Monday, September 29, 2008

Music history continued ...

Richard's Fawkes book "The History of Classical Music" is fantastic introduction for all of us who are interested in the history of music, but how do not have energy to read long treatises. Fawkes book takes us on an interesting journey from the beginnings of western music, starting from mystic chants of Hildegard of Bingen, through renaissance and baroque classical music to modern music of such giants like John Cage, Karlheinz Stockhausen or Henryk Górecki.
It has also some interesting parts that describe opera music.

The book is certainly more scholar and more "popular" one than "The Rest Is Noise" (described here), but it gives a good ground for understanding the transformations of music through centuries. Sometimes, it lacks some deep details that could be interested for us, readers (I missed more information about Bach and/or Mozart), but my overall opinion is positive.

The book ends with beautiful short parable: "Yet, having started this journey with Greogorian chant, it seems appropriate to conculde with a world, that perhaphs, would not sound so unfamiliar with the devout of Dark Ages. Arvo Part, the Estonian composer, born in 1935 has his roots in chant, yet his minimalism is a distinctly XX century voice. The spiritual qualities, the spiritual message of the Westeren musical tradition is undimmed, even into XXI century..."

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Radio fascination

Rarely, it is worth to write about a radio programme... However, for the second time in last few months, I must write about something extraordinary.

Canadian Public Radio (CBC.ca) publishes a memoir about Peter Gzowski, descendent of great Kasimir Gzowsky (Canadian hero), who for many years was the host of amazing radio programme "Morningside" of Canadian CBC. Morningside was the best ever radio programme I ever had chance to listen to, and Gzowski was the great guy – probably the best radio host ever lived...

True Canadian patriot (name sounds Polish, but he was Canadian), man of great humour and of great vision of what the radio should be...

I strongly suggest to visit: http://archives.cbc.ca/arts_entertainment/media/topics/1793/

Sunday, September 21, 2008

The imaginary country of modern music that can not be found on a map - the end of The Rest Is Noise reading ....

The reading of "The Rest is Noise" by Alex Rose was one of the best experiences I could have in September of 2008. As I wrote in the previous post, it shows incredible connections betweenthe music and politics or the trends of troubled XX century.But it also shows that in the later part of XX century, music became less "political" and more engaged in itself - in creation of "The imaginary country that cannot be found on a map" (Debussy).
Alex Rose, shows us what makes the great music, free from politics, when he writes:"The debates over merits of engagement and withdraw [of music] has gone for centuries (...)Composition only gains power from failing to decide the eternal dispute. In a decentred culture, it has a chance to play a kind of good-father role - able to assimilate anything new because it has assimilated everything in the past".

I do not see, and I believe, the author also does not think that way - that the music CAN in fact be motivated by what happens in the world - it cannot be isolated. But, what is the great hope, thatthe music is not, and will never be played to fulfil some crazy dictator's agenda ....

I strongly recommend this book for everyone who is interested in modern music.

Sunday, September 14, 2008

Shocking interweaving of Music and Politics of XX century

Well, I planned to write a review when I finish this book completely, but I feel an urge to write now... I just finished Part II, that describes the period of 1933 to 1945 - the most tragic period of XX century. What is shocking is how close was music to politics of all sorts. The figures of Richard Strauss or Anton Webern on the one side and Shostakovich or Prokofiev, and their close relations to Nazis and communist regimes - is just horrifying. Honestly, before reading this incredible book I was unaware how abused was (maybe still is ....) music by politicians....

What is even more shocking is that some composers in US were also not very far from ideological streams. The book describes some ties, that great US composer, Ruth Crawford Seeger, had with
leftist Popular Front organisations.

I will write longer review when finished, but as for now, I can only write - it's a great book, but it shows something that I did not notice in my long life of music fascinations - how deep can sometimes be the link of art and dirty politics.... How it is today with great music ???

Noam's Chomsky "9-11"

It is not long reading. The book has about 120 pages and is small format.
It is exclusively composed of Noam's Chomsky interviews following and analysing September 11, 2001 attacks on World Trade Center. This attack had special impact on myself, for many reasons, for my history and for the other events in my life ...

Chomsky is well known for his unorthodox critique of US foreign polices, so the book does not surprise a reader who knows a bit about Chomsky. He gives some very interesting accounts on the potential motives of those terrorists who committed that crime, but in my opinion, he falls short when about to give any real explanation of these motives. To the contrary, the motives he apparently dismisses (they hate us for globalization of our world view, our values), are, possibly the only fundamental deep motives. Instead, through most of the speeches he tries to convince us, that it is US which is the utmost terrorist, legitimized by its power, organization !
Some of Chomsky's opinions are just ridiculous. Let me cite one: "... In those years (1980s), a prime enemy of the U.S. was the Catholic Church, which had sinned grievously in Latin America..."

