This is one of those suggestive, compendious, richly anecdotal cultural histories that are impossible to summarize. Suffice to say that Horowitz provoThis is one of those suggestive, compendious, richly anecdotal cultural histories that are impossible to summarize. Suffice to say that Horowitz provoked me to rehearse everything I've ever thought about American Life, dum dum dum!
Horowitz's focus is not entirely on the performing arts--he writes briefly but significantly about Thomas Mann and Vladimir Nabokov. His discussion of those two writers, in the book's coda, ties up what for me was the most interesting theme: the difference between the Germans and the Russians as agents of cultural exchange. The German composers, conductors and performers (and social critics and writers) come off as imperious cultural colonizers, bearing on high the monstrance of Kultur into the wilds of the New World, where they were received with fawning deference by an American musical establishment already thoroughly Eurocentric and Germanized long before the emigrations of the 20s-40s. Horowitz argues that the isolated high-mindedness of the Germans (Germans as in imbued with a worship of Bach-Mozart-Beethoven; many were Austrian, Czech, or Hungarian by birth) and the trying-too-hard snobbery of American classical music audiences combined to sideline living American composers and indigenous American dance and music traditions. The Russians--Balanchine, Stravinsky, Koussevitsky, Dukelsky, Nabokov, Aronson, etc--by contrast, are paragons of adaptability and openness. Horowitz speaks of them all when he says of Balanchine that he came to America a layered personality that had no trouble accepting yet another--this time American--layer. The Russians in Horowitz's account graft American realities to their ongoing creative and personal lives: Balanchine works on Broadway and for the circus, spikes classic ballet with western and African-American influences (and sports bolo ties and vests); Nabokov switches to English and writes, in Lolita, a road-novel, a prose poem of "delicious Americana"; and Stravinsky remains, as ever, "the cultural magpie." Tellingly, they all had a thing for road trips. Horowitz's Russians are poised, balanced, confident enough of their inner artistic missions to assimilate "lowbrow" fare, less prone to depression and less burdened than the Germans by fidelity to some portentous and exclusive religion of high culture.
And there's of course so much more to this book than the above. Horowitz writes extensively and brilliantly about film and theater. His prose is polished and pregnant--he reminds me of David Thomson and the New Biographical Dictionary of Film in the laconism imposed by the encyclopedic format, and the compressed, epigrammatic elegance of his judgments and descriptions. ...more
Awesome. Leaves William Claxton choking in the dust. Wolff's shot of John Patton--at piano, his sweat-gemmed face, shut eyes and slightly parted lipsAwesome. Leaves William Claxton choking in the dust. Wolff's shot of John Patton--at piano, his sweat-gemmed face, shut eyes and slightly parted lips set on a giant white turtle neck sweater--is up there with Avedon's 1955 Marian Anderson as a timeless image of ecstatic musical transport.
One of my favorite works of criticism--though 'criticism' may be too narrow a category. Maybe: aesthetic theorizing informed by a practitioner's ardorOne of my favorite works of criticism--though 'criticism' may be too narrow a category. Maybe: aesthetic theorizing informed by a practitioner's ardor. A spirited essay on Kafka's sense of humor; the keenest appreciation of Janacek's operas I've ever read; a provocative private history of the novel (we gotta get back to Cervantes and Rabelais and Sterne, that fun, free-wheeling crew, Milan sez, cause 19th century realism is a con job); insightful defenses of Hemingway and Stravinsky from various hack detractors; and a delineation of Central European modernism (Broch, Musil, Gombrowicz). Kundera opens up so many vistas, spurs so much further reading; though he's probably choked off any desire to read Adorno for the near future: the drubbing he gives the musical writings is just too devastating. Adorno's Marxist advocacy of serialism as some sort of historically inevitable dispensation from which only irrelevant reactionaries (Stravinsky) dissent comes off as a terrible specimen of humorless, philistine lockstep. Who doesn't like Stravinsky? I mean, come on! ...more
Jaffe is just the kind of biographer James Merrill had in mind when he wrote 'Matinees':
Lives of the Great Composers make it sound Too much like cookinJaffe is just the kind of biographer James Merrill had in mind when he wrote 'Matinees':
Lives of the Great Composers make it sound Too much like cooking: 'Sore beset, He put his heart's blood into that quintet...'
