Keep it simple, stupid.

In the post before this one, we noted how often thoughtful people single out Mozart’s Soave sia il vento (this YouTube is just the score without the singers; look at the post below this one for the piece in performance) as among the most beautiful pieces of music in the world. Can we say why?

Here are some ideas about that. First, whether you read music or not, look at the score on YouTube as it drifts by. In this song, the singers wave goodbye to lovers who are sailing away on an uncertain voyage; they calmly and lovingly wish them well.

May the wind be gentle,
may the waves be calm,
and may every one of the elements
respond warmly
to your desire
.

And again, whether or not you read music, you can just see – quite graphically – that under the placid confident well-wishing singing line are constant, rhythmic “waves” (those groups of notes repeating and repeating with a gently insistent forward energy) which both lull and hint at the always-latent possibility of turbulence in life. It is, in short, bittersweet; or, as Bernard Haitink put its down there, full of beauty, tenderness, and longing.

On one level, this Andante gentle rhythmic piece is beloved because it is, if you will, infantile — its persistent soft rhythm perhaps arouses memories of being held and rocked in loving parental arms. And it is beloved because it is simple – simple, and I’d say musically generous. Its slow clarified line, taken up vividly by each of the singers in turn, lets you see the music, hear the harmonies. Albert Schweitzer once wrote that when he was young the very simple two-part harmony in the song In the Mill By the Stream “thrilled me all over to my very marrow, and similarly the first time I heard brass instruments playing together I almost fainted from excess of pleasure.” The concision, the intuitively graspable emotion, the slow and clarified singers’ line that allows you somehow to rest in the music and really relish the harmonies and dynamics (“It pauses all the [frenetic] action” of Così fan tutte, as one performer puts it.) — all of these and more I think account for the exceptionally beautiful and moving effect of Mozart’s song.

**************

Although sung, I think this piece is an example of pure music, rather in the way another, much sillier and much better known piece, is pure though sung. What I mean is that these songs (I have in mind for the silly example You’re Not Sick, You’re Just in Love — as with the young Schweitzer, I’ll never forget my delight and amazement on hearing it for the first time and seeing how the two singers could take their long separate lines and merge them harmonically – how the composer made this complex melding work…) are music itself, the immediate and intense ignition of aesthetic ecstasy in us merely by the subtle and playful mechanism of organized sound.

The higher you go, the less subjective is taste.

The New York Times asked fifteen important musicians and music critics to name the five minutes of Mozart they would play for a friend to make her fall in love with him. Who can be surprised that even though Mozart wrote a trillion tunes, two of the fifteen agreed those few minutes would be Soave sia il vento?

Extra credit: Listen to the end – starting at around 2:00 – of Met cellist Kari Docter’s interview.

UD discovered Soave in her restless quest to listen to everything Julia Lezhneva has performed, cuz longtime readers know UD is a Lezhneva fanatic. On first hearing it, UD concentrated on the unbelievable sweet piping clarity of JL’s voice (UD feels similarly about Kathleen Battle, another otherworldly singer), but UD quickly shifted to the threesome singing the song, and the way their voices wove this particular brief transcendence…

Bernard Haitink: [T]he trio “Soave sia il vento” is one of the most sublime things I know. The text is “May the winds be gentle, and the sea calm,” and you can almost feel the breezes gently blowing and the waves lapping in the violins as it starts. Such beauty, tenderness and longing, all in the space of just over two and a half minutes.

Mitsuko Uchida: The trio “Soave sia il vento” … brings tears to my eyes every time the strings start playing.

Okay, so we have the powerful testimony of quite a few people – throw in the writer Alexander McCall Smith (“Not only is this one of the most beautiful pieces of music ever composed, but the words are extraordinarily peaceful, generous and resolved. ‘On your voyage, may the winds be gentle; may the waves be calm; may all the elements respond to your desires…’ What more can we wish anyone setting off on life’s journey? I listen to this several times a day; I never tire of it. It is music suffused with the greatest possible sympathy and humanity. It expresses what I want to feel about the world. It is the deepest truth.”), and I’m sure there are many others. Can we suggest why this piece is so emotionally powerful and so surpassingly beautiful?

