Response to Stella Duffy on the arts, elitism, and communities

An article published in The Guardian last week by Stella Duffy (‘Excellence in the arts should not be defined by the metropolitan elite’, June 30, 2017) has generated a considerable amount of response on social media from musicians and academics I know. Rather than keep this debate within that social media bubble, I wanted to make public some responses to the thorny issues involved, so am printing these below. Personally, I can see how Duffy’s aims are well-intended and sincere, but the suggestions would create more problems than they solve (see my response below).

I am happy to print other responses, so long as they focus on the issues and do not entail any personal attacks – if people have some considered thoughts, please do post them below or e-mail me at ian at ianpace dot com , and I will have a look and may add them to these.

[ADDENDUM: Anna Bull has written a response to some of the posts below, which can be found here. Further responses to this blog post can be found here.]

 

Jim Aitchison, composer

It is disturbing that both the left (I assume here in this article) and the right seem to be marching together towards delegitimising aspects of education, specialisation, depth, command of material detail, dexterity, high levels of understanding and attainment and more challenging cultural substance. It seems to me naive to suppose that “genuine culture for all….and community-led culture” will see the demise of gates, shibboleths, exclusions, hierarchies, cronyism. It will simply be replaced by a different forms of ‘elitism’ (a new ‘elite’ of the rigorously and equally de-skilled and/or right-skilled, cleansed of supposed past forms of privilege, untainted by previous apparently bankrupt expert knowledge). I’m surprised to see what comes across as a very much left-leaning sensibility re-articulating sentiments that came out of the mouths of various well known right wing voices.

The kind of cultural practice I think she is referring to is already well in the ascendant – anyone who has to fill in an Arts Council GFA form will be aware of the necessity of the right kind of wider community engagement and that this has been a part of the application process for many years, and the rise of ‘collectivist’ community style work in visual art is definitely already present, ref Assemble winning the Turner Prize, and the activities of Open School East. There’s absolutely nothing wrong with these kinds of community artistic practices and approaches which can be valuable and fascinating. However, they are also open to being as flawed as any other approach to making art, and it becomes a serious problem if their ideologies ever become mobilised as part of a process of cleansing out other approaches deemed unsound and wrong by some unaccountable panel of unchallenged ‘new elite’ arbiters spread out in the ether…. Hopefully the latter are as much a misleading generalisation as so-called ‘metropolitan-based thinking’.

 

Bill Bamberger, unaffiliated writer and translator.

This question, this conflation, is a major element in what makes the article’s arguments blurry and (in the long run, I think) subject to being abused for anti-intellectual and economic ends. “Culture” might best be considered anything that wouldn’t exist without people–be it material, intellectual, et al. “Creativity,” as she is using it, seems to mean simply making something, anything. lf so, in that sense, everyone can of course tap into their “creativity.” This is why so many who want to “work in the arts” (that is, get paid for doing so) are constantly having to drum up ideas that involve “outreach,” usually going into a school or a community and having a group “create” while they direct in some way. “The arts” then become both a commodity, and a profession like any other. Something else that’s conflated: “artist” with “someone who works in the arts.” They are not the same, in my mind. The underlying resentment beneath much of what is asserted/included in the article is, for many, economic more than aesthetic– 1) “Why should so and so get money for making music/paintings/etc. when I don’t?” & 2) The all-too familiar “Why does the government give some of my money to music/paintings/ etc. that nobody I know likes?” Such underpinnings do not “create inclusion” as much as they give everyone more justification to feel noble when they belittle or dismiss another’s efforts and achievements, and encourage the pushing aside of work that’s out of the ordinary. Obviously these are just a few facets of this big question, but, again, I think that yes, clearer terms would help immensely.

 

Geoffrey Chew, Professor Emeritus of Music, Royal Holloway, University of London

The Stalinist diktat of 1950 in Czechoslovakia: “Composers go with the people”, delegitimizing various types of compositional activity and announcing that they were henceforth invalid, including some activities that had been undertaken before the war by leftists anxious to bring culture to the workers. Peer review was now required (another of the pamphlets in the same series put it succinctly by saying that “Party criticism is a co-creator of culture”).

The pamphlet in question was a speech by Miroslav Barvík at the first plenary meeting of the Union of Czechoslovak Composers.There is an article online about it by Tom Svatos  though I think it is not very plausible that Barvík was primarily responsible for its contents – I guess he was jumping to orders.

 

Franklin Cox, Associate Professor of Theory, Cello, and Composition, Wright State University

I find the report painfully timely: “In the context of the deep and widespread political division expressed through the 2016 EU referendum campaign and vote, it is increasingly clear that new approaches to many of the UK’s political processes require urgent and radical attention. This includes how cultural policy operates – and who and what cultural policy is for.

I find this passage painfully obvious: the Brexit issue is going to be used as a wedge to push this person’s ideology. How is her ideology going to end the controversy over Brexit? Isn’t the issue controversial because people have radically different views on it? How will amateur art-making change that? How will it prevent Nigel Farage from lying to the public?

Culture shows us who we are; it reflects who we are now and supports us to become who we might be. …. then the culture we are sharing and consuming is not that of our whole society. It therefore not only fails to represent us, it risks contributing to the divisions we are now experiencing.

So according to this author, Shakespeare isn’t really culture, because it doesn’t reflect who we are “now” or support us in becoming “who we might be” (what a nonsense phrase!). This is a pretty obvious consequence of the thin notion of culture as “whatever people do”. So eating at McDonald’s is culture, too, as is shopping for designer handbags. I guess all we need now is to hold up a big mirror to reality and call it “culture”.

Why does this mirror need support? Culture is already going on all around us, and it doesn’t need any subsidies.

But this novelist – isn’t that an elite activity that doesn’t reflect culture as a whole? – wants funding for activities that she supports. Those evil old elite artists whose artwork evidently had something to do with Nigel Farage have to get out. Once we’re rid of them, there won’t be any more division in the arts community.

And let’s make sure to put up a big fence, too, so that can’t sneak back in.

 

Björn Heile, Professor of Music, Glasgow University

Those of us working in culture talk a lot about the arts ecology, but in any ecology some parts must die for new ones to thrive. It might be time to let go of some of our outdated practices. Our commitment to “excellence and quality” as defined by mainstream, metropolitan-based thinking many decades ago, might need to shift to a new version of “excellence and quality”, one defined by a new generation of makers and creators – and this time from every part of society.

