Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Taking Stock

I took the always crowded King Streetcar to work this morning, just as I did this day last year.

Except a lot of things are different, one of those things being that I don't live near the King streetcar anymore. If only that were all that was different.

The Transcontinental is both a pale reflection of my "real" life, and an all-too accurate representation of my inner life. It is full of certain hopes and desires, of ambitions, some realised, most not at all, and it tells a particular story about me, but one that seems not very familiar to my self-conception.

I am happy that so many more people have visited the Transcontinental this year than in previous years, but I am discouraged by the fact that despite the visits, fewer people comment. When one starts to think about this, they start to think about how they can "attract" people here, and I too think often of that.

One of the things I think I need to do is write better. The writing here seems more laboured and yet also lazy, although not because I have posted more. Something is missing.

There is a part of me that wants to do some kind of list, set some kinds of goals here for the next year, but I look at the goals I've set here, like my January 1st, 2007 goal to post every day, and how it, like all the other goals, was not achieved.

So maybe my new year's resolution for the blog is that I'm not going to set any goals, or make any more promises here. I am just going to keep going, and see where things take me, because that approach in other aspects of my life, where I take up those lines of flight, has been enormously productive.

And, as you can see, the site looks completely different. I hope you like that too.

Happy New Year!

Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Tautological Aphorism V

Mockery is the sincerest form of criticism.

Monday, December 22, 2008

Well what do you know?

I suppose there's hope for me yet!

Saturday, December 20, 2008

Small World - Tabling Heine

Earlier today, I was reading Raminagrobis, a wonderful blog that I first encountered via the Varieties. Having read the latest post, I was going to add the blog to my roll. However, I'm working on a paper on Heine, and so wasn't going to do it today.

In Die Harzreise, Heine mentions schoolboys declining "mensa" in the genitive. I was curious to see if he was in any way referring to the ecclesiastical use of the term, as my paper concerns secularization.

So I googled "mensa latin grammar" - and Raminagrobis was the first hit! Turns out he posted on the various cultural differences between latin grammars. Heine's reference made me wonder if mensa isn't also common as an early paradigm in German Latin grammars, and sure enough, page 21 of the Lateinische Grammatik here at google books, the first declension is "mensa" , although this 1837 grammar uses "via" on page 38...

Anyway, and this is certainly no strong counterexample to the cultural differences in noun declensions Raminagrobis cites, but it seems that the shift from "mensa" to "agricola" in German grammars of Latin appears to be a more recent one, as I am pretty sure that Heine here is playing with what would have been common knowledge at the time.

And with that, perhaps the most esoteric blog post I've ever written.

Friday, December 12, 2008

The Smoking Bishop

The thing I most enjoy about Christmas is the sheer variety of traditions that magically appear around this time, most of which either never existed until a few years ago or were long dead until someone with a web page and a 19th Century cookbook resurrected them. So maybe it's not the variety of traditions appeals to me, but the receptiveness to the new through the back door of tradition.

And there's an always fruitful and pleasurable avenue of exploration of the eternal recurrence of holiday traditions - the myriad ways in which one can get soused with warm drinks!

To wit, via the Valve, a link to a holiday drink I had never heard of, but solely on account of the name desperately want to try - the Smoking Bishop.

It sounds like a nice mulled wine, but if this NPR program on the beverage is any indication, the recipe at the Valve may not be the one you want to be going with...Instead, I would suggest you trust the Irishman towards the end of the broadcast segment who modifies it slightly for our modern, naïve tastes, and makes it "taste good"!


Thursday, December 11, 2008

Elliott Carter! Daniel Barenboim! James Levine!

All in one studio - together at last.

What else would prompt me to post three times in one day?

A Transcontinental exclusive!

Elliott Carter, 100 years and still alive despite the fact that he killed classical music for the People

The best part about Eliott Carter's centenary is that, for perhaps the first time ever in modern classical music marketing, the composer we are lionizing today with concerts, retrospectives, symposia, ephemera, salutary compositions, and sombre critical inquiry over the very fate and nature of classical/modern/serious music is the following:


It's nice to think that he's around to get some kind of bemused enjoyment out of all of this.

