Thursday, November 16, 2017

English suites no. 11

We've already had a suite by Elgar commissioned in 1930 in the names of the little princesses Elizabeth and Margaret Rose. But they're not the only royal infants to be immortalized in this way. Let's move down a generation to 1948, when Michael Tippett wrote a Suite for the Birthday of Prince Charles. Not the birthday anniversary, the birthday.

Tippett was a modernist composer, but he could have a surprising populist side, such as the beautifully arranged American spirituals he inserted into his magnificent oratorio A Child of Our Time. This suite is a slightly spicy stew composed of a series of medieval religious and folk tunes of various origins. It's in five movements, identified on screen.

Wednesday, November 15, 2017

Santa Rosa and San Francisco

On my last trip to Santa Rosa, for a concert about six weeks ago, I took some extra time and drove around the hill residential areas above the town. I had a specific reason but that doesn't matter now. This was before the destructive fires swept through, and afterwards I wondered how well what I'd seen had survived. Tuesday I finally had a chance to go back. Big rains were expected to come through on Wednesday evening, so it was my last chance to get a pristine look (and, it turned out, to still smell the ghost of the ashy air). I no longer had access to the material by which I planned my earlier trip, but I followed my route by memory as best I could remember, and spent as many tourist dollars as I could reasonably manage.

Much of the lower hills had been untouched, and even when I entered the fire area within the rural zone, the damage was scattered. Trees and vineyards looked untouched, and while some homes were gone - invariably identifiable as home sites by the lonely stone chimneys sticking up - others were intact.

Only when I came down on Mark West Road to the flatlands did I find entire neighborhoods where all the homes were gone. That was a hideous spectacle and I passed through quickly. But across the major road, no apparent damage, even though the fire map suggested it was hit.

Strange patterns emerged. The Fountaingrove resort hotel, famously gone. The trailer park kitty-corner at the same major intersection, also (mostly) famously gone. The other two corners of the intersection, untouched. The supermarket where I'd bought lunch on my previous trip, on the edge of the fire zone, intact with a big sign saying it was open. The condos on the hill above it, apparently intact except for one building that appeared to have collapsed more than it had burned.

Around here, also, I saw the only scorched hillsides. This fire ignited more by floating cinders than by walls of flame, and that showed in the results.

I was back down in San Francisco in time for another event sponsored by Slate, my favorite political webzine. This one was less successful than the last. Apparently an attempt to produce a live version of a podcast - I hardly ever listen to podcasts; they just don't fit into my day - it consisted of four writers sitting around and chatting about current events for 90 minutes. Although I know their work (when they're not doing podcasts) and they're good writers, their remarks were neither so polished nor so witty as their writings, on top of the fact that none are trained speakers and it was often hard to make out what they were saying, and they jumped around between topics so much I couldn't remember much of what they said when I could deduce it. I'll be more selective of future offerings when Slate brings them to my city.

Monday, November 13, 2017

English suites no. 10

Sorry for the long pause, but I'm not nearly done yet. I was going to put in another Peter Warlock suite that I hadn't known about, but it got taken offline. Instead, we have here a piece by Gordon Jacob, a workman composer of the mid-20C. It's his William Byrd Suite, arrangements for concert band of music by the English Renaissance composer.

While there are a number of earnest amateur performances in single YouTube files, you really want to hear the classic professional recording of this one. Each individual movement of that is in a separate file, and while they'll play in succession automatically on YouTube, that doesn't work in embedding.

So instead of embedding this one, I'll just link to it, and there it is. The opening "Earle of Oxford March" is to my taste the most terrific, but the whole suite is absolutely charming.

not seating Roy Moore

... if he's elected.

Here's an article about that.

It offers three possibilities. One is to refuse to seat him, but it says that can only be done because of the irregularity of an election, e.g. ballot-stuffing or bribing.

The second is the extraordinarily high bar of actually expelling him, something that hasn't been done since Confederate sympathizers in the Civil War.

But the third (no. 2 on the list) is to refer his case to the Ethics Committee. The article doesn't say this, but it could defer his seating until the Ethics Committee had made his report. Something similar to this has happened since the Civil War. The notorious Mississippi racist Theodore G. Bilbo was investigated for his 1946 re-election on grounds of his inflammatory campaign tactics and shady finances. But impasse over whether to take action was postponed when Bilbo became ill and did not insist on being sworn in until he'd recovered and returned to Washington. The committee reports were tabled (which in US discourse means action was deferred). But instead of returning, Bilbo grew more ill and died several months later, which rendered the issue moot. Here's the official version of that story.

