: Ernst Krenek

OK, seriously folks... here is atonality at its very best: solemn, spiritual, Viennese, innately connected to the worst crises and traumas of the 20th century, and innately connected to the nostalgia for religious absolutes of its founder: Arnold Schoenberg. Atonal music at its very best is like the feeling you get from Freud or Wittgenstein at their best - as though you're gazing past the human composite into the darker essences where the will to life is primally formed (yes, I know that's Schopenhauer not them...), and once you see or hear that darker, more elemental truth about human impulses, you can't unlearn what you learned. If Auschwitz or the Somme could sing, this is the music they would sing.

Atonality is based on a very specific moment in the family of music history. Just as communism is an idea only conceivable out of European industrial capitalism, atonality and its identical twin - serialism, is only conceivable out of common practice Western tonality. Once tonality evolves to incorporate non-western tonal systems, let alone expand to all the various forms of mathematically ratio'd microtonality, and all their related polytonalities, atonality and serialism have no real interest. Atonality and serialism are rebellions against the music of 1910, and became a movement of the musical establishment by 1950.

And like so many academic movements based on critical theories formed in environs around German universities, atonality and serialism are movements that sound suspiciously like replacement religions. It has founding texts, founding myths, founding prophets, founding evangelists, and a long history of heretical schisms in which multiple sides claim to speak as the true mouthpiece for the original intent.

Two of the original heretics were Ernst Krenek and Hans Eisler, the former briefly became Mahler's son-in-law fifteen years after Der Meister died (the network of Viennese women who'd put up with with composers seemed to be very small...). Both quickly realized that atonality was a kind of intellectual litmus test for classical music that would make the concert hall into a clearing house meant to push out the uninitiated, and consequently were thrown out from the original circle before the original circle became merely an enshrined holy trinity for later atonalists to regard as their founding prophets who revealed to them the truth of music's future.

We'll come back to both Krenek and Eisler, but both of them moved back and forth between tonality and atonality rather freely. But Krenek is a particularly interesting case because fifteen years before writing this incredibly dissonant and long but strangely moving choral work, he wrote a jazz opera: Jonny Spielt Auf (Johnny Strikes Up), which, like so many works of the century's first third, was incredibly popular, and then the popularity was lost in the sea of totalitarianism. These works speak to us over the span of a century like more pleasant timeline of how our world might have developed. Krenek clearly understood that music is not written for a niche of initiates to confirm a revealed truth the church already knows, but to challenge a wider public from the most diverse possible backgrounds.

But this work is very much from our timeline. Premiered in 1941 and taking as its text the Lamentations of Jeremiah, it's clearly written to speak to its volatile time. This, is what atonality is meant to do, it expresses the cry of a whole civilization's shattered hopes. It is anything but intellectual. It is music whose emotions are so painful that no tonality can contain it. It is music that could only be written within its time and place, but the pain it expresses can reach out to any place and time.

