Sunday, June 27, 2010

The Arkadian Mountains

On the morning of March 15, we drove through The Arkadian Mountains as we made our way from Nauplia to Olympia.

In the heart of The Peloponnese, The Arkadian Mountains provide the most beautiful interior landscapes to be found in Greece. Mountains, high peaks, forests and flourishing vegetation conjoin with ancient towns and villages settled upon hilltops and nestled in valleys, allowing visitors to experience Greece much as it was two and three thousand years ago. The region has been virtually unchanged since Antiquity.

The Arkadians are believed to be the oldest inhabitants of The Peloponnese. Arkadian civilization prospered until the region was subjugated by Rome in 146 B.C., after which Arkadia fell into decline, a decline from which the region has never recovered.

Friday, June 25, 2010


If I speak of Vienna, it must be in the past tense, as a man speaks of a woman he has loved and who is dead.

Erich Von Stroheim

The Greater The Decay, The Grander The Facade

The Austrian Parliament, on Vienna’s Ringstrasse, was designed by architect Theophil Hansen and was constructed between 1874 and 1884.

Hansen also designed Vienna's Musikverein as well as Vienna's Museum Of Military History, which we visited last summer and about which Joshua wrote in September.

I have always believed that the Austrian Parliament building is one of the great disasters of 19th-Century Greek Revival architecture. (Hansen's Museum Of Military History, admittedly in a vastly-different architectural style, is also, in my view, a very, very bad building.)

The building is fundamentally unimaginative, the sternest of all criticisms for a major architectural project. It is far too large for its setting, ignobly proportioned, overdressed and over-adorned, and lacking grace. The gargantuan and ostentatious carriageway itself ruins the structure. The Parliament is the biggest eyesore on the Ringstrasse.

The Austrian Parliament is almost impressive the first five seconds the viewer encounters the building, but the viewer quickly comes to realize that the building single-handedly ruins an entire large swath of the Ringstrasse.

When Josh’s family first saw the building last August 5, the looks on their faces were priceless: smiles quickly turned to grimaces, and Josh’s mother said, “This must be Disney’s idea of a Parliament building.”

Half of the Parliament building was totally destroyed during World War II, a great public service on the part of American bomber squadrons.

Alas, the post-war Austrian government decided to reconstruct the building, and the Parliament building was rebuilt and restored between 1945 and 1956. Interior artworks are still being restored to this very day.

Below is an old postcard of the Austrian Parliament from 1900.

In the late stages of the Austro-Hungarian Empire, a rule of thumb arose: the more the Empire decayed, the grander must be the facades of the buildings.

Wednesday, June 23, 2010


Joshua and I are not having an eventful summer, but we did not expect to have one.

I have been very busy at work, bringing work home most nights, and Josh has been working in a Summer Associate job, which he mostly likes.

My boss has been very ill of late, suffering through a series of stressful health issues. He has been out of the office a great deal, which contributes to my heavy workload, and everyone at the office and within his family has been very worried about him.

On weekends, Josh and I have been handling many routine tasks for my boss and his wife, such as maintaining the lawn and cars, helping out with food shopping, housecleaning and laundry, and assuming responsibility for emergencies, such as a recent last-minute purchase of a new refrigerator, which was urgently required.

Everything has been too much for my boss’s wife to handle on her own, and Josh and I have been happy to be able to lend assistance. My boss and his wife have been very good to Josh and me since we arrived in Boston, and we are pleased to return their many favors. My boss and his wife have children, but the children are scattered throughout the country and cannot travel to Boston as often as they would like in order to keep tabs on their parents.

Josh and I will spend Independence Day Weekend in Oklahoma, visiting Josh’s family. Josh’s brother and sister are home for the summer. Josh’s brother is working as an assistant in a veterinarian’s office and Josh’s sister is working as a receptionist/file clerk at a small law firm. They say they are enjoying their summer jobs.

Everyone in my family will be at the lake house from July 3 until July 11, enjoying the traditional week at the lake. I regret that Josh and I will miss the annual week at the lake this year, but there is nothing we can do about the situation.

