Sunday, March 26, 2017

a meditation on Schubert's WINTERREISE

Franz Schubert died at the age of 31.

When I listen to his works, a condition of reverence permeates my brain -- a spontaneous, natural hallowing of his memory. He conjured music of deathless beauty. His songs are exquisite spells of melancholy.

I think this book is a good thing, a well-written and thorough appreciation of the great song cycle Winterreise:

Saturday, March 25, 2017

Schumann's SPRING

Robert Schumann's imagistic, programmatic ideas for his Symphony No. 1 in B-flat major, Op. 38 ("Spring") came to him only after the work was completed.

He suggests for the opening movement a longing for spring. Later in the symphony, a sense of things coming to life. Projected onto the last movement is a sort of in-the-moment melancholy that spring is passing too darn fast.

This is the first symphony I fell in love with. It happened around 1979. I still have this LP, recorded in 1958:

LP - Szell: Schumann Symphony No. 1 "Spring" + "Manfred" Overture - Epic BC 1039

I bought the George Szell and Cleveland Orchestra CD of all the Schumann symphonies:

Schumann: The Four Symphonies; Manfred Overture

I've always had some trouble trying to apply Schumann's after-the-fact spring imagery to this work. Occasionally, I succeed in placing my imagination beside an imaginary winter fireplace -- longing for spring. Occasionally, I succeed in sensing a surge of growth, of vernal energy and bounteous bloom during later symphonic moments. But for the most part, I take in this work as an abstract musical wonder -- I'm stunned by and made captive to high-quality aural structures, oblique emotions, gestural spirits.

amazing and wonderful

I've been a Doctor Strange fan since the Strange Tales comics of the 1960s. The artist Steve Ditko's pocket dimensions back then entranced me, suspended my teenage time, made me strange.

This movie is a quality envisioning, a marvelous homage:

Doctor Strange [Blu-ray]

Monday, March 6, 2017

a thrilling thing

A lot of folks would say that the music of Johannes Brahms is conservative, unadventurous, even formally claustrophobic. During his time, the musical radicals Liszt and Wagner were ascendant and excited the public. But I think the denser, plaintive textures of Brahms are more artistically intrepid and exhilarating than the chromaticism of Liszt and the hyperventilation of Wagner.

Brahms's adherence to certain formal constraints or models didn't prevent him from filling those composition spaces with stunning moments of melodic, harmonic, and rhythmic invention. When I say "invention" I mean something unique to Brahms: the coming-to-presence of unusually elevated spiritual substances. Brahms wasn't religious, so when I say "spiritual," I mean something more like "intensively artistic."

Even today -- Brahms. Artistic culture has sadly deteriorated, become facile, hectoring, and ironized nearly to death. And what passes nowadays for a musically thrilling creation, in whatever genre, faints into mediocrity and irrelevancy when set beside Brahms's "String Quartet in A minor, Op. 51 No. 2."

Here, Brahms goes deep, goes into abstract tissues of subtlest emotion and austerest beauty. What could be more thrilling than that?

Friday, March 3, 2017

perfection happens

Not often. When it does in musical creation, is there a basic principle at work or in play that can be fetched by intuition, proposed by the listening, floating brain?

How about inevitability?

Chopin's "Nocturne in C-sharp minor, Op. 27, No. 1" flows and develops with an organic, unifying complexity of formal elements. Color and rhythm, line and structure, contrast and rhetoric. Also spiritual components -- disquiet and beauty, dream and melancholy, regret and candlelight. These aspects taken together build up a dynamical, living momentum, startling the ear and soul with a sense of ordained emergence, of aural fate.

The effect is like listening to music spontaneously write itself. The artistic logic unspools as if according to a graceful algorithmic compulsion. What we hear could not be otherwise. This night piece defies the natural and usual law of contingency. The fact that it exists is as necessary as time and gravity.

Is paradox also part of perfection? As this nocturne enters and interrogates the evening, a sense of improvisation blends into the destiny of the flowing equation.

