"Ponderynge together yestardayes promise, and two-dayes doyng"
(Hall's Chronicle - 1548)

"Goronigl gwyr yr Ynys" (Lewis Glyn Cothi - 1450)

Tuesday, 12 September 2017

The Star

Tarot Trump XVII
from the Crowley pack designed by Frieda Harries

"For each inclosèd spirit is a star" - Henry Vaughan 'The Bird'

A star refracted for a moment of Time
Which is the blaze of a life,
A cache of starlight fallen
To Earth and caught to quicken:
Refractary in its stubborness to live.

As elements push - one into another -
So Earthbound bodies live containing Fire;
Seeking the light from which it came
Each separately kindled flame
The object of another's desire.

Yet we live alone, the light enclosed
In each and glimpsed darkly in the other
By those who walk a path together,
A destiny which seems forever
Quenched by the light of that eternal Star

To which all light deflects
As refractions seek their element:
The gleaming water poured through Air
To Earth that holds the liquid there
But lets the light leak out so soon.


 "The Star shining out of the night is an emblem of the spirit .... 
 not fixed and enclosed within itself but open and free".
 - Alfred Douglas The Tarot

Wednesday, 21 June 2017

Listening to Music

Arnold Schoenberg la 1948
"An artistic impression is substantially the resultant of two components. One what the work of art gives the onlooker — the other, what he is capable of giving to the work of art."  Arnold Schönberg (via Wikiquote)

Can there be a definitive performance of a piece of music? The composer Arnold Schönberg, when arranging his music for performance, preferred to employ lesser known players "so as to avoid irrelevant virtuosity and individuality". For performances of this composer's innovative twelve-tone works it understandable that he wanted his music as written to be the predominant experience of the audience. New versions of rock or jazz pieces will often involve the performers in new interpretations and the tendency here is for the performers to make the new version their own. But where the performance of a written score is concerned there is always the reference back to ostensibly constrain the new performance, though with established pieces new 'interpretations' are often undertaken. While composers are still alive they can attempt to control the performance either by conducting it themselves or trying to influence the conductor's reading and interpretation of the score. Igor Stravinsky demanded that "conductors of my music respect my intentions strictly, and inject their own aesthetic as little as possible." He also particularly singled out the issue of tempo which, he said, should be "regarded with the utmost care". In spite of this, however, he felt free to amend the scores of his work to suit particular occasions and, in the case of an early recording of The Rite of Spring, onto a series of 78rpm discs, to alter the tempo so that the records would be changed or turned over at appropriate points in the performance.

I was struck recently, on hearing two different recordings of Shostakovich's Piano Trio No 2, of how different they sounded, particularly in the treatment of the Largo movement and the amount of rubato and other stylistic flourishes by the string players in the version by The Florestan Trio compared to one by The Borodin Trio.  I was reminded here, too, of a comment by Stravinsky on the heading 'Arts and Leisure' in part of a newspaper. He felt this was misleading as art and leisure should be two different things. In  the Florestan Shostakovich performances the string playing seemed indulgent though certainly good to listen to whereas the Borodin version was starker, more demanding and nearer I suppose to what Stravinsky must have meant by 'art' as opposed to 'leisure'.

So we have a distinction between music as pleasurable listening and music as an art form, demanding participation and understanding from the listener. Composers and performers may try to achieve both, of course, but listeners may often feel that they are being taken too far in one direction or the other. I feel myself drawn to both of those Shostakovich 'interpretations' for different reasons. Should we regard music simply as entertainment or does a composer like 
Schönberg make reasonable demands on us in asking us to give something back?

Quotations from Stravinsky taken from Stravinsky : Discoveries and Memories  by Robert Craft (Naxos, 2013)

Wednesday, 14 June 2017

Anton Webern

The intense lyricism of this twelve-tone music is engrossing (who needs a key?). I find Webern's concise brevity suits the technique well, packing so much into his brief pieces. They are compelling my attention lately.

Monday, 10 April 2017

Edward Thomas and 'The Other'

On the 100th Anniversary of Edward Thomas's death, 
it seems worth re-publishing this post from a few years ago:

Edward Thomas

Edward Thomas' poem 'The Other' is often taken by critics as an internal debate between the poet and himself. This, of course, is true in the sense that the poem is a literary production in which that debate is articulated. But I want to consider if we can also take it as enacting a debate with something outside himself. Not that there was another human being going before him or from whom he needed to escape, as the poem's conceit would have it, but in the sense that - apart from the psychotic dimension of split personality - we are all in a relationship with another version of ourself who has an existence in another way of perceiving the world and therefore in another dimension of the world itself.

