MEMETERIA by Thomas May

Music & the Arts

An Auden Birthday

Auden portrait

Today marks the 109th anniversary of Wystan Hugh’s birth. I managed to find a link to an early poem Auden wrote for his friend Christopher Isherwood’s birthday here [pdf, p. 7]:


August for the people and their favourite islands.                                                                           Daily the steamers sidle up to meet                                                                                                           The effusive welcome of the pier…

And here’s an interview  Aidan Wasley (author of THE AGE OF AUDEN: Postwar Poetry and the American Scene) conducted with John Ashbery:

John Ashbery: I first met [Auden] when he gave a reading at Harvard, I think in the spring of ’47, perhaps … He said he preferred America, though he preferred the English countryside because it was much tidier looking… I was always a bit intimidated by him, as I think many people were.




Filed under: anniversary, Auden, poetry

Ravel: Kaddish

Filed under: anniversary

Happy Birthday, Oscar

And some favorite quotes:

“You must not find symbols in everything you see. It makes life impossible.”

“The world is a stage, but the play is badly cast.” (Lord Arthur Savile’s Crime)

“Life is much too important a thing ever to talk seriously about it.”
(Lady Windermere’s Fan)

“The public have an insatiable curiosity to know everything, except what is worth knowing.” (The Soul of Man Under Socialism)

“It is perfectly monstrous the way people go about, nowadays, saying things against one behind one’s back that are absolutely and entirely true.”
(The Picture of Dorian Gray)

Filed under: anniversary, Oscar Wilde

Remembering Auden

W.H. Auden died on this day in 1973 in Vienna. And just in time to mark the great poet’s legacy: Edward Mendelson’s splendidly edited series of Auden’s complete prose writings has been completed with volumes V and VI.

“This is what scholarly publishing is meant to be,” writes the critic Michael Dirda. His review continues:

Over the years I’ve collected Auden’s books — both his own and the works he edited — and so I feel reasonably familiar with his writing. But there’s much here I’d never seen before. At the same time, these pages refresh our appreciation of, say, the poet’s introduction to Anne Fremantle’s “The Protestant Mystics” or to his own selection of Dryden’s verse by showing them as products of a busy professional life.

Moreover, Mendelson’s notes and appendices contribute illuminating, and sometimes amusing, extra-textual detail….

[E]verything [Auden] says about poetry is sharp and authoritative: “In judging a poem, one looks for two things: craftsmanship — it should be a well-made verbal object; and uniqueness of perspective — nobody but the author could have written it.”

Filed under: anniversary, Auden, poetry

Terry Riley at 80, on 20 Fingers


“That’s the sort of thing that’s always interested me: things where you can’t quite figure out what you are hearing,” says Terry Riley — and the maverick composer’s curiosity hasn’t abated a bit over the years.

Today Terry Riley has reached the milestone age of 80. “In addition to his artistic legacy — a long and varied creative record that includes some of the most notable works in the history of minimalism and post-minimalism — Riley must hold some kind of record as the happiest and least stress-afflicted musician now working,” writes Joshua Kosman in his recent profile.

A new release from the piano duo ZOFO offers an intriguing perspective on the work of this Minimalist pioneer (who played jazz piano early in his career).

Eva-Maria Zimmermann and Keisuke Nakagoshi — the pianists who comprise ZOFO (decoded as a visual pun for “20” plus “fingered orchestra”) — started their collaboration with a performance of “Cinco de Mayo” from The Heaven Ladder, Book 5, a collection of the native Californian’s pieces for piano-four-hands originally commissioned by Sarah Cahill.

“There is nothing quite like hearing the full eight octaves of a piano sounding in all its orchestral richness,” according to Riley. “ZOFO realizes the full potential of four-hand playing. They think and play as if guided by a Universal mind.”

Riley was so impressed by what ZOFO had done with “Cinco de Mayo” that he encouraged them to take on the rest of his four-hand piano oeuvre, which consists of the four other piece in The Heaven Ladder, Book 5: “Etude from the Old Country,” “Jaztine,” “Tango Doble Ladiado,” and “Waltz for Charismas.”

To expand this body of work into a full-length CD, Nakagoshi made arrangements of two additional pieces, consulting and collaborating with the composer: “G String” and “Half-Wolf Dances Mad in Moonlight” (both string quartets). Zimmermann meanwhile made a four-hand arrangement of “Simone’s Lullaby,” a solo piece from Book 7 of The Heaven Ladder originally written for Gloria Cheng. ZOFO commissioned Riley to write a short additional piece, “Praying Mantis Rag.”

Regarding the role of improvisation in Riley’s aesthetic, Zimmermann says: “For me to see Terry perform also played a big role in how I approached this recording session. He is so totally free when he performs, improvising over his own ideas. It’s so much about the moment and the essence of the music. This is so healthy for me as a perfectionist….”

Filed under: American music, anniversary, CD review, piano

Mr. Hokanson at 100

Randolph Hokanson with pianist Judith Cohen - a day before he turned 100 (photo by Thomas May)

Randolph Hokanson with pianist Judith Cohen – a day before he turned 100 (photo by Thomas May)

Amid all the horrible news of late, it’s comforting to be able to cheer something unequivocally positive: today, 22 June 2015 – a day after the solstice – marks the 100th birthday of Mr. Randolph Hokanson.

