Our environment consists of everything external to the self that affects us in any way: the physical world as well as other living organisms, including people, and all the social, political, economic and other organizational systems that surround us. As with the body, the environment is both an opening and an obstacle. Some people, notably mountain climbers, seek ways to overcome obstacles in the environment. The opportunity, among other things, is to gain a greater awareness of our abilities, thereby expanding them.
Here are narratives about how environment affected individuals and families:
- Timothy Egan, The Worst Hard Time: The Untold Story of Those Who Survived the Great American Dust Bowl (Houghton Mifflin, 2005).
- Susan Campbell Bartoletti, Black Potatoes: The Story of the Great Irish Famine, 1845-1850 (Sandpiper, 2005).
- Zakes Mda, Sometimes There Is a Void: Memoirs of an Outsider (Farrar, Straus & Giroux, 2012): “Mda’s gregarious and transfixing memoir . . . chronicles the upheavals that have sharpened his skills as a wide-ranging social observer.”
- David S. Reynolds, Abe: Abraham Lincoln in His Times (Penguin 2020): how culture shaped Lincoln
- Lea Ypi, Free: A Child and a Country at the End of History (W.W. Norton & Company, 2022): “Ypi’s memoir about growing up during Albania’s transition from totalitarian communism to liberal capitalism is the story of a childhood cleaved, sometimes violently, into before and after.”
- Katy Tur, Rough Draft: A Memoir (Atria/One Signal Publishers, 2022): “Before the campaign, she writes, she had 'barely followed Trump’s career,' but on the trail, she 'felt a deep familiarity. It was like I already knew him.' She later explains: 'My father is not Donald Trump and Donald Trump is not my father. But if anyone asked me, I’d recommend the same therapist.'”
Narratives on the physical environment shaping nations and cultures:
- Donald Worster, Dust Bowl: The Southern Plains in the 1930s (Oxford University Press, 2004).
- Thomas Gallagher, Paddy's Lament: Ireland, 1846-1847 (Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, 1982).
- Cecil Woodham-Smith, The Great Hunger: Ireland, 1845-1849(Harper & Row, Publishers, 1962).
Narratives on human influences:
- Jared S. Diamond, Guns, Germs, and Steel: The Fates of Human Societies (W.W. Norton & Company, 2005).
- Charles C. Mann, 1493: Uncovering the New World Columbus Created (Alfred A Knopf, 2011): how with the arrival of Europeans in North America "plants, animals, microbes and cultures began washing around the world".
- Alfred W. Crosby, Ecological Imperialism: The Biological Expansion of Europe, 900-1900 (2nd Edition, Cambridge University Press, 2004).
- John Robert McNeill, Something New Under the Sun: An Environmental History of the Twentieth-Century World (W.W. Norton & Company, 2000).
- David M. Lodge, "Biological Invasions: Lessons for Ecology," Tree, vol. 8, no. 4, April 1993.
- William Cronon, Nature's Metropolis: Chicago and the Great West (W.W. Norton, 1992).
- Robert F. Worth, A Rage for Order: The Middle East in Turmoil, From Tahrir Square to ISIS (Farrar, Straus & Giroux, 2016): “Worth . . . employs the familiar journalistic conceit of telling the history of the Arab Spring by presenting the stories of different individuals whose lives became caught up in it.”
- Alex Kotlowitz, An American Summer: Love and Death in Chicago (Nan A. Talese, 2019): “ . . . a powerful indictment of a city and a nation that have failed to protect their most vulnerable residents, or to register the depth of their pain.”
- Hugh Raffles, The Book of Unconformities: Speculations on Lost Time (Pantheon, 2020): “In six, rain-soaked chapters and as many pilgrimages around the world, (Raffles) gazes upon beaches of black volcanic sand, ancient crags, lonely monuments, not in contemplation of his own grief but the grief of others — cosmic grief, the mass slaughter of animals, genocide.”
- Kerri Arsenault, Mill Town: Reckoning with What Remains (St. Martin’s Press, 2020): “The paper mill in Rumford, Maine. Kerri Arsenault’s “Mill Town” is a memoir of her family’s ties to Rumford and an investigation into its residents’ high incidence of cancer.”
