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Soukous Just Saved My Sanity

December 2019 OK, here's the story.  This year has been hell on wheels for my nervous system what with running around the world (four countries and counting), the Mueller report, the impeachment proceedings, the rise of neo-Nazism in what was formerly East Germany, Brexit, the Yellow Vests in France and forty million other things that give me a sinking feeling in the pit of my stomach.  In my usual fashion I've met all these bumps [...]

2019-12-12T00:30:07+00:00By |Culture and Arts|Comments Off on Soukous Just Saved My Sanity

Taking a Tip from William Morris

December 2019 If I were writing in 1919 instead of 2019 I wouldn't feel the need to explain who William Morris is.  He was a Big Deal in his day and had significant influence in a number of fields, including aesthetics, literature and politics.  These days, however, he's become rather an esoteric interest, which I find a great pity.  He has much to offer us denizens of the modern world because he had his head [...]

2019-12-07T19:36:47+00:00By |Culture and Arts|Comments Off on Taking a Tip from William Morris

Yet Another English Spinster: Stevie Smith

December 2019 My goodness, how they pile up, these English spinsters.  Barbara Pym, Edith Sitwell, the Bronte sisters, Jane Austen, and tacked onto the list is Stevie Smith, a contemporary of Pym.  As was the case for me with the author Vita Sackville-West, I first came into contact with Smith's work via film.  The film in question is a wonderful performance of Hugh Whitemore's play about Smith's life, appropriately and economically entitled "Stevie," with the [...]

2019-12-01T10:53:45+00:00By |Culture and Arts|Comments Off on Yet Another English Spinster: Stevie Smith

Virginia Woolf on Americans

October 2019 It surprised me to come across an early review by Woolf of Elizabeth McCracken's book The Women of America.  The review appeared in The Guardian of May 31, 1905, written when Woolf was only 23 years old.  She has some interesting points to make.  Let's have a look. Let me begin by quoting the review, since we need Woolf's words on which to operate: "There are many types of the American woman -- more, [...]

2019-11-01T03:37:15+00:00By |Culture and Arts|Comments Off on Virginia Woolf on Americans

A Music Lesson with Giovanni Felice Sances and L’Arpeggiata

October 2019 Every once in a while a piece of music you've had in your collection for ages emerges to capture your attention in a special way, such that you ask yourself, "Why have I never heard this gorgeous thing before as it deserves?"  Exactly that recently happened to me with a piece by Giovanni Felice Sances, "O Jesu mi dulcissime," which renders as "O my sweetest Jesus."  It's a concerted motet for two voices [...]

2019-10-22T03:35:52+00:00By |Culture and Arts|Comments Off on A Music Lesson with Giovanni Felice Sances and L’Arpeggiata

Unsung Superstars of the Early Baroque – Part 2

September 2019 Here we go with the second half of the post about early Baroque period composers who should be household names but through no fault of their own have been shunted to the sidelines of musical history and modern appreciation.  If I let myself go -- and I won't, don't worry -- this would be the place to go on a tirade about how skewed perception of the Baroque period is compared to the [...]

2019-09-09T02:52:34+00:00By |Culture and Arts|Comments Off on Unsung Superstars of the Early Baroque – Part 2

Unsung Superstars of the Early Baroque – Part 1

September 2019 A look at the listings under the menu rubric Culture and Arts might lead you to think I'm obsessed with music of the Baroque period.  BINGO!  I've been a devotee since my teens and the force of the attraction hasn't abated in the slightest over the course of my lifetime.  If, on the other hand, you held me at gunpoint and commanded me to name five operas by Verdi, I'd likely not live [...]

2019-09-02T13:25:34+00:00By |Culture and Arts|Comments Off on Unsung Superstars of the Early Baroque – Part 1

Tea with Mrs. Dalloway

August 2019 Having tea with Mrs. Dalloway is always interesting.  One never quite knows these days what mood she'll be in or what will come out of her mouth -- if anything at all.  Sometimes conversation lapses and she has that look of peering into the distance at something pleasant that blots out all the inconveniences of the present.  I don't mind -- it gives me a chance to reflect inwardly myself.  Sometimes that's better [...]

