Oh, Arnold. This really isn’t about Mahler at all, is it? You were so convinced you’d be a pop star a hundred years after your work premiered. How does your ghost feel now, looking down on a world that still doesn’t understand or enjoy you?
Downes plugged for S. in the Times: he’d written up a good column on the 5 Orchestral Pieces not long before the Mahler review. S. mentions this in another letter. (‘I am afraid many people, who read both these reviews about Mahler and me, will say: One who writes as unfoundedly about Mahler, will certainly be wrong about Schoenberg. Accordingly I must either be ashamed to please you, or it will cease to be favorable to me.’)
In The Book of Ephraim
, it’s Mozart that’s been reborn as a rock star
(first becoming Stravinsky). No word on Schoenberg yet. In the meantime, program your alarm clock with Erwartung
Schoenberg to Olin Downes (21 December 1948, L.A.)
You end your review of Mitropoulos’s performance of Gustav Mahler’s Seventh Symphony with the words: ‘Chacun à son goût.’…
You write ‘Chacun à son goût’ and you are fortunate enough to be able to tell hundreds of thousands of your readers which is your taste. But how can I inform those two and a half millions of radio listeners that their announcer is wrong? One who possesses such an unlimited power must have a sense of responsibility.
You claim the right of a fighter, the right to be intolerant. Is it logical to deny the opponent the same rights if he is infuriated to a degree which makes him refuse to see the forest as long as he has to conquer individual trees?
It is the word ‘taste’ which excites me.
In my vocabulary it stands for ‘arrogance and superiority-complex of the mediocrity’, and: Taste is sterile—it can not produce. And: Taste is applicable only to the lower zones of human feelings, to the material ones. It is no yardstick in spiritual matters. And: Taste functions mainly as a restricting factor, as a negation of every problem, as a minus to every number.
‘Chacun à son goût’ would have us believe that there exists an enormous number of ways to be extremely personal—but there is not enough caviar, or gold or good luck in the world for everybody. And those ‘chacuns’ must share the little ‘goût’ which exists, which of course is a commonplace mass product, with very few marks of personal distinction.
You write that your reference to your taste means simply that you express your personal opinion and that everybody is entitled to his own. ‘Entitled’ is the right word. Has he who disagrees with you a chance of telling this to the same audience as often as he disagrees?
Furthermore: You do not pretend ‘that your ideas of music are conclusive’. Contrast this lighthearted standpoint to the standpoint of an artist like Mahler, who would have preferred to die a thousand times than be forced to believe he was wrong.
I hope you will now understand why your condemnation of a great man and composer on the basis of personal taste enraged me. Then I will gladly admit that another cause of this fury derived from the fact that between 1898 and 1908 I had spoken about Mahler in the same manner as you do today. For that I made good subsequently by adoration.
And, frankly, this is what I resent most: Why should you not also have experienced such transformations of your mind, from Saulus to Paulus, with many of the great ones in the arts, including, besides, Wagner and Brahms, Strauss and Mahler, even Mozart and Beethoven?
Still, I am not a windbag of unsolid fixation, who gamingly changes his position for no intelligible reason. Also, these changes corresponded to my progressive development in various phases of my life, before maturity was reached. A very characteristic experience of mine may serve as an illustration. Between 1925 and 1935 I did not dare to read or to listen to Mahler’s music. I was afraid that my aversion to it in a preceding period might return. Fortunately, when I heard in Los Angeles a moderately satisfactory performance of the Second, I was just as enchanted as ever before: it had lost none of its persuasiveness.
Now finally to your question whether I believe composers are as a rule fair or unbiased critics of other composers: I think they are in the first instance fighters for their own musical ideas. The ideas of other composers are their enemies. You can not restrict a fighter. His blows are correct when they hit hard, and only then can he be fair. Thus I do not resent what Schumann said about Wagner, or Hugo Wolf about Brahms. But I resent what Hanslick said against Wagner and Bruckner. Wagner, Wolf, Mahler and Strauss fought for life or death of their ideas.
But you fight only for principles, or rather for the application of principles.
Beethoven, 11 Bagatelles, Op. 119 (1823), Nos. 7-11
Roland Pöntinen, piano
The last 5 bagatelles in this collection were originally published in Friedrich Starke’s Wiener Pianoforte Schule in 1821. Beethoven tacked them on to the 6 others at the beginning of 1823, when he submitted them, together, to his publisher, C.F. Peters, who rejected them. “You should consider it beneath your dignity to waste your time on such trifles, which anyone could have written,” he wrote in a letter. But Beethoven thought highly of them, and wrote back. Peters had ”no artistic judgment,” and was hungry for a major work he’d be able to print for the same fee. They were later published by Clementi & Co.
To Ries he wrote about this set that “the first six bagatelles and the last five belong together, in two parts.” So the player ought to think of them not as a bunch of little album leaves, offhand scribbles, but as two separate suites (1 through 6 & 7 through 11) fixed together, and played in sequence.