And this living legend — a gifted concert pianist, teacher, composer, and writer — is still sharing his music with us. Yesterday I had the privilege of hearing him give a recital to an enthusiastic crowd of fans. Mr. Hokanson offered poetically insightful performances of excerpts from Bach’s Well-Tempered Clavier (I’ll never forget his take on WTC I’s E-flat minor Prelude), a movement from the Italian Concerto, and some Chopin Preludes — and was joined by the violinist Marjorie Kransberg-Talvi for Mozart’s Violin Sonata in G, K. 379.

During his many years at the University of Washington, Mr. Hokanson taught and influenced generations of pianists and other musicians, and it was touching to see quite a few of these along with extended family in the audience on a glorious Sunday afternoon.

Here’s a profile I wrote about Mr. Hokanson back at the beginning of 2014:

“I’ve seen it all!” announces Randolph Hokanson before losing himself in a mischievous gale of laughter. With someone else, you might be tempted to indulge that as hyperbole. With Hokanson, who was born in 1915 in Bellingham, it’s tempting to take it literally.
This gifted pianist and teacher has witnessed almost a century of not just ceaseless but accelerating change: epochal shifts in technology, in education, in how music and the arts are valued.

continue reading

Filed under: anniversary, Bach, pianists

Haydn Turns 283

In honor of Haydn, one of the greatest of the greats, who “may” have been born on this date in 1732, give or take a few days. For its 2015 Summer Festival, which focuses on the theme of “humor” (in the widest possible sense), the Lucerne Festival will open with a program pairing Haydn and Mahler (Bernard Haitink will conduct the Lucerne Festival Orchestra): specifically, Mahler 4 and Haydn’s Symphony in C, (“Il distratto,” aka “Der Zerstreute”), which originated as incidental music for the stage. I’m going to be listening closely to a lot of Haydn in the near future as I prepare program essays for the Festival.

Filed under: anniversary, Haydn, Lucerne Festival

Bon Anniversaire à Pierre Boulez

There’s a lot more reflection on Pierre Boulez to come this year — including an entire day that Switzerland’s Lucerne Festival is devoting to his work on 23 August — but today marks the official 90th birthday of the French master.

Here’s a roundup of some recent commentary on Boulez and his inarguable impact on musical life in our time:

Ultimately I think Boulez is a great optimist, despite the shadows that coloured his early years. In the end what he believes is simple: today’s music has to be different from the music of the past.

That’s a natural thing. Western music continues to evolve and transform and change. And those that don’t agree, well … they’re wrong!

George Benjamin in The Guardian

America can’t be discovered out of nothing. In Boulez’s music you immediately hear everything that he has come into contact with – and that is an enormous amount. Even Bach.

Daniel Barenboim

The tie between heart and brain characterizes Boulez’s music. “I claim the right for music to have many levels of perception,” he told DW in 2003. “Works […] that take time to solve are the works that remain in your memory for a long time.”

Deutsche Welle

For those who carp about Boulez’s conducting activities allegedly having taken his attention away from composition – they generally seem not to like his music very much, so it is not immediately clear why they should care – the Notations should stand as a rebuke. Boulez himself has owned that he would have been unable to compose the pieces without the experience of conducting Wagner and Mahler. With every listening, that claim becomes more and more unarguable. The virtuosity in orchestral writing is staggering, in its way as much so as that of Ravel, or indeed Mahler.

Mark Berry (aka Boulezian) reviewing the BBC’s “Total Immersion Day”

Boulez’s style is explosive. He detonates a germ of an idea and, like a seed, it grows a sonic forest. The common fallacy is that pieces as highly and intricately structured as these require technical understanding. But you don’t need to be a botanist to be stirred by a field of wild flowers.

Mark Swed in the Los Angeles Times

My development really went backwards through time. I got to know Berg, I got to know Webern, I got to know Schönberg … and then I got to know Mahler. It was totally reversed – because there was no tradition whatsoever.

Pierre Boulez at UE’s Musik Salon

See Amanda Angel’s list of Boulez’s Top Five Transformations at WQXR.

france musique has a podcast and other material on Boulez currently available.

Also make sure to check out the content-rich Boulez-90 site at Universal Edition.

Filed under: anniversary, new music, Pierre Boulez

Homage to Richter

On his centenary:

And check out Steve Wigler’s lovely appreciation of “the greatest pianist I ever heard.”

Filed under: anniversary, pianists

A Birthday Cheer for John Corigliano

Photo by Enid Bloch

Photo by Enid Bloch

February is the birth month of another of America’s greatest composers: today marks the 77th birthday of John Corigliano. A brilliant creative force, Mr. Corigliano has earned acclaim as a master of emotionally complex chamber and orchestral music as well as artful film scores, while his grand opera The Ghosts of Versailles helped pave the way toward the blossoming of new American opera over the last quarter-century.

Los Angeles Opera’s splendid new production of Ghosts, which is bringing this masterpiece to the West Coast for the first time, led the LA Times to suggest that the opera may have “a shot at immortality.”

As if his marvelous catalogue of compositions weren’t enough, Mr. Corigliano has garnered such accolades as the Pulitzer Prize, Grawemeyer Award, five Grammies, and an Oscar.

And he’s obviously a gifted and influential teacher and mentor, as evidenced by the success of such students as Mason Bates and Wlad Marhulets, whose debut opera The Property is about to be given its premiere in Chicago.

Yo-Yo Ma speaks for many of us who care deeply about the arts in our troubled times when he says: “I feel lucky that John and I are living in the same era.”

Filed under: American music, anniversary, John Corigliano

Enter your email address to follow this blog and receive notifications of new posts by email.

RSS Arts & Culture Stories from NPR