"A SINISTER GLITTER IN HER EYE," MUSIC & H. L. MENCKEN
There is something beguiling about humor, especially self-deprecating humor. Especially so when I can muster it in relation to my recent endeavors to relearn the piano and how to write poetry.
Humor pulls me back into a reasonably balanced sense of calm and collectedness about the vicissitudes of life and allows me to get back to the business of listening to good music as well as to other people rather than to my often-overwrought thoughts.
Nothing better to start off my morning "music appreciation hour" than to read a few pages written by H.L. Mencken. He's one of my favorite humorist writers and curmudgeon-sexists of all time. Please consider forthwith purchasing and reading H.L. Mencken on Music selected by Louis Cheslock who loved to play the piano with Mencken in the music club they attended for many years.
"Poetry is a comforting piece of fiction set to more or less lascivious music -- a grand release of longings and repressions to the tune of flutes, harps, sackbuts, psalteries and the usual strings" (Smart Set, June, 1920)...As for a human being incapable of writing passable verse, they simply do not exist. It is done as everyone knows, by children...but good music is never written by children...Prose is the ultimate flower of the art of words. Next to music, it is the finest of all the fine arts."
I think I should practice at my piano more and write fewer blogs and poems...
Thank goodness at least I play the piano, because "all genuine music lovers try to make music. They may do so badly, and even absurdly, but nevertheless they do it."
That, despite Mencken's opinion that "piano music, in the main, seems to me to lack dignity." Or should I take up the viola again? (Six months of viola lessons in high school sent me screaming back to the piano, much to my parent's relief.)
But since I cannot seem to banish my great love of The Duchess and dear Calliope (my poetry muse), and since in my entire life I've only composed two puerile quarter-melodies with infantile harmonies, I think I'll abjure composing and keep the faith with those two, residing in the ultimate flower of the art of words and resting on what poetic and pianistic laurels I have not yet received.
Thank goodness Mencken is dead. He might have gotten hold of one of my poetry volumes or found my website through idle surfing one day and bothered to spend a few minutes listening to my posted recordings at the piano, and then I would have been in for some scolding at best.
He was a master at skewering composers and pretend music-lovers. Chopin was "a sugar-teat" and to sum him up, think of "two embalmers at work upon a minor poet...the scent of tuberoses...Autumn rain." French music "is pretty but trashy excepting Cesar Frank and maybe Berlioz ;" Tschaikovsky (sp?), "when he tried to be solemn, became merely bombastic, but he could write lovely tunes;" and the English produce music that is "palpably fourth-rate."
Summing up Mendelssohn's contribution in 2.5 pages vs.12 pages and more spent on his beloved Schumann, Mencken concludes there was "no truly moving content" in Mendelssohn's music but it is often "merely pretty."
Too much wax buildup in Mencken's ears....
Regarding those attending concert halls, Mencken tells us that there you find hundreds of "frauds and liars" and that some so-called music lovers actually like "the infernal din" of jazz!
As for the seductive qualities of music (which existence has been debated), Mencken points to the first act of Der Rosenkavalier (although like Mencken, I adore Johan Strauss, who would not swoon to the Rosenkavalier's Waltz of Baron Ochs?) and other stunning operas by Strauss. "No woman who hears it is ever the same again. She may remain within the law, but her thoughts are wayward henceforth...She has been beset by witches. There is a sinister glitter in her eye."
Let's hear it for sinister glitter in our eyes!
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PASSION AND THE POET (from Vol II Poetical Musings)
Passion a poet does not make (one critic told me that), nor intelligent use of words or rhyme; or things I overlooked–oh, drat!
I failed “to apply poetry protocols” from a “magnificent” tradition quite ancient, so nothing of value she found to discuss, save “good vocabulary” and “evident passion.”
How nice–I’ll take them! She got my main message, to love life and jump in to express the things that bring you joy and hope, brain power and all the rest!
Go take up an instrument, attend the symphony, discuss music with your friends, suffer a beginner’s status as a “pianist” with the challenges that it brings.
And as for poetry, I’ll consider critiques, remembering in the main what one favored writer, Mencken, said in words so perfectly plain:
“It is astonishing how voluptuously criticism cherishes nonsense.” H.L. Mencken on Music.
A MENDELSSOHN MAVEN I SURELY AM! (from Vol. III)
To conquer his “Songs”* I try and I try, with a whisper first and next a sigh. The softest of touches is required by far to begin to express his exquisite polestar.
No warring with keys, or an attacking attack, no rushing the tempo and no holding back. Sweet feelings must flow more like a stream, no storms at sea in a nightmarish dream.
He speaks with soft voice though he uses no words, he lifts up the spirit though no sermon be heard. The melody soars, but with grace and restraint; this composer’s a genius, if not a saint!
*From 48 songs in the collection “Leid Ohne Worte” My favorites to play are “Contemplation,” “Consolation,” and “Confidence.”
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