28 December 2018

More of the plan

The Symphony #2 is a Symphony for band,

Karl’s Big (But Happily IncompleteMap to the Body

1. The Nerves.
2. The Heart.
3. A Piece of My Mind

19 November 2018

pavan at last

This past weekend’s Triad concerts have been, I think, a signal artistic success.

Whereon I ought to remark in more detail.

But for the moment, the second of the Sauna Songs, Op.152.

17 November 2018

Migratory or not

Tonight, two Henningmusick events:  Ensemble Aubade (yes, again) perform Oxygen Footprint, Op.138a at the Oakland Presbyterian Church in Rock Hill, So. Carolina.  And the first of the Triad concerts, this evening in Melrose, whereon the men of Triad sing the première of It Might Happen Today, Op.156, and Sudie Marcuse sings The Mystic Trumpeter, Op.113 № 1, with yours truly playing clarinet.

For now, though, the next instalment in the Sauna Songs:

16 November 2018

Quotes from the blog, here & there, over the years

For the professional, the industry is a large part of how you get to where you’re going.  For the aspirant artist, the industry is a large part of what stops you getting there.
Robt Fripp, Thursday, 1.ix.2005

The musicologists are so happy, in a self-indulgent way, when they can point out the influences.  But that’s not what’s important.  What’s important is that the composer transforms those influences, and makes them his own.  Which reminds me of a wonderful Stravinsky statement.  He once said, “You must always steal, but never from yourself.” What he meant by that is quite obvious.  When you steal from yourself you learn nothing.  When you steal from others, you enrich your vocabulary.
— Lukas Foss

Music was invented to deceive and delude mankind.
— Ephorus, 4th century B.C.

But whether I am really so unacceptable to the public as the expert judges always assert, and whether it is really so scared of my music—that often seems to me highly doubtful.
— Arnold Schoenberg

We aren’t worried about posterity; we want it to sound good now.
— Duke Ellington

Ireland banned Life of Brian, Meaning of Life, and another film I had made, about a prostitute, called Personal Services.  They had only ever banned four films in Ireland—and I’d made three of them.  I was rather proud of that.  I thought, “Well . . . you can’t do much better than that.”
— Terry Jones

I don’t know how old I am because the goat ate the Bible that had my birth certificate in it.  The goat lived to be twenty-seven.
— Satchel Paige (1906?-1982)

That he did not expect to meet such a blithely lethal female at a kiddie pool in the middle of a park in Dayton goes without saying.
— Leo Schulte (“Of Gnawing Time”)

What I want is an art of balance, of purity, an art that won’t disturb or trouble people.  I want anyone tired, worn down, driven to the limits of endurance, to find calm and repose in my painting.
— Henri Matisse

I had a monumental idea this morning, but I didn’t like it.
— Samuel Goldwyn

It is a good rule in life never to apologize.  The right sort of people do not want apologies, and the wrong sort take a mean advantage of them.
— P.G. Wodehouse

Footprint, Breath, and Happening Today (possibly)

If all your friends jump off the Geo. Washington Bridge, do you jump off, too?
– Zen koan my parents repeated to me many times in my youth

And the waitress is practicing politics,
As the businessmen slowly get stoned.
– Billy Joel, “The Piano Man” (1973)

How much you bet those sotted businessmen imagine that they are somehow superior to the waitress?
Porridger’s Almanack (Breakfast of Ganglions)

Yesterday (don’t stop me, even if this grows tedious) Ensemble Aubade performed Oxygen Footprint, Op.138a at Jacksonville State University in Alabama.  A composer’s deepest thanks for so repeatedly championing his work.

This morning – the Morning of the Slushy LeavesMarshunda wrote about Deep Breath, Op.147 to ask how the composer would prefer some details.  Delighted that this conversation is ongoing.

And tomorrow is the première of It Might Happen Today, Op.156.  We might call me rather a happy composer, we might, at that.

An open question, whether wearing sneakers in weather like this betokens a lack of imagination, or a lack of intelligence.

15 November 2018

Sauna Songs nos 2 and 3

A beauty and a seemingly irremediable sadness
There was a blow-up, apparently, at the rehearsal
From which almost by chance I was absent
Another exercise in powerlessness
(Even had I been there, of course)
All the bruised feelings, and now,
The unforced professional calm vying with hurried efforts
At damage control
All the bruised feelings, and why?
Sigh no more

We most of us might feel the impulse to ask, why?
So seldom do we properly learn, learn why,
Not any negation, but a way forward, I think,
To grow a little cool to the need to ask, why?

