To Music

March 19, 2014

Hearing Kaufmann sing about the “Lindenbaum” in that video, I’m carried back to childhood, where I learned an English-language version of the song. So, for better or worse, as he sings “Am Brunnen vor dem Tore/ Da steht ein Lindenbaum,” my mind provides the counterpoint of “Beside the well and doorway/ There stands a linden tree.” That might be considered a little impure as a listening experience, but it brings up for me long personal association with this music and the approximate atmosphere of its text. When the musical climax comes, I’m recalling:

And on its many branches
I carved the name I love.
In sorrow or in sadness,
They call me from above.

At least those are the rather soupy words that I remember (and the German original is hardly restrained). The subject of translations of sung texts into a local language is a hoary, complex, and irresolvable one, but I can’t regret having trudged through the decades with English words bearing the music of “Der Lindenbaum” in my head any more than I regret that, when I hear “An die Musik,” there is a ghostly “Thou lovely art, my joy and consolation” going on in the background. I can’t even remember what school or what music teacher taught us to sing those songs of Schubert, but all my schooling was in public institutions. How many children are receiving such lifelong-lasting gifts now in the schools?

If I had not had such teaching — given, remember, to all my classmates as well — how different might my life have been? I don’t know what these Lieder meant to the rest of them, but they couldn’t have hurt. As for me, I could hardly have known that the climactic words to which I sang “An die Musik” (To Music) were fairly prophetic:

Thou lovely art!
I give my live to thee!

And, Speaking of Translation

February 12, 2014


When I worked for international classical record labels, I was particularly alert to differences of English usage around the world, not only as a matter of courtesy and tact but in the interests of commerce. This consciousness also emerges in everyday conversation, since I live in a cosmopolitan community in which foreign languages are not the only source of verbal challenge, the majority of English-speakers that I encounter daily not being Americans. (My only English conversation yesterday was with a half-Greek, half-German woman who lives on a Spanish-governed island in the Mediterranean.)

Today, in writing an electronic message, I spoke of a recent event “on the Carrer de Verdi” — a street in Barcelona. But, since I was writing to an Englishman, I changed — considerately, I thought — “on the Carrer de Verdi” to “in the Carrer de Verdi.” As often happens in such situations, meditations and speculations on usage sprang up unbidden. Why, I thought, do we have this difference in British and American usage? Is it possibly because, in a town setting like that of, say, Oxford (the kind of place where standard usage may be assumed to have been established), entering into a comparatively narrow street is rather like entering into a sort of structure, albeit open to the sky. In a country initially and fundamentally rural, as the United States long were, it would feel absurd to speak of such-and-such farm, with structures set well back from the road, as being in a particular country road, any more than, nowadays, a certain shopping center would be in a six-lane highway. The same might even apply to American towns, where the streets tend to be wider than in Europe, except in the older, formerly colonial parts like Wall Street, where tall buildings create urban canyons. Even if my guess about the reason for the difference is wrong, I can’t say that I regret the fact that a single English monosyllable can set off such chains of speculation.

I’m also reminded that the distinction occurs in Anna Russell’s famous disquisition on Wagner’s Ring Cycle when she evokes laughter by speaking of the Rhine Maidens’ scene as opening not on the river, but in it. And, come to think of it, while I’m content to type this post in the Carrer de l’Illa de Cuba, no one lives in the actual island of Cuba, but on it. It’s an efficient language in which a single letter can make such a difference.


For many years, I was a great collector of dictionaries. Nowadays, I’m likely to be reading a newspaper on a train and be pleased that I can look up a word on my phone, or to be reading online and stay online to go to the appropriate dictionary. I’m particularly impressed with the dictionaries for the Catalan language, including this comprehensive one, which gives excellent OED-level definitions in Catalan when you simply write the word in the box on the upper left. But my newest favorite is the Diccionari de la Llengua Catalana Multilingüe, which gives the definition in Catalan, Castilian, English, French, and German. Why learn a new word in just one language when you can learn or review it in several? You can also enter a word in any of those languages and get full information concerning the use of its Catalan equivalent. (After you type in the word, you click the name of the language that the original word is in.)

Of course, a large selection of such dictionaries, as well as allied encyclopedias, can also be bought in big, sturdy hard copy. And if you go to this main page and enter a word in the search field, it will yield up references in various dictionaries and encyclopedias. (And, English speakers, keep in mind that, when it tells you that there are 1.978 entries for your word, the period in that number is equivalent to the comma in English-language usage, not a decimal point.)

Stop. Look. Judge.

February 5, 2014

A fake Chagall

A fake Chagall

A friend who did a Ph.D. degree in art history at Harvard told me about his first class, called simply Connoisseurship. It seems that the professor brought an object into the class and set it in front of them without comment. They were then to look at it and come to conclusions. Provenance. Meaning. Techniques. Quality. Lot of things came into play. Even authenticity, since the object was sometimes a forgery or copy. I’d think such skills would be useful to any person, even a CIA officer. But, Mr. Obama and many other people of the lawyer class don’t seem to see this.

Perspective: Jacques Thibaut

January 24, 2014

A hundred years ago, Jacques Thibaud was young but thoughtful (click to enlarge):


Happy Christmas 2013

December 25, 2013


Occasionally art imitates life in a way that jumps out at you.

Rome, 220 B.C.

Rome, 220 B.C.

Bilbao, 2013

Bilbao, 2013


Dear Mother: I have written this to tell you my worrying secret. Now don’t cry when you read it because it is neither yours nor my fault. I suppose I will have to tell it now without any nonsense. To begin with I was not meant to be an athlet [sic]. I was meant to be a composer, and will be I’m sure. I’ll ask you one more thing.—Don’t ask me to try to forget this unpleasant thing and go play football.—Please—Sometimes I’ve been worrying about this so much that it makes me mad (not very).


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