corollary: Music

Friday, 13 October 2006

Avoiding copyright violations

Listening to:

Handel, Saul.

Oh Fatal Consequence of Rage

I just used Google to look up the phrase “Fatal consequence of rage”, which is one of the numbers in Saul. I quickly appreciated that Handel’s appears to be the only use of the words. Lots of the hits returned by Google were to sites selling recordings or sheet music, but this one looked a little bit different (i.e., it was a link to prose rather than a catalogue).

I followed the link and read an interesting essay, but one that I decided was slightly odd in tone. The essay is not signed, but is part of a Music Encyclopaedia. After a little digging, I decided that the entire site is a scan of something written in the very early 20th century. The entry for Mahler is the best give-away. There he is still alive, and he has only written 6 of his “thoroughly German” symphonies.

It looks as if the site is trying to make money through Google advertisements. More power to ’em, and if the site survives, we should thank online advertising for the digitisation of public domain texts. (Or maybe they took someone else’s work, and are just paying the hosting costs. But either way, there-in lies the beauty of copyright expiry.) And while it seems slightly sharp practice not to own up to the age of the material, they did give me a cute little puzzle to muse over.

Monday, 3 April 2006

A web-searching challenge

Listening to:

Shostakovich, Cheryomushki, in the reduced orchestration, English-language version performed by the Pimlico Opera.

And your challenge is

According to this page, I went to a Proms concert on 4 August 1995, and saw Simon Rattle conduct Beethoven’s Eroica symphony. The challenge is to find out what other pieces were part of the programme that evening.

As I write, I have no idea what the answer is. My diary might tell me, and I will consult it later today, but the web seems to be of no help whatsoever. Kudos to the first link to a web-page with the relevant information.

Sunday, 29 May 2005

A fine balance

Listening to:

Summertime, performed by Ella Fitzgerald and Louis Armstrong. Definitely one of the best performances of this standard I’ve ever heard. Fitzgerald and Armstrong bring out a beautiful melancholy in the song.

Just read:

Rohinton Mistry, A fine balance.

This is a finely written, compelling novel about four disparate characters in 1970s Bombay. Mistry unfolds quite a saga, drawing the characters together, and gradually making friends of them. This makes for a satisfying read, and there are plenty of obstacles to be overcome as they get there.

Some of the obstacles are within the characters, but a significant number are caused by the deprivation, poverty and exploitation that are unavoidable parts of life in ’70s Bombay. Not having any experience of the time or place, I can’t vouch for its accuracy, but the depiction in this novel makes it seem very real, and quite fascinating. (Yes, a horrid fascination in some ways, but a fascination nonetheless.)

I read this novel with my heart often in my mouth, worried that the author was not going to let his characters have a happy ending. This is a sign of good writing, and it is a good novel. However, I finished it feeling annoyed that Mistry did eventually dispose of his characters in what seemed a rather callous and capricious manner.

Monday, 28 June 2004

Love for sale; links

Listening to:

Dinah Washington singing Cole Porter’s Love for sale. This is a pretty seedy song:

Appetising young love for sale.
Love that’s fresh and still unspoiled,
Love that’s only slightly soiled...

I have another version of this song, sung by Ella Fitzgerald. Though she sings more verses than Washington, and is as musical as ever, Fitzgerald really doesn’t compare, in this instance at least. Washington’s distinctive, almost raspy, voice is perfect for this lyric and she nails it with a slightly derisive, cynical tone. Fitzgerald sings the same words in a smooth and melancholy tone, making the song rather disturbingly creepy. Creepiness is a perfectly reasonable feeling to convey when singing a tale of sleazy prostitution, but that doesn’t make the song as enjoyable to listen to.

Some links:

Thursday, 24 June 2004

Europe in the High Middle Ages

Listening to:

Bach, The well-tempered clavier, Book 1. This recording is played by Angela Hewitt on the piano, and is published by Hyperion (serial number CDA67301/2). I bought this recording just a fortnight ago, and I definitely like it. My other recording has Bob van Asperen on the harpsichord. What with the Naxos recordings of Scarlatti’s sonatas, which are all on the piano too, and a version of the Goldberg variations on piano, my music collection is losing its ideologically pure cast.

Particularly with Bach, one can’t afford to be too precious about this: Bach clearly intended lots of his keyboard music to be played on whatever instrument was available, and towards the end of his life, was even approached to try out new-fangled forte-piano instruments that were being developed at the time. In any case, the criterion for judgement has to be whether or not one finds the music beautiful. With Hewitt there’s no doubt: I’ve had the CDs on many times in the past two weeks.

Just read:

John H. Mundy, Europe in the High Middle Ages, 1150–1309.

This big fat book covers the given period in detail, but without often managing to convey much of a unifying theme. If there’s a big, simple story to tell to summarise this period, Mundy doesn’t come out and give it to the reader explicitly. Instead, the reader has to construct it themselves. Given that I read the book over too long a period, I didn’t often feel that I had enough detail in my head to allow such a synthesis.

Here’s my best attempt: this period is characterised by the growth in power of the states, particularly France, the miniature states of northern Italy, and also England. Simultaneously, the German empire is collapsing. In the religious sphere, the papacy asserts its dominance over local ecclesiastical hierarchies, but otherwise loses influence over the states.

This story is very much behind the scenes in Mundy’s book. Instead, his pages are dominated by descriptions of various aspects of medieval life in this period. For example, he talks about various social classes, many aspects of the Church (monasteries, itinerant orders, cathedrals), and the economy. I was particularly fascinated to hear that in this period, various states started issuing tradable debt. In other words, you could buy (and trade in) the equivalent of national bonds. Mundy is very good on how this activity interacted with the Church’s prohibition of usury. In an earlier section, he also discusses how Jews fared in performing this activity themselves.

Hinted at, but never explicitly dealt with because they come after his time period, are the Black Death and the Hundred Years War. Mundy gives the impression that these are going to completely devastate a continent that is otherwise developing in a variety of fascinating ways. Sometimes it seems the best efforts of humanity count as naught in the face of random environmental hostility. (No doubt they brought the war on themselves, but the Black Death doesn't seem fair to inflict on anyone.)

All this good stuff is tied together in a way that is rather bitty (again, not helped by my reading it over such a long stretch of time). Mundy also has a writing style that is quite dry, and that occasionally results in sentences that have to be read twice in order to figure out what they mean.

Now reading:

Joseph Conrad, The duel and other tales.

Saturday, 3 January 2004

Patrick O’Brian on page and screen

Listening to:

Sidney Bechet, Runnin’ wild. New Orleans, “Dixieland”-style jazz from 1949 and 1950. The true connoisseurs of the day apparently deprecated it as retro and archaic. Yes, this style of jazz had its heyday in the 1920s, but people less hung up on how things should be, simply appreciate it as stylish, exciting music-making. From the 21st century, it’s all equally old, and all the stars are equally dead.

Just read:

Patrick O’Brian, The thirteen-gun salute.

This is an enjoyable addition to O’Brian’s series of novels. There’s not a lot of naval combat, but there’s lot of naval life, and drama. Some of the drama is life-threatening, but more is concerned with personal relationships and how these can play out when people are crammed together on a confined man-of-war. Stephen Maturin gets to play a useful rôle in diplomatic negotiations, but is also allowed a naturalist’s holiday, and enjoys the company of orangutans in and around a Buddhist temple. The perfidious French and their agents come to a sticky end, but our heroes also end the novel as ship-wrecked sailors on a remote island. Roll on the next book (The nutmeg of consolation).

A recent movie:

Master and commander: the far side of the world. Russell Crowe as Jack Aubrey is actually pretty good. Occasionally, I felt he was starting to sound a bit too much like James T. Kirk, but then, Kirk was modelled on James Cook, so what better model could Crowe have? I was less happy with Maturin. The actor was fine, but the adaptation to film completely ignored the diplomatic and espionage facets of his activities and character. In the film, he is a surgeon and a naturalist only. I felt this as a loss, though I can well believe that the film-makers felt that trying to fit it all into the one film would be too difficult.