In almost comic contrast
The bus this morning (it would be, wouldn’t it?) was early
I saw it drive through the light hard by the graciously spired church
Yes, I ran
Not yet at the age to genuinely say, I shouldn’t run,
But running has never been my thing
Nor did I learn any love for it today

A single sentence wherein
The entire history of his family’s
By turns pathetic and tragic dysfunction
Was eloquently illustrated
A single sentence of beauty and
Of a sadness seemingly not
To be remedied
He cannot
He cannot speak the sentence
The bruised feelings too fresh
And he is not yet free from the impulse of why?
Sigh not so, but let them go
The distances
The baffling, impenetrable distances
The hourglass, the sand, the powerlessness

To my ear (sure, I speak figuratively, who wouldn’t?)
Came rumor of the drama
Immediately knew I would not wish to review the script
The theme of sadness were almost mocked
By pointless, tawdry detail

The clock which I set 20 minutes fast
The sight of whose face gave my wife such a start yesterday
The password I never remember and always need to reset
The reed I need to break in tomorrow
Since summer first was leafy
At the next stop
The bus driver did indeed stay for me
My running was not for nothing
Call it a small success and not a triumph
Down near the ground
The pointless detail looms large (not to say threatening)
The soul which has not yet learnt not to bother
Longs sweetly for ascent

The reed I need to break in tomorrow
Piecing together my shredded realization
Just how ephemeral it all (probably) is
Beauty and tears for the undiscoverable remedy
To the recurring implacable sadness
A gross unnatural rock to weigh down the breast of Hope itself
Dumps so dull and heavy
It respects no boundaries
Unlike us mortals
It suffers no limit
Nor shall I ask

(. . . pavan)
18 May 2018

He’s not saying it hasn’t all been fun
To the untrained eye, those laces look untied
The sun beat down and because most of April
Had been absurdly cold, the warmth of the May sun
Made my spirit giddy
Though I nevertheless doubt the need to run
The air conditioning on the bus
To the untrained eye, the bus looks bound for Swampscott
But nothing doing
At lunch we discussed a highly successful film composer
It isn’t that we scoffed at his work
We only questioned the comparison to
A certain composer of the century before
Fall River, where a certain ax murder remains
Forever befogged in uncertainty
I may never play cribbage there again

I’m all for letting the next guy wear what he please
But the bright orange T-shirt gives him
All the appearance of The Human Tennis Ball
I found myself quietly grateful that no one
Had brought a racquet onto the bus
Not sure why I now remember the puddingstone
She was keen that Paul should bring home
For the garden
Such dramatic topography
I wonder that no one has thought to christen
Fall River “the San Francisco of the East”
Love – 40
Not sure either why I now remember the great tortoise
Walking on the roadside near the Wenham pond
We almost could not believe our eyes
Carefully backed the car and sure enough
A lumbering solemn tortoise
Sagacious in its determined patience
Or maybe just moving because
She felt she must

The door to the church was open
So he went on in, sat quietly in a pew
And listened as the organist (another organist) practiced
They talked later and so many
Were the similarities that my friend
Wondered if the experience had been real
Or if he had somehow tumbled into his own past
To meet and to be pranked by his younger self
He contained his sorrow or at least
Blunted it
As he said (what I knew without his saying it)
How he wished he had his old job
To the untrained eye, the old job always appears
Desperately attractive
Wanted:  sex workers willing to urinate on foreign
Dignitary during his stay in Pyongyang
Red baseball caps a plus

But really, why is any of us suddenly
Faced with a long-forgotten bookmark recollection,
For no apparent reason, at this peculiar moment?
But I suppose that all moments
Are genuinely peculiar
There’s no real knowing
I’m sure there were actual recycle bins
When we first moved here
But it’s years since I saw them
And you make do my heart almost aches,
The sight of the green grass in sunlight
Joys it so
To the untrained eye, the green grass looks
Like grass

I still wonder at times
Which is the older
That patient, restless, highly successful tortoise
Or I

(... migratory reptiles)
9 May 2018

14 November 2018

Today and yesterday

. . .she let out a scream,
That’s when my heart started jumping
Like a broken TV.
– Adrian Belew, “The Momur” (1981)

Broken TV’s don’t jump.
– Man in the Street (2018)

Tombez, larmes silencieuses,
Sur une terre sans pitié ;
Non plus entre les mains pieuses,
Ni sur sein de l’amitié !
– Alphonse de Lamartine

Oxygen Footprint, Op.138a is on a program this evening at Auburn University, Auburn, Alabama.  Thank you again, Ensemble Aubade.

