week44: rachmaninoff; alela diane; andrew bird

Sergei Rachmaninoff; Piano Concerto No.2 in C Minor, Funk and Wagnall

Sergei Rachmaninoff; Piano Concerto No.2 in C Minor, Funk and Wagnall

But for those first affections,
Those shadowy recollections,
Which, be they what they may
Are yet the fountain-light of all our day,
Are yet a master-light of all our seeing;
Uphold us, cherish, and have power to make
Our noisy years seem moments in the being
Of the eternal Silence: truths that wake,
To perish never;
Which neither listlessness, nor mad endeavour,
Nor Man nor Boy,
Nor all that is at enmity with joy,
Can utterly abolish or destroy! “”
Wordsworth, Ode to Intimations  

listlessness, nor mad endeavour?—words 214 years old, william wordsworth—whose poems are today a rubric for what modern poetry isn't; nevertheless his poems remain relevant… consequent perhaps of his being concerned primarily with that human sympathy, in his own words: ‘which having been must ever be.’  those were also the words i borrowed last week to describe the headlong rush of busy-ness by which we consume an unprecedented amount and nonetheless suffer simultaneously from colic and malnutrition.

—but i’m no fan of the sort of critic that has no prolonged meaningful experience of what it is she criticizes. take for example my inability, just this week, to sit and feast upon precisely the kinds of experiences that has any lasting nutritive value: ever since i discovered deutsche grammophon’s Preghiera—a compilation of rachmaninoff’s piano trios—i’ve been anticipating the week i listen to his piano concerto no.2 (a recording of the second movement is featured in that compilation). and that was the chance i had all through this week—it’s saturday now and i feel as if i barely listened to it—on account of, more or less, all that listlessness and mad endeavour… or whatever other slogan captures the essence of how it is we live through a tremendous volume of events and yet retain so meager a recollection of what weighs the most….

Song of the day 05.11.2017/ it seems my hands are soon filled, and the cranes and workboots for the building of that bridge are shaking off their last layers of dust. Is it instinct or habit that still has me trembling my hands and grinding my teeth, hiding from eyes and holding my tongue? One has to have one final sendoff of these things...Rebekah, I’m in your hands....

(‘just find a place to make your stand, and take it easy…’)———whenever we decided to refer to our thoughts as a stream was when we decidedly lost every sense of proportion regarding the vectorless quantities of images, phrases, gestures, lyrics through which ideas germinate our conscious life. that was the line that stuck in my mind the most from that eagles song (that and ‘it’s a girl my lord in a flatbed ford…’, of course). take it easy is one of those songs that means more, is more stimulating, during the summer—precisely when all instincts for conservatism are diminished and the plenitude of options procures a blessed flippancy in our general attitude—for there is always a blessedness in every kind of plethora, and in it a peculiar foolishness (that is, a gay science), is virtuous. but the prevalent psychological consequence of this plethora, at least among those who’ve begun to take store of just how much energy they have to expend, is a diffused and ultimately exhausting disorientation. simply put: quantity replaces quality, and the durability of quality, as the compass of orientation. it really is a sage kind of advice to find a place to make one’s stand and take it easy—that is, despite the overwhelming urge to keep on searching for a better, sunnier spot. i can never get my vocal chords to mimic the reclined ease with which glenn frey sings that song…—

rachmaninoff’s second piano concerto in c. minor (quite a lot of his compositions were way over yonder in a minor key)—is yet another piece of music that means more in the summertime, for reasons just described. preghiera—the excerpt from the piano concerto above— is, in a way, a long wordless take it easy. i’ve developed a bad habit of attaching the image of a mirage to this second movement—bad because its not in need of imagery. it is nevertheless an appropriate image. that of a diffused and illusive vision that is conjured amidst the din and urgency of heat as an attempt to maintain a kind of distance from the entropy of activity. the gliding of the violin brings me out to distance and the piano—as is the urgency of a fundamentally percussive instrument—put me right in the action. perhaps that really is an impossible combination, generally speaking: to be so near enough to feel the warmth of activity, and the at the same time, at a removed, serene distance. perhaps one just has to pick one over the other, find a place to make a stand—at any rate, take it easy….

