Ultima Thule

In ancient times the northernmost region of the habitable world - hence, any distant, unknown or mysterious land.

Sunday, February 18, 2007

Aussiegirl reviews Kobzar's Children

This is a review that Helen wrote for Amazon.com last July. It is a well-writen and impassioned review, and I think it deserves to be reprinted on her blog so a greater number of people can read it.

Kobzar's Children: A Century of Untold Stories by Ukrainians
by Marsha Forchuk Skrypuch
Edition: Paperback
Price: $11.01

A superb and gripping book about the Ukrainian immigrant experience, July 10, 2006 Reviewer: Aussiegirl

In the introduction to this collection of short historical fiction, memoirs, and poems touching upon a century of the history of Ukrainian immigrant experience, Marsha Skrypuch writes the following:

"When you don't write your own stories, others will write them for you."

And in publishing this marvelous collection of stories she begins the process of putting the record straight. Like Marsha, I too grew up with the realization that I belonged essentially to an invisible and completely unknown ethnic group -- Ukrainians, whom no one seemed to have ever heard of, and if they had, they said things like -- "That's the same as Russian, isn't it?"

As Marsha explains in the foreword, the kobzars were Ukraine's wandering blind minstrels, who in the ancient tradition of Homer memorized long epic historical poems that spoke of the great events of Ukrainian history, and in doing so kept a population that was largely illiterate in touch with their great heritage.

During Stalin's times, in addition to their traditional role they kept people apprised of the repressions and persecutions and famine, and so they came to the notice of Josef Stalin, who called for a national conference of kobzars. Hundreds showed up, and all were shot. There are a few kobzars who survived to tell the tale, and a very few who carry on the tradition today.

Because Marsha does not speak Ukrainian, she did not have access to the emigre literature that spoke of the immigrant experience, and of experiences in Ukraine. But Ukrainians are inveterate story tellers, and as fortune would have it, the writers of these tales are either witnesses themselves to the events they describe, or are children of parents who told vivid tales of their own experiences, and as such the works have a compelling and hypnotic interest.

I couldn't put the book down. I frankly had expected a charming work aimed at children, but how mistaken I was. Although this book is suitable for all ages capable of reading at this level, it is of no less interest to the adult reader as to the young reader. It never talks down to its audience. In the same way that I remember my own parents relating the many stories of our family, no punches are pulled. Harsh reality and horror and danger take their place alongside tales of humor, childhood pranks, and misunderstandings.

Beginning in the early part of the century, the stories span everything from a memoir of homesteading in the early 1900's in the wilds of western Canada, to a first-hand horrifying account of a young child's suffering and survival during the Stalin-created Ukrainian famine genocide of 1933, in which at least seven million Ukrainians perished. Tales of helping out in a family grocery store take their place alongside a psychologically insightful meditation on the interior life of an elderly Ukrainian woman living in her memories while confined to a nursing home. One of the stories relates the shocking history of how Ukrainians were unjustly interned in hard labor camps by the Canadian government during WWI, and subjected to treatment that is sadly reminiscent of Soviet gulags. This is a chapter of immigrant history I knew absolutely nothing about. There's a delightful tale about the tragicomedy of attempts to move the grave of one family member from one cemetery to another, followed by a grim personal memoir of surviving Auschwitz. The stories span a century of experience, beginning in the early 1900's and ending with a charming Christmas time tale that takes place during the exciting days of the Orange Revolution.

Ukrainians do not talk down to their children. We do not protect them from the harsh realities of history and of repression. Perhaps this is why Americans and Canadians of Ukrainian descent are generally highly sensitive to any encroachments upon their freedoms and dangers gathering in the world. We have experienced, if not first-hand, then through the tales of our parents, the kinds of things that can happen if people forget their history.

As such, Marsha Skrypuch has done a great service by publishing this book. Not only has she introduced the literature and history of Ukraine to immigrants who may no longer be in touch with the language of their ancestors, but she also exposes the stories of these people to a wider American and Canadian audience.

This book must and will, by its very nature, find a wide audience. It is gripping, well-written, well-balanced, and paced with a mixture of lighter and darker topics, and in the end is a testament to the basic humanity that binds us all into one common human experience.

History comes alive when we read about the lives of individuals. What once existed only as a page in a history book or a phrase with a date attached, suddenly becomes a gripping personal drama that anyone can identify with.

