Sunday, April 24, 2016

Letters of Mozart and Beethoven

Being a classical musician, I like to read biographies of the composers whose music I have performed.  Learning a piece of music is comparable to a relationship with someone.  You get to know the work, dig deep into all the different layers, melodies, musical sentences, harmonies, sounds that are supposed to be in the forefront, the ones that are supposed to be in the background.  Songs do speak,  and each musical sentence is saying something.  It's important to listen closely to what you are playing so you can successfully carry that message over to the audience.
Bosephus Hambone is trying to decide which Mozart biography to read first.

And of course, that doesn't begin to describe the amount of practicing involved just to be able to play the notes correctly.  People have called me creative because I am a musician.   That is not exactly true.  Strictly speaking, I am an interpreter of other people's creations.  

As ballet dancers interpret sound through the motion of their body, I must produce that sound correctly so that it communicates what the composer intended to express.

One of the things that helps me as an interpreter is to read up on the historical time periods of the composers.  I read everything about those composers and also look at the art that influeneced the composers.  I find that the art gives me a visual comparison to the aural experience I am trying to produce by playing a certain composition. 

 For example, what Rembrandt achieved with chiaroscuro in his paintings, Beethoven tried to create aurally.  Chiaroscuro is the sharp contrast between light and dark.  Here is a painting of Rembrandt to show what I mean:

 If one listens to Beethoven's works, be it symphonies or a piano sonata, one can hear the great contrast between loud and soft, the whole orchestra playing, then suddenly one instrument playing.  Fast vs. slow; calm vs. passion.  His works are in constant flux between contrasting elements.

One thing I never did previously was read the letters of composers.  I don't know, I felt it was an invasion of privacy.  I have had a book of Mozart's letters for 28 years.  It was a gift from the organist at my church in high school.  Just a few months ago, I finally dusted it off and read it.  

What a delightful collection!  I then bought Beethoven's letters and enjoyed that too.  Here is a brief description of both:

Mozart's letters are all the joy, cheer, brilliant wit and love of life that is expressed in his music put into words.  The letters are primarily between the composer and his father.  It is easy to see the optimist, naive, little boy with a wicked sense of humor who never quite grew up.  All of his letters to his father are gushing about the latest friends he has made ("Count so and so loves my work he is going to commission me to write so many sonatas if I will travel to Italy with him etc...") 

And his father's response:  "Are you out of your feather-headed mind?!  I told you to stay in Vienna where you can get a real job with a commission at the court."

I'm paraphrasing, but you get the idea.

Back and forth it goes.  We learn a lot about the aristocracy and how they treated the little guy.  Mozart was apparently a little guy.  He was always strapped for funds and even though many wealthy patrons enjoyed his music, they weren't always intelligent enough to truly understand the genius behind it.  They often treated him disrespectfully.  Here's an excerpt from one of his letters:

So I presented myself.  On my arrival I was made to wait half an hour in a great ice-cold unwarmed room, unprovided with any fireplace.  At length the Duchesses de Chabot came in, greeted me with the greatest civility, begged me to make the best of the clavier since it was the only one in order, and asked me to try it. 'I am very willing to play,' I said, 'but momentarily it is impossible, for my hands are numb with the cold,' and I begged she would have me conducted to a room with a fire. 'Oh, oui Monsieur, vous avez raison,' was all the answer I received and thereupon she sat down and began to sketch in company with a party of gentlemen who sat in a circle round a big able.  There I had the honor of waiting fully an hour...

At last, to be brief, I played on the wretched, miserable pianoforte...however, Madame and her gentlemen never ceased their sketching for a moment, so that I had to play to the chairs, tables and walls...

Then as likely as not, they wouldn't buy his works, or they would take them and not pay him for them.  In short, Mozart was at the mercy of rich patrons who took advantage of him.  

And yet he never lost his sense of cheer and joie de vivre which permeates throughout all his letters, counterpointed by his father's thunderous ones which provides us with a rollicking "storm vs. cheerful exuberance" kind of literary journey.

Also evident in his letters is his deep religious fervor.  He changed his middle name to "Amadeus" which means "to love God". This is also expressed in all his music but especially in his masses. Mozart wrote over sixty religious works.  He said: 

I thank my God for graciously granting me the opportunity of learning that death is the key which unlocks the door to our true happiness.

And  also his animosity towards those he deemed immoral. He wrote of Voltaire:

The ungodly arch-villain, Voltaire, has died like a dog. I have always had God before my eyes… Friends who have no religion cannot long be my friends.

  The movie "Amadeus" portrayed Mozart as something of a womanizer but he wasn't.  While he enjoyed flirtatious banter with various ladies, he explained to his father his intentions of marrying were for a number of reasons, including that, frankly, he didn't want to catch a disease.  So Mozart was hopelessly romantic, which is evident in how he describes his beautiful, charming bride, Constanze, but also pragmatic.  They had six children, only two of who survived.

Unfortunately, Mozart was not good with his finances, which were already distressed by fickle Royalty who were erratic with their payments.  The last few letters in the book are addressed to a friend of Mozart who had lent him some money.  These letters contain painful to read pleas for more money to help the young composer get out of his desperate straits.