Six years ago today, I was apparently at work on the Credo:

There’s an Out in the Sun trick I am thinking of employing for Et homo factus est.

No, not the bass trombone . . . .

13 November 2018

Just checking in

I’m not questioning your word, Dave, but it’s just not possible.  I’m not capable of being wrong.
– HAL in 2001:  A Space Odyssey

This evening, again, Ensemble Aubade perform Oxygen Footprint, Op.138a, this time at the Donald Nixon Centre in Newnan, Georgia.  In all, they perform the piece six times over an eight-day period.  (And this is in addition to performances this past spring.)

That, plus the Triad concerts this coming weekend, make this a time in which Henningmusick is loosed practically without let or hindrance.

Excellent rehearsal last night, although today’s need for recovery will mean I am (again) useless for creative work this evening.

There will, however, be tomorrow.

Notes for a Triad concert

It Might Happen Today, Op.156

It's all right, you'll feel better soon.
I don't care if you get a little wound.
It's okay, I still love you,
Even if I don't care.

But it's a good thing to not care,
It's not our business.
But sometimes it is us.
I don't care but where I'm going,
It might be just a little trust.

I need to stay my own way,
When I find what I do,
And who might tell me to.

I need to go to my own way,
It might happen today.
I don't care what I do,
Who tells me to?

It is us who doesn't care,
And it's us who does care
If you give your business.

It's all right to share,
It's all right to share,
When we're tired,
It's all right to share.

-         Emma Wallingford

In an earlier life, I sang with the choir of the Cathedral Church of St Paul on Tremont Street, and one of my choir fellows was Mara Wallingford.  At about this time last year, Mara gleefully (I think it fair to employ this adverb) posted that her eight-year-old daughter Emma, in an effort to resist being sent to bed, improvised a song – and Mara posted the text.  Almost immediately, I sent to Mara, saying how much I enjoyed the text, and asking if Emma would permit me to set it to my own music.  Permission was secured almost immediately.

Also immediately, I knew that I wanted to write the piece for a Triad concert, and I wanted it to represent something of a break with the habitual Henning pieces which Triad has sung in the past:  much of the Henningmusick we have sung has been on sacred texts, for one thing;  and for another, my first thought was to set it for women's voices.  On the latter point, however, as the music came to me, it seemed that it was going to be so much fun to sing, that I wanted in – so I decided instead to set it for men's choir.  Musically, the piece is a fresh application (I think) of "all my usual tricks":  brain-cramping interlocking rhythmic games, a mellifluous homorhythmic cadential refrain, and nearly-canonic imitation.

  • Karl Henning

The Mystic Trumpeter, Op.113 № 1 (extracts)

HARK! some wild trumpeter—some strange musician,
Hovering unseen in air, vibrates capricious tunes to-night.
I hear thee, trumpeter—listening, alert, I catch thy notes,
Now pouring, whirling like a tempest round me,
Now low, subdued—now in the distance lost.
Come nearer, bodiless one—haply, in thee resounds
Some dead composer—haply thy pensive life
Was fill'd with aspirations high—unform'd ideals,
Waves, oceans musical, chaotically surging,
That now, ecstatic ghost, close to me bending, thy cornet echoing, pealing,
Gives out to no one's ears but mine—but freely gives to mine,
That I may thee translate.

Now, trumpeter, for thy close,
Vouchsafe a higher strain than any yet;
Sing to my soul—renew its languishing faith and hope;
Rouse up my slow belief—give me some vision of the future;
Give me, for once, its prophecy and joy.

O glad, exulting, culminating song!
A vigor more than earth's is in thy notes!
Marches of victory—man disenthrall'd—the conqueror at last!
Hymns to the universal God, from universal Man—all joy!
A reborn race appears—a perfect World, all joy!
Women and Men, in wisdom, innocence and health—all joy!
Riotous, laughing bacchanals, fill'd with joy!