Buy this book, read it. You don't have to be Ukrainian to thoroughly enjoy it and to profit by it. We are all enriched by enlarging our knowledge of history and the very human stories that make up that history.

The kobzars indeed live, and this book carries on that great Ukrainian tradition. Every country needs its kobzars.

Further thoughts on Verdi's Requiem

In April 2003 Helen sent this email to her internet friend veritas about the Requiem that she loved so much. Half of the email are quotes from George Martin's book, but the quotes only strengthen her own ideas about this magnificent work. Half a year later she attended a performance at Kennedy Center, and her impressions and thoughts about that performance I have already posted below. By the way, this portrait of her beloved Verdi was her favorite -- in it she saw virility yet sensitivity, a flair and appetite for life, great intelligence -- in Matthew Arnold's words, Who saw life steadily, and saw it whole -- everything that she felt in his music.


veritas -- I mentioned Verdi's Requiem the other day --- indulge me while I
ramble -- as promised -- my little exigesis on the Verdi Requiem -- a
Requiem for the living -- not the dead -- as Verdi was an agnostic --
and unafraid.

Unlike Berlioz, Cherubini and Mozart, all of whom used the traditional
text of the Requiem Mass based on a medieval poem written by Thomas of
Celano containing a terrifying vision of the judgement day (Dies Irae)
which was calculated to terrify the listener into virtue, Verdi added
an additional text, the "Libera Me", which although not an integral
of the mass, could follow it on solemn occasions and was occasionally
set to music: "Libera me, Domine, de morte aeterna, in die illa
tremenda..." "Free me, oh Lord, from eternal death, on that terrifying day."

This has the effect of changing the emotional impact of the Requiem in
typical Verdian fashion. First -- he hammers the first line of the
"Dies Irae" portion over and over giving the whole section an undertone
of terror -- rather than the way Mozart did it which is to recite the
whole text in order. Then -- he ends the whole Requiem on a note of
uncertainty and supplication as first the soprano pleads urgently
"Libera me Domine, de morte, in die illa tremenda..." Free me, oh Lord,
from death, on that terrible day..." and then --- the chorus joins in
in an almost frightened whisper ---- "Libera me, libera me, libera me...."

From George Martin's Verdi: His Music, Life and Times:

"He [Verdi] succeeded, not only by the excellence of his music, but
by stirring in the audience the ancient feelings and fears of primitive
man peering nervously into the night, trying to find his God and
establish some sort of relationship with him. By the end of his
Verdi has his singers and audience praying for peace and light, not for
the dead, but for themselves, the living. .... In both Berlioz and
Mozart the musical climax of the poem comes on "Rex Tremendae
Majestatis", making the poem primarily one in praise of God. Verdi, on
the other hand, emphasized the Salva Me which, with the constantly
recurring Dies Irae, make the poem of an individual's terror on the day
of judgment. It is as though an angry God had come down in the
Holocaust and, standing on the altar, was pointing a fiery finger at
"you, you, and you: damned"; while of the people some pressed forward,
others knelt where they were, and all called out to Jesus: "Salva Me!"

".... Verdi's final section plunges the singers and audience back into
the personal drama as though someone had said the wrong thing and God
had suddenly reappeared. The soprano is the soloist, asking to be
from eternal death (Libera Me), and at the mention of judgment by fire,
the Dies Irae begins to build up in the orchestra. Suddenly it bursts
out in all its fury, terrifying and awful, and the broken suppliants
almost sob their request for peace and light for the dead. But then,
in the Dies Irae section, their thoughts turn to themselves: Libera Me,
Libera Me. .... Libera Me, they sing, calling on the magic of music
words to save them from the terror of the unknown. But magic, even in
group, does not answer an individual's fears. One by one they fall
silent, drop their neighbor's hand and peer out into the night, alone.
"Libera me", the soprano pleads alone, "Free me, Lord, from eternal
death on that awful day." "Free me", each one breathes. "Free me".
.... The audience, whether it intellectually wants to or not, becomes
emotionally involved in the sheer rush of sound in the final fugue and,
like the chorus and soloists, asks for some sort of emotional release.
This Verdi, also quite deliberately, refuses to give it. There is no
sudden burst into a sunny amen, no vision of a kind God or promise of
intersession; there is only dwindling power and continued uncertainly.
Such, said Verdi, is man's lot in life."