The last letter included is by Constanze, who is asking the same man for money to help settle the now dead composer's affairs.  A short epilogue is included to inform the reader that she was able to pay off all of her husband's debts. 
Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart  1756-1791

 Bosephus has decided to start with the one by Marcia Davenport

Enthusiastically riding the wave of Mozart's letters, I immediately plunged into a collection of Beethoven's.  This was  after I read a good biography of his life by George Alexander Fischer.  I have others to read but this one had very good foot notes and was well written and was free on kindle so a gem all around.

As bouncy and effervescent as Mozart's letters were, Beethoven's are deep, deep waters with powerful surges, creating tidal waves of emotion.  They are not less or more beautiful but wonderfully different.

A few things surprised me.  While Mozart could be impish to the point of immaturity in mocking people he deemed of lesser talent, Beethoven was surprisingly generous.  In fact, he barely mentions anyone whose playing or composing he doesn't like but spends a great deal of time pouring out volumes of praise on those he did.  His praise is not superficial or melodramatic but filled with love and honor.  Among those composers he loved are J.S. Bach and his son, C.P.E. Bach.  He kept in contact with C.P.E. Bach's son and worked hard to help him promote his father's work.

He sings the praises of Mozart, who, in one generation, had gone from relatively unknown to a national hero.  

He also loved Handel, and also the poet Frederich Schiller-from whom he set the words to Schiller's poem, "An de Freude"-in English "Ode to Joy"- to the final movement of his Ninth Symphony (Joyful, Joyful, We Adore Thee).  

He had a rather one-sided relationship with the great German writer Goethe.  Beethoven loved Goethe and Goethe disliked Beethoven.   This was because of an incident that Beethoven brought upon himself.

Beethoven and Goethe were walking down a promenade where the Empress was walking with her retinue.  Goethe immediately stepped aside, took off his hat and bowed low until they had all passed.  Beethoven, on the other, kept walking and talking, forcing the retinue to move out of his way as he passed.  This shocked Goethe and he never had anything more to do with the composer.

This did not prevent Beethoven from admiring Goethe and he continued to write many works based on the writings of the great "German Renaissance man."

Another difference between Mozart and Beethoven as might already be imagined is that Beethoven did not do Royalty's bidding, they did his.  He stormed out of a Prince's house after a perceived insult exclaiming, "There are and will be thousands of princes, but there is only ONE Beethoven!"

One thing in Beethoven's favor is that Royalty no longer held a monopoly on the patronage of musical composition .  Primary funding came from publishers who bought the music and distributed it.  Many of the letters in my collection are highly entertaining epistles to publishers from Beethoven who lets them know in no unclear terms exactly where they can go if they do not copy his music to his exact specifications or give him a cent less than the amount he demands for them.

Beethoven's great emotion comes surging out of his letters in the same way music propels off the pages of his compositions.  He is almost bi-polar in his relationships.  One letter is telling a friend how much he hates him and the very next is an abject apology for "losing control of himself".

One of the interesting things is Beethoven's devotion to obtaining custody of his brother's son from the mother.  There are many court battles and as energetic and violent as Beethoven could be, the mother seems up to the task.  It is a horrible case and the nephew at one point attempts suicide.  Luckily he survives and eventually turns out well, a result he credits his uncle with.

Beethoven also loved many women, and to my surprise they loved him back and wished to marry him.  In the end, however, he chose celibacy and never married.  (I choose the word "celibacy" because that is the word used in the book.  I know that flies in the face of our present culture that can't believe anyone not a priest would be so, but there it is.)

It's probably easy to remain celibate when you're chronically ill and Beethoven was chronically ill.  As his hearing loss became worse, so did his spells of depression.  It is a mystery how he came to lose it.  Theories of congenital syphilis have been debunked because none of his siblings were affected with it and Beethoven was the oldest.  An autopsy showed his inner ears to be inflamed.  Probably and tragically it was something that could have been easily remedied today with antibiotics or tubes in the ears.

There were many other ailments, his liver, stomach, joints.  He seemed as he aged to become enveloped in constant pain.  He finally died at the age of fifty-seven.  An autopsy was performed per his request and his liver was found to be shrunken.  This could be due to many causes but the most likely is lead poisoning from drinking contaminated water and leaden cups.  His body was found to have sixty times the amount above normal.

There isn't enough room to discuss Beethoven's music but a few things I found interesting was that he only wrote one opera, Fidelio, because he despised the vulgar and immoral humor that was prevalent in that genre (Mozart, who wrote twenty operas, apparently didn't have the same compunction) .  He thought all music should be a religious experience.  His opera was about the undying faithfulness of a wife to her husband.  It was not popular during his lifetime, but later came to be understood for its greatness.

Then let us do what is right, strive toward the unattainable, develop as fully as we can the gifts God has given us and never stop learning.  L. van Beethoven

Some have disputed Beethoven's religious views.  He was born Roman Catholic but was not known for attending services.  However, his views are best expressed in his Masses, of which he wrote several, and especially his Missa Solemnis.  In the slow movement of his String Quartet No. 15 he wrote the title:  "Holy Song of Thanksgiving to God from a Convalescent".

