Wednesday, March 29, 2017

Israel Philharmonic: Mendelssohn’s Wedding March

Via: Youtube.

Here is another version of Mendelssohn’s “Wedding March” by the Israel Philharmonic Orchestra, conducted by Arie Vardi [born 1937]. It has a cute scene in it with two children playing the part of bride and groom. I do not know when or where this was performed, since the Youtube channel did not provide this piece of information. Perhaps someone can kindly provide me with this, so I can add it in.

Monday, March 27, 2017

Favorite Books (1): The Great Gatsby

Reading for Enjoyment

In last month’s post, “For The Love Of Literature,” I argued in favor of being a good reader, which is not the same as being a good literary critic. Here I briefly discuss one of my favorite books; this might be a continuing series.

I am one of the few honest people that I have ever known.”
F. Scott Fitzgerald, The Great Gatsby (1925)

Celestial Blue Eyes: Francis Cugat’s original gouache painting for The Great Gatsby is shown on the left; and the cover of the first edition of the 1925 novel is shown on the right. Cugat, a Spanish artist, was paid $100 for his work. The book, published on April 10th by Scribner’s of New York, was done under the keen editorship of Maxwell Perkins.
Image Credit: University of South Carolina Libraries
Source: Smithsonian

The Great Gatsby (1925), by F. Scott Fitzgerald [1896–1940], follows the short and tragic life of one James Gatz, a person of no consequence who reinvents himself as Jay Gatsby, a wealthy man who becomes noticed and discussed. Not much is known about Gatsby, a shadowy but charming man, other than he is wealthy, has beautiful shirts and likes to throw lavish parties at his mansion.

In the absence of fact, innuendo takes its place. There are unconfirmed rumors on how he acquired his wealth, but it is gossip and insinuations mixed in with some fact and resentment. There is guilt by association (with Meyer Wolfsheim, a gambler responsible for fixing the 1919 World Series). It is about money, how it is acquired and who should “rightfully” acquire it.

The book was written during the Jazz Age of the Roaring Twenties; and this is when the action takes place: in the fictional town of West Egg, located on the wealthy enclave of Long Island in the summer of 1922. West Egg represents new money; East Egg old money, an important distinction. As is the demarcation point of the First World War, which ended a way of life for many. Gatsby is very much a post-war figure, part of the nouveau riche. He might have been new money, but his values were old money. Or so it could be argued.

Of course, it speaks about transformation and also about how difficult it is to be honest, how it is nearly impossible to say the obvious. Deception is preferred. Truly, few want to hear the truth; it is too shocking. So is love and being of pure of heart.

I first read this book in high school, in the early 1970s. I believe it was in Grade 10, but it might have been a year later. I have read the book a few times and it remains my favorite book. It speaks about the need and ability to achieve success, a passion that is strong when one comes from humble roots, but also of the obstacles and the cost of achieving this. For Gatsby, it was about (finally) becoming good enough to be with the object of his desire, Daisy, who would be his undoing; Daisy was careless with what she was given.

It is a typical American book, and one of the best books to define what it is that makes America the great nation of opportunity and invention, but also a nation that can quickly turn on the outwardly weak, a cautionary tale that makes hyenas devouring a lion evoke more sympathy. One can become whom one wants to become; the possibility is ever-present. Yet, old money is suspicious of new money, seeing it as an unwelcome intruder, a gate-crasher; some things never change. I suspect that for this reason alone this book resonates with many.
The book, however, was not a success during Fitzgerald’s lifetime, but became popular only after the Second World War, when it became a literary masterpiece. Timing might not be everything, but it is important. It remains popular today for reasons that need not be explained.

Friday, March 24, 2017

The Happy Curmudgeon: The Taste Of Tomatoes

Food: 1:5
“Happy is the man…”
Photo Credit: ©Perry J. Greenbaum

I love tomatoes; even as a child I loved eating tomatoes, not only in salads but alone (with some salt) as a fruit. I often enjoyed a toasted tomato and onion sandwich with a bit of mayo and sometimes with a slice or two of cucumber. Nothing like a sweet juicy tomato on a hot summer day. Suffice to say, I am a big fan of tomatoes.

One of my fondest eating memories dates to the early 1980s, of eating fresh tomatoes (with a bit of salt) right off the vine, just as they became ripe, on a hot day in August; there was little to compare this to in terms of gustatory experience. The man who grew the tomatoes was much older than me, in his late seventies, and offered them to me as one would offer a prize possession. They were delicious, but I did not think much of it at the time.