My niece and nephew, whom Josh and I have not seen since the Christmas holidays, are growing and thriving. According to my mother, my niece can walk like a pro now, and has reached the point at which she freely walks around and explores things, frequently trying to open cabinet doors and cabinet drawers in order to see what’s inside and satisfy her curiosity. My nephew occupies himself with his indoor games and his outdoor games, whether he is at his own home or at my parents’ house, absorbing information like a sponge no matter what the activity. He will not turn five years old for another four months, yet he already knows the alphabet and numbers, and he has moved far beyond puzzle games suitable for most four-year-olds. My brother and my sister-in-law intend to begin sending him to Sunday School in September.

As he has for the last several months, my middle brother travels to Omaha once a month or so to visit his new girlfriend and her parents. No one in my family has met her yet—but no one says anything or asks anything. We are simply waiting for him to inform us when the time is right for us to meet her, that being the genuine signal that he is indeed serious about her.

My father is thinking about retiring in another year or so. He has talked about retiring, on and off, for the last several years, but for the first time I believe he is now serious. My mother very quietly jokes that the summer of 2011 may be filled to the brim with activity: the return of Josh and me from Boston; a possible retirement in the family; a possible wedding in the family; and the final summer before my nephew begins kindergarten.

The dog is happy with his summer. He has already enjoyed a few weekends at the lake this year, and he gets to play with my niece and nephew four or five times a week. That, along with plenty of good food and plenty of naptime, is more than enough to keep him content.

Saturday, June 12, 2010

Painting Is Not Sculpture

It took me 40 years to find out that painting is not sculpture.

Paul Cezanne

Late And Great Caravaggio

One of a handful of Caravaggio paintings in the United States, the late and great “The Crucifixion Of Saint Andrew” is owned by the Cleveland Museum Of Art, which Joshua and I visited over Memorial Day Weekend.

Michelangelo Merisi (“Caravaggio”) (1571-1610)
The Crucifixion Of Saint Andrew
Cleveland Museum Of Art

Oil On Canvas
81 1/4 Inches By 61 1/4 Inches

“The Crucifixion Of Saint Andrew” is a bewitching work of art. Josh and I spent two consecutive days at the Cleveland Museum Of Art, remaining at the museum from open to close on both days, and we spent twenty minutes before this great and fascinating painting during both visits.

Sunday, June 06, 2010

A Great Endeavor

You will bring about the destruction of the German war machine, the elimination of Nazi tyranny over the oppressed peoples of Europe, and security for ourselves in a free world.

Your task will not be an easy one. Your enemy is well-trained, well-equipped, and battle-hardened. He will fight savagely.

The free men of the world are marching together to victory. I have full confidence in your courage, devotion to duty, and skill in battle. We will accept nothing less than full victory. Good luck, and let us all beseech the blessings of Almighty God upon this great and noble undertaking.

Dwight David Eisenhower, issuing The D-Day Order on June 6, 1944



I have also to announce to the House that during the night and the early hours of this morning the first of the series of landings in force upon the European Continent has taken place. In this case the liberating assault fell upon the coast of France. An immense armada of upwards of 4,000 ships, together with several thousand smaller craft, crossed the Channel. Massed airborne landings have been successfully effected behind the enemy lines, and landings on the beaches are proceeding at various points at the present time. The fire of the shore batteries has been largely quelled. The obstacles that were constructed in the sea have not proved so difficult as was apprehended. The Anglo-American Allies are sustained by about 11,000 firstline aircraft, which can be drawn upon as may be needed for the purposes of the battle. I cannot, of course, commit myself to any particular details. Reports are coming in in rapid succession. So far the Commanders who are engaged report that everything is proceeding according to plan.

And what a plan! This vast operation is undoubtedly the most complicated and difficult that has ever taken place. It involves tides, wind, waves, visibility, both from the air and the sea standpoint, and the combined employment of land, air and sea forces in the highest degree of intimacy and in contact with conditions which could not and cannot be fully foreseen.

There are already hopes that actual tactical surprise has been attained, and we hope to furnish the enemy with a succession of surprises during the course of the fighting. The battle that has now begun will grow constantly in scale and in intensity for many weeks to come, and I shall not attempt to speculate upon its course.

Winston Churchill’s address to The House Of Commons on June 6, 1944

Saturday, June 05, 2010


Salzburg, which we visited on August 3 and 4 of last year.