The naval battles were very impressive. The explosive crash and terror of cannons was very well conveyed, and I got a strong impression of the way in which a whole crew had to work together to pursue its goals. There were also a number of vivid images of the ship at rest (or at least, not at battle) that conveyed the nature of ship-board life. For example, the film opens with a shot of many hammocks strung up below decks, with sleeping sailors crammed together. Later, there is also an impressive aerial shot of the crew assembling on deck, emerging like a host of ants from below, and rapidly forming into an ordered mass. Ship-life is also well-conveyed by sub-plots involving various minor characters.

Plot-wise, the film has only a superficial resemblance to the novel The far side of the world. In both film and book, Aubrey pursues an enemy ship around Cape Horn and into the Pacific, and stops off at the Galapagos islands. In the book, it’s 1812, and the enemy ship is American. In the film, it’s 1805 and the ship is French. In the book, the enemy ship is destroyed by nature, and the climax takes place on a deserted island where the two enemy crews have had to take refuge. In the film, there is a big naval battle to finish things off. I wasn’t too bothered by any of this, though it’s very easy to be cynical about the motives for the change in nationality of the bad guys.

More significant to my mind was the admission that Aubrey is exceeding his orders in pursuing the ship ’round Cape Horn. This doesn’t ring true to Aubrey’s character in the books. There he’s adventurous, but he is also very concerned about his status in the naval list, and keen to make sure that his career progresses well. In awarding marks for fidelity to source material, I will happily let plot go by the board (particularly if, as with O’Brian, plot isn’t hugely important in the feel of the books), but I do want to see tone and character retained. In this way, M&C: tFSotW seemed not quite right, though close.

The films of The Lord of the Rings make an interesting contrast. They include some glaring “tonal errors”, but they have at least succeeded with Frodo, Sam and Gollum. Their characters are not necessarily perfectly realised, but the dynamic between them, and its development is definitely well done. The Aubrey-Maturin relationship is much more static through the O’Brian novels. There’s very little development to portray, which means that I want the relationship from the books done as well as possible in the film. In terms of plot, the LotR is different again: getting the plot right is important there because the story is an epic, and the plot dominates.

But I’ll give you the low-down on the LotR films when I’ve seen The Return of the King.

Thursday, 3 October 2002

Classical music and its future

Listening to:

Mahler, symphony no. 3.

Here's an interesting article from Salon about classical music and its future in the modern world. There's also a link at the bottom of the article to a much older article (in the form of a dialogue) on much the same topic. One point that neither article makes is that classical music probably will survive as long as people continue to want to play and listen to it. It's not a perfect analogy, but people still read and enjoy Shakespeare despite the fact that no-one is writing drama in that style anymore.

Rather, commentators seem to be upset because there is this notorious lack of connection between modern composers and audiences. This situation is blamed on different people depending on who is doing the blaming. Either the masses have turned into Philistines, or the composers are arrogant, and unconcerned with popular appeal in the belief that they are composing for posterity. I don't care which is true. The real question is: are there great works of musical art being created today? If the answer is no, well that's a shame, but there is still lots of classical music out there which I've never heard, and that stuff would be new to me. So, my yen for novel musical sensation should be satisfied, and classical music isn't really dead. Not only would my listening to performances of known works keep the music alive, but so too would the enjoyment that others take in performing these works.

If the answer to the question is yes, then I get all the advantages of the situation where the answer was no, along with the slightly niggling worry about how I'm expected to find the good new stuff without having to listen to too much dross. The population of the world is bigger now, so there's more music in absolute terms, but I'm an optimist so I believe the proportion of good stuff is probably roughly the same as ever it was. The only important principle is that the good new stuff is not going to necessarily come in classical forms. Given a changed society, there is no guarantee that the real artists will be well-represented in the classical arena.

Friday, 30 August 2002

DSCH 4 @ The Proms

Listening to:

Dvorak, string quartet in E flat major, op. 51.

My phone is ringing at regular intervals this morning, but all I get when I pick it up is a beeping noise. Some misguided machine out there is trying to communicate with me and doing a very bad job of it.

According to this report from Transparency International, New Zealand is the equal-second least corrupt country in the world (behind Finland, and sharing its position with Denmark).

We went to a Prom concert on Sunday night to hear Valery Gergiev conduct Prokofiev's 3rd piano concerto and Shostakovich's 4th symphony. The latter was really quite amazing. It requires a huge orchestra (four clarinets, four oboes, four flutes, bass clarinet, treble clarinet and bassoons in the woodwind, two harps, lots of exotic percussion, a piano and lots of brass as well as all the usual strings). When playing at their loudest, the music totally filled the Royal Albert Hall, and I think I could even feel the floor shake slightly at one point (and we were in cheap seats, high up and quite a distance from the orchestra really). In contrast, the ending is a very quiet fade out, and everyone was very still and quiet for an age until Gergiev relaxed and let us applaud him and his orchestra (the Kirov).

It's a shame the audience couldn't keep as quiet through the rest of the performance. There were lots of coughs and splutters. I don't think I've ever coughed during music at a concert, so I feel pretty intolerant. They should implement some sort of “one cough and you're out” policy, because the coughers are typically repeat offenders. Anyway, here's a review from the Guardian.

Thursday, 1 August 2002

Jazz, Minority Report and long-term wagers

Listening to:

Ella Fitzgerald singing Just squeeze me, on the album Ella Fitzgerald day dream: best of the Duke Ellington songbook. Apparently a recent American TV series about jazz reckoned that Louis Armstrong was jazz’s Bach, and Duke Ellington was its Mozart. I can’t remember who got to be Beethoven. As the account I was reading pointed out, this is a neat metaphor, but it breaks a little when one realises that Louis Armstrong was alive for about two thirds of all of jazz’s history. Bach lived a long time, but he didn’t manage to do quite that well!

A recent movie:

I saw Minority report last night. I was quite impressed. The plotting was pretty good, and the extrapolations built on top of the sci-fi background didn’t seem too ridiculous. Some of the cinematography was quite stunning too. Philip K. Dick wrote the short story that the film is based on, and it’s his title. I haven’t read the story, but in the film, the fact that minority reports are possible isn’t actually that significant (it doesn’t happen at all that we see, though the possibility that it might have does motivate the hero).

I never used to take bets. One particular friend was always keen to brow-beat by saying things like “Bet you five bucks that X”. I’d always decline the bet, while still maintaining that I was right, and that he was wrong of course. More recently, however, I’ve amused myself by making wagers based on predictions of how the world will be in some number of years. These haven’t even had a stake decided, but I'm intrigued by the possibility of being in a position to write them down, and come back to check on them. Lots of futurology makes crap predictions that are never checked up on, so I don’t want to be all mouth and no trousers.

So, here it is, my long-term wager book. You’ll have to trust that I won’t alter it to make my predictions come out OK.

Thursday, 4 July 2002

Summer weather

Listening to:

Shostakovich, string quartet no. 15 in E flat minor, op. 144. Each of this quartet's six movements is given the description adagio (the last two are adagio molto, even).

The summer weather has been so awful that the All England Lawn Tennis and Croquet Club is considering putting a roof over Centre Court at Wimbledon.

And somehow that seems to just about sum up the week.

Thursday, 20 June 2002

A suitable boy

Listening to:

Eduard Tubin, symphony no. 3 (Heroic). This is part of a CD from the BBC Music Magazine featuring music by Estonian composers. I’d never heard of Tubin before, but I definitely like this symphony of his. There's also a piece by Arvo Pärt on the CD. He would be the Estonia’s most famous composer, I’d guess.

I’m listening to this on a new CD player that I bought this morning at Argos. The computer on my desk here has a CD drive and a phone-out socket, but it’s become so flakey that it fails to recognise a high proportion of my discs when I put them in the drive. So, I’ve given up the ability to control my music with the mouse, but I can listen to more of it.

Just read:

Vikram Seth, A suitable boy.

This is the 1400+ page monster that I’ve been reading since the end of May. And the verdict is: it’s great. I found it absolutely enthralling. The characters are almost all sympathetic, and Seth takes the time to paint a beautifully detailed picture of post-Independence India (1951 and 1952, specifically). The novel’s duration is defined by the search for a husband for Lata Mehra. It starts with Lata’s sister’s marriage. With this marriage achieved, the sisters’ mother makes Lata her next project. The novel ends when Lata has finally found and chosen her suitable boy.