No friend have I.  I must live by myself alone; but I know well that God is nearer to me than others in my art so I will walk fearlessly with Him.  L. van Beethoven

What I found to be the most rewarding aspect of reading these great men's letters is that it seems as if they are talking directly to me.  I am hearing their voice, crossing the boundaries of over a hundred years telling me their thoughts.  That cannot but increase a sense of intimacy with them and I know that my performance of their works will not be the same.,cs_srgb,dpr_1.0,g_face,h_300,q_80,w_300/MTI2NTgyMzIxOTcyMjU5NDU5.jpg
 Ludwig van Beethoven 1770-1827

Sunday, April 17, 2016

Conversations with the Muses by Robert Tracy; Dancing on My Grave by Gelsey Kirkland; Holding on to the Air by Suzanne Farrell with Toni Bentley

Ballet has always been one of my passions.  There is something about watching the fluidity of movement as a dancer uses agility and power to move his or her body through space, controlled by the timing of beautiful music that is such an elevating experience. 

 But all the components have to be there.  

I don't feel the same way when watching gymnasts or ice skaters.  Their moves are not as diverse. They don't move for the sake of beauty but rather for correct motion.  Dancing isn't simply about accuracy and being graded a number.  It is the combination of motion and music. It's not just about speed and impressive jumps but controlling the body to move to the tempo of the music. Dance creates a visual expression of an aural production.

It amazes me how many different kinds of dances and compositions there are.  Also, each dancer gives their own interpretation, which is why you can watch the same ballet with different dancers and receive something different from each one.

My personal preference is for the abstract.  I've never been as interested in the traditional ballets that tell a story like Don Quixote or Romeo and Juliet.  My favorite choreographer is George Balanchine and my favorite ballet dancers are the ones who danced in the New York City Ballet while he was the director. Balanchine wrote many ballets to the music of Charles Ives, Paul Hindemith and many to his good friend Igor Stravinsky's works.  As these composers were Twentieth century in their compositional style, so are Balanchine's dances.  I don't care about a story line when it is the movement of the body to music that provokes an aesthetic response in me, not the - oftentimes overly sentimental- 18th century Romantic Ballets. 

One book I have enjoyed reading many times is Balanchine's Ballerinas:  Conversations with the Muses.  The author Robert Tracy interviewed as many of the choreographer's Prima Donnas as were available, alive, or willing to be interviewed (Gelsey Kirkland refused, but more about her later).

 Balanchine's career spans many decades.  One has to remind one's self that the man who made the ballets for the pale dancers with black eyeliner in those silent screen-like photos is the same one who created ballets for dances that look as if they were performed yesterday, even though the footage is from the seventies.

Most of the women interviewed in Balanchine's Ballerinas share a loyalty, some gushing, some fierce, others merely pragmatic, towards the man that enabled them to reach  such great heights in dance. More than one dancer called him her "Svengali".

Balanchine obsessed over his dancers.  When he found a certain woman, the one with the right body type and ability (he liked tall; one dancer said his training elongated your muscles and turned you into a filly), she became his world and he created all sorts of dances for her.  Some might call it romantic and he did marry some of them, but I think it was something more:  a drive to channel great music through the bodies of people capable of moving in ways according to his vision.

The girls are interesting studies.  They all have a single driving ambition to dance.  They entered his school at young ages and were raised in a secluded enclave that had little correspondence to the rest of the world.  When reading about these ballerinas, one can't tell what year it is because current events don't touch their lives.  When someone ran up to Suzanne Farrell and told her they saw her photo in a magazine next to the Beatles, Suzanne asked, "Who are the Beatles?"

The downside to this is that Ballet is a young person's career, by the time a dancer is forty, they are usually suffering from multiple injuries, often needing hip or knee replacements.  Ironic that such beauty can be so brutal to the body.  

Another brutal experience for Balanchine's ballerinas was  being tossed over in favor of the new obsession; the younger dancer who could now fulfill the choreographer's idea of mobile perfection.  Many dancers suffered as ballets made especially for them were taken away and given to the new favorite.

I would like to read a book about what most ballet dancers do when their career is over.  Instead, I read a couple of autobiographies of two of Balanchine's Prima Donnas.  The dancers are quite different from each other in temperament as well as their relationship to the man who projected their careers.

The first one I read was Gelsey Kirkland's Dancing on My Grave.  Kirkland grew up in a famous, privileged and dysfunctional family.  Her dad, the author Jack Kirkland, was an alcoholic.  Gelsey's mother was the last of several wives.  Growing up in an unstable environment probably contributed to the anger that colors her autobiography.  

The contents are filled with horror tales of anorexia, dancing with inflamed tendons, drugs and sleeping around.  She is as merciless in describing her own self-absorbed and destructive lifestyle as she is with those she whom shared that life with.

Mikhail Baryshnikov, with whom she partnered with in the American Ballet Theater for several years, comes across as narcissistic.  Her love affair with him seems like a meaningless after thought, yet she demanded him to love her and couldn't forgive him when he didn't.  Perhaps her growing up gave her such a warped view of  love and intimacy that she had no clear definition of what real love looked like.  She moves from lover to lover, starving herself, becoming a cocaine addict, changing her body and face through plastic surgery (she even clipped her ear lobes!) but nevertheless looking like a fairy-like phantasma as she effortlessly twirls and  trips across the stage.

She describes Balanchine as a monstrous exploiter of women, creating his own personal dance mill and throwing away the used up products afterward.

She wrote a follow up biography which I haven't read.  I hope things improved for her.