War, sorrow, suffering gone—The rank earth purged—nothing but joy left!
The ocean fill'd with joy—the atmosphere all joy!
Joy! Joy! in freedom, worship, love! Joy in the ecstasy of life!
Enough to merely be! Enough to breathe!
Joy! Joy! all over Joy!

-         Walt Whitman

The word clarinet is a diminutive of clarino, a small trumpet.  It really refers only to the bright upper register of the modern clarinet;  and in any event, the tone color is entirely different than a brasswind.  So why I should elect to accompany my setting of this text with a clarinet is a mystery.  (Although I suppose a clarinet can 'vibrate capricious tunes' as well as or better than any other instrument.)  In general, The Mystic Trumpeter follows a line established by the Studies in Impermanence, The Mousetrap, and Thoreau in Concord Jail, as my latest essay in writing 20-plus-minute pieces for either clarinet unaccompanied, or clarinet plus one other single-line instrument – pieces which are apt to inspire either exasperation or enthusiasm in the listener.  (We present an abridgment of the opus this weekend, in order to fit it within the larger program.)

In its vigor and unflinchingly broad embrace, Whitman's poetry is a frequent inspiration to me, and I typically find it very apt material, so that the music flows readily.  Although I used the word "accompany" earlier, the clarinet here is practically a coequal soloist with the voice;  so that the singer is not speaking of some absent "strange musician," but engaged in a present musical exchange with the ecstatic ghost, chaotically surging.

  • Karl Henning

12 November 2018

Footprint & Sauna

Yesterday afternoon (id est, Sunday 11 Nov) Ensemble Aubade again performed the piano version of Oxygen Footprint, Op.138a (fl/va/pf) for the Andalusia Chamber Music Society at the First Presbyterian Church, 223 South Three-Notch Street in Andalusia, Alabama.

Part of my work this weekend was performance of the text for the Sauna Songs Nos 2 & 3 (pavan and migratory reptiles); and I have mentally schemed the musical underlay for each.

Tonight, rehearsals of The Mystic Trumpeter (shorter, sharper!) with Sudie, and It Might Happen Today with the gentlemen of Triad.

11 November 2018

ex tempore program note

When I first began sketching the piece, my working title was BAREFOOT ON THE CROWDED ROAD.  Like all my other orchestral music, there was no prospect of any performance, no actual orchestra with whom I might collaborate; I exulted to write the piece entirely on spec.  Much of my other orchestral music is written to a technical level such that I might conceivably pitch it to a local community orchestra.  My idea with DISCREET ERASURES was, to write a piece at a level which would absolutely require a professional orchestra.  The piece is wilful, perhaps even rhapsodic.

An Unusual Option Taken Up

At the outset, it was a whimsical notion, to take the instrumental duo Considering My Bliss Options and adapt it for voice and alto saxophone.  So there can be no surprise at (and possibly no serious objection to) consequent whimsicalities.

It was thoroughly and admirably sporting of Megan Ihnen and Alan Theisen to accept the proposed project;  and that the text should so tickle them, well . . . that was indeed my intent, but one is highly gratified when the intent is so richly fulfilled.

As Megan is not a Jersey girl (and shame on any who think any the less of her on that account) she wanted to be certain of pronunciation, so I gladly furnished a pronunciation guide in the form of a sound file.  And I admit that, practically upon the instant of suggesting that I provide this guide, the whimsical idea coalesced, of commandeering it for a new Rogue Gloss.

And so, Gentle Reader, here it is.

10 November 2018

Pressing the Erasive Discretion

The major task I addressed today was finishing the woodwind reassignment for version 2 of Discreet Erasures.  I did a number of other compositional things, but the Op.99a took up the lion’s share of my creative work today.  It must be submitted on the 15th.

09 November 2018

Henningmusick in Mississippi

Ensemble Aubade played the Oxygen Footprint, Op.138 for the Mississippi Chambre Music Guild in Jackson, Mississippi this evening. And that, Ladies & Gentlemen, is news enough.

(signed) A grateful composer

08 November 2018

The Monsters Are Due on Pennsylvania Avenue NW: Season 1 in the books (5/24)

I happen to think that the singular evil of our time is prejudice.  It is from this evil that all other evils grow and multiply.  In almost everything I’ve written there is a thread of this:  man’s seemingly palpable need to dislike someone other than himself.
– Rod Serling

In perfect harmony with my first survey, lo! who knows how many years since, I find that the closing episodes of the first season do The Twilight Zone great credit.

