books and music

As I was reading a biography of C. P. E. Bach this morning, I realized that I have moved further away from academic musicians than academic scholars in general. I often think of my Eucharist professor, Neils Rasmussen, raising a finger and saying in the halls “Do not neglect to read the footnotes.” Then there was the liturgist Robert Taft from whom I took a Liturgical year course. And Paul Bradshaw. These men and their minds are so much more present to me than any of my music profs from grad school with the exception of Ethan Haimo from whom I took a Haydn course. Of course, Haimo was a bit of an outlier at Notre Dame du Lac anyway. I’m still slowly working my way through his book on Haydn. I thought of contacting him and letting him know that at least one student of his from that course is still thinking about Haydn. Then I saw he was teaching in Israel and thought maybe he might not be that interested to learn that. I still may reach out to him for the heck of it.

I think the fact that the liturgy department was so good and the music department full of unhappy and angry people might have something to do with my estrangement from music people. My music teachers at Wayne State were a different story. Ray Ferguson is often in my mind and others from WSU.

Maybe it has just been the luck of the draw but so many of the musical academic minds I have rubbed shoulders with seem to be disconnected from where my own understandings of music have ended up. I usually think it’s me, but it does occur to me that it could them who are out of step.

This morning I played through several little pieces by Hugo Distler from his Thirty Pieces for Small Organ or Other Keyboard Instruments. Then I played through several pages of Hindemith first piano sonata. I love this music. But I know both Distler and Hindemith are not terribly fashionable. Distler is probably limited pretty much to church music circles although he wrote a ton of beautiful music. And Hindemith was a huge presence when he was alive but seems to have fallen mostly out of favor. But I could be wrong since all of my input comes from reading and checking out stuff on YouTube and online.

I just searched Hindemith on YouTube and was very amused to see a two year old comment on the first piano sonata that said Hindemith was was “like the King Crimson group.” This is hilarious. I remember seeing King Crimson live. At one point they were a group I admired. I’ll have to look them up on Spotify and give them another listen.

I order a bunch of books by Ben Lerner from Readers World yesterday. I find him interesting. I’m not ready to commit to saying that I like his work a great deal. I did enjoy The Topeka School and am doing a reread of his long poem Mean Free Path but I’m not sure I understand the poem very well. I’m also reading a funny book by Lerner called The Hatred of Poetry. I don’t think I need to own this one. But I am interested in Lerner.

I finished Kunzru’s My Revolutions. Kunzru gives me a different perspective on the U.K. The book is a story of a leftist terrorist type who was living under a new identity whose life falls apart when he spots a woman from his past. In telling this story Kunzru revisits the main character’s past as a Marxist in the U.K. in the 70s. Fun stuff.

Kunzru and Lerner are on my mind as writers I want to read and learn more about.

Lerner sent me back to Marianne Moore since his little book The Hatred of Poetry begins with a poem of hers:


I, too, dislike it.
Reading it, however with a perfect
contempt for it, one discovers in
it, after all, a place for the genuine.

This reminds me of Randall Thompson’s definition of a novel: “A prose narrative of some length that has something wrong with it.” If you google this you find that Neil Gaiman comes up as well as Jarrell. But I think it’s a Jarrell quote, possibly from an introduction he wrote.

I’m still reading Ozeki’s The Book of Form and Emptiness, but since I finished Kunzru I’m thinking of also adding Jim Thompson’s The Killer Inside Me to my daily reading. Jeremy Daum said to me at Thanksgiving that everyone should read this book, reminding me that he had sent me a copy. I only found my copy this morning so I’m tempted to add this one.

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