Nocturnes – Whistling Boléro

Purim: 28 February 2010 (14 Adar 5770)

Nocturnes (1866-82): James McNeill Whistler

Strange Interlude (1856-75): Rose & Alice

Boléro (1928): Maurice Ravel

Carnival: 20 March 2010

Les Vans celebrates carnival on the spring equinox instead of on the traditional day of Fat (or Shrove) Tuesday (Mardi Gras).

Rose Reiss & children of Les Vans
                  by SAGReiss

Rose Reiss & children of
                  Les Vans by SAGReiss (detail)

                  Reiss & Naïa by SAGReiss

Rose & SAGReiss by Alan Lothian

Rose Reiss by SAGReiss (detail)

                  Reiss & Naïa by SAGReiss

Rose & SAGReiss by Alan Lothian

Rose Reiss playing a gourd before the pyre by
                  Alan Lothian (detail)

Rose Reiss playing a gourd before the
                pyre by Alan Lothian

Notice in M (bottom center) the symbolic pyre, which was not burnt this year in Les Vans, where this is apparently no longer legal. The charming tradition of the autodafé survives in some parts of Europe. I saw it in the winter of 1987-8 in the tiny village of Donaueschingen (in the Black Forest at the source of the [Blue] Danube). As we watched two huge human figurines (male & female) go up in flames, I said to Bénédicte: "A few centuries ago we'd be watching the immolation of human beings." She dryly answered: "Unless we were up there on the pyre."

Purim: 28 February 2010 (14 Adar 5770)

In the Jewish calendar winter carnival falls on the day of Purim (the casting of lots). The book of Esther governs this holiday. Wikipedia helpfully points out:

Purim is celebrated annually according to the Hebrew calendar on the 14th day of the Hebrew month of Adar (Adar II in leap years), the day following the victory of the Jews over their enemies; as with all Jewish holidays, Purim begins at sundown on the previous secular day. [Assuming the reference is to the Gregorian calendar, commissioned & authorized by Pope Gregory XIII, in what way is a calendar secular that was written on behalf of a religious leader in order to justify his theological doctrine?] In cities that were protected by a surrounding wall at the time of Joshua, including Shushan (Susa) and Jerusalem, Purim is celebrated on the 15th of the month, known as Shushan Purim. Purim is characterized by public recitation of the Book of Esther (keriat ha-megilla), giving mutual gifts of food and drink (mishloach manot), giving charity to the poor (mattanot la-evyonim), and a celebratory meal (se'udat Purim); other customs include drinking wine, wearing of masks and costumes, and public celebration.

There's little mention of drunken revelry & homosexuality, but I do seem to recall some effort on the part of the gay community in Israel to make this feast their own, as is practiced in America on Halloween & Mardi Gras. The book of Esther seems odd for a number of reasons. It is the only book of the Bible that fails to mention the word (or one of the words for) "God", and takes the form of a closet drama, while many Purim traditions dating from the middle ages include the performance of theatrical masques.

Purim Parade
Reading Esther

From: SAGReiss

Date: 16 March 2010

Subject: P as in Politics

Sorry to insist, but neither would I say that the ending (happy or unhappy depending on which end of the sword you found yourself on) is the result of happenstance, of whom I'm a great fan, nor even of God's will, his presence in this book being uniquely absent. Rather it is the outcome of bold & clever Esther's political skill, and that of her cousin & counsel Mordecai. When reading ancient books it is helpful to compare the kings & concubines of the Bible or Sophocles [Think Clinton as Oedipus.] to the modern antics of Dick Nixon [Think King Saul drunk on gin & overcome by madness.] & Bill Clinton [Think King David dancing in the streets of Jerusalem & flashing the interns {with Hillary in the thankless role of Michal}.]. Remember that the same forces, naked love of power & lust for pussy [King Ahasuerus can't imagine what else Haman might be doing on Esther's bed other than trying to fuck the queen, such as trying to save his wretched ass.], drove these men of old. Things haven't changed much. Sex & money are no less important to Wild Bill Shakespeare [Think Nixon as Richard III.] than to Bill Gates [Think Jaggers in Great Expectations.] & every blogger on the internet.

From: SAGReiss

Date: 15 March 2010

Subject: Ananke

But why should the powers that be (which Rose calls the police, as when she tells me that they have killed her maternal grandfather, which may be true, if indeed he is dead, which I have no way of knowing, or else she could be using a simple metaphor for cancer, which Norman Mailer called: "madness of the cells") show any care for whatever morality you refer to or for the fate of human beings? The outcome may seem happy from your point of view, but I think the "many" forced converts to Judaism & seventy-five thousand dead Persians would beg to differ. I'm sorry. I didn't write this book. I've just read it.

At 15:23 15-03-10, Moshe Reiss wrote:

A key to Purim is found in its name: purim, "lots," referring to the lots cast by Haman to determine the day on which he would carry out his diabolical scheme. In other words: chance, randomness, blind luck, chaos; the idea that the world is governed by dumb chance, by random events, by forces bereft of morality or any care about human beings. On the face of it, the Megillah is filled with seemingly random events; its happy end is the outcome of a series of serendipitous coincidences.