Mozart/Busoni, Fantasia for 2 pianos [orig. mechanical organ] in F minor, K. 608 (1791)
Emil Gilels & Yakov Zak, pianos (1950)
Chausson, Piano Quartet in A major, Op. 30 (1897)
Pasquier Trio + Jean-Claude Pennetier
2. Très calme | 11:58
3. Simple et sans hâte | 22:02
4. Animé | 25:47
But what precedes the luminous thought, or what
Unnumbered heartbeats timed the beat we feel,—
What burnings up of suns, or deaths of moons,
Shaped them, or what wreckage in time’s stream,—
Ignore…And are our footsteps parallel?
Or runs your blood as slow as mine? or comes
The golden crocus, of this April’s fiction,
As hotly to your thought as mine? The birds
That throng imagination’s boughs, and sing,
Or flash from sward to leaf, for the sheer joy
Of mounting or descending in thought’s air;
Or mate in ecstasy, and from that flame
Breed constellations of flame-colored flight:
Come they and go they, love, in your green tree
As swiftly as in mine? was there such singing
In mine as yours, or at the self-same season?
Have I such boughs as you, in the same place;
Or such a surf of leaves, when the wind blows;
Or such a fountain of bright flame, when birds
All skyward mount together?—So we pace
From here to there, from there to here, — touch hands
As alien each to each as leaf and stone,
One chaos and another. Have good heart!
Your chaos is my world; perhaps my chaos
Is world enough for you. For what’s unguessed
Will have such shape and sweetness as the knowing
Ruins with pour of knowledge.
Aiken, “Preludes for Memnon”, XIII
Tᴇᴅɪᴜᴍ, n. Ennui, the state or condition of one that is bored. Many fanciful derivations of the word have been affirmed, but so high an authority as Father Jape says that it comes from a very obvious source—the first words of the ancient Latin hymn Te Deum Laudamus. In this apparently natural derivation there is something that saddens.
Bierce, The Devil’s Dictionary
Renoir, The Golden Coach (1952)
I have no problem with film music. I do not take it upon myself to judge what sort of music one should have—whether symphonic, electronic, twelve-tone, or whether music has altogether gone out of fashion in the cinema. I really don’t know the answer. I have not given it any thought. Shostakovich’s music is another matter. There is no point in my thinking about it. I would not be able to make a Shakespearean film without it just as I would not be able to do without Pasternak’s translation. What do I think is the main point about it—the feeling of tragedy? This is an important quality. But not just tragedy…philosophy, and a general concept of the whole world? Yes of course, how could you have Lear without philosophy?…But all the same it is another feature which is most important. A quality about which it is difficult to write. Goodness. Kindness. Mercy. However, it is a special kind of goodness. Russian has an excellent word—‘lyuty’—or, fierce. In Russian art, goodness does not exist without a fierce hatred of everything which destroys a man. In Shostakovich’s music I can hear a ferocious hatred of cruelty, the cult of power and the oppression of justice. This is a special goodness: a fearless goodness which has a threatening quality.
Grigori Kozintsev, from ‘King Lear: The Space of Tragedy’, Chap. 24 (1973)
A young talent, Joseph Haindl* from Würzburg, gave me much pleasure, although he—played the flute. But he played it exquisitely, with a very pretty presentation, and also looked pretty—interesting. If only he will not disappear—like so many child prodigies! and why does such a gifted talent have to choose the flute of all things?
Clara Schumann, Diaries (January 1841)
*Hans Haindl, maybe. A search for Joseph Haindl brings up nothing.
The forest sinks off
And like buds, the leaves
Hang inward, to which
The valley floor below
Flowers up, far from mute,
For Ulrich passed through
These parts; a great destiny
Often broods over his footprint,
Ready, among the remains.
Hölderlin, ‘The Shelter at Hahrdt’ (from Nightsongs), trans. Richard Sieburth
Hinunter sinket der Wald,
Und Knospen ähnlich, hängen
Einwärts die Blätter, denen
Blüht unten auf ein Grund,
Nicht gar unmündig
Da nemlich ist Ulrich
Gegangen; oft sinnt, über den Fußtritt,
Ein groß Schiksaal
Bereit, an übrigem Orte.
[In 1519, in the woods looking out on the Aichtal, near the village of Hardt, the exiled Ulrich of Württemberg hid out from his enemies in the Swabian League. Two giant slabs of sandstone, tilted hard against each other, were his shelter. His footprint’s preserved in a rock nearby.]
Cities of the Euphrates!
Streets of Palmyra!
Columns wooding the desert plain,
What are you?
You were stripped of your crowns,
As you crossed beyond
The bounds of breath,
By the smoke
And fire of the gods;
But now I sit under clouds, in which
Each thing finds its peace, under
A fine stand of oaks, by
The deer meadow, and strange
And dead, they appear to me,
The spirits of the blest.
Hölderlin, ‘Ages of Life’ (from Nightsongs), trans. Richard Sieburth
Ihr Städte des Euphraths!
Ihr Gassen von Palmyra!
Ihr Säulenwälder in der Ebne der Wüste,
Was seid ihr?
Euch hat die Kronen,
Dieweil ihr über die Gränze
Der Othmenden seid gegangen,
Von Himmlischen der Rauchdampf und
Hinweg das Feuer genommen;
Jezt aber siz ich unter Wolken, darin
Ein jedes eine Ruh hat eigen, unter
Wohleingerichteten Eichen, auf
Der Haide des Rehs, und fremd
Erscheinen und gestorben mir
Der Seeligen Geister.