Not a very large crowd showed up at Davies to hear Scheherazade.2: Dramatic Symphony for Violin and Orchestra by John Adams. The ".2" as in a software version 2.0 release (a reference the composer made in his pre-concert talk) is the only acknowledgment the piece makes to Rimsky-Korsakov, though the works have a strong structural resemblance, being long rambling works in four movements with Scheherazade represented by a solo violin, which, however, gets a lot more work here than in Rimsky; it's a violin concerto in all but name. It was played by Leila Josefowicz, for whom the piece was written. Adams says he was inspired de novo by the original story and wanted to give Scheherazade her feminist voice back in response to the Sultan's marital abuse.

However, I'd rather hear the Rimsky. In the role of villains trying to oppress Scheherazade, Adams' orchestral parts were rather anemic. And, purely as music, his work sounded more like a garrulous piece from the Richard Strauss school of Giganticism than like anything that might have distantly descended from Minimalism.

Second half was a reprise of an old MTT success, a big wad selected from Prokofiev's Romeo and Juliet. This was pieces from the original ballet score, not the composer's reworked suites. I prefer the suites.

That morning I got a call from the box office alerting me, a couple weeks in advance of the next season subscription mailing, that they're eliminating the Wednesday concert series altogether. I'm not too surprised. Years ago, the main concert programs were on Wednesday and Friday, with some Saturdays and an occasional Thursday matinee. But in recent years they've been cutting back on Wednesdays and piling up the Fridays and Saturdays.

However, in the last couple years they've introduced some Thursday evening concerts for weeks without a matinee, and the box officer told me they'll be beefing the number of those up next year. So since I'm often attending other events down here on weekends and it gets uncomfortably crowded in the City on weekends, Thursday it'll become for me.
I was asked to comment on this article about the Electoral College.

First I should add that most of my understanding of the Constitution’s intent probably comes from the Federalist Papers. Prof. Finkelman’s quotes all appear to be from Madison’s reports of the debates, which I’ve never read end to end, though I’ve certainly read a lot of works citing them.

Here is what I wrote directly in comment about the article:

That’s a very interesting article, but I’m not sure about accepting all of the arguments. It is, of course, dangerous for an amateur like myself to dispute with an expert when I haven’t even done any research directly in response to this, but I don’t have time to do anything other than lay out my thoughts based on my past education in the creation of the Constitution. I’ve tried to put the phrase “as I understand it” or “my understanding is” around everything I’m thus dredging up from memory.

I’d like to believe the argument that the construction of the Electoral College had nothing to do with protecting the interests of small states, because that would do away with the irritating Trumpista claim that the College’s purpose was to ensure that the presidency went to a winner of a wider variety of states. But I’m not sure I do believe it.

Certainly the Convention’s rejection of having governors choose the president is no proof that the interests of small states weren’t being protected. The governor system would mean one vote per state, which would give the small states too much power. My understanding has always been the makeup of Congress was intended as a compromise: the Senate was apportioned purely by state, while the House more closely approximated apportionment by population. Therefore, the Electoral College, whose numbers were tied to the number of members of Congress in both houses together, gave the small states more power in the Electoral College than they had in the House, but much less than they had in the Senate.

Also, because the number of electors per state was a second-order effect, derived from the numbers in Congress, I’m not surprised if there was not, as Prof. Finkelman states there was not, much discussion of using the Electoral College to protect the interests of small states. But I would be very surprised indeed if there wasn’t discussion of this point in the Convention’s consideration of the creation of the Senate.

Similarly, the 3/5ths clause was, as I understand it, intended to protect the slave power in the House. The Electoral College would again be a second-order effect, despite the quotes from Charles Pinckney and Hugh Williamson (which, as given here, don’t even directly address that point). In any case, because the Electoral College numbers were based on House + Senate together, the 3/5ths clause would be less powerful in the Electoral College than in the House. Although my understanding is that it is certainly true, as Prof. Finkelman states, that it was the 3/5ths clause that enabled Jefferson to defeat Adams in 1800.

(Incidentally, the description of Adams as one “who never owned a slave” reminds me that visits to historical sites have revealed to me that two presidents we don’t think of as slave-owners actually were slave-owners for brief periods, these being Van Buren and Grant.)