But Lata is just one of many characters, and there are many chapters where she does not feature at all. Instead, we get many others’ stories as well. These people are connected with Lata one way or the other, but they all have lives of their own, and their stories are quite involved. The other character who gets most attention is probably Maan Kapoor, who is Lata’s brother-in-law through her sister’s marriage and a bit of a ‘wild child’.

I could write for ages trying to describe all that the novel covers, but I don’t think I’d do it justice. Rather, I should defend it against the possible accusation of being a family-saga pot-boiler. I think it escapes from this charge because it’s not simplistic, and it doesn’t seem to trade in stereotypes. Big sections on the politics of land reform and religion aren’t just there as window-dressing either. I suppose it’s possible that someone with more experience of Indian literature in English would identify much of it as cliché. My experience is more limited, and it all comes across as a wonderful window on an exotic world.

To read next:

Margaret Atwood, A handmaid’s tale.

Friday, 14 June 2002

Bumps, elections and politicians

Listening to:

An extract of Mahler’s symphony no. 6. This is on the tail end of a BBC Music Magazine CD. The main part of the CD was a couple of works by Scriabin, but the magazine now also includes a few extracts from what it thinks are the best new releases. This is what Gramophone magazine has always done, but I much prefer having a magazine that comes with a CD containing complete pieces of music. Extracts can at best be a minor aid to the text of a review.

And now the news:

  • The Catz boat bumped yesterday, so I will rejoin them in fine form I'm sure. Around us, it's curious that (looking at the chart should make this clear), Jesus VI are now in position to bump Churchill IV again, after bumping them once already (on Wednesday).
  • NZ is going to have an election soon. Helen Clark announced that it would be two months earlier than expected, on 27 July.
  • In the UK, the world's concerns seem to be almost taking a back seat to a ridiculous story about whether or not Tony Blair tried to lean on the officiating bods at the Queen Mother's lying-in-state so as to get himself a more prominent place in the public's eye. The media reported this story, and the PM's office made a complaint to the Press Complaints people, claiming it was all a horrible lie. But then, it seemed that they couldn’t prove it wasn’t, and the Press Complaints lot dismissed the complaint. For a government supposedly suffused with spin-doctors, they seem pretty good at cocking up their press relations on a regular basis.

    But then, as a junior minister called Douglas Alexander (and he sounded Scottish too) sensibly pointed out on the Today programme, there are rather more important things going on. The politicians blame the media, and the media blame the politicians, but I really do think that they, and the consumers (i.e., the public) too, have to share the blame for the supposed trivialisation of public discourse.

Monday, 10 June 2002

Excuses and links

Listening to:

Handel, The Alchymist. My CD liner notes (by Anthony Hicks) say that this was the first orchestral music by Handel to be heard in England. It was originally an overture for his opera Rodrigo, but it gets its name because the suite's various movements

...were used as ‘act tunes’ (i.e., music played between acts) during a revival of Ben Jonson's play The Alchymist at the Queen's Theatre, Haymarket, in January 1710.

Still reading:

Vikram Seth, A suitable boy. I'm up to page 905 of this edition's 1474 pages. It continues to enthrall.

My complete failure to write web-log entries last week stems from the fact that Monday and Tuesday were public holidays, and while at work on the remaining three days of the week, I was very busy with the administrivia required in releasing HOL. Though it has yet to be announced, you can download exciting theorem-proving files now from SourceForge. I offer a similar excuse for my failure to write on the previous Friday.

But in all this time, I have accumulated a few good links that I feel compelled to share.

This, for example, is a pretty cool research project from MIT that aims to find out what's hot on the web by doing frequent scans of sites that identify themselves as web-logs, and seeing what they link to. To wax poetic, it's a window on the communal web-logger's soul. More usefully, you can see what the web's current best jokes are, and what its current neuroses are as well. (Good jokes aren't necessarily guffaw-inducing either. I particularly liked the gentle humour and style of this extract from a new book by Paul Robinson.)

There's also this neat Java demonstration of the scale of the universe through over 30 orders of magnitude. Of these, I'd estimate that the human mind can easily cope with about 10 of them.

Of course, the incomprehensible is easy to find on the Internet itself. In this case, the more you look at, the wackier it seems.

Monday, 27 May 2002

Girlfriend arguments

Listening to:

Something stupid, sung by Frank and Nancy Sinatra. I really like this song, but I've never heard of C. Carson Parks, who wrote it. He’s got a web-page and I don’t recognise any of his other songs. I wonder how rich you get on the back of a top of the charts song from 1967.

Now reading:

Vikram Seth, A suitable boy.

Have you heard? Not watching the ads is theft.

This web-page is difficult to judge. It’s a list of things the author and his girl-friend argue about, and is quite amusing. Nonetheless, it’s hard to believe anyone would really be so publicly critical about their other half. She might well have a really thick skin, or find it all amusing herself. I almost think that the whole character is a fictional creation. Believing that makes it easier to laugh at the comedy. The author also makes fun of himself, so it’s not totally one-sided either.

Tuesday, 26 February 2002

Mapping the world

Listening to:

Beethoven, Grosse Fuge, op. 133 in B flat. This is easily the most difficult music of Beethoven’s that I’ve ever heard. It was originally intended to be the final movement of his string quartet op. 130 in B flat, but when it was first performed people complained that it was too long in comparison to the rest of the quartet. In my recording, it’s almost 19 minutes long, while the first movement is 14 minutes, and all the others are less than 10 minutes long (two are less than five).

The difficulty probably stems from the fact that it is a fugue, with multiple lines happening all at once. I guess I don’t listen to it often enough to have become entirely familiar with it. It’s pretty fierce stuff, on the whole.

Just read:

Peter Whitfield, Mapping the world: a history of exploration.

This is a revised edition of a book written for the British Library with earlier title New found lands: maps in the history of exploration. It’s one of the Folio Society’s special presentation volume freebies, which means that it’s big (30cm) with lots of nice plates, mainly of maps, but also of various other prints. These are very nice, but the text is also very good.

The book summarises the history of European exploration, starting the main text with the Portugese expansion along the west coast of Africa, and then getting onto the Americas, the Pacific, Australia and the polar regions. Before the main text there is a brief introduction explaining why earlier and other foreign exploration was qualitatively different from the sort of thing done by the Europeans. For example, the Polynesians did a pretty good job of spreading themselves across the Pacific (an ocean whose vastness Whitfield is expressive about). Nevertheless, they never maintained any centralised repository of knowledge about the discoveries that were being made. (Nor, being pre-literate, would this have been an easy thing to do.) In contrast, people with the maps back in Lisbon really did see their net knowledge of the world increase.

Though the book is not too long, it is pretty comprehensive, with good discussions of every continent and the explorers who went there. I enjoyed it. There are a couple of subjects it doesn’t touch on (though I’d have been interested to read about them): the mapping of home territories and how this improved (being a book about exploration, this is a pretty reasonable omission), and also a little more about technology. For example, Mercator is mentioned, but his projection is not.

Now reading:

Granta 71: shrinks.

Thursday, 20 September 2001

Sex, music and politics

Listening to:

Ella Fitzgerald singing Just one of those things, by Cole Porter. I saw what I assume is a new pop album by Kylie Minogue being advertised in a record shop’s window on the way into town this morning. The poster was a side-on view of her in a skimpy outfit displaying a lot of leg. Well sure, say I, if you can add a bit of sex to your product, you may make that little bit more appealing and sell a little more. But really, what’s on sale here, the body or the music?

I’m sure Kylie Minogue doesn’t feel that she’s being exploited, and being exploited is really in the eye of exploitee, so all power to her. However, it is a comment on the superficiality of the pop world. Just how many unattractive women pop-singers are there? (In the boy band world, all the men are smooth-faced and good-looking, but elsewhere there doesn’t seem to be much restriction.)

At least Ella Fitzgerald established her (well-deserved) reputation in the era before TV.

