ravel, monteverdi, & history books


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Tippet’s Desert Island Disc choices (mentioned in yesterday’s blog) have been providing me with some beautiful music to run down. When I listen to these programs I am scrutinizing the over all aesthetic of the sum of the choices. How broad is the celebrity listener’s experience and love of music? The broader the better in my opinion.

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Tippet passes this scrutiny.  Born in 1905, Tippett is 80 years old in this 1985 broadcast. He exhibits what I expect in a composer: a curiosity in all music unrestricted by stupidity. So his selections range from Ravel to The Police, from Monteverdi and Berlioz to Harry Partch. This very breadth gives him more credibility in my eyes.

There is no online list of music for this broadcast (that I have found) but I am working my way through some of the choices beginning with the Minuet from Ravel’s Sonatine.

My copy of this piece gives 1905 (Tippett’s birth year) as the date of publication. Tippett remarks that the first movement is much harder than the Minuet. I have attacked this piece before and found that to be true and had not made it to the beautiful second movement. Tippett heard this as a young person so it must have been very fresh. He says he still loves it at the age of 80. It IS beautiful and I am planning to learn it and use it as a prelude at church sometime.

The Monteverdi Vespers is another of Tippet’s choices. I have been listening to it since. Wonderful stuff. It inspires me to do some Monteverdi in the next choral season.

Image result for how to read a history book poe

I settled down last night in bed to finish this short little book which I have been enjoying so much. I was down to the last two chapters: 7. What History Books are Good for and 8. Living and Dying with History,

Chapter 7 was pretty good. After concluding that “Historians and their books … constitute a kind of factual bulwark against historical bullshit,” Elizabeth (the fictional history book writer that Poe uses throughout) dithers through a seminar conversation in which she keeps questioning what “History Books are Good for” without (predictably) coming to any firm conclusions.

It’s here where I think Poe went wrong. The next chapter descends into an attempt to write about Elizabeth’s death and her attitude towards her work at that point in her life. The breezy prose style breaks down with Poe’s squishy conclusion that “… if Elizabeth has learned anything from writing, reading, and thinking about history books it is that those who have not acted out of universal love simply do not know that love is humankind’s only hope for serenity.”


I think I get what he was trying to do, end with a philosophical flourish with some basic truths. But using his one dimensional creation, Elizabeth, which served to hold together a very interesting explication of the inner workings of scholarship, using her instead as if he had developed a more three dimensional fictional character through which he can sort have a cosmic, metaphysical, ending failed to work for me.

Darn. I did like a lot of the book and learned from it.

From my notes:

Bad history writing doesn’t produce bad history. Bad thinking does.

Here, he saying that it’s not about the quality of how you put words together, your ability to write, but your ability to think. My take is that clear (good) thinking is what produces clear (good) writing.

Thinking about the idea that history is a true story about what actually happened in the past (which is not able to change), Poe concludes that the reasons there are so  many different understandings of history is that thought the subjects (the facts) are the same, the stories can be very different. This is a helpful notion to me.

Another way he talks about this is that the “content” of a history floats on the surface of the story being told. The container of the content is the story and it is the old into which the facts are poured. I’m rewording it here to reflect my understanding.

The Dictionary Is Telling People How to Speak Again – The Atlantic

Prescriptive thinking is back according to this headline. Bookmarked to read.

Paris Review – V. S. Naipaul, The Art of Fiction No. 154

Still processing Naipaul’s death. I love these Paris Review interviews.


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