Monday, February 9, 2015

Music and Prose: Making Much out of Little

There's a moment in the fourth movement of Brahms's piano quintet in F minor where, if one is listening closely, they will be able to hear fragments of the first movement's opening theme.  If one has never heard the piece before, they might think, "Oh, that sounds familiar," and let it go. But as the movement progresses, and the fragments reappear, they might think, "Yes, I've definitely heard that before," and want, at some time, to listen to the whole piece again to confirm their belief.

On a second, or third, or fourth hearing, they might begin to hear similarities between the themes in each movement, and realize that the entire quintet is built on a very small amount of material.

And so, I've been a bit obsessed lately, spending most of my time at my other keyboard, the wooden beast in my living room, sweating over the two piano version of the Brahms quintet.

I can't help but marvel at the economy and emotional impact of this piece. It is spare yet lush, controlled yet heart-rending. Its adherence to classical ideals—repetition, development, and permutation of motifs over extended periods—foreshadows the reactionary minimalism of modern times, but it never stalls; it moves and breathes with the force of living art.

The first movement of Opus 34B, for two pianos, is below. As you listen, think of the fiction you've loved. Are there motifs throughout it? Ideas that recur in one form or another that make the writing cohesive? Imagery patterns that emerge, either obviously or subtly?

The techniques are not that different....

Next: Movement 2

Friday, January 16, 2015

"-esque" and Fellini

I had a chance to watch Woody Allen's Stardust Memories again the other night and had forgotten how strong its resemblance is to Federico Fellini's 8 & 1/2. Here are the opening scenes from both.

Tuesday, January 13, 2015

The Mother's Curse

Ah, that aria! Those high Cs, those high Fs! Anyone who has ever even attempted to sing "Der Hölle Rache" ("Hell's Vengeance") from Die Zauberflöte (The Magic Flute) on Facebook, will appreciate this. I found the first version via Classic FM and immediately went to YouTube to find others.  Happy listening.

For real, this time:

Tuesday, October 28, 2014

Book Review: Premiere by Tracy Ewens

Premiere by Tracy Ewens

Genre: Fiction

Sub-Genre: Romance

“‘Do you ever they stop the movie before you see the complications of the romance?’” This question, posed late in Tracy Ewens’s new novel, Premiere, by the book’s heroine, Samantha Cathner, serves as a knowing wink to both the title, and its theatrical focus—an unfinished play written by the throb in Cathner’s broken heart,  Peter Everoad.  Like all good romances, Premiere begins by challenging Samantha’s certainty that she has gotten over Peter by thrusting him back into her life with his return to their home town of Pasadena to supervise the production of his new play. Once she sees him, she finds the old attraction rekindled, and all her old hurts and doubts about him resurfacing, especially when he decides to pursue her.  It is the kind of situation one finds in many of the classic film romances Cathner adores. Yet despite the similarity, Premiere is a modern love story, the kind that does give readers a look at the “complications of...romance.” Samantha and Peter flirt, dance around each other, come together, and pull apart.  And as they do, they try not to lose themselves. Ewens has pulled off a delightful feat in Premiere, a work which has more in common with Richard Linklater’s Before… film trilogy, than An Affair to Remember. She has created characters as witty, childish, irritating, and engaging as any two people who are deeply in love and trying to navigate through the challenges in their relationship. The fact that she accomplishes this within a dramatic framework makes every minute spent with them all the more enjoyable. Don't miss this chance to fall in love.

Buy Premiere

Monday, October 27, 2014

Alternative Chills

Halloween is coming. And with its approach, have come the abundance of lists with recommended reads. While I am a fan of many of the books appearing on those lists—The Haunting of Hill House, Turn of the Screw, Ghost Story, The Shining—I thought I'd offer a few alternatives....

The Portrait of Jennie (Robert Nathan) — While the film version of this novella about a struggling artist who finds his muse in a rapidly aging girl is lovely, melancholy, and romantic, it does not convey the foreboding of time out of joint that Nathan's writing does.  Ray Bradbury said it best, "It touched and frightened me when I was twenty-four. Now, once more, it touches and frightens."

The House Next Door (Anne Rivers Siddons) — One of the best evil house books I've ever read. This one packs a wallop as a new home claims owner after owner while the neighbors who witness their fates are brought to the brink of madness.  Read it for the horror, and come back to it for its deliciously biting sub-text.

The Little Stranger (Sarah Waters) — A doctor is called to treat a young maid in the decaying English estate where he lived as a child. Gradually, he comes to suspect a malevolent spirit of invading the structure and targeting its inhabitants. With obvious nods to Poe ("The Fall of the House of Usher") and James (The Turn of the Screw), this post WWII tale will keep you riveted.  One note: much has been said and debated over the "importance" of a likable protagonist in fiction.  Waters's main character, Dr. Faraday, is neither immediately nor consistently likable.  But, as a product of his upbringing, time, setting, situation, and flaws, he is, at all times, fascinating.

The Other (Tom Tryon) — Brilliant psychological horror about identical twins (you know I have a fondness for twin stories), with one exerting an increasingly dark and dangerous influence on the other.  Oh, my...this one was the cause of many sleepless nights, during the read and after. You may want to save it for the daylight hours....

Mickelsson's Ghosts (John Gardner) — A dense and multi-layered tale about an alchoholic philosophy professor who buys a house with a history. Fair warning: if you're looking for a fast read, skip this.  But if you want a novel you can dig into, Gardner's book will reward you with intricate and complex characterizations, a wealth of images and symbols, significant allusions to Nietzsche's Also Sprach Zarathustra (you may want to read or re-read Zarathustra after you finish), local myths, and, yes, ghosts, too.   As close to a masterpiece as any book can come.

Happy Halloween.