It’s hard to say what Duffy has in mind (the whole article never mentions what kinds of art and culture she does and doesn’t approve of), but doesn’t that sound a tad Stalinist? The various dichotomies between ‘elites’ and ‘people/communities/everyone’; metropolitan/old and makers and creators etc. are really troubling.

Because the pool we’re drawing from is wider, we’ll get better art and better artists – and because science is culture too, better science and better scientists. 

We all want more people to engage with the arts, actively and passively, and this would have all sorts of positive consequences, but it isn’t quite so simple, and the reason for that isn’t that metropolitan-based thinking or elitism deliberately prevent this from happening.

The question is how quality is defined. There is silence on this here, but I guess what is implied in the text is: ‘that which involves or pleases the greatest number of people.’

 

Stuart MacRae, composer

Regarding the use of the terms ‘culture’, ‘creativity’ and ‘the arts’: surely there are clear distinctions? I think it’s partly the treatment of such terms as synonymous that leads to an either/or mentality in discussions about the arts and particularly their funding.

 

Michael Morris, Professor of Philosophy, University of Sussex

The argument for democracy in politics is not that it leads to things being done better, but that it’s part of the goal of politics that everyone should be a part of it. Similarly, there’s no reason to think democracy in art will lead to better art; and it’s not obviously a goal of art itself that everyone should be a part of it – even if that’s something we all might want for other (most obviously political) reasons. What this piece presents is a political goal presented as an artistic goal. The problem is that that then begins to look like a rather sinister politics, even, since it drills art, of all things, into conformity with politics.

 

Eva Moreda Rodriguez, Lecturer in Music, University of Glasgow

The work we are talking about – grassroots, created by professionals and non-professionals together, often in communities rather than on main stages and in recognised venues – largely takes place outside the funded mainstream. Allowing everyone to join in, not simply as audiences and consumers, but as active participants, as creators, will result in a far greater array of work to engage with.

How is this non-mainstream, I wonder? Every orchestra, opera, museum, writers’ centre etc. etc. in the country has a thousand outreach programmes where children and adults can “do” things for themselves.

 

Ian Pace, pianist and musicologist

Our commitment to “excellence and quality” as defined by mainstream, metropolitan-based thinking many decades ago, might need to shift to a new version of “excellence and quality”, one defined by a new generation of makers and creators – and this time from every part of society.

If Duffy was saying that arts funding and decision making are too centralised, and more of this needs to be devolved to the regions, I could absolutely agree. But it doesn’t sound like this is what is at stake? 

If we want cultural democracy, genuine culture for all, elitism must make way for creativity and community-led culture. We need to offer everyone not only access to the products of creativity, but access to the means and processes of creativity – only then will we have an inclusive culture for, by and with all.

This is uncomfortably close to the view associated with advocates of Hausmusik, the Jugendbewegung, and so on – and their disdain for educated or professionalised cultural activity. In that context it was linked to a virulent anti-semitism, with education and professionalisation in the arts associated with Jewish people. There is no sign of any such racial ideology here, but one should be wary of viewing ‘community’ as necessarily a wholly benevolent or benign thing. Communities are frequently defined as much by who they exclude as who they include; appeals to ‘community’ and rejection of ‘experts’ are the bread-and-butter of populist politics. The debate about competing forces of Gemeinschaft and Gesellschaft never gained the same traction in the English-speaking world, to my knowledge, as it did amongst Germans ever since Ferdinand Tönnies framed the dichotomy in his 1887 book (even though it was taken up by US sociologist Talcott Parsons). For obvious reasons, this debate became more urgent in Germany in the twentieth century, but I believe it is relevant more widely.

I certainly believe art has, and should have, a social dimension, but this is by no means necessarily synonymous with its simply attempting to satisfy and second-guess the supposed desires of particular ‘communities’. On the contrary, I believe it is vital that there can also be a critical art, which can deal with uncomfortable and unsettling phenomena, represent non-populist and minority perspectives, and look beyond the existing world (and existing societies) towards what might be, not just what has been. A space needs to be made for this in ways which are unlikely through the vagaries of the market, or for that matter through some types of community art projects.

The principle of facilitating art, especially the type of art I describe above, through money garnered through taxation and redistributed through public spending – via arts organisations administered by those with a regular day-to-day engagement with artistic activity, with politicians keeping some distance, is a good one, I believe, certainly better than relying on wholly undemocratic sources of private capital. Imposing narrow communitarian ends upon it is very limiting; art is not just a means for producing social harmony. The question of who gets to do the administering is a difficult one, and certainly it can lead to entrenched power, favoritism, and the like. Some mechanisms for periodic democratic review of funding decisions is necessary, and that does entail some oversight by politicians, who are at least subject to a democratic vote. But I believe this can be managed so as to be as fair and equitable as any rival systems.

Already there are many stipulations on arts funding, to do with access, outreach, education projects, demonstrating community benefit, and the like. I worry very much that decisions are being made on anything but the nature of the art being produced. Duffy’s proposals are very vague – for example, who selects which ‘makers and creators’ get to be the new aesthetic arbitrators? – if well-meaning. But I fear they would make this situation even worse. Placing populist stipulations upon artistic activity, as a condition of its being funded or otherwise supported, has a poor history associated with despotic regimes, mostly in order to marginalise and silence minority voices.

 

Camden Reeves, composer, Professor of Music, University of Manchester

‘I think people should create whatever they want to create. I think people should listen to, or go to, whatever they want to listen to or go to. I think people should read whatever they want to read. We don’t have to like what they all do. But I don’t really want any of us to tell artists what to do. That’s the fun of it: freedom.

Anyway, the only way to influence art is through art. If she wants to change culture, she needs to do that through her work. From what I know of Duffy’s work, she has every reason to have faith that it can do that.

 

Frances Wilson, who blogs as The Cross-Eyed Pianist

Today it seems to me that “excellence”, “achievement” and “inclusivity” are equated with commercial returns. It’s no longer “art for art’s sake” but whether the art (which has become “the product” is commercially viable. Will it create revenue, bums on seats, income. As I see it, this is the primary reason why arts subjects are being sidelined in education – they are not sufficiently “commercial” and do not bring obvious “returns”. Creativity is regarded as a dilettante activity because it does not necessarily produce visible, concrete commercial returns.