I’m also a bit bothered by an unspoken implication that the Electoral College is illegitimate because of the slave-based taint on its origin, even though the 3/5ths clause has been, by definition, a dead letter since 1865. Really it’s accusing the Electoral College of original sin, and as a Jew I find such an argument does not make much of an impression on me. In any case, I’ve seen people denounce the entire Constitution on grounds of one taint on the Founders or another, an argument that must go all the way back to the first Marxist who ever read Charles Beard’s Economic Interpretation.

Prof. Finkelman reports that James Wilson and Gouverneur Morris supported direct election of the president on the grounds that the people would be sure to elect a famous or distinguished candidate. I’m sure they said this. But I’ve always understood that the argument that prevailed against popular vote for president was that the general voters, being ill-informed of nation-wide affairs in days of poor education and when most voters thought of themselves as citizens of their state, not of the U.S. as a whole, would not know much about potential presidential candidates outside their state. But they would know who would know that, and the original intention was to have the electors of the Electoral College be the sophisticates of their states, men who knew the most eligible candidates from other states. But just in case the electors weren’t so sophisticated, there was the insurance clause preventing them from casting both their votes for candidates from their own state.

This argument contradicts the ones given by Wilson and Morris, but I would have thought that there were disputes over this point and that Wilson and Morris lost the argument. If that’s so, then to quote Wilson and Morris alone would be to misread the Convention’s state of mind.

I could be factually mistaken here, but only if I entirely misremember my own education on this matter. But these are my thoughts.
It's been raining fairly hard the last couple of days. Yesterday, the main road to Santa Cruz was blocked by a tree falling over, and just as drivers who happened to be packing chainsaws cleared away half of that problem, the same direction of the highway was blocked several miles further back by a rockslide.

On Saturday, however, no rain fell, and because of that I thought it safe to venture to Santa Cruz on that road, since it was already by then the only one open without going 50 miles out of my way and then probably still being blocked. I left very very early and got there in plenty of time, having brought with me a pile of scanning work I needed to do at FedEx, and used my extra time to do that.

I was there on assignment to review the Santa Cruz Symphony, as it was being guest-pianisted by Yuja the Unavoidable, and my editor was curious as to what would happen when she descended in all her sequin-clad glory on a small waterlogged central coast town.

Turned out that she and the locals meshed well together, and I could describe it quite succinctly. (I disclaim responsibility for the Trumpesque headline.) My reviews used to push 1000 words, but ever since I was told to keep them under 650, I'm finding my whole thought processes changing. I thought I had a lot to say about the music, but it turned out brief. Anything else I might have added seemed superfluous. Yuja's dresses (she changed at intermission)? No. The bizarre venue, strangest one I attend regularly, with the ambiance of a basketball arena? No.


Feb. 20th, 2017 09:42 am
B. and I went to Gilbert and Sullivan's Patience yesterday from the Lamplighters, probably still the best G&S troupe anywhere. The singing was excellent, particularly strong from deep-voiced Cary Ann Rosko as Lady Angela and newcomer Jacob Botha as Grosvenor.

But what was better still was the sumptuously impressive sets (scenic design, Peter Crompton) and the brilliant costumes (design, Melissa Wortman; construction, Miriam Lewis). That was critical, and here's why.

Patience is one of the finest of the G&S operettas - though Sullivan had composed great songs before, this is the first full show where he was consistently on top form from start to finish. But it has a problem, which is that the satire of the aesthetic movement more quickly dated than anything else Gilbert wrote for the Savoy. Even as early as the first revival twenty years later, reviewers were incredulous in recalling that characters resembling Bunthorne had once actually existed. Remember that the trial and fall of Oscar Wilde (who was modeled on Bunthorne rather than the other way around) had occurred in the interim, and the world had changed.

Accordingly, some modern productions update the costuming. The Sixties, which provided later days with their most striking contrast between their aesthetic fad and their conventional style, is a favorite. But Lamplighters artistic director Rick Williams, in an essay in the program, said that these haven't caught on. He thinks we should stick to the original setting because Gilbert's satirical point is universal.