:: SPOILERS follow ::

The wrily comic “The Chaser” has been one of my favorites from the first.  A young man desperately in love, Roger succeeds only in exasperating, or maybe boring, the object of his attentions, Leila.  Prof. A Daemon asks if “the glove cleaner” is what he has come for.  The Professor’s library is an inspired bit of staging, and was entirely Director’s Discretion–Douglas Heyes felt that the conversation between the Professor and Roger would be of much greater interest than if they just chatted over a kitchen counter.  The classic cautionary tale to illustrate Be careful what you wish for…  Wonderfully apt use of the Tchaikovsky Romeo & Juliet Fantasy-Overture, for exactly the reason that this love does not end to the Romeo’s satisfaction.

Jack Klugman and John Anderson bring out the rich sublimity in “A Passage for Trumpet.”  And an achingly exquisite score.   Klugman took admirable pains to look as if he was actually playing the horn.

Orson Bean as “Mr Bevis” winds up telling his guardian angel Thanks, but no thanks.  When an ethereal being (in sharp contrast to “A Passage for Trumpet”) pushes you towards conformity with an iron hand, it’s a dark day for Heaven.

Marcia really has no clue at the start of “The After Hours,” which is, after all, exactly what a vacation should accomplish, isn’t it?  A mysterious elevator, and a flawed golden thimble which sets the whole rediscovery in motion.

In spite of the trying circumstances of production, “The Mighty Casey” came out of the refiner’s fire unscathed.  At the last, Jack Warden makes lemonade with the lemons Life gave him.

Not only is “A World of His Own” exhilaratingly strong as a season-closer, but pokes expert fun at Mr Serling in his closing remarks.  A wonderful example of ad hoc television collaboration.

The season as a whole, I think, remains vigorously fresh.  An admirable percentage of the episodes are first-rate; and even in this second survey, when none of the stories benefit from sheer novelty, I don’t consider any of the screenplays weak or tiresome.  If pressed, I suppose I consider “The Sixteen-Millimeter Shrine” and “The Fever” the ‘low points’ of the season, but that is in the context of superb comparisons.

There is also (still, as I am no longer a novice in the Zone) an elation at the thought that the series will wax stronger yet.  But there is no denying that there are already ‘instant classics’ here in the first season:

“One for the Angels”
“Walking Distance”
“The Lonely”
“And When the Sky Was Opened”
“I Shot an Arrow Into the Air”
“The Hitch-Hiker”
“The Purple Testament”
“Mirror Image”
“The Monsters Are Due on Maple Street”
“A World of Difference”
“Long Live Walter Jameson”
“People Are Alike All Over”
“Nightmare as a Child”
“A Stop at Willoughby”
“The Chaser”
“Passage for Trumpet”
“The After Hours”
“A World of His Own”

Call this my personal A+ list, since most of the remaining episodes are grade-A.  I spun the list ex tempore, and now I count 18 of the 36 episodes of the first season.  Nor do I feel any need to winnow it in the least:  a strong start to a landmark TV series.

07 November 2018

Oxygen and Trumpeter, largely

Ensemble Aubade are about to embark on a tour of the South (Alabama, Mississippi) and will perform the Oxygen Footprint on all but one occasion.  Nothing says The group as a whole believes in the music, quite like their continuing to program and perform it.

I have prepared a fresh clarinet part for this month’s “teaser version” of The Mystic Trumpeter.  Still need to scrawl a few cues.  The Triad concerts are just a week and a half away.

There are only a couple of very minor adjustments needed, to our performing love is the every only god.  My most nearly serious concern is, that Jorge feel comfortable with the drum in Dying, Dying in the Night.

The thought lodged in my mind without quite crossing through, of working on the oboes/English horn lines for the Op.99a tonight; but I think I shall leave that lot of work until Saturday morning.

06 November 2018

Triad, Ho!

I have great faith in fools — self-confidence my friends will call it.
— Edgar Allan Poe

Only this morning do I realize that these present Triad concerts are the first time I shall appear before the public in as many as four musical capacities – as choral singer, clarinetist (for my Mystic Trumpeter), conductor (of love is the every only god by Michael Veloso), and of course as composer.