Suzanne Farrell writes a different biography that comes across as more honest or at least even-handed.  She doesn't sugar coat her relationship with Balanchine.  Well, maybe a little.  We read of a little girl whose all-consuming desire was to dance.  Meeting Balanchine made that dream come true.  

Farrell is considered the embodiment of everything Balanchine wanted in a dancer.  Many dancers suffered the heartache of ceasing to exist in their idol's eyes as they saw Farrell dance ballets originally created for them as well as several ballets that he made personally for her.

It is interesting to read of their complicated relationship.  As far as Farrell was concerned, he was the vehicle through which she was able to dance.  She willingly became his vehicle to express his choreography, so in a sense it was a symbiotic relationship.  

The waters get murky when she describes their off stage relationship.  According to her, it never became physical and she was conflicted with the feelings she had for him and knowing that he was married.  Apparently she didn't consider it wrong to travel all over Europe with a married man, even if it was non-physical.  According to Farrell their relationship had one purpose: to consummate dance between choreographer and dancer.

Considering that Farrell was only 18 and, like the other dancers, had no world outside the New York City Ballet, one can cut her a little slack. Also, there were no men in her life before Balanchine.  Her mother was divorced, she rarely saw her father and she never knew her grandfather.  She never dated or had any kind of relationship with a man before Balanchine.  

However, it shows how myopic someone can be about only one thing: her life had no meaning outside the context of the dance world.

Balachine's last wife was Tanaquil le Clerq, a divine masterpiece of long legs and slender body that flitted across the stage like something from another world.  Her grace and motion was ethereal.  At the height of her powers, she was the ultimate Balanchine Muse.  Tragically she was struck down with polio at the age of 26.  Because of guilt, Balanchine probably stayed married to her longer than his previous three wives. 

But when Farrell came along, after some years, he finally divorced le Clerq in Mexico.  When he returned, he found Farrell had married another dancer.

Farrell does not talk much about her husband Paul Mejia and they seemed to spend more time apart than together, although for the first five years of the marriage they spent their time together dancing in a Belgian Ballet Company after Balanchine evicted them from the NYC Ballet.

Eventually she returned to the NYC Ballet and shortly before his death Balanchine seems to have had some kind of religious conversion.  He took Suzanne to dinner where he talked about the Bible and even recited the Lord's Prayer.  He then told her he was wrong for what he did and asked her forgiveness.

It's interesting that even though Farrell was Roman Catholic and regularly attended Mass, she couldn't quite accept what they did as wrong.  In her book she insists that both she and Balanchine were instruments as a means to create ultimate art.  Maybe that is naivety on her part.  Maybe that is how she really viewed it.

Unlike Kirkland who seems to be a tiny ball of spitfire, Farrell comes across as a tall, cool, drink of water.  In her own words, not much makes her angry.  I don't think she's lying; some people have a more tranquil spirit.  It was her self-containment that communicated a feminine mystique that made her the final and perfect Balanchine Muse.

One thing I greatly appreciated from a performer's point of view (I'm a musician) was how self-effacing Farrell and many of the other dancers were.  They never felt as if they had arrived.  I found their struggles to master the art comforting because it is such hard work to do that.  Like them, I never feel as though I've arrived yet.  I always feel I  need one more month to learn a piece.

What all the women in these three books have in common is a life consumed with love for dance and their ability to use their bodies to convert motion with music into great art.

Sunday, April 10, 2016

Paris in the Past and Montmartre: Two illustrated history books by Pierre Courthion

I love Paris in the spring time
I love Paris in the fall
I love Paris in the winter when it drizzles
I love Paris in the summer when it sizzles
I love Paris every moment
Every moment of the year
I love Paris
Why oh why do I love Paris?

My answer is a little different than the song.  I love Paris because I love art and I love history.  If you do too, you will like these two books I'm reviewing today.  You'll be hard pressed to find them because they're out of print.  I found them at a book fair this past year.  They're a little worn but the insides are filled with rich information and small detachable prints of art.,204,203,200_.jpg

Pierre Courthion, who was alive and knew personally many of the impressionist and post-impressionist artists provided the text for both of these books.  He includes quotes from conversations he had with Matisse, Modigliani and a few others.  Paris in the past starts all the way back to Julius Caesar who call the place "Lutetia".  The inhabitants of the region at the time were known as Parisii. It is not certain when Christianity was introduced but St. Denis and St. Genevieve (3rd and 5th centuries, respectively) are connected with the area by then called "Paris".

We then skip several centuries to the first great architect of the city who was King Philip Augustus in the 12th century.  From then on it's pretty smooth sailing with historical records and a reasonably accurate account of the artists and how well they preserved history through their art.
King Charles V entering Paris, ca. 1460
Hence we have wonderful Medieval miniatures of peasants, royalty, even religious persecutions and the burning of heretics, not to mention the Books of Hours that wealthy people used to pray.
Book of Hours
Ordeal of the heretics by Jean Fouquet ca. 1420