Well, it is. Certainly artistic fashions always lend themselves to popular frenzies and to being exploited by poseurs, a more universal point than, say, Pinafore's now quaintly obsolete class rigidity. But for that reason it seems to me that it's more, not less, appropriate to re-set Patience in the days of some more contemporary artistic fashion. If it's universal, it should be applicable to any time.

The big question is, what do you do about the clothes for the ending, where the hero and the maidens abandon aestheticism and become conventional? There is no contrast available in Victorian days that would equal the impact of a Sixties production I once saw, in which what had been hippie chicks for the entire show were transformed into Jackie Kennedy clones, pillbox hats and all. Suddenly I understood the story in a way I never had before.

But this show did pretty well. The gowns that the maidens wore for the bulk of the show were so vividly pre-Raphaelite that they outdid any actual pre-Raphaelite paintings I could find online. Then for the final scene the maidens came out in what I think can best be described as 1910s middle-class summer hoop dresses, with these stiff medium-brim hats with a sprig of lace hanging off the back. I've seen these hats in period drawings before, but nothing I Google can produce a picture of one. (Nothing appropriate on the Lamplighters site either, for either set of costumes.)

Anyway, I think this production did as good a job as possible with this problem, given that restriction. But I think it odd that a company that entirely re-set their most recent Mikado, and stating while doing so that this was permissible because Gilbert's point was universal (it's "not actually about Japan"), should be so rigidly insistent on preserving his original setting for Patience, when, in the words of the same artistic director, Patience "focuses on the ubiquitous phenomenon of fads, cults and crazes in style, taste and lifestyle in general."
Today's Parade magazine has a list of favorite comfort foods, by state. It looks like a good list to go through and check off: whether I've eaten it, whether I've eaten it in the state it's associated with, whether I'd want to eat it. Your reactions are welcome.

Read more... )
1. Three concerts, all at Stanford:

1a. Concert no. 1: Bruckner Orchestra of Linz. I've spent the week since this one listening obsessively to Philip Glass symphonies. Why? Because this concert was on the premiere tour of the new one, No. 11, and the sound is in my head. My first thought afterwards was that I'd write in this blog, "The new Glass symphony sounds just like the previous three Glass symphonies." But I couldn't write that in my review, could I? Well, why not? So I did.

1b. Rebecca Young viola masterclass. Instead of being in Campbell, the usual venue for events that might attract 20-30 people, it was in the 700-seat Dinky, so we were all invited to sit on stage. First time I'd actually set foot up there. Alas, the chairs were uncomfortable. So was the music the students played, which was the Bartok concerto. Afterwards, though, and the reason I came, Young (assoc. principal with the NY Phil) and other worthies played the Brahms G-minor Piano Quartet, yum.

1c. Stanford Wind Queertet [sic], 5 students + 2 student pianists, most not majoring in music. Played a perky, attractive Nielsen Wind Quintet together, and each a piece separately. Most amazing of these was the one unaccompanied one, a Bach Cello Suite arranged for French horn. For horn? He struggled, but he got through it.

2. After much running around to various libraries, I think I've finished acquiring everything that everybody - including me - needs to finish up the Year's Work in Tolkien Studies. I'm busily working on my own contribution, drawing lines down the margin of my bibliography printout as I finish each one, and watching the lines get longer and longer. Weirdest statement of the year: a newspaper editorial column stating that Frodo claiming the Ring was abandoning his moral qualms. Did this guy read the book? Then: on to the next year's bibliography, which will require even more running around to even more libraries.

3. Fifty things Millennials have never heard of. Most of them are after my time, too. And 50 things Millennials know that Gen-Xers don't. Being even older than that, I've never heard of most of them either. The only one I can claim familiarity with is Alison Pill, as I noted her in a couple of movies I've seen. I've heard the names "Snapchat" and "Tinder", and I can guess they're things online, but I have no idea what they are. I could look them up, but 1) I don't care, and 2) partly because of that, I'd just promptly forget.