Saturday, November 11, 2017

Peace with Honour

I guess since it's Armistice Day it's a good time to talk about this. Researching on A.A. Milne for my fisking of a recent movie, I came across, as I had before, references to his having considered himself a pacifist for much of his life, even though he'd served in WW1 after reaching that conclusion, and even though he eventually decided to support participation in WW2 as well. In 1934 he published his only serious non-fiction book, Peace with Honour, expounding his pacifist case, and I decided to read it.

I'd really like to put the Milne who wrote this book in a room with the Milne who supported WW2 and let them argue it out, because Milne-'34 is very prescient about what would happen and is entirely opposed to exactly and specifically the war that Milne-'40 would support, and in the meantime is also opposed to rearmament to prepare for that war, the meagerness of which is now considered Britain's greatest failing of the time.

Milne-'34 starts well, arguing against the glorification of war and pointing out that all the slaughter of WW1 hadn't wiped that attitude out. He scoffs at the idea of fighting for national honor, saying that this really means just national prestige, and that that prestige amounts to the ability to beat up other countries. His pocket summary of WW1 ("In the summer of 1914 an Austrian archduke was killed ... [This] led directly to the killing of ten million men who were not archdukes ...") is justly famed, but I liked even better his definition of a patriot ("a man who believes that other people are not patriots"). And insofar as he shows that stating that war is terrible is not arguing against a straw man he's on solid ground.

But he also dismisses the idea of a legitimate casus belli, assuming that every country will lie about its grievances and since it's impossible to get at the truth in a dispute, not bothering to try. (Imagine applying that attitude to today's "he said/she said" disputes.) And he uses this scoffery to evade his way out of addressing Christian "just war" doctrine.

But, the reader will ask - and Milne invents an imaginary reader who, at several points, does ask this question - if a country abjures war, what is it to do if it's attacked? In parts, Milne starts to respond to this, contrasting war with an individual being attacked by a criminal. There, there are police and courts, while war, because it's so destructive, is the equivalent of defending yourself by pulling out a bomb that would blow up yourself as well as the criminal, and the surrounding neighborhood: you wouldn't do that. A pacifist as prescient about the subsequent peace as Milne is about WW2 would discuss the creation of an effective international equivalent of a system of police and courts, but Milne doesn't: he doesn't even more than passingly mention the League of Nations, let alone analyze how it could be made to work better.

Like every other diagnostician of a world problem, from Marx on down, when it comes to proposing a solution Milne has only inanities to offer. His idea is to force (he doesn't say how) every world leader to swear a solemn oath by whatever God they hold dear to renounce war entirely, defensive as well as offensive, and then by golly they'll be forced to seek mediation of their differences by neutral parties (he doesn't say how they'll be chosen, and evades the question of how the countries will be forced to abide by the decision).

One odd part to this is that it doesn't comport with his ideas of disputes being unresolvable and not worth trying to resolve.

The other odd part is that he treats neutral mediation as a radical new idea he'll have to talk the countries into accepting; in fact it was a standard way for countries to settle differences they didn't want to get into wars over. The boundary dispute between the US and Canada over the San Juan Islands was settled in 1872 by asking Kaiser Wilhelm I to decide. Even wars could be ended that way: The Russo-Japanese war of 1905 was mediated by Theodore Roosevelt. But Milne makes no reference to this tradition.

But what, the reader insists on asking, if a country attacks you anyway? To this Milne goes to his most inane. Well, he says, assuming that other countries act in bad faith and thus preparing for war has always led to war, so why not assume they act in good faith instead? Couldn't be worse, could it? I shudder at that level of trust. Given your money to any Nigerian princes lately?

Oh come on, the exasperated reader says. What if it's THE NAZIS? And to his credit, Milne addresses that straightforwardly. He has a whole chapter, chapter 13, on exactly that question. He says that fascist dictators like Hitler or Mussolini keep control by keeping their people constantly on the pitch of threatening war. But, he says, 1) if they actually do declare war, they will begin to lose that control they hold most dear. And 2) if they should lose a war, that would be the end of them.