'The Other' was one of Edward Thomas' earliest poems. His period of life as a practising poet was short, growing out of his career as a writer of prose and cut short by his death in the First World War. The 110 lines of the poem develop the idea that another, looking just like the poet, has preceded him in inns and such places, or that the figure accompanies him on his many long walking expeditions. Set alongside this idea is the perception of two worlds of experience:

" ..... I had come
To an end of the forest, and because
Here was both road and inn, the sum
Of what's not forest. "

Identified at the inn as someone who has been there already, he is fearful:

"I travelled fast, in the hopes I should
Outrun that other. What to do
When caught, I planned not. I pursued
To prove the likeness, and, if true,
To watch until myself I knew."

The 'other man' was introduced by Thomas in an earlier prose work In Pursuit of Spring. The title's 'pursuit' is interesting in suggesting the idea that something elusive is being sought. The 'other' here is someone he keeps catching a glimpse of on his journey until he meets him in a public bar. Though not fully worked out in the prose work, the 'other man' seems to correlate with the 'other thing', that which Thomas is pursuing, but also that which he must escape to find it. Or has the poem has it:

"I sought then in solitude.
The wind had fallen with the night; as still
The roads lay in the ploughland rude,
Dark and naked, on the hill.

Listening to the last sounds of the day fade into night, he is alone:

" ..... I stood serene,
And with a solemn quiet mirth,
An old inhabitant of earth.

Has he escaped 'the Other' or found him and become one with him, in his whole, integrated, self?

But the poem does not end there. Such "moments of everlastingness" are brief. Back in the "tap room din" the other man is asking for him again, accusing him of following in his footsteps:

" ..... What had I got to say?
I said nothing. I slipped away."

The poem ends as it began, with the poet stealing out of a wood to the light of an inn and acknowledging that the pursuit will go on until each of them cease to be. Like many of Thomas' poems about paths which lead to inconclusive ends, this does not resolve the matter, but leaves the mystery of it as a pregnant reality. The quest goes on. But what is different here is that it is not the mundane self seeking a deeper significance, but the reverse of this as the one who holds the key to that significance is constantly drawn back to the tap room and the company of one who is content to be there, but is haunted by the other man who knows a different reality.

Sunday, 2 April 2017

Form & Meaning

Looking through an old notebook I came across this quotation from Northrop Frye:

All around us is a society which demands that we adjust or come to terms with it, and what that society presents to us is a social mythology. Advertising propaganda, the speeches of politicians, popular books and magazines, the clichés of rumour, all have their own kinds of pastoral myths, quest myths, hero myths, sacrificial myths, and nothing will drive these shoddy constructs out of our minds except the genuine forms of the same thing.

                                                      (from The Stubborn Structure )

I can see why that appealed to me then, and if it is true of his time, before the Internet, 'fake news' and the extended cult of phony 'celebrity', how much more so now? And yet ... I wonder about the implications here for the separation of form from meaning. For Frye, serious literature embodied these myths in deep and significant structures of meaning but popular cultural artefacts could do no more than gesture towards them. Such a position would be difficult to maintain today and it would be viewed as 'elitist'. But what strikes me as more contentious is the proposal that a 'form' - say a structural expression of an archetypal pattern - might be more or less significant, that is more or less meaningful as a 'sign' - depending on the particular medium of expression. Surely it is better to say that the real thing may be embodied in the form of an expression whether that form be a folk tale, a poem, a novel, a play, a popular drama, or a film. Is it not the skill with which these forms are manipulated in each medium that enhances or deepens our appreciation of the sign and so its significance but that it remains there as a perceptible presence however it is expressed?

That is, we do need, as Frye asserts, to be able to distinguish the quality of different literary products , but we cannot do so by consigning categories of expression to the status of 'worthy' or 'unworthy'. The gods that these myths give form to are ubiquitous, and will be present in whatever cultural forms we make for them according to the skill of the shaper to provide for their appearance rather than the medium through which it is expressed.

Monday, 20 March 2017

Winds of the Island of Britain

Wind blowing in from the East:   

a plaintive pleading.

Wind tacking round to the North:  

a cold encounter.

Wind blowing in from the West:

wildly trumpeting.

Wind wafting warmth from the South:

gets no welcome here.

Sunday, 26 February 2017

Winter Trees

The black outlines of bare trees,
Barren boles, stark against
Yellow light of yesterday's snow.
The cloud-veiled sky covering
A shorn world starved of shadow.