About the arts and ideas - on my novels and literature, music, and art

A new book about Beethoven gathers together (and completely rewrites and supplements) my blog posts on Beethoven into a short introduction to the composer, Ways of Hearing Beethoven, which I hope to see published. My novel The Fall of the Berlin Wall, completed a year ago, is about musicians and particularly the intense, irrepressible daughter of the legendary pianist featured in my previous novel Hungry Generations, now fifteen years after those events. Five years ago, my 2015 novel, The Ash Tree, was published by West of West Books in conjunction with the April 24, 2015 centenary of the Armenian genocide; it's about an Armenian-American family and the sweep of their history in the twentieth century - particularly from the points of view of two women in the family.
There are three other novels of mine, which I would love to see published. One is Pathological States, about a physician's family in L.A. in 1962. Another is Hungry Generations, about a young composer's friendship in L.A. with the family of a virtuoso pianist, published on demand by iUniverse, which I think would be of value to a conventional publisher. A Burnt Offering - a fable (a full rewriting and expansion of my earlier Acts of Terror and Contrition - a nuclear fable) is my political novella about Israel and its reactions to the possibility of a war with Iran (with the fear that it will be a nuclear war).
[My blog posts are, of course, copyrighted.]

Sunday, September 1, 2019

Updated sequel to "Hungry Generations" - a new novel "The Fall of the Berlin Wall"

The Fall of the Berlin Wall is a sequel to my earlier novel, “Hungry Generations,” about characters in their late twenties in Los Angeles circa 1972; it featured a legendary German-Jewish/Russian émigré piano-virtuoso, the ‘sacred monster’ Alexander Petrov, his wife and two adult children, as well as the composer and their friend Jack Weinstein, as a young man. 

Now those characters are in their forties in Cleveland in November 1989, and the novel is about personal crises echoing the fall of the Berlin Wall and that upturning of the old order. Jack has become a successful composer and educator, and he is married to Sarah, the intense and irrepressible daughter of the late virtuoso.

The culture of classical music is represented here by Cleveland Orchestra musicians and memories of émigrés in flight from Nazi Europe, some of whom raised their American children in Los Angeles. The lives of the young are partly shaped by popular culture – its music, its preferred drugs, and the influence of punk. The culture of the family is also at risk from memories and betrayals, and members of the Weinstein family share the telling of this story. A surprising bonus is the magnificent music played and imagined here.

It is Thanksgiving week, and Jack does not understand why the couple’s marriage is collapsing. Visiting them for Thanksgiving is Sarah’s brother, Joseph Petrov, who is Jack’s closest friend; the hugely talented pianist son of Alexander is now caught in the middle between his sister and his brother-in-law. The week’s events are told by this trio of characters, and much of the novel revolves around Sarah – her Dostoyevskian intensity, her suffering, her stinging repartee, and the friendships she forms and betrays.

Friendship itself is a force – emotional, erotic, and imaginative – in the lives of these characters, with its potential success or failure for her and Jack, for the brothers-in-law, and for the group of friends surrounding the three characters. Again, the surprising bonus of the magnificent music played and imagined here includes Jack’s plans for a work responding to the fall of the Berlin Wall. The idea that long-standing barriers can collapse shapes the novel, its vision of politics, of music, and the past. 

This heartbreaking, tragicomic work brings to life each of the human beings here. The characters in this emotionally compelling, partly political literary work are reminiscent of Myshkin, Nastasya, and Rogozhin in Dostoyevsky’s “The Idiot” or, also, of those in a greatly shortened DeLillo’s “Underworld.” Integrated at the end of the short novel is a section titled “The Past” containing six “origin” stories that evoke explosively what has been at stake in the startling past of the characters.

Here’s the synopsis:
The Fall of the Berlin Wall – a novel
Daniel Melnick (216-378-9302; danielcmelnick@gmail.com)

“Maybe I’m proud myself, even if I’m shameless. You just called me perfection. A fine perfection! – if just for the sake of being willful I’ve trampled on a fortune and a brilliant man.”                  --Nastasiya in Dostoyevsky’s The Idiot

Two events in November 1989 mark the lives of the novel’s characters. One is the death of a woman discovered naked in the snow outside the Weinstein house, during a massive storm buffeting Cleveland on Thanksgiving. The other event is the fall of the Berlin Wall, taking place two weeks earlier – an upturning of the old order that corresponds to these characters’ desire to change their lives.

Jack Weinstein wants to save his marriage to Sarah, the intense, unpredictable daughter of the late legendary German-Jewish classical pianist and ‘sacred monster’ Alexander Petrov. Unaware of what is causing the collapse of the marriage, he tries to confront her dissatisfaction and shifting allegiances, and much of the action revolves around her Dostoyevskian intensity, her repartee, and the friendships she forms and betrays. Sarah and Jack are in their forties and have a sixteen-year-old daughter, Sue, absorbed by her own efforts to deal with boys and drugs.