And the entire classical blogosphere has typed lauds into their blogs as well, a veritable youtube symphony of praise.

That's pretty much it. Oh yes, and this:

Serialism forever! Tonalität ist tot!

Nuts to you, Sandow and Gann, with your zany post-classical future of classical music wickedness!

Schönberg! Schönberg! Schönberg! (although he too, is dead)

Der Vorleser: The Movie: The Discussion

As a budding germanist, I should probably have some kind of quota for posts which relate to my field of study...barring this, here's an interesting conversation from WNYC between actor Ralph Fiennes and Leonard Lopate about the upcoming movie adaptation of Bernhard Schlink's novel The Reader.

That reminds me - I'm very critical of Canadian media and society what I don't think works, but I rarely, if ever, attempt to offer any solutions.

Listening to WNYC reminds me that I need to address that. To that, I think exactly what Canadian society lacks from a media perspective is, um, WNYC...the big question is how to make that happen...but more on that some other time.

UPDATE: The player isn't working, so here's the direct link!

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Utopian Argumentation

This Ads Without Products post reminded me of a something I often see in magazine articles or newspaper profiles about a group with idealistic aims (note how I avoided that other word [see above]).

The trope is as follows: these idealistic people are striving for utopia. But wait - "utopia" means "no place" in the Greek, so therefore, clearly, the ideals of this group or person will never come to pass. Because "utopia" means "no place".

Or maybe you've seen this one: Group X's utopian ideals are misplaced, because there is no such thing as a utopia, because "utopia" means "no place".

There is some interesting interplay between use and definition. Prior to the defining moment, "utopia" or "utopian" is employed as a pejorative, used to mean "pie in the sky", or "fanciful". But inevitably, these pie in the sky ideas, like helping the poor or opposing torture, are refuted via etymology.

So implicit in the common use of the word "utopia" is to make explicit one's belief that a word's etymology governs reality, that etymology functions as a natural law to which we all must submit.

Which is nonsense, isn't it? Maybe I'm being utopian...

Sunday, December 07, 2008

Gustav Szathmáry - An Update

(photo from myspace page dedicated to Szathmáry)

It seems that my post on Gustav Szathmáry last May has compelled the Internet to disclose another fragment of this man's life.

When I had done my initial research on his life, I was dismayed to discover that there was no scholarly (or unscholarly) work done on him. It turns out the the little-known firm Cupere Verlag had published a 71-page monograph on our friend and his remarkable life.

Astoundingly, it is available here on the Internet Archive, and no where else on earth.

Written by Dietmar Heinisch, the book is a treasure trove of information about his life, his work, and his affair with the painter Paula Modersohn-Becker.

It also contains reproductions of Szathmáry's stunning images of his friends, including a remarkable photograph of Rainer Maria Rilke (the painting is by Moderson-Becker):

I mentioned in my previous post that someone has created a myspace page in his honour. It has now been updated to include some more of his music. I encourage you to listen!

If only his complete works were available - given all the musicological attention devoted to the schlock of the day, it seems surprising that no work has been done to unearth his music. A tragedy.

I would like to think that my own meagre contribution to disseminating his work was a factor in prompting whomever had a copy of that biography to make it available.

One wonders why there are no copies available in any libraries - perhaps the publisher went bankrupt before it went to press, and poor Herr Heinisch perished in a fiery wreck the very next day.

Perhaps the book sat lost, forgotten in a mouldy box, until the day a young woman in Bremen was sorting through the papers of her recently deceased grandfather, and found this monograph, which he'd purchased at a used bookshop in Erfurt when he was a visiting lecturer there.

Perhaps she, like me, was entranced by his story and the beauty and ingenuity of his work, and so she did what we all do when we find something new and interesting, and googled "Szathmáry".

What did she find? Me! A lone outpost on the Internet, a buoy for our nearly lost Hungarian friend. She was much too shy to contact me, and I do not blame her for this, perhaps her English is not so good.

