Wednesday, April 16, 2008

Drained (In More Ways Than One)

The taxes are done.

What a draining exercise!

Joshua and I worked on our taxes most of the weekend, and the process positively exhausted us.

The nation needs to abandon the graduated income tax (or what for practical purposes may be deemed the investment tax, because it is from capital investment that the bulk of federal tax revenues derive) and institute a flat consumption tax akin to a nationwide sales tax. Such a system would reward, not penalize, saving and would encourage, not discourage, capital investment.

Joshua and I did go downtown on Saturday to attend a performance of “Rabbit Hole” at Jungle Theater. We were pleased we took a break from taxes, but we were not pleased by the play itself. David Lindsay-Abaire’s play, addressing the effects of the death of a child on a married couple, was little more than daytime drama, filled with clichés that surely were stale generations ago. The Jungle Theater production did the play no favors.

The only items we have on our schedule are this coming weekend, when Josh and I will accompany my parents to a Minnesota Orchestra concert of music by Mozart, Mendelssohn and Hindemith, and early next week, when we will accompany my parents to a recital by Welsh baritone Bryn Terfel.

The only reason Josh and I will attend a Minnesota Orchestra concert this coming weekend is to hear the seldom-programmed “Mathis Der Maler” Symphony, one of my very favorite pieces of music.

I think we may go hear the Minnesota Orchestra again the following weekend, when Neville Marriner, a former Music Director of the orchestra, will return to conduct music of Elgar and Brahms. Marriner is not one of my favorite conductors—he is too “English”—but this will probably be one of our last chances to see and hear Marriner in person, given his advanced age, and Josh has never attended a concert conducted by Marriner. We look forward to it.


  1. I've never seen Terfel live.

  2. Terfel's Twin Cities recital program does not interest me all that much--lots of British songs, with a few Schubert and Faure songs thrown in for good measure.

    I'd rather hear him sing Rodgers and Hammerstein than Roger Quilter!

  3. Greetings, Andrew!

    I was very pleased to read about your fondness for Hindemith’s Mathis Der Maler Symphony. I fell in love with the work back in the 70’s after I picked up Eugene Ormandy’s Columbia recording with the Philadelphia. The staying power of this piece amazes me! The Engelskonzert knocked me for a loop way back then and has never failed since to give me goose bumps, at least in the hands of the right conductor.

    You know, I have fantasized that if I were ever allowed to be a conductor for one evening with the Philadelphia or the Cleveland, and required to program only three works, I would place the Mathis first, followed by (after intermission) Hindemith’s Cello Concerto, and end with Walton’s Hindemith Variations. A perfect “sandwich.” After Walton’s sweet and endearing quotation from the Mathis and then his glorious finale, I could say then that I had had a good life . . . Take me now from this world!

    The Sony CD containing Ormandy’s Mathis and Szell’s Variations, by the way, is on my short list of desert island “wants” --- the list that also contains Dohnanyi’s Bruckner 5.


  4. Hey, Dane.

    The "Mathis Der Maler" will be the final work on this coming weekend's subscription concerts.

    I know that particular Philadelphia/Cleveland Hindemith/Walton Sony recording, and I think it is magnificent. I also like Ormandy's later Philadelphia recording of the Hindemith for EMI, as well as Sawallisch's Philadelphia recording of the Hindemith, also for EMI.

    I hope you get your wish about conducting the Cleveland Orchestra or the Philadelphia Orchestra. In fact, I hope you may conduct them both!


  5. And why is Walton's "Variations On A Theme Of Hindemith" never programmed? That is a magnificent work.

    I think William Walton is vastly under-rated, even in the UK. I have always believed that Walton was a far finer composer than Britten, for example, whose current popularity is, to me, as inexplicable as Walton's neglect.

  6. And what recording of Hindemith's Cello Concerto should I listen to? I have never been able to appreciate Hindemith's Cello Concerto.

  7. Thank you, Andrew, for those best wishes, but a fantasy is a fantasy.

    I have always adored the work that Walton did after Façade, which I do not particularly care for at all. As a symphonist he is at least the equal of Elgar; and for me his two opera --- where are the italics when you need them? --- in this supreme form have worn better. Thank goodness we have Szell’s recording of Nr 2. It is too bad he didn’t record Nr. 1 because I haven’t heard a completely satisfying account of this work from anyone. My admiration for these pieces, however, just grows and grows.

    Yes, I have thought at times that Walton’s wholesale neglect might be the dictate of some secret agenda. The local NPR station apparently thinks that the only thing Walton wrote was the score to Henry V. I do remember a radio interview with Walton’s widow in New York conducted by Martin Bookspan. A frustrated Mrs Walton attempted to convey the fact that it was Szell’s recording of the second symphony that occasioned many critics, American and English alike, to positively re-evaluate her husband’s symphonic prowess. She had to fight Mr. Bookspan, who, inexplicably, was working very hard to divert the conversation away from that subject. Infuriating!

    And when was the last time you saw the fabulous Partita programmed in the concert hall?

    I have only owned one recording of Hindemith’s Cello Concerto, an old LP recorded in Hungary, if I mistake not. I know the work is available on CPO, as part of their Hindemith series from Australia, but I haven’t heard it.

    What a shame!

    I hope you, Josh, and your parents enjoy the concert this weekend.