(to be still)———summertime serenity is a different species from that of any other season: it is stillness of the contradistinctive kind. the contradistinction between the flurry and chaos of events and the single file through which they enter the slow and cautious mind. i’m fascinated by this to the extent which this slow caution in my latest and most belated instinct. to be still in winter, for example, requires very little of a conscious effort…but to be still amidst the unruly burgeoning (the kind sylvia plath thought unruly enough to ‘pitch my five queenly wits into vulgar motley’) of summer is really the definition of serenity—that is, stillness achieved by way of a conscious effort, thereby experienced consciously. this is the kind of stillness described by this piano concerto. not the silence of inactivity but the serenity of a tremendous bout of activity—observed at a distance. those jarring exclamatory first notes on the piano, not unlike church bells calling us in; it’s as if they are closing punctuation on what was perhaps a long period of prolonged, fruitless contemplation and busy-ness. as if, for the first time, a theme, a dense hue, finally enters the mind and concludes a long period of a restless gestation—with stillness. alela diane’s album To Be Still is a collage of sentiments that describe this same summertime serenity. in it she asks of her wayward lover:

Have you been wearing holes in your boots out there?
Have you been kicking bones in the desert sand?

song of the day 28/11/2016: still, be still, this is a slow revolution

perhaps that is yet another consequential mood of the concerto: that one gets the feeling not merely of going home but rather of coming home….



Although based in Moscow, but interrupting his career there for a three-year stay in Dresden in search of the peace and solitude he needed for composition, Rachmaninoff always found his greatest satisfaction and inspiration at Ivanovka, is wife’s family’s estate in Russia’s southern steppe, where the majority of his output was either conceived or worked on. It was in these years that the composer wrote his most important music and the works most loved by the concert-going public and by which in the main his name lives today; the Second and Third Concertos, the Second Symphony, the bulk of the piano music and songs. “” Barrie Martyn, Rachmaninoff

(‘a sunday cruiser’)———


an example of listlessness and mad endeavor as the prevalent functioning psyche: i took a dutch bike i was on restoring to a local bike shop for a diagnostic pre-tune-up check-up and the mechanic said everything just shy of ‘throw this bike into a campfire and never come back here’...admittedly it is a clunky, shitty assortment of parts that the industry no longer manufactures—it’s old-timey brakes are of the exoskeletal anchorage type. but such obscure atavistic features exploit the weakness in my character for the quaint (as opposed to the chic)—as such all his warnings by way of “dude this is a fucking waste of you money and my time” went in one ear and out the other. one thing he said in passing however, did catch my attention and is pertinent to my current take is easy-ness. his one nod in the direction of this bike being of any use after a protracted investment of time and new parts is only as a ‘sunday cruiser’ (his words)—a specialty to be enjoyed very occasionally, not for its utility but for a sort of flaunting of an exaggerated sense of leisure. now, for the sake of keeping my pants up (and looking damn good doing it) i wear suspenders of buttoned kind—this might give first impressions perhaps of my being of the well-to-do sort (an impression my account balance is in severe disagreement with). so i understand his suggestion that only an uppity prick such as myself would invest in this bike—and yes, i most certainly was reading too much into his tone. nevertheless, nevertheless; there was something about it that suggested that both this bike—its upright, measured, unhurried posture—and the leisured velleity suggested by “sunday cruiser” were not at all in the contemporary spirit of things. one would do better on a 3-speed road bike, headlong and thrusting… perhaps that is case.

i just happen to be on the slow search for the kinds of devices that make less tempting the option to speed up and get to the end of things faster——i recall that one time Nietzsche made an attempt at disseminating travel advice to tourists: “They climb the mountain like beasts, stupid and sweating; it seems that no one bothered to tell them that there are beautiful vistas along the way.” sheesh. that’s the thing though. i’ve had my share of being that stupid and sweating animal, always uphill, always panting in the heat. outrunning the current, was my foolish alternative to going against it. but my latest and, again belated, wisdom says: it is always running faster than i can, though i tried and tried. at any rate one can find a place to make a stand.

aside from its a quaint features, i like also that it’s a one-speed. it’s a funny feeling to switch to a one-speed after only ever riding three-speeds—the instinct remains to fumble between gears after every red light…

(the expat composer, rachmaninoff)———

In leaving Russia Rachmaninoff lost not only his sounding-board but also his preeminent place in his country’s musical life. Abroad there was little incentive to compose, least of all when, in so short a time, he achieved a supremacy as an executant that was recognized throughout the musical world.“” Barrie Martyn, Rachmaninoff

i’ve been thinking also of the indigenous quality that, like scaffolding, props up a serious work of art until it is ready for its inevitable independence. serious—that is for me any work out art intent on making it out of its own generation. indigenous—that is in this case the country to whom ones instincts are native to. i've also been thinking how much i underestimated the significance of this element of indigeneity in the final analysis of what characterizes a work of art—music especially.