2019-08-24T13:15:05+00:00By |Culture and Arts|Comments Off on Tea with Mrs. Dalloway

German Composers + Galant Style = Happy Ears

June 2019 When we think of German composers the first thought that comes to mind is rarely about pleasure for the sake of pleasure itself.  We expect them to scale some sort of heights, be it those of contrapuntal rigor (as in J.S. You Know Who), sprawling mythos (we're lookin' at you, Herr Wagner) or archetypical heroism (e.g., Beethoven on the barricades shaking his fist and yelling about something or other).  German musical history does [...]

2019-08-09T08:54:35+00:00By |Culture and Arts|Comments Off on German Composers + Galant Style = Happy Ears

English Baroque Composers (Step Aside, Mr. Handel)

June 2019 You can't get near English Baroque music without having foreigners come out of the woodwork right and left.  There's Mr. Handel at the top of the heap, of course, and Johann Christian Bach, and Francesco Geminiani, and ... and ...  It's time to rev up those Anglophile engines and turn the spotlight on some remarkable native sons of that green and pleasant land who also had their way with a tune.  I certainly [...]

2019-06-02T13:42:04+00:00By |Culture and Arts|Comments Off on English Baroque Composers (Step Aside, Mr. Handel)

A Charmed Life: an Appreciation of Patrick Leigh Fermor

May 2019 For the past few weeks my Kindle fare has come largely from the pen of Patrick Leigh Fermor, hereafter for the sake of brevity PLF.  My first introduction to his work took place about five years ago when I read A Time of Gifts, his extraordinary recounting of travel as a teenager across a Europe that has long since disappeared.  Quite apart from the brilliance of the writing itself -- PLF is a [...]

2019-06-25T14:53:35+00:00By |Culture and Arts|Comments Off on A Charmed Life: an Appreciation of Patrick Leigh Fermor

Little-Known Organ Composers To Love

May 2019 My personal history with organ music goes back almost 50 years.  When I was in high school in a rural town of 1,500 in the boondocks of the Pacific Northwest I wrote a letter in German to the organist of the cathedral in Schleswig, Germany (St.-Petri-Dom zu Schleswig) because I was so enthralled with a recording I'd bought of Bach organ works played on the Marcussen organ there.  Lo and behold I got [...]

2019-05-16T22:16:44+00:00By |Culture and Arts|Comments Off on Little-Known Organ Composers To Love

Robert Byron: the English Imperial Traveller

April 2019 While working on a post about the king of travel literature, Patrick Leigh Fermor, I'm reading another author who also ostensibly figures among the ranks of travel literature royalty: Robert Byron.  I first read The Road to Oxiana some 15 years ago, with print book in hand containing lots of illustrations.  Pictures are indeed worth a thousand words, I come to find out.  Over the past few weeks I've been working my way [...]

2019-04-30T12:43:06+00:00By |Culture and Arts|Comments Off on Robert Byron: the English Imperial Traveller

French Baroque Music: Gesture as Substance

April 2019 I need to be honest with you.  When I looked at the topic list for the month's blog posts I saw I was down to a choice between writing about Hannah Arendt's insights on totalitarianism and their applicability to the current political landscape -- both in Europe and the United States, so great is our misfortune -- or doing a piece on the French Baroque.  I spent more hours than I care to [...]

2019-04-16T09:30:16+00:00By |Culture and Arts|Comments Off on French Baroque Music: Gesture as Substance

Slavic Baroque Composers Part 2: High Baroque

March 2019 The second part of this two-part post on Slavic Baroque composers focuses on the High Baroque.  Both Poland and the Czech lands were active centers of musical culture in that period so the list includes some names who are decidedly Big Deals.  One such composer, Jan Dismas Zelenka -- for long years a personal favorite of mine -- has undergone such a revival in the last 20 years that he now rightfully takes [...]