"No church gives such an answer; they all offer some happy solution to
the quest for assurance that life and life after death have certainty
and meaning. In this respect Verdi's Requiem is not a religious work
and the Roman Church is quite right to ban it. In not offering a clear
solution Verdi reflected the increasing uncertainty of the end of the
nineteenth century when Darwin and the new science were shaking
traditional beliefs. And Verdi, who anyway had never held them, was
too honest an artist to fake an ending that he did not himself feel.
.... But even if the Requiem is agnostic in that it does not offer a
Catholic, Lutheran or Hindu resolution to the fears it raises, it is
religious in the sense that it recognizes the fears and needs of man
suggests that there is some sort of Creator or Being with whom man
to develop a relationship."

Well -- that's about it --- I hope you enjoyed your trip through Verdi
land at least as much as I enjoyed musing on it. Like Beethoven, a
world unto himself, in which one can lose one's self -- and find the
heart of humanity, God and truth.

All the best -- Helen

Thursday, February 08, 2007

Musings on Verdi's Requiem

This is another very long and very beautiful email that Helen wrote to veritas, her internet friend, on October 20, 2003, soon after -- perhaps the same evening -- we had returned from hearing a performance of Verdi's immortal Requiem at the Kennedy Center. Her heart was full of the beauty we had just experienced, and as always, she just had to get it down in words before it had vanished.

Towards the end of the email her thoughts naturally turn to the mystery of life -- and to music: how beautiful and sad that everything beautiful in life passes ---like music -- only
exists in time --- we cannot freeze it --- we cannot hold it --- we cannot admire it when we like --- only in the passage of time does it exist -- like us ---- so ---the ultimate mystery -- and perhaps --- this is why music moves us so deeply.

She was delighted when I found this quotation from The Leaden Echo, a poem by Gerald Manley Hopkins, in which he poses the same question: How to kéep—is there ány any, is there none such, nowhere known some, bow or brooch or braid or brace, láce, latch or catch or key to keep
Back beauty, keep it, beauty, beauty, beauty, … from vanishing away?
-- and then gives his answer, in the companion poem The Golden Echo, that beauty comes from God, and returns to God. This seemed to match her own feelings.


Hi veritas --- well --- we had a wonderful time -- beautiful weather --
beautiful drive into Washington through the foliage of Rock Creek
Parkway -- almost all the way from our house down directly to the
Kennedy Center - makes a beautiful drive -- beautiful winding creek,
heavy forests on either side with a strip of bike/hike trail and picnic
areas -- people jogging, biking, picnicking -- lovers strolling and
taking pictures of one another -- leaves drifting softly down and
over the pavement everywhere -- soft rich colors -- blue sky -- perfect
October day in Washington - and then the Ken Cen -- nice architecture
sort of neo-Greco-classical -- you'd know the correct phrase -- echoing
the rest of the monuments nearby -- the Washington monument looming in
the distance - the famous/infamous Watergate Hotel next door -- all
those expensive shchmancy-fancy stores -- Christian Dior, etc. -- a
little taste of how the other half lives --- but all lovely. We've
there before of course -- but not for about a year.

Inside -- red carpets, crystal chandeliers, mirrored walls and
enormous ceilings -- a fitting place for a center for the performing
arts - housing the Opera House, Concert Hall and the Eisenhower Theater
-- lovely. The place was sold out --- I love to people watch -- all
sorts -- young, old, frumpy and dowdy and casually dressed (why don't
people make an effort?) some sweet old things in wheelchairs being
pushed up the ramp and I thought - you dear, dear sweet ones -- once so
young -- your hearts so full -- and now -- is this what you want to
-- the Requiem -- is it not a bit too close to home? -- but then I
thought -- no it is always the right time for beauty and at that age --
perhaps a Requiem is perfect -- as a little reminder of where they are
headed perhaps. Sweet and sad thought.

The house was sold out -- the seats were divine --- the music --
heavenly --- 2 choruses combined in strength -- must have been 200
voices -- some even in the little balconies surrounding the stage ---
offstage trumpets -- glorious -- wonderful -- and at the end -- the
quiet libera me, libera me, libera me ---- it ended --- hushed silence
from the audience -- the conductor slowly lowered his arms and bowed
head almost as if in prayer --- and still the audience was so
spell-bound that no one wanted to spoil the effect or intrude on the
spell -- until finally someone began to applaud -- and then -- a
standing ovation -- people were cheering!!! shouting!!! --- it was
like a football game -- but these people were cheering beauty and
transcendence -- how happy that made me.