To be perfectly frank I want to stop having to read articles like this written by people who exist in a precious Uber middle class intellectually elite bubble and who exert their own view of what constitutes “culture” on the rest of us. In my romantic cultural utopia art galleries, theatres and concert halls are welcoming and open to all, not places that are guarded by the “educated” or intellectually elite (and I know plenty of people who’d like to keep them like that = exclusive). Many “ordinary people” do not engage with “culture” because they feel people like the author of the article do not think they are sufficiently “qualified” to engage with that culture.

 

Marc Yeats, composer

Choice. Everyone needs to have the widest possible choice when making decisions about what art and culture they enjoy and appreciate. Choice enables people’s participation in, and creation of art to develop across a lifetime.

For many, cultural choices are increasingly defined by what they are given. More precisely, what they are exposed to from an early age and throughout their lives through advertising, the media, fashion, block-buster films and various forms of music, for example. All too often, these experiences are guided by commercial considerations. In the case of music (and many other cultural outputs), there is a strong financial value backing the saturation of these perceived iconic forms of culture – it is all around us and product-placed in exactly the same way as a washing powder, new car or ‘can’t live without’ gadget. We are brainwashed into believing these products make our lives better, enhance our kudos or sexiness and most of all, represent our ‘relevance’ in modern society to the degree that the products ‘speak’ of whom we are and what we aspire to be. This is easiest to see where music is placed with products to enhance their value and where ultimately, the music having become recognisable through repeated exposure in advertising (or appropriation from elsewhere because of its recognisable qualities) can call to mind the product even when the product is no longer present – the music has taken on the marketed values that the product was deemed to possess. So it is with various strains of culture we are exposed to. It is easy to believe that in experiencing these cultural products and deciding which ones we need, we are exercising some kind of choice. It is true we are exercising a choice, but it is extremely limited and often belies a corporate ideology that is driven by profit. By its very nature of ‘flooding’ the market, this ‘profit motive’ drives out everything else. We end up having no choice at all, or rather, only the choices those who manipulate the cultural markets allow us to take through their forms of familiarisation.

It is easy for those who consume such culture to place a strong value on it, to invest in it, and of course, the marketing that envelops such cultural outputs easily becomes a self fulfilling prophecy inasmuch as the more people invest, the more they believe the product to be of a good quality, as we all get pulled into the market value system. And these cultures amass huge numbers of devotees, too, bringing further strength to the argument that it must be a good product because so many have invested in it. We end up with the scenario that we know what we like and we like what we know. When this reasoning becomes the new ideology to rationalise and give quality to a product, or in the case of this article, arts and culture, we are in a very dangerous position, not least because all objectivity is lost, replaced solely by the weight of financial investment, numbers and populism.

I’m not for one moment saying that all popular culture is not of quality, as that is blatantly untrue; but to assume, as in this article, that a new definition of quality needs to be established purely around many people having had a good time with an art experience, sets my alarm bells start ringing. And they ring even louder when this new definition of quality is accompanied by the rhetoric around ‘elitist art’ and ‘metropolitan based thinking’ which (exclusively) supports this ‘other’ non-popular art, being taken out of the picture completely, their perceived power base and value system destroyed and their work shown for the hollow, self indulgent sham it obviously is.

At the back of all this there is something fascist emerging – a compulsion to dictate, justified through mass appeal, what good art is, and how appallingly irrelevant elite art (whatever that is), has become, that it should be reappraised, downcast and even (as a sub text) seen as something filthy that represents everything that’s wrong with society’s pernicious divisions. It most certainly shouldn’t be supported with public money, as it doesn’t represent the people! Let’s put elite artists in the bin along with ‘experts’, but hang on to our beloved elite athletes, as they are loved by millions.

Change ‘elite’ for ‘minority’, and you can see where I’m heading.

Access, learning and participation in the arts are, I believe, an essential, life-enriching entitlement for everyone that should be accessible across a lifetime. Such opportunities are not just about fun (although it is a great starting point), but also about stimulating further interest, inquisitiveness, understanding, reaching out, challenging, gaining a context of your own culture set among others, development and aspiration. Most of all, participation and access, not least arts education in schools, is about exposing students to an informed and supported wide-ranging variety of cultural outputs that following explanation and discussion, ultimately equip individuals with the discernment and tools to make up their own minds about what holds value for them. Being able to contrast and compare empowers people to make the very choices I’m so keen on; choices that fewer children and adults are able to exercise with each passing year.

Yes, let’s absolutely acknowledge the areas of exclusion that exist across the arts and do everything we can to make them inclusive. However, you cannot achieve true inclusion or true choice through a pro-active agenda to exclude minority (non-populist) arts.

All people are capable of being creative, but not all creativity will lead to great art unless all criteria, discernment and objectivity is lost and ALL creativity equals great art. This article appears to suggest that a ‘democratic’, popular realignment of values will ultimately lead to everything becoming great because everyone enjoys it and says it is such.

Consequently, nothing will have any value at all.

 

Here are some further responses since the blog was originally posted:

Rose Dodd, composer

Stella Duffy writes a considered article on the current cultural landscape in the UK, as she sees it, from her area of activity. From my perspective ‘creativity and community-led culture’ has already made great inroads into places where elitism used to preside like an archaic old great uncle presiding like a boring, overbearing and outmoded oaf at the dinner table. Things have moved on. The UK is increasingly diverse and represented increasingly well in all areas of community arts practice to more specialist, niche artistic endeavour, including music. It is perhaps utopian to dream of a world where ‘all ages’ are engaged in further developing our cultural landscape. With inflationary pressures many are scraping just enough money to put bread on the proverbial table, while the few busy themselves in creative endeavour. Stella Duffy’s article outlines just one view of utopia; utopia being sought should surely be applauded by us all, in this dismal political climate. The Guardian could commission a series following on from this, expressing many views drawn from our contemporary cultural landscape, opening a proper conversation on the arts, shining as a hopeful beacon into the future. I for one, would advocate an overhaul of GCSE Music curricula, as these lessons are where music is first encountered in any formal sense to so many children. If the Music curriculum at this level were more relevant at this tantalising moment in a child’s life, there would be greater potential impact. There is so much to talk about in this vast sea of cultural exchange, (as is evidenced by the brilliant and strong opinions as initial replies/comments), Stella Duffy’s article is a solid beginning.

