My newly completed novel is The Fall of the Berlin Wall, about what happened to characters from my Hungry Generations fifteen years later; it's about musicians and particularly the intense, irrepressible daughter of the legendary pianist at the center of the previous novel. 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are three other novels of mine, One is Pathological States, about a physician's family in L.A. in 1962, which is as yet unpublished. 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. A Burnt Offering - a fable (a 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).
From a reader's review:
"At times the reader races ahead to find out the fate of the cast of characters and the fate of nations. At others, the reader is stopped mid-page to consider the paradoxes of the nuclear world and the world of realpolitik. This is an important, timely book that deserves a wide audience."
For a fuller description of them, look for the relevant blog posts below or click on one of the links. KINDLE editions of these novels are also available.

Thursday, February 14, 2019

Literature and Music - session two - Mozart and Beethoven

Rise of the Enlightenment after the Baroque: shared rule of the Bourgeoisie and the Aristocracy. For example, in England, Parliament (including the class of industrialists, business owners, professionals) and Monarchy.

What language can help to unify and streamline communication among these contending parties? The Classical era, partly homophonic music: melodies now within simpler harmonic structures.

Invention of Sonata form: themes in tonic & dominant, midpoint development, recapitulation. Invention of the new Opera as drama opening up conflict between individuals and society.

The new Classical Forms emphasize cohesion and integration of the whole as a communality: coherent, harmoniously ordered, testing and connecting the individual’s relationship to society.

Music – though supported by both the aristocratic court and the owning class – is by its wordless nature freed from the prosaic & didactic, from explicit aristocratic or bourgeois social representation.

Mozart (1756-1791)– Don Giovanni (c 1789)

Act 1/15 ‘Fin ch'han dal vino’ (Hvorostovski)



Mozart’s gift is to cast a light of harmonious and beneficent acceptance on all he composes, no matter how dark or disordered.


Don Juan as a product of the Renaissance:

Tirso da Molina, El Burlador de Sevilla -the trickster of Seville and the stone statue

-a 1630 quasi-tragedy about the exploits & punishment of a Renaissance libertine.

Moliere’s play of Don Juan (1665) exposed the hypocrisy of the aristocracy.

Don Juan became the subject of a 1680 novel about a picaresque rogue.

Mozart’s librettist Da Ponte drew on many sources for his tragi-comic drama: collision between the vulnerable but finally triumphant “normal” world of couples, family, both aristocratic and middle-class mores about women and money

versus the figure of the unique individual sensibility, which can model and define the emotions and spirits of the community, investing them with new power and energy, inviting others to enter a new life, and yet which like Don Quixote can seem foolish and grotesque: this is the figure of the Romantic Genius, an intense force of energy and imagination, beyond good and evil, yet capable of inspiring.


Act 1, #10 Renee Fleming as Donna Anna, prelude to “Or sai chi l’onore”:

At 2:10 – “Silently he approached me and tried to embrace me. I tried to free myself but he seized me all the harder. I screamed, but no one came! With one hand he tried to quiet me, and with the other he seized me so hard that I already thought myself lost….Finally my despair, my horror of the deed so strengthened me that by dint of twisting, turning and bending I freed myself of him.”



Act 2/2 ‘Ah taci, ingiusto core’ – Donna Elvira (Carlos Alvarez, Anna Antonacci)

Act 2/14Finale: Commendatore (Samuel Ramey, Kurt Moll)

Ending of complete opera (Furtwanger, Salzburg, 1953) at 2:50:00

Requiem – (Peter Schreier - Staatskapelle Dresden)
           “Dies Irae”

Beethoven  (1770-1827) –

Music focused on developing the basic elements of the classical vocabulary - and also focused on projecting the power of the individual - in large upwelling passages displaying emotional force and zeroing in on play with elemental motifs.

