From the archives: Classical

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Suggested reading, cork-popping edition

Monday, 18 January 2010 — 9:24pm | Assorted links, Classical, Jazz, Literature, Mathematics, Music, Science

I read too much and write too little. This has made it difficult to keep this space current and engaging, something that I sought to remedy with a weekly book review until other commitments started getting in the way. The book feature will return as soon as I can manage it and for as long as I can help it; but until then and going forward, I will content myself with regularly sharing some links to pieces that may fascinate the sort of people who come here in the first place, as they certainly fascinated me.

Up to this point I have typically refrained from aggregating news and commentary from elsewhere without any reply of my own, but I would rather pass on insightful reading material free of comment than never have it reach you at all. At the very least I hope to introduce some of you to the many excellent blogs and journals I follow.

Some recent highlights:

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I am the very model of a squandered opportunity

Saturday, 3 October 2009 — 9:46pm | Classical, Literature, Mathematics, Music

Among the many things I passed through upon my arrival in Cambridge was a symposium on Euclidean Geometry in Nineteenth-Century Culture, organized by Alice Jenkins (University of Glasgow) and CRASSH. I may say a few things about it later, but for now, let us limit ourselves to this tidbit.

I briefly spoke to Robin Wilson, the author of Lewis Carroll in Numberland (reviewed here), from whom I learned that Lewis Carroll once corresponded with Arthur Sullivan to propose an operatic adaptation of Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland. Sullivan declined.

Or, as I like to tell it: Sullivan declined, and English comic opera has never recovered since.

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Wednesday Book Club: The Rest Is Noise

Wednesday, 29 October 2008 — 11:03pm | Book Club, Classical, Literature, Music

This week’s selection: The Rest Is Noise: Listening to the Twentieth Century (2007) by Alex Ross.

In brief: Less a textbook history of twentieth-century classical music than a supreme work of historical criticism, The Rest Is Noise is a persuasive treatise on how tumultuous political landscapes shape artistic production. Ross walks a fine tightrope straddling analytical detail and popular accessibility, but nonetheless conveys a continuous lineage of ideas threading the persistent revolutions and counter-revolutions of twentieth-century composition.

(The Wednesday Book Club is an ongoing initiative of mine to write a book review every week. I invite you to peruse the index. For more on The Rest Is Noise, keep reading below.)

Continued »

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Messiaen. Olivier Messiaen.

Sunday, 6 July 2008 — 10:44pm | Classical, Insights, Literature, Music

At twenty-four minutes past ten o’clock in the p.m., I was listening to a special broadcast on CBC Radio Two—a special three-hour broadcast devoted to a composition by Olivier Messiaen, as performed by Simon Docking.

At precisely the same time, I was reading a ripping good novel by Ian Fleming. (Which one? Stay tuned to the Wednesday Book Club, where it will be featured soon enough.)

Why are they playing Messiaen, I wondered? Oh, of course. It’s the centennial of his birth.

Why are the cover redesigns so splendid on the Penguin paperback reissues of the Fleming novels? Oh, of course. It’s the centennial of his birth.

(I was shaken.)

And what, might I ask, is this piece by Messiaen? The seven books of Catalogue D’Oiseaux.

And who, might I ask, was the namesake of Fleming’s hero James Bond? An ornithologist.

(I was stirred.)

Have I been wrong about God all along? No, Serendipity, but that was a nice try.

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A dozen-word guide to the opera

Sunday, 27 April 2008 — 1:47am | Classical, Insights, Music

Tenors get the girl.

Basses imprison her in a ring of fire.

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