- Chris Lockhart and Daniel Mulilo Chama, Walking the Bowl: A True Story of Murder and Survival Among the Street Children of Lusaka (Harvard Square, 2022): “Street children learn the rules of the undercity, because they have to.”
- William McNeill, Plagues and Peoples (Anchor Press/Doubleday, 1976).
- John Aberth, Plagues in World History (Rowman & Littlefield Publishers, 2011).
- Michael B.A. Oldstone, Viruses, Plagues, and History: Past, Present and Future (Oxford University Press, 2009).
- Dorothy H. Crawford, Deadly Companions: How Microbes Shaped Our History (Oxford University Press, 2007).
- John Kelly, The Great Mortality: An Intimate History of the Black Death, the Most Devastating Plague of All Time (Harper, 2005).
- John Aberth, The Black Death: The Great Mortality of 1348-1350: A Brief History with Documents (Palgrave MacMillan, 2005).
- Steven Johnson, The Ghost Map: The Story of London’s Most Terrifying Epidemic – and How It Changed Science, Cities, and the Modern World (Riverhead, 2006).
- John M. Barry, The Great Influenza: The Story of the Deadliest Pandemic in History (Penguin, 2005).
- Charles C. Mann, 1491: New Revelations of the Americas Before Columbus (Alfred A. Knopf, 2005): “. . . a sweeping portrait of human life in the Americas before the arrival of Columbus.”
- Charles C. Mann, 1493: Uncovering the New World Columbus Created (Alfred A. Knopf, 2011): “Mann’s outstanding new book . . . not only explains the chain of events that produced those candied fruits, nuts and gardens, but also weaves their stories together into a convincing explanation of why our world is the way it is.”
- Jelle Zelinga de Boer and Donald Theodore Sanders, Earthquakes in Human History: The Far-Reaching Effects of Seismic Disruptions (Princeton University Press, 2004).
- Elena Poniatowska, Nothing, Nobody: The Voices of the Mexico City Earthquake (Temple University Press, 1995).
- The quakebook community, 2:46: Aftershocks: Stories from the Japan Earthquake (Enhanced Editions, 2011).
- Jay Feldman, When the Mississippi Ran Backwards: Empire, Intrigue, Murder and the New Madrid Earthquakes (Free Press, 2005).
- Paul Farmer, Haiti After the Earthquake (Public Affaris, 2011).
- Malcolm E. Barker, Three Fearful Days: San Francisco Memoirs of the 1906 earthquake & fire (Londonborne Publications, 20050.
- Nicholas Shrady, The Last Day: Wrath, Ruin, and Reason in the Great Lisbon Earthquake of 1755 (Viking Adult, 2008).
- Jelle Zelinga de Boer and Donald Theodore Sanders, Volcanoes in Human History: The Far-Reaching Effects of Major Eruptions (Princeton University Press, 2001).
- Edward Hull, Volcanoes: past and present (1904).
- Charles Morris, The Volcano’s Deadly Work (1902).
- Donna O’Meara, Volcano: A Visual Guide (Firefly, 2008).
- Patricia Lauber, Volcano: The Eruption and Healing of Mount St. Helens (Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers, 1993).
Other deadly events of nature:
- Sonali Deraniyagala, Wave (Knopf, 2013): a memoir about the catastrophic 2004 tsunami
- Emmanuel Carrère, Lives Other Than My Own (Metropolitan Books, 2011): a second memoir about the tsunami that hit Sri Lanka in 2004
On the economic, political and social climates surrounding our lives:
- Masha Gessen, Surviving Autocracy (Riverhead Books, 2020): “. . . autocracy can thrive on corruption and soft oppression: Don’t speak up; just eat the bread and watch the circuses, and chances are you’ll get by.”
- Les Payne and Tamara Payne, The Dead Are Arising: The Life of Malcolm X (Liveright, 2020), “reconstructs the conditions and key moments of Malcolm’s life, thanks to hundreds of original interviews with his family, friends, colleagues and adversaries.”