Thursday, March 2, 2017

Poet Mike Finley -- boldly going where

I'm sort of addicted to the subtly beautiful and semi-mystical poems of Adam Zagajewski. Not all his poems delve into and create toward this effect. But those that do achieve their hold on me owing to his round-about, ostensible manner and quality of saying. Wrapped within that poetic quality is a persistent thematic pulse, which also attracts me. Beneath the banality, absurdity, and morbidity of existence teems another atmosphere of being that Zagajewski presents -- hope.

In my experience, Zagajewski's way toward the poetic and the mystical (are they not almost the same things?) is commendable. Most folks amenable to the poetic-mystical would, I think, appreciate Zagajewski's style and approach. But most folks -- including most readers of poems -- aren't interested in the strange and vague pulsing beneath the everyday. The notion that the world has somehow dreamed us from unknowable matrices of urge, change, music, heat, and psychism has little or no traction on the everyday mind.

So, anyway. Zagajewski pleases me because he has been touched by wonder and beauty, because he transforms the uncanny nature of experience into compact vessels of subtle words. The mystical is an after-tone or back-glow of experience in the foreground. It's an aura or residue. Time and substance are haunted. Apples in a cart on an old street seem to quietly gesture toward the ghostly miracles of ripening and presence.

Then there is another poet who doesn't deflect observations of beauty, wonder, and the mystic into a half-embarrassed, super-subtle reformatting of image and emphasis. He doesn't make those elements of being diffuse because of artistic "good taste." He confronts and presents those elements directly, as if an amateur prophet or unofficial priest.

This is remarkable and unsettling.

Mike Finley manages to directly say the strangeness, wonder, and significance of human being without being a pompous, tiresome jackass. Or without being a super-subtle Polish genius. Such a thing is almost impossible in poetry. Yet Finley, owing to some wakeful quality of spirit or visionary robustness -- pulls it off.

The radical mystic aspect of being that wafts through the ordinary, permeating experience with an implicit teleology activates his poem "Water Hills." First and final causes blend together paradoxically on the liquid horizon of inspired language. Finley doesn't mince words; he states the peculiar fact of the matter (actually, the rising and tides of matter itself). Yet those words vibrate toward us a fainter, unspoken suggestion concerning an invisible hope.

"Water Hills" is a kind of preachment, a heightened observance. The images are somehow documentary and metaphorical at the same time. More surprising, there's no weakening of intention or expression into irony. This is shocking. Nonetheless, we don't shriek and flee. We are, to the contrary, mesmerized during this poem. This is not usual. This is art.

Water Hills

Mike Finley abides in Saint Paul, Minnesota 

Wednesday, February 8, 2017

Schubert's last three piano sonatas

Which CD set?

That's the question. One must decide or be trapped within a spectrum of faltering discernment, leading eventually to soul-darkening monomania.

Alfred Brendel, Radu Lupu, or Paul Lewis?

Overall impressions:

Brendel -- magisterial, immersive, architectural   
Lupu -- sensitive, poetic, intensive
Lewis -- beautiful, holographic, powerful 

Recorded in 2002 and 2013, Lewis's set benefits from up-to-date engineering -- the clarity is marvelous to behold. Brendel's set was recorded in 1972 and 1975. Lupu's in 1971, 1982, and 1994. But although quality of recorded sound is important, my emphasis here is on interpretive artistry.

In the Sonata in C minor, D. 958, Brendel somehow knows -- spiritually as it were -- when not to pedal. Those rare and ineffable moments are decisive musical effects. In addition, the listener senses that he or she is in the presence of an ineluctable, masterful conception. His is the best version.

In the Sonata in A major, D. 959, Lupu brings this score to aesthetic life as an aural morphing of sunny Viennese moods into a darker rhapsody. Normality, melancholy, and ecstasy blend into an unsettling triplex of intuited Schubertian consciousness. Lupu understands. His is the best version.

In the Sonata in B flat, D. 960, Lewis barely edges out the Romanian. Brendel's version strikes me as more dutiful than profound. Lupu impressively conveys this as a slow-building danse macabre but misses a certain required pulse of deep metaphysical seriousness. Lewis projects this last great sonata as a waking dream, both tragic and cathartic. In the two previous compositions, his beauty, holography, and power are overwhelming. Here, he applies the perfect restraint, bringing those inherent stylistic qualities under control, to proper scale. Schubert's spiritual imagination and precluded time are uncovered and allowed to glow. His is the best version.