Well, UD will give it a go.

First, though, she will mow her back lawn. (She did the front an hour ago.) Ne quittez pas.

Fragile-Ex

Trump in ‘fragile’ mood and may drop out of 2020 race if poll numbers don’t improve, GOP insiders tell Fox News

***************

No doubt wags up and down this land are sharpening their pencils as they sketch out Trump Finds Out He Can’t Win versions of this much-parodied bit of film.

Early Morning Web Hunting

The bright blotch to the right is the web-weaver.

More on the social significance of country club golf.

A recent post considers why the following sentence –

This matter is already well known in the golfing world, domestically and internationally, and our Club has become a laughingstock.

– is itself something of a laughingstock. The sentence comes from a super-serious protest letter, whose writer announces his intention to resign from his country club because the club retains as members two soon to be incarcerated felons.

Scathing Online Schoolmarm suggested in that post that since the public mind identifies country club golf as the ultimate trivial pastime of the idle rich, attaching heavy geopolitical language to it just sounds funny, jarring – it’s the sort of juxtapositional (mixing the serious with the superficial) humor we associate with Oscar Wilde (divorces are made in heaven, etc,. etc., etc.). The more trivial the activity, in other words, the more susceptible it is to the rather easy comic operation involving its assimilation into the world of weighty things. (“Algernon: Well, one must be serious about something, if one wants to have any amusement in life. I happen to be serious about Bunburying. What on earth you are serious about I haven’t got the remotest idea. About everything, I should fancy. You have such an absolutely trivial nature.” “Algernon: Well, I can’t eat muffins in an agitated manner. … When I am in trouble, eating is the only thing that consoles me. Indeed, when I am in really great trouble, as any one who knows me intimately will tell you, I refuse everything except food and drink.”)

Of course, it goes the other way too. When a person powerfully identified as the idle golf-playing rich assumes a very serious job indeed, he makes himself vulnerable to a special sort of critique. Among the responses to a New York Times article about Trump’s apparent indifference to information he received about the Russian government giving money to Taliban soldiers for killing American fighters is this one, from the father of a combatant:

Perhaps if Trump is not too busy playing golf … he could find time to attend [an intelligence] briefing?

My kid is in a combat zone and I’d like to see him again. My kid is important to me.

Nothing against playing golf. But if you’re lining up a putt while Rome burns…

Donate to Amy McGrath’s Senate Campaign.

She just won her primary.

If Trump won’t leave the WH after he loses, she can bomb him the hell out of there.

France’s Lori and Mossimo…

… head off to jail (er, I mean to appeal their sentences). Same fakery, but this being Europe they stole public funds (a million euros!) rather being decent enough (yay, USA!) to use their own resources.

Firing Up the Grill

With the latest Supreme Court decision, it’s time for Pater Edmund and his integralist acolytes at Harvard etc. to start torturing defenders of Roe to death in the public square.

“The ones with lines of patients in the parking lot, or sitting on the [office] floor drinking Mountain Dew – pretty tell-tale sign that that’s gonna be the doctor you’re gonna wanna engage with.”

From a documentary about the pride of SUNY Buffalo, Mr Fentanyl himself, John Kapoor.

For UD, country clubs have the status of Easter Island mo’ai:

They represent one of humanity’s most enduring mysteries.

$300,000 (initiation fee only) for access to a golf course + Bernard Madoff… (You’re also guaranteed a glimpse of the president). (Or at least some of his supporters.)

And speaking of Madoff , the just-resigned felons at the Bel-Air Country Club in Los Angeles – Varsity Blues alums Lori Loughlin and Mossimo Giannulli – had worked it out that they’d be suspended from the club for the duration of their stay in the local lockup, and then, the moment they got sprung, the suspension would be over. Nice!

A member of the club’s all-male board, however, has “fired off” (this cliche feels unavoidable) a letter to all the other males to complain that this does not sit well with him. Scathing Online Schoolmarm says: Let’s take a look!