A couple of links on last week:

  • Should the WTC be rebuilt? A negative view from a couple of architects who are convinced that skyscrapers are outmoded and generally bad for the world.
  • A British perspective on “fighting terror” from Salon. The author points out that dealing with terrorists is not easy, and takes a good long time. Finishes with: Do Richard Perle or Ann Coulter believe that we Brits would have won our war [in Northern Ireland] if we’d bombed Dublin, Boston and New York?

    By way of context, Ann Coulter famously said We should invade their countries, kill their leaders and convert them to Christianity, but I don’t know what Richard Perle may or may not have said.

Tuesday, 4 September 2001

Bach and Oscar Wilde

Listening to:

Bach, concerto for harpsichord and strings in G minor, BWV 1058. The CD on which this piece appears is part of a five CD set of Bach concerti. It’s very well documented. In particular, there’s a nice chart at the back of booklet explaining how Bach reused music from a variety of sources to write his harpsichord concerti. It appears that there is no extant harpsichord concerto of his that didn’t start out as something else. What’s more, even if the “something else” no longer exists, it’s apparently possible to figure out what it was. So, while this concerto (BWV 1058) corresponds to an existing violin concerto (BWV 1041, in A minor), the concerto in A major, BWV 1055, is based on a concerto in A major for oboe d'amore that is now lost.

The musical detective work that goes into this process of reconstruction and discovery is described a little in the booklet. There’s enough there to make me think that, one, it must be pretty neat, and two, it’s yet another of those jobs I am never going to manage to fit into my life’s schedule. That’s another to add to the list that already includes astronaut, conductor, and TV sports director (that last one might require further explanation later). Incidentally, the code for the CDs I’m listening to is Archiv 463 725-2, all the recordings feature The English Concert with Trevor Pinnock and date back to the early 80s.

Just read:

Oscar Wilde, The picture of Dorian Gray.

I read this over the weekend, and rather enjoyed it. It’s written in just the style I expected from Oscar Wilde, though this is the first thing I’ve ever read of his, and I’ve never seen any of his plays. (I did see the film of The perfect husband a while back and quite enjoyed it.)

The tone is definitely melodramatic, and over-the-top. There’s lots of description of rich surrounds, flowers, ornaments and general upper class trappings. There’s also quite a few witty asides, and epigrams, mainly due to the character Lord Henry. He is rather enigmatic in a “the devil is a gentleman” kind of way, and should probably be held responsible for Dorian Gray’s downfall.

In basic form, this novel is essentially a tragedy: Dorian Gray is seduced by eternal youth and comes to a sticky end. I don’t know that Wilde was entirely convinced by the requirements of the form though; I couldn’t help but feel that he didn’t really want to have to tell the tale of a downfall. It’s well done, and apart from a longish section in the middle that details a variety of pursuits that Gray takes up in order to give himself something to do with his life, reads very quickly.

I can’t help but wonder what a S/F author might do with the basic story. Has anyone ever written the story of someone who is given eternal youth, and then thinks hard about putting this unique opportunity to work? How would you conceal the fact of your immortality from the rest of the world? In an age of increasing centralisation and bureaucratisation, it might be quite hard to escape the notice of the state. I know I’ve read stories about people who have somehow managed the trick of establishing themselves, and who turn up in the 20th century having been born in the 15th, but this is less interesting. (From the film Interview with a vampire, I guess Anne Rice’s books might go on about this, but I don’t think all that vampire baggage is necessarily very helpful.) Such a story wouldn’t have the moral and dramatic oomph of Wilde’s novel, but done well, would surely be mentally stimulating. (For those that like that sort of thing, of course.)

To read next:

Another book with art in the title, James Joyce’s Portrait of the artist as a young man.

Monday, 6 August 2001

Nielsen, Conrad and Tornquist

Listening to:

Nielsen, clarinet concerto. This is the most modern work for clarinet that I have in my collection, yet it was only composed in 1928. Nielsen wrote it after making the acquaintance of the Copenhagen Wind Quintet. He wrote a quintet for them in 1922, and then planned to write each member a concerto. Unfortunately, he only managed two before died in 1931. The other concerto was a Flute Concerto in 1926, which I haven’t heard.

Now reading:

Joseph Conrad, The secret agent. Rather to my surprise, this novel has turned into rather a detective story at the moment. All may yet change as I’m only about half-way through. (I only managed one reading session over the weekend.)

Amusing quotes are us

An amusing interview with the lead producer of the adventure game The Longest Journey, featuring this line:

Every Friday night, after the dwarf tossing competition, the banjo playing championships, and the kilt-knitting class. We do tend to wear protective codpieces, however, so it’s not Olympic-class goat hoarding, unfortunately.

Friday, 29 June 2001

Köchel Numbering

Listening to:

Mozart, sonata for violin and piano in A major, K305 (293d). This music classification business is more complicated than you might think. Why do you suppose there are two Köchel numbers for this piece? And why does one of them have a d suffix? I believe the original numbering scheme was revised as more works were discovered, and also as it was realised that some works thought to be by Mozart weren’t actually by him at all. Now this doesn’t in itself require a renumbering; you could just have a scheme with gaps that occasionally acquired new, later numbers.

No, the real problem, and the source of the revisions, is that the numbers are supposed to increase with date of composition, and the relevant scholars have changed their minds about when some of the works were written. Further, certain works have such famous numbers by now that they can’t be shifted around. It’s a problem. The new edition of the complete Mozart catalogue is discussed here. There’s also a cute discussion of other “letter” catalogues on this page.


Don’t expect that singles badminton will be just fractionally harder and more exhausting than doubles.

Feeble excuses

Zounds! Is that the time? Higher-order matching part II will have to wait until next week.

Monday, 25 June 2001

Music, books and movies

Listening to:

Arthur Sullivan, Macbeth overture. As well as being the composer partner to Gilbert, Sullivan wrote music for a variety of other occasions. He didn’t want to just be a composer of music for musicals. This overture is the first piece on a CD from the BBC music magazine . Next up is a reconstructed cello concerto, and the CD finishes with a Te Deum. It’s very listenable music, probably perfect for writing web-log entries to, but perhaps not so memorable.

Now reading:

Joseph Heller, Catch-22. This is another novel mainly set on a Mediterranean island during World War II. Its tone is completely different from Captain Corelli’s mandolin though. More when I’m finished.

A recent movie:

State & Main. This is a very amusing story about a film production that comes to a small town in New England. There are all sorts of satiric digs at the nature of the film business, and a gently done romance. The hero (the screen-writer) is played by Philip Seymour Hoffman, who also had a relatively minor part in The talented Mr. Ripley, playing a completely different sort of role.

Thursday, 21 June 2001

Nielsen, and various links

Listening to:

Carl Nielsen, symphony no. 5, FS97. I’m listening to the first movement of this piece, which features a rather sinister side-drum. It’s a use of percussion that reminds me of Shostakovich. At one point in this movement, the player of the side-drum is instructed to improvise as if at all costs to stop the progress of the orchestra.


I've been looking at Open Source licences recently. This is because we are thinking about moving the development of the HOL theorem-proving system to SourceForge, and they insist that all projects have an approved Open Source licence.

After talking about expensive air-bag controllers, David Chess is very interesting here on libertarianism and whether or not people really should be allowed to discriminate.

Finally, an interesting tale (from Salon) of corporate culture, and how it changes in the face of succees and money. It would be easy to just say that the arrival of success and money caused an inevitable decline and deterioration in what had hitherto been an idyllic paradise. In my reading of the piece though, the situation before was problematic too. So, I have to be value-neutral, and simply say that change occurred, and that many people were upset.

Change often upsets people, particularly if they have minimal influence over the nature of the change. So far, I’m coping fairly well with the move to our new building, for example, but who knows what psychosis may yet be in store?

Friday, 4 May 2001

A problem solved

Listening to:

Schubert, Adagio in E flat, D. 897 «Notturno». I bought some headphones yesterday, so that I could listen to music at work and get better sound. Until yesterday, I'd been using some very cheap in-ear pieces. The difference is definitely significant.