Thursday, June 03, 2010

Bruckner In Cleveland

There are four extant versions of Bruckner’s Symphony No. 8.

The earliest version—but the one published last—was the composer’s 1887 version (often referred to as the “original” version). Bruckner’s 1887 score was known only by a handful of Bruckner scholars until 1972, when Leopold Nowak published his edition of the 1887 score. The Nowak edition of the 1887 score has never made much headway with performers or audiences. Indeed, no Bruckner conductor of note had taken up the 1887 Nowak edition until Franz Welser-Most added it to his repertory in recent years.

[A reworking of the 1887 Adagio was composed in 1888. It was not published, and it is very, very seldom performed, even as a curiosity or as a stand-alone composition (although it has been recorded).]

The second version of the Bruckner Eighth—but the one published third—was the composer’s first revision, completed in 1890. Bruckner altered the conclusion of the first movement, changed tonalities in parts of the Adagio, altered orchestration (primarily by going from double to triple winds), and imposed numerous cuts upon the score. Nowak published his edition of the 1890 score in 1955. The Nowak edition of the 1890 score, upon release, caused an immediate sensation. The edition was picked up at once by numerous Bruckner conductors (most prominent of which was Eugen Jochum) and was to become one of two versions of the Eighth accepted as authoritative and heard with some frequency.

The third version of the Symphony No. 8—but the one published first—represented the composer’s final thoughts on the score. Completed (and published) in 1892, the third version imposed new and additional cuts upon the 1890 score. The 1892 version was the only version of the Symphony No. 8 to be performed during the composer’s lifetime—as well as the only version to be heard for the next 47 years. Conductors whose careers were in full swing before 1939—Wilhelm Furtwangler, Hans Knappertsbusch and Bruno Walter, among others—learned the 1892 version of the score and continued to perform it with some frequency until their deaths. The 1892 score, considered superseded after 1939, has disappeared from today’s concert halls. According to The Bruckner Society, the 1892 score was last heard in 1971, when an aging William Steinberg conducted it with the Boston Symphony.

The fourth and final version of the Eighth—but the one published second—appeared in 1939. In that year, Robert Haas published an edition that combined the 1887 and 1890 versions of the score, always retaining the triple winds from the 1890 version. The most important element of Haas’s work was the restoration of cuts the composer had made in 1890 and 1892. Haas believed—rightly, in my opinion—that the cuts destroyed the structural perfection of the work. The Haas 1939 edition, too, caused an immediate sensation, virtually replacing the composer-sanctioned 1892 edition overnight. An entire generation of then-young conductors eagerly took up the Haas edition—most conspicuously, Herbert Von Karajan—and the Haas edition quickly became standard, holding sway until 1955. It was only with publication of the first Nowak edition that many (but not all) scholars began to note a preference for the 1955 Nowak. The Haas edition nevertheless continues to attract numerous performers and performances, and this is so despite the fact that Haas’s work has been criticized in some quarters for its “creative” solutions in melding together the best of the 1887 and 1890 versions, both of which were sanctioned by the composer. Among other things, Haas has been criticized for composing eight bars of music that do not appear in any of Bruckner’s completed versions (although Haas always noted that the eight bars in question appeared in Bruckner’s sketches while the score was undergoing one of its many transformations).

I have always favored the Haas edition of the Eighth. It preserves more of Bruckner’s original 1887 thoughts than any other version, while retaining the more grandiloquent orchestration of the 1890 revision. It is a miraculous melding of the two surviving autograph scores, and provides a more satisfying—and more glorious—listening experience than either the pure 1887 score or the pure 1890 score (the 1892 score has entirely dropped from view, and has no living advocates, either among scholars or performers). Active conductors who perform the “corrupt” Haas edition in preference to either of the Nowak editions include Daniel Barenboim, Herbert Blomstedt, Pierre Boulez, Christoph Dohnanyi, Bernard Haitink and Christian Thielemann.

Last weekend, while we were in Cleveland, Joshua and I heard Welser-Most lead the Cleveland Orchestra in Bruckner’s Symphony No. 8—and Welser-Most conducted the 1887 version published by Nowak in 1972. I believe it was the first time I had heard the Nowak edition of the 1887 version in concert.

