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

My newly completed novel is The Fall of the Berlin Wall, 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. 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are three other novels of mine, One is Pathological States, about a physician's family in L.A. in 1962, which is as yet unpublished.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).
[These blog posts are, of course, copyrighted.]

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 work: "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 - session 6 - 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 & 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

Baudelaire:   and Flaubert: images

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: images and texts...
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]

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”: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Wp8UTemmlq8

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” https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ARO7ZjsXSkE
           “Lacrimosa” https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JE2muDZksP4

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: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0Ak_7tTxZrk

Last sonata op. 111 – Trifonov: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JcFFxvG8pWg&t=6s

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]


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