Monday, April 19, 2021

Old America

History is a tough read. Even at its best, maybe especially at its best, it's dry, it's boring, its complicated, there are so many details to remember that it often seems like one fucking thing after the other. If you're inspired by a history book, if it made sense of the world, if it gave names to the forces that made you suffer, if it 'changed your life', it's 99% likely a bad book.
If you're looking to history to know what happens next, it's not through reading history that you'll know. Whether you know the details, you know the basic outline: progress followed by regress, reforms so long delayed they provoke revolutions, true believers inevitably proven wrong, revolutionary idealists causing reactionary movements and mass death, the remains of the world inevitably conquered by realists who understand human folly, most of whom, being realists, are indifferent to suffering.
You may not know history well, but all of us know human beings. If you think human beings are, on the whole, good, think about all the people you meet who are exceptions to that rule, sociopaths and psychopaths, narcissists, pathological abusers, and run of the mill assholes. Now make a composite average human being from the humans you love and esteem, and the human beings you have contempt or hatred for. Factor in all your love and hatred, hope and fear, experience of triumph vs. experience of defeat. That's the average human being, who means well when it's convenient, always frames the circumstances of any story to flatter themselves, and who vacillates every day from being decent person to kind of an asshole. Now, try to inspire this person to change society. Do you really think the average human being will understand the world correctly or implement change correctly?
And if they're neither good at understanding nor change, what happens when you try to make them change? Some will properly change, and some will resist change to their dying breath, most will fuck it up out of laziness. Change, for good or ill, is the biggest ordeal on the planet. The average person's understanding of the larger world is limited at the best of times, how much more limited is their understanding when you throw in the anxiety of not knowing their futures? If you force millions of people to change their ways, they will be more disposed to make bad decisions, not less.
We in America have been promised progress every decade since JFK's New Frontier, and we never got much of it. Why is that? I've read enough history to say definitively that I don't know, but I do know thousands of human beings, and from knowing them, I'm sure that the reason is that people are risk-averse, and they're risk-averse because most risks don't pay off. Every time progress is made on one front, it's lost on another.
The last couple of months have been a balm for the soul. Widespread vaccination, economic relief, initiatives on clean energy, banning guns, mass employment, repairing infrastructure, and NO TRUMP MEGAPHONE! It's fucking manna from heaven.
But has the temperature gone really and truly down? Whether by police or an insane clown posse, there is a headline murder in the streets every day, and the results broadcast 24 hours a day. Gun murder is as simple a fact of American life as any warzone, and even if most Americans are unlikely to have gun violence affect them, the threat of it is literally everywhere, and the stress makes people do unwise things from going out into the streets unmasked to going out into the streets in protest to further tempt killers. The more risky life is, the more people get accustomed to risk and charge like bulls into risks they can easily avoid. Human beings avoid risks because risks risk failure and punishment.
But just as most human beings I know are at baseline risk averse, so history seems to show that humans around the world are the same way. When any gain in privilege is truly gotten, the result is almost inevitably a few days of celebration, then years of post-traumatic stress. Humiliation sets in that you've struggled so much and for so long, only for the triumph to procure you so little. When Communism fell in the Soviet Union, which killed 20-60 million people, was the Russian response widespread rejoicing at the fall of a regime that butchered their families? Not at all, many Russians refer to the 90s as a 'Time of Troubles', which is what they used to call the early 1600s when one third of Russians died of famine. Within ten years, they'd lurched themselves back into the hands of another autocrat whom they practically begged to seize dictatorial powers. When the African-American community finally got some Civil Rights, was gratitude the widespread response? Of course not, it was four years of widespread rioting that gutted cities and all the opportunities which newly gotten civil rights should have earned them. When France and Russia and Iran finally got their absolute monarchs to procure liberal reforms, was the end result reform? Of course not, the result was too little too late, the establishment refused to enact the proposed changes, and the public rebelled with deadly revolutions that caused the deaths of millions.
And of course, in all these cases, these are incredibly unfair generalizations to millions of people. I deliberately left out American insistence on Russia hard landing into capitalism, and white Americans' red-lining African-Americans, and French and Russian and Iranian liberals who worked day and night for their countrymen to avoid a revolution they knew would end in decades of dictatorship, but that's exactly the point. The average human is kind of an asshole, and there are billions who are worse than average. When change is procured, all sorts of selfish people will make arrangements for the changes to benefit them rather than benefit the people who need it most.
Will the results of these solutions truly cause a lower temperature, or will they release latent stressors in the American psyche? This country has been under fundamentally conservative rule for my entire lifetime plus fifteen years. All it took was Obama, who was just one or two notches left of properly administered liberalism, and it was enough air to leak in after two generations of of conservative repression that Obama's wave of progress already unleashed entirely new set of far-left-of-progressive ideas about the intersection of politics and identity which may have revolutionized the world as completely as Marx revolutionized the world with class, and Luther revolutionized with faith.
We think of Trump as the main event of the last few years, but neither Trump nor any other authoritarian reactionary movement is the main event. The right-wing does not believe in progress, reactionaries only react, they cannot produce. Ta-Nehisi Coates called Trump the 'first white President', and that is exactly right. Trump is as much the product of identity politics as Bell Hooks and Ibram X. Kendi, just as Mussolini was as much the result of Marxism as Lenin, Cesare Borgia as much the product of Hussite reformation as Martin Luther. That is not to say that writers like Kimberle Crenshaw or Judith Butler are Lenin or Martin Luther, obviously they're quite far from it, but a path toward some kind of revolutionary movement is most clearly being paved as we speak.
There is no such thing as Late Capitalism, capitalism is self-generating - the true permanent revolution from the bottom up; but there is most definitely such a thing as Late Civilization. When civilizations are no longer blank slates, when the rules and expectations, customs, perhaps even regulations, of a society are set in stone, so too are dynamism and movement. When a country's citizens are too weighed down with history and tradition, no reform can happen, and revolutionary movements come along whose further left drift is exponentially self-generating as they realize how impossible reform is without blowing the whole damn thing up.
This is not the 1930s or 60s thank god. We did make progress, but the progress of American society was procured at the destruction of Old Europe. Once the old order was destroyed, we were free to remake the world as a less despotic place. It's much easier to remake the world, both at home and abroad, when 200 million people have already died for it. But we, for the first time in US history, are now 'Old America,' and there may now be no chance for reform without blowing the whole thing up and starting from scratch.
We'll obviously see soon enough if I'm right or if I'm just talking out my ass (yet again...), but if I know anything at all about history (and I probably don't...), all the current chaotic din of internet voices from under-heard demographics will eventually coalesce around a single revolutionary figure, who will be as bellicose and authoritarian as the their movement began peaceable and conflict-resolving.
....I hope I'm wrong, and right or wrong I'd advise keep plowing ahead on reform rather than revolution, but if history is any guide, nobody gives a fuck what I think...

