Saturday, September 30, 2006

Frida Kahlo Sucks

Upon further examination of some books of her paintings and writings, I have reached the conclusion that Frida Kahlo is one of the most overrated artists of all-time. She was a psychotically self-obsessed and whorish woman with badly limited technical skill and craft. Her paintings obsess over lame symbols (motherhood, death and rebirth, blood and roses) she simply stole from surrealistic and neo-primitive art to cover up her own lack of imagination. Her writings prove her to be maniacal, mentally disturbed and sub-literate. Her letters to Diego Rivera, a far more interesting and humane artist, are full of high-school poetic posturings about their love being "el fuego del nino de amor" and a 'revolution of flesh' and other such hilarities. What bothers me most about her are her disgusting and ill-informed politics, including her blind support for murderous men (she painted loving portraits of Stalin and Mao) and regimes to fit with her typically psychotic love of communism. How strange for a feminist icon to be so subservient of murderous, racist, mysogynistic, tyrannical and insane men! This all leads back to my hatred of young naive leftists who lovingly read "The Communist Manifesto" and talk like the hyper-complicated and interconnected world still has some sort of Hegelian/Marxist dialectic as if it's the 19th century Prussian state. They sport their Che shirts (a favorite of those 'humanistic progressives' whom love men that put homosexuals into work camps and executed thousands without trial), they read their Feminist theory, their Deuleuze, their Foucault, the Gramsci. The defend Castro and Chavez and their allies blindly as if they are Zapatas and other revolutionary heroes of yore, when indeed they are often as non-thinking, dull and terroristic as our disgusting regime to those of the less fortunate. How lovingly they gaze upon Chavez as he hugs the President of Iran, himself an alleged murderer with an atrocious human rights record and who does nothing about the enslavement of women. Frida would approve of all of this with a mustached smile.
(This also reminds me of the great character of Senecal the immoral Socialist in Flaubert's Sentimental Education. Flaubert, being a thinking man, sees the fatal flaws of both sides of the ideological spectrum and stresses skepticism and reason over blind hatred and idealism. Fundamentalism of any stripe, religious, Marxist, fascist, atheistic, conservative, liberal, is fundamentalism, i.e., not clear thinking:

"Senecal expressed no opinion about his candidature. He spoke about himself and the state of the country. Pitiful though it was, he rejoiced over it; for things were moving towards Communism.
To begin with, the administration was going that way willy-nilly, since every day that passed saw more things brought under Government control. As for Property, the Constitution of '48, for all its weaknesses, had been anything but indulgent to it; in the name of the common weal, the State could henceforth appropriate anything it thought fit.
Senecal declared himself in favour of Authority; ...The Republican even thundered against the inadequacy of the masses:

'By defending the rights of the minority, Robespierre brought Louis XVI before the National Convention, and saved the people. The end justifies the means. A dictatorship is sometimes indispensible. Long live tyranny, provided the tryant does good!'")

What is hard for us, is clear thinking. I certainly am not capable of it as you can see that I should really get back to writing about music. But I simply cannot get behind people who love death and violence so. I also simply can't praise bad art.
But then again, 'Que scais-je'?

Tuesday, September 26, 2006

Rake's Progress Thoughts (in brief)

Listening to John Eliot Gardiner's recording of Stravinsky's longest and in many ways most problematic work renews some of my enthusiasms and some of my doubts. It helps to have such a crisp ensemble under Gardiner's thoughtful and lively hand. The somewhat uneven dramatic material is helped, if not totally saved from inevitable death, by Terfel, Bostridge, Otter et. al.
The two main problems:
-Said uneven dramatic material. Auden and Kallman's libretto is very smart, and especially towards the end, very beautiful. As pure verse, it more often-than-not reads well, if a tad show-offy. Dramatically, it's hard to become attached to such flat characters as Anne and Tom. They are merely neo-classical stock puppets that Auden draws from 18th century England for Stravinsky to hang his neo-classical cravat and quasi-fan tuttes onto.
-Much of the music is, for Stravinsky, rhymically dull. It is a curse of many of the most uninspired pages of his post-Persephone work (Ode, Scenes de Ballet, Symphony in C etc.), and it plagues the Rake. Much of the blame can be blamed on Stravinsky's (at this juncture) scant knowledge of English, and the supra-wordy brilliance of the libretto. Much of the music sounds like mere accompiniament for the words; the orchestra hammers ostinato patterns of Stravinskified Mozart for the singers to sing their long-breathed melodies of oddly-accented English. Many times I feel like I am listening to a recording of a sketch of music that hasn't been fleshed out, as if Stravinsky hadn't the energy to avoid simply getting the words out as fast as possible. This was a trait he lamented himself in his criticisms of the work.