The Triad rehearsal last night was excellent, and Sudie Marcuse & I had a highly productive Mystic Trumpeter rehearsal before.  The general rehearsal began with running the whole program, in order, with all the solo voice items in their place.  It Might Happen Today makes a gratifyingly strong impression, though we still need to tighten a couple of joints.  And my Mystic Trumpeter went very nicely, too.

The big takeaway from the run-through was:  although the estimate for the program was 65 minutes of music total, our timekeeper made it out at ... 85 minutes last night.  Which is tiresomely long, for a program of all new music.  (The plan was 65 minutes of music, with an intermission;  85 minutes plus an intermission is practically an invitation to riot.)  So the warm request was generally extended to all the solo acts, to trim their act slightly (a number of us are doing a set of three or four songs).

As The Mystic Trumpeter is a 20-minute setting, we are already doing an abridgement.  However, we are team players – this is a collective! – and would not presume to seek to exempt ourselves from the pruner’s hook.  And I think I have found a reasonably musical solution to shorten our abbreviation even further.

05 November 2018

Discreet labors

Honoring what may well have been Liszt’s intentions, I can never quite remember which of the four Valses oubliées is which.
Porridger’s Almanack (Breakfast of Ganglions)

Re-engineering the Erasures in several deliberate stages.  There remain two re-assignment tasks – oboes and clarinets – in both cases, going from 3 (2 plus the auxiliary) to 2 (where one of the twain doubles on the auxiliary).

Then, proofing the layout of the score, and (although this is for myself, and not a requirement of the call) to tinker with a MIDI extraction.

04 November 2018

Divers Erasures

The title Harsher Erasures is too good to discard, so I shall reserve it for a future orchestral tone-poem (or Overture, possibly).  In the present case, I find that the adaptation of Discreet Erasures for the present call requires no such invasive surgery as I had at first imagined, so we shall instead call it a version 2, and designate it Op.99a.  What needs to change?  The scoring for the call permits only one percussionist in addition to the timpanist;  and where the Op.99 is scored for triple woodwind, the call allows only double.  In fact, though, with judicious reassignment, the alternative scoring can be accommodated with negligible loss.  Yesterday’s work was largely a matter of the percussion reassignment.  The only other change is actually an addition:  the original piece has only two trumpets, but the Op.99a will find employment for a third.

Intrepid mezzo Megan Ihnen has responded with highly gratifying warmth to the now-texted Considering My Bliss Options.  A new task on my slate is the happy one of furnishing a sound file as a Guide to the Pronunciation of New Jersey Municipalities.  It’s a Jersey job, but someone’s gotta do it.

03 November 2018

On putative topnotch bagelry

If you’re lost and you want to stay lost, I could be your guide.
 The Colorblind James Experience
...let criticism do what it may, writers will write, printers will print, and the world will inevitably be overstocked with good books. It will soon be the employment of a lifetime merely to learn their names.
 Washington Irving, “The Mutability of Literature”
Per my post day before yesterday, my work this morning was to finish assigning text to the Jersey Bounce Varieties of Considering My Bliss Options:

If ever you’re in Jersey (New Jersey)
you’ve got to go to the place
where they make the finest onion bagels,
though there’s disagreement just where that is.

I said,
if ever you’re in Jersey (east of Philly)
you’ve got to go to the place where all the bagels are the greatest,
poppy seed, or garlic, rye or onion,
the bagels baked in Jersey are topnotch,
but just where in Jersey people can’t agree.

West Orange, Hoboken, Pohatcong, HoHoKus,
Saddle River, Pompton Lakes, or Jersey City,
North Arlington, Pequannock Township,
New Providence, Tenafly, or Carteret,
Ringwood, Atlantic City...


Perth Amboy, Newark...


Mt Olive Township, Willingboro, Cliffside Park,
Maple Shade, Weehawken, Bayonne, Red Bank,
South Orange, Dumont, or Morristown,
Englewood Cliffs, Carlstadt, Elizabeth, Egg Harbor,
Wyckoff, Trenton, Union City, Clifton, Sussex,
Elmer, Sea Girt, Wayne, Irvington, Vineland...


Secaucus, Lyndhurst...