Each artist claims one of the sonatas, in my estimation. So what's a soul to do now? If you've got the money, spring for all three sets. Schubert's late piano music is that important. If you can only afford one, I recommend Paul Lewis's set. Why? Because he comes up short by the merest of degrees on D. 958 and D. 959. As mentioned, he's perhaps too beautiful, too holographic, too powerful in those two sonatas.

Sunday, February 5, 2017

Coming in April....!

Slight Exaggeration: An Essay
Adam Zagajewski

poet Jules Supervielle

1884 - 1960

Regretting the Earth

One day, we shall say: ‘That was the time of sunlight,
Remember how it illumined the slightest twig,
The old woman as brightly as the astonished girl,
How it gave a colour to things as soon as it fell,
Kept pace with the galloping horse; halted with him.
It was the unforgettable time when we were on Earth,
Where sound resulted if something was dropped,
We looked about with the eyes of connoisseurs,
Our ears comprehended every nuance of air
And when a friend’s footsteps approached we knew,
We gathered a flower or picked up a polished pebble.
That time when we could never take hold of smoke,
Ah! That’s all our hands know how to take hold of now.’

trans. A.S. Kline © 2011

Saturday, February 4, 2017


He's 14 years old. He's a sweetheart. He's my cat, and I'm his human.


I came to this comic series because of the artist -- Paul Azaceta. He's one of my favorites, along with these luminaries: Jack Kirby, Steve Ditko, John Buscema, Jim Steranko, Frank Brunner, P. Craig Russell, Mike Mignola.

I stayed because of both the artwork and the compelling, neat-o story by Robert Kirkman. Elizabeth Breitweiser's coloring is exceptional.

For the religiously disinclined, this series, ostensibly pointing to demonic possession, might very well be about something much cooler, something other-dimensional. I certainly hope so.

A well-made TV series has happened on Cinemax: IMDb

Friday, February 3, 2017

Violinist Alina Ibragimova

Heiftez, Milstein, Oistrakh -- the finest violinists of the twentieth century in my opinion. Of course, my opinion is based on certain aspects of my being. Other great violinists of the twentieth century don't find their aesthetic way into the peculiar structure of my consciousness.

Now there is a new grandmaster of the violin, the finest of the twenty-first century.

Born in Russia in 1985 and now living in England, Alina Ibragimova is a supreme musician. More than technical brilliance, she brings to the Beethoven sonatas below an elevated spiritual artistry. It's that rare kind of artistry coming to presence without being compromised by ego. (Heiftez played egotistically; Oistrakh exuded cultural egoism; Milstein was commendably self-effacing.)

Ibragimova's playing manifests as pure musical expression, as if the score were somehow magically playing itself. The violin here is so...Beethovian.

But speaking of technical brilliance, I've never heard this kind of perfection before in a violinist. Her beautiful tonal production captivates melodically and dazzles rhythmically (that unblemished punctuation of strong double-stops!). I've never heard such natural and confident playing.  

The accompanist Cédric Tiberghien is no slouch either.

Her Prokofiev CD is also worthwhile.

Her home page --

Thursday, February 2, 2017

Olga Boznanska -- painter of tomorrows

Here's a link to an essay I wrote for the journal Spectral Lyre:

Olga Boznanska -- painter-of-tomorrows

        Portrait of Helena and Wladyslaw Chmielarczyk (1906) detail

Wednesday, February 1, 2017

Georg Trakl

One of life's frustrations has to do with the fact that only a smidgen of the contents of consciousness is available for divulging into the social sphere. The vast quantity of one's impressions and desired expressions remain folded within the spirit-spaces between neurons, into the marvels of dreams, onto the murky films of memory.

These private impressions are subtle to the point of being ineffable. We still talk a lot, but what we speak isn't about that internal haunting -- those states of time-as-mood and space-as-presence.

So sometimes we turn to profound, high-quality poems to grant a sense that elusive thoughts and feelings are not beyond the possibility of at least an indirect saying.

Poems can't articulate the subtlest residue of strange years and vague moments, but they can convey a general shared semblance of a deep divulging. Certain poems seem to speak toward the significant eeriness of embodied soul and the unsettling art of being.