From: SAGReiss

Date: 15 March 2010

Subject: Pur as in Purim

Esther is a colorful tale of sexual misbehavior, palace intrigue & interethnic slaughter, amidst the golden goblets, purple linen, blue alabaster & red wine of the Persian court. When Ahasuerus' Queen Vashti understandably refuses to show her charms to the gathering crowd, the beautiful Hadassah or Esther & a few other cunning virgins & orphans step in and sleep their way to the top. Haman (the new vizier after a few chamberlains [eunuchs of the harem] are executed for scheming to kill the king) is not amused, so he decrees death to Mordecai, her cousin, and all of their coreligionists. Esther boldly works her wits to unravel the plot. As she seems to be getting the upper hand in the power struggle, Haman falls upon her bed to beg for mercy. Unfortunately for him just at that moment the king walks in, assumes Haman is trying to rape the queen, and has him hanged from the fifty-cubit-high gallows he has built for Mordecai. "Light, and gladness, and joy, and honour" follow, along with mass murder as "the Jews smote all their enemies with the stroke of the sword, and slaughter, and destruction, and did what they would unto those that hated them" in fine application of Oriental lex talionis [but there was no looting, the text helpfully informs us]. "Wherefore they called these days Purim after the name of Pur," the casting of lots.

From: SAGReiss

Date: 14 March 2010

Subject: Esther & Solomon

Since the book of Esther doesn't inspire me too much, I thought I'd lend my voice (feeble as it may be) to an odd man who is one of my ancestors in a number of intriguing ways, and whom I once described thus: "Solomon bar Isaac (1040-1105), aka Rashi [RAbbi SHlomo bar Isaac], the Jewish French vintner [in the Champagne district of Troyes, also home to near-contemporary poet Chretien de Troyes] and philologist whose glosses constitute a corpus of some two thousand biblical words translated into Old French written in the Hebrew alphabet." He took the then-unheard-of step of teaching his three daughters (He had no sons, despite the law stating that every Jewish man & woman must procreate at least one child of each sex, which I have also disobeyed.) to read, which to them of course meant reading the Hebrew Bible & Aramaic Talmud. Rumor has it that the girls got carried away & wore phylacteries to, um, pray. This was not well looked upon at the time, but father & sons-in-law were well connected, so it worked out OK. I have chosen a text (Esther 1:1-8) more or less at random, based on our theme of the Purim festivities, which has already degenerated into Alice in Wonderland, Victorian child pornography, the literary innovations of Flaubertian/Jamesian realism & Henry Miller, and the musico-sexual deviations of Mo Ravel & Bo Derek. I'm sure none of you mind that we're in mixed company here. Rashi, who is utterly unknown in the Christian world, to which all of you (except Pierre & my father) belong without even knowing it, is known to every Jew as the king of Bible commentators, in other words as the greatest literary mind in history.


Solomon bar
                Isaac (1040-1105), aka Rashi

Nocturnes (1866-82): James McNeill Whistler

On 2 July 1877 the influential English art critic John Ruskin wrote in his pamphlet Fors Clavigera of American artist James McNeill Whistler's recent exhibition in London:

For Mr Whistler’s own sake, no less than for the protection of the purchaser, Sir Coutts Lindsay [founder of the Grosvenor Gallery] ought not to have admitted works into the gallery in which the ill-educated conceit of the artist so nearly approached the aspect of willful imposture. I have seen, and heard, much of Cockney impudence before now; but never expected to hear a coxcomb ask two hundred guineas for flinging a pot of paint in the public’s face.

Whistler was something of a dandy & a shameless self-promoter, but the New England Yankee, a polyglot educated as a draftsman (despite apparently severe myopia) at the Russian Academy of Arts and West Point Military Academy in New York, was a cultivated man and certainly not a Cockney.

Swords cross over the Nocturne in Black and Gold. Whistler sues for libel, asking for £1,000 in damages (about five times the list price of the painting). In November 1878 at the Queen's Bench of the High Court uproar followed uproar, the offending work of art being hung for courtroom viewing upside-down, for example. Whistler takes the witness stand:

Mr Petheram [Whistler's solicitor]: What is your definition of a Nocturne?

Whistler: I have perhaps meant rather to indicate an artistic interest alone in the work, divesting the picture of any outside anecdotal sort of interest which might have been otherwise attached to it. It is an arrangement of line, form and colour first: and I make use of any incident of it which shall bring about a symmetrical result. Among my works are some night pieces, and I have chosen the word Nocturne because it generalizes and simplifies the whole set of them.

His mother happened to be sitting there, so he closed the curtain, straightened the picture frames, found the proper harmony of shape, color, light & shadow, and went to work. The Falling Rocket he would have had to paint from memory or imagination (Do fiction & non-fiction exist in the visual arts? The question is no more or less absurd than it is in literature, no more or less absurd than the question of figurative or abstract, in painting, music, or literature. In the interpretation of the Temptations' Papa Was a Rollin' Stone, does it matter whose [if anyone's] father died on 3 September, and in which year? This is not useful information. It is a feminine rhyme. Mimesis is nothing but an elaborate hoax.) after a late-night stroll through the park. Art is not only for art's sake, but it is an improvised part of the artist's life, fruit of the chance meeting of skillful craftsmanship & serendipity, what we call inspiration.

Arrangement in Gray & Black

Whistler - Arrangement in Gray & Black

Whistler - Nocturne in Black & Gold (1874)

Nocturne in Black & Gold

The proceedings go on as Ruskin's solicitor & attorney general cross-examines:

Sir John Holker: What is the subject of Nocturne in Black and Gold: The Falling Rocket?

Whistler: It is a night piece and represents the fireworks at Cremorne Gardens.

Holker: Not a view of Cremorne?

Whistler: If it were called A View of Cremorne it would certainly bring about nothing but disappointment on the part of the beholders. It is an artistic arrangement. That is why I call it a nocturne.

Holker: Did it take you much time to paint the Nocturne in Black and Gold? How soon did you knock it off?

Whistler: Oh, I knock one off possibly in a couple of days, one day to do the work and another to finish it.

Holker: The labour of two days is that for which you ask two hundred guineas?

Whistler: No, I ask it for the knowledge I have gained in the work of a lifetime.

