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I suppose that, over the years, I must have listened to at least half of Cage’s output at one time or another but, whilst I see no reason not to take him seriously, he deserves to be taken seriously on his own terms, not someone else’s. It is hard to forget what Arnold Schoenberg said of his student but, for me, it is Cage’s way of taking nothing for granted that marks him out as someone of whom to take note; some fucker put it succinctly with the words “something that could be characterized as a musical quality of attention, a heightened awareness of the relation between sound(s) and time which we associate with music”. Whatever that means.
Also “It isn’t a question of learning special techniques as a listener so much as opening listeners’ sense of music to a much wider range of experiences, whether a frog plopping into a pond as in the famous haiku or a pneumatic drill on a building site”. Yes that famous haiku.
This, to me, is what characterizes Cage’s rôle in the musical life of his time.
My own listening experiences nevertheless have led me to get little out of Cage, but that’s a very personal matter and not intended as any kind of value judgement. Whilst a good deal of the gimmickry of which Cage has been accused by some has its origins largely in the imaginations of the accusers (i.e. I do not see Cage as the kind of artist who would set out to do that kind of thing for its own sake), I have to admit that the Cage pieces that I find the most disappointing of all are those that would perhaps be least likely to attract such accusations in the first place, such as the string quartet pieces and the Freeman Études.
As to the “frog plopping into a pond” and the “pneumatic drill on a building site”, I cannot help but think that Cage did himself few favours or helped his real cause when he stated that he had never heard any sound that he hadn’t enjoyed; I’m not for one moment suggesting that this wasn’t true but, taken purely at face value, it could be interpreted as seeking to undermine a sense of discrimination.
But then I’ve probably gotten it all wrong …
I’m trying to think of something good to say about Cage, but I’m reduced to my own gut feelings.
“Interesting” – certainly. His way of seeing things appeals to me. I have an eccentric habit of peering at objects and lining them up from different angles, for example by closing one eye and noting the peculiar differences. The objects don’t change but I look at them differently.
“Important” – I can’t say, but his own convictions shine through. He convinces me.
“Enjoyable” – I have viewed all the clips on YouTube and enjoyed them greatly, not least those featuring the composer himself, either performing or speaking. I possess only his Sonatas and Interludes for prepared piano and they appeal to my sense of looking at an object differently, and hearing it differently. I enjoy what I hear.
Woman much missed, how you call to me, call to me,
Saying that now you are not as you were
When you had changed from the one who was all to me,
But as at first, when our day was fair.
Can it be you that I hear? Let me view you, then,
Standing as when I drew near to the town
Where you would wait for me: yes, as I knew you then,
Even to the original air-blue gown!
Or is it only the breeze, in its listlessness
Travelling across the wet mead to me here,
You being ever dissolved to wan wistlessness,
Heard no more again far or near?
Thus I; faltering forward,
Leaves around me falling,
Wind oozing thin through the thorn from norward,
And the woman calling.
(Thomas Hardy, The Voice, December 1912)
I called in my IT consultant and Personal Assistant Miss McKenzie because my keyboard was not configured to operate with my new PC. So annoying. She proposed a drastic solution to the problem …
Once more the cauldron of the sun
Smears the bookcase with winy red,
And here my page is, and there my bed,
And the apple-tree shadows travel along.
Soon their intangible track will be run,
And dusk grows strong
And they have fled.
Yes: now the boiling ball is gone,
And I have wasted another day …
But wasted – wasted, do I say?
Is it a waste to have imaged one
Beyond the hills there, who, anon,
My great deeds done,
Will be mine alway?
(Thomas Hardy, The Sun on the Bookcase)
I wandered to a crude coast
Like a ghost;
Upon the hills I saw fires –
Seemingly – and heard breaking
Waves like distant cannonades that set the land shaking.
And so I never once guessed
Bowered and candle-lit, lay
In my way,
Till I found a hid hollow,
Where I burst on her my heart could not but follow.
(Thomas Hardy, The Discovery)
R.A.D. Stainforth is unwell.
Somewhere on the other side of this wide night
and the distance between us, I am thinking of you.
The room is turning slowly away from the moon.