Sunday, April 18, 2021

Underrated Classical Musicians: Zuzana Růžičková

Who is the most spiritually charged musician of the recorded era?
I don't know shit, but Zuzana Růžičková has to be on the list, and we will eventually come back again and again to Růžičková; a survivor of Auschwitz, Teresin, and Bergen-Belsen, who then refused to join the Communist Party in the aftermath. She lived a whole life of persecution, yet she spent her life playing the composer of affirmation. When I hear Růžičková, I can't stop thinking to myself: yes, THIS is what Bach meant. As I've said before, Bach is music of the soul, not the body. He is pure form, and ostentation would have enraged him, he'd throw a keyboardist of extraneous color out of the organ loft. Yet simultaneously, Bach is all color. He was not a painter but an etcher, drawing only in lines of black and white. I am convinced the instrument in his mind was neither harpsichord nor organ, perhaps a cembalo was closer, but the ideal Bach instrument was one of those hybrid harpsichords the size of a Buick with multiple registers, keyboards, pedals and consoles through which Bach can intone a celestial ring - full of overtones, echoes, bass-rich roars and bell-like pings. The only people in Bach who dance are the angels.
One can easily say that Růžičková conjured Bach's spiritual world so well because of her experience, and maybe there's some truth to it, though only god knoweth how. But however she accomplished it, it is only her and Landowska atop Dante's mountain of paradise where the Divine Presence is truly felt with all glory in the highest.

Thursday, April 15, 2021

Underrated Classical Musicians: The Old Met (again)

 Today is not the day to set out Evan's Grand Theory of Musical Interpretation, just to say that by the 1930s, opera had taken independent root in cultures non-native to itself, and evolved into a very different shape from its countries of origin where the stated interpretive wishes and stylistic norms of Verdi and Wagner were more closely honored. It is only when the music takes root elsewhere and is subject to these enormous changes that we find out if the music is truly classical, and can hold the same or greater value in a culture different from the one which birthed it. Here, however scratchy the sound, is a Verdi of far greater abandon than anything it must have ever experienced in Italy - an abandon only possible because during World War II, the greatest singers in the world congregated for a brief glorious moment in New York. Is it great music or drama? Not really. But then again, I'm not convinced much by Verdi is great music or drama either... Only Toscanini can convince me that that's what Verdi is. But as far as cheap thrills go, this is such spectacular opera, the hard rock of the 1870s, and the reason for hundreds of years even before Verdi that people listened with such exalted fascination.

Wednesday, April 14, 2021

Walter and Klemperer

I may be the only person who doesn't understand the Toscanini/Furtwangler debate. Both of them have a very limited repertoire in which they excel to their fullest capacity. When you're looking for something beyond fireworks or very one-dimensional conceptions of what music should be, they come up more lacking than a number of their contemporaries.
Listen to Walter and Klemperer in the German mainstream sometime. No one has done Don Giovanni better than either of them, or Fidelio, or perhaps the Missa Solemnis and Zauberflöte, or the Deutsches Requiem. All five are, of course, incredibly complex pieces of music, and there are things which Furtwangler and Toscanini both miss in the ones of those they've done. Walter and Klemperer miss nothing - not a single note of pathos or humor or excitement or repose is absent.
Both originate in many ways from their contact with Mahler, whom one has to figure was as great a conductor as he was a composer, and that there was a similar dichotomy in his conducting that there was in his compositions between romantic and modern... Walter represents the grand tradition, he never precluded excitement, but his performances personify beauty, nostalgia, tradition, and keeping the old flames of the 19th century alive in new eras. Klemperer is the conductor of 'progress' who loves and understands the grand tradition but believes it isn't enough: who distrusts beauty and nostalgia, but who believes that romanticism isn't enough and that the tradition must evolve for a new era. In Klemperer, romanticism is either dismissed altogether or becomes so intense that it turns into outright expressionism.
Oh to have heard how Mahler might have synthesized these two approaches, but between the two of them, we get the revealed truth of some of the greatest works of art on earth.
Here are what I believe are the two ultimate performances of the ultimate opera ever captured in broadcast form.