4. On the other hand, there are things I really want to look up, but can never remember to do so when I'm at a computer. Finally, an online video (from this news roundup) reminds me:
Donald Trump: Drugs are becoming cheaper than candy bars.
Seth Meyers: I think I know what happened here. [shows picture of 100 Grand candy bar] Donald, that's not the price; that's the name.
And that reminded me: why was the name changed from $100,000 Bar? Was it because some store clerk once claimed that really was the price? This site suggests that names beginning with "$" make computers hiccup. But Wikipedia reports that people are still screwing around with the newer name, e.g. radio hosts announcing that they're giving away 100 Grand, and then surprise, the winner gets a candy bar.
These are just the ones I'm using to take breaks with in between massive bouts of library research, writing for TS, and concert-going:

Book no. 1: Twenty-six Seconds by Alexandra Zapruder (Twelve, 2016). A history of the film - the film - by Abe Zapruder's granddaughter. To the family, he was just Dad or Grandpa who happened to have been responsible for this thing that hung over them for decades. The author is convincing on her grandfather's and father's sense of moral responsibility to make the film available without letting it be tackily exploited; less so on their desire to make money off it. They wanted it to go eventually to public ownership, but her father told her, "We can't afford to make an $18 million gift to the federal government." But since they never intended to auction it for any such price, how would they lose money by a gift? The most unusual part of the book is a detailed description of the Seinfeld scene parodying the use of the film in Oliver Stone's JFK, included because it was the only occasion in decades of association with the film that the Zapruders found anything concerning it worth laughing about.

Book no 2: Midcentury Journey by William L. Shirer (Farrar Straus & Young, 1952). The foreign correspondent (and future author of The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich) travels to postwar Europe, ostensibly to take the pulse of the political landscape. Sounded interesting, so I read it. Unfortunately, there's none of the in-depth interviews or even the local color you'd expect from such a book today. Instead, it's punditry that Shirer could just as easily have written from his armchair at home. The bulk is a rehearsal, in the same incredulous tones one recognizes from Shirer's other books, of what he considers the fecklessness of 1920s and 30s politicians. And what of today, 1952? Shirer is convinced that the neo-Nazis are about to take over West Germany (didn't happen), and that Charles de Gaulle will come to power in France (he did that, five years later), throw out the constitution (he did that too), and become the latest fascist dictator (he didn't do that). Yeah, de Gaulle was the hero of 1940, but Petain had been the hero of 1916 and look what happened to him. The only thing that makes Shirer happy is Britain's NHS. He recognizes that the country is nearly bankrupt, but that doesn't seem to worry him.

Book no. 3: John Lennon vs. the USA by Leon Wildes (ABA, 2016). The infamous deportation case, told in full by Lennon's lawyer. He's writing it up now because it suddenly seems relevant again. Full of concrete but lucid detail on lawsuits (including one delightfully named Lennon v. Marks), but doesn't neglect the personal angle. Unsurprisingly, Wildes was as square as they come and had barely heard of Lennon before taking the case, but he boasts of quickly becoming, and staying, a confidant of Yoko (whom he depicts as a highly intelligent layperson who asked her lawyers really sharp questions) as well as John, largely because, unlike many of their minions, he was really competent at his job. What did Wildes think of John and Yoko hijacking his press conference by declaring the state of Nutopia? He thought it was delightfully witty. Not so square after all.
It's the 30th Valentine's Day that B. and I have had together. Can you believe it?

On the 7th Valentine's, I proposed.

Somewhere around the 10th Valentine's is when we figured out that dining out in a restaurant on Valentine's Day is a really bad idea. We would pick a nearby weekend to celebrate in that manner, and eat comfort food at home on the day instead.

Today I cooked her up a bowlful of pan roasted Brussels sprouts, her favorites. Chopping them up into small pieces and roasting them to oblivion seemed the best way of dealing with the tennis ball-sized sprouts that have been in the stores lately. (For other purposes, B. much prefers the tiny ones.)

During the day, more mundane activities prevailed. She was at work, and so was I: I finished up and submitted a review (to be seen here later), and then drove over the mountains to Santa Cruz for more library research. So many roads are down due to the storms that I figured I'd better go now, before the rains come back in a day or two. It wasn't too hard getting there: I got without much delay through the one-lane section past the landslide that closed the northbound lanes. It's not very large, though the hillside it came from is towering, but it's large enough. However, the northbound traffic was backup for miles, and it was still backed up that far when I came back after finishing research and lunch. So I tried the back roads. I knew Soquel was closed, but I hadn't known that Glenwood was closed until I went there. Summit is closed, part of Skyline is closed, Congress Springs is still closed. I had to take the long way around to Page Mill again, eating up half the afternoon.