After all, I had always expected tomatoes to taste like this. There was no reason then to expect otherwise. But I noticed recently, this being in the last decade or so, that there is something wrong with the taste of tomatoes as they have become larger and less sweet. They don’t taste right. They don’t taste like tomatoes.

Basket of Tomatoes: The larger the tomato, the blander the taste. Tomatoes lose their taste if kept in the fridge. It is better to keep them at room temperature. 
Photo Credit & Source: ©2017. Perry J. Greenbaum

First I thought it was a matter of finding organic tomatoes, or non-GMO tomatoes or expensive fancy-type tomatoes or growing your own, which I did one year in a pot on our balcony. But, while these were an improvement in taste, they did not duplicate my memory of earlier years. I had all but given up, thinking that my memory was false, that I had just aged and my taste buds had aged along with my memory.

My family and friends chimed in that I must accept that my taste buds were not telling the truth. But then I came across this article (“The Quest to Return Tomatoes to Their Full-Flavored Glory;” January 26, 2017) by Brian Handwerk:
Today’s fruit simply doesn't pack the flavor of the old-fashioned tomato, finds a new genome study published today in the journal Science. “Genomic technologies, like the ones the authors used in this research, really enable us to study what happened to the tomato in a very effective way,” says Esther van der Knaap, a plant geneticist at the University of Georgia who was not involved in the new study. “What did we leave behind, and what are we carrying through?”
I now know that it was not me that changed, but the tomato. Thank you Mr. Handwerk for your article. I have been vindicated. Now I am waiting for the return of tasty and sweet tomatoes. I am waiting to repeat that experience from more than 35 years ago.

Tuesday, March 21, 2017

First Day of Spring (2017)

The Seasons

Park ViewThis is taken from my sixth floor balcony at around 1:30 p.m. Spring arrived here officially in Toronto at 6:29 a.m. yesterday, Monday March 20th. Such marks the season of warm promise, when temperatures move upward from single digits. (February 2017 was the warmest on record, but March 2017 for the most part has seen below normal temperatures.) Yet, it might be warming up. The temperature when this photo was taken was 5°C (or 41°F); the forecast daytime high was 7°C (or 45°F). If the past is any indication, it does not really warm up here to spring-jacket weather—to at least 15°C (or 60°F)—until early April, basically coinciding with the beginning of the professional baseball season. Time to get my baseball gear ready.
Photo Credit & Source: ©2017. Perry J. Greenbaum

Spring Flowers (2017): No flowers are evident outside, so it seemed like a good idea to buy some cut flowers and bring them indoors. Is there ever a time when one can say too much beauty exists in the world? 
Photo Credit & Source: ©2017. Perry J. Greenbaum

Ducks in the Water: On Sunday, the day before the official arrival of Spring, we took a walk to the park near where we reside. There were a number of ducks—we counted nine in total—taking advantage of the thaw; it was a sunny 6°C (43°F). On Saturday, when we took a walk to the same spot, we witnessed two ducks on top of a thin sheet of ice, and there was more snow on the ground. It was much colder, with temperatures hovering around the freezing mark, and snowing slightly—not a pleasant day at all. One day can, indeed, make a difference, and not only for the ducks of Toronto.
Photo Credit & Source: ©2017. Perry J. Greenbaum

Monday, March 20, 2017

Wanda Landowska: Mozart Sonata No. 13 (1956)

Via: Youtube

Wanda Landowska [born in Warsaw, Poland; 1879–1959] performs Mozart Sonata No. 13 in B flat major (K 333), which scholars say Mozart completed in the Austrian city of Linz at the end of 1783. Landowska, of course, is well-known for playing the harpsichord, her beloved French-made Pleyel (she called it “my very dear companion and friend, my love, my baby”), yet she does a marvelous job on the more modern instrument, the piano. You can hear her enjoyment and pleasure coming through; you can hear the sound of beauty.

Landowska was in her late seventies when she recorded this piece at her home in Lakeville, CT. The 2 LP box set was released by RCA Victor in 1956, to mark the 200th anniversary of Mozart’s birth (he was born on January 27th). This sonata is on Side B of the first album. This piece reminds me of spring, and thus it is dedicated to its timely return today.