2019-04-16T09:02:44+00:00By |Culture and Arts|Comments Off on Slavic Baroque Composers Part 2: High Baroque

Slavic Baroque Composers Part 1: Early Baroque

March 2019 The Slavic Baroque is one of those tidal pools in the repertoire of Western music that sees relatively little tourist traffic.  Such neglect is certainly undeserved and contradicts history itself since the Slavic lands were busy centers of music in the Baroque period.  They attracted Italian and German musicians to their courts and the fine native composers absorbed creative currents from all over Europe.  In this post I want to offer an appreciation [...]

2019-03-10T10:19:49+00:00By |Culture and Arts|Comments Off on Slavic Baroque Composers Part 1: Early Baroque

Amateur Musicianship: Splendeurs et Misères

February 2019 In my young days I toyed with the idea of becoming a professional musician.  It didn't take long before I realized that was a bad idea if I wanted to make a living because I was an outlier in the musical scene, not somebody with a posh office in the downtown business district.  I studied early music and specialized in the harpsichord.  Since the majority of people I encountered in the USA at [...]

2019-02-21T23:39:26+00:00By |Culture and Arts|0 Comments

The Young Rebecca West: the Writer as Pit Bull

February 2019 The reputation of Rebecca West has trailed off drastically since her death in 1983.  In her prime she was considered a very Big Deal, justifiably so.  Having read many of her works dating from all periods of her active life as a writer, it's clear to me that she was one of England's textual powerhouses over her entire career.  Black Lamb and Grey Falcon, her account of travel in the former Yugoslavia and [...]

2019-02-07T11:54:07+00:00By |Culture and Arts|0 Comments

Cooking Up Some Fake Family Favorites

January 2019 In this post I'm going to pretend I'm on HGTV with my own show.  I have a niche nobody ever thought of before: taking foreign recipes and making them look like they came from your American Grandma.  Why would I do a sneaky thing like that?  Because most Americans in my ambit -- and in yours, too, I'll bet dollars to donuts -- jump up from the table at the first mention of [...]

2019-01-13T07:54:16+00:00By |Culture and Arts|0 Comments

Barbara Pym: Drowning in Englishness

January 2019   You expect an English author to be English, but not all English authors are dripping with Englishness.  Those who are form a select crowd.  What makes them creditable purveyors of Englishness elicits hot debate among their compatriots, surprisingly enough -- who'd have thought Englishness would be a matter of such contention?  As an outsider I observe these goings-on with a mixture of amusement and raised eyebrows when somebody lets fly with a [...]

2019-07-27T21:01:53+00:00By |Culture and Arts|0 Comments

If Only I Could Be Mary Berry …

November 2018 Mary Berry is without doubt an English National Treasure.  She's been on the scene for donkey's years, she's written more than 75 cookbooks and now she's the doyenne of UK cookery shows.  "Mary Berry's Everyday," "Mary Berry's Absolute Favorites," "Mary Berry's Country House Secrets," "Mary Berry's Foolproof Cooking," "Classic Mary Berry" ... Goodness sake, a girl can hardly keep up with her.  Her role as judge on "The Great British Bakeoff" rocketed her [...]

2019-03-12T06:37:44+00:00By |Culture and Arts|0 Comments

Sacheverell Sitwell: Language as Confetti Bomb

November 2018 My introduction to the writing of Sacheverell Sitwell came through one of his least typical works, to wit: Southern Baroque Art: Painting, Architecture and Music in Italy and Spain in the 17th & 18th Centuries.  It's an astonishing production for a young man under the age of 25, written between 1921 and 1922 and published in 1924.  Happily a Kindle version is available so I snapped it up and worked my way through it in [...]