- Richard Nuila, The People’s Hospital: Hope and Peril in American Medicine (Scribner, 2023), “deconstructs the deplorable inequality that creates the need for this, the largest safety-net hospital in what has become one of America’s largest and most diverse cities, in the state with the nation’s biggest population of uninsured.”
- James Earl Thomas, Sink: A Memoir (Grand Central Publishing, 2023), “recounts the coming-of-age of a young man for whom poverty, violence, drug abuse and racism were simply facts of daily life.”
On contemporary life:
- Jia Tolentino, Trick Mirror: Reflections on Self-Delusion (Random House, 2019): “What happens to people when they are forced to compete for the smallest bit of security? Who do we become when we’re always being watched?”
Technical and Analytical Readings
Spiritual views on making the most of wherever you are:
- Thich Nhat Hanh, Be Free Where You Are (Parallax Press, 2002).
Two disparate view on the pros and cons of the computer:
- Elias Aboujaoude, The Dangerous Powers of the E-Personality (W.W. Norton & Company, 2011).
- Jane McGonigal, Reality Is Broken: Why Games Make Us Better and How They Can Change the World (Penguin Press, 2011).
On peer pressure and conformity:
- Tina Rosenberg, Join the Club: How Peer Pressure Can Transform the World(W.W. Norton & Company, 2011).
On competing nations and cultures as part of the environment:
- Aaron I. Friedberg, A Contest for Supremacy: China, America, and the Struggle for Mastery in Asia (W.W. Norton & Company, 2011).
On whether we choose history's course:
- Barry Gewen, The Inevitability of Tragedy: Henry Kissinger and His World (W.W. Norton & Co., 2020): “‘His arguments for his brand of realism — thinking in terms of national interest and a balance of power — offer the possibility of rationality, coherence and a necessary long-term perspective at a time when all three of these qualities seem to be in short supply.’”
Documentary and Educational Films
Robert Flaherty made several early films examining human struggles to live within an often hostile natural environment. They include:
- Man of Aran: chronicling life on the Aran Islands near Ireland
- Nanook of the North: chronicling life in the Arctic
- Moana: chronicling life in the South Seas
- Tabu: A Story of the South Seas
- Elephant Boy, about a boy leading the British on an expedition
- Alfred Sisley, Flooded Field (1879)
- Joseph Mallord William Turner, Snow Storm (1842)
- Joseph Mallord William Turner, Fishermen at Sea (1796)
- Willem de Kooning, Gotham News (1955)
Madame de T.'s salon was all that Marius Pontmercy knew of the world. It was the only opening through which he could get a glimpse of life. This opening was sombre, and more cold than warmth, more night than day, came to him through this skylight. This child, who had been all joy and light on entering this strange world, soon became melancholy, and, what is still more contrary to his age, grave. Surrounded by all those singular and imposing personages, he gazed about him with serious amazement. Everything conspired to increase this astonishment in him. There were in Madame de T.'s salon some very noble ladies named Mathan, Noé, Lévis,--which was pronounced Lévi,--Cambis, pronounced Cambyse. These antique visages and these Biblical names mingled in the child's mind with the Old Testament which he was learning by heart, and when they were all there, seated in a circle around a dying fire, sparely lighted by a lamp shaded with green, with their severe profiles, their gray or white hair, their long gowns of another age, whose lugubrious colors could not be distinguished, dropping, at rare intervals, words which were both majestic and severe, little Marius stared at them with frightened eyes, in the conviction that he beheld not women, but patriarchs and magi, not real beings, but phantoms. [Victor Hugo, Les Misérables (1862), Volume III – Marius; Book Third – The Grandfather and the Grandson, Chapter III, Requiescant.]