(SOS is aware that the super-secret boys’ club thing of boys’ clubs like Bel-Air makes it wet-your-shorts shocking that this letter came out at all into the light of ungated day; and SOS is thinking that the author maybe leaked it but who knows. We need only register here, preliminarily, the shock of this enigmatic island having let escape a loud epistolary fart.)

Gentlemen:

[In its very mode of address, the letter is already a reprimand. The letter indeed will turn out to be a meditation on the word/concept gentleman.]

On June 1st the membership was notified of the disposition of the “Varsity Blues” matter wherein two members of the Club have plead guilty to felony charges. “The Board has unanimously voted effective immediately to suspend both Members involved in their personal legal challenges until [emphasis added] they have completed their obligations to the government.”

[This guy gets right to it – no throat-clearing, no pleasantries, right into it. SOS says excellent. She’s always telling you to be surgical and direct.

Now, this is a country club guy, and I’m guessing he’s a lawyer, so we get words like disposition and wherein and matter. He’s penning the sort of letter Peter Wimsey might receive from his club in Gaudy Night. Fine. It’s not bad writing; and it neatly conveys the writer’s sense of himself.]

The above statement is misleading. What it does not clearly state is that the memberships of these felons continue essentially unabated. Suspension implies that a member otherwise capable of using the Club is prohibited from access for a period of time as punishment for a serious infraction. However, these individuals will be incarcerated for most, if not all, of the suspension period and will continue as members in “good standing” when released.

[No need for the quotation marks around good standing. We remain in the world of faintly legal and definitely Edwardian prose. No problem.]

This unprecedented board decision to allow felons to continue as members causes irreparable reputational harm to the Club and its members. Will we any longer be able to deny membership to convicted felons sponsored for membership? If the denial is based on the candidate’s felony conviction the answer would now appear to be no. Will the Club now be perceived as one that welcomes felons? Undeniably, the answer to that question is now yes.

[As with so much of this letter, this paragraph has a sweetly scented whiff of obsolescence to it, assuming as it does that the sort of character willing to shoot out millions for occasional visits to a golf course is going to be mentally and ethically sharp enough to comprehend/give a shit about felonious behavior.] [Note, for instance, how the sentence “We need to send this draft dodger back to his golf courses.” functions in this political ad.]

Let me point out the obvious. BACC is a Club of gentlemen and gentlewomen. Gentlemen are not felons, and felons in turn are not gentlemen. You cannot be a member in good standing and guilty of a felony at the same time, it is a non sequitur. Referring to felons as gentlemen in good standing is nothing more than an attempt to legitimize their continued membership. That “this situation” resulted from “their actions outside the Club” can only be considered a failed attempt at misdirection as it is completely irrelevant. These felony guilty pleas are of their own making and reputational harm comes from their continued “membership” affiliation with the Club. Suspending membership, while the offender is imprisoned, is an illusory penalty and does nothing to address the reputational damage brought on by their continued membership.

[Okay, now we’re into some seriously snippy shit. Remember that you should never write mad. You can feel as mad as you like, but your writing needs to be under tight emotional control. SOS would have thrown out the first sentence of this paragraph, since it conveys little beyond condescending rage.

And there are other problems. Note the string of very short sentences coming up. This rat-a-tat-tat business is risky, conveying as it does in this instance an annoyed parent’s series of simple statements to a child – something liable to piss off people who think of themselves as your equal. And he’s getting a little sloppy. Plenty of felons are gentlemen, and charming gentlemen at that, so the author needs to gesture in the direction of a definition of gentleman that would exclude some of these (only the most notorious are featured), not to mention gentlewomen like Martha Stewart. It seems awfully mean of the writer to exclude so many from his gentlemen’s club. Country clubs after all couldn’t exist without the super-rich, and, without wanting to sound like a commie, SOS will note the very strong correlation between personal billions and bad behavior. (Variants of You don’t make a billion dollars; you steal it are all over contemporary English usage.)

I’m not sure ‘good standing’ / ‘felony’ is a non sequitur; maybe better to call it a contradiction in terms.

Love the fact that the other all-males reasoned that since the felons failed to drop their doodoo directly on the golfing green it doesn’t count.