Appassionata sonata – Barenboim:

Last sonata op. 111 – Trifonov:

Symphony No. 9, finale (1824) – [text 1785: Ode to Joy, by Friedrich Schiller (1759-1805)]
Anja Harteros, Waltraud Meier, Peter Seiffert, René Pape, National Youth Choir of Great Britain, West-Eastern Divan Orchestra, Daniel Barenboim (Royal Albert Hall, July 2012) [7:30-12:00]


Saturday, February 9, 2019

Literature and Music - Renaissance and Baroque - first of a series of essays

On Literature and Music – an essay about Renaissance and Baroque music
Why did the art of music experience an unprecedented flowering in the eighteenth century and the first half of the nineteenth in Europe, a musical renaissance which produced the music of Bach, Mozart, and Beethoven? Erich Heller argues that artistic expressions of spirituality had previously been shaped by and based on religion, and as a result of the collapse of the Medieval and early Renaissance religious order, of its Church-sanctioned monarchical society, the spiritual power and potential of the other arts diminished. Heller writes that music is the only art which surpassed earlier achievements. Formed from pure sound rather than paint, marble, word or brick, this most ephemeral, immaterial art became the primary mode to convey and embody spiritual experience. Beginning in the eighteenth century Enlightenment – the Age of Reason, science, material progress, and reform – music became the last bastion of spirituality and the primary means to achieve a “speechless triumph of the spirit.”
Was music a marvelous imaginative response to the materiality and objectivity of the Age of Reason, or did it help actively support the “untuning” of the previous order in culture and society? Plato offers, as always, an answer. In The Republic, he opposes the introduction of new music, which is to be “shunned as imperiling the whole state.” Music “insinuates itself” into more and more fundamental parts of society and “ends by overturning everything.” The music of the 1960s in the United States seems to testify to the idea that music is potentially destabilizing, that music can be dangerous and require regulation. Yet, in Plato’s view, training in music is also capable of “imparting grace, and making the soul of him who is rightly educated graceful.” Rather than a threat, music can become a sublime imaginative creation – “the fairest of sights” – by achieving the “harmonious union” of “nobility of soul” and “beauty of form.” No wonder the Pythian Games in Classical Greece were both athletic and musical competitions.
The art form that Plato most fully censures is Classical Tragedy. The tragic vision is faulted for confronting us with untamed manifestations of feeling and irrational motive, without sufficiently containing their turbulence and violence. It admits disordered struggle and striving onto the stage, into society. Tragedy, of course, also brings music onto the stage in the role of the sung Chorus, which literally voices the community’s response to tragedy’s display of the irrational. Yet a sublimation of the irrational is achieved by tragic form in the plays of Sophocles and Euripides, and their transformation of grief and the irrational creates the profoundest form of sublimity, for they take up and give form to the wildest, most threatening parts of human existence. Despite itself, Plato’s view of tragedy helps us to identify music’s wondrous potential, its capacity not only “to tame the savage beast” but to give a noble, beautiful, and sublime form to the disordered life of feeling and the striving of the spirit.
I’ll turn now to the background of early seventeenth-century Renaissance music before addressing Baroque achievements. First, consider the setting of a Petrarch sonnet in Monteverdi’s madrigal “Zephiro torna, e ‘l bel tempo rimena” (‘The zephyr returns, and the lovely weather stirs’). The rich harmonies and the contrapuntal play of voices celebrate a pastoral vision of spring, its sight and song, in the octave of the first eight lines. This is followed by a three-line tercet of poignant lament (“i piu gravi sospiri” – ‘the saddest sighs’) for the rejection by his beloved; at this turn, the madrigal slows and the minor-key harmonies and interplay of voices deepen. In the twelfth and thirteenth of the fourteen lines, the joyous singing returns, only to be supplanted in the final line by a reprise of the music of grief. Here joy and sorrow are each expressed as separate zones of feeling. The work is in no way static, either as poetry or music, but its formulation of the life of feeling is divided into starkly juxtaposed parts in a sort of paradoxical arrangement, not a process of development. Here, the experience of love is to move between discrete, contradictory states of feeling, and not to experience the process of development revealed, for example, in Shakespeare’s contemporaneous dramas.