  8. Dane:

    I, for one, have never heard Walton’s Partita programmed, and I would probably go into shock if I saw it announced!

    I know Walton’s “Troilus And Cressida” only from the Chandos recording, and I know “The Bear” not at all.

    There a few decent recordings of Walton’s First Symphony, aren’t there? There are the two Previn recordings, and the Slatkin, and the Rattle, and the Paul Daniel, and probably others. I have a fondness for the Previn remake on Telarc, although everyone else believes that the first Previn is superior. Josh and I listened to the Previn Telarc recording in the last year or so, and I even wrote about it, I think.

    In addition to the Szell, there is at least one other decent recording of Walton’s Second Symphony. It is Litton’s, on Decca, coupled with the Violin Concerto and the Scapino Overture. The disc is probably out of print.

    Walton’s neglect is a complicated story. I have read, more than once, that Walton believed he had been abandoned by the British music establishment after World War II, when that establishment whole-heartedly embraced Britten. To his death, Walton remained bitter about the subject.

    For the last thirty-five years of his life, Walton apparently was torn between trying to curry favor with the pro-Britten lobby (writing “Impromptu On An Improvisation Of Benjamin Britten”) and letting his true feelings about Britten’s music be known (publicly and pointedly calling Shostakovich—and not Britten—the most important living composer, a statement I do not for a minute believe represented Walton’s genuine thoughts, since Stravinsky was still alive at the time).

    Perhaps the fact that Walton spent the last thirty-five years of his life in Italy harmed his standing in Britain. Perhaps the British music establishment was unwilling to promote aggressively more than one living composer at a time. Perhaps Walton had offended some powerful music figures during the immediate aftermath of the War. Whatever the cause, Walton was dumped by the British music establishment in the late 1940’s, and it has never changed its tune since. (Do you recall the proliferation of negative articles in the British press at the time of the Walton centenary? I do.)

    Walton was still writing excellent music at the very end of his life. In the late 1970’s, he wrote a composition for guitar and orchestra (derived from a piece for solo guitar, if I recall correctly) called “Five Bagatelles For Guitar And Orchestra”. It is a magnificent work, and should be in the repertory.

    I think Walton’s time will come, but probably not until the current fascination with Britten subsides.

    Is Mrs. Walton still living?

    Thanks you for your best wishes. If “Mathis Der Maler” were not on this weekend’s programs, we would not bother to go.

    May I ask your opinion of Osmo Vanska?


  9. I haven't heard any of Previn's recordings of the Walton First. I haven't heard Litton's Second. I probably need to seek these out. The best I've heard of the First was the Rattle on EMI: I personally like his less angular, more lyrical approach, particularly in the first movement. I am not very moved by Simon Rattle's music-making otherwise.

    I agree with most everything you wrote about Vanska last December in this blog during the "Sparticus" affair. I haven't heard Vanska conduct Dvorak or any English music, however. It is true that I haven't heard his Beethoven discs, either, which apparently are selling well --- at least according to the NY Times.

    And speaking of the Times, don't be suprised if Sparticus (or an unreasoning facsimile) rises up again in order to wave Allan Kozinn's recent rave (April 15) in your face. Kozinn is one of the older NY critics, I believe, but he has written some weird things; I think he has yielded to the current fashion today of exalting the likes of Vanska, Salonen, and the very, very boring Aslop, about whom you have written with commensurate accuracy, in my opinion.

    Based upon what I have heard, Vanska and Aslop are definitely second- or third-rate.

    I don't understand the state of music appreciation in the US, as I have lamented before in these pages. Loud, louder seem to be the characters of pandering excellence which matter most. Ensemble precision and surpassing beauty of sound are "old-fashioned" observations, not worthy even of marginal note.

    One question, though. Can the Minnesota Orchestra really play an exquisite, corporate pianissimo, the likes over which Mr. Kozinn practically salivates in his notice? I have never actually heard this orchestra in concert even once.

    I don't know if Mrs. Walton is still alive. I think she gave up granting interviews after the Bookspan humiliation. I hope she is still living.

    As for Benjamen Britten: yuck!


  10. Dane, I am not much of a Simon Rattle fan, either, although I like his recording of the Walton First Symphony. However, I think that both Previn and Slatkin are superior to Rattle in the Walton, good as Rattle is.

    My father insists that the Previn Walton First from the mid-1960’s, on RCA, is the finest version. I prefer the Previn Walton First from the late 1980’s, on Telarc, because the sound is much richer and because Previn’s interpretation is more thoughtful and not so hell-bent on getting through the score as quickly as possible.

    I have not heard Vanska’s Beethoven discs, either—there are only so many Beethoven discs one can acquire—but I am told by persons whose opinions I respect that the engineering makes the orchestra sound much better than it does in person.

    Can the Minnesota Orchestra of today play an exquisite, corporate pianissimo? Yes, it can, if the standard of “exquisite” is not high: a London Symphony standard, not a Cleveland Orchestra standard. Speaking purely in terms of ensemble and sound quality, the orchestra plays better for Vanska than it did under Eji Oue, Edo De Waart or Neville Marriner. The level of musicianship, however, is another matter—the orchestra is blunt and unsubtle in virtually every area of the repertory. The Minnesota Orchestra remains a fine regional ensemble, nothing more.