Still, that's nothing to the total evacuation of the better part of three counties in the Feather River valley yesterday, news which I've been following with horrid fascination. Though not quite as horrid as the way I try to remember how HRC was pilloried for keeping some not particularly secret e-mails on a server that just might have been susceptible to hacking. You recall how she was accused of treason for that? If that was treason, the world lacks a word to describe the restaurant table conference on North Korea of our current supposed leaders.


Feb. 12th, 2017 09:01 pm
I went to another political rally today. No marching. What used to be called the Hebrew Immigrant Aid Society decided to make today the National Day of Jewish Action for Refugees. I went to a local gathering in the Mountain View civic plaza, where a couple hundred people - not all Jewish - gathered for an hour of exhortatory speeches, personal testimonies, prayers, group chants, and songs in English and Hebrew, a little like an extremely populist guitar service. A little more variety than some such occasions, and hence a little more interesting.

There were signs reading things like "My People Were Refugees Too." There were apposite quotes from the Book of Exodus. There was a moving expression of solidarity from a local Muslim community leader. The director of the local Jewish Family Services group said, "Thanks to the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals for making America great again." And one of several participating rabbis said, "If we do not protest, we are complicit." And so we protested.

The organizers had suggested that we bring along photos of our immigrant relatives. I dug up a large studio portrait of my maternal grandfather, my one ancestor of that generation who immigrated and my only immigrant ancestor whom I knew. He was maybe 6 when he came here from what was then the Russian Empire, now Lithuania. Need I say I'm glad that the US let him in?
After South Bay MT's first show of the season, I wasn't sure how good their chops were, but their 1776 was up to snuff. There were only a couple of minor characters who couldn't act, a couple more who couldn't sing, but the only song that was scuffed thereby was "Momma Look Sharp". Everybody else was good, some excellent. Dickinson was the best actor of the bunch; Richard Henry Lee pranced vigorously throughout his song without losing breath (I complimented him on this after the show and he explained, "Aerobic exercise"); a more stolid and weathered Adams than the usual contributed to the power and hence amusement value of his interruptions of the chorus in "But Mr. Adams". Abigail was a woman of size, and not afraid to use it. So was Franklin: this and several lesser parts were played by women, and except for the one who couldn't figure out what octave she should sing in (see above criticism) you'd hardly notice.

It's a little difficult to watch 1776 today, when our long democratic story is lying choking in its own blood upon the ground (to borrow a phrase), but a good enough production can make you forget that ... momentarily.
Second week of the annual Blomstedt festival, more of the same heavy German classics. I am so there.

Blomstedt was frailer this week, requiring someone to walk arm in arm with to enter and leave the stage. Still, he is 89.

Beethoven's Fourth Piano Concerto. Yefim Bronfman distinguished the piano from the orchestra in the slow movement's dialogue of opposites by playing very slowly rather than gently.

Brahms' Third Symphony. Slightly stiff interpretation, but the sound was rich and gorgeous. I just wallowed in the sheer Brahmsitude of it all.

Earlier in the day, I was at Stanford for a free noontime performance by the Elias Quartet. Their Mendelssohn Op. 13 did not remind me of the Pacifica Quartet: Elias has a much gruffer, heavier style. Only they could make Mendelssohn's fairy-light trio sound like the dance of a large animal. Appropriately, they paired this with Op. 95, the gruffest of Beethoven's quartets and one of several models in his output for Op. 13.
Anyone interested in reading an insanely convoluted argument in Tolkien scholarship is welcome to it.
So I'm casually re-reading Big Trouble, which was humor columnist Dave Barry's first novel, from 1999. I find this scene at the start of chapter 9. A drunk, overzealous and incompetent wanna-be vigilante has been taken in by the police, who are trying to soothe him.
"I got rights," said Crime Fighter Jack Pendick, for perhaps the fourtieth time since he had been taken into police custody.
"Indeed you do, Mr. Pendick," said Detective Harvey Baker. "You have rights up the wazoo. And I'm sure you're going to exercise every single one. But first you're going to go with these officers, who are going to take you to a nice room where you can lie down and see if you can get your blood alcohol content down below that 300 percent mark, OK?"
"Do I get my gun back?" asked Pendick.
"Of course you do!" said Baker. "Just as soon as we run a couple of tests and a giant, talking marshmallow is elected president."