Okay, we’ll skip a bit of the letter here, because he becomes quite redundant, saying more than he needs to say it that keeping felons in the club damages its reputation. I’m sure he’s wrong about that, but anyway.]

This matter is already well known in the golfing world, domestically and internationally, and our Club has become a laughingstock.

[Here’s how you know it’s an internal letter. Phrases like the golfing world, domestically and internationally are themselves kind of a laughingstock to … okay, well, to SOS. And whatever the global golfing world may be, I really doubt it’s fanning itself with its hanky over naughty behavior.]

I have heard that some members believe the board has substituted its judgement for that of the law and the courts in determining whether felony crime is serious. That white collar crime does not count. This surely cannot be the case. The board could not be so unwise as to put itself in the position of judging felonies on a subjective scale, deeming some acceptable and others not.

[LOLOLOLOLOLOL.]

As a 25-year member in good standing, and a gentleman by act of Congress, I choose not to be associate with known felons. This board decision, however, forces acceptance of felons upon the membership – grata catalla felonum.

[Again, very much an insider’s letter, but SOS thinks gentleman by act of Congress means the guy has a military background; and she thinks grata etc. means something like Welcome, felons. The Latin phrase, the by now incredibly redundant insistence on moral uprightness – it really is The World of Sir Peter Wimsey.

Also note typo: Should be associated.]

I have been informed that the board is not willing to set aside this decision and take the cleansing action so desperately needed, namely terminating the memberships of the offending parties. That being the case, I am sadly left no choice but to hereby resign from the club I have long loved.

[By this last paragraph, the excellent straightforwardness of address with which the writer began has fully deteriorated into wordy self-aggrandizing pretentiousness. Get a load of all them adjectives and adverbs clogging things the hell up!

cleansing

desperately

namely

offending

sadly

hereby

long

Let us translate the two sentences down:

Since you will not end these memberships, I’m resigning.]

Antinomies

Although UD‘s fascinated by Autonomies, a dystopian Israeli film, she’ll never watch it. She’s triggered by images of female slave cultures. But what’s amazing about this imagination of an Israel that devolved into bloody secular/religious civil war thirty years ago and is now entirely balkanized between a strict haredi sect territory in and around Jerusalem, and a modern territory in and around Tel Aviv, is that at least one important Israeli intellectual says dystopia shmystopia! It’s a great idea and let’s get going on it!

The series is very clever, with bracing realism (a smuggler makes an excellent living smuggling porn and pork into Haredi Autonomy), but what it’s really about, if you ask ol’ UD, is the horror of surrender to theocracy. Israel has only itself to blame for decades of cynical accommodation to massed ignorant fools who think every offense against liberty and dignity they commit comes stamped with God’s Approval; no wonder Israel’s artist class now depicts the tragicomic walls within walls within walls within walls location that place has become. You don’t reason with the lord’s annointed; they don’t do reason; they’re pre-reason; they’re non-reason; they’re anti-reason. Let them ride roughshod over your democracy and hey look ma no democracy.

*****************

[Israeli media conglomerate] Keshet is also in the early planning stages of an English-language adaptation of the format, set in the United States and using America’s own blue state-red state divide as a substitute for the original Israeli plot.

Oh really? Oh reallllllyyyy? So let me tell you something, Buster. Happy to have you do that; plan away. But the overlay ain’t working for me.

Let’s see. Half of America is dirt poor (the other half is unimaginably rich); no one there has any occupational skills and anyway everyone refuses to work because keening over religious texts will feed their children. So their children are starving. They don’t believe in the germ theory of disease so coronavirus is killing everyone over sixty. Anyone interested in their territory is making a play for it since except for a small group of secular mercenaries no one fights. Daily street riots rage between teenyweeny ultraorthodox sects headed by senile warring rabbis. Women are totally absent from the world. There aren’t any. No one knows where they are; where they went. There aren’t any.

This is totally cool drama-wise for sure. I just don’t think we can manage it. I’m seeing plenty of yahoos waving Confederate flags, yes. Absolutely someone’s breaking into a gender theory class at Oberlin waving an AK-47. I’m not saying our blue-red state divide is without dramatic potential. I’m saying we just totally do not measure up.