 

Max Erwin, PhD student, music, University of Leeds

If this article is dangerous, it’s not because it portends a sort of beer hall putsch of people who do pitch class set theory or whatever; it’s because it clothes itself in this particularly rarified language of condescension (although I believe this accusation has now been flung at the objections to it as well). Rephrased, the real threat of this article is not to the arts, but to the effectiveness of left-wing causes. There’s a sort of neoliberal hangover that media like The Guardian (and, in America, The New Yorker, the NYT, etc etc) have never really recovered from, this thinking that culture is at once popular, direct, monolithic, necessary, and emancipatory, that Stephen Fry and J. K. Rowling are important voices and thinkfluencers. Under this mode of thought, culture is not something that is participated in but rather hoisted upon the people, Adorno-and-Horkheimer-style. This is the thinking that allows liberals to chide Corbyn for quoting Shelley, as if a quip from Wonder Woman would somehow connect better: the idea that there’s one mass culture, that zeitgeist is a zero-sum game.

Frankly, I’m concerned that both the article and the responses to it are perhaps a bit wide of the mark. Brexit and Trump didn’t show that culture is elitist, they showed that there is no culture in the singular. Beyoncé’s support of Clinton was no less effective than Ferneyhough’s. The desire for “more people to engage with the arts” is itself the problem. It’s a blinkered transactional view: you read some Dickens, you gain x amount of empathy points; you binge Doctor Who, you’re plugged into the cultural mainframe. If arts and/or culture are truly worthwhile (and, you know, jury’s still out I guess), surely that worth is not best served by practitioners doing the sort of “outreach” done by knockoff-Rolex salesmen. If engagement is desired, it is served not through outreach, but economic reforms that restore the free time to the workweek of lower and middle class workers – artists and academics among them – that current deregulation and austerity has obliterated. Art and culture will always be there, the issue is creating a society where the enjoyment of life and all that comes with it is maintained to a degree that enables people to, as Camden put it, “listen to, or go to, whatever they want to listen to or go to.

 

Frances M. Lynch, singer and composer

It makes my heart sink to think of this – far from being a fashion, quality and skill are the backbone, the essence of arts going back through the mists of time – without it we face a future of mediocrity not of new and innovative ideas – as someone who rarely performs or writes these days for the so called elite I can see that everyone just knows and feels that quality when they experience it – regardless of background or education – without necessarily knowing why they know it (not always aligned with liking it…..)

 

Sasha Valeri Millwood, musician & musicologist; doctoral researcher, University of Glasgow

Arnold Schoenberg, in his essay ‘New Music, Outmoded Music, Style and Idea’, argues “if it is art, it is not for all, and if it is for all, it is not art.”. This chiasmus is an apposite corrective to those who claim that art could be an universal means of communication and engagement — even language cannot achieve that! There are as many interpretations of a work as there are interpreters; therefore, to speak, as Duffy does, of “culture by and for all”, is naïve at best and doctrinaire at worst (others have already commented eloquently on the political repression with which such paradigms have been associated). No society consists of a single, immutable “culture” (nor has any such society ever existed, notwithstanding the claims of some xenophobes), and a society which did consist thereof would not be a desirable outcome. Duffy’s rhetoric of “ecology”, and her argument that “some parts must die for new ones to thrive”, alludes to the natural environment. If one were to take that allusion further, one would observe that a thriving “ecology” in nature, rather than being a monoculture, consists of a variety of species (and indeed sub-species) which are, to various degrees, interdependent. Correspondingly, then, it would be the height of vanity and folly to require (whether through force or through funding pressures) all artistic endeavour to be conducted according to a fixed set of precepts and values, no matter how well intentioned.

Therefore, I find Duffy’s call for re-evaluating the criteria for “excellence and quality” to be suspect. Her conception appears (although does not claim explicitly) to be grounded in measuring the quantity of people directly engaged in the making of a work of art. Yet, it is possible for such direct engagement to be superficial; equally, it is possible for less direct forms of engagement to be profound, locupletative experiences. Leaving aside the issues of evaluating the quality of direct or indirect engagement, the fact remains that the impact of artistic endeavour is unamenable to quantitative measurements, and no amount of so-called “smart” technology, tracking, and surveillance will alter this fundamentally. Consequently, any attempt to implement a criterion such as, to quote Heile’s interpretation of Duffy’s article, “that which involves or pleases the greatest number of people” would end up becoming “that which can be measured by some objective, albeit potentially crude and unrepresentative, means as appearing to involve or appearing to please the greatest number of people in a demographic that matters, ostensibly at least, to policy-makers”. In reality, this latter criterion is already far too influential.

Whilst I dissent from Duffy’s conception of artistic excellence in terms of popular appeal, I am not against her suggestion that “We need to offer everyone not only access to the products of creativity, but access to the means and processes of creativity”. However, to suggest that only so-called “community-led culture” can achieve this would be myopic. One has to distinguish between socio-economic “elitism” and artistic rigour, the latter of which depends on elite training (which, inevitably and necessarily, is an expensive and time-consuming process). As Morris observes, Duffy has conflated political and artistic goals. So-called “accessibility” is often touted as a solution, yet what is really needed from creators and audiences alike is patience, a virtue which is all too scarce in a modern consumerist society which has moulded people to demand instant gratification and, as Yeats so eloquently explains, disenfranchised them from making meaningful choices. To create meaningful art (whether in an amateur or professional capacity) in most mediums or traditions depends on the protracted cultivation and development of intellectual and vocational faculties; similarly, connoisseurship of a given artistic tradition (or subset thereof) depends on a long-term education in the precepts, works, and contexts thereof. Thus, art can never be wholly “accessible”, for, to engage therewith (at any level, and from any perspective) requires some effort (however minimal or unconscious). That effort can be facilitated by others — for example, through research, teaching, and the mitigation of arbitrary impediments (determining which impediments are arbitrary may be a subjective matter in some cases) — but cannot be shirked. Ultimately, artistic endeavour is a process of striving, and one which rarely yields complete satisfaction. As the pianist Cyril Smith suggests in his autobiography, “even with eight hours’ practise [sic] a day, few pianists are able to achieve more than ten consecutive seconds of absolutely perfect playing a year

