Sunday, December 20, 2015


1. Much commemoration of the centenary of the birth of Frank Sinatra. Since he's long gone now, I hope I won't be treading on any corns by saying that I never cared for his music. I can recognize that he was exceedingly skillful and talented at what he was trying to do; it's just that what he was trying to do is of no interest to me. I like the timbre of his voice, but I don't like his singing style, I don't like most of the songs he's associated with, and I especially dislike the kind of instrumental arrangements he favored. And I'm not interested enough to go listen to enough of it to write an analysis of this.

My uninterest is not so much for Sinatra in particular as it is for crooners in general. If I had to take one, I'd pick Dean Martin, who had a more pleasing repertoire. I generally prefer male pop-singing voices to have a bit of an edge to them.

I should add that, while my mother was of an age to have been one of the bobby-soxers who swooned over Sinatra when he was young and (I guess) sexy, she never cared for him either. She told me this more than once.

2. Recently gone, the conductor Kurt Masur. Kurt Masur was a little girl, who had a little curl, right in the middle of his forehead: When he was good, he was very, very good, and when he was bad, he was horrid.

3. And departed from us a month ago, the conductor and writer Robert Craft. Craft is controversial for his role as a sort of amanuensis for the elderly Igor Stravinsky in the 1950s and 60s. Apparently he put words in Stravinsky's mouth in his transcribed conversations, and he also wielded the baton on recordings that listed Stravinsky as conductor. That puts him in the category with the eerie young men who similarly manipulated the aged and/or deceased Bertrand Russell, C.S. Lewis, and even Beethoven, not to mention Shostakovich. Craft is also the person who persuaded Stravinsky to go serialist, for which it's hard to forgive him.

But there was more to Craft than that. He always insisted that his role with Stravinsky was fortuitous and that he was at least as interested in a lot of other modern composers. And he proved that, at least to my satisfaction, by his superb conducting of a recording of Ionisation by Edgard Varèse, the most fabulous work ever written for percussion ensemble (and by far my favorite piece by Varèse). This performance was not online when I wrote about Ionisation some years ago, and nothing I could find was satisfactory: but it's there now. If you've never heard this, prepare to have your mind expanded.

4. Mr. Speaker Paul Ryan has grown a beard, though it comes off more as if he's going for the unshaven look, which is not quite the same thing. Reactions online that I've seen so far range from analyses of how manly he looks with it, to polemics declaring that beards are no longer manly because Paul Ryan has one. But none of them answer the question I had on seeing it. The answer, I have determined, is "1925". That's the last time we had a Speaker of the House with a beard.

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