Wanda Landowska’s 80th anniversary

Posted in Music, The End of the Monsoon on December 5th, 2010 by admin – Be the first to comment

of her recording of the Goldberg Variations

Landowska’s first recording of Bach’s Goldberg Variations, which was not only the first recorded on a harpsichord but the very first recording of the piece ever made, is variously listed as made in 1931, 1933 and 1935; I’m going with the earlier date.  I first listened to it on an LP about 1980.  It made an indelible impression.  She was trained in the classical and romantic repertory, and I’ve read that she played Chopin on the piano all her life, but clearly her heart–or at least a significant part of her heart–was with Bach.  She was also a serious musicologist and researcher with the interest and the languages and the cultural background to do original research, and the luck to be active at a time when you could still collect original manuscripts and instruments–before the the looting of Leipzig, the fire bombing of Bremen and the destruction of Berlin and much of western Europe.

Many reviewers describe her Bach as romantic, at least one as Gothic.  read more »

Elena Gerhardt sings Brahms

Posted in Lieder, Music on October 17th, 2010 by admin – 1 Comment

Elena Gerhardt in Leipzig, about 1900

Der Tod, das ist die kühle Nacht

Why does this song of Brahms’, from a poem by Heine, mean so much to me?  Why has it meant so much for so many years?  Even as I write, the song playing in the background grips my heart.

Most nineteenth century German Lied is about love–or unrequited love, or death.  This song may be about all three.  It’s hard at first to tell.  It’s a triumph of suggestion, of atmosphere.  Here’s the German text, followed by an English translation: read more »

Music, spirituality, and the political thriller

Posted in Buddhism, Music, The End of the Monsoon, Writing on August 9th, 2010 by admin – Be the first to comment

Bach's instrument: the clavichord

Music in The End of the Monsoon

Can music and spirituality have a place in a political thriller?  I think they can, if they’re sub-themes illuminating character.  In The End of the Monsoon, Mrs Ambler, an idealistic lawyer, is also an amateur musician and practicing Buddhist.  Her guilt over her illicit affair strengthens her desire for at least a breath of transcendence.

In 1983 I thought I had such a breath in the wee small hours of the morning, while playing the clavichord in my third world luxury apartment in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia.

In my novel I transferred this experience to the character of Dr White, a no-nonsense, middle-aged expatriate English doctor in Phnom Penh.  read more »

Buddhism and Faith

Posted in Buddhism, The End of the Monsoon, Writing on July 20th, 2010 by admin – Be the first to comment

Somerset Maugham: wanting, but not quite able, to believe

In September of 2007 I flew to Phnom Penh to gather material for a new novel.  Two of the books I brought with me were by Maugham: a first edition (a gift from Susana Serna) of The Gentleman in the Parlour, a Record of a Journey from Rangoon to Haiphong (1930), which is as its title suggests a travel book, and a Penguin paperback edition of The Summing Up (1938), a collection of valedictory essays.

In both books Maugham devotes a section to the question of evil; that is, how to satisfactorily explain the existence of evil read more »

Criticizing Islam

Posted in Islam and the War on Terror on May 15th, 2010 by admin – Be the first to comment

Mohammed as a roundabout dog: cartoon by Lars Vilks

Mohammed as a Swedish roundabout dog (rondellhund): cartoon by Lars Vilks

Ayaan Hirsi Ali’s response to western apologists

While blogging with a very articulate lady from the UK, an evangelical atheist and retired high-level worker for the Labour Party–in other words, to the left of most American liberals–I was struck by her efforts to let Saudi Arabs off the hook read more »

Writing The End of the Monsoon

Posted in Buddhism, The End of the Monsoon, Writing on April 1st, 2010 by admin – 2 Comments

Buddhas at Bayon, Cambodia

In search of theme and setting

In March of 2007 I sold my first novel, The Desert Contract, in a two book deal, which meant I had to write another political thriller.  But about what, and set where?

That summer, while finishing the publisher’s suggested revisions, I read Karen Armstrong’s  A Short History of Myth.  The final pages held my attention.  She suggests that read more »

On reading again Paul Henry Lang and Leonard Woolf

Posted in Music on March 16th, 2010 by admin – 2 Comments

Leonard Woolf

Music and civilization

I’ve just reread, from cover-to-cover, for the first time in years, Lang’s Music in Western Civilization–first published in 1941. My edition dates from 1969. I’m more impressed than ever.

His authority runs through all 1,030 pages. Here are the first lines of the Introduction: read more »

Gutless journalism

Posted in Arab Revolution, Islam and the War on Terror, The End of the Monsoon on March 13th, 2010 by admin – Be the first to comment

New York Times masthead

How The New York Times contributes to government abuse

In articles written for the public by respectable journalists, in respectable papers, we find the terms, ‘extraordinary rendition’, ‘detained’, ‘enhanced interrogation techniques’. When in fact, we should be reading, ‘kidnapped’, ‘imprisoned without charge’, and ‘torture’. read more »

How to get off morphine

Posted in Morphine on March 2nd, 2010 by admin – 2 Comments

Mariann in the Bow River at River-Run

Background

In October 2005 my late wife, Mariann, was hospitalized in Calgary, Alberta, Canada. This being Canada, that meant that she entered, as a patient, a nationalized health service. Canadians are proud of their health service, their ‘public option’. In fact its quality is variable. Canadians can be even more cut-off from the rest of the world than Americans.

After six weeks, two CAT scans, two misdiagnoses and three weeks in hospitals (two hospitals–she spent two weeks in the wrong one by administrative accident), she was finally diagnosed with pancreatic cancer. Unless you’re the CEO of Apple, this is a death sentence with a six month time frame. read more »

Building a Friederici clavichord

Posted in Clavichord, Music on March 1st, 2010 by admin – Be the first to comment

Five octave, unfretted clavichord after Friederici, 1765

I had owned and played a small fretted clavichord since 1982, and in 2004 I started researching five octave, unfretted clavichords, with the idea of building an instrument suitable for playing all of J.S. Bach, and Haydn’s F Minor Variations from 1793. read more »