    The history of the orchestra over the last quarter-century has been disappointing, a fact that explains why members of the orchestra and many members of the musical public are pleased with Vanska.

    Marriner did not work out here, probably because the Minnesota Orchestra was his first stint with a full-scale symphonic ensemble. He left after five years. There was a big behind-the-scenes blowup with management and the Board at the time, a blow-up that also caused Principal Guest Conductors Klaus Tennstedt and Charles Dutoit to leave, too.

    The orchestra loathed Marriner’s successor, De Waart, and De Waart should not have been allowed to remain at the helm of the orchestra for a full decade. Morale among the musicians collapsed under De Waart (which I am told has always been the case with De Waart, no matter where he has gone).

    De Waart was followed by Eije Oue, who was always as enthusiastic as a cheerleader at a high school pep rally, but who did not possess the skills necessary to guide a major American orchestra on a full-time basis. People here still shake their heads in disbelief that Oue was ever hired.

    Vanska brought to the orchestra a sturdy work ethic (the anti-Oue) and a positive attitude (the anti-De Waart), qualities that have proven to be what the orchestra needed. Morale has improved, ensemble has improved, and attendance has improved.

    None of this signifies, of course, that Vanska is a major musician. Some music-lovers in the Twin Cities believe that he is a major musician; others believe that he is not. Myself, I am not even impressed by his so-called specialty, Sibelius, although I readily admit that Vanska does have his showpiece, Sibelius’s Symphony No. 2, down pat (and apparently can perform it at the drop of hat, as he recently did at his Gewandhaus debut in Leipzig).

    I read the New York Times review of the Minnesota Orchestra’s recent appearance in Manhattan, and I also saw the recent notice in the New York Sun. I did not pay much attention to either assessment because I do not respect either critic. (By the way, exactly one year ago, the New York Sun panned the Minnesota Orchestra’s New York appearance, but the critic writing last year in the Sun was Jay Nordlinger, not Fred Kirshnit, the boob who covered this year’s concert.)

    I would not worry, if I were you, about the dismal state of current American music criticism. No one pays them any mind. Remove John Von Rhein and Tim Page and Alan Artner, and none of the rest of today’s critics could tell the Cleveland Orchestra from the Atlanta Symphony in a blind test. Not only do they not know how an orchestra should sound, they are too busy advancing personal agendas to learn their jobs. Today’s music critics must be read purely as humor over the breakfast table.

    May I ask you: have you read Alex Ross’s book? I received it as a Christmas gift, and I was appalled that it was received seriously, whether as history, whether as a collection of personal essays, or whether as polemic. It was so bad I could not even read it. I simply spent an hour flipping through it, reading a few pages here and there, shaking my head in disbelief, asking myself what the field of American publishing has come to, and thinking to myself, “this damn fool spent ten years of his life on this project, and this is all he came up with!”

    I gave the book to my Dad to read, and he returned it to me the very next day. His verdict: “There were things that were new, and things that were good. However, what was good was not new, and what was new was not good. It should make a satisfactory door stop”.


  11. Good morning, Andrew!

    I heard de Waart while he was in San Francisco. He was pretentious and his work was completely unmemorable.

    I really need to acquire one of the Preven/Walton First; I am getting the Telarc initially because, like you, I have generally liked the sound quality of that label in the past.

    I saw "The Rest is Noise" at Borders some time back while I was on a lunch break, and I had just enough time to skim here and there. I suppose they were the right "here" and "there" because my first impression was Ross's dripping pretension. He wanted everyone to know that he was also a great literary scholar. Ironically, however, he demonstrated at the same time a worrisome writing skill, a disturbance which I had noticed from his New Yorker articles, especially the early ones, when the work of his predecesor was still fresh in my mind.

    Granted, Andrew Porter was no prose stylist, but . . . My eye caught a number of clumsey catachreses in Ross's book; and I noted that, in general, the book seemed to be a model of the wholesale decay of communication skills (and education) in America. In the end, Ross's talent for matching recommended recordings with given works proved as irritating as his talent for matching pronouns with antecedents (hail PC!).

    While exiting Borders that day I couldn't help but pity Mr. Ross, actually. I remembered a funny comment by the late Malcolm Muggeridge, who, praising the benefit of the hundred-year shelf-life of book paper, wrote, "alas, microfilm has denied us such deliverance!"

    Better stop now.

    What a genuine pleasure to correspond with you, Andrew. The reason I do not contribute on a more regular basis is the concern that I may become self-serving, as opposed to serving you, the blogger, and serving the blog's readership.


  12. Oh, yes, regarding Vanska's Sibelius. I'm afraid that I'm not qualified to assess him at all. I DID hear him a couple of years ago conduct the E-flat Symphony live, but unfortunately I fell asleep right smack in the middle of the Andante mosso.

    Now, here's a challenge for Vanska: Conduct the Minnesota Orchestra in Allan Pettersson's Symphony Nr 13, prefacing the performance with the Offertoire from Gounod's Messe Solennelle de Sainte Cecile. (This is another fantasy concert of mine.)


  13. Dane:

    I love Gounod’s Saint Cecilia Mass! I thought I was the only person on the planet who liked that score! I only know it from the Pretre recording, since the mass is never programmed in the U.S., but I think it is a marvelous piece, filled with beauty.