Human societies all have what is called in theatrical parlance, _a third lower floor_. The social soil is everywhere undermined, sometimes for good, sometimes for evil. These works are superposed one upon the other. There are superior mines and inferior mines. There is a top and a bottom in this obscure sub-soil, which sometimes gives way beneath civilization, and which our indifference and heedlessness trample under foot. The Encyclopedia, in the last century, was a mine that was almost open to the sky. The shades, those sombre hatchers of primitive Christianity, only awaited an opportunity to bring about an explosion under the Cæsars and to inundate the human race with light. For in the sacred shadows there lies latent light. Volcanoes are full of a shadow that is capable of flashing forth. Every form begins by being night. The catacombs, in which the first mass was said, were not alone the cellar of Rome, they were the vaults of the world. Beneath the social construction, that complicated marvel of a structure, there are excavations of all sorts. There is the religious mine, the philosophical mine, the economic mine, the revolutionary mine. Such and such a pick-axe with the idea, such a pick with ciphers. Such another with wrath. People hail and answer each other from one catacomb to another. Utopias travel about underground, in the pipes. There they branch out in every direction. They sometimes meet, and fraternize there. Jean-Jacques lends his pick to Diogenes, who lends him his lantern. Sometimes they enter into combat there. Calvin seizes Socinius by the hair. But nothing arrests nor interrupts the tension of all these energies toward the goal, and the vast, simultaneous activity, which goes and comes, mounts, descends, and mounts again in these obscurities, and which immense unknown swarming slowly transforms the top and the bottom and the inside and the outside. Society hardly even suspects this digging which leaves its surface intact and changes its bowels. There are as many different subterranean stages as there are varying works, as there are extractions. What emerges from these deep excavations? The future. The deeper one goes, the more mysterious are the toilers. The work is good, up to a degree which the social philosophies are able to recognize; beyond that degree it is doubtful and mixed; lower down, it becomes terrible. At a certain depth, the excavations are no longer penetrable by the spirit of civilization, the limit breathable by man has been passed; a beginning of monsters is possible. The descending scale is a strange one; and each one of the rungs of this ladder corresponds to a stage where philosophy can find foothold, and where one encounters one of these workmen, sometimes divine, sometimes misshapen. Below John Huss, there is Luther; below Luther, there is Descartes; below Descartes, there is Voltaire; below Voltaire, there is Condorcet; below Condorcet, there is Robespierre; below Robespierre, there is Marat; below Marat there is Babeuf. And so it goes on. Lower down, confusedly, at the limit which separates the indistinct from the invisible, one perceives other gloomy men, who perhaps do not exist as yet. The men of yesterday are spectres; those of to-morrow are forms. The eye of the spirit distinguishes them but obscurely. The embryonic work of the future is one of the visions of philosophy. A world in limbo, in the state of fotus, what an unheard-of spectre! [Victor Hugo, Les Misérables (1862), Volume III – Marius; Book Seventh – Patron Minette, Chapter I, Mines and Miners.]
- Daniel Defoe, A Journal of the Plague Year (1722), a fictional account of the London Plague of 1665.
- Karen Hesse, Out of the Dust (Perfection Learning, 1999).
- James Jones, From Here to Eternity (1952), about “the poignance and futility of the love lives of the professional soldiers involved, as well as the indictment of commanding officers whose selfishness can break men devoted to soldiering. They are trapped in a world they made and one that defeats them. Above all, it is a portrait etched in truth and without the stigma of calculated viciousness”.
- Elizabeth Graver, The End of the Point: A Novel (Harper, 2013): a family’s summer house serves “as a kind of second mother,” bringing the family together and easing a young man’s angst.
- Donna Tartt, The Goldfinch: A Novel (Little, Brown & Company, 2013), about events surrounding an adolescent’s life, which entrap him like a goldfinch in a painting.
- Ruth Ozeki, A Tale for the Time Being: A Novel (Viking, 2013): about a tsunami, a diary washed ashore, and the writer who finds it
- Rosellen Brown, The Lake on Fire: A Novel (Sarabande Books, 2018): “Rosellen Brown has a great ear, a great eye, a great love of the painful twists and turns that happen in a human life and the big twists and turns of American history.”
- Inês Pedrosa, In Your Hands: A Novel (Amazon Crossing, 2018): this novel “explores the lives of three generations of women in a wealthy Lisbon family . . .”
- Tayari Jones, An American Marriage: A Novel (Algonquin Press of Chapel Hill, 2018): “The novel focuses on the failed hopes of romantic love, disapproving in-laws, flawed families of origin, and the question of life with or without children that all married couples must negotiate. It is beautifully written, with many allusions to black music and culture — including the everyday poetry of the African-American community that begs to be heard.”
