The well-known Ditters* and Haydn were youthful friends. Once the two were roaming the streets at night and stopped in front of a common beer hall in which some drunken and sleepy musicians were miserably fiddling away at a Haydn minuet. In those days Haydn composed pieces for the dance halls that, because of their originality, were much in favor. ‘Hey, let’s go in!’ said Haydn. ‘In we go!’ Ditters agreed. Into the beer hall they go. Haydn places himself next to the first violinist and asks offhandedly, ‘Who wrote that minuet?’ The latter answers, still more drily, indeed sharply, ‘By Haydn!’ Haydn goes and stands in front of him, and says with feigned wrath, ‘That’s a [pig] of a minuet.’ — ‘What, what, what?’ yells the violinist, now in a rage himself, jumping out of his seat, followed by the other players, who are about to break their instruments over Haydn’s head; and they would have, too, if Ditters, who was a big man, had not put up his arms to shield Haydn and shoved him out through the door.
A.C. Dies, Biographische Nachrichten von Joseph Haydn (1810)

*Later Carl Ditters von Dittersdorf, the composer

Another great story, told by Dies, from Haydn’s pre-Esterházy years: “Haydn once took it into his head to invite a number of musicians for an evening serenade [Nachtmusik]. The rendezvous was in the Tiefer Graben, where the musicians were to place themselves, some in front of houses and some in corners. There was even a kettledrummer on the high bridge. Most of the players had no idea why they had been summoned, and each had been told to play whatever he wanted. Hardly had this hideous concert begun when the astonished residents of the Tiefer Graben opened their windows and began to scold, to hiss and to whistle at the accursed music from hell. Meanwhile the watchmen, or as they were then called, the Rumorknechte, appeared. The players escaped in time, except the kettledrummer and a violinist, both of whom were led away under arrest; however, they were set at liberty after a few days since they could not name the ringleader.”
At that time [the 1740s] many castrati were employed at court and in the Viennese churches, and the director of the Choir School no doubt considered that he was about to make the young Haydn’s fortune when he brought forth the plan to turn him into a permanent soprano [ihn sopranisieren zu lassen], and actually asked the father for his permission. The father, who vigorously disapproved of this proposal, set forth at once for Vienna and, thinking that the operation might already have been performed, entered the room where his son was and asked, ‘Sepperl, does anything hurt you? Can you walk?’ Delighted to find his son unharmed, he protested against any further proposals of this kind, and a castrato who happened to be there even strengthened him in his resolve. The truth of this anecdote was attested by persons to whom Haydn often related it.
Griesinger, Biographical Notes concerning Joseph Haydn (1810)

Joseph Haydn, Pietà di me, concert trio for two sopranos, tenor, and orchestra, Hob. XXVb:5

Joan Sutherland
April Cantelo
Raymond Nilsson
Dennis Brain, horn

Charles Mackerras, cond. (1956)

Yes, Dennis Brain is at the horn here — since his part contained a high F, he had the piece transposed down a semitone.

Trevor Pinnock, The English Concert - Symphony No. 33 in B-flat major, K. 319: 1. Allegro assai
32 plays

Mozart, Symphony No. 33 in B-flat major, K. 319 (1779): 1. Allegro assai

The English Concert / Trevor Pinnock (1995)

Notice the four-note Missa Pange lingua motive in the development (which, like the 1st mov. development in Symphony No. 34, consists entirely of new material). 

Sometimes, when someone tells me they’ve consumed some good book or movie or music recently, I just want to ask them: “Did it stick in your throat? I hope it did.” But I’m afraid they’d just get angry.

A really stupid mistake too many intelligent people make: claiming that popularity is a single quality that links writers like Dickens to your choice of bestseller. (Why mention only Dickens, though — who remembers all the hundreds of Susan Warners and T.S. Arthurs and Maria Cumminses?)

That something’s read now is no indication of whether it’ll be read in fifty years. (A large readership’s never been a sign of or against carrying power.)