Monday, April 12, 2021

Underrated Classical Musicians: Friedrich Gulda

 Perhaps more on Hindemith later. In the meantime, appreciate my favorite pianist. The second he tries to give a downbeat you'll see why. The performance gets funnier as it goes along. From the moment after the first chord, the concertmaster seems to be signaling across the piano to the principal second violinist "I got this."

This is some of the greatest piano playing and the worst conducting I've ever seen, and Gulda doesn't give a crap. He hums like Bud Powell, he sings like Glenn Gould, he dresses like Thelonius Monk, he conducts like he's having an acid freakout, and he literally loses his place in the score at one point and spends an entire orchestral tutti trying to find the right where the orchestra is. But he plays like Gulda. The Beethoven pianist of Beethoven pianists. He's a little past his prime here, it's not Gulda at anything near his best, but I'm hardly the first to express the opinion that Gulda's Beethoven had more insight and excitement per bar than anyone since Schnabel, and still far better technically than Schnabel was. This must have been a bit like what it was to hear Anton Rubinstein or Bulow or Tausig in that first flush of excitement of discovering what a virtuoso can do with Beethoven sonatas.

Gulda at his best:

Sunday, April 11, 2021

"Is Paul Hindemith Hot?"

 In 'The Office', one of the most popular TV shows (and one of my favorites) of the last 20 years, there was an entire episode devoted to that crucial existential question of our time: "Is Hillary Swank Hot?"

...They must have been running out of plotlines, but this is not unlike what goes through my mind when I hear the music of Hindemith. I have to ask myself, over and over again, "Is Paul Hindemith a Great Composer?"
Listen to the Sonata for Two Pianos. There is hardly a single moment in Hindemith's music that does not have some sort of flashy effect: either compositional or instrumental. It's almost empty noise, and yet you can't possibly be bored. At every instant, there's something new to engage the ear, and there is never a moment between them. There are plenty of highly celebrated works by Mozart and Bach which have no deeper thought than its virtuosity. I don't know if there is anything in Hindemith beneath the virtuosity. Even the rather gorgeous first slow movement of this sonata is entirely a canon, a virtuoso feat of imitation subtly passed between the two pianos. It's as though Hindemith never matured enough to stop saying to the audience 'Hey! Look what I can do!'
Perhaps the way to think of Hindemith is as one of the 'virtuosi' of the composing world, if it could be said... to composition what Heifetz was to the violin or Reiner to conducting. I still am not convinced I don't dislike Hindemith's music, but I'm still listening, and I'm never bored.
...maybe a third post tomorrow....

Saturday, April 10, 2021

Underrated Classical Musicians: Paul Hindemith

 Not a long post.

Symphony in E-flat. A Hindemith masterpiece. It took me a while to get into Hindemith. I have no idea if Hindemith's a truly great composer with something original to say, but he's a great musician whose music is so exciting, so perfectly made, and so much fun, that I wonder if it matters. He's one of those musicians Berlioz described Mendelssohn as: "He knows everything, but lacks inexperience."An ostentatious brilliance like Hindemith, who played practically every musical instrument and learned every musical style, is almost too perfect a musician to be a great composer. The urgency to dare something shocking and never before done is not quite there in Hindemith after he reaches maturity. He belongs in that gallery of musical geniuses whose genius was so obvious that it became a limitation: Mendelssohn, Liszt, Saint-Saens, Rachmaninov. Not bad company, that. Hindemith lived and breathed music so naturally that he never really had to struggle to create anything, and missing from much music is the sense that there is some essential ecstatic truth which can only come from experiencing the hardships of life outside music, where Hindemith was an Emperor of all he surveyed. His music may not have the greatness of contemporaries like Bartok and Shostakovich, but the brilliance of it is so present that it scorches the ear. It has that same instant listenability which you find in Mendelssohn or Liszt. It may not be deep, but the perfection instantly engages and satisfies as only the most natural musical genius can.