2019-03-29T15:47:33+00:00By |Culture and Arts|0 Comments

An Ecstasy of Irritability: an Appreciation of Brian Sewell

October 2018 Brian Sewell is one of those English national treasures that doesn't export well, like unpasteurized cheese.  The problem in Sewell's case is the universe of reference he inhabited.  If one thinks of England from the standpoint of "high culture," it's really a very small place.  A handful of luminaries occupies the cultural firmament that has much of the "old boy" element about it even now.  There's only one firmament, as well -- in [...]

2018-12-27T21:57:08+00:00By |Culture and Arts|0 Comments

Women Composers before 1800: an Appreciation

October 2018 The difficulty women composers have faced over the course of history surpasses my ability to imagine as it must have been in lived experience. Music, curiously enough, has remained one of the most persistent bastions of old boydom to the point that even today one scans the field straining for signs of famous female composers.  For an overview of women composers by time period, check out the list (here) by Oxford Music Online.  It's [...]

2019-03-10T11:15:59+00:00By |Culture and Arts|0 Comments

Nothing Begets Nothing: Alan Bennett’s Northern Folk

September 2018 Alan Bennett's home territory -- Leeds, in Yorkshire --  is not a part of England I can claim to know from personal experience.  I've only made it as far north as the Midlands, reached as I wended my way northward from Worthing where I met an English friend from university and his wife for a road trip that deposited me in Birmingham from whence I returned to London.  We dawdled along the way [...]

2019-04-08T14:19:37+00:00By |Culture and Arts|0 Comments

Jonathan Meades Makes Me Feel Stupid

August 2018 This is my intellectual BDSM: watching Jonathan Meades videos on YouTube and revelling in his eloquence, his sharpness of insight, his enormous range of knowledge, then feeling stupid afterward.  It's a mental analogue of shibari, Japanese rope bondage, done with natural fibers and exquisite attention to detail.  But I doubt great difference in effect could be distinguished if you used the poly cord that ties down the tarp on that junk you need [...]

2019-04-02T12:47:39+00:00By |Culture and Arts|0 Comments

Writing When Reading Is On The Wane

July 2018 It would have been better by far had I started this blog 30 years ago when people were still oriented to print and reading was still a done thing.  But wait ... there wasn't an Internet 30 years ago, silly me!  How times have changed.  I've just been doing some research on the decline of reading and was surprised to find so much hue and cry issuing forth in the media.   It's a [...]

2019-02-04T08:35:50+00:00By |Culture and Arts|0 Comments

More Fab Baroque Composers We’ve Never Heard Of

May 2018 Carl Friedrich Gessel (1724 - 1793) You just never know when it will happen.  Two days ago I was futzing around in YouTube looking for Baroque music by the Goldberg Baroque Ensemble when I came across a video I hadn't seen before, despite having searched the group several times.  It must have been added recently.  Here's the title: Gessel [XVIII Jhd.] : zur Himmelfahr[t] Christi Vater ich will, dass wo ich bin, BG PAN Ms.Cath.f. [...]

2018-12-27T21:57:41+00:00By |Culture and Arts|0 Comments

Bugger Bach, Let’s Hear Something FUN

April 2018 The iconoclastic wave has swept over me today once again and I can't keep my mouth shut. So let me say it plain and simple: bugger Bach, let's listen to something else for a change why don't we? The unsung heroes of the Baroque period are as numerous as sands on the shore, and if I hear one more time that Bach is the be all and end all of Baroque music, I'll [...]

2018-12-27T21:57:42+00:00By |Culture and Arts|0 Comments

Virginia Woolf and the Cultivation of Consciousness

April 2018 This morning as I sat on my balcony a curious thought occurred to me. I'd been reading some of Woolf's essays, which for these several months have been my daily food. Thinking about her intellectual and linguistic poise, I wondered how she managed to hold that stance through the course of a life that was anything but serene, the diametric opposite of placid and in much of the latter years, not terribly exciting. [...]

2019-02-04T09:27:48+00:00By |Culture and Arts|0 Comments