Jaffe is always summarizing Prokofiev's works as either distillations of what he thinks were Prokofiev's emotions at the time of composition, or as expressions of the ethnopsychic tumult of 20th century Russia. Yawn. It's not all bad though, the book contains some amazing pictures (Prokofiev and Oistrakh in white ties and tailcoats, playing chess backstage before a performance), some interesting revelations (Nabokov was Prokofiev's favorite author), as well as an extended account of and reverent words for the op. 80 Violin Sonata, that overlooked autumnal masterpiece. Jaffe in general handles those late years well. His account of Prokofiev's funeral is hair-raising: he and Stalin died the same day; all the flowers in Moscow had been requisitioned for the dictator's funeral, so Sviatoslav Richter broke off an ice-encrusted pine branch and placed it on the coffin, as Oistrakh, another of the tiny clump of people who had braved the roadblocks and freezing rain of Moscow in March, played sections from the op. 80 sonata, whose first bars Prokofiev had described to others as mimicing the sound of "wind through a graveyard." The personal conditions of Prokofiev's final decade or so were very depressing--but artistically, all is triumph. ...more
I like this book...but I'll never finish it. A Modigliani postcard has marked the Petrouchka premiere for a year now. When I think 'Stravinsky,' I hunI like this book...but I'll never finish it. A Modigliani postcard has marked the Petrouchka premiere for a year now. When I think 'Stravinsky,' I hunch down in front of my stereo; I don't go to the bookshelf. ...more
The main bulk of alphabetical entries is good, but what I really like is the complete catalogue of works included at the back--a good prompt for searcThe main bulk of alphabetical entries is good, but what I really like is the complete catalogue of works included at the back--a good prompt for searches into the obscurer reaches of Haydn's output (I had no idea he wrote cello duets...they're delightful, as the phrase "cello duet" implies). The basic numbers are familiar but still staggering: 76 quartets, over 100 symphonies; of both forms he is called "the Father." The inexhaustabilty of Haydn is one of the consolations of life. Always fresh delights. He's the Shakespeare of music.
"He alone has the secret of making me smile, and touching me to the bottom of my soul." - Mozart on Haydn ...more
I guess I'm done with this. I bought it in December and have been nibbling on it ever since. I opened it recently and realized there's nothing in it II guess I'm done with this. I bought it in December and have been nibbling on it ever since. I opened it recently and realized there's nothing in it I haven't read. Rorem is a first-rate composer, but much of his renown rests on his exhibitionistic diaries and bitchy music reviews. Some of his stuff can be thin, a little jejune, a little slack, but his musical writings are brilliant. He explains that Virgil Thomson, who set the tone for many other 20th American composers, filtered homespun melodies "through a chic Gallic prism." So true, not only of Thomson but of Aaron Copland, David Diamond, and Rorem himself. So much American classical music is suave pastoral, theatrical rusticity. It's Marie Antoinette dressed as a milkmaid. That's why I love it. ...more
"Mardu Gorgeous." Madcap highbrow. Czgowchwz, the titular diva, is the daughter of a fiery Irish revolutionary and "a poet-philosopher of the Prague L"Mardu Gorgeous." Madcap highbrow. Czgowchwz, the titular diva, is the daughter of a fiery Irish revolutionary and "a poet-philosopher of the Prague Lingustic School." Behind the insane verbal arabesques, the plot: the erudite entourages of rival opera divas blood feuding in 1950s New York, using all weapons that their disposal--satirical verse broadsides, evil spells--to stymie each other. I'm told this reads like Firbank. ...more
Not deathless literature, but fun, gossipy, racy--and occasionally profound. Rorem's Paris diary traces his life in Paris in the early 50s, when he waNot deathless literature, but fun, gossipy, racy--and occasionally profound. Rorem's Paris diary traces his life in Paris in the early 50s, when he was a much feted and celebrated young composer, part angelically beautiful wunderkind, part drunken boor, part priapic enfant terrible. A dynamo of charming vanity. The first entry:
"A stranger asks 'Are you Ned Rorem?' I answer 'No,' adding that however I've heard of him and would like to meet him."
His music is enchanting. I've been listening to a recording of his three symphonies, all from the 50s, and they're what I've been searching for for a long time. The melodies are simple, broad, pastoral ("faux-naive music written for a sophisticated child," to quote Edmund White on Faure), the orchestration very French, luminous and lean, full of clean colors (Rorem deploys flutes, clarinets and harps as well as Debussy). Sweetly sad, gallantly melancholy. ...more