More times than I can remember, what I wanted to avoid was the very thing I needed most to address. This is no coincidence. We can intuit when the pieces of a social or personal puzzle do not fit together. When that happens, the best strategy is to confront the challenge head-on. Often, if we do not, we will never confront it at all.
Film and Stage
- Vertigo, about “a dizzy fellow (chasing) after a dizzy dame”; “the most confessional (of Hitchcock’s films), dealing directly with the themes that controlled his art. It is about how Hitchcock used, feared and tried to control women”. It is also about confronting one’s greatest fear, and a study in reality versus illusion.
Music: Composers, artists, and major works
Edward Elgar, Cello Concerto in E Minor, Op. 85 (1919), can be heard as an “Elegy for a Vanishing World”. “In spite of . . . contradictions (between his private and public self), Elgar wore the mask of the proper Edwardian gentleman with complete commitment and not a hint of irony, and he was deeply affected by the unravelling of the Imperial order he had come of age in. He seemed to need to keep both sides of his personality in balance, to be both insider and outsider, Establishment icon and bohemian rebel” “In spite of fleeting moments of idyllic release, it's dominated by disillusionment, by a sense of suffering that at times cries out against life, yet more often speaks in quiet anguish.” “Alice Elgar was at her husband’s side at the first performance, in October 1919. But her health was not good, and when she died the following April, part of Elgar’s creative spark died with her. . . . Edward also was ill at this time. He had been suffering from serious throat problems, and in March 1918, he had a septic tonsil removed; the day he left the nursing home he asked for pencil and paper and wrote down the opening theme of this cello concerto.” The first movement, Adagio moderato, presents an inescapable concern; the second movement, Lento – Allegro molto evokes wrestling with the concern; the third movement, Adagio, is a dark night of the soul, beginning a transformation toward resolution; in the fourth movement, Allegro – Moderato – Allegro ma non troppo – Poco piú lento – Adagio, the concern is addressed and a bit of freedom emerges amid the continued struggle. Benjamin Zander explains the work here and here. Top recordings are by Harrison, with Elgar in 1928; du Pré, with Barbirolli in 1965 ***; Ma, with Previn in 1985; Kliegel, with Halász in 1991 (mvt 1; mvt 2; mvt 3; mvt 4); Mørk, with Rattle in 1998; Wispelwey, with van Steen in 1998; Clein, with Handley in 2007, Gabetta, with Venzago in 2010, Isserlis, with Hickox in 2011; and Kanneh-Mason, with Rattle in 2020. Here it is performed on viola by Carpenter, with Eschenbach in 2009.
Beethoven, String Quartet No. 13 in B-flat Major, Op. 130 (1826) (approx. 38-44 minutes), with Grosse Fuge in B flat major, Op. 133 (approx. 52-55 minutes): as originally composed, the Gross Fugue served as the conclusion for the 13th String Quartet. The work is peculiar for its use of the key of G-flat major, a difficult key musically and compositionally. Beethoven wrestles with this self-imposed problem much as we may wrestle with a life problem, chosen or unchosen. Beethoven’s several solutions to this musical problem serve as a musical metaphor for facing challenges we would rather not address, and either resolving them or, better still, turning them into productive parts of our lives. “. . . Beethoven was an undaunted pioneer and artistic visionary who created, particularly in the late quartets, truly complicated works of high art that speak on many levels lending themselves to multiple if not infinite interpretations and reactions. They are indescribably compelling works that have mesmerized players, composers, scholars, poets and avid listeners for nearly two hundred years. Perhaps one of their most essential traits is that they can become as ‘difficult’ as one wishes or, miraculously, as direct, simple and obvious as one's willingness to hear and feel. It is entirely your own prerogative to 'understand' them as you can and as you will.” After all, this is art. Top recorded performances are by Busch String Quartet in 1941, Hungarian Quartet in 1953, Hollywood String Quartet in 1957, Vegh Quartet in 1974 *** (mvt 1; mvt 2; mvt 3; mvt 4; mvt 5; mvt 6; Grosse Fuge), Talich Quartet in 1977, Emerson String Quartet in 1994 (here is the Grosse Fuge), Takács Quartet in 2003-2004, Endellion String Quartet in 2009, Quatuor Mosaïques in 2014, Quatuor Ébène in 2019, Ehnes Quartet in 2021, and Dover Quartet in 2022.
- Bowen, String Quartet No. 2 in D Minor, Op. 41 (1918)
- Guarnieri, Piano Concerto No. 3 (1964): this concerto is rich in “instrumental colours coupled with a constantly inflected dynamic palette.” (James Melo, from notes for this album.)
- Guarneri, Piano Concerto No. 5 (1970)
- Gubaidulina, Garten von Freuden und Traurigkeiten (Gardens of Joy and Sadness)
- Hagerty, “After Duchamp”: fashioned after Marcel Duchamp, whose mantra was “I force myself to contradict myself so as not to follow my own taste”.
- Jules Massenet, Piano Concerto in E-flat Major (1903) (approx. 28-30’): the protagonist faces every difficulty, without hesitation.
- Jihye Lee Orchestra, “Daring Mind”
- Ivo Perelman, Matthew Shipp & Nate Wooley, “Philosopher’s Stone”
- Monsieur Doumani, “Pissourin”: in Greek-Cypriot dialect, the title means “total darkness”. “. . . one might think that Monsieur Doumani have written the soundtrack for the Dark Night of the Soul that we have all been blindly lumbering through.”
Music: songs and other short pieces
- Franz Schubert (composer), Der Kampf (The Battle), D. 594 (1817) (lyrics)
- Rachel Harrison, Bad Dolls: Stories (Berkley, 2022): “Filled with women on the cusp of change — a bad breakup, sexual discovery, an extreme diet — (these stories) explore the dark side of being female in the 21st century.”
- Thomas Mann, Thomas Mann: New Selected Stories (Liveright, 2023): “The power of the story comes from Mann confronting his own reticence, writing fiction whose frankness belonged to the world of his elder children as they did what they pleased in the chaotic Germany of the early 1920s.”