Well, that happened. He can have his gun back now.
I find on checking my records that, though I used to review the San Francisco Symphony often (and thereby once contributed the most prominent blurb to the ads for one of their concert recordings), it's been four years since my SFCV editor called me up and asked me to go.

He did last Wednesday morning. "Want to hear the San Francisco Symphony this weekend?" "I'm already going tonight," I replied.

I was going because it was conductor emeritus Herbert Blomstedt doing the big heavy stuff, which is what I most like to hear. It was the Ninth, the Ninth, and it was righteous.

And I arrived in the City early enough to have time for dinner at the place in Bayview that cooks your fried chicken to order from scratch. Yum.

Note: The video embedded at the bottom of the review is labeled "Herbert Blomstedt conducts Beethoven's Ode to Joy," but the music he's actually rehearsing in the video is from the first movement; the Ode to Joy is the finale, or more precisely most of it.
I sent a link to my last post to the Stanford music prof who'd convened the panel. He wrote back to say thanks, and commented that he was delighted with the full house turnout, "especially on Super Bowl Sunday!", a conjunction he'd mentioned at the time, too.

I get this at every concert or lecture I attend that happens to coincide with a major sporting event, sometimes even ones I wasn't aware of until the convenor mentions them: astonishment that there are actually people present who'd skip that in order to attend this.

You know, folks, there are a lot of us who don't give a hoot about the Super Bowl, and the audience was probably drawn from that not-small segment of society. For the last several years, the TV audience in the US for the Super Bowl has been about 111 million people. That's a lot of people, but at the last census, the US had 308 million people. So, considering that the population has gone up since then, that's at least 197 million who aren't watching it, 177% the size of the number who are.

I've said it before, and I'll say it again: I don't mind that other people are interested in sports. People are interested in all sorts of odd things, and I'm glad they have a hobby. What makes me grumpy is the assumption that everybody is interested in sports, which is not something you get when the topic is, say, gardening or train-spotting. It's not even remotely true, and I dislike the assumption that I am among 197 million Americans who do not exist.
Such was the title of the panel discussion I attended at Stanford today: in recognition of an upcoming campus performance of the work, five experts delivered thoughtful little talks inspired by this most famous of all musical works to have been composed in Nazi Germany.

Anna Schultz, professor of ethnomusicology, began by examining the definition of nationalism. The ability to define it both by ethnicity and by territory lies behind much of the Nazis' evil. As for Carmina Burana, Nazi music critics were at first puzzled by the work, put off by its hedonism and jazz-like rhythms, two things they abhorred; but then they embraced it for what they saw as its celebration of Aryan ethnicity.

David Abernethy, chorus baritone and professor emeritus of political science, spoke of the challenges of coping with living under a totalitarian regime. Orff did cooperate with the Nazis, most infamously by composing a set of Midsummer Night's Dream incidental music to replace the banned Mendelssohn's. But in other respects he kept himself aloof, despite pressure from the regime. Abernethy concluded passionately by saying it's easy to criticize Orff's failings, but no option for behaving is morally clear. We should avoid facile condemnation of human frailties in horrific circumstances.

In comments later, Abernethy added that, although totalitarian regimes push mass culture and a hive mind, they're ironically highly individualistic as their honors and condemnations, in the arts as elsewhere, are based on the Leader's whim.

David Wilson, tenor and grad student in musicology, gave several comparisons to show that culpability under the Nazis has little relationship to subsequent reputation. His best example was the two leading conductors who stayed in the Nazi regime. Wilhelm Furtwängler actively helped Jewish musicians and avoided open propaganda, but his willingness to conduct before high Nazi officials all the way to the end has stained his reputation so badly that a biography is titled The Devil's Music Master. Whereas Herbert von Karajan actually joined the Nazi Party and had no compensating virtues, but his reputation, based on his post-war work, is clean.