 

Michael Morse, musicologist

1. If we are not engaging everyone in the creation of culture .. then the culture we are sharing and consuming is not that of our whole society

Two mistaken assumptions for the price of one here. Who says that culture, never mind “the”culture, singular, should be for “our whole society” in the first place? It is ridiculous on its face to believe that adolescent dance music shouldn’t be different than Catholic church music and night club jazz and 19thc. Concert music. We are a diverse population, and diverse society; attempting to create a single culture for all of it all the time denies that truth at best, and forcibly and unjustly suppresses it at worst. Second, the division of labour between professional artists and audience members has been vital to culture of all kinds for centuries now. That professionalism has been seen to interfere with the cultivation of amateur, “do it yourself cultures,” and is usually just anti-intellectual snobbish masquerading as populism when it does. But the advent of computer tools has made this problem virtually disappear. If someone is really dissatisfied with the music of Mozart or Thelonious Monk, or feels their own genius somehow oppressed by the accomplishments of Titian or Paul Klee, there are dozens and hundreds of programs that offer a short circuit to self-expression, and offer a quick way around the years of dedication and hard work that go into great art; if that’s what we want. Again, even if it is, there is a perfectly adequate solution in place, and one that does not call for any state support whatsoever. Thus:

2. “a move away from culture by and for an elite, however well meaning, to culture by and for all” is dishonest and wrong. The contrast of “elite”and “by and for all” is a specious contrast that rests on deliberately misformulated opinion. Especially thanks to the internet, where the literature, art, architecture, music, film, and television of the entire world is available to us all, the notion that culture could be confined to an elite is preposterous. By now, “culture”is for anyone who cares to explore its possibilities in their own lives. Cultural gatekeeper is not a job with any security or fringe benefits!

3. “The work we are talking about – grassroots, created by professionals and non-professionals together, often in communities rather than on main stages and in recognised venues – largely takes place outside the funded mainstream. Allowing everyone to join in, not simply as audiences and consumers, but as active participants, as creators, will result in a far greater array of work to engage with.”
The obvious rejoinder to the first statement is to restore and expand arts education funding. The time for universal creative activity and expression is in childhood. Countless studies now show that artistic activity among the young sharpens their minds and enhances their performance even in the skills that matter, to this society, so much more than mere art, the playground of life. Science and math scores are raised when student learn art and music. The statement’s mandate could be further enhanced by expanding adult art education, too. The second statement is purely speculative. It does not tell us what “a far greater array” entails or looks like, or in particular what is missing from the presently available range of options. Would we all be better off with artworks from our neighbours than from professional artists? Even if we agree for the sake of argument that we might, there would have to be some kind of evidence for the claim. Unsurprisingly, this document offers none–because there is none.

4. “We desperately need to bring everyone into the cultural ecology, not for audience development (though that’s a happy by-product) but as artist development.” As above; the desperation here is pure fiction, based on misguided populist ideology, not on anyone’s artistic experience.

5. “If we want cultural democracy, genuine culture for all, elitism must make way for creativity and community-led culture. We need to offer everyone not only access to the products of creativity, but access to the means and processes of creativity – only then will we have an inclusive culture for, by and with all.” A final resounding statement of the author’s ill-informed prejudices, and one that at last reveals the problem, still unadmitted. Elitism” means the cultural products of the past, handed down to us from eras in which the artistic division of labour was indeed sharp. Even though most of Mozart’s patrons could have played his simpler pieces, and even his harder ones with a bit of practice, and even though Frederick the Great was a better than decent composer for his beloved flute, the classes of professional artist, of patrons, and of audiences were distinct. We no longer feel that way about ourselves and each other, nor do we live that way. To love the music of Haydn is not to embrace the feudal absolutism of his era, nor its gender roles or racism, either. Neither is it an admission that our own creativity is deficient. Haydn and Picasso and Sonia Delaunay and John Coltrane are not threats to our personal autonomy, they are role models and consolations. To demand they be replaced by my shiftless brother-in-law (or yours) is mean-spirited and callous, not democratic. Matthew Arnold believed that the mission of culture was to become a beacon for all, that all of us must have access to and education for the richest possibilities of the human palette. Expanding that palette does not mean a new exclusivity based on destroying our history.

 

Nigel Simeone, writer, musicologist, author, teacher

The author of this article ends by saying: “We need to offer everyone not only access to the products of creativity, but access to the means and processes of creativity – only then will we have an inclusive culture for, by and with all.” In terms of music, at least, I’d like to know what she thinks the “access to the means” is if it isn’t the acquisition of the relevant and necessary skills to perform/create music. And this has absolutely nothing to do with the “metropolitan-based thinking” or “elitism” who have become a handy scapegoat for more or less anybody encouraging the pursuit of excellence wherever and whenever and however it is possible. As someone who taught in secondary state schools for 10 years, then in universities for 15 years, and now – very happily – in an inner-city state school in Leicester, my current teaching has nothing whatsoever to do with any metropolitan elite and everything to do with trying to blow young people’s minds with the wonders of music – and to give them as many ways as possible of participating in that. What does that mean on a practical level? Exposure to all sorts of music they don’t already know themselves. And we use everything from plainsong to Gamelan (we are very lucky to have a Gamelan on long-term loan to my school), from Dufay to Miles Davis, from Elgar to Earth, Wind and Fire, from Janacek to the Jackson 5. With a composing task for students in, especially, Years 7-9, the idea is to aim for a creative response that aspires to some kind of artistry, discrimination, even subtlety. And if you have expectations of that, and the students know this, then it is perfectly possible to have entire classes who can produce interesting, surprising and sometimes beautiful work. I’m talking here about mixed ability groups of 11-13 year-olds as well as A-level students. Any teacher is going to want to share some of the things they love themselves – that’s not elitist: quite the reverse as the aim is to inspire and excite as many young people as possible about something about which the teacher is passionate. And they respond brilliantly to something out of the ordinary. Last week we had a visit from a young opera singer at the RAM and three classes of 11-12 year-old went berserk with enthusiasm in response to arias by Handel, Mozart, Verdi and (especially) Puccini. Exposing them to this kind of thing has a lasting impact on a significant number of our students – as does participating in performances of a wide range of music. How do we make that accessible? Well, where necessary, by teaching enough basic notation for students to be able to perform what they want to perform. That can be done quickly, it can be done for all, and it gives them wonderful opportunities to explore music of all sorts. I hope Stella Duffy understands that this sort of thing is going on, on a daily basis, and that it enables young people from mostly working-class families and a wonderfully diverse ethnic background (at the last count we had 64 first languages in our student population – not a Tower of Babel, but something to celebrate.

