Thursday, October 22, 2009


I cannot honestly say that my lack of posting has to do with being busy. I am very busy, but that has rarely stopped me before. Rather, I think that part of the reason why I'm not posting is the blogging for me is a kind of therapy, although I cannot put my finger on it, and I haven't really needed the therapy it provides me lately.

There is a very good reason for this - in the past two months, my skills as a piano player have increased dramatically. I have been practising and playing away pretty consistently now for 2 1/2 years, and I'm at the point that if I see an F# on the page, my hand just reaches over and plays it. I'm not longer "thinking" about finding the note - my hand is just there.

Do I always get it? No, but anyone who plays the piano who reads this blog, and I suspect those of you who do are far better keyboardists than I, will get what I'm saying - the mind concentrates more on nuance, while the body concentrates on execution. There is a kind of division happening, although the division reconciles itself in the outcome. I feel I am on the cusp of mastery.

So when I have a choice between writing on this blog, and playing Beethoven, I think you can appreciate that playing Beethoven wins. What is perhaps a little sad about this is that I feel that my mastery of writing, which has always been on the line, is slipping away from me.

I also feel I should clarify my use of "mastery". Am I claiming to be Schnabel or Pollini? No! I mean it more that if one takes learning something as the equivalent of climbing a hill, I feel I am on the other side. Now one always has to be careful about the other side of that hill - it can be treacherous, there is a risk of falling, but the practice of getting down the hill is a fundamentally different one from that of climbing.

Mastery, to me, is being on the descent. It's why I have finally started to look at the late Beethoven sonatas.


Now some of you may ask, why the alpine metaphors? I've been climbing. In fact, when I was in Alberta, I hiked up Mount Fairview. I had never done anything like this before, but the experience has the feeling of a wound that will never heal, and that is only stanched by climbing again. So next year I hope to scramble Mount Temple.

(This isn't a photo of Mount Temple, it's actually on the other side)

What does all of this mean for this blog? A few things have lately conspired to get me wondering what I'm up to here. There has been my desire to comment on stuff with vague political ramblings and linking. (It's interesting to consider the relationship between

However, perhaps most crucially, there has been this site: hilobrow, which I discovered via Crooked Timber.

I have to say, I absolutely love this site, not least for it's unrepentant defense of Theodor Adorno, perhaps the driest straw man in the entire blogosphere! (I mean, check out that Crooked Timber post, and pretty much every North American classical music blogger's post on Adorno. As much as I like him, I kind of blame Alex Ross for this. But that's not really an argument, so I will have to actually engage with that statement, as he is the big man on the virtual campus.

But not today (That will be on my tombstone...) Suffice to say that the anti-Adorno animus found on Crooked Timber is premised on the fact that he hated jazz and Disney. So many people say this to me that I no longer even find it funny, especially given many of those who say this to me never listen to jazz, in fact, I would go so far to say that they have no time for it. It's more a kind of shorthand to say "Adorno doesn't like kitsch and we do."

What exactly was Adorno wrong about?

I think that if I can faintly see a kind of vision for this blog, it is one that spends a lot of time defending Adorno. I think what the classical music blogopshere needs, more than anything, is someone willing to defend Adorno. I think that someone is going to be me. Unless I'm too late!

Really, just take a look at my blog title. Maybe writing about wine and talking about goulash and kitsch and Adorno would make this place just a bit more interesting, a bit more combative, and a bit more me.


Osbert Parsley said...

Enthusiastic agreement on Adorno. I'm a bit too Aristotleian to agree entirely with what he says, but he was right about a lot of things. If anything, his critique has become even more relevant as top-40 pop continues to sink to a lower and lower cultural level.

He's neither the saviour of traditional musical values nor the bogeyman in the closet. Time for a higher standard of discourse, methinks.

Andrew W. said...

Osbert, I completely agree. The irony is that the man who worked so hard at trying to work out what art might look like after Nazism is himself pigeonholed as a dour Prussian by those who saw him, as a german, as part of the problem.