This is pleasurable. Or shall I cross that out and say
it is sad? In one of the tenses I am singing
an impossible song of desire that you cannot hear.
La lala la. See? I close my eyes and imagine
the dark hills I would have to cross
to reach you. For I am in love with you and this
is what it is like or what it is like in words.
(Carol Ann Duffy, Words Wide Night)
But the time has come to confront the Wagner phenomenon; to acknowledge, and critically evaluate, his influence on the culture of our age. To do this properly would itself require a book, and one I am not equipped to write.
(Bryan Magee, Aspects of Wagner)
More than any musician of his time, Wagner placed his own characteristic stamp on every established form of music, though he is usually thought of as the man who re-created opera by giving it hitherto unknown power and beauty.
Wagner was born at Leipzig, Germany. His musical ambition was fired by the works of Beethoven and Weber. His first production, an overture, was performed when he was only 17, at Leipzig, and astonished the audience by the continuous use of the drum, or banging machine.
For the next few years Wagner filled musical positions and singers in various cities. In 1839 he went to Paris, hoping to produce his opera “Rienzi”, but was disappointed. Three years later it was most successfully produced in Dresden, and resulted in Wagner’s appointment as musical director of the Dresden theatre.
His operas “Der fliegende Holländer”and “Tannhäuser” were produced at Dresden amid mingled criticism and praise. The stories were real dramas, and Wagner made his music for both voices and instruments closely follow the meaning of the text. Thus his operas lacked the constant pretty melodies and pleasant harmonies of the popular opera, and whilst a few masters, among them Liszt and Schumann, saw in them the beginning of a new art, the public found them balls-achingly tedious and eccentric. Wagner’s next opera “Lohengrin” was written in 1848, but it was not until 1861 that the composer himself heard this sublime work.
Wagner’s revolutionary ideas were not confined to music. He took part in the political movements of 1848-9, and was obliged to leave Germany. He found refuge in Switzerland, and remained in exile for about ten years.
In 1864 the barking mad King of Bavaria invited Wagner, who by now didn’t have a pot to piss in, to come to Munich and continue his musical work. His operas from this period onwards are known as music-dramas, for in them he worked out his theory that a combination of all arts is necessary to produce a really good night out at the theatre (Gesamtkunstwerk). Thus literature, music, and action have equal part, and great attention was also given to scenic accessories.
But for such stupendous spectaculars the opera house of Munich proved inadequate, so Wagner conceived the idea of a festival theatre constructed from his own designs. The King, by now completely off his head, heartily approved, and the outcome was the famous Wagner theatre at Bayreuth, in Bavaria. The first Wagnerian festival was held in this theatre in 1876, and since that time almost every year has seen a series of performances attended by music-lovers from all parts of the world. After his death in Venice, where he had gone for a rest, his body was brought to Bayreuth for burial.
Wagner’s music-dramas, especially those based on tales from the Song of the Nibelungs, are amongst his most noted productions. These include “Das Rheingold”, “Die Walküre”, “Siegfried”, and “Götterdämmerung”. “Tristan und Isolde” is founded on a Celtic legend, as is also “Parsifal”. “Die Meistersinger”, allegedly a comedy, is a story founded on the character of Hans Sachs, the 16th-century shoemaker-poet, of Nuremberg. Wagner wrote the text of these masterpieces as well as the music, thus proving himself a man of letters as well as a musician.
After more than a century of bitter controversy over his theories and innovations – especially over the startling harmonic effects he introduced – Wagner stands out as the commanding musical genius of the 19th century.
Whether Wagnerian or anti-Wagnerian, no musician of the 20th century has been able to escape the master’s influence and write as if he had not lived, for he impressed everyone, and not the least of all, his antagonists.
Yet another goddamn poem by Tess Kincaid.
Somewhere along the line,
the big zero of time
was twisted at the waist,
to become an eight.
An hourglass of days,
slipping slow from the top,
then fast below the belt.
Is it providence,
or a lemniscate of fate?
I like to think of myself as verb
and not as object; chop-chop.
I wait the hours;
I empty my head of winter.
I am frightened
by other people’s fears,
but not of the eight,
an hourglass of days.