John Millais - Effie Millais
née Gray, ex-Ruskin

John Everett Millais - Effie Millais (c. 1860)

Strange Interlude (1856-75): Rose & Alice

Ruskin -
                Rose La Touche (1875)

Rose by Ruskin

Whistler had been a precocious talent, and was at the age of forty-four already a globetrotting success as an artist. His wit is no more flippant than that of Ruskin, who was at the age of fifty-nine succumbing to a mental illness linked to some lifelong sexual fetish or dysfunction. Learned men speculate as to whether pedophilia (Rose La Touche & Alice Liddell), the fear of his fetching (& untouched) bride's pubic hair or menstrual blood was the culprit.

Whistler wins the trial, earning a symbolic one farthing but only half of court costs in what amounts to a Pyrrhic victory that he crows over nevertheless in his autobiography The Gentle Art of Making Enemies (1890). Henry Miller (né 1891) wrote his take in uncorrected French with an ellipsis in the printed text of J’suis pas plus con qu’un autre (1976, a charming curiosity of a book, but a masterpiece of neither publishing nor literature):

Mais Cendrars faisait avec une seule main ce que un écrivain quelconque n’aurait jamais pu faire.

pense à Ruskin. A l’école et même après, je le détestais, Mais, chose curieuse, mon père dont je disais qu’il n’avait jamais lu un livre, avait lu Ruskin — The Stones of Venice. Comment et pour quoi je ne sais pas. C’est Ruskin qui s’était permis de détruire maintes œuvres de Turner (après sa mort) qu’il avait jugé art pornographiques. Et c’est le même Ruskin qui s’est brouillé avec Whistler parce qu’il ne considérait pas la peinture « The Battersea Bridge » une peinture. Mais Whistler, qui n’était pas un doucet, l’a dompté et mis en ridicule bien vite.

Ruskin me rappelle d’un autre emmerdeur — Dr. Johnson.

Recent study seems to show that Ruskin did not in fact burn any of William Turner's works, but one can understand the indignation of an artist notoriously unafraid of pubic hair. Although Miller's story of the trial does not bear up to scrutiny, that was really none of his concern. In the eye of history & in the light of poetic justice Whistler certainly did prevail.

Alice by Dodgson

Charles Dodgson - Alice Liddell (c. 1859)

William Turner - Portrait of a Lady

Turner -
                Portrait of a Lady (c. 1812)

The autobiographer is returning to a recurrent theme, which he had already developed in English in The Books In My Life (1952):

My father, of course, had never read a line of Balzac. He had hardly read a line of any English or American author, indeed. The one writer he confessed to reading—c’est inoui, mais c’est vrai !—was John Ruskin. Ruskin ! I nearly fell off my chair when he blurted this out. I did not know how to account for such an absurdity, but later discovered that it was the minister who had (temporarily) converted him to Christ who was responsible. What astounded me even more was his admission that he had enjoyed reading Ruskin. That still remains inexplicable to me. But of Ruskin another time...

None of this text seems very close to the truth, nor fair to his father, a beer-drinking tailor of some skill, if little ambition, whose culture was German. Ruskin, whom Rose's Irish protestant father accused of atheism & socialism, is very unlikely to have turned up in a teetotaling American evangelist's library in 1916, when this temperance revival is supposed to have taken place, during the run-up to America's entry into the First World War & the concomitant First Red Scare.

Miller's references to Ruskin may seem odd today, but the latter had also made a strong impression on a writer belonging to the previous generation:

Proust set out to translate two of Ruskin's works into French, but was hampered by an imperfect command of English. In order to compensate for this he made his translations a group affair: sketched out by his mother, the drafts were first revised by Proust, then by Marie [Riefstahl, née] Nordlinger, the English cousin of his friend and sometime lover Reynaldo Hahn, then again finally polished by Proust. Confronted about his method by an editor, Proust responded, "I don't claim to know English; I claim to know Ruskin". The Bible of Amiens, with Proust's extended introduction, was published in French in 1904. Both the translation and the introduction were very well reviewed; Henri Bergson called Proust's introduction "an important contribution to the psychology of Ruskin" and had similar praise for the translation. At the time of this publication, Proust was already at work on translating Ruskin's Sesame and Lilies, which he completed in June 1905, just prior to his mother's death, and published in 1906. Literary historians and critics have ascertained that, apart from Ruskin, Proust's chief literary influences included Saint-Simon, Montaigne, Stendhal, Flaubert, George Eliot, Fyodor Dostoevsky, and Leo Tolstoy.

The rather incestuous technique seems to befit this particular art critic. The French translator's fetishized Jewish mother does the groundwork; Proust corrects the style; his half-Jewish Venezuelan homosexual lover's half-Jewish English cousin checks for misinterpretations; then Proust refines the punctuation or something. Marcel Proust was a master of literary art. If he couldn't translate an English hack while improving on the original, then he couldn't read the language at all. Whatever historians & critics may claim to have ascertained, few people today would utter the name Ruskin in the same breath as the others. The Millers (père &/or fils) maintained a tortured relationship (a similarly bilingual & twice-told tale) with the childless bachelor author of the Éducation sentimentale.