(I wrote the following impressions down shortly after I got home --
sorry for being prolix -- just thought I'd include them)

Heaven, I'm in heaven ---------or -- to be more exact I was -- I have
drifted a little lower now that it is over but still I can hear the
melodies -- the heartache - the supplication -- the truth --- the drama
---- of mankind -- of his lot --- of his fate -- cast down here on
-- not understanding why or where -- but still --- with moments like
this -- and with geniuses like this that have been bestowed on us --
we doubt that God exists? That something or someone created us --- with
these feelings, these emotions, this intellect, this questing feeling,
and the ultimate knowledge --- the knowledge of death -- which animals
sense but do not know or fear the way we do --- why was this given to

Verdi has taken me on a journey -- even though I know this piece by
heart -- have heard it many times -- hearing it in that great hall --
live -- with real people pouring their hearts and talents and energies
into it -- I understood it and experienced it fully for the first time
--- Verdi -- that unbelievable colossus --- how could he have been
to create such music -- but Verdi --- who spent his life in the theater
-- giving us drama -- the drama of people living and loving and killing
and dying --- he understood the human heart like no other ---- gave us
his final drama in the Requiem --- and gave us the truth --- a glimpse
of something immortal we should all pursue -- that we are driven to
pursue -- but --- ultimately --- he is right -- Verdi the agnostic ---
laid it out --- ultimately we cannot know -- ultimately it is all a
question ---- and he was so honest ---- there it is in all its majesty
and pathos and tragedy and joy -- the human drama -- La Divina Comedia
---- mankind --- gifted or cursed with these sensibilities, faced with
the knowledge of his own extinction -- yet has inklings and strivings

In the music I experienced the highs and the lows of human existence
the doubt, the fear, the supplication, the joy, the ecstasy, the wrath
of God and possible judgement -- the calls of the trumpets heralding
judgment day --- the casting out from heaven -- and then -- the
pleading, the fear, the childish appeal -- please -- save me -- don't
leave me here alone --- remember me --- free me -- free me ---- yes --
this is the ultimate human drama and Verdi saved it for his last -- and
he truly understood it and gave it to us straight -- we can never be
sure --- and so it all ends on an uncertain whisper --- no amen -- no
glorious radiant modulation into major key as the sun breaks out -- no
-- uncertainty and doubt - after all the tumult and pleading and drama
--- a whisper -- libera me -- libera me -- libera me.

If men like this existed --- if talent like this existed -- if music
like this exists -- there must be a God --- else where does all this
magnificence point? What is its purpose ---- it has nothing to do with
procreating the species -- or survival of the fittest --- no ---
music like this exists I KNOW there is a God and something divine and
mysterious that we can only dimly apprehend -- but I know it -- and
is why I cannot live without it. It is not in the churches with the
silly robes and the pointy hats and the sermons and the piece of bread
and wine in the mouth or even in the cloying insufferable quoting of
bible in your face -- flung --- here --- take this and this --- you are
nothing because I read the bible and quote it --- but do these people
look into the heart of another human being -- truly look? that is
where the answer lies --- no --- it is there --- in humanity's quest
higher things and beauty.

So --- I soared on angel's wings -- on Verdi's mighty talent -- and the
talents of all those people who played and sang so magnificently -- the
soprano -- my God -- 5 feet wide --- but what a voice!! --- soaring,
ringing tones -- with supple, pliant lines and beautiful control --
feeling -- just exactly the way I would hope it would be sung --
excellent mezzo-soprano -- lovely bass --- with a flexible lyrical
-- not too strident -- and a heavenly tenor -- a last-minute substitute
but wonderful -- lyrical clear tones -- a singer of lieder -- which
suits this piece more than a heavier tenor like Domingo -- the
is one of the loveliest and most tender melodies -- and he sang it
divinely -- hitting the high C effortlessly and brilliantly. The
ends the whole piece along with the chorus and orchestra -- singing a
reprise and fullfilment of the beautiful theme adumbrated in the
-- Requiem -- rising each time to a high note -- and finally to the
highest -- gliding up effortlessly to heaven.