Joseph, Sarah’s brother, is visiting this Thanksgiving week. He is gay, and his friendship with his straight brother-in-law unfolds dramatically here. Joseph finds himself in the middle of the couple’s conflicts. The week’s events are told by the trio of family members. Both Joseph and Jack are musicians. Joseph Petrov is, like his late father, a piano virtuoso, and Jack is a classical composer and music professor; one of his compositions has just been nominated for a Grammy in contemporary classical music.

The Weinsteins’ friends have their own turbulence. And friendship – both healing and broken – becomes an issue in all their lives. Each of these characters has a piece of the solution to the troubles in the family’s lives, to their joy and grief, to their betrayals, and to a death – possibly a murder – that takes place in their midst.  The Blacks, who live around the corner, are about to declare bankruptcy, for Jacob has been denied tenure and become a ‘freeway professor,’ teaching one class here, another there across town. There are their mutual friends, the Sinclairs, and especially Robert Sinclair becomes the target of Jacob’s bitterness about his life.

One of the Weinsteins’ best friends is an artist and a bohemian of sorts, Tom Mubar, who is divorced and shares custody of his seventeen-year-old son, Paul. Sarah has an affair, and when it collapses, she is drawn to Tom, who understands – she believes – what a disaster her life has become, but she painfully discovers that he does not reciprocate her feelings and is himself trying to endure his own shocks and dangers.

Everything comes to a head when the Weinsteins celebrate Thanksgiving with Joseph and their friends. At dinner, confrontations erupt from the tensions brewing all week, and Sarah, already depressed and disoriented, plummets into potentially suicidal despair.
 “The Fall of the Berlin Wall” is a tragicomic portrait of the confusions and heartbreaking disasters in love and friendship, and it also pictures what may endure our collisions – whether it be love, art and music, or simply the welter of conflicting passions in youth and middle age. Six stories presenting the startling past of the characters are integrated into the end of the novel.
(The work is about 51,000 words.)

Table of Contents:
           Thanksgiving Week
Prologue: Rachel and Jacob Black – Friday, November 24, 1989
Chapter 1: Joseph – Sunday afternoon, November 19, 1989
Chapter 2: Sarah – Sunday evening at the Weinstein party
Chapter 3: Jack – Monday morning, November 20, 1989
Chapter 4: Joseph – Monday evening at the Ramadanoff party
Chapter 5: Jack – Tuesday afternoon, November 21, 1989
Chapter 6: Sarah – Tuesday evening at Tom Mubar’s party
Chapter 7: Joseph – Wednesday afternoon, November 22, 1989
Chapter 8: Jack – Wednesday evening at Julius and Rose Weinstein’s party
Chapter 9: Joseph – Thanksgiving, Thursday, November 23, 1989
Chapter 10: Sarah – Thursday night at the Weinsteins
Chapter 11: Jack – Friday morning, November 24, 1989
Chapter 12: Sue – Saturday, Christmas Day 1989 in Berlin
The Past - Before the Fall
Chapter 13: Paul’s Story – The Fall of the Berlin Wall – November 9, 1989
Chapter 14 Tom’s Story – Triptych – 1950-1980
Chapter 15: Karen’s Story – Odalisque – September 1983
Chapter 16: Helen’s Story – Contrapuntal Piece – October 1982
Chapter 17: Jacob’s Story – Your Name Is Hiroshima – November 1984
Chapter 18: Julius’s Story – Einstein’s Sorrow – June 1980

Sunday, June 23, 2019

New book from Mark Arax - "The Dreamt Land - Chasing Water and Dust Across California

Knopf has published a brilliant book by Mark Arax, our nephew, titled "The Dreamt Land - Chasing Water and Dust Across California." As I wrote in a review, it's a passionate book with the epic sweep of a classic, at the level of other masterpieces about California like Joan Didion's workl I've followed Mark's work from the beginning, and - completely independent of his help with my book "The Ash Tree" about Armenian-Americans in the aftermath of the 1915 Genocide - I believe that he has grown tremendously from book to book:
"The Dreamt Land" is a wonderfully compelling book about water in the life of a state and above all about California itself - "the dreamt land." It has the passionate engagement and the great epic sweep of a classic. The personal stories, the vivid characters and encounters, and the interlinked portrayals of place and history unfold beautifully. And the book's voice combines a dark awareness of disaster, humiliations, and stark truths, with an affirming urgency that truly gives life to the work. The truth is the book is at the highest level, the sort of brilliant work that deserves a Pulitzer or National Book Award. 
There's an Amazon link in the side column.

