July 31, 2013

Music for the day - Tchiakovsky's Violin Concerto

Today, Pyotr Tchaikovsky's Violin Concerto ... with Nathan Milstein on the violin and Walter Hendl conducting the Chicago Symphony Orchestra. I believe this is a recording from 1963.

From Wikipedia:
The Violin Concerto in D major, Op. 35, written by Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky in 1878, is one of the best known of all violin concertos. It is also considered to be among the most technically difficult works for violin.

July 26, 2013

Music for the day - Beethoven Violin Concerto

Today, Beethoven's Violin Concerto D major Op 61

From wikipedia:
    Ludwig van Beethoven's Violin Concerto in D major, Op. 61, was written in 1806. The work was premiered on 23 December 1806 in the Theater an der Wien in Vienna. Beethoven wrote the concerto for his colleague Franz Clement, a leading violinist of the day, who had earlier given him helpful advice on his opera Fidelio. The work was revived in 1844, well after Beethoven's death, with performances by the then 12-year-old violinist Joseph Joachim with the orchestra conducted by Felix Mendelssohn. Ever since, it has been one of the most important works of the violin concerto repertoire, and it is frequently performed and recorded today.
Here's Yehudi Menuhin on the violin with Sir Colin Davis leading the London Symphony Orchestra

July 15, 2013

Music for the day: Mozart Concerto for Flute and Harp

Mozart - Concerto in C Major, K. 299, for Flute, Harp and Orchestra

From wikipedia:

The Concerto for Flute, Harp, and Orchestra in C major, K. 299/297c, is a composition by Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart for flute, harp, and orchestra. It is one of only two true double concertos that he wrote, as well as the only piece of music that Mozart wrote that contains the harp.

Here's the Academy of St. Martin-in-the-Fields, led by Sir Neville Marriner with Irena Grafenauer on the flute and Maria Graf on the Harp.

July 13, 2013

An incomprehensible series of apparently random preferences, revulsions, divagations, and evasions

That intriguing title comes from this excerpt from Coming of Age as a Poet: Milton, Keats, Eliot, Plath by Helen Vendler and echo something Wordsworth wrote about the "terrors, pains, and early miseries, regrets, vexations, lassitudes, interfused within my mind."

To the young writer, the search for a style is inexpressibly urgent; it parallels, on the aesthetic plane, the individual’s psychological search for identity--that is, for an authentic selfhood and a fitting means for its unfolding. The human search for identity is conducted blindly; we find ourselves as adolescents suffering an incomprehensible series of apparently random preferences, revulsions, divagations, and evasions. We don’t at the time know why our feelings drift hither and yon on the waves of inexplicable compulsions, griefs, and admirations: it is only later that we may be prepared to acknowledge, with Wordsworth, how strange are the ways of identity-formation:
How strange that all
The terrors, pains, and early miseries,
Regrets, vexations, lassitudes, interfused
Within my mind, should e’er have borne a part
And that a needful part, in making up
The calm existence that is mine when I
Am worthy of myself!
(1850 Prelude, I, 344-350)
Wordsworth awakes after early miseries, regrets, and terrors to an adult identity, pursuing an existence which derives calm from its conscious awareness of its selfhood, no longer mystified by youth’s emotional vicissitudes.

Wordsworth has recounted in this passage the normal course of individual human formation. But for a young writer, the stakes are doubled. The youthful writer cannot pursue an evolution to adulthood independent of an ongoing evolution of style. To find a personal style is, for a writer, to become adult.

Sometimes it takes a lifetime to get through this "normal course of human formation"... 
Elsewhere, Helen Vendler writes about Wordsworth and about poetry, in general:

 "To make poetry is one of the modes of living, one of the ways in which life manifests itself. For Wordsworth especially, to create is to live, to become that "sensitive being" and "creative soul" for whom the essence of living is responding and creating."

I have been neither responding nor creating, just dying a slow death then! And so it goes...

Poetry and emotions recollected in tranquility

If you, like me, like poetry and are a William Wordsworth fan, you could not do better than to take a little time to read the Preface to Lyrical Ballads, which was a joint publication by a 28 year old Wordsworth and a 26 year old Coleridge and is said to mark the "beginning of the English Romantic movement in literature."

Actually, even I have not read the whole thing but there are some amazing gems in the preface..