Here again Milne is prescient. Those gleaming fascist empires did indeed begin to crack when war was declared. And both Hitler and Mussolini met ends as degrading and humiliating as any anti-fascist could have wished for.

But Milne falls down with his conclusions from points 1 and 2. He says, 3) the dictators know this. I'm not sure if they did. Nothing I've read about Hitler suggests that he was aware of #1. He did know #2, but neither he nor Mussolini thought that could happen. They'd look out on their gleaming armies and think, "How can I possibly lose a war?" And then Milne says, 4) their talk of war is just bluster. They can't risk actually doing it.

This, I trust, is where Milne-'40 sadly shook his head and departed from his earlier self, because Milne-'34 was just flatly wrong about that. For one thing, he'd acknowledged that the dictators had to keep their populaces on the pitch of war, but he didn't realize that you can't do that indefinitely without eventually producing one.

Oh, but it gets worse. In chapter 8, the one in which Milne evades Christian responses to pacifism, he has his imaginary reader bluntly ask, What if Germany invaded anyway? Would you acquiesce, then, in their conquest of Britain? Milne's response defines "acquiesce" as liking it. He says, and here I quote: "In fact, I should hate them. It would be easy to feel intensely humiliated by them. But then ..." Oh, I can hardly bear to type this: "But then it is easy for an author to feel intensely humiliated whenever his play is rejected or his novel is a failure." And he provides several other examples of the same sort, and says, you don't kill people over that.

Oh, Milne-'34, you silly old bear. Do you really think those two forms of humiliation - an author's book not selling and the Nazis conquering a country - are even remotely comparable? All he can say to defend this position is to point out that, if we fought Germany, women and children would be killed, and (the reader he's addressing at this point is a Christian) we might have to ally ourselves with godless Russia. Well, those things were both true, but they didn't seem to bother Milne-'40: ask him. You don't even need to conjure up the ghosts of six million Jews and as many other Romani, homosexuals, et al, to argue this point: that mostly hadn't happened yet in 1940. But even then, Milne-'40 had figured out that there are things worse than war.

The problem is that Milne-'34 is so terrified by the memory of WW1 that he considers another war worse than literally anything else. The one other thing he's as certain of as the points I numbered 1 and 2 above is that another general war will be the end of European civilization, and he quotes that noted expert on world affairs, Stanley Baldwin, in support of this. (I'm being sarcastic: Baldwin was probably the least internationally-oriented politician in British history.) Milne-'34 is in the position of Chamberlain-'38, who was moved by the same terror to do anything to prevent another war. Remember that, technically, Munich was Chamberlain mediating - just as Milne would want - a dispute between Germany and Czechoslovakia. But it wasn't a real dispute, it had been gingered up out of nothing by Hitler. And the reason appeasement didn't work is not because appeasement is inherently bad, but because Hitler would not negotiate in good faith. In chapter 17 in describing his utopian plan for forced mediation, Milne says this assumes "(i) a Germany which recognizes that another European war will be disastrous, and (ii) a contented Germany." But such a Germany did not exist, and under the dispensations then existing in Europe, which only WW2 changed, such a Germany could not exist. So the entire argument is nugatory.

Nice try, Alan, but I prefer your children's books.

world according to cat

There's much excitement in the mornings. Because there will be food. Fooood. Food, that knits up the raveled sleeve of care, or something.

Pippin says, "If She* is getting fed, then I will get fed. I will now run around the living room several times to express my excitement at the prospect of being fed."

Maia, meanwhile, is jealous. When she and Pippin were on different kibbles, she wanted his kibble and would go to any lengths to sneak past my watchful eye and scarf some out of his dish. Was it just that it was his or did she actually like his kibble better? Then we put her on the same as his and lo, she was content. But now he's been switched to some lovely stinky wet food, and she's jealous again. These changes have all been for medical or dietary reasons, not to annoy Maia, but she is not to know that.

*who must be obeyed, of course

here's one I don't get

British department store chain spends £7 million to kick off its Christmas ad campaign with a 2-minute ad by an Oscar-winning director.

OK, it's a touching story of a little boy and the monster under his bed, but what is its point as an ad? The boy gets a toy with lights on it for Christmas, and it makes the monster go away. Or it doesn't make the monster go away. Or both. It seems to me that the toy the ad is actually trying to push is the monster, but they don't sell that at John Lewis. Or do they?