In the opening of Shakespeare’s “Twelfth Night,” for example, the Duke evokes the power of music as a fluid, dramatically shifting and paradoxical process. His speech is reminiscent of the English sonnets of the period, which packs fluid contradictions into every line. The first line here identifies music as nurturing love, the life of feeling, but the second line embraces overfullness, asking for “excess of it,” and in a dramatic initial turn, the result of the excess – in music as in love – becomes sickness and death; dying as an Elizabethan image for sexual climax is also at work here. The drama of these emotional developments is compressed into the next few lines initially evoking “the sweet sound that breathes,” like a soul’s suspirations on a pastoral scene, and then rejecting the music. The Duke’s speech celebrates the shifting, unstable, changeable nature of emotional expression, which makes music “high fantastical.”
When music becomes one focus of a play – as it does in Shakespeare’s late comedy “Much Ado About Nothing” – music’s range of effects get marvelously manifested. There is the pastoral vision of its potential for grace, in “How still the evening is, / As hushed on purpose to grace harmony!” Then, the awareness of paradox, of the imbalance between flawed humans and the beauty the human can generate, in the musician Balthazar’s lines before he sings “Sigh no more, ladies” – “tax not so bad a voice / To slander music any more than once” and “There’s not a note of mine that’s worth the noting.” The irony of the imperfect human producing sublimity out of his mundane condition is intensified by Don Pedro’s response to that last line: “Why, these are very crotchets that he speaks! / Note notes, forsooth, and nothing!” – in which for Elizabethans ‘nothing’ rhymes and is pronounced as ‘noting.’ The more intense irony is that music is close to nothingness, is ephemeral, can soften into silence, and disappear into nothingness. Finally, in this scene, the music leads into a comedic plot to deceive Benedict about Beatrice, and so it is located in a world of hidden motives, of deceptions and ambiguities in flawed human relationships. Music’s sublimity coexists with this unfolding chaos.
The sense of encroaching chaos is intensified in the late Renaissance and early Enlightenment, with the weakening grip of monarchical rule over society, the collapsing rule of the Catholic Church in the face of Reformation, the rise of scientific thought in the Age of Reason, and the increasing power of the Bourgeoisie, the burgeoning class of business owners and professionals. In this period, the Baroque is a response to these emergencies, to the unhinging or untuning of society, and to the encroaching possibility of chaos and apocalypse. Its response is to be seen in the ambitious church architecture, the enthusiastic literature, and above all in the great musical compositions of the period. It was as if, in the face of the possible collapse of the inherited social order, the arts responded by releasing a great overfullness and outpouring of all that was then conceivable into the yawning morass of an apparently approaching chaos.
Confronting this possibility of chaos, Baroque music reveals just such an outpouring of grandeur, an enthusiastic elaboration of expression, and a thrilling upwelling of energy and power. In order to control the great upwelling of feeling, of change and instability, the imposition of severe, even reactionary formal controls seemed to be necessary. For example, audacious scriptural texts order Bach’s ambitious Passion oratorios and Handel’s Messiah; characteristically they are not Catholic texts but Lutheran or Anglican. Variation form, based in a single ordering melody like that in Bach’s Goldberg Variations or his Chaconne, yields an encompassing, compelling multitude of expressive possibilities. And the fugue establishes the control required in mounting the great contrapuntal edifices of Baroque music, some of them for organ or chorus appropriate for performances in the vastly elaborate churches of the period. Finally, arias are enhanced by brilliantly expressive ornamentation.
An aria from Bach’s St. Matthew’s Passion – “Erbarme Dich” – offers one such example of Baroque expressiveness. The contralto sings with understated and all the more piercing sorrow asking God to “have mercy” for “my heart and eyes weep before you bitterly.” The aria’s beautiful expression of pathos, baring such deep grief and vulnerability, is one of the great achievements of Baroque art, and it is shaped by the period of its creation, for it is poignantly full with an awareness that death, chaos, and disintegration are close at hand. The formal qualities both enhance but also control and contain the contralto’s tragic singing, the beauty of her dialogue with the lone violin’s expressively ornamented obbligato and with the lento communal procession of the chamber orchestra’s accompaniment. Recently, an austerely apocalyptic film by Tarkovsky, The Sacrifice, plays Erbarme Dich as part of its score. The sublimity of this ineffable expression of despair in Bach’s aria gives solace before the fateful Baroque dilemma of living in a nuclear period.