Wednesday, April 7, 2021

No More Stravinsky at 50


OK. So Stravinsky died 50 years ago this week. In my mind it's still college and he's barely been dead 30 years. For a 20th century composer more or less on the avant-garde, we know as much of Stravinsky as we know of anyone, but we don't know most of it. Some of it is less good than others, particularly as he aged (nobody can convince me that the Requiem Canticles are a return to form...), but there still are marvelous works that stay basically unknown and unheard: Persephone, The Nightingale, Apollo, Orpheus, Mavra, Concerto for Piano and Winds, King of the Stars, and as of just six years ago, the long lost Funeral Song... You owe it to yourselves to listen to them all.
But among the relatively unknown, the best work of all is Renard: the chamber opera burlesque that's as much a rough draft of his greatest work, Les Noces, as Kagemusha was for Kurosawa's Ran. It's nothing more than an 18 minute Aesopian Fable, complete with animals in costume. As Stravinsky always does at his best, he creates an hallucinatory ancient ritual enabled by collage, new use of instruments and instrumental combinations, new polytonal harmonies, and Russian folk song, and parodying traditional forms. What can one say? It's just another Stravinsky masterpiece for the stage, fully deserving to take its place as a stagework alongside Les Noces, Petrushka and Sacre and so much else.

Comedy and Humor (CW: Patrice O'Neal)