1. Allegro
2. Andante cantabile (8:32)
3. Allegretto grazioso (21:44)

For those interested, there is an interview with Landowska [here], which was broadcast by WQXR New York (part of New York Public Radio). In it she discusses her views of Mozart and the interpretation of his music. There is an earlier interview [here], from 1953, for the NBC-TV program Wisdom, which aired from 1957–1965. In it, she explains her love of the harpsichord, how she worked assiduously to gain its wide public acceptance, and how it differs from the piano, which is better known.

Friday, March 17, 2017

The Happy Curmudgeon: Sufficient Freedom

My-Self: 1:4
“Happy is the man…”

“When the mind’s free,
The body’s delicate. ”
William Shakespeare
King Lear (1608), Act III, scene 4, line 11

When I discover who I am, I’ll be free.” 
Ralph Ellison [1913–1994],
Invisible Man (1952)
Photo Credit: ©2017. Perry J. Greenbaum

Before December 18, 2012, I had never spent a night in the hospital. I was in excellent health, or so I thought. On that day, I was told that I had a tumor in my colon and it was cancer. In a blink of an eye, at age 55, my view of my health and of myself changed. This change is now permanent. Or so it seems at the moment.

What this tells me now—back then I was too immersed in treatment and recovery to think about the seriousness of this statement—is that change can and often does come about unexpectedly. So much so that one can never prepare for these shocks in life. And this news was a shock, as it is for so many others. My view of myself changed and continued to change in the months of treatment—the so-called new normal.

Even after treatments ended, what I had to face was another unpleasant truth: I was still no longer free to be myself, despite earnest but inadequate efforts on my part to do so, including taking on a regime of exercising and healthy eating, since this person no longer existed; he could not be resuscitated, returned to the land of the living. My diminishing physical abilities and the diminishing possibilities to recover it combined in some unholy alliance to change the way I saw myself.

I was also getting older, and continue to do so, that is, age, which brings with it similar losses of freedom. Things are not the way they once were.

A recognition occurs. I was placed, against my will and desire, in a awkward position of having to rediscover who I was, never a simple or easy task at any stage of life. This knowledge of Self is always bound up with the ideas of Freedom. It’s a personal journey on the tortuous (and at times, torturous) road of epistemology.

Even so, as always, there is a problem; there are speed bumps and other hazards on the road to sufficient knowledge and understanding. How much freedom we have in our lives is not really known, but we tend to not think about it until we lose some of it, or more pointedly, a slice of it in a pie of indeterminate size. Then, we know we have lost something and we also know that we have lost something important, essential to our being. This also helps us gauge, however inaccurate the measurement, how much freedom we once had, or seem to have had.

It is knowledge of some sort, but not the kind that offers any comfort.

It is also true that we always want more freedom than we have (are given?), and tend to bemoan later on the lack of freedom we currently have. In other words, we think that we have squandered what we once had in youth. When we had it in our grasp. But we did not know then what we know now. Isn’t this always the case?

It is our human nature to mourn the loss of something valuable. Different people respond differently to similar circumstances (it’s never exactly the same). Someone once said, I forget who it was, that “freedom begins in the mind,” that if you think that you are free, no matter the physical circumstances you find yourself in, then you are free.

This suggests that freedom can be conjured up in the mind, even if you are locked up in a small cell of a prison. Perhaps this works for some, but I am dubious of such claims, viewing any obstruction of movement as militating against freedom in the widest possible sense. It might work in reverse, as well; that your mind might imprison you, even as your body freely does what it wants or desires. Most people prefer and live by the second option.

The question is, as always, how much freedom is enough? Some people say they know the answer, but I am not one of them. I tend to view this as a question that has too many parameters to arrive at any universal consensus. But whatever it is, it is probably not enough for some humans and too much for others. There is always someone who’s unhappy at the work of politicians to either extend or limit freedoms.

Monday, March 13, 2017

Berlin Philharmonic: Mendelssohn’s Wedding March

Via: Youtube

The Berlin Philharmonic (Berliner Philharmoniker in German), Claudio Abbado [1933–2014] conducting, perform Felix Mendelssohn’s “Wedding March” in C major, opus 61, incidental music for A Midsummer Night’s Dream, a play that William Shakespeare completed around 1596. Mendelssohn wrote the music for this comedy in 1842, more than two decades after he wrote the Overture for it. This particular performance was recorded at the Berlin Philharmonie on May 19, 2013. This would be Abbado’s last concert with the orchestra.