Wednesday, November 30, 2011

a remarkable phenomenon

One day in 1995, I had my radio tuned to the classical FM station. A string quartet began playing -- a CD selection from the Takács String Quartet's recording of Haydn's Op. 76 string quartets. I will never forget the impression made on me, not only the brilliant music but also the unique sound of these four players.

This was before I had a computer and access to online ordering of CDs. My local record store didn't have this CD. So I phoned my mother, who lived in the Kansas City area. She went to several stores trying to find this CD for me. Alas, it turned out that this CD from 1990 was out-of-print:

I came across this the other day, about a new traversal of Haydn's quartets by the Takács:

Haydn from The Rest is Noise

What strikes me as remarkable is that, despite the passage of over 20 years and the replacement of the first violinist, this ensemble's sound has remained basically unchanged. It's unique overall timbre remains intact and distinctive. No other string quartet sounds like them.

There is a largeness to the sound. And the first violin still has that slight nasal quality, which is so damn wonderful -- a quality that is almost a color, like rich mahogany.

Haydn was a pure genius of string quartet writing. He took the existing nascent form and shaped it into profound expressions.

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Chekhov's characters

Anton Chekhov

I've been reading Chekhov's short stories. I'm impressed by his characterizations. Especially in the story "Enemies."

Kirilov and Abogin are astonishing to me. I won't call it verisimilitude, because I've never known anyone like these characters. For me, it is simply the pleasure of discovering and spending time with new types -- a poor doctor and a rich narcissist. Their portrayals are as transfixing as those by Dostoevsky, maybe more so.

At Abogin's fine house, Kirilov erupts from his state of incomprehension. Abogin, previously respectful and smooth, is taken aback and flares up with umbrage.

Chekhov's "Enemies"

Monday, November 21, 2011

a congruence

I read this evaluation of Tomas Tranströmer's poetry:

Tom Sleigh's evaluation

This sentence, in particular, jumped out at me:

Tranströmer's sense that memories have eyes that look at us from their own vantage point independent of our attempts at remembering insists on the objective quality of the past while acknowledging the contingent nature of memory.

That sentence reminds me of something profound my friend Yael said to me. It was in a different context than memory as such. But the gist is similar. In both cases, a mysterious, embedded significance is to be inferred. Beneath awareness, certain people, impressions, and moments are always "alive." And I think even pieces of our night dreams become second-order memories that take on a kind of independent existence. Those things are always casting glances at us (and thinking about us) from great depths.

I'm pleased to have discovered this congruity: an aspect of Tranströmer's poetry and a consoling insight from my friend.

Sunday, November 20, 2011

falling through the tones

Olivier Messiaen's Christian mysticism, which inspired his music, makes no impression on me. The notion of Eschaton has, for me, a vapor of nihilism about it.

So what I get from Messiaen's music is not anchored to religion. Nonetheless, his music does have for me a dreamlike, almost-mystical quality.

Lately, I've been pondering the death of loved ones. Despite all my pondering, I still don't know what it means. Life with their presence has given way to life with pervasive absence. It simply does not compute.

When I listen to this piece of music by Messiaen, something odd happens to me: my anguished pondering ceases. I simply fall through the tones of this haunting score. My sadness and incomprehension are stunned into a kind of indifference. Or a stupefaction. The sense of it is something like a dream. A brief transcendence. As if memory and time itself are falling between the notes...toward a realm of muted sighs.

Mieczysław Weinberg

About Weinberg

Monday, November 14, 2011

Tranströmer -- subtle visionary

Ross Shideler on Tomas Transtromer

My mind is fully blown by Tranströmer's poetry. It represents the ideal for me.

I used to write poems. I carved out my own style and voice, found my way into certain themes. But deep-down, I knew there was an ideal form of utterance that I could not achieve, a way of grasping existence, memory, and wonder with perfect words and subtle images. I am lacking the talent and sensibility to approach that ideal in my own work. My lines are too expressive.

I know that my ideal has to do with the strangeness of the “out there” and not about the vicissitudes or neuroses of the “in here.”

Tranströmer is somehow able to do this effortlessly. It's probably innate genius. In his work, the concrete is hallowed by an implied metaphysical resonance. The understatement is, paradoxically, revelatory and shattering.

My mind is blown by Tranströmer's poems.

Sunday, November 13, 2011

Tomas Tranströmer

I am very late coming to his work. I don't know how I didn't know about his work.

I am becoming mesmerized by his poetry. It is significant to me. It is an aesthetic wonder. My synapses are becoming Tranströmerized.

I just had to announce this fact. Later, I hope to write a few comprehensible sentences of appreciation.

Monday, November 7, 2011

music is the deepest language

I really like this lovely movement by Sibelius:

Sunday, November 6, 2011

reading Nabokov

I've been reading his short stories. Some of them are really cool. I'll write something here about one of those stories – “Cloud, Castle, Lake.”

Here, we have a neurotic protagonist – Vasiliy Ivanovich -- who is caught in a web of tensions, the fibers of which are oppressive and transcendent, portentous and hopeful. He wins a ticket for a vacation outing, from the “Bureau of Pleasantrips.” It is compulsory, so we have entered Kafkaesque terrain. Neat. This is going to be good.

Along the train journey, he catches faint glimpses of his dream. Of a daydream long suppressed, practically forgotten. As things between him and his traveling companions deteriorate, the impression grows stronger in him that his desire is near. He steals away from his tormentors and discovers a house -- a rustic inn -- set amid natural allurement. This is it! A simple room, austere. Outside the window, an environment of idyllic beauty, perpetual wonder. Images to stand in for an untouchable ideal. This is where he shall abide forever, free of world and people.

But it's not to be. He is found out and nearly beaten to death by his fellow vacationers. Desire is frustrated, on the cusp of heaven.

I usually prefer to get lost in a good story and not dwell on meanings and themes. Especially an odd story with moments of evocative prose that seem to happen just for me. But this remarkable piece inspires me to wax “philosophic.”

Inside certain neurotic individuals, an ember glows stubbornly. It burns from early to elder age. It is a secret ember that casts a faint, dubious light into the ordinary world of experience. A desire for the perfect phase, the perfect mode, the perfect one. Something or someone to explain the heart's unease and make it well. But this desire is not made of the world's stuff. When it comes into contact with quotidian, earthbound consciousness, it is revealed to be a heretical thing. It does not compute on the plane of convention and normality. It is of a different and unreal substance. That suppressed, unrealizable desire is a form of madness. To believe one has found Paradise (or a sufficient substitute) – how else could that situation end except in disaster?

Saturday, November 5, 2011


Language is equal parts logic and magic.

Poetry is where the dynamics of both things work together to open up significant moments.

Poetry is a complex of semantics and séance.

A new experience can happen with a poem, as profound as the inspiring material. Occasionally, profounder.

Metaphors can create an unusual state of mind in the reader.

A poet can present something almost beyond words in terms of simile, personification, and mixed resonance. The shadow of what is elusive casts a coloration onto the page.

The poet performs a linguistic conjuring. The poet summons the ghosts of words that hide in equivocal regions between time and emotion.