Don't worry, this isn't gonna be one of those essays in Reason or the Wall Street Journal where a dude laments cancel culture or trigger warnings or people who can't take a joke.
But I will ask you to click on this video just to see how much the world changed in ten years - stop it whenever you need to.
Patrice O'Neal died shortly after this special and clearly knew it. Had he been alive just a few more years, he'd have been as famous a comedian as George Carlin, Joan Rivers, Bill Hicks, Chris Rock, Dave Chappelle... Even with the amount of time he got in the spotlight at his low profile, Patrice O'Neal is one of the greatest standups who ever lived, and when I think of standups who've consistently made me laugh as hard as I've ever laughed in my life, it's Louis CK, Norm Macdonald, Robin Williams, and Patrice O'Neal. O'Neal might have supplanted Louis CK as the comedian of the 2010s, but even if his behavior was spotless by our era's standards (doubtful), just his act would have cancelled him forever.
O'Neal is a perfect example of how humor is cruel. It always hurts. Period. There is no such thing as something funny that doesn't hurt someone. Any joke without a victim is pseudo-laughter. A victimless joke can be fun, but it's never funny. The joke is only funny if laughter's the point of the joke, and laughter is only the point of the joke when you don't care about the joke's consequences. Puns, klang association, irony, drollery, even wit and epigrams, they're not funny; they're usually told in high spirits, but the laughter they elicit's a secondary reaction. Laughter at victimless cleverness is about the camaraderie it provides. This kind of low-key pseudo-humor is incapable of making you forget everything that is not the joke.
A bunch of DC friends from 12ish years ago probably remember my phase of driving around Bethesda. Bethesda is the richest town in the richest county in America - with the highest ratio of restaurants per capita in the whole world. One day in conversation, we decided that anybody hanging around Bethesda was a douchebag (except us...), and we should disrupt Bethesdans in my car by honking at every Bethesda pedestrian we saw, all of whom would either have a deer in the headlights reaction, or jump six feet in the air as they screamed, or would yell and give us the middle finger. I nearly lost control of the car because I was laughing so hard, and nobody in the car cared because they were laughing even harder. I did this every time I was in Bethesda for six months. A generation earlier, I'd have been arrested for disturbing the peace, and a generation from now I might have been arrested again; but one friend of mine at the end of a drive through Bethesda put it perfectly: "It's fun to be a bully."
Better put than you even realized James..., humor is the language of bullies and all of us have a bully lurking inside. The very act of laughing contorts you into the body language of dominance and superiority, emitting a subconscious primal grunt with your head held far in the air, your neck exposed because you know you're invulnerable to attack.
Think back on your life for a minute. How many of us tried as best we could to provoke laughter at other people's expense? And how many of us learned how because we have been the victim of others' laughter? Why is there a commonly held archetype of a comedian as someone who laughs on the outside because they're crying on the inside? Laughter is innate, but humor is learned behavior, and it's learned not through joy but through pain.
Mel Brooks once explained the difference between tragedy and comedy this way: "Tragedy is when I cut my finger. Comedy is when you fall into a sewer and die." It's fun to be a bully. It's fun to cause or watch other people's misfortune and know that it holds no consequences for you, and it's particularly fun when you've been on the receiving end and laughter's followed by relief because someone other than you is getting humiliated.
A sense of humor is like drawing a straight line or carrying a tune. Some people just don't have the gene for it, many of whom are otherwise fun people and great company. Sitcom after sitcom's made for people like that who realize that our world finds it unacceptable to have no sense of humor, so the fake sitcoms are accompanied by laugh tracks which tell them when laughing's socially appropriate. Everything has its light side and its dark side, so humorless is far from the worst thing in the world to be. Very few things have a more obvious dark side than humor, and after fifty years when having a sense of humor was considered the most important trait to have in socializing, we're beginning to rediscover how dangerous humor is.
A good friend and I once noted that of all America's contributions to world culture, comedy is the only one in which our position as the 'world's most important nation' is absolutely unquestionable. Look at any other field for which we're best known: the British beat us in radio and compete with us in Popular Music, the Japanese and French compete with us in movies, and in social media China and South Korea are well ahead of us. Comedy is the only aesthetic field where America's primacy is as unquestionable as Italy in opera and Bavaria in beer.
There is no pretending that good comedy is as good as it was just ten years ago. It's not, and I don't think it's because humor tends to date quickly. We've placed all sorts of restraints on humor which weren't there in 2011, which makes being funny much harder; but that's not necessarily a bad thing. When some notice that others so quick to insult are enraged when they're insulted back, it's not their imagination. Nobody has thinner skin than bullies and trolls who already mean ill. The whole point of bullying is to make yourself invulnerable, and when bullies learn that they're vulnerable, their first ten urges are not to learn their lesson. They just bully harder.
Insofar as humor is an art, I think history is going to look back on the fifty years between 1967 and 2017 as a golden age for humor like the high Renaissance for painting or the mid-19th century for the novel. We had The Simpsons and South Park, Seinfeld and Cheers, Louis CK and Richard Pryor, The Producers and Life of Brian, Chappelle's Show and Kids in the Hall, Letterman and Craig Ferguson, Joan Rivers and Gilda Radner, Dana Carvey and Dan Aykroyd, Colin Mochrie and Steve Carell, Ted Danson and Julia Louis Dreyfus. It's a magnificent history, but the greatest achievements are mostly male, white, and straight, and that's because humiliation of the less powerful is built into comedy's DNA.
Mass media censored nudity and violence, but it never censored insults, and social media makes insults the most basic fact of our lives online and so omnipresent it changed the curvature of history. Insulting behavior elected chief executives to four major world powers in five years (US, UK, India, Brazil) and may soon elect a fifth (France). All over the world, humor propelled the party of bullies into power because we've learned the false lesson that a sense of humor is a virtue. It's not a virtue, it's a gift like being good at games or physical activity, and like them a gift that can be used for bad purposes.
We spent the better part of the twentieth century lifting humor's lid, and now we're putting the lid back on in the same way that in the late 60s we put the lid on racism and prejudice; but just like with racism and prejudice, it's a pretty makeshift lid, it's barely even cosmetic. All it does is make the most obviously malicious humor more socially unacceptable. And now, fifty years later, just when we seem to have made some small minimum of forward motion, racism and prejudice explode back out of Pandora's Box, and we can only watch.
Some traits are endemic in the human psyche, they're not going away no matter how distant we wish them. Unlike prejudice, nobody thinks they wish humor away, but then we remember the how people used humor against us. If you feel any sympathy for others at all, how can you blame people for wanting limitations on what we can joke about?