But I am grateful that she has made this book available so that we may all enjoy it, or at least those of us who speak German. For English speakers, please enjoy the photographs.

I sincerely hope that this latest post will encourage the dialectic of discovery amongst my readership and those out there who know who he is, so that Szathmáry can take his place in the Parthenon of Great Composers.

Friday, December 05, 2008

No Portrait Gallery until you've paid off your credit card!

Further to yesterday's post, with the recent cancellation of the National Portrait Gallery, it seems as though the Harper government has shown its hand with respect to "the arts".

Or not. The irony of this boondoggle is that it is entirely of the Conservative government's making. They cancelled the Ottawa gallery as it was set to open, and tried to move it at the last minute to Calgary for purely partisan reasons.

To be honest, I actually like the idea of housing national cultural institutions across the country instead of concentrating them in the national capital, but doing this at the last minute was an act of political stupidity. Stephen Marche actually argues here that this is the worst thing the feds have done to Alberta since the NEP. (Don't worry Stephen, after this week, I suspect everyone in Alberta has forgotten they've pulled the plug on this as well as the Commons)

They pulled the trigger on Portrait Gallery because they were wasting money, and governmental pride, universal to government of all political stripes, eliminated the possibility of letting the Ottawa gallery open under its original mandate.

The government's PR explanation, that it's the economic downturn is of course a smokescreen. But this smokescreen will be successful because, like the brass at CBC, Conservatives know that Canadians, philistines that they are, will be more than happy to sacrifice art for the economy.

English Canada's capacity for cultural self-loathing has few limits: "Everyone, gather your paintings, your books and your records, and use them to stoke the flames of your furnaces, for we must sacrifice art in this time of need!"

English Canadians embody the paradox of our age when it comes to art. We are, on the one hand, obsessed with a work of art's economic or exchange value. We bristle at the fact that they, as taxpayers, own something we do not like or "enjoy", (or understand) as though the mass media we consume is something we enjoy, acting as though mass entertainment is the product of a monthly census sent to every household, as though people get to choose from a wide range of aesthetic styles and dramatic genres.

On the other hand, we are remarkably quick to toss any works exchange value in the trash and sacrifice it like a fatted calf to the Economy. In times of need, who can we even talk about funding the arts? Let's close down the galleries and orchestras until the economy improves!

Does anyone else see where this takes us? The money has already been spent on the art, on the facilities, but we shouldn't ever see them a) because no one wants to and b) it is an insult to the people who are suffering in this economic downturn.

Except Canadians haven't really been affected by it yet. But if there's one thing that unites the left and the right in Canada, it's a resolute opposition to "circuses".

It seems, at least to me, that we are in a virtually intractable situation with respect to art and culture here in Canada.

We function as though the public/private distinction is hard and fast, that one is noble while the other is degrading. One would think that if the recent financial troubles had taught us anything, it's that governments are as much a part, indeed they are the foundation, of a functioning market, and not in some kind of brute opposition to them. English Canadians do not appear to have understood this, and we continue to live in the culture wars rhetoric of the mid-1990's.

Most striking are all the self-professed "art lovers" come out of the woodwork with their false piety to proclaim that we need to close all the galleries and opera companies until the economy improves, we must all do our part, like in war time, except that we don't appear to sacrifice anything in war time, (What's Afghanistan? A skirmish?).

Of course, also have the free-market types who are always quick to talk about "my tax dollars" (never ours) going to things "I don't see" (makes one wonder why they they don't mind paying for wars they don't see either), a classic reductionist argument which nonetheless has remarkable traction, due to the near universal self-loathing of the English Canadian bourgeois "art lover".

The crux of all this is just how much both types desire cuts to arts funding, to culture, because deep down inside, the culture industry has taught them that to enjoy government supported art is to sin, that public art has the taint of blood money. The conservative free-marketer just sits back on his or her ideology, laughing at the easy success of their cruelty, while the art lover is consumed with liberal guilt for watching precious tax dollars find their way to something that doesn't directly materially benefit them in some way.