81iFxuEs+pL.jpg (1730×2560)

Tuesday, March 26, 2019

Literature and Music - Modernism

Marcel Proust (1871-1922), In Search of Lost Time, from “Swann’s Way” (1913) excerpt.

Gustav Mahler:

Mahler, Das Lied von der Erde (1909) – Weng Wei – Der Abschied:
English Translation: …I stand here and wait for my friend; I wait to bid him a last farewell. I yearn, my friend, at your side to enjoy the beauty of this evening. Where are you? You leave me long alone! I walk up and down with my lute on paths swelling with soft grass. O beauty! O eternal loving-and-life-bedrunken world! He dismounted and handed him the drink of Farewells. He asked him where he would go and why must it be. He spoke, his voice was quiet. Ah my friend, Fortune was not kind to me in this world! Where do I go? I go, I wander in the mountains. I seek peace for my lonely heart. I wander homeward, to my abode! I'll never wander far. Still is my heart, awaiting its hour. The dear earth everywhere blossoms in spring and grows green anew! Everywhere and forever blue is the horizon! Forever ... Forever ...
Walter and Ferrier (51 and 56): https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=PogZpvxq6Cg

Ranier Maria Rilke (1875-1926): texts of poems "Music" and Sonnet to Orpheus I, 3

Arnold Schoenberg, texts for quartet (George's Transcendence) and for the ending of Moses and Aaron.

String Quartet No. 2, opus 10, 4th move. (1908), Kolisch, Gilbert
Moses and Aaron - 1938, Freiberg Orch. and Grundheber (2:10)

Thomas Mann (1875-1955), Doctor Faustus (1947), near the end, chapter 47, on Lamentations of Dr. Faustus; then, earlier texts of Kretchman on op. 111, and Adrian’s thoughts after Kretschmar, culture, and barbarism.

Richard Strauss (1864-1949)

“Beim Schlafengehen” (1948) – Hermann Hesse:
GOING TO SLEEP Now that day has tired me, my spirits long for starry night kindly to enfold them, like a tired child. Hands, leave all your doing; brow, forget all your thoughts. Now all my senses want to sink themselves in slumber. And the soul unwatched, would soar in free flight, till in the magic circle of night it lives deeply and a thousand-fold.     (2:25):
Kiri Te Kahana, Davis, LSO: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=SbU66ttUcqo

Brecht and Weill

The Three-penny Opera (1928) Text of Mack song and ending...

Excerpts from Pabst film – (2:02, 15:30, 18:58, 22:40-26:40):

Concluding remarks
W. B. Yeats (1865-1939) on Pater's aesthetic:
“It taught us to walk upon a rope, tightly stretched through serene air, and we were left to keep our feet upon a swaying rope in a storm.”

--from “Sailing to Byzantium”

An aged man is but a paltry thing,
A tattered coat upon a stick, unless
Soul clap its hands and sing, and louder sing
For every tatter in its mortal dress.

To illustrate what Mann's Kretchmar was referring to:
Beethoven’s Piano Sonata No. 32 in c minor, opus 111, second movement variations:
Claudio Arrau (9, 13:43, 15:29, 17:37, 18:14, 20:47)


Literature and Music talks - session 5 - Late Romanticism and Early Modern

Flaubert and Baudelaire

Flaubert (1821-1880), Madame Bovary (1857) – from Part Two, Chapter 8: text...
What Emma hears in Pt. Two, Ch. 15: Donizetti’s “Lucia di Lammermore” Act 1 Finale Ah! Verrano a te sull'aure”:
LUCIA On the breeze
will come to you my ardent sighs…
When you think of me
living on tears and grief,
then shed a bitter tear
on this ring, ah, on this ring, etc.
ah, on this ring, etc.
EDGARDO and LUCIA On the breeze will come to you, etc. EDGARDO Remember, Heaven has joined us!
EDGARDO and LUCIA Farewell!     
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xToxhv_Y9nc  Sutherland, Pavarotti.
Verlaine, Mallarmé (by Manet), Debussy and Stravinsky: 
Text for Debussy’s Prelude to the Afternoon of a Faun (0-3:00) – and recreation of Diagalev/Nijinsky ballet:
Debussy – from his libretto based on Maeterlinck’s play Pélleas et Mélisande:
Mélisande: [I love you.] Forever. Ever since I first saw you.
Pelléas: It is as if your voice had come over the sea in the spring! I have never heard it until today. It’s as though it had rained on my heart. You say those words so openly, like an angel answering questions. I can scarcely believe it, Mélisande. Why should you love me? Why do you love me? Is it true what you say? Were you making it up? Were you lying to me just to make me feel happy?
Mélisande: No, I never tell lies. I only lie to your brother.
Pelléas: Oh, the way you say that! Your voice, your voice! It is as fresh and as clear as water! It is like pure spring water on my lips. It is like pure spring water on my hands. Give me your hands, let me take your hands. Oh, your hands are so tiny! I never knew you were so beautiful. I had never set eyes on anything as beautiful before. I could not rest, I kept searching everywhere in the house, I kept searching everywhere in the country, but never found the beauty I sought. And now at last I have found you. I have found you. I don’t believe there is anywhere on earth a woman more beautiful. Where are you? I don’t hear your breathing any more.
Debussy, Pelleas and Mellisande – 1902 (7:30 to 9)
Mallarmé – from “Literature and Music” – Oxford speech, 1894: > text...
Pater (1839-1894) – from “Giorgione” (1877) in Studies in the Renaissance,  Conclusion to Studies in the Renaissance (cancelled in 2nd ed., then restored in 3rd): texts...
Debussy, La Mer – 1905 (Boston, Munch) 16:00 https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=FOCucJw7iT8
Stravinsky, The Rite of Spring – 1913 – Beginning (Orch. de Paris, Boulez) https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XrOUYtDpKCc
Ending (L.A.Phil, Salonen) https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=CSyOfJRmbLY  -From“Poetics of Music” ’38: text...
Image of Debussy and Stravinsky.