    Vanska has not programmed any Pettersson in Minneapolis. Instead, he keeps trotting out that dreadful Aho “Insect Symphony”, which I abhor.

    I believe you will be happy with the Previn Walton recording on Telarc. It is on Telarc’s mid-price line, coupled with both Walton coronation marches. Previn’s RCA Walton recording is coupled with Vaughan Williams’ “The Wasps” Overture.

    My problem with the Ross book is that its foundations are based upon conclusions that are not first established, just as his New Yorker pieces are nothing more than a series of trendy conclusions in which the basic premises are never set forth. Fundamentally, “The Rest Is Noise” is the work of a precocious but peculiar 20-year-old who happens to suffer from too many lacunae that—somewhat alarmingly—have not yet been filled. The book is unworthy of an educated person whose chronological age is forty.

    I think the book must be read as the highly-personal but agenda-driven journal of an engaging but limited observer who very much wants to be viewed as a central figure in the contemporary music scene, but whose depth and breadth of knowledge is far from comprehensive, whose judgments and tastes are not refined, whose powers of analysis are undeveloped, and whose opinions are of questionable value.

    I think Ross needs to re-enroll in Harvard—and pay attention on the second go-around! I also think he should limit his writing to New York’s downtown music scene. He genuinely has nothing penetrating to offer about the field of what is called classical music.

    I hope you have a pleasing weekend planned, and it is always a pleasure to hear from you.


  14. And do forgive my "clumsey" misspellings, especially of more than one proper name.


  15. I, too, found the Alex Ross book exceptionally hard to read.

    I also found it hard to fathom all the attention the book received, thus far. Way over the top. One critic I know was over the moon about it.

    The chapters simply bored me to sleep. Literally.

    And where was Callas? Caballé? Sutherland? The triumvirate of voices of the Twentieth Century?

    Or did I just miss those chapters?

    Wishing you, Andrew, a terrific weekend!


  16. J.R.:

    I could not believe the attention the book received, either. Such attention was totally unwarranted.

    However, I also noticed that no one of importance reviewed the publication. All of the reviews I read were written by nobodies.

    I would like to know, for instance, what Robert Craft thought of the book. If Craft had reviewed the book, I strongly suspect that his review would have been withering.

    I hope your weekend will be a splendid one!


  17. Drew:

    I had to do a google search to see what you were talking about.

    "The Rest Is Noise" by Alex Ross has been published over here, I see, but I have not heard anyone mention it, and I know a lot of musicians. That tells me that no one over here cares.

    The New Yorker used to have a British readership, at least many years ago. I think that died when our own Tina Brown took over. She sort of killed that magazine, did she not? It is now viewed as a lightweight celebrity publication geared to the Left. I never hear the New Yorker mentioned here anymore. Twenty years ago, I would hear it mentioned quite often.

    Your Vanska is definitely second-rate, and our orchestras here view him as second-rate. He is not in demand in London.

    The Previn RCA recording is the Walton disc to hear! It has never been surpassed. The Slatkin on RCA is runner-up.


  18. I hope Tina Brown stays in your country.

  19. Calvin, I do not know the current readership of The New Yorker. It's definitely a celebrity/entertainment magazine now, as you say, but I don't know the demographics of its current readership.

    My parents subscribed to The New Yorker for years and years and years, back when everyone read it. They stopped renewing their subscription once Tina Brown took over the magazine. Apparently she turned it into a Vanity Fair clone literally overnight, and lost--happily, because of larger ad revenues--the magazine's former serious readship.

    Tina Brown wanted, and got, hip. I frankly don't know who reads the magazine anymore. The New Yorker has sort of dropped off the radar screen here, too. I never hear anyone mention it.

    It is unmistakably a Leftist publication now, sort of an East Coast Mother Jones, assiduously preaching to the choir.

    It's the sort of thing for people who like that sort of thing.


  20. We don't want Tina Brown back! Please keep her there!

  21. I hope she doesn't start her own magazine again.

    I'll never forgive myself for buying the first ever issue of "Talk" magazine--the short-lived celebrity/politics-themed magazine she spearheaded years ago.

    The magazine is now defunct. Thank heavens.

    I think her greatest ambition is to take over Graydon Carter at Vanity.

  22. Tina Brown will always be remembered--and reviled--for destroying The New Yorker. That will be her legacy.

  23. Gosh! Reading The New Yorker is so passé.

    It went out of fashion ages ago, along with the age-old fashion rule of not wearing white after labor day.

  24. You and I missed that era, but apparently The New Yorker was mandatory reading for decades.

  25. My father, J.R., still seethes at the mention of Tina Brown and The New Yorker.

  26. Perhaps Mr. Ross might take up the mantle as editor-in-chief of the New Yorker one day. Who knows?

    Have a good night, Andrew.

  27. I don't blame your Dad.


  28. You, too, J.R.

    And enjoy your weekend.

  29. Tina Brown was a friend of Diana.

    How suitable.

    Both were noted for their lack of taste.

  30. Dane:

    Lady Susana Walton is still alive, and continues to reside on the island of Ischia, supervising the care of her famed gardens. She celebrates her 86th birthday sometime this year.


  31. Andrew:

    I am always late to your discussions. I only go online every two or three weeks, always on Saturday afternoons.