If ever in the future, you’re in Jersey (New Jersey)
you know the drill, (tellin’ ya)
get yourself a bagel you could die for,
up in Wallington, or down in Avalon.

Again, if ever, Mantoloking, Interlaken, Cape May,
Passaic, Cherry Hill, they’re the finest bagels on the planet,
Paterson, East Orange, Kearny, Teaneck,
Rahway, Allamuchy, Edison,
though there’s always disagreement, disagreement,
Pennsauken, Bass River, Hackensack, New Brunswick,
Piscataway, Clark, West New York,
if a bagel is your thing, go Jersey (oh, yeah.)

02 November 2018

No loss of enthusiasm

Courage is going from failure to failure without losing enthusiasm.
Winston Churchill

[ text redacted, but flower petals, Movitone news, and night-blossoming fruit trees entered into it ]
– David Ossman, The Ronald Reagan Murder Case

I'm still jiggered that, when we look at Mars, we do not see the Mars of now, but the Mars of three minutes ago.
Porridger's Almanack (Breakfast of Ganglions)

Last night, my choir did fine with my 'sudden arrangement' of As We Gather at Your Table;  the tune was in fact new to them, so we laid in some time a-learning it.

In an online discussion this week, Jens Laurson raised the point that many have (in a word) pretended that Prokofiev and Shostakovich did not write film soundtracks, because that activity does not fit their image of A Serious Classical Composer.  Myself, the Kizhe and Nevsky suites have always been favorites;  so that in Shostakovich's case, I simply sought out and explored other genres first.  I sort of 'backed into' some of the film scores . . . difficult for me to report accurately at this remove, but perhaps I started with the music for the great Kozintsev Shakespeare films;  and (while there are many of his soundtracks still unknown to me, and – as Time is not an inexhaustible resource – I rather doubt that I should ever manage to hear all of them) I have listened to HamletKing LearNew BabylonAloneThe Fall of Berlin, and others.  Much of it is brilliant, all of it is at least good, and none of it is a discredit to the composer.

Perhaps the environment has changed substantially since, but when I was a student 35-ish years ago, one could read in the professional literature a lingering institutional disdain for Shostakovich, some combination of considering him little more than a musical Kremlin stooge, or – even regarded purely as an artist – unworthy of serious consideration.  A prejudice that most of his work was poor, and that even the best of his work was of only a niche interest.

Although I am nowhere near having heard all of his work, I have by now heard a great deal of it.  Has any of it been bad?  Not any of the film soundtracks that I have heard.  If pressed, probably the worst Shostakovich piece I know is the Twelfth Symphony.  Yet even this piece is technically flawless, it is competently constructed (and better than competently);  there are even those who feel it is their favorite of the 15 symphonies, and – while I do not revisit it as often as any of the other symphonies – I do not mind admitting that I enjoy it when I do listen.

The Song of the Forests is not his worst work, though the first I learnt of it was, people writing and poo-poo-ing it, some of them without having listened to it.

It would even be unfair (and arguably petulant) to castigate the Polka from The Golden Age as Bad Music, when it is designedly light music, serves its purpose brilliantly in context, and is in any event well made – and well made to its purpose.

One element in his œuvre which seemed to serve as a target for unsympathetic critics is, when a musical idea from an earlier piece would occasionally resurface in later works.  For example:  the dotted "French overture" rhythm from the opening of the Fifth Symphony, with which the (very different) opening of the Eighth resonates;  the "percolating percussion" of the second movement of the Fourth Symphony, which returns in both the Second Cello Concerto and the Fifteenth Symphony;  the slow, quiet harp tolling in the last movement of the Fifth Symphony, which is practically a quotation from one of the then-unpublished Opus 46 Pushkin Romances.

(Part of the story of Shostakovich, as I appreciate him, is that he lived in and endured the conditions of being a public composer, a composer in a fishbowl, but did his work always with an eye to making music for an individualindeed, for a friend.)

The facile, antagonistic view of this considers Shostakovich's practice here 'unimaginative,' as if it were 're-using old music' (supposing the composer incapable – or insufficiently capable – of generating fresh ideas).  In my ears, it is in fact both imaginative, in finding new facets, and in creating a new context, for the idea;  and intriguingly inviting to the sympathetic listener – does the idea mean something different here, and what may that difference be?

Often in the art of music, the question is of greater interest, and is more productive, than settling upon the elusive answer.