The goodnesses:
-The music is not as bad as Benjamin Britten said, and indeed it's greatest moments, the 'Lanterloo' chorus, Baba the Turk's heroic entrance, the graveyard, Auction and Bedlam scenes, and several other pages here and there surpass the greatest moments of most of Britten's operas (the most notable exception being Turn of the Screw).
The 'Lanterloo' chorus is constantly running through my head, musically and lyrically, and partially due to the exquisite wind music that bubbles and froths in pandiatonic cantilenas (the wind writing being the great feature of the opera and of course Mozart's Cosi). It's wonderful ending, where Nick Shadow warns his master of the fleeting nature of all that lives over the slowly unweaving web of mysterious wind figurations, with each passing phrase becoming quieter, more dissonant and more disjointed, is haunting to me beyond words.
The work is also full of some fine melodies and orchestral touches. The slow, mournful and simple Miles Davis muted trumpet melody over the nervously swaying strings of Anne's 'waiting' music in Act Two is, as that eternal favorite phrase of music critics has it, 'achingly beautiful'.
Baba the Turk's music as she unveils herself before her endlessly cynical and bored London admirers, a jazzy, Lully-like gavotte for strings, is so superb in its characterization that the wildly theatric Thomas Ades quotes it in Powder Her Face.

Sure, it's not perfect. But it's worthy of a Stravinsky and an Auden in many places, and as Music Critic Eternal says three times a day, 'rewards repeated listenings.'

Sunday, September 24, 2006

Stravinsky Attacks!

At last night's post-Minnesota Orchestra concert (a smart program of Gabrielli brass music, a Mozart Serenade, Bartok's "Music for Strings, Percussion and Celesta" with the James Sewell Ballet, and Le Sacre du Printemps) Q and A session with conductor Osmo Vänskä, a man raised his hand to congratulate Vänskä on a memorable rendition of Stravinsky's masterpiece, and report to him and the audience that he had once been bitten by Stravinsky himself. Literally. Bitten with teeth.
He didn't give his name, but he said he had been a doctor in New York City in the late 60s and early 70s. One of his patients was the ailing Stravinsky (probably a couple months before he died when he had moved from LA to New York City).
Stravinsky was in for one of the many surgical procedures of the painful last years of his life, and after coming out of the anastaesia in a state of irritated delirium, bit the doctor's hand as hard as he could. This only goes to show the unstoppable tenacity and animalistic lifeforce that the tiny but muscular Stravinsky had throughout his life that allowed him to sport six-pack abs in his early 50s, compose works of genius into his late 80s and nearly make it to 90 after a life of smoking and drinking like the Exile on Main Street era Keith Richards.

The doctor related that Stravinsky must have felt sorry for his act of semi-conscious violence, as he gladly signed a LP before he left the hospital.

Monday, September 18, 2006

Rameau Sells His Wares

"Mr Rameau delivers instruction to amateurs for whom he will establish a school of composition, three times a week, from 3 until 5, available for twelve schoolboys at a time, one Gold louis per month, [he] being able to teach them all or perhaps more if it necessary; he will be available to teach a lesser number as well. He ensures that six months or more will be enough to be put the science of Harmony into practice, in all the ways where one will want to employ it, [... ...] It is to due to the eagerness of some who have already enrolled themselves in this class that Mr. Rameau believed it proper to make it more avaiable with the greater Public [...]; thus those whom will wish to join it will have kindness to send their written name and their residence to him, Hotel Effiat, rue d'Bons Efans, so that you can inform him the day when you will start."

-Announcement in Le Mercure France, 1738, for 55 year-old Rameau's newly formed Ecole de composition

Sunday, September 10, 2006

Tolstoy Rocks the Body that Rocks the Party

Here's some footage from 1908 of none other than the great Leo Tolstoy's 80s birthday bash. Sadly, the footage of the man himself is only seconds long and at the very end of the clip, but it's more than worth it to see the gentle mystic's smiling face, along with some nice film of his wife picking flowers and his dog following a scent.
All that is missing is, of course, Kool and the Gang's "Celebration" on the soundtrack.
You Care What I'm Reading, Watching and Listening To (IV)

Wednesday, September 06, 2006

There is a God

And the proof is found, strangely enough, in Americans spending their money on the right thing.

Does Bill O'Reilly know how horribly old he looks on this cover? How could such a Prima donna allow his newest book to feature a picture of himself looking so pale and sweaty? Is he really comfortable to finally be seen as the big ol' Clammy Mick that he is, with a pair of positively evil eyes to boot? And what is this warrior in the LL Bean parka fighting for exactly? Fly-fishing rights? Boating regulation reforms?

Sunday, September 03, 2006


Please be speedy and go here to BBC3's great program "Composer of the Week" to hear about another shamefully underrated composer, the great Argentinian master Alberto Ginastera. You'll need Real Player.