    Interesting how your post about completing your taxes evolved into a discussion of Paul Hindemith, then William Walton, then the Minnesota Orchestra, then "The Rest Is Noise", then the New Yorker, then Tina Brown, and finally Princess Diana!

    You have a very intelligent readership!

    As for William Walton on disc, I vote for the Previn on RCA when it comes to the First Symphony.

    As for the New Yorker, it is so dumbed-down now its readers must all be morons.

    As for Alex Ross and "Noise", the book makes the ancient volumes of Harold Schonberg look like masterpieces of music writing.

    As for Tina Brown . . .and Princess Di . . .YUCK YUCK YUCK. Harpies like that never go away, even after they are dead.


  32. Andrew, I assume you know that our local chamber orchestra, RED, recently folded. It is now defunct.

    I assume you also know that the Buckeyes won the NIT! The Buckeyes were screwed in not being asked to the big dance! At least they got a measure of revenge!


  33. Hey, Andrew,

    Thank you for the update on Lady Walton. I'm glad.

    I was dumbstruck by your probing analysis of the Ross book. It took me the entire weekend to recover myself. You made me want to actually read the whole thing (well, almost).

    You remind me more and more of Stephen Dedalus, Andrew. Kudos, Kintch!

    Dumber Dane

    P.S. I like Josh's turn on Vanska Palindrome.

  34. Yes, I have loved the Gounod Mass for many decades. I first heard the SANCTUS on a compilation album of various sacred works, produced by Word records in the 1960's. I could not find any records of the whole work until the seventies.

    What a shame that this stunning music is hardly ever programmed!

    Dumber Dane, or call me Leopold.

  35. Robert:

    Yes, I read in the newspapers that RED had folded. I never heard the group.

    I don't think Cleveland is large enough to support two orchestras. Cleveland has seen dance and opera companies fold, over and over, and the fact that RED went under, too, did not surprise me.

    Congratulations on Ohio State's N.I.T. championship! Minnesota was also invited to the N.I.T., but lost in the first round, at home, to Maryland.


  36. Dane:

    I would definitely not call my dismissal of the Ross book probing--if it had been a better book, I would actually have read the silly thing!

    However, having spent an hour with the book, it was clear that the book was on the same low level as Ross's New Yorker pieces, advancing the same tired agendas, and consequently not of much value and not worth much time.

    What appalls me about the book is that it was treated so reverently by the music establishment. Either the music establishment is filled with idiots (which it is), or the music establishment is so keen to curry favor with journalists, no matter how ill-informed, that it will endorse anything, even the most meretricious product.

    I only know the Gounod Mass from the Pretre recording, which I have in its Musical Heritage Society incarnation, and I am surprised that the work is not better known. I would think it would be pleasing for choruses and orchestras to perform, and audiences to hear.

    However, Gounod is not held in high esteem by musicologists, and I can understand, if not agree with, its neglect.


  37. Robert,

    I for one think it is a modern miracle that your city of Cleveland can support the Cleveland Orchestra at all! The population of Cleveland is under 500,000, while Houston is four times larger. Yet the Houston Symphony is not in the slightest way comparable to the mighty CO.

    The situtation speaks volumes, I believe, about your music-loving community.


  38. I made an error in addressing a late composition of William Walton. I would like to make a correction.

    In 1970 and 1971, Walton wrote a work for solo guitar, "Five Bagatelles For Guitar". The composition was premiered by Julian Bream in 1972.

    In 1975 and 1976, Walton wrote an orchestral composition based on the same material, calling the orchestral work "Varii Capricci". "Varii Capricci" was premiered by Andre Previn and the London Symphony in 1977.

    Frederick Ashton used the score of "Varii Capricci" in 1983 for one of his final ballets for The Royal Ballet, and Walton altered the final pages of the score to suit Ashton's needs. Walton's revisions of "Varii Capricci" were the last music he wrote before his death.

    In 1992, after Walton had been deceased nine years, Patrick Russ arranged "Five Bagatelles For Guitar And Orchestra" from the existing Walton scores, using the scores of the original work for solo guitar and the purely orchestral work that followed as the bases for his arrangement.

  39. Thank you, Andrew, for taking the time to clarify the composition history of the Five Bagatelles. I did not know this. The music is wonderful.


  40. It was my father who told me that I needed to check the information about that particular Walton composition.

    Between him, my sister-in-law (who serves as Chief Of Grammar Police) and my brothers (who endlessly make fun of my blog), I often think I should simply end my blog.

    I think of shutting it down literally every day.

  41. Andrew:

    Please do not close down the blog. Your readership needs it. I think you need it, too. The world is more interesting with you in it.

    I meant no insult to you in my reference to Stephen Dedalus. The allusion was intended as a compliment to your trenchant mind. Honestly, Sincerely, with no tongue in cheek.

    "Kintch" was the nickname given Stephen by Leopold Bloom, an onomatopoetic reference to a knife slicing through the [ethernet].


  42. Thanks, Dane, but I actually do not have any deep-seated personal need to blog, not in the least.

    I started my blog simply to create a record of my early days with Josh--to give me something to reflect back on in the future. I never thought anyone other than my immediate family members would ever pay much attention.

    Once I started my blog, it sort of took on a life of its own.

    Why do people blog? There are many answers to that question, I believe, but my impression is that most persons who blog are making a mistake in doing so.

