Friday, October 31, 2008

The consolations of art


The savagery of this election is unlike any before — and 2004 was acidic enough. Just blogging here, commenting on others' blogs, and reading about the campaign has left me drained, feeling like Michelangelo when he painted himself as an empty bag of skin in the Last Judgment fresco in the Sistine Chapel.
If I tried to follow all the developments, charges, countercharges, rumors, and commercials, as some people apparently are able to, I'd go mental.

When the world is too much with me at times like these I turn off the chatter and get immersed in good music. While The Messiah was doing his all-TV-channels, May-Day-in Red-Square parade the other night, I was in a different world, reminding myself of what my species can do at its best, rather than the norm.

My vehicle of deliverance that night was a recording of Dvořák's 6th Symphony, performed by Christoph von Dohnányi conducting the Cleveland Orchestra. The Dvořák 6 is bracingly red-blooded in places, ravishingly lovely in others. Dohnányi isn't on my short list of great contemporary conductors (which includes Mariss Jansons, Valery Gergiev, Charles Dutoit, and — if he's still active — Sir Charles Mackerras), but he seems to have the temperament for this composer.

Czech music of the 19th century is quite different in sound and spirit
from others of the same period, especially the Austro-German stuff. Its tone is probably closest to Hungarian, with some of the same Slavic spice, but also a resigned, melancholy sweetness. Maybe you have to be Czech or Hungarian to fully capture that sound, and Dohnányi has it in his Hungarian genes.


The 1991 Decca recording is typically full-bodied, with excellent transparency, a fine example of the sound quality the company's production team was getting at the time. (Decca has since been swallowed by Universal, which mainly sticks to reissues from the back catalog and a few calculated blockbusters.)

Listening to the Dvořák was a cleansing, uplifting experience — a reminder that while politicians and economists are banging on about how we can live better, we can also live deeper. There is a hierarchy of meaning. This world is important, but not ultimately important.



sebastian said...

Thank you for that entry. I have taken to the streets, literally, and thrown myself into the McCain campaign, making calls, setting up a last minute website, anticipating legal challenges. I disagree with you and Larry Auster, whose site initially directed me here, that this is an agonizing choice. Obama is much, much worse, period (and my pocket-book is at stake). But I like your site precisely because of its contemplative, reflective quality. I also love the 6th symphony and miss my old Marantz stereo - and the absence of neighbors that allowed me to enjoy it - more than many of the women I've known. Come Wednesday night, I'll find a quite place and make it through Mahler's Third or, if Obama wins, Brendel's rendering of Schubert's Sonata in B flat, a piece whose first movement is for me the very essence of high sentiment.

BTW, given your interest on "the inner nature of our life on earth and what follows our brief visit," allow me to recommend Peter Lawler's Aliens in America: The Strange Truth About Our Souls, or Homeless and at Home in America. There's melancholy resignation coupled with joy at what simply is that reminded me of your site.

Rick Darby said...


Did you know Philips bought out Marantz and now uses the badge for one of its high-end audio lines? I have a Marantz CD9001 player (among others).

Even if you are not in a situation where you can play your sound system loud, you can get almost state-of-the-art sound with a good quality CD player that has a headphone jack (like the CD9001) and excellent headphones. I listen on AKG 701s when I want to spare my wife and cat from having to share my acoustic space.

As for this bloody election, I have nothing further to say at the moment.

yih said...

I didn't know that about Marantz. That likely means it's only a brand name stuck on another company's product (like Compaq). Too bad, they used to have awesome components.
On a different (and politics-free) note is that it seems trick-or-treating has gone the way of the vinyl LP. My new neighbors went all-out for Halloween, the works. When they showed me the salad bowl heaped with candy, I said to them ''I hate to say it, but you're going to regret buying that much candy''.
I learned that the hard way, the first year I bought a big bag of candy, three groups of kids and leftovers until New Year's Eve. The next year I bought a one-pound bag of reese's cups and got rid of half of it. Year three, I got my treats from the bank, a roll of quarters. Two quarters per kid, and I'm out as much as if I'd spent it on candy.

Rick Darby said...


Actually, the Marantz line represents some of Philips's best audio products.

Yes, I think we got all of about three parties of trick-or-treaters. And of course they're always accompanied by a parent or teenage guardian these days. Such times.

Sebastian said...

Oh no - an audiophile thread! It's amazing how quickly politics fade, thankfully.

Thing is, I don't like headphones; can't do it.