(In speaking of Richard Strauss and his cooperation with the Nazis which has left him still a popular composer, Wilson rhetorically asked, "Who would do without Ein Heldenleben?" Thinking of that bloated and self-indulgent work, I muttered "I would." I intended to speak sotto voce, but was heard throughout the lecture room. Oops.)

Eric Tuan, choral studies administrator, examined Orff's pedagogical method, the Schulwerk. Originally conceived with leftist political overtones in the Weimar era, it proved adaptable to Nazi educational goals. For instance, its child-centered approach and primal content appealed to their anti-intellectual prejudices. And Orff went along with this. Tuan's conclusion was that nothing about the Schulwerk is inherently fascist, but it's easily appropriated.

Anna Wittstruck, conductor of the Stanford Symphony, classed Carmina Burana as a neo-classical work, and noted that this communitarian, accessible style is compatible with mass nationalism. She noted Orff's debt to Stravinsky's Les noces, and played video clips of a stage performance to show that Les noces (and also Le sacre du printemps) enact hive mind rituals right on stage. Orff intended for Carmina Burana also to be staged, a project in sensory immersion that would short-circuit critical distancing.

We also had some music. Wilson sang the tenor solo from Carmina, the lament of the roasting swan (accompanied by three choristers and a pianist) and then, just to demonstrate the musical similarity between Nazi music and Weimar music, pitched in to Kurt Weill's "Mack the Knife."
I enjoy David Lodge primarily for his comic novels on academia, but I also like much of his other work, including the focus on the moral restrictions on sex and procreation hedging on Catholics in the 1950s and 1960s that suffuses some of Lodge's early novels, including one of the comic academic ones. Irrelevant as it is to me, Lodge makes it interesting and more than a little unnerving.

In his memoir, Quite a Good Time To Be Born, which I've been reading, Lodge traces his literary concern with this topic back to his first, never-published novel, which he wrote at 18. He describes it as including a female character who becomes pregnant out of wedlock and then dies from complications, having refused an abortion which might have saved her life. Lodge showed the story to his girlfriend, who was, he reports, "somewhat shocked by the novel's preoccupation with sexual desire, complicated by Catholic morality and guilt." Their own relationship was entirely chaste, because this was the 1950s and they were good Catholics.

Lodge says the novel wasn't very good. "The medical and gynaecological details are left vague, since I did not know what they might plausibly be." And, taking a critic's view of his own work, he adds, "The flaws in the novel become more and more evident as it goes on and the novelist gets more and more out of his depth in the subject matter."

What he lacked, he soon realized, was enough experience in the world to write good fiction, and he began looking forward to his mandatory two years in National Service, tediously boring and wasteful though he expected it to be (and it was), in the hopes that he could get material for a novel out of it (and he did).

But how then to deal with the illicit? He expressed his dilemma in an unpublished short story whose first paragraph he quotes:
The envelope fell on to the mat with a dull thud, but I didn't hurry to pick it up, being a young writer, still a student and struggling to get work published, and thus used to such a sound. However it wasn't one of my rejected manuscripts, but a large official envelope that wore its embossed crests and other decorations as self-importantly as a general with three rows of medals. The letter inside was from the Apostolic Delegate, and it was short and to the point. "Dear Joe," it ran (my name's Joe). "I am pleased to tell you that the Pope has granted your request for an unlimited right to commit sin for one day in order to get material for your new book. Yours truly, etc."
And Lodge says of this, "there was a lesson in it which it took me a long time to recognise: that the best way to treat Catholic hang-ups about sex was through comedy." And so he did.
Having finally gotten to the point where I can get through two whole movements of a sonata without having to cough, it was time to attend another classical concert, only the second one I've been to since before I got home from Britain two months ago.

I chose to attend the Telegraph Quartet at Herbst, and had an [personal profile] athenais to accompany me, as they were going to be playing Schubert's "Death and the Maiden". But first, we had to get through the ultra-modernist jungle of Webern's Op. 5 and Leon Kirchner's First, the penance we had to pay before our heavenly reward of Schubert.