nine years old is an awkward age to leave a country of birth: for one is by then steeped in the cultural sap that oozes from all the many pores of a 'nation'—and yet, there is barely anything formed of that conscious self-hood which the upcoming adolescence merges with her national character. 

that i left nigeria at that awkward age, creatively speaking, is a chimera of the clarity and confusion that unfold from cultural relativism. clarity perhaps of what is means to be canadian—after undergoing so conscious a process of assimilation. confusion perhaps of what is the dominant national character that color my sensibilities. my instincts are nigerian through and through, there can be no squabble about that. my temperament, prejudices, predispositions, musical prejudices, are nigerian. then there is also that conscious selfhood, that permits instincts; that thing that says 'I' and does 'I'; that forms values, and votes and writes blogs——that is, just as much, canadian through and through. 

perhaps it's yet another kind of chimera to mature into a cultural setting, therein being able to express your aesthetic sentiments at a refined level—as was the case with rachmaninoff—and thereafter relocating to a different, foreign, context. perhaps it's more difficult. in his case both his instincts and conscious selfhood were alienated by his surroundings. perhaps it's less difficult. in as much as one is sure, through and through, of what constitutes the 'other', then one can express the same certainty to what constitutes the self. one is at least free from that peculiar sort of awkwardness.... 

Perhaps it is that I am lazy; perhaps the incessant practice and eternal rush inseparable from life as a concert artist takes too much toll of my strength, perhaps I feel that the kind of music I care to write is not acceptable today. And perhaps my true reason for adopting the life of an interpreter rather than that of a creator in recent years is none of these. For when I left Russia, I left behind me my desire to compose: losing my country I lost myself also. To the exile whose musical roots, traditions and background have been annihilated, there remains no desire for self-expression. “” Rachmaninoff, November 1934

(a musical diet…)———

[Rachmaninoff] loved church singing very much and quite often, even in winter, would get up at seven o’clock in the morning and hail a cab in the darkness, mostly to drive to the Taganka, to the Andronyev monastery, where he stood in the half-darkness of the enormous church through the whole of the liturgy, listening to the austere ancient chants from the Okteokhos, sung by the monks in parallel fifths… It commonly happened that on the same evening he would go to a symphony concert…and then, more often than not, go on to have supper at the restaurant Yar or the Strelna, where he would stay late into the night, listening with great enthusiasm to the singing of the gypsies. “” Alexander Goedicke

(music and the dionysian element)———

Music here was a terrible narcosis, a sort of intoxication and oblivion, a going off into irrational planes. Drunken mysticism, ecstatic sensations against a background of profound pessimism permeating existence. It was not form or harmoniousness or Apollonic vision that was demanded of music, but passion, feeling, langour, heartache. Such was Tchaikovsky’s music and such also the music of Rachmaninoff developed into. “” Leonid Sabaneyeff, Sabaneyeff

musical prejudices? that is at least the one kind of prejudice no social justice agenda can correct. we all have it lodged deep deep the fuck down. precisely that 'terrible narcosis' 'drunken mysticism' 'ecstatic sensations'—everything characteristic of the dionysian element in music, is what is root and stem of my musical tolerance. that i'm writing a classical music blog, thereby maintaining a constant diet of the opposite of that dionysian element—form, harmoniousness and the 'apollonic vision'—is a kind of tipping your cup over when it's too full. i everyday come up with new ways to be poorer, but when it comes to musical experiences, the only thing i suffer from is a blushing reddening embarrassment of riches..

however. the lines that separate the dionysian and apollonian elements of music are fading incrementally. this is my first optimism regarding our modern musical landscape. those whose path to harmoniousness was through the quantifiable, scientifiable, formulaic, elements of music are evermore in search of inspiration by way of the terribly narcotic, mythical, cathartic experience of music that finds its harmony through the presupposition of spirituality. conversely, those who've had an overexposure to the dionysian element, are discovering that despite initial misestimations, this same narcotic and transcendent experience is possible—perhaps especially possible—in the apollonic vision of musical experiences. 

take, take, take for example, andrew bird. is he not that peculiar mixing, amalgamation, melismata, of form and ecstasy? some artists i can identify only after a half-a-song has been sung. with andrew i can tell it's him only after half-a-note on his violin. there is this elastic stretch and howl to the way he fiddles—it is both distant and intimate, a thousand shrieking maenads filed into one laughing string. a maddening ecstasy and the most dexterous maneuverability of form. his Ethio Invention No.2 is the kind of music i would set to a balletic performance by the lip of an active volcano—if one was to take the dramatic route

Song of the day 12-06-2016: Turn away/ and like a laughing string/ whereon mad fingers play/ amid a place of stone/ be secret and---