Well -- this is me -- now -- tonight --- but such a perfect performance
will not soon be forgotten -- and such a lovely day -- how beautiful
sad that everything beautiful in life passes --- like music -- only
exists in time --- we cannot freeze it --- we cannot hold it --- we
cannot admire it when we like --- only in the passage of time does it
exist -- like us ---- so --- the ultimate mystery -- and perhaps ---
this is why music moves us so deeply.

Well, veritas ----- this has been long --- but you know how I love this
stuff -- and Verdi --- and Beethoven and Chopin --- they point the way
because they saw inklings of something higher --- and that's where I
look for inspiration -- to the great artists through history -- not the
forgotten priests with their intrigues and their politics and their
indulgences --- who remembers them now ---- we remember beauty --- we
remember art --- we remember Christ ----- but all who claim to tell us
how to live our lives are just as we are --- and just as mystified if
they would but look into their hearts.

Have I gone on too long??? I usually do --- but you are a good friend
and will not mind ---- my love to you all --- truly --- let me
know how you are --- Helen

Tea and milk -- nonmiscible

It's not that they can't be mixed, but, according to the following article, they shouldn't be. Aussiegirl -- Helen -- was always concerned about the health of her readers -- their political health, their spiritual health, and of course their physical health. She never saw this report, but I think she would have wanted me to post it.
Helen, being from Australia, loved her tea, but lately she had become enamoured of mocha java -- we bought the beans at our local Safeway and ground them in our little handy-dandy Braun grinder. After a few minutes the delectable fragrance of coffee would waft its way in to her. She said that the fragrance seemed to arouse her little grey cells, at which point another Aussiegirl post was on its way.


cbs4denver.com - Researchers Find Milk Blocks Antioxidants In Tea

Researchers Find Milk Blocks Antioxidants In Tea
Dr. Dave Hnida

(CBS4) DENVER Drinking tea improves heart health but something as tiny as a splash of milk can cancel the benefits.

Doctors have known for a long time that tea, whether it be green, black, orange or pekoe, contains substances that protect the heart.

"I grew up adding milk to my tea," said CBS4's Dr. Dave Hnida. "My mom and grandmother did it so I did it. They are English and that's what this study is all about."

Researchers were trying to figure out why England has more heart disease than Germany, France, or Asia where nearly everyone drinks tea without milk.

In England, they typically add milk.

Researchers tested the blood vessels of people who drank tea with milk and without milk and there was a huge difference in how the blood vessels of the body reacted.

Tea contains antioxidants called catechins and polyphenols which cause the blood vessels of the body to relax. However, researchers found that a milk protein, called casein, blocks the effects of the antioxidants.

So they experimented on humans who drank tea with and without milk. The milk drinkers did in fact have blood vessels that stayed stiff and rigid. They measured it with ultrasounds.

The study only included 16 people but it was 16 out of 16 that lost the protection.

"That makes you wonder if milk also may block other heart protective effects and cancer fighting substances normally found in tea," said CBS4's Dr. Dave Hnida.

Coffee also has catechins and polyphenols that are found in tea.

© MMVII CBS Television Stations, Inc.

Friday, February 02, 2007

Aussiegirl's thoughts on music -- especially on her beloved Beethoven

In going through the emails that Helen had saved, I came across this exchange of emails from August 2002 with veritas, an internet friend. [The spacing is irregular, but that's because the emails came from her WebTV archive, and I didn't reformat them.] I don't know what the occasion was, probably something on Lucianne.com that sparked their interest, but it gave rise to some very interesting ideas and thoughts, e.g. Helen's very original thoughts on Beethoven's use of the trill. Helen loved music, loved it passionately -- indeed, she loved life passionately -- especially the music of the members of her personal musical pantheon: Beethoven, Chopin, Verdi -- just those three, no others. But Helen was also an intensely spiritual person, and whatever she wrote or thought about, thoughts of life and death, of God and the afterlife, are never far from her mind -- as in these emails.

Helen wrote a lot about politics and other related topics, but I think that to really understand her and how essential things of the spirit were to her, you have to read what she wrote and thought about music, and about the Divinity that she thought only music can let us glimpse. You will find quite a few posts about music that she did publish in her blog, but I've found a few more things that she wrote and put into emails. I don't think she will mind my publishing them.