John Tenniel
                  - Alice in Wonderland (1865)

Alice by Tenniel

Alice Liddell

Alice in America

Catherine Uccellatore

Catherine Uccellatore
Mother & Daughters

Charles Dodgson the mathematician was a friend of Liddell père, the ancient-Greek lexicographer, while Lewis Carroll the author followed in the path of Laurence Sterne & near-contemporary Edward Lear, but Miller is right to set him apart:

Dickens. Voici un auteur que je n’aime plus. Comme très jeune homme, quelqu’un m’a fait cadeau de tous les livres de Dickens, bien reliés d’ailleurs. Aujourd’hui, quand je pense à Dombey and Son, Bleak House, Little Dorrit, The Pickwick Papers, je sens un frisson. Je ne savais pas à cette époque, pourquoi en achevant un de ses livres je devenais si triste, si morbide. A cause de lui, Dickens, je hais toute la littérature anglaise, à part celle de Lewis Carroll. Carroll était unique, un drôle d’homme, comme on dit. On me comprend quand je dis que la littérature française m’a dégourdi ! (« Treading softly », — Smerdyak ou Dostoievski)

Bleak House (law), Oliver Twist (crime), David Copperfield (childhood), Great Expectations (guilt) & A Tale of Two Cities (revolution) are certainly melancholy books, but Miller was also swayed by the charm of the exotic, for example the French language (which he learned to write well as an adult) as opposed to English & German (which he had known since boyhood). He might have enjoyed Charles Dickens more if he had read him in the German translation by Gustav Meyrink, as the French do not generally translate well. Miller dismisses Goethe, whom he may also have read in the original, as an old nun ("vieux bonze").

Henry Miller - Portrait of a Lady (1974)

Henry Miller
Portrait of a Lady



Those who still doubt the rightfulness of Dickens' place in the Poets' Corner may, or may not, be persuaded by this:

Tolstoy regarded Dickens as the best of all English novelists, and considered Copperfield to be his finest work, ranking the "Tempest" chapter (chapter 55, LV – the story of Ham and the storm and the shipwreck) the standard by which the world's great fiction should be judged. Henry James remembered hiding under a small table as a boy to hear instalments read by his mother. Dostoyevsky read it enthralled in a Siberian prison camp. Franz Kafka called his first book Amerika a "sheer imitation". James Joyce paid it reverence through parody in Ulysses. Virginia Woolf, who normally had little regard for Dickens, confessed the durability of this one novel, belonging to "the memories and myths of life". It was Freud's favourite novel.

Please note that four of the seven laudatory authors cited read Dickens either in translation or in a foreign language.

Catherine Uccellatore

Catherine Uccellatore

Lewis Carroll, Jonathan Swift & Mark Twain stand alone (at least in the English language) as authors who wrote masterpieces for both children & grown-ups, fueled by pedophilia, misanthropy, misogyny, madness &/or hatred. Of the three only Samuel Clemens (who lost three of his four children to various ailments) managed to become a father. If Henry James, another childless Victorian bachelor, had written The Turn of the Screw from Flora's point of view, he might have earned membership in this exclusive club.

Boléro (1928): Maurice Ravel

The site of the Académie française returns this entry for the word boléro. The citation of Honoré de Balzac's Lost Illusions (1843): "despite the dangerous lasciviousness of the [dancers'] positions" seems to suggest that Ravel didn't create the link between sex & music. The paper P'tit Bob gives a more thorough etymology, helpfully suggesting that the English noun "bowler" (the hat traditionally worn by boleristas) is derived from the same root (Latin bulla), meaning "ball" & spawning the morpheme bowl as well.

Valentin Serov - Ida Rubinstein (1910)

Rubinstein by Serov

The same rhythm repeated 169 times by the drums, a single melody [played eighteen times over 324-340 measures] from the beginning to the end, a tension that grows slowly but irresistibly. Here is one of the most famous pieces of music in the world, Ravel’s Boléro.

Maurice Ravel, who wrote this work in 1928, took inspiration from the Spanish dance called the bolero.* Ravel claims that the melody is of the kind folk melody in El Garrobo [?] Andalusia, and the orchestration, that is the art of sharing among the instruments that everyone admires in this Boléro, Ravel deemed it quite simple.

The first time this work was played in concert a lady clinging to her seat cried out: “Madman! Madman!” When this scene was reported to Ravel, he is said to have spontaneously answered: “That lady, she understood.”†

What is unique in this fifteen-minute-long work is this tension that rises little by little coming to an end in fireworks followed by an abrupt collapse. Ravel has even said of this music that it certainly possesses a musico-sexual character.

Toulouse-Lautrec - Marcelle Lender, Boléro @
                  Chilpéric (1895-6)

Lender by Toulouse-Lautrec
* Wikipedia quotes someone as saying that the original title (not retained)
was taken from the name of another Spanish dance, the fandango.
A 50mb scanned full score may be downloaded here (free registry or Facebook required).
† It would seem odd for the composer not to attend
the world premiere of his own piece of music played in his home town.

Moreau -
                Ravel au pupitre "Boléro" (1930)

Moreau - Ravel au pupitre "Boléro"

At bar 325, two bars before cue 18, we are nearing the end of our marathon - only fifteen bars to go. The music is gearing up for the modulation into E major (not as much of a shock as it seems since we heard the theme in E major back on the picolo [sic] although that has almost literally been drummed out of the mind).

At cue 18 the modulation does occur. Prior to this the timpani have been playing C and G; now the E is heard. The change of key from C major to E major necessitates raising the pitch of G natural to G# in order to reinforce the E major, hence we find the G# on piccolo, flutes, oboes, harp and strings. At bar 335 Ravel wheels out his heavy artillery; bass drum, cymbals and tam-tam in turn. Above this trombone glissandi bray upwards eight times before the penultimate bar - downward figures on piccolo, flutes, saxophones, tru,pets [sic] and violins; upward figures on cor anglais and trombones and the rhythm is pounded out on clarinet, bass clarinet, bassoons, horns, tuba, percussion and lower strings. Most of the final bar is silent, except in performance when the audience applause starts immediately...