Handel’s setting of Dryden’s “A Song for St. Cecilia’s Day” can serve as our final example of another facet of the Baroque, its upwelling of energy and invention. The outpouring is achieved within the stringent order of the Oratorio’s sections, which produce invention after invention featuring a cello, then trumpets, a flute, violins, and an organ. The proximity of life to death is a recurrent motif in each section, and the music’s counterpoint embodies the implacable connection between Creation and the Last Judgement: “Arise ye more than dead.” The music of the orchestra, soloists, and chorus produces a fullness – even overfullness – of creative invention confronting and overcoming the specter of chaos and death “in a heap / Of jarring atomes” (which is the fate the Enlightenment, and not only the Last Judgment, may bring). The control over this outpouring of harmonic and contrapuntal richness parallels the order imposed by the poem’s mesh of rhymes and artifice. The final fugue here is the oratorio’s greatest musical expression of the Baroque control imposed on our “crumbling Pageant” – setting the poem’s last lines: “The Dead shall live, the Living die, / And Musick shall untune the sky.” The music of this period triumphs over the proximity of chaos by means of its strict, inexhaustible formal elaborations generating a creative fecundity unique to the Baroque.

Tuesday, February 5, 2019

Literature and Music - session one - introduction; Renaissance and Baroque

The first session of this course for Siegel Senior Learning at CWRU establishes some backgrounds, including Renaissance links and texts, and offers the following excerpts:
Plato's view of music – from The Republic, Books 2 and 3 (circa 380 BC):
The introduction of a new kind of music must be shunned as imperiling the whole state, since styles of music are never disturbed without affecting the most important political institutions The new style, gradually gaining a lodgment, quietly insinuates itself into manners and customs; and from these it issues in greater force, making its way into mutual compacts; and from compacts it goes on to attack laws and constitutions, displaying the utmost impudence, until it ends by overturning everything, both in public and in private.       
[Later, from Book 3:] And therefore, Glaucon, musical training is a more potent instrument than any other, because rhythm and harmony find their way into the inward places of the sound, on which they mightily fasten, imparting grace, and making the soul of him who is rightly educated graceful – or [making the soul] of him who is ill-educated ungraceful… 
Even so, as I maintain, neither we nor the guardians, whom we say that we have to [train in music], can ever become musical until we and they know the essential forms of temperance, courage, liberality, magnanimity, and their kindred, as well as the contrary forms, in all their combinations, and can recognize them and their images wherever they are found, not slighting them either in small things or great, but believing them all to be within the sphere of one art and study And when nobility of soul is observed in harmonious union with beauty of form, and both are cast from the same mould, that will be the fairest of sights to him who has an eye to see it.

Gregorian Chant – Salve Regina (circa 1050)

Hail, holy Queen, Mother of mercy, hail, our life, our sweetness and our hope. To thee do we cry, poor banished children of Eve: to thee do we send up our sighs, mourning and weeping in this vale of tears. Turn then, most gracious Advocate, thine eyes of mercy toward us, and after this our exile, show unto us the blessed fruit of thy womb, Jesus, O merciful, O loving, O sweet Virgin Mary!