Friday, November 10, 2017

departed persons

In the last couple weeks, I've been to two Catholic masses in honor of the deceased: one funeral, one memorial service, but the only difference was whether the remains were present.

One was for B's niece's mother-in-law; the other for onyxlynx, who was part of a social circle I'm on the edge of. At the first, the eulogy was given by her son, who told of his mother's harrowing childhood in China, of which I'd known little; at the other, by her sister, who told of family gatherings back on the east coast, a part of her life I'd also not known, even unto the name she was known by her family, never heard among her friends.

In both cases the departed was a woman with a background and character far different from my own, and whom I did not know intimately; but who was friendly and welcoming and interesting, whom I could converse with easily and was always a pleasure to see. Who brought, as I said of onyxlynx before, texture to my life.

I wanted to honor and commemorate their lives, and let their loved ones know that others, too, missed them. And that's why I was there, yes?

Monday, November 6, 2017

two concerts

Last year a kind soul on the neighborhood association mailing list alerted us that a local pianist named Tamami Honma, who works as a music minister at a nearby Methodist church, was giving a series of concerts at that church covering Beethoven's piano sonatas. All 32 of them.

I went to some of these, which were overseen by a large cardboard cutout statue of Beethoven, and I enjoyed them. But whoever notified us of these concerts must have drifted away, because it was only on Saturday, from another source, that I learned that that evening Ms Honma was giving the second of three concerts covering Beethoven's piano concertos at the same church.

So I'd missed the first, and can't get to the third. But I hastened over for the second, which was a particular treat because it featured the concertos Nos. 1 and 5 (the latter is the "Emperor"), my favorites. The cardboard cutout statue was still there, so were Ms Honma and her percussive off-brand piano, and so was a small orchestra of peculiar roster.

The double winds of a full orchestra were all present. But in the strings there was only one player per part. This imbalance made for a wind-band sound much of the time, the more so as both these concertos include trumpets and timpani (which was also there). In a few passages where strings alone accompanied the piano, it became of chamber music intimacy. Interesting experience.

The orchestral musicians were from a variety of local community orchestras, and despite the fact that this included the Saratoga Symphony, they were fairly decent. Some horn wobbles during the transition between the Adagio and the Rondo in the Emperor left this magical moment basically unimpaired. I've heard less inspiring renditions in professional concerts.

Then on Sunday afternoon I ventured up to Redwood Symphony, with B. along, to hear Mozart's Requiem because I was reviewing it. I did not know until a couple hours before we left that it'd be a requiem for 26 Baptists from Texas. The chorus board president alluded, nonspecifically, to this in his introductory remarks, and I was pleased to be just as nonspecific in passing the allusion along. I wanted to acknowledge the moment, but reviews are required to be brief and on topic. There are other places to say what has to be said, and in some of them, it's being said. It may be only MAD Magazine, but I admire the concision in this.

May I just add that it really bites when an ensemble giving the world premiere of a work that they commissioned misspells the title in the program listing? It was right in the descriptive notes. I was just looking at the review and then the program listing and sent a hasty correction to my editor, and then had to follow it with a hastier uncorrection.

Friday, November 3, 2017

et tu, Wolfie

I've just received an assignment to review a performance of Mozart's Requiem this weekend. Now, I've heard Mozart's Requiem in performance at least three times, but I never paid close attention to what was going on in it. Time to do so. So I fetched out B's old vocal score (of course she has one, and there it is next to Brahms's Requiem and Verdi's Requiem) and followed along with a recording. I like what he does with matching up the soloists, especially in the Tuba Mirum where each successive solo entrance stomps on the last note of the previous one.

But I was also curious if I could tell from ear alone where Mozart stopped. As we all know from Amadeus, Mozart didn't live to finish the piece, but Salieri had nothing to do with it. The work had been commissioned, and Constanze was anxious that the patron not find out that Wolfie hadn't finished the job, or she might not get paid. So she hastily enlisted a handy composing friend (possibly a student of Mozart's, or maybe she made that up) named Süssmayr to quickly finish up the work in secret.

Besides the fact that it's somewhat windier? Yeah, there's a couple of things.

First: "Hosan-NAH." Süssmayr! Who pronounces it that way?