In speaking to the audience, the players said that what Webern and Kirchner have in common with Schubert is that they're all Romantics at heart. Heh, heh, I don't think so. I doubted it even of Schubert, and the way the Telegraph plays, none of them sounded a bit Romantic.

The interesting aspect of the two modernists was the sonorities, the weird and unusual sounds the players could make. The Webern, due to its brevity, actually added up to something here and there, but the Kirchner, though intriguing enough moment by moment, taken as a whole reminded me of one of those fearsomely complex mathematical equations which end with a crashing anticlimax of "=0". This is my usual reaction to Kirchner, so no surprise there. I know him of old.

So what did they do with Schubert, then, but play it as ultra-modernist as possible, with the closest thing to weird and unusual sonorities that the score would let them get away with. The sound was raw and sinewy, the equivalent of Dr. Manhattan before he learns how to put all his flesh on. The players seemed most dedicated to this principle in the first movement, which they played in an emotionless and featureless manner, but they gradually remembered that this is Schubert, and each successive movement was better and more passionate. First violinist Joseph Maile played his high figures in the finale wispily, but they worked.

We went out to eat beforehand, and A. decided to have a slice of pie. Pi, as we all know, is about 3.1416, but this slice was closer to 0.31416. Chintzy restaurant.
In my previous post, I wrote comparing a technical point regarding the current constitutional crisis to the 1973 Saturday Night Massacre.

Since then I've learned that more general comparisons of the situation have been made.

I think the comparisons are actually limited.

In one sense, the President does have the unfettered authority to dispose of the services of any appointee officer in the executive branch. Congress tried to take that right away from Andrew Johnson, and he defied them; that's why he was impeached but (fortunately, given the circumstances) failed to be convicted.

And Yates directly defied a presidential order. If she thinks it's illegal, she has the moral right to do so, and he has the legal right to fire her. Or she could have resigned, as Richardson did back in 1973. Nothing was out of order about this on either side. The problems lie elsewhere than legally.

Even Richardson acknowledged that the Justice Department as a whole could not defy the president's order to fire Cox. He just refused to pull the trigger himself. But he knew he had to ensure that it was done, which is why Bork did it. What Bork's personal opinion on the matter was, I don't know. But he fired Cox by Richardson's request, and offered to then resign himself, which (as I explained) Richardson asked him not to do. (Nixon then offered to appoint Bork permanent Attorney General, to which Bork had the sense to reply, "That would not be appropriate." Instead, Nixon was politically forced into appointing William Saxbe, whose comment on the Massacre had been, "The President has taken leave of his senses.")

The difference between the situations is that Cox had been promised independence from interference by his superiors except for open malfeasance in office. Nothing had met that standard. Cox had merely rejected Nixon's proposed "Stennis solution" to the tapes subpoena, which was for an elderly, deaf senator to listen to the tapes and tell Cox what they said.

Yates, by contrast, was a regular functionary, not an independent investigating counsel.

Nixon was also under the delusion that, since Cox was the one pressing for the tapes, firing Cox would make the pressure go away and his problems would be solved. This was ludicrously wrong; it only increased the pressure. Trump, by contrast, though often delusional, has given no indication that he thought firing Yates would make the controversy go away, but it would enable him to enforce his order.

The problems lie elsewhere. First in that Yates has a very good case that the order is illegal, as several judges have confirmed. And second, Trump's legal right to fire her does not mean he was well-advised to do so, or excuse the crass manner in which it was done.


Jan. 30th, 2017 10:05 pm
In the midst of this roiling constitutional crisis, the part that surprises me is the replacement of the Acting Attorney General with a U.S. district attorney. I didn't think they could do that.

A critical aspect of the Saturday Night Massacre in 1973 was that, after Richardson and Ruckelshaus resigned, Bork didn't. He offered to, but Richardson said no, don't, because it would leave the department without anyone legally authorized to act as Acting A.G. An Acting A.G. has to be someone who had been approved by the Senate for their regular office in the Department, and only the Deputy A.G. (Ruckelshaus) and Solicitor General (Bork) fit that requirement.

But U.S. attorneys also work for the Justice Department, and they're approved by the Senate. That must be the reason why the lawyers decided this guy was eligible to be appointed. But if that's so, why wasn't it so in 1973?
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