Thoughts on Beethoven

Monday, August 19, 2002

I am an "amateur" in the true Latin meaning of the phrase -- i.e.
"lover" of music. Also amateur pianist --- enough to make me truly
humble and amazed at the technical prowess, talent and sheer openness to
a higher power that a true interpretive genius possesses.
But back to my beloved Beethoven ---- where to begin???
Firstly --- I have always found Beethoven to be very funny!!! Funny in
the sudden explosive ha-ha way, as he catches you off guard and
surprises you with joy and naughtiness at the most unexpected times. I
once told my husband this and he was quite shocked --- for his reverence
for the master was of the worshipful and very serious variety (as is
mine). I find myself reveling in the sheer joyousness of this amazing
man --- who suffered so much and had so much to be bitter about -- and
yet --- was never conquered but produced such transcendent music. I had
never run across this idea -- but that never stops me from trusting my
own reaction to things of the soul. Then I read a review in the
Washington Post by their music critic, Tim Page, who ALSO found
Beethoven to be very funny, and chastised a recent performance for being
too deadly serious and missing the rollicking fun. But this is of
course, just one little element in the universe that is Beethoven.
As to the discussion regarding Frank Lloyd Wright --- as I re-read the
thread it really seemed to me to boil down to an essential question that
remained unanswered ---- the posts seemed to break down into two main
ideas ---- Frank Lloyd Wright was a genius architect well ahead of his
time who had revolutionary ideas ----- and ------ that he was basically
a rotten human being. My own post was somewhat informed by this idea,
even though unspoken --------- this is why Beethoven is so high (really
highest) in my personal pantheon (I rate Verdi as the greatest Opera
composer, and Chopin in a class by himself vis-a-vis the piano.)
The question is: Can a man (or woman) be rated a true artist and genius
who is basically a rotten human being?
This is probably a matter of personal opinion --- to my way of thinking
--- to me -- the composer, (or architect, artist, writer, etc.) is
giving us a glimpse, not only of his soul, but especially in music ----
a window into ---- shall we call it heaven? ---- God???? ---- the
secrets of the Universe --- Life??? --- Death???? Ultimate Meaning????
(By the way --- Ann Sophie Mutter --- in an interview had this same
---- interestingly your pick for the Trios --- as well as the
decent human being, Rostropovich --- who braved the Soviet system and
sheltered in his home both Shostakovich AND Solzhenitzyn. Let me know
your reasons for picking these performances if you can, as well as the
reason for the Tokyo String quartet.)
They have somehow been given this gift --- this quirk of their brain,
this genius of the soul that enables them to see things that we, mere
mortals, cannot on our own. But through their genius, (yes, and hard
work, and tears and suffering and toil) we can glimpse and experience
these snatches of paradise through their eyes.
That is why I cannot really get excited about the music of Wagner ----
what I hear is basically his rotten soul and monumental ego --- and I
don't really want to go there. If a man's creations do nothing more than
glorify the man --- his own ego----- that is ultimately the vision that
we see --- it stops with him --- and goes no further.
When I read about the lives of my favorite composers I usually discover
that the music (not suprisingly) is a reflection of the man. Puccini for
example, was rather a show-off, dandy sort of guy, who was rather
trivial in some of his personal life. Unfortunately, so is his music
very pretty, but not very profound. La Boheme, closest to his heart and
his impoverished student days, is his best work IMO.
Likewise, Bellini --- a talent truly dead way before his time----- but
still --- a wastrel and gambler --- ultimately composer of pretty tunes.
But Verdi --- ahhhh ----- Verdi ---- the OTHER titan --- titanic not only in his music, but his uncompromising honesty and generosity and greatness of character.
And Chopin ---- unfailingly modest, polite, thoughtful and tender
never cruel --- never boastful ------ loathed playing in public ----
where Liszt --- the supreme showman and superstar of his day failed to
achieve the heights of composition that the frail Chopin attained.
So ------- thanks for posting your email ------ you may be sorry reading
such a long response from me ---- but my husband and I are delighted to
find a fellow soulmate along the highway of Beethoven ---- so many times
people who are professional musicians can be very snobby about these
things ---- we ---- as it sounds you are too ------ are simply passionate!
Hope to hear from you sometime ------ a lifetime is not enough to
encompass Beethoven ---- Artur Schnabel, after a lifetime of performing
his music, wrote that as an old man he was just beginning to understand
it! That's why I really hope there is life after death ----- so we may
go on learning and understanding ---- and know that people like
Beethoven were not just random conglomerations of cells --- but little
bits of God, rained upon humanity to illuminate and gladden our hearts
through this difficult journey we call life!
Our best to you ---- please write --- so nice to share thoughts with
another thoughtful soul ---- Aussiegirl