    My sister-in-law, who is a psychiatrist, happens to agree with me on that point.

    I hope I am not among that number!

    Re James Joyce: I somehow never suceeded in becoming interested in James Joyce. His work always left me cold.

    Perhaps my disinterest in Joyce may be attributed to my inexplicable fondness for Trollope--although I readily acknowledge that Trollope was certainly no genius.

  43. But "Barchester Towers" is a WORK of genius, I would like to add, but probably Trollope's only one.

    Nonetheless, I have the greatest affection for "The Pallisers" series of novels.

  44. And, back to the world of blogging, I cannot help but notice that Joshua and I have had some real idiots enter comments on our blogs, comments of the most astonishing foolishness and stupidity.

    Happily, they have been few in number.

    Most such persons go away if ignored--but not all.

  45. I understand why you receive Joyce as "cold." My interest in Joyce is purely with regard to his linguistic industry, not unlike the attitude of Professor Nabokov, who respected all literature in the same way.

    Both Trollope and Hardy are blind spots on my part. I DO intend to read Barchester Towers AND Jude the Obscure, having seen your recommendation on Josh's blog.

    My real literary passion for the last several years has actually been Alexander Solzhenitsyn. I am re-reading the entire eight-volume MAGNUM OPUS "The Red Wheel"; and I am seriously entertaining the idea of preparing my own English translation from the Russian.

    It is a testament to the decline of education in America that Solzhenitsyn's New York publisher has failed to issue the last two "knots" of the series, "March 1917" and "April 1917." But the disturbing truth of the matter is that this truly great writer does not sell in America. Nor he is much more saleable in Europe. There are no German translations of either work, to my knowledge; and there is only a French translation of March 1917, which is serviceable, but nothing more. I have corresponded with several Americans, however, who want to read the the final two knots.

    I hope you do not become too discouraged, Andrew. I discern perhaps some sadness on your part as you draw closer to the move to Boston.

    Here's a little humor this morning. I hope it helps, pretentious and self-serving though it is. Do you remember the stout Catalan lady who bothered me in Miami? The one who thought the C-major scale was a programmable piece of music? I had a dream about her!

    Here's the dream: I am walking along the shore in South Beach and this little lady is following me, all the while pestering me to no end. She keeps asking over and over, "Where can I find a Miro?"
    Finally I turn around. With all the firmness that the Apostle Paul mustered against the "Python" woman at Philipi I say to her, "Away with you . . . fly back to your home. Then take a stroll around town with your eyes closed!"
    A few days later in the Arts section of the New York Times I see the following headline: "PROCESS ARTIST CREATES SENSATION IN PALMA DE MAJORCA." I read the article: ". . . On the eve of Miro's birthday, a new "Til-sculpture" pays tribute the master: "Moonbird Covered All Over in Bejeweled Woman with Bird Brain in the Night while Man in Miami Rejoices."

    Have a good Day!


  46. Good joke, Dane. Thanks.

    Reluctantly, I must admit that I am appallingly ignorant on the subject of Solzhenitsyn. Many, many years ago I did read “One Day In The Life Of Ivan Denisovich”, a project for the classroom, but I have read nothing else by Solzhenitsyn.

    My mother has read “The Cancer Ward” and “The Full Circle”, and my father has read the first version of “August 1914” (and did not like it). I flipped through “August 1914” a couple of times, but never tried to read it.

    I believe that Solzhenitsyn dropped from view in the U.S. in large part because of the end of the Cold War. Further, the fact that Solzhenitsyn always refused to play the public celebrity game demanded by U.S. publishers did not help to keep his work in the public eye, I suspect.

    By all means, do the Solzhenitsyn translation, if that pleases you!

    (Alas, I do not know a word of Russian.)

    Thanks for your words of encouragement. They are much appreciated.


  47. It is no wonder to me why your father and many others disliked the original August 1914. The work of translator Michael Glenny was an abomination, due in part to the unreasonable deadline given him by Farrar Straus and Giroux in 1970. I will never forgive Gore Vidal, however, for his 1971 notice of that abomination, a review which was designed solely as an instrument of self-glorification: the last two words, GORE VIDAL, are the Russian words for "[he] saw grief."

    Good luck to you, Andrew. The very best wishes to your entire family. I pray that the transition to come in four months will be as painless as possible.

    This comment block is huge. Is this some kind of record, or what?


  48. Yes, it appears that this thread has run its course.

    I was unaware of the translation issue for the first U.S. release of "August 1914"--all I knew was that an enlarged version had been released sometime in the 1980's. Perhaps the poor translation was the reason my father disliked the book.

    I have never read any Gore Vidal. He always struck me as a rather unsavory figure. I have always believed that there was something wrong with him.

  49. "The First Circle", of course, not "The Full Circle".

    Sometimes the fingers and the brain are not singing from the same hymnal.

  50. I have demonstrated the same confusion many times, I'm sure you've noticed. Sometimes my "clumsey" fingers sing from the Baptist hymnal while my brain sings from the Presbyterian hymnal. Heaven forbid if the two should ever switch! (Would I turn into a pumpkin?) Both volumes, however, do contain Luther's "A Mighty Fortress is Our God," don't they?