- Yan Lianke, The Day the Sun Died: A Novel (Grove Press, 2018): “ . . . Yan’s fable, joining a long lineage of so-called ‘records of anomalies’in Chinese literature, forces readers to reflect on the side of the world that is too absurd, too cruel and too unpleasant.’ This makes ‘The Day the Sun Died’ a relentless and even brutal experience. Yet its description of a society seized by its worst impulses, enacting the repressed hatreds and nightmarish obsessions of its inhabitants, felt more familiar the more I considered it. Yan’s subject is China, but he has condensed the human forces driving today’s global upheavals into a bracing, universal vision.”
- Jenny Erpenbeck, The End of Days: A Novel (New Directions, 2014): “ . . . imagines five different versions of the life of its nameless female protagonist, ultimately encompassing much of the 20th century’s dark history.”
- Anuradha Roy, Sleeping On Jupiter: A Novel (Graywolf, 2016): “In brisk, almost breakneck strokes, Roy depicts the violence of a war that suddenly engulfs the citrus-scented birthplace of its central character, Nomi, brutally claiming her father, then her brother and mother, and leaving Nomi to be consigned by boat to an unknown future.”
- Douglas Preston, The Lost City of the Monkey God: A Novel (Grand Central Publishing, 2017): “ . . . few other writers possess such heartfelt appreciation for the ways in which artifacts can yield the stories of who we are.”
- Paul Auster, 4 3 2 1: A Novel (Henry Holt & Company, 2017): “The four versions of Ferguson’s early life are so similar that the reader has to struggle to keep one separate from the next. In each of the variations, however, a fateful event at Stanley’s business (a burglary, a fire, a tragic death or a buyout) leads to altered circumstances.”
- Jesmyn Ward, Salvage the Bones: A Novel (Bloomsbury USA, 2011): “ . . . a taut, wily novel, smartly plotted and voluptuously written. It feels fresh and urgent, but it’s an ancient, archetypal tale. Think of Noah or Gilgamesh or any soggy group of humans and dogs huddled together, waiting out an apocalyptic act of God or weather.”
- Julie Orringer, The Flight Portfolio: A Novel (Knopf, 2019): “Her Marseille breathes as a city breathes: architecture, gardens, streets, hotels, cafes, skies, smells, weather, food, cigarettes, the interiors of suites, offices, prisons, internment camps, the moods of authority and tyranny and spite, the cunning of confederates and criminals, the fury of betrayal by seeming allies. She evokes the crooked geography of flight — Spain, Portugal, Martinique, the trek on foot over the Pyrenees, the ships that disappoint.”
- Trent Dalton, Boy Swallows Universe: A Novel (Harper, 2019): “Like all children, Eli must live with the consequences of decisions made by others.”
- Julia Phillips, Disappearing Earth: A Novel (Knopf, 2019): “What follows this abduction is a novel in the form of overlapping short stories about the women who are affected both directly and indirectly by the kidnapping. The purpose of these stories is not to unite a community around a tragedy as a less daring and more conventional narrative would have it, but to expose the ways in which the women of Kamchatka are fragmented personally, culturally and emotionally not only by the crime that jump-starts the novel, but by place, identity and the people who try, and often fail, to understand them.”
- Jacqueline Woodson, Red At the Bone: A Novel (Riverhead Books, 2019): “Is there a more fraught, vilified figure in American letters — in worldwide letters, perhaps — than the mother who abandons a child? To be a mother who goes away, physically or emotionally, is widely considered to be a mother who turns monstrous, a towering figure who inflicts enduring, ne plus ultra pain upon the offspring she leaves behind. But what if that departure isn’t necessarily monstrous; what if the wound of maternal abandonment could be not only alleviated, but also, perhaps, healed by other kinds of love?”
- Caleb Crain, Overthrow: A Novel (Viking, 2019): “ . . . explores the fallout that occurs when friendship’s intimate ambiguities become ammunition in an information war.”
- Salman Rushdie, Midnight’s Children: A Novel (Alfred A. Knopf, 1981): “The ''midnight's children'' of the title are the 1,001 children born in the first hour of Indian independence, Aug. 15, 1947.”