Summer is a coming in – Reading rota, attributed to Wycombe (c 1260)

Sumer is icumen in, Spring has arrived, Lhude sing, cuccu; loudly sing, cuckoo! Groweth sed The seed is growing and bloweth med, And the meadow is blooming, And springth the wode nu; And the wood is coming into leaf now, Sing, cuccu! Sing, cuckoo! Awe bleteth after lomb, The ewe is bleating after her lamb, Lhouth after calue cu; The cow is lowing after her calf; Bulluc sterteth, The bullock is prancing, Bucke uerteth, The billy-goat farting, Murie sing, cuccu! Sing merrily, cuckoo! Cuccu, cuccu, Cuckoo, cuckoo, Wel singes thu, cuccu; You sing well, cuckoo, Ne swic thu naver nu. Never stop now. Sing, cuccu, nu; sing, cuccu; Sing, cuckoo, now; sing, cuckoo; Sing, cuccu; sing, cuccu, nu! Sing, cuckoo; sing, cuckoo, now!




Palestrina - Jesu, rex admirabilis – Gardiner (c 1580)

Latin text: Jesu, rex admirabilis et triumphator nobilis, dulcedo ineffabilis, totus desiderabilis, mane nobiscum, Domine, et nos illustra lumine, pulsa mentis caligine, mundum reple ducedine.

English translation: Jesus, wondrous king and noble conqueror, ineffable delight, wholly to be desired, remain with us, Lord, dispel the darkness of our minds and enlighten us with your light, fill the world with your sweetness.


 Petrarch (1304-1374), Sonnet - text of Madrigal by Monteverdi (1567-1655):

The zephr returns and the lovely weather stirs
the flowers and all the grassy family;
the swallows warble and the nightingale sings
and spring is clean and bright.
The fields smile and sky is serene.
Jove happily looks upon his child.
The air, water, and the land are full of love.
Every animal in love is reconfirmed.
But for weary me only the saddest sighs return
Which she -who took the keys to heaven with her-
Wrings from the deepest part or my heart
And the birds sing and the countryside flourishes
And when with a beautiful woman, such gentle honest acts 
Become a harsh, wild and uncultivated desert.
Italian text
Zephiro torna, e 'i bel tempo rimena,
e i fiori et I
'erbe, sua dolce famiglia,
et garrir Progne et pianger Philomena,
et primavera candida et vermig
Ridono i prati, e 'I ciel si rasserena;
Giove s'allegra di mirar sua figlia;
I'aria et I'acqua et la terra e d'amor piena;
ogni animal d'amar si riconsiglia.
Ma per me, lasso, tornano i pili gravi
i, che del cor profondo tragge
quella ch'al ciel se ne porte Ie chiavi;
et cantar augelletti, et fiorir piagge,
e 'n be
lle donne honeste atti soavi
sono un deserto, et fere aspre et selvagge.
Canzoniere 310c

Monteverdi - Zefiro torna, e 'l bel tempo rimena (VI libro dei Madrigali) - Les Arts Florissants (c 1614)

Shakespeare – Branagh’s “Much Ado About Nothing” - Act 2, Scene 3 (c 1612)

Twelfth Night (1602):
—opening of Act I, Scene i – the Duke speaks.
If music be the food of love, play on,
Give me excess of it; that, surfeiting,
The appetite may sicken, and so die.
That strain again - it had a dying fall.
0, it came o'er my ear, like the sweet sound
That breathes upon a bank of violets,
Stealing and giving odour. Enough, no more,
T’is not so sweet now, as it was before.
o spirit of love, how quick and fresh art thou,
That, notwithstanding thy capacity
Receiveth as the sea, naught enters there,
Of what validity and pitch soe'er,
But falls into abatement, and low price,
Even in a minute; so full of shapes is fancy,
That it alone is high fantastical. 

Handel – Dryden’s Ode for St Cecilia's Day HWV 76 Les Arts Florissants (c 1739)

Bach – St Matthew’s Passion – Erbarme Dich – 39 Aria – BWV 244 (c 1727).  Delphine Galou, contralto; François-Marie Drieux, solo violin; Les Siècles, conducted by François-Xavier Roth; 2008.
Erbarme dich,
Have mercy,
Mein Gott, um meiner Zähren willen!
My God, for the sake of my tears!
Schaue hier,
Look here,
Herz und Auge weint vor dir
My heart and eyes weep before you