I do not say, US does always good when is globalizes its outlook on life - but this process just happens with little of any policy makers intention, and we are just hated by terrorists and fundamentalists for it. That's my opinion, and here I disagree with Chomsky.

But, even if I disagree with him, I admire the sharpness and bravery of his intellectual activity. I strongly recommend this little book to all who are interested in global and in US politics.
And, thanks good God and fathers of America - he can proclaim his thoughts being in US, teaching at MIT... That is what is important. That what opens minds of people, even if they do not agree - the essence of free speach and our freedom.

Book Blogger Appreciation Week September 15-19


Nice idea of Amy. I start to recognise that there are more of us out there - Book Bloggers.... Amy - congratulations for the great idea !!!

Saturday, September 13, 2008

Reading while in Paris ...

Two interesting books, in both cases I just started reading them - so this is not a review yet.

Siting in Paris in La Bucherie restaurant (just several steps from my favorite bookstore Shakespeare and Company) and waiting for my plane back to Poland, I was reading Noam's Chomsky "9-11". The great philosopher account on his deep criticism for American "War on terror". I do not agree with him on many issues, but it's hard not to notice how close are some of his views to those of George Soros, that I described here. Will write more....

The second, unquestionably great book I was reading (actually listening it in audio version)
was "The rest is noise" - the great story of XX century music and its intertwinement with politics, history, events .... Great reading ... Will write more ....

Saturday, September 06, 2008

Salman Rushdie on books and reading

In one of his interviews with Steve Paulson (http://www.pri.org/arts-entertainment/books/great-writers-books.html) Salman Rushdie expressed a simple truth about books and the imaginative power they have.
It could be a motto for my blog:

"Every book is a different sort of a journey. And you are, in a way, making up a world that you're simultenously moving in to. And offering other people to do the same thing with it.
(...) I have an experience when I'm reading a book that I really love, that I slow right down, that I want to stay there as long as I can."

This is exactly what I feel when I read great book. Sometimes, when I read a book after book, I need to stop and just do not read anything for a while - just to allow the worlds I was in, to dwell longer in me.....

Friday, September 05, 2008

Great Writers on Great Books

It's a bit unusual to write a review about ... the radio programs. But in this case, Wisconsin Public Radio published (in its famous series "The Best of our knowledge" (http://ttbook.org/) made by
Jim Fleming and Steve Paulson), an amazing series "Authors, Authors - Great Writers on Great Books". Its ( a bit unimpresive) website is: http://www.wpr.org/book/greatbooks/

The list of really authors interviewed mostly by Steve are:

Alice Walker, VS Naipaul , Orhan Pamuk, Alexie Sherman, Salman Rushdie ,
Khaled Hosseini and others. There is also a great listening about some who passed away like Valdimir Nabokov or Charles Bukowski.

I strongly recommend this audio programmes. You can find real audio at http://wpr.org/book/greatbooks/index.html.

What was however the most important to me, it was Salman's Rushdie expresion about books, see the next psot on this blog...
Here I recall that Rushdie called his famous "Satanic verses" as his least political books of all (and I must say its true).


Wednesday, September 03, 2008

"The Last Secret of the Temple" - The Aftermath ...

Well, I have mixed feelings.... Not because the Sussman book is not good. It is. It is imaginative. You read some passages and you see the things. But ...

To write a review of a book is not easy if you do not want to spoil it for the readers. And I do not want, because the book is a good reading. As I wrote before - its good holiday reading, captivating, intriguing ...

The story of modern times, of present day conflict between Arabs and Jews described around the theme of an object from the Jerusalem Temple, stolen, taken away, and finally found by the heroes of the book - found twice ... Interesting account on human emotions and hatred and desperate search for peace. Going back to the horrors of Nazi's occupation of Europe.

As one can see - it is much more realistic and, in some sense, interesting - than a bit artificial struggle of Opus Dei against the Christ familly - totally invented fantasy ....

But ... well - there is something bad in some modern thrillers - the authors try to find the most shocking, the most unpredictable thing to shock the readers - I do not know why - it is like they do not have confidence in the imaginative power of their writing. The same sin is, in my view, committed by Paul Sussman.

I do not want to spoil the reading, but, excuse me, to find one important character to be a spy of the "other side" and the another character of the opposite side to be a murderer of his own people - is just a grist to all conspiracy theories lovers mills....

So, it could be a very good book, if Paul would not go that far, and have had more faith in his own ability to write imaginative stories - what I believe - he surely posses....

Yours to discover if I'm right....