Second: A moment just before the end of the Agnus Dei. Mozart would never spiral down into a mere half-cadence that way. It's just not him.

science fiction in real life

Remember the scene in Asimov's Second Foundation where Arkady Darrell turns on the voice recognition program to write her term paper on Seldon's Plan, and forgets to turn it off when she starts to talk about something else?

Imaginative science fiction, seventy years ago.

A simple fact of life today.

Thursday, November 2, 2017

of a friend

Wild-irises posts in memoriam for onyxlynx, who died last week.

Of her nature and character you can read there. Here I will just say that I feel wounded. She was one of those people who brought texture to my life. I like the word "indirect" that wild-irises uses; that was how I experienced her communication, and it was something you got used to. I felt honored that she was my DW friend, and we went on communicating in that same indirect way that I'd first learned when we were in an apa together in the late 70s. I found that staying up late in a bleary haze was the best state to appreciate her writing and to respond appropriately. This broadens and stretches the mind, children.

Of course she used a different name in apas than she did offline. Nor did she litter her online journal with clues to her identity either; figuring out who this "onyxlynx" person was was just part of the fun.

We both disliked dogs. We both disliked potatoes. We may have been the only ones.

I'd sometimes come across her among the niches at the Garden of Memory concert - she's the Tall Black Woman whom I'd report having seen there - and we'd converse there in that happenstantial way of casual occasional friends. She thanked me for posting a reminder of this summer's concert and planned to be there, but alas it did not happen and she sent regrets. And that was the last ...


1. Since we get so few trick-or-treaters even in a good year, and since the light by the carpath in front of our house has been out for over a month (our landlord keeps pinging the management agency for the complex, but nothing happens, and our porch light doesn't extend that far), we decided just to eschew Halloween this year. No pumpkin, no candy.

2. The big news is, Michael Tilson Thomas is announcing his retirement from the San Francisco Symphony. Like a good music director, he's giving three years' notice, but it's still a big change. Reading his statement, he feels that at 75, which he'll be then, it's time to give up the administrative work and go back to just conducting. So he's not going away entirely. Still, he's been so monumental and so much a fixture - 25 years in the post, longest in SFS' history - that contemplating his replacement is an awesome challenge, bigger than it's seemed before. SFS' last 3 MDs have all been good at their job, albeit with differing styles, but the shoes to fill have gotten even bigger, and the wrench into a different style will be greater.

3. Latest quick grab from the library shelf, A Charlie Brown Religion by Stephen J. Lind, on the spiritual life of Charles Schulz both in and out of the comic strip. The big Schulz biography by David Michaelis says he gradually lost his faith and became an unbeliever. That must be one of the ways the Schulz children felt Michaelis misrepresented their father, because this book, accompanied by their enthusiastic blurbs on the back, says not. Schulz's Midwestern Protestant distaste for organized, authoritative religion, which is part of what caused him eventually to stop attending church and to dub himself a secular humanist (by which, Lind insists, he did not mean atheist or unbeliever), did not cancel out his Christian devotion or his interest in Bible study - as indeed can be guessed from the strip, which remained Biblically conversant through the end, without the heavy-handedness of certain other Christian cartoonists. Typical of Schulz is his opposition to official school prayer when that was a hot issue. He wrote to a church publication at the time, "If our spiritual lives need the support of governmental laws, then we are already doomed." Naturally his comic in which Sally whispers to Charlie Brown as a great secret, "We prayed in school today," was widely misread.

Some of what's in here is interesting - did you know that the Great Pumpkin began as a sarcastic joke about seeing Christmas decorations in October? in 1959? - and some disturbing, like the Peanuts nativity set featuring Lucy as Mary, Charlie Brown as Joseph, and Woodstock as Jesus: supposedly the gang are putting on a pageant, but still ... Lind is not a minister, but he sounds like one, keeping a minister's positive upbeat tone about everything, even Schulz's divorce and his failure to discuss morals and ethics with his children (he didn't want to come across as an Authority, see).

4. Speaking of fathers, it's my father's birthday today, the first one he's not around to celebrate, alas. It's also the centenary of the Balfour Declaration, whose exact date I hadn't known before, an interesting coincidence. Balfour gets in bad repute these days, but nobody has a plausible answer for where the Jews were supposed to go instead (my ancestors were already here, and the US soon after stopped letting dusky foreigners in) or notices that the Declaration explicitly calls for territorial justice for the Arabs as well.