Why Anglo intellectuals aren’t

September 1, 2011 § Leave a comment

How’s this for a high-brow format:  host plus three musicologists listen to six mystery recordings of Mahler’s First, discuss their merits and demerits, and choose their favorite?  I would never have chosen Mystery 1 (Zinman/Tonhalle 2006) over Mystery 5 (Abbado/CSO 1982) — though they, too, hesitated; nor rejected Mystery 3 (Berstein/Concertgebouw 1987) merely because it wasn’t orthodox enough (how about that sepulchral kettle in 3rd movement) though they did so with a professed heart-break, and only because by the rules of the game they had to; still, the discussion of the various aspects of the recordings — from tempi, to sonority, to attack; to conception (how about the “hilarious/anguished” concept); to positioning of microphones; to the discussion of the aesthetic category of “fascinating ugly” (Walter/Columbia 1961); and the relative unimportance of mistakes in live music, while they come to dominate one’s perception of a recording; and the way in which all of this enhances one’s private listening — simply priceless.

How this changes one’s day — one listens to a one-hour program and then stays up the whole night, listening to Mahler, too excited to sleep.

How very epigonic of the Polish Radio: she’s The Last Man Standing in the western broadcasting world.

Contrast her with the most recent Chopin offering form the BBC, with its management putting pedal to the medal as the broadcaster vertical-dives for the quarter brow:  an hour and a half documentary dedicated — pretty much — to the Chopin’s presumptive sex life (with special emphasis on whether or not he may have slept with a Scottish singer in the last year of his life); as stupid as it is irrelevant (it’s not tears, you fools, it’s notes) as it is misinformed (“I kneel before you” in the context of Polish/French gallant conversation isn’t anymore sexual than “I adore you” is in English); but with a pair of “folks like us” musicians as its heroes.  Easy enough to see where the program was pitched — you know, ordinary folks like you and me — er — he’s tattooed and she’s fat, their dress renders them indistinguishable from street bums.  But musically it was a disaster:  the pianist can’t play (watch the Japanese woman in the audience — how her lips curve in a sour  horseshoe as the music – er – advances) and the soprano screams.  So — we know where it is pitched; but have no idea — why?  Hard to see how it had anything to do with music.

What surprise, then, that, fed on this sort of diet, Anglo intellectuals come across dumb?

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