 The book progresses to the Twentieth century while describing all the historical events in between with contemporary paintings.
Tournament held on the Place Royale for the Marriage of Louis XIII, 1615 by Anonymous
The Coronation of Napoleon, Jacques-Louis David (1748-1825), 1805-1807
Eugene Delacroix (1798-1863) Liberty guiding the People, July 28, 1830,204,203,200_.jpg 
 Montmartre is the same sort of book except that it traces the history of what was originally the countryside outside of Paris and is now a part of a northern corner inside the city.
Apparently, Montmartre was the haven for many artists, especially those of the late 19th century and first half of the twentieth century.  The cafe, the Moulin de la Galette was a popular meeting ground for many artists such as Edgar Degas, Auguste Renoir, Vincent Van Gogh and Modigliani. Courthion devotes a chapter to each artist including but not limited to:
General view of Paris from Montmartre, ca. 1830 by Louis Daguerre (1787-1851)
Women in a cafe at Montmartre, 1877 by Edgar Degas (1834-1917)'Orsay_RF_2739_(derivative_work_-_AutoContrast_edit_in_LCH_space).jpg
The Moulin de la Galette, 1876 by Auguste Renoir (1841-1919),%20Le%20Moulin%20the%20La%20Galette.jpg
The Moulin de la Galette, 1886-1888 by Vincent Van Gogh (1853-1890)

Toulouse-Lautrec's beloved Moulin Rouge is in Montmartre.'chilperic'_1895.jpg
The Moulin Rouge, 1895 Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec (1864-1901)

Other artists such as Picasso, Georges Seurat and Pierre Bonnard are also given miniature biographies and their relationship to Montmartre.  Incidentally, this is also the area where the American and British writers such as Hemingway, F. Scott Fitzgerald, T.S. Eliot, James Joyce et al. congregated at cafes but they aren't included in this book.'_Chat_Noir)_-_Google_Art_Project.jpg
Le Chat Noir was an entertainment establishment in Montmartre in the 19th century
Neither of these books are very long, about 100 pages each, but they are extremely interesting and include many prints of the artists who lived, celebrated and- not least- painted Paris and Montmarte.

Sunday, April 3, 2016

One hundred books since summer

I finally have read one hundred books.  When I started out it was as a book-buying fast.  I wasn't going to buy one more book until I had read a hundred that I already owned.  Bwa-ha-ha-ha.  How naive I was.  I made it to about fifty when I broke down and went berserk.  I may be the first bulimic book buyer.  

Still, since I have read the hundred I thought I would list them.  Not all of them have been reviewed but I will create a link for those I have.  I divided them up by the months in which I read them to make the list a little more readable. 

Understand that I did not start and finish each set of books during that month.  I usually read about five or six books concurrently and finish them at different times.  Some take a week to read, others take a month or more.  I am only listing the books in the month I finished them. Modesty compels me to be honest about that.  I wouldn't want anyone out there thinking, "Gee whiz!  Sharon "the Super-duper Nerd Girl" reads fifteen books a month! I wish I was like her.  I feel so inadequate now!"  No, no. Only five, maybe six at any given time.

You'll notice in October I read quite a few folk tales from many countries.  These were very interesting and I need to take the time to review them.  They were, however, not as long as a novel so they puffed my numbers a bit.  On the other hand I did count the Lord of the Rings Trilogy as one book as well as the complete works of Flannery O'Connor so I guess it evens out.

 Please let me know if I read any of your favorites.  Or if you would like a review of one that I did not review.