Ravel’s Boléro: Guide for the Perplexed Listener (stolen from French Wikipedia, amended*, redesigned, translated & illustrated)

Winds - Nichelle, Joy & Murder Dynamic
θ Orchestration & Mood
Time Brass - Laurent
pp r violas & cellos pizzicato, 1st snare drum (repeated once)
pp A 1st flute 00:12
pp r 2nd flute
p A 1st clarinet 01:02
p r Harp (harmonics), 1st flute
p B 1st bassoon 01:53
mp r Harp (naturals), 2nd flute
p B E-flat clarinet
p r 2nd violins pizzicato & contrabass, alternating bassoons mp
Strings - Joy mp A Oboe d’amore 03:36
p r 1st violins pizzicato, 1st horn

mp A 1st trumpet with mute, 1st flute (set octave) pp 04:28
mp r flutes, 2nd trumpet, 2nd violins pizzicato
mp B Tenor saxophone expressivo, vibrato 05:20
mp r 1st trumpet, oboe, cor anglais, 1st violins pizzicato
mp B Sopranino saxophone, soprano saxophone at the end expressivo, vibrato 06:13
mf r 1st flute, bass clarinet, bassoons, 2nd horn, harp
mf A 1st piccolo (E major), 2nd piccolo (G major), 1st horn & celesta (C major) 07:06
mf r 3 trumpets, 4th horn & arpeggios on strings

mf A 2 oboes, cor anglais & 2 clarinets (C major), oboe d’amore (G major) 07:57
mf r 1st flute, contrabassoon, clarinets, 2nd horn
mf B 1st trombone (in the upper range) sostenuto 08:49
f r 1st trumpet, 4th horn, strings
f B Winds (sets of thirds & fifths) 09:41
f r bassoons, contrabassoon, horns & timpani
f A Piccolo, flutes, oboes, clarinets, 1st violins (set octaves) 10:32
f r

f A Winds, 1st & 2nd violins (sets of thirds & fifths) 11:22
f r

f B Winds, 1st & 2nd violins, 1st trumpet (set octaves) 12:13 Percussion - Peter & Pierre
f r

f B Winds, 1st & 2nd violins, 1st trombone (sets of thirds & fifths) 13:05
ff r High winds, horns, strings & 2nd snare drum, whole orchestra

ff A Piccolo, flutes, saxophones, piccolo trumpet, 3 trumpets, 1st violins 13:56
ff r

ff B Piccolo, flutes, saxophones, 4 trumpets, 1st trombone, 1st violins 14:47
ff Modulation to E major for 8 measures then return to home key (C major)

fff r Bass drum, cymbals, tamtam, glissando on trombones (repeated once)
fff Great dissonant chord & final collapse 16:06

* Dynamic markers have been left unchanged. The source ignores the difference between pp & p, traces the border between p & mp one row higher, traces the border between mf & f two rows lower, and ignores the difference between ff & fff. In other words it draws dynamic (volume) distinctions based on the arbitrary criterion of thematic (melodic) structure, artificially tracing all of the dynamic borders at the beginning of the first ritornello of each of the five thematic cycles. There is no reason why the dynamic & thematic structures must coincide, as indeed they do not.

From: SAGReiss

Date: 17 March 2010

Subject: Theta = r A r A r B r B r

There's an extra ritornello, [the last iteration is syncopated to Theta = r A r B r,] &/or the modulation of eight measures doesn't count in our savants calculs, not to mention the rests at the end that beg applause, according to The Callow One. In any case I can account for the extra bars and concomitant mathematical errors in our song. [A & B each occur 9 times = 18, but r occurs 19 times.] I know you were worrying about this. I forgot to mention that while the naked people may not be you, and they may not be naked, the instruments are real, so far as I know. They are indeed analog images, and this is what we call virtual reality, but I'll stick with my first conclusions, which I can't remember right now. Tomorrow night I have to go see Father of Sam play at the Dardaillon, but it's only at 7pm, which means I hope they begin by eight. I can make an appearance, pay, listen to hear if his songs can inspire us, then make a quick exit. I'm not sure why I need to explain this to French people, but if I'm trying to create a document (poetry or song, legal arguments against my wife, proposals for an online boutique) I need electronic data, and not speech-telephone.

From: SAGReiss

Date: 17 March 2010

Subject: Naked People in Tuxedos

Forgive me, but I've just published naked pics of all of you playing musical instruments. Well, not actually naked, and it's not actually you, but you know what I mean. [I've tagged you in the jargon of Facebook.] The music students from Michigan State (I'd have preferred Eastern Washington University, but it was hard finding these pics.) are indeed naked underneath their tuxedos. Please feel free to use your imagination. I have to find some way of amusing myself in the interminable time between Rose's visits. Joy, who has two jobs (including the string section solo), & laurent do the most work. [Nichelle & Murder get off the easiest, and yes John I'll ask Barenboim if we can amp up the pp in your solo.] Pierre gets help from Peter in the percussion section, and I'm not sure if percussionists are really musicians anyway. The fucking cowbell? Ringo Starr? [Peter himself tells the joke that, if he can't play percussion, we'll take away one of his batons and name him conductor.] I could get the geometry a bit better if someone would tell me how to get rid of that ugly gray line (I think it's actually a shadow.) in the middle at the border of the rows. You recall that I'm dealing with a complex table I copied from the sources of Wikipedia, and I didn't want to fuck it up.

From: SAGReiss

Date: 15 March 2010

Subject: Never give me numbers to play with

French Wikipedia has given me lots of food for thought, if that's what you'll allow me to call this gibberish. They claim there are 1020 quarter note beats in [the 340 bars of] the piece, which is indivisible by two of our fetish numbers, 18 or 24, but is close enough to being divisible by 169, yielding a quotient of 6.0355029585798816568047337278107. Please don't ask me what that means. Maybe Pierre obtained 170, and rounded it [down] because he was temporarily obsessed with the number 69, which I can understand given this tawdry context. Be that as it may, hereunder stand the results of my savants calculs operating on every interpretation or indicator I can find. Let's think of it this way, if I happen to add a slideshow to this page, we won't have to trouble Murder about the rhythm. That's worth an afternoon of my work.