"The Poet writes under one restriction only, namely, the necessity of giving immediate pleasure to a human Being possessed of that information which may be expected from him, not as a lawyer, a physician, a mariner, an astronomer, or a natural philosopher, but as a Man. Except this one restriction, there is no object standing between the Poet and the image of things; between this, and the Biographer and Historian, there are a thousand. ...What then does the Poet? He considers man and the objects that surround him as acting and re-acting upon each other, so as to produce an infinite complexity of pain and pleasure; he considers man in his own nature and in his ordinary life as contemplating this with a certain quantity of immediate knowledge, with certain convictions, intuitions, and deductions, which from habit acquire the quality of intuitions; he considers him as looking upon this complex scene of ideas and sensations, and finding everywhere objects that immediately excite in him sympathies which, from the necessities of his nature, are accompanied by an overbalance of enjoyment. 

To this knowledge which all men carry about with them, and to these sympathies in which, without any other discipline than that of our daily life, we are fitted to take delight, the Poet principally directs his attention. He considers man and nature as essentially adapted to each other, and the mind of man as naturally the mirror of the fairest and most interesting properties of nature. and thus the Poet, prompted by this feeling of pleasure, which accompanies him through the whole course of his studies, converses with general nature, with affections akin to those, which, through labour and length of time, the Man of science has raised up in himself, by conversing with those particular parts of nature which are the objects of his studies. The knowledge both of the Poet and the Man of science is pleasure; but the knowledge of the one cleaves to us as a necessary part of our existence, our natural and unalienable inheritance; the other is a personal and individual acquisition, slow to come to us, and by no habitual and direct sympathy connecting us with our fellow-beings. The Man of science seeks truth as a remote and unknown benefactor; he cherishes and loves it in his solitude: the Poet, singing a song in which all human beings join with him, rejoices in the presence of truth as our visible friend and hourly companion. Poetry is the breath and finer spirit of all knowledge; it is the impassioned expression which is in the countenance of all Science. Emphatically may it be said of the Poet, as Shakespeare hath said of man, ‘that he looks before and after.’ He is the rock of defence for human nature; an upholder and preserver, carrying everywhere with him relationship and love. In spite of difference of soil and climate, of language and manners, of laws and customs: in spite of things silently gone out of mind, and things violently destroyed; the Poet binds together by passion and knowledge the vast empire of human society, as it is spread over the whole earth, and over all time. The objects of the Poet’s thoughts are everywhere; though the eyes and senses of man are, it is true, his favourite guides, yet he will follow wheresoever he can find an atmosphere of sensation in which to move his wings. Poetry is the first and last of all knowledge—it is as immortal as the heart of man. If the labours of Men of science should ever create any material revolution, direct or indirect, in our condition, and in the impressions which we habitually receive, the Poet will sleep then no more than at present; he will be ready to follow the steps of the Man of science, not only in those general indirect effects, but he will be at his side, carrying sensation into the midst of the objects of the science itself."

Wordsworth, of course, described poetry as the "spontaneous overflow of powerful feelings," and "emotions recollected in tranquility"; phrases that I first heard when I was 13 or 14 and still remember fondly.... those were also taken from this same Preface.

"I have said that poetry is the spontaneous overflow of powerful feelings: it takes its origin from emotion recollected in tranquillity: the emotion is contemplated till, by a species of reaction, the tranquillity gradually disappears, and an emotion, kindred to that which was before the subject of contemplation, is gradually produced, and does itself actually exist in the mind." 

July 10, 2013

A deeper communion through the dark cold and the empty desolation

In the introduction to his/her Masters thesis on 'Affirmation of Life in Wallace Stevens' Auroras of Autumn & T. S. Eliot's Four Quartets', Jesse Lipes writes:

Stevens affirms life by acknowledging the inevitability of change, established by the ceaseless passage of time, and by celebrating human existence while recognizing the paradoxical positive and negative effects suffering exerts on individuals. Eliot frequently concentrates on the inevitability and instrumentality of suffering — its unique power to shape an individual’s character into someone who “fructifies in the lives of others.” Thus, he too maintains the same foundation of unconditional embrace and joy. In Four Quartets, I contend that Eliot affirms life by proclaiming that individuals must be fully engrossed, including mind and body, in the immediacy of each successive moment, regardless of whatever potential threats it may pose.
....  In short, Stevens faults the pressure of news and excessive reliance on history for obscuringthe fundamental innocence of existence, and the constant transformation it experiences.For Stevens, if humanity recognized this innocence and inexorable change, they would insert themselves into the natural process of affirmation embodied by the earth; they would constantly seek new experiences and revitalizing resemblances. For Eliot, the fear and anxiety of living in the present — of not knowing the future — blocks affirmation.

