Tuesday, May 24, 2016

"The kingdom of music"

“The kingdom of music is not the kingdom of this world; it will accept those whom breeding and intellect and culture have alike rejected. The commonplace person begins to play, and shoots into the empyrean without effort, whilst we look up, marvelling how he has escaped us, and thinking how we could worship him and love him, would he but translate his visions into human words, and his experiences into human actions. Perhaps he cannot; certainly he does not, or does so very seldom. … Like every true performer, she was intoxicated by the mere feel of the notes: they were fingers caressing her own; and by touch, not by sound alone, did she come to her desire.”

― E.M. Forster (1879-1970), A Room with a View

Sunday, May 22, 2016


While reading about Plum Island (Mass.) just now, I remembered a short but wonderful visit that D and I made there last summer. Here is one of the scenes we enjoyed:

I’ve noticed that in many of my photos, I’ve unconsciously framed the shots so that they reveal converging (or diverging) angles. Here, a series of converging lines are formed by the horizon (top of the water), the “border” between the sand and water, and the ascending progression of vegetation.

Here’s a similar convergence in a photo taken on a frigid day last winter at the Quabbin Reservoir:

Something about these angles and proportions appeals to me. 

Images © 2016 Quodlibet. All rights reserved. Duplication or republication in any format is prohibited without express permission.

“Language is as real”

“Language is as real, as tangible in our lives, as streets, pipelines, telephone switchboards, microwaves, radioactivity, cloning laboratories, nuclear power stations.”

— Adrienne Rich, American writer (1929-2012)

Thursday, May 12, 2016

Hoffmann on Beethoven: “The essence of romanticism”

My notes indicate that some time ago, during a conversation about music (including, apparently, Beethoven), I had sent these quotes to K:

“Music reveals to man an unknown realm, a world quite separate from the outer sensual world surrounding him, a world in which he leaves behind all precise feelings in order to embrace an inexpressible longing.”


“Beethoven’s music sets in motion the machinery of awe, of fear, of terror, of pain, and awakens that infinite yearning which is the essence of romanticism. He is therefore a purely romantic composer.”

At the top, I had written in all caps one word: TRUTH.

I can’t recall the conversation, or what inspired me to find and send those snippets. In any case, their wisdom persists. Their origin, of course, is E.T.A. Hoffmann’s justly-famous review of Beethoven’s Symphony No. 5.

Tuesday, May 10, 2016


[originally published 5/10/16]

[An ensemble in which I used to sing] requires quadrennial re-auditions for each of its members, and this spring, all Soprano Is and Tenor Is will have to re-audition in order to maintain membership. I had my audition last night. I’ve been in the [ensemble] for ten years, and have re-auditioned twice, so this was my third go-round. The process is fine, and gives everyone – singers and leadership – an opportunity to reassess membership.

Friday, May 6, 2016

"Aesthetic surplus"? Or the highest expression of his piety?

This morning, a musical colleague forwarded an interesting article about JSB from today’s issue of the Wall Street Journal. The author, Markus Rathey (professor of music history at Yale University and president of the American Bach Society) reflects on the profound differences between the way Bach’s sacred works are heard in modern times (that is, in concert) compared to when they were presented as originally intended (that is, during worship services). This is nothing new; these differences are well known to Bach scholars, Bach performers, and Bach lovers, and necessarily inform many aspects of presentation and interpretation of JSB’s sacred works.

I was surprised however, that Rathey used most of his allotted word count to speculate on the idea that “We don’t know much about Bach’s own faith.” Here’s what he said, in part:

Tuesday, May 3, 2016

“You're chosen to be a poet"

“You choose to be a novelist, but you’re chosen to be a poet. This is a gift and it’s a tremendous responsibility. You have to be willing to give something terribly intimate and secret of yourself to the world and not care, because you have to believe that what you have to say is important enough.”

—May Sarton, Belgian-American poet, novelist, and memoirist (May 3 1912-1995)

Reading these words of May Sarton forces me to recall the many poems I wrote several years ago, during a very dark period of my life.

Monday, May 2, 2016


I subscribe to several email services by which I receive daily doses of art and cultural history. Each day I learn new vocabulary, read a poem, look at (and learn about) a piece of art, enjoy snippets of literary and music history, etc. Many of these bits and bobs are connected to the date – “On this date in [fill in the year,] such-and-such happened.] Together these are a nice way to start the day.

Much of what I read is new to me, but of course, much of it is familiar, too. Sometimes I skip over the topics I already know about, but sometimes I read the familiar pieces with close attention if they are favorite topics. Such as Mozart.

Yesterday’s edition of The Writer’s Almanac included a feature about the premiere of Mozart’s Le Nozze di Figaro on May 1, 1786 in Vienna. The article included the usual stuff about Beaumarchais, political tensions, da Ponte, and Emperor Joseph’s famous edict about excessive encores. But two items caught my attention and made me wonder who had researched and written — and edited — this little essay.