BPM - length (source) [tempo]:

54 - 18:48 (Pedro de Freitas Branco, friend of Ravel) [largo]

60 - 17:00 (Ravel's guideline for duration) [larghetto]

64 - 16:00 (Ravel conducting) [also Pierre's friend Boulez, Berlin Philharmonic]

65 - 15:45 (Barenboim)

66 - 15:30 (tempo marker corrected by Ravel) [also Pierre's friend Boulez, New York Philharmonic]

72 - 14:12  (tempo marker in later editions) [adagio]

76 - 13:32 (Ravel's initial tempo marker) [adagietto]

84 - 12:12  (Toscanini) [also Stokowski] [andante]

An exchange took place between the two men backstage after the concert. According to one account Ravel said "It's too fast", to which Toscanini responded "It's the only way to save the work". [No report on which language they were speaking, French or Italian. Maybe he meant: "to save work," and union wages.] According to another report Ravel said "That's not my tempo". Toscanini replied "When I play it at your tempo, it is not effective", to which Ravel retorted "Then do not play it". [Why didn't Toscanini just answer: "Of course not. It's mine."] Four months later Ravel attempted to smooth over relations with Toscanini by [...] inviting [him] to conduct the premiere of his Piano Concerto for the Left Hand. [Is it just me, or does that sound like a left-handed compliment?]

From: SAGReiss

Date: 15 March 2010

Subject: 4,037 Virgins

Wait, I think I'm getting somewhere. There are 24 strokes in the ostinato pictured in Wikipedia. 4,037 divided by 24 is 168.20833333333333333333333333333, which is close enough to Pierre's 169 for me. As Paul Zimmerman, who famously used to time & keep statistics on the singing of the national anthem (including the Canadian one, negatron) at every game he attended [or even watched on TV], once admiringly said of assistant American football coaches: "They count everything that can be counted and measure everything that can be measured." I think there's just one or two dead bars at the end, where The Callow One calls for applause. 24 is 6 times 4, while 6 times 3 is 18. Now I see. There are six groups of drum notes, represented in our drawing either by the 3s above the line or by the physical groupings, which don't quite correlate for reasons that really don't bother me at all. 18 squared is 324, which is off by only 14-16, depending on our bar count. Is this just random nonsense?

From: SAGReiss

Date: 14 March 2010

Subject: Greetings Graham

I've only kind of slandered you a little (referring to you as "some blogger" before I bothered checking out your site). Anyway, I've quoted your words and linked to your site from mine.

It might interest you, but probably not. However I'll still try to find you on Facebook, as I'm sure you & Pierre Charvet (BCC above) & our friend Murder (BCC above, also a famous musician in real life) would like to be friends.

You're welcome.

Scott Alexander Gabriel Reiss, father of Rose

From: SAGReiss

Date: 14 March 2010

Subject: Don't know what a slide rule is for

"The same rhythm repeated 169 times by the drums," Pierre.

"At bar 325, two bars before cue 18, we are nearing the end of our marathon - only fifteen bars to go," The Callow One. I misread (interpolating an -l-) & didn't realize his name is Calow.

"The music is built over an unchanging ostinato rhythm played on one or more snare drums that remains constant throughout the piece.

"On top of this rhythm is repeated a single theme, consisting of two eighteen-bar sections, each itself repeated twice," Wikipedia.

"But for [sic] those who took the eighteen repetitions of the melody (apparently amounting to 4037 drum beats) as evidence that the composer was suffering from Alzheimer’s Disease were perhaps unaware that later in the twentieth-century the idea of endlessly repeating patterns and rhythms would become an established and respected musical form – ­ minimalism," some blogger [Graham Ross].

We all know I'm no good at math, but I really can't make these numbers work out. Nothing seems to be divisible by 18, much less by 169 [oops, except for the 338 measures, of course, which for some reason everyone else seems to call bars, but maybe there's some subtle difference I don't understand].

From: SAGReiss

Date: 12 March 2010

Subject: Into the Night Life

"In the twenty-first century there will be naked pics of everyone online." Henry Miller & Bezalel Schatz - Into the Night Life... (1947)

Naïa & Rose Reiss by SAGReiss

From: SAGReiss

Date: 12 March 2010

Subject: Re: Images

Rose ira en sorciere. Moi soit en boulanger (comme a Halloween) soit en sorciere aussi (ma mere a Halloween). Il vaut peut-etre mieux que tu te deguises aussi, car on a beau leur dire que les autres enfants vont se deguiser, cela ne se voit pas.

Ce site a des idees pas mal pour creer des deguisements, si tu bricoles un peu.

At 20:56 11-03-10, lepetitanebleu wrote:

Trop belles les photos!

Sais tu comment Rose va se deguiser pour le carnaval?

Il faut que je trouve un deguisement pour Naia

Bye Hind

Coco by

From: SAGReiss

Date: 11 March 2010

Subject: Re: Jewish Science

I'm afraid I must inform you that you've begun making some rather disturbing guest appearances on my website.

You'll be happy to know, for the sake of creditors & ex-wives, that I've cryptically referred to you only as the Scot, since I can't spell either of your illiterate nomina, so I've created a pun out of your nationality & my first name.

From: SAGReiss

Date: 11 March 2010

Subject: Fwd: Strange Tang

The Scot has helpfully explained our nursery rhyme to my satisfaction. He sings it like this:

Up and down the City road,
In and out the Eagle,
That’s the way the money goes,
Pop! goes the weasel.