- Jeanine Cummins, American Dirt: A Novel (Flatiron Books, 2020): “The story of a mother and son’s desperate attempt to flee Mexico for America, it arrives on a gust of rapturous and demented praise — anointed ‘The Grapes of Wrath’ for our time . . .” “Their painful and thirsty hours in the desert haunt me still.”
- Marcial Gala, The Black Cathedral: A Novel (Farrar, Straus & Giroux, 2020): “Arturo Stuart, a Sacramentalist preacher, kicks off the action by moving his family to the Cuban city of Cienfuegos, where he’s been called by God to erect a fortress to his faith.”
- Lawrence Wright, The End of October: A Novel (Knopf, 2020): “A Virus Upends the World . . .”
- Elliott Ackerman, Red Dress in Black and White: A Novel (Knopf, 2020): “We will read about a wife who wants to leave her husband, but geopolitics and a “web of interests and counterinterests” will have everything to do with the outcome.”
- J. Robert Lennon, Subdivision: A Novel (Graywolf, 2021): “Is the Subdivision a place, an emotion or an event lodged in the back of the mind?”
- Anuk Arudpragasam, A Passage North: A Novel (Hogarth, 2021): “The Bombs May Have Stopped, but War’s Scars Still Run Deep”.
- Shuang Xuetao, Rouge Street: Three Novellas (Metropolitan Press, 2022): “He gives voice to an intriguing cast of characters left behind by China’s economic miracle. They struggle to emerge from their bleak reality in search of light . . .”
- Morgan Talty, Night of the Living Rez: Stories (Tin House, 2022): “Set in Maine, the book’s 12 stories illuminate life and death on the Penobscot Indian Nation reservation, where Talty was raised, in all its heaving, visceral glory. Stories explore everything from runaway daughters to infant loss and cancer, from beer runs to porcupine hunts, all of which take on vivid contours thanks to Talty’s fresh, irreverent prose. At the center of the collection is David, a Penobscot boy living on the rez, and it’s his voice, youthful, brash, angry and loving, that links all of the stories.”
- Tess Gunty, The Rabbit Hutch: A Novel (Knopf, 2022), “weaves together the daily dramas of tenants in a shabby Midwestern complex.” (National Book Award Prize winner, 2022)
- Orhan Pamuk, Nights of Plague: A Novel (Knopf, 2022): “Set on an imaginary island at the twilight of the Ottoman Empire, . . . a chronicle of an epidemic, a murder mystery and a winking literary game.”
Film and Stage
- The Exterminating Angel, about the breakdown of decency, society and convention under dire circumstances
- Pather Panchali, Satyajit Ray’s first film and the first in his Apu trilogy, the film tells the story of a family’s struggles through the eyes of the boy Apu
- Aparajito (The Unvanquished): as Apu’s story continues, he confronts heart-wrenching choices between the practicalities of life and the pull of life’s inner meaning (Satyajit Ray’s summary)
- Berlin Alexanderplatz, about a difficult life in 1920s Germany, suggesting that life outside prison may be harder than life within it
- The Cloud-Capped Star (Meghe Daka Tara), about poverty and familial dysfunction in a Calcutta refugee village
- From Here To Eternity, about the lives of military men on the cusp of war
- Gas Food Lodging, abouta woman and her two teenage daughters, who struggle to orient themselves “in a place where women are hopelessly anchored while the men drift through like tumbleweed”
- Mean Streets: a young man tries to live like St. Francisamid the mob
- Mouchette: this “grim but moving story of a girl forced to grow up quickly” . . .
- Los Olvidados (The Forgotten, or The Young and the Damned), about difficult young lives of “impoverished Mexico City youth”
- Rocco and His Brothers (Rocco i suo fratelli), about five brothers from rural Italy trying to start over in Milan
- Shoeshine (Sciuscia): about homeless Italian children struggling to survive
- The Travelling Players (O thiasos), about members of a travelling actors’ troupe, who cannot escape their political environment
- Two or Three Things I Know About Her (2 ou 3 Choses que je Sais d’Elle), about the influence of consumer culture on a woman and a city
- Shame (Skammen): a married couple cannot escape the raging war or their own marital troubles.