When dark written visions are also somehow imbued with beauty, you know you're getting close to something.

I've added two books to my humble library:


A third volume will be available in April:

Tuesday, January 31, 2017

Activating the Work of Art

A woman looking at a Picasso painting
Photo from the art blog of The Guardian 
Our gaze must strike the object in such a way that it awakens something within it that springs up to meet the intention....The intensive observer finds that something leaps out at him from the object, enters into him, takes possession of him....This language of the intentionless truth (that is to say, of the object itself) possesses authority....It leaps into existence as the result of an immersion of the object in itself provoked by the external gaze.
          ~ Walter Benjamin

But how does the work of art become suspended in a sleep of latency to begin with? I suggest that the act of creation imparts to the artwork, as if by osmosis, a tendency to sequestration, a tendency similar to the riddling, metaphysical hiddenness of consciousness itself. As such, a work of art opens up a space of self-concealment -- a space parallel, tangent, and complementary to the artist's consciousness. This sideways volume of being involves an aesthetic strangeness that is cut off from the conventional, from normality. The artist's imagination, operating under the influence of eccentric time, infuses the artwork with that eccentric time. The artwork thus exists off-world, so to speak, concealed or suspended in a different dimension. 

But what is involved with the special gaze of Benjamin's "intensive observer?" How does one generate that intensity, so the work of art is awakened from suspended animation? 

I think the special angle of looking has to do with the opposite of a conquering, appropriating, analyzing gaze. The aggressive stare frightens an artwork, keeps it from coming to presence, holds it in a cloistered condition. The more dominating the gaze, the farther the artwork retreats into itself. I'm sure you've read descriptions of artworks written by experts in exhibition catalogs. To me, those sophisticated folks are blinded by their own analytical gazing. The artwork becomes a mirror reflecting conventional attitudes, hand-me-down assessments, and historical fixations. Institutional formalism should, I think, be left at the gallery door before entering; it interferes with the "leap" of an artwork's off-world authority into the observer's consciousness. 

The genuine activating gaze, that intensive seeing must have instead something to do with naivete, with an emptying-out of preconception and knowingness, with a filling-in of tense wonder. That special way of looking then causes the artwork to stir from its metaphysical shadows, to show itself within its eccentric zone of the tangential. 

Benjamin is that "aura" guy. I suspect that the awakening, the activating of an artwork takes place only in the presence of the original. A reproduction is latent with only a semblance of eccentric time, with only an ostensible possibility of engagement. Drained of aura and pulsating presence, the work of art as reproduction can only dimly divulge its secrets to the intensive gaze. 


Walter Benjamin, 1892 - 1940

Monday, January 30, 2017

Finally, a Russian!

I've been searching a long time for a true Russian to play Rachmaninoff's "Prelude No. 5 in G minor, Op. 23."

The best I had come up with, until now, was Sviatoslav Richter's version. It's almost perfect.

Today, I found perfection. Boris Beresovky.

Why is this the case?

His tempo is slow enough for the creation of sufficient spiritual energy to gather around the written music. And during this gathering, old Slavic ambiances are drawn into the inexorable swirl. This fellow digs down into the vodka-hued substance.

When the tempo is too fast, cultural inflection and archetypal rhythm aren't allowed to emerge from the score. It's a waste of time listening to this -- my favorite prelude -- when it's played too swiftly, played by those who either hector or are indifferent to the Russian musical spirits. This composition must be played with a breathed poise and a cultural sensitivity. Otherwise, its peculiar blend of polka and gravitas -- as if emblematic of a bronze horse's statuesque strutting -- will be missed.

I don't know anything about this pianist, other than what his prelude performance reveals -- a Slavic character and an artistic imagination. For all I know, everything else he has recorded sucks. I tend to doubt it, though.

Apparently, the CD is unavailable from primary sources but can be ordered from Amazon's associated sellers:

The Discovery of Chance

I'm currently reading this book about the Russian Alexander Herzen, and it's holding my attention:

Here's a review:

The Living Truth

*    *    *

03 - 10 - 2017

Okay. I finished reading this book. I think it is a well-written and interesting thing. My only real complaint is that Herzen doesn't come to vivid presence. So much is about ideas, to the point that the subject himself seems diffuse, hard to grasp as a solid being.