 

Below is a follow-up comment by Eva Moreda Rodriguez relating to an earlier article on the Fun Palace (Stella Duffy, ‘Fun Palaces 2015: realising the excellence of local communities, The Guardian, February 19, 2015)

My response above was based on the Guardian article from 30th June. My main issue with it was that it lacked detail and clarity around such loaded concepts as “community”, “creativity” and “culture”, among others, and by contributing to Ian’s original post and the ensuing Twitter conversation I was hoping to get more clarification around such concepts. However, having done some online research on Fun Palaces (which I don’t have any doubt is a fantastic initiative from which thousands of people derive enjoyment and reward), I came across the following article, which I find more problematic rather than it simply being conceptually unclear. Some of my issues with this article echo some of the opinions of my colleagues above, so I won’t repeat them again. I’d just like to add the following two things:

The expert simply reinforces the idea that the artist is other. The local person, on the other hand – perhaps not well-known or known at all, but expertly and compellingly enthusiastic – is a role-model who says: “I am from here, I am like you and that means you can do this too.” The local enthusiast, rather than the flown-in expert, underlines the possibility that we can all be creative.

The paragraph above strongly implies that “the expert” and “the local person” exist in opposition. I fail to understand why we cannot have both. Having grown up in a relatively small town with few opportunities to access high culture, I felt enormously inspired when a professional performer, novelist or scholar visited the town and played a concert or gave a talk. They showed to me what sorts of things were possible in the realms of music/writing/scholarship beyond what I had access to through, say, local amateur music groups or the local weekly magazine. Of course the latter two were tremendously valuable as well in terms of encouraging me and others to engage in creative pursuits on a day-to-day basis.

We believe that there’s a serious problem with the concept of excellence as it is currently used in arts subsidy. The excellence of artistic quality can only ever be a subjective value.

There is no acknowledgement here that measurements of “the excellence of artistic quality” can go beyond “I like this, you like that”. This certainly tends to be the case in contexts such as funding decisions or academic training. In my own teaching of music history, discussions often start with an open dialogue along the lines of “I like this, you like that”, but this is normally an invitation to dig deeper: why do I like this? When I say that I like or dislike something, which criteria matter to me? And if someone disagrees with me – can I ascertain and understand which criteria matter to them, and maybe try to look at the work again from their point of view? If I learn more about the genesis of this piece of music, does this change my opinion of it? The aim is not just academic discussion for the sake of it, but hopefully to encourage students to engage with music and art they might not have considered before, and to have a genuinely open mind towards others who might have different opinions. If we want all sectors of society to engage in art, culture and creativity, we should not just should empower them to “do”, but also to “think”. To do the former but not the latter is, to me, reminiscent of irrationalism and anti-intellectualism.

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Bright Futures, Dark Pasts: Michael Finnissy at 70 – Jan 19/20, Conference/Concerts at City University

Click here to book tickets for the conference and/or the concerts.

On Thursday January 19th and Friday January 20th, 2017, City, University of London is hosting a conference entitled Bright Futures, Dark Pasts: Michael Finnissy at 70.  This will feature a range of scholarly papers on a variety of aspects of Finnissy’s work – including his use of musical objets trouvés, engagement with folk music, sexuality, the influence of cinema, relationship to other contemporary composers, issues of marginality, and his work in performance. There will be three concerts, featuring his complete works for two pianos and piano duet, played by the composer, Ian Pace, and Ben Smith; a range of solo, chamber and ensemble works; and a complete performance (from 14:00-21:00 on Friday 20th) of his epic piano cycle The History of Photography in Sound by Ian Pace. The concerts include the world premieres of Finnissy’s Zortziko (2009) for piano duet and Kleine Fjeldmelodie (2016-17) for solo piano, the UK premiere of Duet (1971-2013) and London premieres of Fem ukarakteristisek marsjer med tre tilføyde trioer (2008-9) for piano duet, Derde symfonische etude (2013) for two pianos,  his voice/was then/here waiting (1996) for two pianos, and Eighteenth-Century Novels: Fanny Hill (2006) for two pianos. There will also be a rare chance to hear Finnissy’s Sardinian-inspired Anninnia (1981-2) for voice and piano, for the first time in several decades.

Keynote speakers will be Roddy Hawkins (University of Manchester), Gregory Woods (Nottingham Trent University, author of Homintern) and Ian Pace (City, University of London). The composer will be present for the whole event, and will perform and be interviewed by Christopher Fox (Brunel University) on his work and the History in particular.

The composer and photographer Patrícia Sucena de Almeida, who studied with Finnissy between 2000 and 2004, has created a photographic work, continuum simulacrum (2016-17) inspired by The History of Photography in Sound and particularly Chapter 6 (Seventeen Immortal Homosexual Poets). The series will be shown on screens in the department and samples of a book version will be available.

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Patrícia Sucena de Almeida, from continuum simulacrum (2016-17).

The full programme can be viewed below. This conference also brings to a close Ian Pace’s eleven-concert series of the complete piano works of Finnissy.

A separate blog post will follow on The History of Photography in Sound.

 

 

Click here to book tickets for the conference and/or the concerts.

 

All events take place at the Department of Music, College Building, City, University of London, St John Street, London EC1V 4PB.  

Thursday January 19th, 2017

 09:00-09:30 Room AG09.
Registration and TEA/COFFEE.

09:30-10:00  Performance Space.
Introduction and tribute to Michael Finnissy by Ian Pace and Miguel Mera (Head of Department of Music, City, University of London).