Music: Composers, artists, and major works
Tchaikovsky, Symphony No. 4 in F minor, Op. 36, TH 27 (1877): of his symphony, the composer wrote that “the fanfare first heard at the opening (‘the kernel, the quintessence, the chief thought of the whole symphony’) that stands for Fate’, with this being ‘the fatal power which prevents one from attaining the goal of happiness ... There is nothing to be done but to submit to it and lament in vain’.” This is a gloomy symphony, its F minor pathos pervasive throughout. The world that surrounds us – both nature and the people in it – presents us with both obstacles and opportunities. There is no such thing as fate as a separate force; it is merely a word we use to represent the environments in which we live, including all those other people and the natural world. Mengelberg in 1929, Koussevitzky in 1949, Abendroth in 1951, Sanderling in 1956, Beecham in 1957, Monteux in 1958, Bernstein in 1958, Mravinsky in 1960, Szell in 1962, Markevitch in 1963, Rozhdestvensky in 1971, Karajan in 1971, Jansons in 1985, Nelsons in 2012, and Jurowski in 2017 conducted top performances.
- Andante sostenuto - Moderato con anima - Moderato assai, quasi Andante - Allegro vivo. A stately but dark theme in the brass opens the first movement. The strings enter, descend into near despair, and are in turmoil. The mood alternates between unsettled and agitated. The repeated motif from the trumpet suggest conflict. High woodwinds lighten the mood briefly but then the trumpet pierces the air again. The forces of agitation will not be silenced.
- Andantino in modo di canzone. A lone oboe enters, drearily. The celli reinforce the minor-key mood. Then a main theme emerges in the violins, sounding somewhat hopeful at first, but quickly it becomes uncertain. The theme persists but everywhere it turns, it remains shrouded in uncertainty.
- Scherzo. Pizzicato ostinato - Allegro. Violins in pizzicato hint at a dance in a more playful mood than before. Woodwinds join in the dance, and the mood turns light. This time, the trumpets’ entry is inobtrusive and light. The violins continue in pizzicato mode, light in mood but low in volume, suggesting restraint. This could be a dance of the people.
- Finale (Allegro con fuoco). The movement opens in brass, frenzied and bombastic. Volume rises and falls, suggesting a people torn between conflict and the business of their daily lives. The trumpets proclaim a loud military-like fanfare, but then the strings lighten the mood. The symphony ends with a mad dash to an unclear ending.
Michael Tippett, A Child of Our Time (1941) (approx. 64-67’) (libretto; rolling libretto), is an oratorio composed in response to the calamity brewing in Europe between World Wars I and II. Tippett wrote that war is at odds with human nature. “The story is based on headlines ripped from the newspapers of the day.” Top recorded performances are conducted by Pritchard in 1957, Previn in 1986 ***, Tippett in 1991, Hickox in 1992, and Colin Davis in 2007.
Evoking humorous but dark images of Russians scurrying about, trying to stay out of trouble, Dmitri Shostakovich, Concerto in C Minor for Piano, Trumpet & String Orchestra, Op. 35 (1933) (approx. 21-24’), “is a rule-breaking, Neo-baroque romp filled with sardonic humor, parody, and fleeting musical quotes.” Still: “For all of its irreverence, the First Piano Concerto observes many of the rules of the genre.” Excellent performances are by Shostakovich & Vaillant (Cluytens) in 1958, Argerich & Waszczeniuk (Rabinovitch-Barakovsky) in 2006, de la Salle & Boldoczki (Foster) in 2007, Vinnitskaya & Wellber (Wellber) in 2015, Matsuev & Tarkövi (Rainer Honeck) in 2020, Trpčeski & Kavalinski (Măcelaru) in 2021, Radutu & Ott (Kaftan) in 2022.
Nōgaku, or Noh: this traditional Japanese music presents the inescapable conflict of forces in sound. UNESCO has called it the “Masterpiece of the Oral and Intangible Heritage of Humanity.”