Saturday, January 28, 2017

Unseen Pages

In the 1760s, a loose association of writers that might or might not have existed was scattered across Germany. From Baden to Bavaria, from the Black Forest to river cities, a diffuse band of eccentrics wrote treatises, stories, poems, and meditations. All of their inspirations had a center of gravity or allusive subtext concerned with the mystery of aesthetics and the eeriness of being. I’ll assume this shadowy group of writers did indeed exist. That way, I’ll be able to continue writing this essay.
The first stirrings of what would become known as German Romanticism were in the air — in the morning fogs drifting above rivers, through forests, around the forms of Gothic architecture.
The Society of Mutual Dreamers met twice a year – on the summer and winter solstices – at an undisclosed location. Karl Gottfried Fenstermacher (I’ll give him that name), who lived in the Black Forest, would bring to these gatherings the petals from a pale flower that grew in the shade of quietly troubled, darkly murmuring trees. During the secret meetings, attendees would partake of a liquid concoction distilled from those pale petals. They would collectively hallucinate into one another’s dreams and nightmares. They were determined, based on questionable hypotheses and principles, to derive or abstract a universal truth. They wished to touch the sleeping fabric of being, to examine its texture.
During these convergences into dreamland, they would compare impressions and mentally sketch stupefied rudiments for later pages. By such a collective oneiric experience, they hoped the sleeping spirit of the world might disclose a solution to the riddle of beauty and melancholy. These esoteric experiments, therefore, had a basis in Ästhetik und Weltschmerz, and were energized by the possibility of poetic transcendence. 
How is it that they could all appear in each dream simultaneously? No one knows.
Inspired by these sojourns into metaphysical regions, the members would return to their homes and write about imagination and abyss. They wrote pages that have never been recovered.
Friends, relatives, villagers, and city dwellers, who went about their conventional routines and thought their conventional thoughts, began to notice something odd about those dispersed members of The Society of Mutual Dreamers. At first, it was an aura of distractedness hovering around their personalities. It was as if, when spoken to, those literary eccentrics paid only half attention to what was being said.
Eventually, the situation became more dramatic, or perhaps tragic. The various odd ones began to appear anemic and pale. The collective condition worsened. As they became almost transparent, they were scolded and advised by their unknowing contemporaries to drink more red wine, to build the blood. Soon, none of them was ever seen or heard from again.
They had taken up permanent residence in the atmospheres of old dreams and evocative nightmares. While in those farther precincts, the members of The Society of Mutual Dreamers would convene seminars. They presented their morbidly ecstatic treatises, stories, poems, and meditations based on how it seemed to be in this tangent world. Those written works were very strange and very beautiful and very profound. They have also never been recovered in our waking world. But in the natural time of mornings and the quiet time of evenings, a gist of those unseen pages would occasionally sigh through trees, villages, and cities. How is that possible? No one knows.
One late afternoon, a young man – Georg Philipp Friedrich Freiherr von Hardenberg, also known as Novalis – was strolling through a grove of brooding trees in the Harz Mountains. That same pale flower also grew there. Novalis would kneel to breathe the fragrance of that flower, but it never occurred to him to render the petals into an occult liqueur. Nonetheless, he was now on his way to becoming odd. The wind picked up, and Novalis heard the ghosts of impressions from the lost Society of Mutual Dreamers. He heard and could almost read those lost pages drifting from the realm of great dreaming. About Novalis, Hermann Hesse would later allude to a new poetic dimension, to marvelous and mysterious work.
Some of Novalis’s pages have been seen:

“The more poetic, the more real.”

By Tim Buck

Thursday, January 12, 2017

Violinist Carolin Widmann

I have two CDs by her -- Robert Schumann's violin sonatas; three violin and piano works by Franz Schubert. Both of those were revelations for me. Having heard and appreciated these works by others, I was surprised to discover how much artistic, musical possibility was still latent in them. Widmann's versions are astonishing.

I'm looking forward to her newest CD -- concertos by Mendelssohn and Schumann.