I am going to try read this thesis in more detail later since Four Quartets is one of my, if not THE favorite poem, and Wallace Stevens is most definitely a poet whose work I keep returning to time and again, as I wrote here. But for now, here's one lovely excerpt from each of those two poems.

First, one of the parts from Auroras of Autumn, a poem with which I am not as familiar as I am with Eliot's Four Quartets.

And then to pick an excerpt from Four Quartets, which is really difficult given how much I like this poem and how many different lines from it I have excerpted and quoted in years past.... so, maybe the best thing to do is to just randomly pick one of them! 

Nostalgia, memories, and the unconscious

Nostalgia isn’t what it used to be — but it’s looking a lot better, according an article in the NYT today that reports about a decade of study on the subject! Apparently "Nostalgia was originally described as...
“a neurological disease of essentially demonic cause” by Johannes Hoffer, the Swiss doctor who coined the term in 1688. And nostalgia does have its painful side — it’s a bittersweet emotion — but the net effect is to make life seem more meaningful and death less frightening. When people speak wistfully of the past, they typically become more optimistic and inspired about the future."

And the word "nostalgia" cannot be uttered without me thinking of one of my favorite Kundera novels...but I've blogged about that earlier here and here. It is almost 20 years now since I first read Kundera after being introduced to his work by a friend of mine and coincidentally, just this morning I was unpacking my books and arranging the various Kundera novels I bought in the 90s on the bookshelf. I have long wanted to re-read some of those early Kundera novels that I have not read now in 15+ years; not sure when I will get back to them - for now, they just sit mutely perhaps nostalgically waxing about past glories when they actually got read instead of sitting unopened in a book-shelf or a box for years! 


And speaking of nostalgia and remembrance of things past, via Twitter I learned that it is Proust's birthday today; born on this date in 1871.
“An exquisite pleasure had invaded my senses, something isolated, detached, with no suggestion of its origin. And at once the vicissitudes of life had become indifferent to me, its disasters innocuous, its brevity illusory—this new sensation having on me the effect which love has of filling me with a precious essence; or rather this essence was not in me it was me. I had ceased now to feel mediocre, contingent, mortal. Whence could it have come to me, this all-powerful joy? I sensed that it was connected with the taste of the tea and the cake, but that it infinitely transcended those savors, could not, indeed, be of the same nature.” – Marcel Proust, in' In Search of Lost Time' or alternatively titled 'Remembrance of Things Past'. (French: À la recherche du temps perdu).

And a related quote:

“This is the irony of Proustian nostalgia: it remembers things as being far better than they actually were. But Proust, at least, was acutely aware of his own fraudulence. He knew that the Combray he yearned for was not the Combray that was. (As Proust put it, “The only paradise is paradise lost.”) This wasn’t his fault: there simply is no way to describe the past without lying. Our memories are not like fiction. They are fiction.” – Jonah Lerer, “Proust: The Method of Memory” from Proust Was a Neuroscientist (p. 88)
Also, I was reading something earlier about the Examined Life and psychoanalysis and Freud [1] and it is interesting that in finding the above quotes, I also found this excerpt from a book Milton L. Miller titled: 'Nostalgia: A Psychoanalytic Study of Marcel Proust,' which compares Proust's work to that of Freud's queries into the human mind and the unconscious.

"Proust's pursuits revolved around his impressions of the functioning of the unconscious. Thus we are led naturally to a comparison with Freud's beliefs, and with some very recent research into the nature of behavior patterns. The compelling nature of those patterns that seem to have determined Proust's subject matter and the precise way he dealt with what he had to say seem to require some comment from psychoanalytic as well as literary experts. It is not surprising that two men of genius explored the unconscious within the same generation, the one aesthetically, the other scientifically. Proust developed his aesthetic approach to the unconscious in a country which was, in subtle artistry, a leader among nations; his predecessor, Anatole France, helped introduce a tradition of delicate introspective analysis, which was later enhanced by André Gide, a great critic and writer who looked deeply into the unconscious. Meanwhile, from among the Austrians, Hungarians, Germans, English and the Swiss came most of the outstanding pioneers in psychoanalysis. In France, Janet's followers at first accepted psychoanalysis somewhat reluctantly, omitting theories of symbolism; and the earliest psychoanalysts came from the provinces, not Paris. Yet Paris provided the atmosphere in which the great impressionist painters and symbolist poets introduced their theories to the world. The aesthetic rather than the medical approach to the unconscious predominated in France." 