Since last July I have read:
  1. July: The Hobbit by J.R. Tolkien
  2.  A Maigret Trio by Georges Simenon
  3.   The Emperor of All Maladies:  A Biography of Cancer by Siddartha Mukherjee 
  4.  Civil War Stories by Ambrose Bierce
  5.  Death of a Salesman by Arthur Miller
  6.  The Golem by Gustave Meyrink
  7.   Inventing the Truth:  The Art and Craft of Memoir by William Zinsser
  8. The Centurians by Jean Larteguy
  9.  Lucky Jim by Kingsley Amis
  10. August:  The Silver Chair by C.S. Lewis
  11. Francis Schaeffer collection Volume One
  12. Ben Carson autobiography:  Gifted Hands
  13. A Practical View of Christianity by William Wilberforce
  14. The Last Crusader:  The untold story of Christopher Columbus by George Grant
  15. The Annotated Brothers Grimm by Maria Tatar
  16. Lord of the Rings Trilogy by J.R. Tolkien (yes, I counted all six books as one)
  17. Flannery O Conner:  Collected Works (Complete Short Stories, Novels, Essays and Letters)
  18. Don't Waste Your Life by John Piper
  19. The True Furqan by Al Safee and Al Mahdy
  20. The Signet Classic Book of Southern Short Stories edited by Dorothy Abbott
  21. Kingdom of the Occult by Walter Martin
  22. September:  Collected Poems of Emily Dickenson:  Complete and Unabridged
  23. Dorothy L. Sayers:  The Complete Stories
  24. Diary of a Mad Man and Other Stories by Nikolai Gogol
  25. The Surprising Imagination of C.S. Lewis by Jerry Root
  26. Robert Frost Selected Poems
  27. English Country House Murders edited by Thomas Godfrey
  28. The Oxford Book of English Detective Stories edited by Patricia Craig
  29. The Arabian Nights:  Tales from A Thousand and One Nights Translated by Sir Richard Burton
  30. SteamPunk:  Extraordinary Tales of Victorian Futurism  edited by Mike Ashley
  31. A Year in Provence by Peter Mayle
  32.  October:  Why the Jackal Won't Talk to the Hedge Hog a Tunisian fold tale retold and illustrataed by Harold Berson
  33. Of Beasts, Birds and Men Fables from Three Lands retold by Anne Terry White
  34. Princess September by W. Somerset Maugham
  35. The Piece of Fire and other Haitian Tales by Harold Courlander
  36. Terrapin's Pot of Sense by Harold Courlander
  37. Folk Tales from China adapted by Lee Wyndham
  38. Two Russian Tales : Czar of the Water; The Little Humpbacked Horse
  39. The Three Wishes:  Collection of Puerto Rican Folktales by Ricardo E. Alegria
  40. The Fables of India by Joseph Gaer
  41. Shadows from the Singing House:  Eskimo Folk Tales retold by Helen Caswell
  42. Emblems of the Passing World:  Photographs by August Sander, Poems by Adam Kirsch
  43. Les Tres Riches Heures:  the Medieval Seasons Commentaries by Millard Meiss
  44. November:  Medieval Cats by Kathleen Walker-Meikle
  45. Black Cats and Evil Eyes:  A book of old-fashioned superstitions by Chloe Rhodes
  46. Medieval Dogs by Kathleen Walker-Meikle
  47. When They Come for Us We'll Be Gone:  The Epic Struggle to Save Soviet Jewry by Gal Becker
  48. The Deluxe Transitive Vampire by Karen Elizabeth Gordon
  49. John Dalton and the Atomic Theory by Elizabeth Chambers Patterson
  50. The Luminous Landscape: Chinese Art and Poetry by Richard Lewis
  51. Who Moved My Cheese?  by Spencer Johnson
  52. December:  The Last Jihad by Joel Rosenberg
  53. Life and Opinions of TomCat Muir by E.T.A. Hoffman
  54. Nadar: Gaspard-Felix Tournachon
  55. Maigrett and the Informer by Georges Simenon
  56. Jefferson and the Tripoli Pirates by Brian Kilmeade
  57. Washington's Secret Six:  The Spy Ring that Saved the American Revolution by Brian Kilmeade
  58. Metaphysical Poetry: An Anthology edited by Paul Negri
  59. Who Made the Moon by Sigmund Brower 
  60. The Story of Prince Ivan, The Firebird, and the Gray Wolf Translated by Thomas P. Whitney
  61. The American Short Story:  Washington Irving to Saul Bellow edited by Thomas Parkes
  62. Treasury of Christmas Stories
  63. January:  St. Francis of Assisi by G.K. Chesterton
  64. Chinese Art:  Masterpieces in Painting, Sculpture and Architecture by Filippo Salviati and Sergio Basso
  65. Japanese Painting:  A Brief History by Kenji Toda
  66. Folk Tales of China
  67. Haiku, Japanese Art and Poetry by Judith Plastt
  68. The Haunted Bookshop by Christopher Morley
  69. The Emperor's Big Gift:  A Chinese Folk Tale by Dell Gritt
  70. My God and My All:  The Life of St. Francis of Assisi by Elizabeth Goudge
  71. Green Hills of Africa by Ernest Hemingway
  72. The Guns of Navarone by Alistair Maclean 
  73. The Diving Bell and the Butterfly by Jean-Dominique Bauby
  74. God is in the Manger by Dietrich Bonhoeffer
  75. Flatland by Edwin Abbott
  76. February:  Kingdom of the Cults by Walter Martin
  77. Rube Goldberg:  His Life and Work by Peter Marzio
  78. What is the Holy Spirit? by R.C. Sproul
  79. TinTin El Tesoro de Rackham El Rojo by  Herge
  80. The Mystery of the Holy Spirit by R.C. Sproul
  81. Poor Richard's Almanac by Benjamin Franklin
  82. Thursday the Rabbi Walked Out
  83. Charles Chesnutt:  Stories, Novels and Essays
  84. Tacitus on Germany
  85. The Thurber Carnival by James Thurber
  86. Pia Desideria by Philip Jacob Spener
  87. The Splendid Century by Warren H. Lewis
  88. Andre Kertesz:  Photographs (and biography)
  89. Letters of Mozart translated by Mersmann, Hans, Bozman
  90. H.P. Lovecraft:  Tales of Horror
  91. March:  Masterplots Volume One
  92. The Tattooed Jesus: What Would the Real Jesus Do With Pop Culture by Kevin Swanson
  93. Arcimboldi:  A collection of his art, analysis and biography by Pieyre De Mandiargues, Andre
  94. Sources of Chinese Tradition Volume One by William Theodor de Bary
  95. Robin Hood by Howard Pyle 
  96. The Christmas Story The New York Public Library
  97. Vampire Stories by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle 
  98. The Big Sleep by Raymond Chandler 
  99. Woman in the Dark by Dashiell Hammett 
  100.  Masterpieces of Chinese Art by Rhonda and Jeffery Cooper 

    Sunday, March 27, 2016

    The Agricola, Germania, and Dialogue on Oratory by Tacitus Translated by Alfred John Church and William Jackson Brodribb

    Tacitus (c. 56/57-ca. 125) was a Roman orator and historian. In a life that spanned the reigns of the Flavian emperors and of Trajan and Hadrian, he played a part in the public life of Rome and became its greatest historian. (From,204,203,200_.jpg

    Tacitus is one of those writers whose name crops up in other books or reviews I've read so I downloaded a free edition of Germania onto my Kindle.  I enjoyed it so much that I bought the Leopold Classic Library Edition of Tacitus' Agricola, Germania and Dialogue on Oratory.