In other words, they are all part of the same rhetorical game about the arts in Canada, and it's not a game that sees art as a winner, but as a parasite to efficiency and moreover, a threat to the quality of life of most Canadians.

That even the art lover believes this deep down inside is perhaps the most demoralizing aspect of our discourse right now.

Thursday, December 04, 2008

Once a Colony, always a Colony...

There's a nutty political crisis happening up here in Canada, and I really don't know who reads my blog, but if any of you non-Canadians want a good look into the Canadian psyche, this poll does a pretty good job.

For those of you who don't know, Canada's political/constitutional/moral/federal/provincial/regional crisis began last Thursday when the man 59 per cent of Canadians believe would "best be able to manage Canada's economy during these troubling times" and his Finance minister presented an economic statement just over a month after their re-election as a minority government.

Here's the problem. Everyone agrees (except perhaps a majority of Canadians) that the economic statement completely sucked, given the current economic situation.

Oh, and it was incredibly partisan.

And before any of you trolls come out, I feel pretty secure in saying that the Conservative economic statement completely sucked and was partisan because even the Conservative government has completely backed down from it.

And what's this? Since the economic statement and the political intrigues support for the Tories might have actually increased?

Despite my somewhat baffled countenance, I am not here to talk politics, but to wonder aloud why it is my country is the way it is.

I have had my suspicions over the years, but think it is safe to say that alot of Canadians don't really care for democracy. I say that because all the polling that has happened since the crisis started gives one a good sense of the level of political disengagement Canadians are engaged in right now.

This active, studied disengagement leads many Canadians to be quite bent out of shape about having to think about politics or civics.

You hear people talking about it on the street all the time right now, and what I've heard, even here in "liberal" Toronto is "Harper was just made PM" and "I don't want another expensive election" and "how can anyone work with those separatists?" and "they all just need to grow up".
I have friends who support the coalition that the other 3 political parties have proposed, but when I listen to people I don't know, the hearsay is clear - we do not want to think about this. Government, why are you bothering us? We elected you to some kind of chamber in Ottawa, and now you go and do stuff and we get to complain about all the stuff you do. This is how it works here.

I remember sitting on a streetcar during the 2005-06 election, the one which elected the current government to power. Behind me sat a Canadian and a Finn who, if I recall said he had been here for 5-10 years.

They spoke about the upcoming election. The conversation went something as follows:

"Yeah, I'm not sure who to vote for, they're all crooked. The current PM wants to tax us more."

"I do not think so. I read their platform and they have pledged to cut income taxes by 2 per cent next year."

"Huh, well yeah, but it's better than the socialists, they just want to tax everything."

"Not so. I read their platform and they said that they intend to not raise income taxes, although they have pledged to raise taxes on large corporations."

"Really? Is that what it says? Well, you can't trust those politicians to do what they will say, can you?" (chuckles)

I will be honest with you. I cannot remember what it is they actually said, but what was truly striking was that the Canadian sounded resolutely so - he spouted vaguely right-wing talking points, although on further reflection was probably more moderate, meaning, he was probably a Liberal, while the Finn actually knew what every party had pledged.

Again, I know this is anecdotal, but look again at the statistics - does this look like a country that has any idea as to what's going on right now? Or is all of this stuff in Ottawa just kind of a kink in the Christmas shopping season? But more importantly - what do the Americans think??

It seems a good time to mention that the government which 3 out of 5 Canadians believe is best able to manage Canada's economy, only released their economic plan to Canadian voters on October 7. Election day was on October 14. The election was called on September 7. So with a week left in the election, they let Canadians know how they would manage the economy.

I guess Canadians just knew that, "in their hearts", like the guy on the streetcar, they were best. After all, they're Conservatives, right, and Conservatives are good with the economy, right?

I can only imagine how that poor Finn felt, on October 6, sitting there with all the other political party policy platforms, wondering what he was going to do come election day if the governing party doesn't release a platform...

Looking at the data, Canadians do not care about government. Not only do they not care, they begin to get downright hostile at the possibility that the going's on in government might actually be serious enough that they have to pay attention. That's what government's are for, so the people don't have to worry.