More Thoughts

Wednesday, August 24, 2002

Well my ---- what a conversation ---- thanks for your two replies --- no
apologies necessary ---- time and plumbing wait for no man, as was once
famously said by someone. As for your design projects --- how lovely to
be doing something tangible, creative and useful!
We also get that satellite channel --- 2 of them actually (with all the
other garbage they have on you think they could come up with a few more
---- like one exclusively for the keyboard, or chamber music, or one
type of music, or opera, etc. --- but nooooo --- there are a hundred
other junkie ones that I have to eliminate from my remote so I won't
have to waste time scrolling through them ---- oh the petty aggravations of the modern world!
But why waste time with such trivialities --- it occurs to me that we
live not only like kings of old but have luxuries even undreamed of by
the richest of ancient men. The old aristos used to employ musicians who
could be summoned at a moment's notice --- even in the middle of the
night when the fancy struck the old goat --- to play a ditty or two. We,
at the touch of a button summon, up the geniuses of the ages played by
the finest artists of the last 60 years or more and can compare,
contrast, criticize, etc.
In olden times "chamber music" was created and played in the "chamber"
for selected audiences ---- Bach evidently was never fussy about
transposing works from one instrument to another ---- he was quite
comfortable to say ---- "we have a horn, but not a fiddle, you say ---
here -- let me just rewrite this quickly for the instruments at hand,
etc." Likewise -- Liszt (and others) transposed symphonic works to
the piano, so that smaller audiences could hear these works. In Verdi's
time there were huge organ-grinder kind of things (without the monkey)
that cranked out the latest of Verdi's top ten --- so the sausage
merchant could learn "La Donna e Mobile" and sing it out as he sliced the morning salami.
So --- aren't we lucky ???? I am feeling rich as Croesus and lots like
old Unca Scrooge when he would run his fingers through all his piles of
coins because today, upon returning from a shopping trip, the hubby and
I discovered a little package gracing our front door ------ my 9!!! CD
set of Wilhelm Kempff playing the complete Beethoven Sonatas (Sonaten) Oh joy!!!
But I'm off the subject -- sorry. As to your interesting comment about
the Carl Haas ---- I wish I had heard that lecture. Yes --- I agree ---
that is one of the astonishing things about Beethoven --- his
unexpectedness ----- one thing I have just started to notice is his use
of the trill ----- it's hard to describe this without humming what I
mean but I'll try ----- you know how in earlier music, BB (before
Beethoven) --- there was a conventional ending to many phrases that
begins with a trill and then goes da-da-dum. like ----- trrrrrrrrrrr
da-da-dum. Oh dear, hope you know what I mean. But Beethoven starts
a trill ---- you can hear this especially in the one violin concerto,
and also in the Appassionata which I just listened to most recently
----- he starts the instrument trilling ---- and the trilling continues
-- and you wait for the conventional da-da-dum ------ but no ----- wait
------ the harmonies under the trill start doing magical things and
changing subtly ---- shivers start running down your spine --- you wait
for the resolution --- surely it must be the end of the phrase -- but no
----- the trill continues and and the tension builds and builds and
suddenly it is like a window slowly opens onto a new horizon and we
slowly are raised to a newer, higher plane and it resolves --- not as an
end --- but as the beginning of a new idea. It is truly stupendous!
As to similar figures in other fields --- I would have to think about
that for a while ---- and my knowledge of other fields is quite general
---- but ----- what an idea. Perhaps it is that music, unlike any other
fine art (literature, painting, architecture --- the other arts
pertaining to the various senses) is so immediate, mysterious,
spiritual, and ------ organic. Like laughter, it is a truly human and
spiritual thing. It is essentially unknowable and undefinable ---- like
God --- if you believe in something like that --- or the universe ----
it appeals directly to the emotions without the filter of our intellect
and brain --- I think that they have discovered that musical experts
listen to music with a different part of their brain --- they are
analyzing it intellectually -- someone like you or me or anyone else who
simply listens and is moved, probably listens with the emotional side.
Why is a particular piece sad??? Why happy??? What makes it so?? Why
does it have the powerful impact on us emotionally that it does?? I
don't know ---- but it is also universal and cross-cultural --- at least
Western Classical music is --- witness the Tokyo String Quartet playing
the best Beethoven quartets, Yo-Yo Ma, etc. etc.
Probably Shakespeare qualifies in his field ---- but again --- he is
pretty limited to the English-speaking world ---- he is hard to
translate ----- ANYBODY is hard to translate properly (and being
Ukrainian and doing some little translating of my own I really
appreciate the difficulty).
Likewise the visual arts ---- they don't have the gobsmacking impact on
emotions (at least to me) that music does. I mean --- Beethoven just
gets inside your head and sets you on fire ---- even Michaelangelo can't
do that for me -- as beautiful as his works are. They still have to pass
some filter, or something and don't go directly to the heart of thematter.
But perhaps this isn't the question --- there surely are people
throughout history who were indispensable --- I'll leave that for
another time and let you get back to your life. It is great to lay
thoughts out on "paper" ---- hubs and I discuss them all the time but
there's nothing like having to commit your thoughts to "paper" to
you think more clearly. That remains to be seen if I have done that.
BTW --- loved your comment about "self-inflicted education" ---- may I
plagiarize you? (IMHO it is the best kind of education) Also --- big
chuckle over the Mahler writing to employ every Scandinavian musician.
Thanks --- sorry to be so long again --- write when you have a chance.
(In a similar vein as the Mahler comment --- there is an anecdote about
some conductor rehearsing the orchestra for a perfomance of Wagner. He
supposedly said something like: "Now those singers up there are trying
to be heard above the orchestra -- it is our job to see that they are
not!" ---- and another favorite was the advice given to a student
conductor --- "Don't even look at the brasses --- it only encourages them!" ;-)