[1] A NYT article about a recent book “The Examined Life - How We Lose and Find Ourselves” by the psychoanalyst Stephen Grosz. It seems like it would be an interesting book to read - kind of like some of Oliver Sacks books that I have enjoyed reading in the past. The title (and apparently the book chapter titles) sound like it is one of those self-help books but it isn't. Rather it is "an insightful and beautifully written book about the process of psychoanalysis, and the ways people’s efforts to connect the past, present and future reflect their capacity to change. The book distills the author’s 25 years of work as a psychoanalyst and more than 50,000 hours of conversation into a series of slim, piercing chapters that read like a combination of Chekhov and Oliver Sacks. They invite us to identify with Mr. Grosz’s patients and their losses and regrets, even as we are made to marvel at the complexities and convolutions of the human mind."

Note: see earlier posts on the subject here and here.

Poetry and Science - Deep forms of knowing

From an article discussing "difficult" poetry (like T. S. Eliot's The Wasteland, for example)... 

"Poems and poetry are, for me, a deep a form of knowing, just like science. Yes, obviously, they are different. But each, in its way, is a way to understand the world."

This perhaps explains why despite being trained in the sciences, I lean more and more towards poetry as I age; not for answers or the truth or meaning but sometimes just to make the days worthwhile! Others look to religion too for answers but for some of us that was a delusion we gave up a long time back! Or as the poet Wallace Stevens wrote: 

“After one has abandoned a belief in God, poetry is that essence which takes its place as life’s redemption.”

I quite empathize with this because although I have always read poetry, the amount of time spent reading poetry and reading about poetry has definitely increased in the last 5 years since I went through some tough times after the death of my father. In these 5 years, I've found myself going back to Wallace Stevens poems again and again; as if seeking some light, some form of redemption, some strength in words, some allusion of joy in words! His poems, in particular, are an intriguing mix of life lessons, but not in a cliched kind of way that bad poems can be! But in most of his poems, there is always something that immediately inveigles you in but very often leaves you on the fringes of understanding it completely. And although it is tough to explain to you why this is so, I believe it is this lack of complete understanding that makes me go back to them again and again. This is true of Stevens poems as well as the work of Ashbery but then there are obviously some poems whose works I do not understand at all and it does NOTHING for me. (Case in point, L=A=N=G=U=A=G=E poets like Lyn Hejinian and some poems by Rae Armantrout come to mind but there are many others.)

In any case, I think of Stevens being a poet who I will continually be going back to for the rest of my life. After years of borrowing books of poems by Stevens and books about his poetry, I finally bought Stevens' Collected Poems last year when I found it in a used book store and coincidentally just this morning I found the book again while emptying out boxes of books; so I may read some more of his amazing but complex poems later tonight before going to sleep...so you may expect a few other posts about them in the next few days/weeks!

I'll leave you with an excerpt from one of many favorite poems of mine by Stevens ....

July 9, 2013

A cultivation of the low, the common and the near

After unpacking some of my boxes of books yesterday, I found a few old issues of Believer magazine that I had bought at a library sale some years back.


I took one of them with me to bed last night and started reading an interview with philosopher, Simon Critchley. I was very tired and fell asleep before finishing it but I thoroughly enjoyed the bits I did read. For example, here is a short excerpt:

Q: So God or other universal or absolute ideas cannot offer answers to the question of the meaning of life, and thus any answer has to come from within human life, which is finite and capable of error. What kind of answer can that be?

Simon Critchley: Well, the answer is given in the question. The only answer to the question of the meaning of life has to begin from the fact of our human finitude, of our vulnerability and our fallibility. ....The formulation that I use in my book is “the acceptance of meaninglessness as the achievement of the everyday or the ordinary.” What I mean by that is that once we’ve accepted that the meaning of life is ours to make, we make meaning. Then we accept that we live in a situation, or, rather, that we inherit a situation of meaninglessness, and out of that meaninglessness we create meaning in relationship to the ordinariness of our common existence. I try to argue for a cultivation of the low, the common and the near—the everyday—as that in relationship to which we can make a meaning out of the meaninglessness of our existence.

There are many other quotable quotes in the interview, like Critchley talking about Nietzche and nihilism and about injustice in the world and being "deeply pessimistic about the present situation" and yet "not luxuriating in a dispirited bath of nihilism" and about how "philosophy begins in the experience of political disappointment, the fact of injustice. In the face of that fact, one can create. Ethically, legally. One can try and do something." and so on....  but instead of quoting excerpts here, you can read the interview in its entirety at the Believer website. (Thanks for not archiving this behind a paywall, Believer magazine!)

Not one more refugee death, by Emmy Pérez

And just like that, my #NPM2018 celebrations end with  a poem  today by Emmy Pérez. Not one more refugee death by Emmy Pérez A r...