My countrymen and countrywomen are fine and friendly people. And yet, the statistics seem to show that for all our strengths, one of them isn't engaging in a democracy.

Wednesday, December 03, 2008

Dum vixi tacui, mortua dulce cano

A long time ago, I had this whole crazy plan to do a multi-part series around tuning, and weigh in on the debates around equal vs. just temperament and the whole debate that took place a few years ago about how some squiggles on the title page of the Bach's Well-Tempered Clavier were in fact Bach's tuning system.

Like all my other crazy plans, I never got to it.

However, this music review got me thinking about it again. I would love to hear what these tunings sound like...wait! Bradley Lehman, the discoverer of this tuning system has a myspace page (who doesn't these days!).

You can listen to the F# Minor Fugue from the 1st Book! Or at his home page, you can hear streaming audio of a whole selection of his performances.

To be honest, I don't know what to say. The NY Times reviewer seems to hear things as everyone else does, although, to be honest, I don't really believe him.

To me, it's more like citrus in water than some kind of massive revolutionary transformation of everything we've ever thought and understood about Bach.

But what really got me was the painting and on the inside of the lid of the harpsichord. I just love the idea of the instrument, to be fondled, is also an object of aural and visual beauty as well. It also reminds me that I must learn Latin.

And I just found the papers I was going to use to write those old tungin posts....the eternal return returns. What's next? A Heimito von Doderer post? A chapter of Friedemann Bach? More narcissistic overly self-conscious self-referential musings?

Actually, what's really missing are more train references. That's something I really need to work on.

Tuesday, December 02, 2008

Blogging the Bach Cantatas: Advent I

One of my formative experiences as a musician was heading to the Calgary Public Library in the summer of 1990 and taking out the Karl Richter cycle of the Bach Cantatas. I listened to them all that summer, back when I had the kind of time a teenager passionate about, uh, Bach, has.

So when I started blogging, I wondered how to recapture that magic of 18 years ago, except in blog form.

So here's what I'm going to do, beyond hoping that doing this will qualify me for all the classical music blog rankings - I'm going to write a blog post on every Bach cantata in the cycle. I can't listen to them all in the space of 2 months, but over a year?

Do I know what form these posts will take? Nope. I guess we will see what happens. So here goes. I also know this post is a few days late, but better a few days than using it as an excuse to stall for another year...I also hope they get better. I suspect you will too.


The Richter cycle begins with BWV 61. Advent does not begin with heads bowed, nor in quiet contemplation. From his Weimar years, the opening movement instead proclaims the arrival

der Heiden Heiland
Der Jungfrauen Kind erkannt
Des sich wundert alle Welt
Gott solch Geburt ihm bestellt.

The beauty of the tenor aria is only matched by the banality of its text

Komm, Jesu, komm zu deiner
Und gib ein selig neues Jahr!
Befördre deines Namens Ehre
Erhalte die gesunde Lehre
Und segne Kanzel und Altar!

There's nothing like the German imperative...Jesus, get in here! How many times have I heard that before?

The soprano aria, however, although also beautiful, also fails to really get us anywhere. The final chorus, however, well, it just kicks, well, you know (these are church cantatas....)

Anyway, I know this probably isn't what you were expecting, but, it's my blog, and I can assure you that this series will rise above the usual banalities, unlike this cantata, which just bookends them.

I hope.

Monday, December 01, 2008

Kein Mampf

So I was at the World's Biggest Bookstore a few weeks ago, and I noticed this:

So just to be clear- you can't buy Mein Kampf at Indigo or the World's Biggest Bookstore or Chapters, but you can buy a book on how to read it.

I almost feel bad pointing this out, actually. Perhaps it's a sobering reflection on staff turnover in the warehouse bookstore industry. Or, and I'd put my money on this, perhaps someone is playing a dark joke on their boss, Heather Reisman.

I mean, look who they've stuck next to Hitler! His old school chum! And right below him lurks Heidegger!

Anyway, if it was a joke, here's to you, anonymous Indigo book buyer!

And if it wasn't, well, God help us all.