    It was after careful consideration that I bought this edition after reading several reviews about other translations which received mixed reviews.  Frankly how do I know how accurately Church and Brodribb translated Tacitus' works?  But I do like how carefully they annotated each fragment of writing that has been preserved through the ages.  I also have the Penguin Editions but they received negative reviews.  Still, I suppose it wouldn't hurt to read them and compare.

    Germania is the middle work in this trio of writings.  As a lover of all types of culture both past and present, I enjoyed Tacitus' thorough description of every aspect of ancient German culture.  Of course, this area encompasses broad swaths of Europe that includes many tribes which include the Celts as well as several others whose names are not remembered today.

    We have a record of how they dressed, lived their daily lives, reasons for invasion and war and family life.  If these day to day descriptions of other people groups from a long time past, written in a fluid style interest you, I recommend reading Tacitus' account. 

    The account is not long and I read it in one sitting. The other value is knowing the background of a race who played a significant role in Roman life, both as a slave class, bodyguard to Caesars (particularly Caligula), and ultimate invaders and defeaters of that tremendous Empire.  In other words, this work is a great supplement to scholars of ancient Roman History.

    The Life of Agricola was also a quick read but not as interesting.  It is very fragmented with only bits of chapters.  Here Tacitus writes about his father-in-law who was the general of the army that invaded and maintained Britain.

    There is a lot of speech making and pontificating about the greatness of Agricola and his army, although Tacitus can also be surprisingly critical of his wife's father.

    The last work is called, The Dialogue of Oratory and is also is a collection of fragmented chapters. Tacitus uses a contemporary argument strategy, originated by the Greeks (maybe Plato) in which the writer makes his points through a series of dialogues between two or three fictitious characters.  One is for his argument, the other is against, and a third plays devil's advocate.  In this way we learn Tacitus' opinions about the importance of eloquence, emotion etc. and the other things he deems critical for successful oration and also his criticism of the schools that don't properly teach how to make effective speeches. He spends a good part of the speeches decrying the "decay" of Roman oratory.

    I also have Tacitus' Annals and Histories of Rome published by Everyman's Library.  I will review that book after I have read it.

    Incidentally, as of March 1st I have read 100 books and also have read an additional eleven books towards my next goal of 100 before the end of summer. 

    File:Gaius Cornelius Tacitus.jpg

    Sunday, March 20, 2016

    Ezra Pound by Peter Ackroyd, Rudyard Kipling by Kingsley Amis and Conrad by Norman Sherry

    These three biographies were all published by Thames and Hudson as a part of their Literary Lives collection.  They're not very long, only about 120 pages, and are filled with photographs of the writers and their family, friends and other significant people from throughout their lives.,204,203,200_.jpg

    The first one I read was Rudyard Kipling by Kingsley Amis.  His is truly the best simply because Amis is such a fluid and witty writer.  He does not pull any punches as to his opinions about Kipling's writing abilities, which stories were well-written and those that failed to live up to the great writer's reputation.

    We learn that Kipling was an enormously spoiled child being raised by servants in India with parents who let him rule everyone with an iron fist.  After about six years, Kipling's mother apparently woke up to the fact that they were going to have an incorrigible child on their hands, sent him back to England and hired a middle-aged married couple to rear and educate him and his younger sister.

    It's a mystery as to why his mother hired strangers to be guardians of her children when willing relatives were available. Of course, it's a mystery to me why someone would leave their young children and return to India, rarely seeing them again.  According to Kipling he was the victim of gross child abuse and neglect and records his nightmarish experience in one of his short stories, Baa, Baa Black Sheep.

    How honest an account was this story?  According to Kipling's sister, not very.  Perhaps it was the shock of going from acting as a tiny Anglo-Indian despot to being expected to behave according to British standards, which was harsh enough by our present indulgent attitude towards children.  No sparing of the rod for sure.  But neglect?  We have only Kipling's vindictive story as evidence and I must confess at the time I read it I found it to be rather one-sided.

    After leaving the horrible "Uncle Harry and Aunt Rosa", Kipling went on to attend a Navy University where he began writing.  The rest of this short book traces Kipling's development as a writer and travels back and forth from America (he married an American) to England.  It's interesting to note that many of his "exotic" stories  (The Jungle Book, Kim, Riki Tiki Tavi) were written down during the cool autumns and cold winters of a New England estate.

    Amis is really funny and such a good writer that whether you like Kipling's writing or not, you will enjoy Amis' biography.
    Rudyard Kipling 1865-1936

    Conrad by Norman Sherry

    I was surprised to learn that Joseph Conrad was born and raised in Poland and worked on boats and ships for eighteen years before writing.

    Apparently he spoke English with such a thick accent people could barely understand him.  This makes it all the more remarkable that the author of such British classics and required school reading as Lord Jim and the Heart of Darkness was writing in a language other than his mother tongue.

    Sherry traces the years of Conrad's shipping career and also connects the many captains, sailors and shipmates he worked with to the characters in his novels.

    Like Kipling he was almost anti-social and, also like Kipling, guilty of neglecting his family for long swathes of time.
    Joseph Conrad 1857-1924

    But neither of these men can hold a candle to the American author in this Literary Library

    For sheer narcissism, child neglect and marital infidelity (of which neither Kipling nor Conrad were ever guilty of as far as is known) the award goes to Ezra Pound.