A proof that there is always a solution to Wednesday's problem:

If trying to find a string of length 2n, for n > 0, draw a graph with nodes consisting of all the bit strings of length n-1 (there will be 2n-1 of these). Then draw arcs between these nodes such that there is an arc between s and t labelled with s<x> if the last n - 1 bits of s<x> are equal to t. (<x> is a single bit, either a one or zero.) There will be 2n arcs. Each node will have two incoming and two outgoing arcs. By Euler's theorem, there is a path through the graph that goes over each arc once. That will easily give the bitstring required.

Proof due to clever friends, or possibly clever friends of friends.

An interesting piece by Eric Raymond about Microsoft and Open Source.

Thursday, 12 April 2001

Mahler, Mission Impossible and new games

Listening to:

Mahler, symphony no. 9. Mahler was apparently a little affected by a superstitious worry to the effect that nine symphonies is as many as a great composer is allowed. Bruckner didn’t even manage to comlete his ninth, and Beethoven’s ninth was his last. As it turned out, Mahler’s ninth was indeed his last completed symphony. (There is a “performing version” of his drafts for a tenth symphony.)

Thirty-five years later, it seems quite likely that Shostakovich deliberately thumbed his nose at this tradition of great ninth symphonies (and thereby thumbed his nose at the Soviet government, who expected something great of him), by producing a ninth symphony that was short, not overtly dramatic, and which seemed very slight.

Anyway, Mahler’s ninth is quite a mysterious work. Its opening and closing movements are both slow movements (an Andante and an Adagio), while its two internal movements are quite raucous and full of strange eruptions of sound. However, it’s definitely coherent and melodic at the same time.

A recent movie:

Mission Impossible 2. We got this out on DVD. It’s slickly done, but it suffers from a number of faults. It has a serious case of Bond-envy; its plot is ridiculous; Tom Cruise smirks far too much; the other good guys are far too marginalised (the best part of the first MI movie was the initial segment when you saw a team of operatives working together; Cruise as lone operative dominating the plot destroys that interesting, and distinctive, flavour), and those bloody masks are used far too much.

Plot holes range from the typical ridiculous science (why didn’t the operatives that stole the magic medicine pick up the disease from the scientist carrying both the medicine and the disease on the plane?) to the implausible assumptions. Why, for example, on knowing where the bad guys were (great location, Sydney Harbour), did the good guys not get in several truck loads of police to arrest them? The Australian authorities would be more than willing to arrest people that special US agencies fingered as terrorists.

Computer game options

I’m thinking of buying a new computer game; maybe Baldur’s Gate II or Age of Empires II. It’s interesting that they’re both sequels. Both are apparently significant improvements on their predecessors, which does at least suggest that their developers have paid attention to what users have said, and thought about how to improve what they’ve done.

I’ve recently been playing Panzer General II a bit. (Another sequel! And then there’s Railroad Tycoon II...) I like PG2 as a relatively mindless, but entertaining way of consuming 30-60 minutes.

Friday, 6 April 2001

HOL training

Listening to:

Mendelssohn, symphony no. 3 in A minor, op. 56 “Scottish”. Felix did actually go to Scotland at one point, so it seems reasonable that he should have been inspired by what he found there. I’m currently up to the sprightly second movement (Vivace non troppo), which opens with a gorgeous theme on the woodwind.

Foo and more

A reader suggests this variation on the bee poem:

I'm as busy as a bee with a bum full of honey

but we agreed that mine is better.

Ever wondered about this foo word that computer-geeks seems so fond of? Now, there’s an RFC explaining all. It's an April Fools RFC, but this doesn’t make it any less informative.

The work that has been keeping me so busy recently (running 'round like a blue-arsed fly even) involved the production of many, many slides to be used as training materials for the teaching of the HOL system. I’m just about done now, and happy to say that if you want to see my handiwork, you can do so here. The slides were all produced with the Prosper style for LaTeX.

Another part of the project involved the creation of a "case-study" proving confluence for combinatory logic. Combinatory logic is what underlies the neat obfuscated programming language Unlambda (it even has a Comprehensive Archive Network, like TeX, and Perl).

Tuesday, 13 March 2001

Brahms and internet coffee

Listening to:

Brahms, symphony no. 4 in E minor, op. 98. There’s a moving account in Swafford’s biography of Brahms of him going to see a performance of this work just weeks before he died. When the performance finished, he stood in his box to acknowledge the applause, and with tears running down his face, shocked all and sundry with how obviously ill he was. Like his other three symphonies, this is one of my favourite works; dramatic, full of feeling and lyrical.

Now reading:

Charles Dickens, Martin Chuzzlewit. Staying firmly in the nineteenth century. In the edition I’m reading, this is a 700 page epic, and may take me a while to finish.

Coffee cam to go

What I’ve seen described as the world’s first web-cam (I don’t know if this is accurate or not), is closing soon. Yes, the Cambridge coffee pot is going out of business because of our imminent shift to new premises. Our system administrators recently sent round an e-mail to the effect that this news has caused real problems for our web-server. Usually it’s new things that cause request spikes.

Here are the top six requested files on our server:

  #reqs: %bytes: filename
  ------ ------- --------
4227765:  0.84%: /cgi-bin/xvcoffee
2670749:  0.42%: /coffee/coffee.html
2340190:  0.99%: /coffee/icon.gif
1144792:  0.46%: /
 809399:  1.17%: /users/iwj10/linux-faq/
 610109:  1.43%: /users/mn200/music/composers.html

(I had to make it a top six in order to show my composers page’s position.)

Thursday, 8 February 2001

Up the duff

Listening to:

Shostakovich, symphony no. 11 in G minor, op. 103 “The year 1905”. A definite programme symphony this, it being a musical depiction of the events of 1905, when an attempted revolution in Russia was crushed by the Tsarist government. It’s exciting stuff, though it can also sound a bit like soundtrack music.

Holiday reading:

Kaz Cooke, Up the duff.

This is an amusing and informative book about pregnancy. The couple we stayed with in Brisbane "are" pregnant (apparently this is acceptable usage; you say the couple are pregnant, even though we all know that it's only the woman who's going to go through the really painful bits), and this was on their shelves. Being what you might call a “will read anything once” reader, I picked this down in a dull moment and really found it quite engrossing.

I’d never heard of her, but the author is apparently quite a famous comic writer in Australia (she even has a website). I found Up the duff a fascinating read. On the other hand, I can quite imagine women finding it rather off-putting. I don’t think that I’m particularly squeamish, that I could cope with all the mess of child-birth itself, but the descriptions of all the changes that the pregnant woman undergoes while the baby develops are really quite an eye-opener.

I’m writing a day late today because I spent half of my day yesterday waiting for the monitor to be delivered. It was, eventually, and so all is happiness on the home PC front.

Wednesday, 24 January 2001

Music, literature, comics, and hagiography

Listening to:

Beethoven, string quartet in E flat major, op. 127. This is one of Beethoven’s “late quartets”, and thus tarred with the brush of perhaps being rather difficult. Really though, it’s not so bad. The really difficult piece is the Grosse Fugue, a very long self-contained work that was the original last movement to one of the other late quartets. I still haven’t got my head around it.

A lost comic:

Calvin and Hobbes. The first of the commercial comics I was in the habit of reading. The author, Bill Watterson, stopped drawing this comic in 1995, and the United Comics site is gradually putting all of them online, revealing them one at a time, 11 years after the fact.

C&H is very well drawn, and features some very funny strips. My only criticism is that it occasionally gets a little preachy, particularly on environmental themes. It’s also sometimes gives Calvin a perception of his blissful childhood state that is both unrealistic (“youth is wasted on the young”) and a little irritating. All that notwithstanding, still a classic.

Holiday reading:

Patrick O'Brian, The Mauritius Command.

This is the fourth book in the Aubrey-Maturin series, and it’s very enjoyable. Instead of the relatively straightforward solo naval actions of the first three books, Jack Aubrey is given responsibility (as a commodore) for a group action in and around Mauritius. To make things even more interesting, he has to coordinate with the army. All this brings a new dimension to the storyline, and I really liked it.

Ever heard of Stephen Wolfram? He’s given a hagiographic write-up in this piece from Forbes magazine. I read this and got increasingly annoyed with it. It’s painfully short of detail, so that you aren’t told just what Rule 30 really is, and there’s no real attempt to actually discuss the issues. It all boils down to “Geez, that Wolfram guy is really smart”.