Twenty-First Century Robert Herrick.

Delight in Deletion

A sweet deletion of excess
Kindles in me a wantonness;
A bomb upon the inbox thrown
Into a fine distraction;
An erring text, which here and there
Excites the inner editor;
A noun neglectful, and thereby
Words to flow confusedly;
A massive wave, deserving frowns,
Of mad, tempestuous ‘moticons;
An email-string’s infinity
Creating incivility:
Do more amuse me, than when art
Is too correct in every part.

Digital Blackout, NYC.

UD‘s beloved Don DeLillo will soon issue a new novel, The Silence, about New York City under a digital shutdown. Can’t wait.

“People imagine it is impossible to run through $600 million, but he did.”

Managed to lose six hundred million dollars; denied paternity of his children; at the end jumped out of a window.

*****************

Only in America: “Steve recently sold his jet... and was very depressed.”

But what if tens of millions of people want precisely this?

I mean, they do, don’t they? They voted for it. They will vote for it.

Donald Trump has been the worst president this country has ever had. And I don’t say that hyperbolically. He is. But he is a consequential president. And he has brought this country in three short years to a place of weakness that is simply unimaginable if you were pondering where we are today from the day where Barack Obama left office. And there were a lot of us on that day who were deeply skeptical and very worried about what a Trump presidency would be. But this is a moment of unparalleled national humiliation, of weakness.

When you listen to the President, these are the musings of an imbecile. An idiot. And I don’t use those words to name call. I use them because they are the precise words of the English language to describe his behavior. His comportment. His actions. We’ve never seen a level of incompetence, a level of ineptitude so staggering on a daily basis by anybody in the history of the country who [has] ever been charged with substantial responsibilities.

It’s just astonishing that this man is president of the United States. The man, the con man, from New York City. Many bankruptcies, failed businesses, a reality show, that branded him as something that he never was. A successful businessman. Well, he’s the President of the United States now, and the man who said he would make the country great again. And he’s brought death, suffering, and economic collapse on truly an epic scale. And let’s be clear. This isn’t happening in every country around the world. This place. Our place. Our home. Our country. The United States. We are the epicenter. We are the place where you’re the most likely to die from this disease. We’re the ones with the most shattered economy. And we are because of the fool that sits in the Oval Office behind the Resolute Desk.

******************

Why do people want barbarians? Read Cavafy’s Waiting for the Barbarians.

… night has fallen and the barbarians haven’t come.
      And some of our men just in from the border say
      there are no barbarians any longer.

Now what’s going to happen to us without barbarians?
Those people were a kind of solution.

This man is a solution. Like all primitive ideologues he shushes our anxiety about enlightenment and tucks us in to the dark. Around him, in our new America, range viciously authoritarian Harvard law professors and whorishly indifferent attorneys general – a whole pack of barbarians at the very highest levels to take us where we want to go. These people are a kind of solution.

**************

Recall Roger Shattuck’s words about Trump’s dada, Ubu the king.

[Ubu is] the representative of primitive earthy conduct, unrelieved by any insight into his own monstrosity, uncontrollable as an elephant on the rampage… [M]ankind in the shape of Ubu dredges the depths of its nature…


Can we really laugh at Ubu, at his character?  It is doubtful, for he lacks the necessary vulnerability,  the vestiges of original sin.  Not without dread, we mock, rather, his childish innocence and primitive soul and cannot harm him.  He remains a threat because he can destroy at will, and the political horrors of the twentieth century make the lesson disturbingly real… [Alfred] Jarry’s humor [in the play] may be regarded as a psychological refusal to repress distasteful images.  He laughed and invited us to laugh at Ubu’s most monstrous behavior, not because we are immune – we are, in fact, deathly afraid of the ‘truth’ of Ubu  – but because it is a means of domesticating fear and pain… [Humor] demands that we reckon with the realities of human nature and the world without falling into grimness and despair.

The sleep of reason produces monsters, doncha know. Donald Trump is the specifically American monster that happened while we were sleeping.

Next Page »

Latest UD posts at IHE

Archives

Categories