10:00-12:00  Room AG09. Chair: Aaron Einbond.
Larry Goves (Royal Northern College of Music), ‘Michael Finnissy & Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart: the composer as anthropologist’.

Maarten Beirens (Amsterdam University), ‘Questioning the foreign and the familiar: Interpreting Michael Finnissy’s use of traditional and non-Western sources’

Lauren Redhead (Canterbury Christ Church University), ‘The Medium is Now the Material: The “Folklore” of Chris Newman and Michael Finnissy’.

Followed by a roundtable discussion between the three speakers and composer and Finnissy student Claudia Molitor (City, University of London), chaired by Aaron Einbond.

 

12:00-13:00  Foyer, Performance Space.
LUNCH.

13:1014:15 Performance Space.
Concert 1: Michael Finnissy: The Piano Music (10). Michael Finnissy, Ian Pace and Ben Smith play Finnissy’s works for two pianos or four hands.

Michael Finnissy, Wild Flowers (1974) (IP/MF)
Michael Finnissy, Fem ukarakteristisek marsjer med tre tilføyde trioer (2008-9) (BS/IP) (London premiere)
Michael Finnissy, Derde symfonische etude (2013) (BS/IP) (London premiere)
Michael Finnissy, Deux jeunes se promènent à travers le ciel 1920 (2008) (IP/BS)
Michael Finnissy, his voice/was then/here waiting (1996) (IP/MF) (UK premiere)
Michael Finnissy, Eighteenth-Century Novels: Fanny Hill (2006) (IP/MF) (London premiere)

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Max Ernst, Deux jeunes se promènent à travers le ciel (1920)

 

14:30-15:30 Room AG09. Chair: Lauren Redhead (Canterbury Christ Church University).Keynote: Roddy Hawkins (University of Manchester): ‘Articulating, Dwelling, Travelling: Michael Finnissy and Marginality’.

15:30-16:00  Foyer, Performance Space.
TEA/COFFEE.

16:00-17:00 Room AG09. Chair: Roddy Hawkins (University of Manchester).
Keynote: Ian Pace (City, University of London): ‘Michael Finnissy between Jean-Luc Godard and Dennis Potter: appropriation of techniques from cinema and TV’ 

17:00-18:00 Room AG09. Chair: Christopher Fox (Brunel University).
Roundtable on performing the music of Michael Finnissy. Participants: Neil Heyde (cellist), Ian Pace (pianist), Jonathan Powell (pianist), Christopher Redgate (oboist), Roger Redgate (conductor, violinist), Nancy Ruffer (flautist).

 

19:00              Performance Space.
Concert 2: City University Experimental Ensemble (CUEE), directed Tullis Rennie. Christopher Redgate, oboe/oboe d’amore; Nancy Ruffer, flutes; Bernice Chitiul, voice; Alexander Benham, piano; Michael Finnissy, piano; Ian Pace, piano; Ben Smith; piano.

Michael Finnissy, Yso (2007) (CUEE)
Michael Finnissy, Stille Thränen (2009) (Ian Pace, Ben Smith)
Michael Finnissy, Runnin’ Wild (1978) (Christopher Redgate)
Michael Finnissy, Anninnia (1981-82) (Bernice Chitiul, Ian Pace)
Michael Finnissy, Ulpirra (1982-83) (Nancy Ruffer)
Michael Finnissy, Pavasiya (1979) (Christopher Redgate)

INTERVAL

‘Mini-Cabaret’: Michael Finnissy, piano
Chris Newman, AS YOU LIKE IT (1981)
Michael Finnissy, Kleine Fjeldmelodie (2016-17) (World première)
Andrew Toovey, Where are we in the world? (2014)
Laurence Crane, 20th CENTURY MUSIC (1999)
Matthew Lee Knowles, 6th Piece for Laurence Crane (2006)
Morgan Hayes, Flaking Yellow Stucco (1995-6)
Tom Wilson, UNTIL YOU KNOW (2017) (World première)
Howard Skempton, after-image 3 (1990)

Michael Finnissy, Zortziko (2009) (Ian Pace, Ben Smith) (World première)
Michael Finnissy, Duet (1971-2013) (Ben Smith, Ian Pace) (UK première)
Michael Finnissy, ‘They’re writing songs of love, but not for me’, from Gershwin Arrangements (1975-88) (Alexander Benham)
Michael Finnissy, APRÈS-MIDI DADA (2006) (CUEE)

 

duchamp-nude-descending-a-staircase

Marcel Duchamp, Nude Descending a Staircase, No. 2 (1912).

21:30  Location to be confirmed
CONFERENCE DINNER

 

Friday January 20th, 2017

10:00-11:00  Room AG21.
Christopher Fox in conversation with Michael Finnissy on The History of Photography in Sound.

11:00-11:30  Room AG21.
TEA/COFFEE.

11:30-12:30  Room AG21. Chair: Alexander Lingas (City, University of London).
Keynote: Gregory Woods (Nottingham Trent University): ‘My “personal themes”?!’: Finnissy’s Seventeen Homosexual Poets and the Material World’.

 

14:00-21:00      Performance Space.
Concert 3:  Michael Finnissy: The Piano Music (11): The History of Photography in Sound (1995-2002). Ian Pace, piano

14:00                     Chapters 1, 2: Le démon de l’analogie; Le réveil de l’intraitable realité.

15:00                     INTERVAL

15:15                     Chapters 3, 4: North American Spirituals; My parents’ generation thought War meant something

16:15                     INTERVAL

16:35                     Chapters 5, 6, 7: Alkan-Paganini; Seventeen Immortal Homosexual Poets; Eadweard Muybridge-Edvard Munch

17:50                     INTERVAL (wine served)

18:10                     Chapter 8: Kapitalistische Realisme (mit Sizilianische Männerakte und Bachsche Nachdichtungen)

19:20                     INTERVAL (wine served)

19:35                     Chapters 9, 10, 11: Wachtend op de volgende uitbarsting van repressie en censuur; Unsere Afrikareise; Etched Bright with Sunlight.

 

What characterizes the so-called advanced societies is that they today consume images and no longer, like those of the past, beliefs; they are therefore more liberal, less fanatical, but also more ‘false’ (less ‘authentic’) – something we translate, in ordinary consciousness, by the avowal of an impression of nauseated boredom, as if the universalized image were producing a world that is without difference (indifferent), from which can rise, here and there, only the cry of anarchisms, marginalisms, and individualisms: let us abolish the images, let us save immediate Desire (desire without mediation).