Wednesday, 10 January 2001

Entry #130

Listening to:
Holst, The planets. The next traversal CD. This is Holst's most famous piece of work, being a musical depiction of the seven non-Earth planets known in his day. Of course, planets don't really have characters, so Holst made them up, with some reference to Graeco-Roman mythology. For example, the first planet "described" is Mars, the Bringer of War. This music is often used as a backdrop to militaristic scenes in movies and TV programmes. It's a very successful evocation of menacing military fervour. When I was younger, I could consistently send shivers down my spine just by listening to Mars with my full attention, and imagining some great army marching to death and destruction. The last planet is Neptune, the Mystic, which doesn't seem to have anything to do with Neptune/Poseidon, the god of the sea, but does summon up images of distant quiet and solitude very well.
Just read:
Well, where do I start? I'm just back from a 6 week holiday and I read quite a bit while away. I think I'll have to take a few days to describe the books read. First up then, is the Aubrey-Maturin series of naval novels by Patrick O'Brian.
  • Master and Commander. This introduces the series, and is quite compelling. I think you'd have to be reasonably keen on the idea of following the adventures of a naval captain to stick with it, as this novel is the most sea-bound of the seven I read. There's lots of naval terminology to come to either ignore or come to grips with, and I suspect that having a knowledge of what tacking and going about is would help. If you read and enjoyed the Swallows and Amazons books (by Arthur Ransome) as a kid, there's got to be a reasonable chance that you will like this.

    About my only criticism of this book is the cop-out way in which the situation with Lieutenant Dillon is resolved.

I have decided that I wasted too much time in the morning reading online comics in 2000, so I'm giving them up entirely. To mark their passing, I'll briefly describe (again over a number of entries) what I'm forgoing.

I've mentioned Sluggy Freelance before in these pages. In February last year, I described it as "pretty funny .... [but] a bit juvenile at times". This would still be my verdict now. I think that its success is based on the author's willingness to be wacky. Examples of this include the ongoing feud between the pet rabbit and Santa Claus, the commando-like secret information organisation built up by disaffected ex-elves from Santa's factory, and the hapless demons from the Dimension of Pain who never quite manage to abduct the main character, Torg.

Monday, 25 September 2000


Listening to:

Beethoven, piano sonata no. 8 in C minor, Op. 13 Pathétique. I wonder when it was that the word “pathetic” came to have its modern derogatory tone. I’m pretty confident that its use in 19th century English was similar to that in French. Beethoven actually gave this sonata its nickname, something he didn’t often do. (For example, the “Moonlight” and “Appassionata” sonatas both got their nicknames from other people.) I’m not sure who gave Tchaikovsky’s 6th symphony the same nickname, but in any case, the use of the word is not meant to imply “feeble, helpless and incapable” in the unsympathetic (ooh, there goes the same word in disguise!) modern sense.

Maybe the modern world is fundamentally less tolerant of helplessness than it used to be.

Still reading:

John Byng, Rides round Britain. No progress with this over the weekend, I’m afraid. I did invade Russia in the Kishinev scenario of Panzer General II. I’ll have to write a game review of PG2 at some stage.

Wednesday, 20 September 2000

Mahler, Elgar and Handel

Listening to:

Mahler, symphony no. 10. This symphony is one that Mahler never finished himself, but which was subsequently published as a “performing version of Mahler’s draft”. Mahler’s wife was initially suspicious of the project to do this, but was apparently brought round to the idea on hearing the initial performances of this version. It does sound like Mahler, and there doesn’t seem much argument against letting the world in on music that would otherwise be accessible only to musicologists, who would be forced to imagine it as they read the manuscripts.

Elgar’s third symphony was recently turned into a performable work in a similar way.

Cute Water Company

I rang the water company this morning to pay our bill. They put me on hold for a little while and played me some music. It was a familiar baroque piece (but not Vivaldi’s Four Seasons I hasten to add), and I thought Good on them for putting something interesting on. A few seconds later, I realised that the familiar music was in fact Handel’s Water music. Nice! I felt like congratulating the operator who eventually answered the phone and talked to me.

Friday, 8 September 2000

A Proms Concert

Listening to:

Ian Bostridge, The English songbook.


Don’t practice (i.e., attempt to figure out) tumble-turns after doing a fairly arduous swimming work-out.

Beethoven and Stravinsky at the Proms

I went to another Prom concert on Wednesday night. The programme was Stravinsky’s Symphony of Psalms followed by Beethoven’s 9th symphony. The Stravinsky was only really convincing in the final movement, the Laudate Dominum. Both the Laudate’s and the Hallelujah’s were quite spooky and eerie.

The Beethoven took a little while to get going. The woodwind seemed to have a very harsh tone in the first three movements. The oboe soloes in the second movement, and the clarinet and horn in the third movement were all a bit rough I thought. However, the final movement was amazing. Just when you thought it couldn’t get any better, some other phrase or moment caught you unawares, and wow! The choir (the BBC Symphony Chorus) must have fielded over 100 people, and this made for some amazingly powerful moments. Bernard Haitink conducted the BBC Symphony Orchestra.

There is a review at the Daily Telegraph.

Monday, 14 August 2000

Entry #86

Listening to:
The best of Thelonius Monk. I'm usually pretty suspicious of "best of" CDs. However, they do at least serve to introduce a performer/composer if you have no real knowledge of what they're like. On the strength of this CD (published by Capitol Records, using the Blue Note label), I really should get out there and buy more Monk.

On the strength of just one CD of 16 tracks, all recorded by 1952, I'd characterise his stuff as melodically inventive, with a crisp, precise feel to it. There aren't extended solos whereby the original statement of a theme gets distorted and developed over a long period. (I have a Verve CD of this being done by Stan Getz and Dizzy Gillespie, and it's wonderful; but this is not what these Monk pieces do.) Instead, the music comes to you fully-formed, and quite perfect. These are like musical short stories.

Still reading:
Mitford, Our village. I'm about 60% of the way through this, so I'm not going to be able to write my grand summing up for a while yet. After writing about it last week (see below), I realised that what was for me the effective evocation of a lost era might have struck contemporary readers in just the same way. The early 19th century was a period of quite rapid change in England, and people then probably felt this change to be destroying a long lost world. (In fact, this feeling seems to arise whenever and wherever you look; old fogeys always moan about the good old days.)

There are a few symptoms of this in Our village. At one point, the fact that the boundaries of the nearby town of B--- are steadily approaching those of Mitford's village is remarked on. Mitford says that she expects her village will one day be a part of B--- but that she isn't too bothered because it will surely happen long after her day. She also describes the Macadamisation of the main road through the village at one point. Ah, progress!

Monday, 7 August 2000

Cuba and 19th century England

Listening to:

Eliades Ochoa, Sublime illusion. This is the guy that I liked so much on the Buena Vista Social Club CD and film. I got this album just a little while ago, and though it’s instrumentally less varied than BVSC, it’s very good.

Still reading:

Mitford’s Our village. This one is going to take ages to finish. This is not because I don’t like it, but because it’s difficult to read in big chunks. In turn, this is because there’s no over-arching plot to move you forward. The various stories/vignettes are pretty much unrelated.

This book has emphasised how ignorant I am of botany. What do periwinkles look like? What’s woodbine? Am I even sure what beech trees look like? The book was clearly written in a period where this stuff was common knowledge. It evokes a lost era very effectively; making you think that maybe living in a English village in the early 19th century would be quite nice.

Friday, 4 August 2000

Prom concert review

Listening to:

Schubert, Octet in F, D803.

A promming we will go

I went to my first Prom of the year on Wednesday night. The first piece was Bach’s Prelude and Fugue in C minor, BWV 546. This was played on the organ. It was a little strange to be listening to solo music in the Royal Albert Hall. I was in the central arena, “promming”, and most of the people around me were standing, but I couldn’t see much point in standing to watch the distant organist's back. Great music, this. Not necessarily an easy listen; it would be easy to turn off and just wonder at the noise, but a little bit of application allows you to hear the different lines and appreciate just what’s going on.