Half a pound of tuppenny rice,
Half a pound of treacle.
That’s the way the money goes,
Pop! goes the weasel.

The Eagle apparently was & is a pub on the road to Paddington, now & in the Victorian era an impoverished slum of London. So the poor go up & down the road to work in the Financial District, stop at the pub and spend their hard-earned cash. Rice, he claims, was a cheap meal, especially as the treacle or molasses subbed for meat. The noun "weasel" is slang for a flatiron. The verb "to pop" means to pawn. QED.

From: SAGReiss

Date: 30 August 2009

Subject: Strange Tang

I've pre-ordered the US edition of the English translation of a French cookbook by Ginette Mathiot from I'm not sure what the difference is supposed to be between the two editions (US & UK), aside from price, since the page number, book jacket, and binding are the same. I ordered the US edition just to make sure that the Beef Burgundy recipe doesn't somehow involve treacle, and that weight isn't measured in stones. You may wonder why I didn't just order the French version, and I'll tell you. We are buying a new cooker, a butane gas stove with one electric burner, an electric oven with "natural convection", which I think means that it's not a convection oven. This will help us bake bread and cake and cookies and quiche and many other things, possibly not beginning with the k- sound. Rose likes to cook, and baking is about the safest kitchen activity, since it doesn't involve knives and hot liquids. The cooker the landlord lent me is calibrated for natural gas, so everything on the stove either burns or boils over, sometimes both, and the oven doesn't work at all. I bought the book in English, despite my well-known hatred of most translations, because I want to provide an English-language environment for Rose. It would just get confusing to me to read English out of a French cookbook, although I do this with the children's books at the neighborhood library. That's also why I speak English to the bewildered children of Les Vans. I will not concede too much to the French language. I speak French to grown-ups, who make more of a pretense of caring to understand what I say. I keep thinking of this poem:

Half a pound of tuppenny rice,
Half a pound of treacle.
That’s the way the money goes,
Pop goes the weasel.

It moves me deeply, but I'm not sure why. I guess it's the depiction of sad reality in a children's rhyme, and I can't quite figure out why rice is involved, since the song seems to date back to at least the early nineteenth century, when rice might not have been a staple of the poor Englishman's diet. Can anyone explain this? Anyway, Rose & I sing this version at roundabouts:

Round and round the mulberry bush,
The monkey chased the weasel.
The monkey stopped to pull up his sock,
Pop goes the weasel.

There are many other charming verses and versions. This might be better than haiku.

By the way, the subject of this message is not necessarily related to the body. A sportswriter who seems to be losing his mind has often used the expression of late.

From: SAGReiss

Date: 10 March 2010

Subject: Bolero & Elsewhere

O Callow One,

I can't figure out who you are, but your Bolero page is brilliant. I can't figure out what you're selling either, but some of us might be interested, if you'll be so kind as to let us know. I have stolen a few of your words (with proper credit linking of course [although I don't always do that] and proper attention to the typo {two actually} [which I always pay]) because my friend Pierre Charvet (BCC above) & the France Musique webmaster have not sent me his 20 février 2009 Mot du Jour radio show on Le Boléro de Ravel. You can find my own peculiar little art on my website.

There are many other musical pages as well, James Brown, Vivaldi, Brecht & Weill, etc. We would be very pleased to hear your comments.

Thanks, and best regards.

Scott Alexander Gabriel Reiss, father of Rose

From: SAGReiss

Date: 9 March 2010

Subject: Pianissimo

Mo Ravel sounds like a tough motherfucker. In the midst of this learned debate about beats per minute (or quarter notes or something) he grabs the conductor & tells him to slow the fuck down. I'm glad I'm not the only one that bothers his friends about the rhythm. Tugging on the conductor's coattails doesn't sound like a safe way of getting his attention. He is armed with a baton, you recall. I bet the fl(a)utist hated Barenboim: "This is the biggest fucking solo of my life, and you want me to play it that softly?" The Scot played his new speakers for me, so I've ordered the same ones for almost nothing from Amazon, but at first I thought there was something wrong with the mp3: "Um, bro, that's my friend Murder playing the flute, and I can't fucking hear him." Pierre's version seems happily to ignore all tempo, mood, & dynamics markers, as the French hate shit like footnotes.

Mark Twain - Tom Sawyer (1876)

From: SAGReiss

Date: 9 March 2010

Subject: Son of Mark Twain

Yesterday I forgot to mention that for the past year every time we go to the neighborhood library Rose runs to a shelf in the children's section & picks out the green copy of an unillustrated (and unabridged) Tom Sawyer. I have no idea why she fell on this particular volume, but I can't complain about her taste in literary matters. When we were talking about Dick Wagner I had vaguely remembered, but didn't bother to look up until this morning, that Dan (Peartree) Barenboim was the first man to play Wagner in Israel (although the Palestine Philharmonic had been happy to fulfill that role). The article is a little long to quote in full (and too good to cut), but it has the perfect Israeli mix of music, politics, cell phones, racial hatred, absurd humor, & endless argument. At least Barenboim had the balls to debate his catcalling audience in Hebrew, before playing the fucking song, Sam.

