Monday, 10 July 2000

Sibelius, and two old Grantas

Listening to:

Sibelius, symphony #2 in D major, op. 43. This is Sibelius’ most famous symphony. It’s dramatic and beautiful without being overblown. There’s quite a contrast between Sibelius and Mahler, despite the fact that they were contemporaries. Part of this may have been geographic: Sibelius was all the way away in Finland, whereas Mahler was in Vienna, the heart of the Austro-Germanic tradition. In any case, this symphony of Sibelius’ is lyrical, and shimmering. Mahler’s second symphony, the Resurrection, which I also love, is completely different. It’s strong, forceful and heart-pounding. It has a message, and it makes very sure that you can’t possibly ignore it.

Just read:

Granta 10: travel writing.

This was a very good read. There was all sorts in it, and I enjoyed it all. For example, there was someone retracing the steps of Robert Louis Stephenson on a trip in France, visiting a Trappist monastery and getting footsore on lonely roads. Bruce Chatwin, now dead of AIDS, wrote of getting caught up in a “coup” in Benin, and Martha Gellhorn (who I read about in a previous Granta) wrote about having a miserable time in Haiti. Richard O’Hanlon provided an excerpt from his (then forthcoming) book, Into the heart of Borneo.

Granta 16: science.

This was much more disappointing than the travel writing. Really, it was a good demonstration of C. P. Snow’s two cultures, because much of the supposed writing about science was nothing of the sort. It further seemed rather significant that they couldn’t fill the issue with their so-called science writing and resorted to other stuff later on. Further, there were three pieces in a row after the science section on nuclear war. Perhaps that was all the editor felt science was good for.

Still, Stephen Jay Gould was good in his piece Adam's Navel, I liked the two pieces by Oliver Sachs from his book The man who mistook his wife for a hat (which I’d already read, but hey), and Primo Levi’s account of chemical detective work in Chromium was very good.

To read next:

Granta 48: Africa.

Tomorrow, a hard-hitting analysis of how awful Cambridge weather really is...