Next up was Mothers shall not cry by Johnathan Harvey, a world premiere (and BBC commission) with the composer in attendance. I didn’t think much of this. It was trying all too hard to be symbolic, relied on visual cues that were just naff (sword-wielding warrior with bandages on his eyes blessed by bejewelled princess; sheesh), and wasn’t musically coherent. There were lots of interesting musical effects (use of speakers and various electronic effects around the hall included), but nothing really flowed.

I disliked the programming as well; after this 21st century stuff, we had to then throw ourselves back in time to the 19th century to hear Brahms’s double concerto for violin and cello. This was music I knew quite well. I don’t think it’s Brahms's best ever composition, but there were moments in the first and third movements of typical and thrilling Brahmsian intensity; strings rapidly flowing over pulsing rhythms sustained by deep pedal points. I much prefer this to Bruckner’s “loud” passages, which seem too dependent on brass fanfares. I remember one moment of real, rapt beauty from the slow second movement too.

Finally, the concert finished with another Bach prelude and fugue (in E flat, “St. Anne”), but orchestrated by Schoenberg. It was strange hearing familiar music in this unusual setting. Initially, I couldn’t help but smile as the orchestra was doing such neato things. By the time it finished, I was less convinced that the orchestral colour was doing much for the music.

Three professional reviews of the same concert: from the Times, the Telegraph, and the Independent.

Monday, 31 July 2000

The Ode to Joy and Churchillian wit

Listening to:

Beethoven, symphony #9 “Choral”, in D minor, op. 125. The world’s most famous symphony? Beethoven’s fifth, with its famous “da-da-da dah” opening, would probably be the only contender. The last movement of this symphony earns it the “Choral” nickname. As far as I’m aware, this was the first time a choir and solo singers were used in a symphony. Unless the first performance had the singers file on seconds before their (musical) entrance, I guess the audience won’t have been too surprised.

In any case, it’s just beautiful music; the Ode to joy tune is simple enough to whistle yourself, but Beethoven uses all the tricks (orchestration, digressions, distortions) to make sure that there’s something to keep the attention as the piece progresses. Just now, there’s been a big climax, followed by light, spiky, slightly militaristic flute and piccolo playing. Then in comes one of the male voices (the tenor, I think), and suddenly things accelerate. So much so that now the voices have dropped out and the strings are going nineteen to the dozen. I can’t do it justice in words, and I’m not sure anyone can.

Still reading:

Mary Mitford’s Our village. Being a big collection of bits and pieces originally published for a magazine, it’s a bit difficult to read this in solid sessions. Yesterday morning, I alternated with a recent issue of the New York Review of Books, including this interesting review of a book about the Langhorne sisters of Virginia. One of these sisters married Waldorf Astor and became Nancy Astor, one of Britain’s earlier woman parliamentarians, and the woman who said to Winston Churchill, “If I was your wife, I’d put poison in your coffee.” His retort was “And if I was your husband, I’d drink it.”

Wednesday, 12 July 2000

Classical vs. Romantic

Listening to:

Shostakovich, cello concerto #2, op. 126. Even over the hum of computer fans, this is relentless stuff. It grabs the attention, interrupting attempts to write web-logs.

Weather, and a Musical Distinction

It was sunny and nice this morning as we walked into work, and I thought, “Wow, clearly the way to improve poor weather is to complain about it publicly on the World Wide Web.” Even thinking that thought was enough to counteract any magical properties my previous entry had though, and the sky is grey and cloudy outside my window now, just 80 minutes later.

A bunch of friends and I are trying to decide what Proms concerts to go and see. Any suggestions?

Talking of music, a reader of my music pages has asked how to distinguish classical from romantic music. The easy answer is to say that classical is Mozart, Haydn, J. C. Bach, and early Beethoven, and that romantic is later Beethoven, Schubert, Schumann, Mendelssohn, Schumann, and Brahms. I think I’ve listened to enough music to be able to pick an era when I hear something, but I fear that I don’t know enough to be able to express the difference in words. I don’t have the musicological vocabulary or training to nail down what I can hear, though I know there are differences.

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...

Wednesday, 28 June 2000

Entry #66

Listening to:
Stravinsky, Symphony of Psalms. This is a recent recording with Pierre Boulez conducting the Berlin Philharmonic. It has picked up a not entirely positive review at the BBC music magazine. I don't have any other recording, so I can't tell at this stage.

The third movement, which I'm listening to now, is quite beautiful and serene, with hushed voices singing over a gentle tympani pulse.

Of course, we're all big fans of Open Source these days. Whether you're an old style believer in the way of the FSF and the GNU system, or perhaps a more liberal, caring, 90s kinda person in the mold of Eric Raymond's famous Cathedral and Bazaar philosophy, you know that free software is where it's at.

However, it's also important to realise that it's not a panacaea. John Viega describes the way in which open-source does not cure security problems, and can even exacerbate them (because they're more readily found) in this interesting article and Eric Raymond (again) describes a similar issue with respect to the Quake 1 game.

Not that I lap up everything Raymond writes. He has an essay on the right to bear arms that I find completely astounding.

Tuesday, 13 June 2000

Past England

Listening to:

Elgar, Pomp and Circumstance marches. These are the quintessential Imperial English tunes. It’s easy to imagine the feeling of Victorian pride and confidence that might have attended their first performances. Of course, maybe I’m imagining a pride too far. Circumstances when they were written may have been utterly unlike the way we imagine them now. Nonetheless, this is the aura I think most people attach to them now. Women in the elaborate dresses; men with monocles and an Empire on which the Sun never sets.

Still reading:

Maurice by E. M. Forster. This conveys rather a different picture of a similar era needless to say. However, I’m afraid to report that I haven’t made any progress with it at all. This is because I was in London over the weekend. We went to see the Tower of London on Sunday. It’s an impressive building, and fascinating for the history that it “embodies”.

Friday, 2 June 2000

The Green and Slender Willow

Listening to:

Shostakovich, Six Romances on words by Japanese poets, op. 21 for tenor and orchestra. The current poem is called An immodest glance and reads (in English):

The green and slender willow
had her swaying trunk laid bare,
when the wind blew, and drew
the branches aside.

And today, my beloved,
I glimpsed your legs,
when the wind blew
and played with your light dress.

Racy stuff, classical music, you know!

The makers of the computer games Thief (and its sequel, memorably called Thief II) have gone out of business.

I would have liked to have written yesterday, in order to help clear the entry deficit but my computer was down and out all morning and receiving the ministrations of a qualified professional (i.e., not me!).

Monday, 22 May 2000

Mahler, Forster and Fiji

Listening to:

Mahler Das Lied von der Erde. This famous piece is not typically counted as one of Mahler’s nine symphonies, but it is really symphonic in scale and character. It was written after the death of Mahler’s four year old daughter, taking as texts some supposedly Chinese poems in German translation. The overall theme of the poems is of the beauties of the earth and its eternal cycle of death and rebirth. I found that it took me a while to “get” this music, but I now think it’s one of my favourite works by Mahler.

Still reading:

Howard’s End by E. M. Forster. The novel is developing apace. It’s hard to believe that the impending marriage between Margaret Schlegel and Henry Wilcox will be a glorious success, but at least Margaret’s personal emotions and feelings seem to make a deal of sense. She is much more successfully drawn than Lucy Honeychurch.

A coup in Fiji

There has been an attempted coup in Fiji. I lived for over two years in Nadi as a young child, and started school there. I can’t really remember much from that time, and certainly wasn’t aware of the tension between the native Fijians and the Fijians of Indian descent. There has already been one coup in Fiji, led by Sitiveni Rabuka in 1987, and the thought of another one plunging the country into chaos again is very disheartening.

However, this “coup” doesn’t seem to have the support of the army, and the President there seems to be holding firm, despite the fact that much of the rest of the country’s top politicians are being held hostage in the Parliament in Suva. For example, there are press releases from the real government at the official web-site.

Friday, 28 April 2000

Brahms’s Clarinet Music

Listening to:

Brahms, trio in A minor, Op 114 for piano, clarinet and cello.