    By the way, Harry Willet's translation of the 1989 revision/expansion of August 1914 is much, much better than Glenny's work on the original. Perhaps I was too harsh and rude to refer to the 1971 issue as an "abomination." I should have said "egregious" (Baptist) -- or, more politely, as you have written, "poor" (Presbyterian).

    You know, Andrew, I just had to publish this absolutely useless comment in order to bring the count up to 50 before your next post. (By the time Robert circulates back around, maybe the count will be up to 100! That would be fun . . . and it may even defer you from shutting down the blog!)


  51. And now, with my tongue firmly in cheek, I have a question for you, Andrew. Does the Presbyterian hymnal contain by any chance the 1779 Edward Perronet hymn “All Hail the Power of Jesus’ Name”? Well, the Baptist hymnal does. The reason I ask is that I have noted for a long time how the verse seemed to have a curious subliminal impact upon all Southern Baptists --- one verse (the first), in particular, “Let Angels prostrate fall.” It came to me that I had never known any Baptist to be able to correctly pronounce a certain reproductive gland in the male anatomy: “My husband needs protrate [SIC] surgery,” for instance. Or, “I have an enlarged ‘prostrate.’ I observed that the error cropped up too frequently and over too long a time period among the family of Baptists for the construed connection to be purely coincidental. I came to believe that I could “out” any Baptist by how that person uttered this word.

    My main question is, Andrew, have you noticed any similar phenomenon among Presbyterians?

    When I was living in Europe the one complaint about Americans I heard most often among Germans was that Americans were monolingual. That was 25 years ago. Many of our countrymen today feel America is actually bilingual. But I perceive evidence that we are fast becoming a “nada-lingual” nation, judging from the state of today’s English. The growing, general apathy regarding the inability to distinguish “prostate” from “prostrate,” amusing as it is, discloses a serious red flag for those who care about the elements of language.

    Related to this apathy is the plight of English grammar, which some educators opine to be irrelevant.

    My favorite characters in Swift’s “Gulliver’s Travels” were the silly educators on the flying island of Laputa, who called themselves the “Projectors of Lagado.” They reasoned that grammar, so old-hat, being so hard to teach, anyway, should be obliterated entirely. But they didn’t stop there: Why worry about the difference between two mere words like “prostate” and “prostate,” or between “profound” and “profane.” They thought that since words were just “names for things,” why bother to muddle the mind with abstract symbolism --- “be direct!” they said. So these linguist-prophets did away with spelling and definition and vocabulary and grammar and syntax, and they started a collection of little objects, which they carried around with them in ever-expanding purses. You know, things like little houses, little dogs and people and water closets and basilicas, etc. They began communicating with each other by simply dipping into respective sacks to produce the thing(s) about which they were “talking.”

    Can you imagine our society if we extrapolated the current trend of wholesale apathy, in consonance with the philosophy of the Projectors of Lagado? Orwell’s “Newspeak” would be replaced with “Thingspeak.”

    The sight of a bustling downtown would reinvigorate the pastime of “people-watching,” no doubt. Granted, the line of sight might be somewhat obfuscated, due to the abundance of personal “thing-bundles” in the way. Everyone would be “wearing” his or her occupation: There, for instance, is the homeless man with his “thing-sock.” And look at all the housewives, off shopping with those brightly colored, heavy duffle bags. There’s the neuro- surgeon struggling with his tightly packed parachute; and there’s the lawyer --- no offence --- dragging behind him TWO parachutes, one a general-purpose chute, the other containing the legal definition of a “doorway.” Most interesting of all is the politician. He has no thing-bundle. All he needs is his shirt pockets, you see, which bulge with tiny Mack truck tires.

    Oh, and how fit are all these pedestrians! Is it any wonder? After all, since reading was abolished every first-grader is now required to complete a year of kindergarten bodybuilding.

    Then there’s that red-letter event, which, in times past, was the most boring of events; namely, the Presidential State of the Union Address. Never you mind the Chief’s histrionics! Everybody’s eyes are glued to the President’s hot-air balloon. Since speechwriters are obsolete now, for every single speechwriter of yore there is now an army of Presidential “thing-dippers.” Wow, just look at them move!

    In the street crowd we see a ramrod Marine drill instructor and a Hip-Hop recording “artist.” Neither has a bundle, but both have shirt pockets that are stuffed. Here is a species that even the Projectors of Lagado were unable to foresee. Nor able to fully predict was James Joyce, who once referred to the single, “erstwhile word” in these guys’ pockets as that “monosyllabic” or “quasi-monosyllabic, onomatopoetic past [or present] participle.” I can only imagine the pockets containing some central, amorphous thing having holes that accommodate a variety of attachments --- all for the purpose of communicating the commonly prefixed versions of this former word, together with even more imaginative derivatives, among such what used be called, when there were grammarians, a “prefixed in-fixed present participle.” But by this time in our history, even more elaborate things can be built up for view, sort of like tinker-toys. But here’s a problem: Long before either the Marine or the rapper can construct any thing resembling the Vitamin A molecule, his “audience” loses all sense of what the thing actually is at all.

    In the interest of clarity, therefore, the Marine and the rapper would do just as well if they toted around the thing for “prostate.”

    But can anyone in this imaginary time, who has never been able to spell or pronounce this thing when it WAS a word, be able to know what a prostate even looks like?