- Explanatory video
- Video on the history of Noh
- Nōgaku in Japanese theatre
- A brief scene of Nōgaku in Tokyo
- an album of Noh music
- Encontro de Nogaku
- Noh theatre videos
Albums and tracks of electronic music of Anacleto Vitolo:
- “Obsidian” album
- "Zolfo" album
- “Spectrolite A”
- Henze, Piano Concerto No. 2 (1967): external forces from within the orchestra continually bombard the pianist-protagonist.
- Trachsel, Symphony No. 3, “Apocalyptic” (2014), is a contemporary symphony, which musically expresses the idea that events swirl around us.
- Szymanowski, String Quartet No. 2, Op. 56, M 64 (1927): evoking the “unrelenting severity of life in the mountains” (per the composer)
- Frankel, Symphony No. 6, Op. 49 (1969) evokes a series of life challenges.
- Goetz, Piano Quintet in C Minor, Op. 16: as in his Piano Quartet in E Major, Op. 6, Goetz explores relationships but here he does it in a minor key, pointing out that they can be difficult as well as supportive.
- Weinberg, Chamber Symphony No. 2 for string orchestra & timpani, Op. 147 (1987)
- Rouse, Concerto per Corde (1990)
- Liszt, Mazeppa (Poème symphonique No. 6), S. 100 (1851)
- John Adams, City Noir: conveying the excitement and challenges of city life
- Bazelon, Symphony No. 4: evoking life in the 20th or 21st century
- Nordheim, Greening, for orchestra (1973)
- Raga Basant Mukhari (Vasant Mukhari), a late-morning raag evoking the environment as an obstacle (performances by Chaurasia, Ali Akbar Khan and Amir Khan)
- Raga Nat Malhar – also evoking the environment as an obstacle, this raag usually is performed during a period of heavy rain (performances by Joshi, Sathe and Amonkar)
- Lindberg, “The Waves of Wollongong”
- Schnittke, Cello Sonata No. 1 (1978) evokes the environment as an obstacle. Excellent performances are by Ivashkin, Østerlind, Gutman, Geringas and Elschenbroich.
- Kodály, Duo for Violin and Violincello, Op. 7 (1914), capturing bleakness in Eastern Europe
- Kurt Weill, Street Scene (1922) (approx. 150’), “is set in sweltering 1940s New York. The plot centres around the various residents of a single tenement building, and takes place over just 24 hours.”
- Lotta Wennäkoski, Sedecim (2016) (approx. 22’) commemorates the 100-year anniversary of the Sibelius Academy Symphony Orchestra. “Its three movements stem from very different aspects of 1916, with homages to Edith Södergran’s poetry and Erkki Melartin’s music framing a harrowingly eerie picture of poisoned WWI ‘red zones’.”
Charles Lloyd has embarked on a set of albums, for jazz trio. Each is set in a venue best suited to the composition of the trio. “It should come as no surprise that each of the configurations that feature in the Trio of Trios set involve a deft change of musical context.”
- Charles Lloyd, Julian Lage & Zakir Hussain, “Trio of Trios” (2022)
- Charles Lloyd, Zakir Hussain & Julian Lage, “Trios: Sacred Thread” (2022)
- Charles Lloyd, Bill Frisell & Thomas Morgan, “Trios: Chapel” (2022)
- Charles Lloyd, Gerald Clayton & Anthony Wilson, “Trios: Ocean” (2022)
- Steve Argüelles, Robert Dick and Christy Doran (A.D.D. Trio): “Instinct” album is a nature-wild musical venture.
- Jazz trombonist George Lewis offered three albums that couple a jazz style that could be called modern jazz minimalism with John Cage-like environmental sounds: “Chicago Slow Dance” (1977), “George Lewis” (1977) and “The Imaginary Suite” (1978).
- Fond of Tigers, “Uninhabit”
- Idée Manu, “Water Chute”
- Roger Eno, “Between Tides”
- Robert Frost, “The Mountain” (analysis)
Books of poems:
- Valzhyna Mort, Music for the Dead and Resurrected (Farrar, Straus & Giroux, 2020): “A child in Belarus bears the weight of an accordion and countless repetitive war stories, nightmares of blood and bones and radioactive soil.”
Music: songs and other short pieces
- Paul Simon, “Papa Hobo”
- Paul Simon, “Paranoia Blues”