But at the same time, if you really go after humor, if you want to eliminate people's ability to joke at each other's expense the way that many people would like to eliminate prejudice, you can't be surprised when people who base their lives around either humor or the prejudice hit back with everything they have. The goal of the world is not liberty or equality or justice or dominance; as my brother would say, the goal of the world is homeostasis - the condition of guaranteeing as best we can that everyone is able to muddle through tomorrow. Isn't that hard enough?
...So these personal essays of mine have an enormous problem, they're incredibly pompous, which I find a particularly funny because I, personally, am really fucking funny.
Even if I've just become the guy who entitles an essay 'Comedy and Humor', I know for a fact that if you meet me and don't find me funny, the problem is you, not me. I doubt I was born this way, I was a bookish kid made funny by extreme bullying, Jewish culture, mental illness, and a family of nothing but funny people. We probably learned to make goyim laugh in the Old Country, after all, there's nothing funnier than the Holocaust. (and by the way, today is Yom HaShoah...)
Everybody says they want to be close friends with the funny guy, but nobody really wants it. He's perfect for dinner or drinks, but everybody knows that the funny guy is the bundle of volatile buttons easily pushed, who gets mad when people do to him what he does to them. He's funny because he found a socially acceptable place to deposit his rage. He's perfect for three hours, then you go home with your better looking but dull partner and he goes back to whatever bridge he lives under.
Even if they don't know it, what many funny people want most is to stop being funny. Being funny is so exhausting. It's like a drug that feels amazing for a couple seconds and leaves you feeling nothing but fear, because the only way you feel comfortable relating to people is when they're laughing. Every moment spent in the company of others when not in that state is a moment when all your doubts flood into your head. All you want is to stop performing but you don't know how, all you want is to stop feeling the itch to leave an impression, stop talking to two people as though they're fifty, get off the stage so you can have a core self no feedback can take away.
Funny people are usually the smart people who learned early on that if you're too smart, you're going to stand out no matter what, so you'd better stand out for making powerful people feel good. We would be much happier if we were able to go home, be our naturally pompous selves, stop thinking about others' opinions, and go through life with personal experiences that audiences neither take away nor validate.
So what, ultimately, should comedy be?
It's easy to say that comedy should be done responsibly, but the whole point of comedy is to forget our responsibilities. There might be such a thing as comedy which doesn't punch down (I'm obviously skeptical...), but there is no such thing as socially responsible, didactic comedy. If comedy which seems didactic is funny, like the Colbert Report or Parks and Recreation, we're not laughing at the educational aspect. We're laughing because the situations they describe are funny on their own. It's possible to do great comedy when comedy becomes tied to civic education, but it's much, much harder, and if comedians have an obligation to be that responsible, most will find doing that kind of comedy impossible, and many will rebel by finding ways to do material which is even more insulting.
Comedy is like any other societal trait that's value neutral. It exists neither to benefit nor hurt us, it just is, it isn't going away, and is therefore a reflects society much more than it creates society. So if you want less hurtful comedy, gentler comedy, more humane comedy, create a gentler, more humane society first.
Comedy didn't even used to mean things which make us laugh. The word is Greek, and in antiquity, comedy just meant a drama with a happy ending. 1800 years after Aristophanies (god this is getting pompous...), Dante would refer to his famous epic poem as 'The Divine Comedy.' Dante tried to be funny, but there isn't much in the world less humorous than Dante. Nearly any story with a happy ending makes us feel better, but one of the easiest ways to make people feel better is to make them laugh, so it's only natural that humor attaches itself to comedy.
The point of ancient comedy was not to make us laugh, but to make us feel life's continuity. To show that through all the setbacks, life goes on, the river still flows, the world blooms again, and the grain of wheat which dies brings forth new fruit (oh my fucking god Evan you brought St. John into this?....).
I don't think comedy has any social use that won't backfire - there may even be a direct line between the Daily Show and the Trump Presidency; but all through history, the best comedy does remind us that life keeps going, shit passes along with triumphs, and as long as we're still here, those two states are locked in an inseparably bound cycle.
That is the lesson of comedy merciful enough to uplift us after knocking us down: The Simpsons of course, The Muppets, Cheers, Roseanne, The Office and Parks and Rec, Freaks & Geeks and My So-Called Life, Taxi and M*A*S*H, Mary Tyler Moore and All in the Family, Thirtysomething and The Golden Girls, Pixar, Louis CK it's true, and Richard Pryor, and Frank Zappa and Randy Newman (though it's kind of astounding how little humor there is in rock music...), and Stephen Sondheim, Harvey Pekar and Robert Crumb, Disney for better or worse..., Jean Renoir and Yasijiro Ozu, Billy Wilder and Ernst Lubitsch, Preston Sturges and Howard Hawks, Charlie Chaplin and Buster Keaton, Alan Ayckbourn and Neil Simon, Tom Stoppard and Alan Bennett, Cole Porter and Noel Coward, Philip Roth and Saul Bellow, Scholem Aleichem and Milan Kundera, Bohumil Hrabal and Jaroslav Hasek, Mikhail Bulgakov and Anton Chekhov, James Joyce and Vladimir Nabokov, Oscar Wilde and Bernard Shaw, Mark Twain and GK Chesterton, Evelyn Waugh and PG Wodehouse, George Elliott and Charles Dickens, Jane Austen and Nikolai Gogol, Wiliam Hogarth and Rene Magritte, not to mention Mozart operas, and Henry Fielding, and Don Quixote, and Shakespeare comedies, and Gargantua and Pantagruel, and the Decameron, and the Canterbury Tales...
...and if this list seems incredibly weighted toward the serious, that's the point. It's when you don't take things seriously that people get hurt; and if it seems weighted toward white males, find other demographic equivalents.
Whether or not life becomes less humorous, life is still there, and a new era will create its own great reasons to get up in the morning. For the moment, I do believe that the Golden Age of Humor is ending, I do believe that cancel culture and political correctness exist, but they are all somewhere between problem #275-5000 of our lives. The passing of comedy's golden age is a small symptom of our era's seismic dangers, but they're not the dangers themselves.
The real danger is to be too enamored of any one conception of the world, and for the moment, the real danger comes more from the people who believe they should be able to make whatever jokes they like. I happen to agree with that sentiment, but I don't like the company I have on this side of the argument. There are so much more important fights these days, and you'd have to be an idiot not to see how far into the slime unregulated humor took hundreds of millions. For the rest of our lives, humor and comedy won't be as dominant a force in our lives, and to me that's mostly a shame, but it will still be there, even if it's something to be shunted to the side like schoolwork, while people look with suspicion passionate comedy fans.
There's plenty more to write about this, but I'm tired, I'm tired of being funny, I'm tired of writing essays that let me and everybody else forget I was ever funny, and now that there's a chance to be free from humor's bony grip, I sort of look forward to seeing how it goes.
And in the meantime, if I need to watch something truly wrong, there's always Patrice O'Neal.

