MEMETERIA by Thomas May

Music & the Arts

Harold Pinter’s Music


From the Paris Review archives, a fascinating interview with playwright Harold Pinter by Larry Bensky conducted in October 1966. “Good writing excites me, and makes life worth living,” says Pinter about his rapport with fellow writers. And he responds to a question about the influence of music on his writing:

I don’t know how music can influence writing; but it has been very important for me, both jazz and classical music. I feel a sense of music continually in writing, which is a different matter from having been influenced by it. Boulez and Webern are now composers I listen to a great deal.

Filed under: playwrights, theater

Satie’s Importance


Reading an early collection of essays by the brilliant critic and musicologist Wilfrid Mellers (there’s another centennial coming up – next year), I came across this astute reflection on Erik Satie and his significance (from the essay “Erik satie and the ‘Problem’ of Contemporary Music,” published in 1942):

At a time when the dominant characteristic of the artist’s sensibility is isolation, he accepted the spiritual aridity to which ‘cette terre si terrestre et si terreuse’ obliged him, even though he knew that acceptance meant in the end a kind of death; that he steadfastly refused to falsify or distort his responses to the slightest degree in an age in which the temptations to emotional insincerity are perhaps greater than ever before. For this reason I believe that no contemporary music has more to tell us about the position and predicament of the composer in the modern world than that of this slight and apparently unimportant composer.

Filed under: composers, music writers

Walhall Street

Valhalla Street

First peeps at Frank Castorf’s new “Ring” at Bayreuth.
(Photo: Enrico Nawrath).
More set photos here.

Filed under: opera, Ring cycle, Wagner

Nietzsche as Composer

There are libraries about Nietzsche and his intense connections to music. Special attention has been paid to his shifting assessments of Wagner, but I wonder if that hasn’t been so exaggerated as to eclipse other interesting questions about the musical Nietzsche. How did his aesthetic ideas influence his own attempts to compose music – and vice versa? Here’s his “Manfred Meditation,” composed around the time of the early and pivotal “Birth of Tragedy.”

And what about the other potential Nietzsches that got eclipsed by Nietzsche the iconoclast philosopher? As noted by my friend Q, author of the lively and addictive Mangan Paper, in response to the Nietzschean apothegm, “the wisest among us is a cross between ghost and plant,” “What a prodigious sci fi writer was lost in old Nietzsche!”

Filed under: unanswered questions

Which Mahler Symphony Comes to Mind?

Which Mahler Symphony Comes to Mind?

Carbon Glacier (north slope of Mt Rainier)

Filed under: Uncategorized

Screams and Drums: Nature’s Score for “Götterdämmerung”?

Volcano erupting
(Credit: Oliver Spalt)
According to a report released yesterday by the University of Washington, “Some volcanoes ‘scream’ at ever-higher pitches until they blow their tops. It is not unusual for swarms of small earthquakes to precede a volcanic eruption. They can reach a point of such rapid succession that they create a signal called harmonic tremor that resembles sound made by various types of musical instruments, though at frequencies much lower than humans can hear.”

Smithsonian’s blog has a recording of an eruption sequence from March 2009 at Alaska’s Redoubt Volcano.


Filed under: science

“Missing Out”


I’ve been told I should read Adam Phillips – and I now see why. Just began his latest, Missing Out: In Praise of the Unlived Life, which shows a real inside understanding of tragedy:

And yet there is something symmetrical about Lear and Cordelia; they both, at the beginning of the play, know exactly what they want. And I don’t think we solve this problem by saying…that what Cordelia wants is better than what Lear wants.

Filed under: book recs

The Ehnes Era in Seattle: Season Two


My take on the opening week of the Seattle Chamber Music Society’s Summer Festival, now underway (from crosscut):

Everyone has their individual barometer when it comes to deciding whether summer has actually “arrived” in our fickle city. But for many local music lovers, Seattle Chamber Music Society’s (SCMS) summer festival clearly marks the cultural solstice…

continue reading

Filed under: chamber music, James Ehnes, ,

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