    And that brings us back by means of a COMMODIUS VICUS of recirculation back to the leading question, “Do Presbyterians know the difference between “prostate” and “prostrate”?


  52. Do Presbyterians know the difference between “prostrate” and “prostate”? Well, some do, and some don’t, I imagine, but I am so prostrate with laughter right now that that my prostate is hurting!

    And I HAVE heard people talk about “prostrate cancer”, Dane, although I cannot necessarily connect those individuals directly to Presbyterianism.

    With reference to this dreadful new malady, I can only state that I hope that researchers find a cure as soon as possible!

    “All Hail The Power Of Jesus’ Name” is indeed part of the Presbyterian hymnal, and it remains one of the most popular hymns during service. I happen to like that particular hymn very much—it must be one of my personal half-dozen favorites—and the phrase you quote is part of the first stanza, if I am not mistaken.

    I don’t know what to say about the subject of education. I have always believed that the educative process must be largely self-initiated and self-motivated. The process of a student merely going through the motions—in high school, college or graduate school—does not, in and of itself, signify that a student has experienced a successful and meaningful education.

    Nonetheless, the onus remains on the student to take advantage of available educational opportunities. Some students do so, and other students do not. Education requires discipline, commitment and effort. Education is not “handed down” from above.

    I have had peers, in college and in law school, tell me that they learned “absolutely nothing” at schools with excellent reputations. This always made me want to ask them, “And how could this possibly be so, unless there is something seriously wrong with you?”

    I am not in the field of education, but if there IS something wrong with our educational system, my instinct says that the first order of blame must reside with parents, who are not insisting that their children apply themselves to their work. Lax parental attitudes inevitably result in lax student attitudes. The first order of business for parents is to monitor the progress of their children’s education, and to take remedial action whenever it becomes necessary (I exempt, of course, those parents suffering from prostrate cancer).

    I don’t have a problem with most Americans knowing the English language, and no other. Americans lack the foreign language skills of Europeans because of the accident of geography. English is the language of the vast bulk of our continent (Quebec and Mexico being the only non-English-speaking outposts). Unlike the continent of Europe, North America is not a blend of twenty ancient principalities, all with their own native tongues, a situation that places a premium on acquiring proficiency in foreign languages. Many Americans, perhaps most, simply have no practical need to acquire a second language. And are the British—or Australians, or Canadians, or New Zealanders, for that matter—any more multi-lingual than we are?

    I notice the decline in English usage and English grammar mostly in newspapers and magazines—and on newscasts, where writing truly is of a shocking standard. However, The Wall Street Journal still observes the highest standards of usage and grammar—mostly—as does London’s The Financial Times. By contrast, The New York Times and The Times Of London seem to be on unmistakable downward spirals.

    I don’t know what to make of the current lack of primacy of English standards. Standards remain high in the field of law, and I believe—truly, genuinely, deeply—that law is one of the great bulwarks of civilization, most especially in the United States, where law is largely untied to the vagaries of the ballot box or governments temporarily in power. Consequently, rightly or wrongly, I can’t and don’t worry too much about English standards in other fields.

    I guess, fundamentally, that I don’t think the world is going to hell in a hand basket, although I do think that public life is coarsening—for which I blame the media, news and entertainment both, which is not living up to obligations of upholding public trust of the airwaves. The only practical remedy for this state of affairs, however, is license revocation, a very difficult remedy in a nation with our First Amendment.

    I also think the internet has fostered a coarsening of thought and behavior (and language), for which there is no possible remedy. I am dumbfounded—and often outright offended—by much of what I read on the internet, but I do not want to see internet content regulated, as to do so would interfere with free exchange of information and ideas.

    My father says that the advantages of our world of electronics and instant communication outweigh the disadvantages of wading through content of dubious value. I think I tend to agree with him on that issue—as long as the rate of incidence of prostrate cancer is not increased thereby, always a great concern for me.


  53. Your answer, Andrew, was a thing of pure elegance. I mean it!

    One correction, though. The "Projectors of Lagado" did not live in Laputa, but in the "Academy" on the earth. Sorry for that lapse. And sorry for those few typos.

    I am so happy that I was able to get a laugh out of you, Andrew. It's been said before of course, but laughter is fine medicine, isn't it? I thought the image of that hapless lawyer with his parachutes would be especially delightful (I couldn't think of a more outrageous but apt "think-sack" than that!).

    I myself am NOT an educator but a scientist. You would be shocked to read the technical papers and articles that come my way. Even in mainstream journals like "Scientific American," I have noticed the incipient trends which have caught your eye from the New York Times. I do not regularly read the Wall Street Journal, however. Maybe I should start. I'm very happy that there ARE still stalwart custonians of English, and, therefore, of lucid thought, in America.

    Of course, being able to think and write lucidly has nothing to do with a person's character, which can be lucidly corrupt, such as the case, I fear, with Gore Vidal. Several years ago I bought his collection of essays, "The United States," which included the 1971 review of August 1914. If I am not mistaken (again), for reasons of exposed character, I tossed the thing into the same dumpster into which I had cast Maw's "Odyssee."


  54. The most alarming thing about prostrate cancer is the fact that this is the only type of cancer which is a communicable disease.

    Enjoy your weekend, Andrew. Keep laughing! I'm looking forward to your next post.