    Let's just say the man  was crazy.  I mean literally.  He spent almost eighteen years in an insane asylum, which I'm sure he found preferable to being charged with treason since he was a follower of Mussollini.

    Pound was a part of the American ex-patriot group that traveled through out Europe, meeting in Parisian Cafes with the likes of T.S. Eliot, Ernest Hemingway and F. Scott Fitzgerald.  He was great friends with many contemporary artists and writers such as W.B. Yeats, D.H. Lawrence, James Joyce and sculptor Henri Gaudier-Brzeska  but his anti-social and increasingly pro-fascist ideologies successfully alienated him to most of his friends.

    He was a tormented soul and one wonders why his wife, the British painter Dorothy Shakespear (it's spelled without an "e") tolerated it, even when, while living in Italy, he sent their son off to England to be raised by relatives.  He never associated with his son and only child from his marriage for the rest of his life but became quite close to the daughter of his mistress, the violinist Olga Rudge who followed everywhere he and Dorothy lived.

    At one time, Ezra's health was so bad that Dorothy and Olga lived together to nurse him.  Towards the end of his life, however, he and Dorothy became strangers and he died with only Olga in attendance.
    Ezra Pound 1885-1972

    All three of these books are loaded with photos of the writers and their lives and that is partly of what makes them gems to add to the biography section of any home library (I, of course, speak for myself, insert big self-satisfied smile here).

    Sunday, March 13, 2016

    Photographers: Andre Kertesz, Lewis Hine August Sanders and Nadar

    One of my favorite type of book is collections of photographers.  Not just any type of photographer, mind you, but the ones that recorded every day people in both ordinary and dramatic life situations.  Sometimes this is a family sitting at the dinner table or children playing on the sidewalk.  Other times its men and women in war time.  The photographers' works I'm reviewing here documented the lives of ordinary people, nothing exciting or adventurous but poignant in the same way one feels about Vermeer's painting of a maid pouring a pitcher.
    Lewis Hine (1974-1940) photographed people with a serious purpose.  He wanted to motivate the viewer toward social reform.  He took many now famous photos of children laboring in factories that helped created labor laws prohibiting children from work. 

    Now I'm going to put myself on a limb and be called a bad person.  While I am glad that there are laws protecting children from exploitation and indeed all people from slave labor wages, the issue was not so cut and dry.

    Many families needed every consumer of food in their house working so there would be enough food for everyone. The evil practices by share croppers that purposely caused people to work themselves into debt needed to be abolished and those plantation owners needed to go to jail. 

     But at the same time, safe, viable wages needed to be provided for families.  Many families desperately needed everyone to work to afford basic life necessities. When laws were implemented that prevented children under the age of fourteen to work, many families found that their life became more harsh, not less because fewer wages meant less food for everyone.

    I'm not advocating child labor, I'm only pointing out that sometimes things aren't so simple.  Children today certainly aren't in the same kind of danger, working with machinery or in a deprived environment but are their lives less busy, going to before-school daycare, school for eight hours, after-school daycare, then whatever sports or activities they're enrolled in, homework, going to bed exhausted, seeing their parents for only a couple of hours a day?

    And history shows that while new immigrant families lived under these hard conditions, their children did not continue in them.  They were able to better themselves, get a good education and achieve professional careers-in only one generation.  This was before the welfare state created the deplorable cycle of generational poverty that is now afflicting our country.

    As Hines saw living conditions improve over the years he moved on to document war torn Europe.

     August Sander (1876-1964)  photographed people in his native Germany from every walk of life between the World Wars.  Because he saw how drastically his world changed after WWI, he realized that he wanted to preserve it in some way before it changed again.  His photos include school teachers, butchers, children, artists and soldiers, rich, poor and middle class.  He succeeded in encapsulating a period of time that no longer exists.,204,203,200_.jpg
    The book I own is titled, Emblems of the Passing World which not only has Sander's photos but poems by Adam Kirsch that he wrote based on the inspiration he received from each photo.  

    I personally did not find Kirsch's poetry that effective because I am more interested in who those people really were and not a reality that someone one hundred years later fabricated for them.
    Nadar (Gaspard-FĂ©lix Tournachon, 1820-1910) was a French photographer as well as journalist and caricaturist of the 19th century.  His photos are mostly portraits of the prominent people of his day:  Victor Hugo, George Sanders, Gustave Dore, Eugene Delacroix as well as poets, artists, writers, inventors etc.. that were famous then but not so well-known now.  Aside from the few people who I recognized, I didn't find his work as interesting.
    The greatest number of books I own is by Andre Kertesz (1894-1980).  Kertesz took many photographs of village people, soldiers and animals in his home country of Hungary before moving to Paris in 1925.  There he documented not only people but buildings and public scenes.  He became known for his unorthodox angles and subject matter.

    Being Jewish, he left Europe with the onset of WWII and immigrated to the United States.  He and his wife spent their remaining years in New York city where he photographed the buildings and city life.

    When his wife died after forty years of marriage he sank into a depression but found his purpose again through a Polaroid camera that somehow became his grief therapy.  Although his reputation had diminished over the years he had a final burst of creativity and success with his Polaroid works.
    Naturally, my favorite book of his is a collection of his photos of people reading.

    Is there a particular type of photography anyone else enjoys?