Hearing the 1887 version live, I found it immediately apparent that the 1887 version was less upholstered than the Haas reworking, no doubt the result of leaner orchestration. Otherwise, I thought the 1887 version preserved Bruckner’s original structure and was much superior to the 1890 reworking, which I have never found to be convincing, even in the hands of a Jochum or a Riccardo Chailly, another distinguished Bruckner conductor that prefers the Nowak edition of the 1890 version. However, the Haas still strikes me as the preferred version of this most noble of all symphonic works.

The Cleveland Orchestra performance of Bruckner’s Symphony No. 8, alone, made our trip to Cleveland worthwhile.

The Cleveland Orchestra remains the glory of the world. Its level of ensemble is unmatched by any other orchestra. Its transparency of sound is phenomenal. The orchestra’s intonation is so pure, and the orchestral balance so perfect, that Cleveland makes the Berlin Philharmonic and the Concertgebouw Orchestra sound pitch-challenged and in need of balance adjustment. Merely to hear the subtlety of the Cleveland Orchestra’s voicings is one of the greatest pleasures to be had anywhere.

I was, once again, in awe of this most exalted of ensembles.

The performance of Bruckner’s Eighth was at the highest possible level. It was, I believe, a near-great performance.

The first movement did not get off to a particularly promising start, but such did not surprise me. The first movement of the Eighth is the least successful and least interesting movement of the symphony. Many, perhaps most, Bruckner scholars contend that the first movement of the Eighth is the greatest of all Bruckner first movements, but I have never accepted such claim. The first movement is, for me, the one movement of the symphony that is not inspired, certainly in comparison to the three sublime movements that follow. The first movement of the Symphony No. 8 is, for me, just another Bruckner first movement, complete with The Bruckner Rhythm that I have always found to be an irritating tic. I admire the movement’s complexity, I admire how the movement is built, I admire the many subtle intricacies the composer uses as he plays with sonata form in his very personal and very unique way—yet the first movement does not, for me, provide the many rewards on offer in the following three movements. The movement, in my view, is no better than the first movement of the composer’s Symphony No. 5.

I did not think that Welser-Most did anything special with the first movement—but at least he kept things moving, which probably was his primary intent.

In this symphony, things begin to get interesting in the second movement, the Scherzo, intended to be placed after the Adagio in the composer’s first thoughts. From the opening bars, I am invariably swept away by what I believe to be Bruckner’s greatest Scherzo movement—and I generally remain in the Symphony’s grip until the conclusion of the final movement.

In Cleveland, I thought Welser-Most did not bring enough character or personality (or menace, for that matter) to this great movement. I wanted more power, more sweep, more drama than Welser-Most supplied—yet I wondered, throughout the movement, whether Welser-Most was holding power in check in preparation for a resplendent conclusion in the final movement. I also wondered whether I simply missed the more opulent orchestration of the Haas edition.

The Adagio, for me, contains Bruckner’s greatest writing. Twenty-five minutes of sheer genius, the Adagio is one of the most miraculous statements in all of Western music. The movement is so inspired, and so profound, that I have never encountered a satisfactory analysis of it.

After two slightly disappointing movements, Welser-Most came into his own in the great Adagio, giving as fine an account as any living conductor might muster. His music-making was controlled but not clinical. There was spirituality, but no fake emotion. The Adagio had the necessary solemnity and gravitas, but Welser-Most nowise attempted to make a meal of it.

The final movement of the Bruckner Eighth is, for me, thrilling. It is one of the great concluding movements in the symphonic literature, a genuinely epic culmination, containing the widest possible range of emotion and the most skillful handling of complex thematic manipulation.

Welser-Most gave a commanding account of the final movement. If anything, I thought he was better in the final movement than in the great Adagio. The final movement can fall apart in lesser hands, yet Welser-Most maintained focus and concentration (and forward momentum) without imposing rigidity upon the music. He never lost control for a moment, in itself a great achievement, and yet the music blossomed as it must.

Josh and I witnessed last weekend the kind of performance we all-too-seldom hear: a special performance by a special orchestra under a special conductor. Last weekend’s concert joins a couple of Chailly Leipzig Gewandhaus concerts—one in London and one in Boston—as the finest evenings in the concert hall Josh and I have experienced in the last four years.

We were fortunate to be able to spend an evening in Severance Hall.

And Cleveland is a very lucky town.