I thought that nature was enough
Till Human nature came
But that the other did absorb
As Parallax a Flame —

Of Human nature just aware
There added the Divine
Brief struggle for capacity
The power to contain

Is always as the contents
But give a Giant room
And you will lodge a Giant
And not a smaller man


The whistle of the locomotive penetrates my wood summer and winter, sounding like the scream of a hawk sailing over some farmer’s yard, informing me that many restless city merchants are arriving within the circle of the town, or adventurous country traders from the other side…When I meet the engine with its train of cars moving off with planetary motion,—or, rather, like a comet, for the beholder knows not if with that velocity and with that direction it will ever revisit this system, since its orbit does not look like a returning curve,—with its steam cloud like a banner streaming behind in golden and silver wreaths, like many a downy cloud which I have seen, high in the heavens, unfolding its masses to the light,—as if this traveling demigod, this cloud-compeller, would ere long take the sunset sky for the livery of his train; when I hear the iron horse make the hills echo with his snort like thunder, shaking the earth with his feet, and breathing fire and smoke from his nostrils, (what kind of winged horse or fiery dragon they will put into the new Mythology I don’t know,) it seems as if the earth had got a race now worthy to inhabit it…I watch the passage of the morning cars with the same feeling that I do the rising of the sun, which is hardly more regular. Their train of clouds stretching far behind and rising higher and higher, going to heaven while the cars are going to Boston, conceals the sun for a minute and casts my distant field into the shade, a celestial train beside which the petty train of cars which hugs the earth is but the barb of the spear.
Thoreau, Walden (1854), “Sounds”
from Peacock’s ‘Memoirs of Shelley’

   He had a prejudice against theatres which I took some pains to overcome. I induced him one evening to accompany me to a representation of the School for Scandal. When, after the scenes which exhibited Charles Surface in his jollity, the scene returned, in the fourth act, to Joseph’s library, Shelley said to me: ‘I see the purpose of this comedy. It is to associate virtue with bottles and glasses, and villainy with books.’ I had great difficulty to make him stay to the end. He often talked of ‘the withering and perverting spirit of comedy.’ I do not think he ever went to another. But I remember his absorbed attention to Miss O’Neill’s performance of Bianca in [Henry Hart Milman’s] Fazio, and it is evident to me that she was always in his thoughts when he drew the character of Beatrice in the Cenci
   With the exception of Fazio I do not remember his having been pleased with any performance at an English theatre. Indeed, I do not remember his having been present at any but the two above mentioned. I tried in vain to reconcile him to comedy. I repeated to him one day, as an admirable specimen of diction and imagery, Michael Perez’s soliloquy in his miserable lodgings, from Rule a Wife and Have a Wife. When I came to the passage: 

There’s an old woman that’s now grown to marble,
Dried in this brick-kiln: and she sits i’ the chimney
(Which is but three tiles, raised like a house of cards),
The true proportion of an old smoked Sibyl,
There is a young thing, too, that Nature meant
For a maid-servant, but ‘tis now a monster:
She has a husk about her like a chestnut,
With laziness, and living under the line here:
And these two make a hollow sound together,
Like frogs, or winds between two doors that murmur—

he said: ‘There is comedy in its perfection. Society grinds down poor wretches into the dust of abject poverty, till they are scarcely recognizable as human beings; and then, instead of being treated as what they really are, subjects of the deepest pity, they are brought forward as grotesque monstrosities to be laughed at.’ I said: ‘You must admit the fineness of the expression.’ ‘It is true,’ he answered; ‘but the finer it is the worse it is.’

My dear Peacock — At present I write little else but poetry, and little of that. My first act of Prometheus is complete, and I think you would like it. I consider poetry very subordinate to moral and political science, and if I were well, certainly I would aspire to the latter, for I can conceive a great work, embodying the discoveries of all ages, and harmonizing the contending creeds by which mankind have been ruled. Far from me is such an attempt, and I shall be content, by exercising my fancy, to amuse myself, and perhaps some others, and cast what weight I can into the scale of that balance, which the Giant of Arthegall holds.
Shelley to Thomas Love Peacock (26 January 1819, Naples)
To ‘read’ ‘Lycidas,’ to seize its purpose at any level but that of vague musicality, is to participate, and not only with one’s brain, in the central equivocation between death and poetic glory. Milton’s is one of the archetypal statements of the trope of transcendence, of that cast for immortality beyond ‘the parching wind.’ This is a poem about fame and the sacrificial gamble which ‘scorns delights and lives laborious days.’ The pulse of allusion that beats steady in almost every line, back to Greek, to Latin, to Scripture, and which echoes forward to Dryden, to Arnold, to Tennyson’s ‘In Memoriam,’ is no technical ornament. It is a full-scale pronouncement of accord with the value-relations of personal genius and menacing time which underlie a classic culture. The lament for the poet gone is always autobiographical: the mourner tenses his own resources against the ubiquitous blackmail of death. The ‘sincerity’ of his grief is intense but reflexive. Dissent from this code of moral, psychological conduct, be deaf to its particular idiom, and you will no longer be able to read, to hear, the great tradition of elegy and poetics, of mediation between language and death, which led unbroken from Pindar and Virgil to ‘Thyrsis’ and to Auden’s commemoration of the death of William Butler Yeats. Here, too, there could be footnotes. Conceivably, such ‘second-level’ annotation could refer the reader of ‘Lycidas’ to all the requisite classical, scriptural, and contemporary material. It could tell him of the history of elegiac modes and of Milton’s notion, old as Hesiod, of the civilizing and sacramental functions of the shepherd-singer. In fact, of course, such annotation would soon run to incommensurable absurdity (it is this which distinguishes it, though not always sharply, from what I call ‘first-level footnotes’). To be genuinely informative, contextual annotation would soon amount to little less than a history of the language and of culture. We would find ourselves involved in a process—familiar to information theory—of infinite regress. The total context of a work such as ‘Lycidas’—or the ‘Divina Commedia’ or ‘Phèdre’ or Goethe’s ‘Faust’—is ‘all that is the case,’ or the active wholeness of preceding and sequent literacy. The thing cannot be done.
George Steiner, In Bluebeard’s Castle (1971), IV