(veritas talking:)

Me: Where to start? Years ago I heard a program by Carl Haas on NPR
Don't tell anyone!] discussing Beethoven. Haas, if you've never heard
his program, was a concert pianist [Hah! I should be telling a pianist
THAT! Of course you know Haas.] . He was illustrating the perfection of
Beethoven's originality. Haas would play a passage and point out certain
aspects of how the theme developed. He'd then continue the passage with
an "expected" continuation--after which he'd play it as Beethoven wrote
it. Every time, the "expected" continuation sounded fine, "normal"
--until he played Beethoven's. And what HE wrote was RIGHT. You:
"...music critic, Tim Page, who ALSO found Beethoven to be very funny,
and chastised a recent performance for being too deadly serious and
missing the rollicking fun."
Me: The "early music" orchestras are often good remedies to this. Itseems
the tempi of Beethoven's symphonies, especially, got slower and slower
as his music got more and more "important." I've heard that he marked
the tempi carefully, so this shouldn't be a problem, but... [Academy of
St. Martin in the Fields is usually a good compromise between the
"modern" sound we're used to and a smaller-orchestra, differently-tuned
instruments sound that is closer to what was contemporary for his time;
don't know what Beethoven they have in their catalog]. I'm happy to
listen to early-music orchestras that aren't too absolutist [gut strings
and such]. It's sometimes revealing to hear Beethoven with a smaller
orchestra, I think. More "open" sound sometimes, lighter melodies; "Fun"
more accessible. Parochially, I prefer, overall, a great modern
orchestra for Beethoven, perhaps because it's how I was introduced to
the music. Not a Mahler-sized orchestra [I think he wrote to keep every
musician in Scandinavia employed], but a normal-sized modern one. [A
nice interruption: I have the satellite receiver on the "light classics"
channel, and they're playing Vaughan Williams Fantasia on Greensleeves.
Beautiful, even if not played by Rampal...] Me: As you know, there's a
big tempo problem with the national anthem, too.
Once you've heard it played by a real military band [perhaps in part
because they're used to 120-beat march steps?], you won't go back.
Don't start me on those anthem "singers...." Grrrrrr. Me: Ever hear
Beethoven live? Sorry, GOTTA [!] get back to my responsibilities.
Best to you and Aussieguy [?]. More later. Many thanks for a nice note and
good conversation.


Two more photos of Aussiegirl

Lady Liberty asked to see more photos of Helen -- I found these two in her "My Pictures" file. The top one is from when her family was living in Dee Why, Australia. It was taken around 1953, which would make Helen 6 years old. The ocean was not far from their house, and Helen loved to wade around in the tidal pools. The other is from 1974, when Helen was 27 years old.