The crowds begin as one approaches the rear of the building: a long line, snaking back on itself contains those hopeful of gaining one of the 500 tickets on sale each day; further on, is a smaller queue of the luckier ones who had snapped up all the online tickets during the first three days of sale. Overall, the crowds are well behaved—for this is England—and approach their goal with good humor and a touch of the spirit of Dunkirk as they descend upon the National Gallery’s runaway success, Leonardo: Painter at the Court of Milan. It is not a large show, only some sixty paintings and drawings, but then Leonardo only began a score of paintings in a career spanning four decades. Of those paintings, fifteen autograph works survive, and four of these are generally deemed incomplete. To assemble almost every surviving painting from Leonardo’s Milanese period in London is a notable achievement, and these works are supplemented by others associated with his followers and sometime collaborators in the most sustained period of productivity in the artist’s life.
It occasionally strikes me, to my own bemusement, that walking along a street on an average day, I might have in my pockets as many as three devices capable of recording pictures, even moving pictures, and perhaps two for recording sound. Modern technology has given ordinary people—anyone—an unprecedented ability to make precise literal records of what can be heard and seen at any given time and place. Using a device smaller than my hand I can create a seamless journal of sound, text, still images, and movies, if I choose, but I refrain. I rarely put these capabilities to use—only if there is something extraordinary...like the bizarre Australian accent of a tour guide on the Palatine last year, as he spun absurdities to his rapt crowd. (I wasn't fast enough...) I am wary of these literal records. Are they the death of memory? Even during my undergraduate years, when the goings-on had every appearance of memorable times, I eschewed keeping a diary, taking notes, or even taking pictures. If I ever wrote about those times, I wanted to write from memory, with all its confusions and conflations, believing that someone else would be keeping an accurate chronicle of events to rescue me, if I needed it.
In the interests of full disclosure I should reveal that your reviewer is a very elderly Messiah junkie who heard his first performance at a time when the earliest stirrings of the period performance movement were perceptible only to those with unusually sensitive ears and the world was still trying to wrench its collective consciousness away from six years of cataclysmic warfare. The event in question took place in December 1945 at the Pavilion, Bournemouth, on the south coast of England, only a few miles from the devastated port of Southampton, and was given by the Bournemouth Municipal Chorus and Orchestra. The orchestra, which has since achieved great distinction as the Bournemouth Symphony, had been reduced to twenty-four players during the war and while that number might now be considered appropriate for a Messiah performance, in 1945 it must have been quite a task to produce an orchestra deemed fit for Handel’s masterpiece.
I should most likely not distract you from giving a subscription to The Berkshire Review as a holiday gift. We need subscriptions to carry on our work, but there are a few items that have come in for review that I can warmly suggest as excellent gifts. These are not systematic, and they are not always serious, but we do recommend them. Some of them will be reviewed in detail over the following weeks.
While spending almost twenty years closely listening to Bach's more than two hundred cantatas bewildered some of my friends would decry my project and say, "They all sound alike - how can you tell them apart?" These people, sophisticated music lovers who simply did not care for the Bach vocal repertory, refused to admit they glossed over these works in a superficial way. To my ears, of course, each and every cantata had uniqueness that clearly articulated it from the rest of the pack. Yes, there were many structural similarities, and Bach's musical language is the unifying tongue, but, to say Bach's cantatas all sounded alike seemed heretical, born of inferior taste and auditory skills. Years later, when I started watching birds, I came upon the family of yellow warblers, illustrated in Roger Tory Peterson's definitive field guide. Boggled by the subtle markings which distinguish these birds, it seemed that page after page pictured the same damned bird, and I recalled my friends' remarks about Bach's vocal works.
Introduction: On July 23rd, 1846, Henry David Thoreau, protesting slavery and the ensuing Mexican war (1845 – 48) chose incarceration rather than paying his $1.00 poll tax. From this experience came the essay CIVIL DISOBEDIENCE which directly influenced Mohandas K. Gandhi in his efforts to free India from British rule and Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., head of the civil rights movement in the 1960's. The following monologue is the author's fictionalized attempt to portray Thoreau's state of mind shortly after the incident and the areas of consideration leading to his momentous essay. Setting: July 24th, 1846, Concord – H.D. Thoreau is invited to speak at the Concord Lyceum about his recent act of civil disobedience. The lyceum was a place where relevant topics of the day were presented to the public. Note: H. D. Thoreau did, in fact, speak at the lyceum about this matter, but it was not until two years later in 1848 and later published CIVIL DISOBEDIENCE.
Unlike movies or the performing arts, architecture is not seasonal. There is no year end rush in which all the Gehrys and Koolhaases are “released,” no popcorn summer in which the Barangaroos and Ground Zeros of this world try to blow out our eye sockets with their empty spectacle. Cities just go on and on; one must make an effort to pick a moment and look back if we are ever to figure out just what on earth is going on.
There is nothing remarkable, I suppose, in the complex associations that surrounded my visit to Avery Fisher Hall to hear, once again, Handel's Messiah. I love the work as much as anyone with absolutely no admixture of peevishness—except for a bad performance—but I certainly can't take it every year. This time, although the name of Peter Schreier and his distinguished soloists should be enough to attract anyone, I was drawn by my fascination with singers as conductors following the outstanding—and profoundly vocal—performance of Bach's B Minor Mass at Emmanuel Church in Boston a few months ago, conducted by Emmanuel Music's new Music Director, Ryan Turner. Susan Davenny Wyner, for example, is another singer—a great one—who has made an especially valuable contribution as a conductor. In this respect this performance of Messiah was exactly what I expected it to be.