The more I travel, near home or far away, the stranger everything seems to me, in memory and all that’s not memory. Two weeks ago I drove to Vermont for a week, and while there spent much of the daytime driving around, one end of the state to another. Lose yourself on the blue highways, and then come out again, sometimes with a shock of re-discovery, other times with the gas tank perilously low and no place to turn. So on.

Memories of that U.S. state and anywhere else I’ve been come in three kinds: the definite kind (with a date and a year, a photograph and maybe a name-carving in a tree, an entry in a journal, a video, the ten-year-old smell of incense in a shoebox full of mementos and gifts); the indefinite kind (dream images, music, literature, family photos taken by a grandfather on some farm, the very place where some massive legendary ox was stabled once upon a time, where Washington dined and slept, etc); and the volatile border-life, the unlived experience. I have so many unplaced memories of parties and faces, the interiors of unknown houses I’d walked from one room to another at the age of 6 or 10. Where was this? Had I dreamed it? (Not always, I know: two years ago I saw that I was somehow able to describe the inside of my father’s great-aunt’s house in Holmdel, which we’d visited once. Where was that house? I asked him. And he told me. It had been twenty years since she’d died. I never knew her, but I knew her house.)

My grandfather used to catch perch at a pond outside Sudbury. The I—s had known the G—s back in the 60s, and the G—s had known a farmer’s family who owned this pond. There was a little gate, and two bridges leading up a mile through the woods to a grassy clearing. And there you’d look down over a fifteen-or-so foot cliff-face onto a still surface, marshy at one end and pine-dark at the other. I wanted to go there, because I remembered (falsely, so it turned out) a party we had once on the shores of that pond.

As I drove up the side-road, a graded gravel pass, about twenty geese blocked my way up the mountain, sentinels they seemed, and I had to wait for them to waddle out of the way. Even so, one of them, the lead male, I guess, hissed at me and flung himself on the right side of the car. But it was just a show of dominance, and he didn’t pursue. 

The rest of the drive I was alone, until I parked outside the gate. Two bicyclists, both men, one about 35 and the other about 50, were coming down the other way. They told me I could park there: No one’s going to bother you, they said. And nodded over toward the big farmhouse. No cars were parked in its driveway, and inside the windows all seemed as still as snow. (You always imagine a curtain parting on the second story, but it never does part.) So I parked, took my backpack, and started up the mountain.

Only a few thrushes and warblers off the pass. I heard a tanager once high up, and a number of squirrels and chipmunks. But nothing else. It was pretty quiet. 

It’s strange, how I kept waiting for a house, or some structure to come into view. To see tire-tracks or deep ruts in the trail (overgrown with weeds), or some discarded tools, a few wrappers or some other signs. Around the pond (which I didn’t recognize at all) all I found was an outhouse and a few old wooden canoes and aluminum rowboats, punctured in their hulls, and overturned. Unused in a while. I walked through the woods around the water, to see what I could find. A single neon orange buoy was in the middle of the pond, just off one of the cliffs. A drop-off, or the deep point, probably. 

I sat down on a rock and ate my lunch. Nothing here was foreign: it was a typical mountain pond, quiet and private. Only I became a stranger to it the more I explored it, and those alien recollections of some long-ago party (gone now, homeless, dispersed), which still cast some sideways glow over that water, on that place, were all I had. My grandfather caught 80 perch here in an afternoon. He could see the bass 40 feet down (and they saw him). They cooked them on the shoreline (where? I looked around at the outhouse, at the little bridge over the stream running down the slope, at the swamp, at the cliff-face across from me). Never asked him. He was long dead before I was ever born.