Month: November 2009

‘Tis the season

And then a face came peering over Stella’s shoulder. A face with grizzled jowls and red-rimmed eyes under spikey, dark tousled hair. Kerouac? The face said, “Yeah,” and then: “You want to come in?”

Although the sun was two hours from taking its evening dip in the Gulf ten miles to the west, the house was dim inside. A television set in the corner was on, soundless. The sound you heard was Handel’s Messiah blaring from speakers in the next room.

“I like to watch television like that,” Kerouac said.

—Jack McClintock, “Jack Kerouac Is On the Road No More,”
St. Petersburg Times, October 12, 1969

Please stop

I got a press-release e-mail this week with the subject line “Survey Reveals People Love Classical Music During Tough Economic Times”. Curious? I was. (I mean, does that mean they hate classical music when the economy picks up again? Because that would be kind of weird.) Turns out, it’s an online survey by the mp3-dealer Classical Archives. The question was this: “Why do you think you love classical music?” And, sure enough, 20.3% of the respondents clicked on “Relaxes me when life is stressing me out”. Now, they didn’t specify just what was stressing those respondents out specifically, but OK, bad economy is pretty universally stressful, fair enough.

But here’s how the press release spins that: “The survey suggests that classical music, more than rock and pop, is able to calm the nerves in tough times.” COMMENCE COMEDY SPIT-TAKE NOW! I sure hope somebody at Classical Archives is frantically looking under the cushions for some longitudinal data to support that conclusion, considering they forgot to even mention rock or pop—or jazz, or musical theatre, or polka, or Sacred Harp, or Pansori, or anything else—in the wording of their survey. More from the press release:

Nolan Gasser, Artistic Director, Classical Archives, notes, that “Are the results surprising? Hardly.”

I wouldn’t think so, given that the sample pool consisted exclusively of customers of a classical music website.

Of course, 60.2% of the respondents love classical music because “It is simply the best music there is,” an statement of such impressive intellectual vacuity that I’m guessing it could liquefy nitrogen. Me? I love classical music because the majority of it doesn’t characterize the relationship between life, art, performer, and listener as “simply” anything, but as an opportunity to acknowledge and explore that relationship’s complexity, because there are still some of us who think that complexity is fun and rewarding. That’s probably too long for a multiple-choice poll answer, isn’t it? Yeah, I thought so. OK, fine—I’ll take “I’m a freak for culture.”

The Girl Can’t Help It

Today’s bit of tangential Beethoven history: the reason Franz Liszt wasn’t invited back for the 1870 Beethoven centennial festivities in Beethoven’s birthplace of Bonn. Back in the 1840s, when the city’s plans for a Beethoven monument looked as if they might falter because of insufficient funds, Liszt stepped in, pledging his talents and enough of his then-considerable concert receipts to support the statue and the 1845 festival surrounding its unveiling. At a banquet following the festival’s final concert, Liszt (speaking in German, not his most comfortable language) offered a toast to the assembled representatives from throughout Europe, but failed to mention the French, and the result was an uproar, with speakers being shouted down, insults being hurled, and all manner of nationalistic and anti-Semitic bile let loose.

As if that weren’t bad enough, at the height of the disturbance, Lola Montez, the Irish-born, Spanish-impersonating dancer, who had followed her one-time lover Liszt to Bonn and crashed the banquet uninvited, attempted to quell the disturbance by drunkenly jumping up onto a table and spinning around. Insulting the French might have been OK by the Bonn city fathers, but the unexpected presence of the scandalous Montez was something else. A quarter-century later, Bonn’s centennial celebration went off without Liszt, who stayed in Weimar.

There might be movies with final shots as good as that of Max Ophüls’ 1955 Lola Montès, but I don’t think there are any that are better. Un dollar…