From: SAGReiss

Date: 8 March 2010

Subject: Bolero in the Snow

The rhythm of that title, which I've written first this time, forms two perfect [rhyming] anapests, if you recall that French is an oxytonic language. I'm trying to download Dan (the Man) Barenboim's interpretation, but I'm open to other ideas, and don't mind paying seventy-five cents or whatever the music industry has very wisely agreed to in order for music lovers to be allowed to, um, buy music instead of stealing it, which is OK with me too. I spent half an hour digging the Green Child out of the snow as she warmed up, then managed to get out of my parking space (which Rose calls: "place" because we like to rhyme) before thinking: "Wait a minute, even if you actually get to work, how the fuck are you ever going to get back?" It took me another half an hour to maneuver the car back into its spot among the snowdrifts. I'm channeling my inner negatron. Anyway, as is the wont of the internet, pornography has overwhelmed my Fat Tuesday-Purim-Whistler-Alice page, a sick pic Dodgson took, an erotic drawing of Turner's that apparently was not burnt, Henry Miller's pubic hair, that whole bizarre tale of Ruskin (whose illness cannot even be explained away by the creation of art) & Effie & John & Rose La Touche. I swear I did not make up that name. Indeed negatron (who's too lazy to check Wikipedia) probably thinks I made up the whole twisted episode, and I would have, if it hadn't actually taken place. Be that as it may, this unsavory turn of events has necessitated whipping out the Bolero (thus solving most of my problems), so please feel free to write encouragement (or hate mail) to Peter begging him to please send me the mp3 or transcript of his 20 février 2009 Mot du Jour show on Le Boléro de Ravel, which is no longer available for download. I guess I could write to the webmaster, and I will if I have to, but we need Pierre's ingenious five minutes of French, his lascivious puns, his sordid references to Bo Derek's anatomy, his learned commentary on the crescendo and lone modulation, if I recall correctly. Please help us, Peter. Don't do it for me, of course. Do it for Rose.

Bo Derek

From: SAGReiss

Date: 6 March 2010

Subject: The White Rabbit

5 March 2010

negatron: is a bit tired of being the backup plan

I'm beginning to lean toward my second backup plan, which I had discarded when I first foresaw an Alice in Wonderland page in late February. Either my mind is just not wired for classical music, or else it was cruelly undereducated at the time (ages twelve to twenty) it swallowed whole Latin, Greek, my first thousand books, & French. I have no idea what to do with either Debussy or Legati. Thank goodness I've got a piano teacher for Rose. She plays classical & popular, no jazz or rock 'n' roll. Just because I am hopelessly ignorant is no reason for my daughter to be. The second backup plan, as you may have guessed by now, is Jefferson Airplane's White Rabbit, which poses very few interpretational difficulties, and no rhythmic ones. It ain't Papa's Got a Brand New Bag, but I like the sound. I have a feeling there's also something by Saint-Saens or someone else that might do the job, but I can't find it. I'll listen to Pierre next week.

From: SAGReiss

Date: 5 March 2010

Subject: Son of Ask & Ye Shall Receive

I asked Peter to help, and help he did. He played Ligeti's Lobster Quadrille for me this morning, the first I've had time to listen all week, as we've been busy at work, so I've been going in early. As I took the Scot shopping this afternoon I told him of my surprise that Alice Liddell had grown, not taller or shorter but old, becoming a dowager socialite who looked like the late Queen Mother. Apparently whatever those perverts Dodgson & Ruskin were up to, it didn't traumatize her too much. You can see her in the tiny pick I posted proudly posing in America in 1932 with a copy of the books she inspired clutched in her hands, an outrageous hat perched upon her head. For the moment I'll still leave Debussy, but I'll have to sub Ligeti, if I can't find some more information on the former music. Either way I'm happy, and Rose will be here this evening. The weather looks cold but sunny for the week-end. We'll see Kim on Saturday, Sara at the piano lesson on Sunday, then perhaps Naia, if she's back from Lyon, which I think she will be.I also bought some Dora the Explorer Easter chocolates, so everything looks peachy. Thirteen days is an awful long time to wait.

From: SAGReiss

Date: 3 March 2010

Subject: Father of Sam

I'm feeling a bit nackered, as my new Scottish friend would say, so while I've done a little leg work for a new project (another one that will require musical help, I'm afraid, but I really think Pierre should pitch in on this one, as the song is by two of his homeboys, Clo Debussy & Pete Boulez, the Nocturnes II Festes, which I can tie in to the upcoming carnival [postponed from Fat Tuesday] and Mac Whistler's paintings of the same name, with Ruskin, Proust, & Henry Miller allusions. There's no way I can understand this music, except to tell speakers of English that "Sirenes" means mermaids, not Odysseus' friends.) that I thought of this morning while driving to work (Nichelle can tell you that I'm already a bad driver when not distracted.), and I wrote some of it in January 2007 as an aborted follow-up to Art Analogique, I can't write HTML now, not after I did all morning to finish the prototype of the online sales boutique site, so I thought I'd just introduce my two new friends, the Scot, a semi-retired (also from drinking after a month of detox) globetrotting journalist, & father of Sam, whose name might be Michael, a very young, handsome, big & strong, Judeo-Arabic guitar player, who is probably the only fat Jewish man in the world who can dance. I heard him play a little lazy jazz as we had a drink at the Dardaillon yesterday, both with a pick & his fingernails, but I'm not sure that's what he sings "yoghurt" to, a French way of singing what's supposed to sound like English words, but is in fact nonsense. That's why he needs me, so record the songs on your cell phone, bitch, and I'll get to work. I don't need, nor even like, CDs. The Scot is a man of breathtaking learning, a science journalist with a keen interest in history & politics who can quote poetry at will in English, French, & Italian. My own mind is allusive & associative, but there is nothing I tangentially bring up that he doesn't understand & can't skillfully comment on. He also talks like the boys in Trainspotting. His brother owns a restaurant in town where I'm not keen on eating, as it's some kind of "world food", which I don't like any more than "world music", as I carefully explained to father of Sam, who was somewhat taken aback, but he is not a man of breathtaking learning, and is about ten years younger than you, so we'll work this out.