Monday, April 5, 2021

Tale 4 - Letter 1

 To: Asher Charlap

18b Aldgate High Street
London, United Kingdom, EC
From Simon Charlap
Robben Island Lighthouse
Cape Colony
Dear Asherkeh, B’’H
Shalom from a place without peace, where the people are upside down, the trees are upside down, even the morals are upside down. The land is beautiful, the weather’s beautiful, it has mountains and valleys and trees and sun and hundreds of animals you’ve never seen or heard about; it’s everything beautiful you’d imagine the Holy Land is like, except without a Moshiach or peace or tzaddikim or anything else stopping you from wondering how everybody acts like a khazer in a place so sheyn. I’m sure you’ve heard the rumors that Reb Herzl wants to build a Jewish state here in Africa. We’d all have to be meshuggeh to go along with it. The politics here are already such a khopteh that everybody wants to kill each other over gornishts. It would be better to keep fighting for a State of Israel in the Holy Land, where nobody lives and we finally wouldn’t have to think about politics.
I’m sorry I haven’t geshribt to you in a year. I know you were bazorgt to join me down here, and I won’t lie, I could use you here more than ever, but please, Asherkeh, for your own sake, if you’re still making any money in London, and even if you’re not making any money but aren’t losing any, stay there; and whatever you do, DO NOT SIGN UP FOR THE WAR. The Boers are meshuggeh and geferlakh, but all those English who seem so sane are even crazier. England says they declared war on these paskudnyaker schlemazels because they want to protect anybody British who lives around Pretoria, but the British already own every other place in the world. They could just pay to bring their English back to Johannesburg. What they really want is the Dutch gelt and to own whatever’s left of the world they don’t have yet.
I’m not even in Johannesburg anymore. For a while I was stationed in a city on a mountain called Pretoria, a shreklekh place where Dutch Christians who look like Chassidim work shvartses to death in gold mines and harass the British who live there like Cossacks. After Pretoria they sent me to a country called Madagascar, where the British keep their war prisoners in something called a ‘concentration camp’, where they pack thousands of Boers together like Jews in the Venice ghetto, but at least the Italians let Yids work still and make money. The British already have all the money, and the point of putting all these Christian Chassids in the same small area is so they can make the Boers die without killing them. I understand why they think they should. The Boers are absolutely meshuggeh and want to kill all the British, but at least the Boers are honest about what they want to do. The British have the world thinking they’re so much better, and then they find this expensive way to make the Boers die slowly without pulling a trigger and show people that British are so much better because they pay for an ongepotchket way to make the Boers kill themselves, and tell the world they have no choice. They’d have a choice if they just leave this farkakteh country alone.
I’m sure this meiceh sounds very different from when you last saw me in London, or even like I’m beginning to sound like you, but no Yid could ever imagine what a concentration camp is like. Everything about this country was already cursed by the ayin hora. First we burned all their crops and killed all their cattle, then we burned down their houses and piled thousands of these homeless schlemiels into trains like cattle and took them to camps where they have to sleep a hundred to a room and ten to a bed, have nothing to eat, und machten drek right next to their beds. Everybody in the camp comes down with measles and dysentery, and it kills a lot of the adults, but it kills the majority of the kinder. By the time they die, the only thing left of them is their beyner and pupiks. For days before they die, they can’t walk, they can’t get out of bed, they can only kakn and vomit in the bed they’re sleeping in with two other families. You hear people groaning and crying every minute of the day, and you don’t know if they’re dying or mourning the dead. Even after all those pogroms and ghettos, I don’t think any Yid has ever seen anything like this, and anyone who did would say for the first time ever that there are some things worse than being a Jew.
I will send you a second letter soon, but if you want to write me back, and it would be sheyn to hear from you, my address is Simon Charlap: Robben Island Lighthouse, Cape Colony, Africa.
Lieb fun sein Brider,