I’ve always been very fond of music for the clarinet. Even as a kid, I thought Mozart's clarinet concerto was just the greatest. When it was time to “upgrade” from recorder at the Saturday morning music lessons I went to, it was very easy to choose to learn to do clarinet myself. I never put in quite enough time to feel that I was that great, but I did at least do grade 5 practical affiliated to one or other of the music schools (Royal College of Music or Trinity College of Music).

Brahms’s clarinet music, i.e., this trio, the clarinet quintet, and the sonatas for clarinet and piano, were all written quite late in his life. All these pieces are full of beautiful melancholy. They’re not sobbing melodramas; rather they’re wistful art, sometimes almost happy as if looking back on the best bits of life in muted remembrance, and at other times sad, perhaps rueing lost opportunities.

I liked this rant on Elian Gonzalez. It’s a “New Zealand” perspective on it all, but I think that in this case all this means is that you know it’s a perspective with some distance on the events. Of course, the risk of distance is that you might be getting the facts wrong.

Friday, 21 April 2000

Entry #37

Listening to:
Bach, Prelude and Fugue in G major from Book I of the Well-tempered Clavier. This music has a reputation for being rather intellectual; something that Bach dashed off as an exercise for aspiring pianists (I'm actually listening to it played on a harpsichord, but that is another debate in its own right). Certainly, I think it would be a mistake to look for great emotional extremes in it. Nonetheless, it is not sterile.

I find beauty in it, and it's not just the sort of celestial beauty of the spheres that some Bach enthusiasts rabbit on about. Having moved onto the G minor prelude in the course of writing this, I can remark on the contrast that this has with its predecessor in the major. This is wistful, measured and slightly melancholic. Now the fugue: this is not wistful. If anything it's slightly defiant in a deliberate way.

Great listening, but I don't have time to write a real-time reaction to it; tempting though that is.

Earlier, I cycled to a couple of nearby shops to buy some bits and pieces for dinner tonight. On the way, I passed a procession walking down the footpath. I overtook them, and could see before I reached them that they were a big enough group to qualify for a couple of police-men as escorts.

Wondering idly if they were off to the Co-op (where I myself was headed) to protest about something heinous the supermarket had done, I passed them to find that their placards had "Jesus is King" type messages on them. Little kids just had little flags with "J"s on them. Brrr! Organised religion.

The deli had all that I needed: olives, olive oil, bread and some rich ice-cream. Free samples as well. It's a great place, and the guy behind the counter is always very friendly.

Wednesday, 19 April 2000


Listening to:

Heinrich Schütz, Motets for double choir. This is beautiful choral music with a distinctive “churchy”, ancient sound.

Once upon a time, someone told me something like the following story:

Once a upon a time, a child was born to talented musical parents. They decided that the child should be raised in complete isolation from the human, musical world, and that its only aural companions should be the sounds of the birds and animals of the fields and the forests.

After seven years of this musically isolated upbringing, the parents finally introduced their child to a piano, and were all aquiver to see what the young child would do.

After hitting the keys of the piano and beginning to understand their function, the child, slowly, but with increasing confidence, picked out the simple beauty of Bach’s C major prelude from Book I of the Well-tempered Clavier...

I have rarely been so irritated.

Monday, 10 April 2000

A slew of books

Listening to:

Brahms, symphony #3 in F, op 90. My traversal has passed through Beethoven and onto Brahms. This CD is the first Brahms CD I ever owned. I remember buying it and thinking, “I wonder if I’m going to like this.” Dear reader, I do.

This is the symphony that features briefly in an episode of Fawlty Towers. Basil is listening to the opening movement on a tape recorder, and Sybil, walking past, tells him to turn off the “racket”. Stridently, Basil replies, “Racket? Racket? This is Brahms’s third racket!”

Just read:

Pick of Punch

I finished this on Thursday night. It had its moments.

Granta 62: What young men do.

I read this in bed on Saturday morning. The previous Sea issue was better, but this was still pretty good. The title piece was all about rioting and carnage in Indonesian Borneo. There was an amusing story in there about a high-heels fetishist, and also a very interesting extended obituary for Martha Gellhorn, a respected journalist. (Well, the writer of the obit. certainly respected her.) She was Ernest Hemingway's second wife as well, and had interesting, and fairly derogatory things to say about him.

Where angels fear to tread by E. M. Forster.

I read this in bed on Sunday morning and thought it very good. I saw the film when it came out in NZ. This was one of at least three Forster adaptations featuring Helena Bonham-Carter that all seemed to come out at roughly the same time.

The book is really quite amusing for most of its length with savage, but funny, portraits of repressed Edwardian sensibilities. Nonetheless, there are dark tones throughout and the ending is definitely dark, if not absolutely tragic. I think I slightly missed some of the impact of the ending because I was reading so quickly, but that's just some indication of the way in which it was a compelling read.

To read next:

The longest journey, again by E. M. Forster. A while back I bought all six Forster novels and now the day of reckoning is upon me.

Wednesday, 29 March 2000

New buildings

Listening to:

Shostakovich, symphony #4 in C minor, Op. 43. This symphony was composed in the mid-30s, but not performed until 1960. After being severely criticised by Pravda for his opera Lady Macbeth, Shostakovich withdrew this symphony from rehearsals and the next symphony of his to be performed was the fifth.

The Soviet Union in the 1930s has to have been one of the most terrifying places to live.

Forgot to put my watch on this morning after my shower. I'm cut off from the universe!

The supermarket saga continues: it seems that we may be about to acquire an Asda in place of the Co-op. We had to walk into town on Saturday morning to do our shoppping at the central Sainsbury's. Central Cambridge is carnage on Saturday; I can't recommend it. We did stop off to do some other window shopping though.

The Computer Lab is moving to a new building next year. The building site has recently been officially blessed. The pictures of big-wigs in hard-hats are ridiculous. It's all so much posturing, a mutant machismo maybe. Here's an example.

Friday, 17 March 2000

CD traversal, Hunger Site, Peace in Ireland

Listening to:

Beethoven, piano sonata in D, op 28 Pastoral. What, yet more Beethoven? It just so happens that I've decided to “traverse” my CD collection. I keep track of where I’m up to, and every day I try to listen to one CD from that position in the collection. I bring in other CDs too, but I typically start my day with the traversal CD.

One of my daily visits is to the Hunger Site. Being able to make a free donation of food for the benefit of the starving seems a good idea. Or at least, I thought so until today, when I was suddenly struck by the thought that maybe food aid isn’t really the best way of helping needy people. I’ve read that extensive food aid can really mess up local economies, because it can only serve to discourage local farmers. Equally, not having anyone to sell food to because they all died of starvation last year is also likely to be bad for local farmers. I guess I have to hope that the UN world food program knows what it’s doing.

Today is St. Patrick’s day. President Clinton will apparently be urging the politicians of Ireland to “give peace a chance” or some such. Who knows, maybe this will make a difference. Most people I’ve met from Northern Ireland are pretty cynical about the “peace process”, but you never know.

Wednesday, 15 March 2000

Beethoven and Barrymore

Listening to:

Beethoven, piano sonata in F minor, op. 57 Appassionata. This recording is on a now defunct CD label called Lunar. This comes from the DDR (i.e., East Germany that was). It’s a good recording, and it was very cheap ($10 in New Zealand). I’m pretty sure that the Lunar CDs were the first I ever saw that were budget. Since then, Naxos have moved into this market in a serious way, and the Berlin Wall has fallen.

(Incidentally, there’s no sign of any deterioration in the physical substance of the CD, which is pretty good going for something that is now over 10 years old.)

Saw Never been kissed (with Drew Barrymore) on video the other night. Basically, it’s a pretty dire movie, though I imagine it’s a deal better than the other films we saw trailed on the video. My standard technique of entering the URL gives interesting results this time. It links to a site providing soft-porn shots of famous actresses. Clearly the people distributing the film couldn’t be bothered getting the domain-name for it. A little further research at the Internet Movie Database site, reveals the correct site. It also gives it an average rating of 6.5/10, which is incredibly generous.

Anyway, the film only served to remind me of the ridiculous obsession that high school seems to exert over film-makers, and the bizarre way it is portrayed. Or, and this is a thought to take your breath away, maybe US high schools are really like that. Tell me it ain’t so.