Friday, March 1, 2019

Literature and Music - session 4 - Goethe, Liszt, Wagner, Nietzsche, Mahler

Goethe (1749-1832) Faust, Part One (1808) ‘in Faust’s Study i’ (Oskar Werner) [4:00]
excerpts from Faust, including Walpurgisnacht:
 Franz Liszt (1811-1886)

Walpurgisnacht, continued: Mephisto Waltz No. 1 – 1859  [Van Cliburn, pianist):

Richard Wagner (1813-1883)
Wagner, Tristan and Isolde, Prelude – the Tristan chord (Solti and Vienna):
Liebestode, end of Act 3, Nina Stemme: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=j8enypX74hU

Friedrich Nietzsche (1844-1900)
In the 1880s, Nietzsche produced a devastating critique of Richard Wagner, announced his rupture with the German artist, who had influenced him, and accused him of embracing the repellant German Volkish (folk nationalist) movement and Antisemitism. The operas are criticized as manipulative, seducing the audience and making them passive.  Wagner is seen as less than Bizet and, now, philosophically insignificant, and he has become a symptom of the broader "disease" affecting Europe: nihilism.
excerpt from The Twilight of the Idols:
excerpt from The Birth of Tragedy (1872):
also, Zarathustra's Midnight Song

Gustave Mahler (1860-1911) Symphony no. 3, 4th move, Zarathustra’s midnight song (Meier):

Symphony No. 1, 3rd movement: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=U5A5tFyXQio

Literature and Music - session three - Schubert and Romantic poems

See the previous post on Literature, Music, and Romanticism.
Coleridge (1772-1834): text of "Kubla Khan" and "The Eolian Harp"
Keats (1795-1821): text of "Ode to a Nightingale"

 Schubert (1797-1828) 

Schubert – Goethe’s Der Erlkönig D328 (The Erlking, 1815) Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau (baritone), Gerald Moore (piano) 

Goethe’s Gretchen am Spinnrade D. 118 (Grechen at the spinning-wheel, 1814) - Rika Shiratsuchi, Mezzo-soprano; Malcolm Martineau, Piano

ller’s Der Lindenbaum D. 911 (from Winterreise – The Linden-tree, 1827) –  Fischer-Dieskau and Alfred Brendel (Piano)

ller’s Die Leiermann D. 911 (from Winterreise – The Organ-grinder/The Hurdy-Gurdy Man, 1827) – Fischer-Dieskau and Brendel

Robert Schumann (1810-1856) 


Dichterliebe op 48 no 10 (1840)Hör' ich das Liedchen klingen (1823) - Fritz Wunderlich (tenor), Hubert Geisen (pianist)

Heinrich Heine (1797-1856): 
Hör ich das Liedchen klingen,
Das einst die Liebste sang,
So will mir die Brust zerspringen
Vor wildem Schmerzensdrang.
Es treibt mich ein dunkles Sehnen
Hinauf zur Waldeshöh,
Dort löst sich auf in Tränen
Mein übergroßes Weh.
I hear the little song sounding
that my beloved once sang,
and my heart wants to shatter
from the savage pain's pressure.
I am driven by a dark longing
up to the wooded heights;
there is dissolved in tears
my supremely great pain.

Chopin (1810-1843) 
Fantasy on Polish Airs [Folk dance forms], op. 13 (1829) – performed by Kun Woo Paik, pianist:
Mazurka, Op. 17: No. 4 in A Minor (1831) [Horowitz, pianist]