Mad or tame? Photography can be one or the other: tame if its realism remains relative, tempered by aesthetic or empirical habits (to leaf through a magazine at the hairdresser’s, the dentist’s); mad if this realism is absolute and, so to speak, original, obliging the loving and terrified consciousness to return to the very letter of Time: a strictly revulsive movement which reverses the course of the thing, and which I shall call, in conclusion, the photographic ecstasy.

Such are the two ways of the Photography.  The choice is mine: to subject its spectacle to the civilized code of perfect illusions, or to confront in it the wakening of intractable reality.

Ce qui caractérise les sociétés dites avancées, c’est que ces sociétés consomment aujourd’hui des images, et non plus, comme celles d’autrefois, des croyances; elles sont donc plus libérales, moins fanataiques, mais aussi plus «fausses» (moins «authentiques») – chose que nous traduisons, dans la conscience courante, par l’aveu d’une impression d’ennui nauséeux, comme si l’image, s’universalisant, produisait un monde sans differences (indifferent), d’où ne peut alors surgir ici et là que le cri des anarchismes, marginalismes et individualismes : abolissons les images, sauvons le Désir immédiat (sans mediation).

Folle ou sage? La Photographie peut être l’un ou l’autre : sage si son réalisme reste relative, tempére par des habitudes esthétiques ou empiriques (feuilleter une revue chez le coiffeur, le dentist); folle, si ce réalisme est absolu, et, si l’on peut dire, original, faisant revenir à la conscience amoureuse et effrayée la letter même du Temps : movement proprement révulsif, qui retourne le cours de la chose, et que l’appellerai pour finir l’extase photographique.

Telles sont les deux voies de la Photographie. A moi de choisir, de soumettre son spectacle au code civilise des illusions parfaits, ou d’affronter en elle le réveil de l’intraitable réalité.

Roland Barthes, Le chambre claire/Camera Lucida.

 

muybridge

Eadweard Muybridge – A. Throwing a Disk, B: Ascending a Step, C: Walking from Animal Locomotion (1885-1887).

 

 

base-7

Patrícia Sucena de Almeida, from continuum simulacrum (2016-17).

Click here to book tickets for the conference and/or the concerts.

 


The Verdi that inspired Finnissy

This coming Thursday, December 1st, will see the ninth concert in my series of the complete piano works of Michael Finnissy, at Deptford Town Hall, Goldsmith’s College, beginning at 18:00 (with a 15-minute talk between myself and the composer, followed by the performance immediately afterwards). This cycle, which I have recorded in its earlier incarnation, and which was considerably expanded (to around twice the original duration, and four books referencing every Verdi opera) in 2004-2005, is one for which I hold a special affection, as Book 1 was the first music of Finnissy I ever learned.

As earlier with Finnissy’s Gershwin Arrangements, I thought some would find it informative to be able to listen to the Verdi originals before the concert, so I have made this blog containing all of the numbers/sections in question, in the same order as they appear in the Finnissy cycle.

I hope many people will be able to come along on Thursday, and bring others!

Book 1

No. 1: Aria: ‘Sciagatura!  a questo lido ricercai l’amante infido!’, Oberto (Act 2)

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(From 2:00:50)

No. 2: Trio: ‘Bella speranza in vero’, Un Giorno di Regno (Act 1)

verdi-1-2

No. 3: Chorus: ‘Il maledetto non ha fratelli’, Nabucco (Part 2)

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No. 4: Chorus:‘Fra tante sciagure…’, I Lombardi (Act 3)

verdi-1-4

(From 1:33:24)

No. 5: Septet with Chorus: ‘Vedi come il buon vegliardo…’, Ernani (Part 1)

verdi-1-5

No. 6:Choral Barcarolle: ‘Tace il vento, è queta l’onda’, I Due Foscari (Act 3)

verdi-1-6

(From 1:15:34)

No. 7: Aria: ‘So che per via di triboli’, Giovanna d’Arco (Act 1)

verdi-1-7

(from 4:35)

No. 8: Duet: ‘Il pianto…l’angoscia…di lean mi priva’, Alzira (Act 2)

verdi-1-8

(From 1:03:27)

No. 9: Aria: ‘Mentre gonfiarsi l’Anima’, Attila (Act 1)

verdi-1-9

Book 2

No. 10: Duetto: ‘Vanitosi! Che abietti e dormenti’, Attila (Prologo)

verdi-2-1

(From 22:35)

No. 11: Coro: ‘Patria oppressa! Il dolce nome…’, Macbeth (Act 4, 1847 version)

verdi-2-2

No. 12: Duetto: ‘Qual mare, qual terra….’, I masnadieri (Parte Terza)

verdi-2-3

No. 13: Récit et Duo: ‘Non, ce bruit, ce ne’est rien…’, Jérusalem (Act 1)

verdi-2-4

(From 3:38)

No. 14: Romanza: ‘Non so le tetre immagini’, Il Corsaro (Act 1)

verdi-2-5

No. 15: Inno di Vittoria: ‘Dall’Alpi a Caridi echeggi vittoria!’, La Battaglia di Legnano (Act 4)

verdi-2-6

(From 1:44:16)

No. 16: Scena e Quartetto: ‘Rea fucina d’empie frodi…’, Luisa Miller (Act 2)

verdi-2-7

(From 1:24:08)

No. 17: Duetto: ‘Opposto é il calle che in avvenire’, Stiffelio (Act 3)

verdi-2-8

(From 1:30:00)

No. 18: Scena e Coro: ‘Vendetta del pazzo! Contr’esso un rancore’, Rigoletto (Act 1)

verdi-2-9

(From 9:25)

Book 3

No. 19: Canzone: ‘La donna è mobile’, Rigoletto (Act 3)

verdi-3-1

No. 20: Duo: ‘Vivra! Contende il giubilo’, Il Trovatore (Act 4, scene 1)

verdi-3-2

(From 4:48)

No. 21: Duetto: ‘È nulla, sai?’, La Traviata (Act 3)

verdi-3-3

(From 2:20:40)

No. 22: Boléro: ‘Merci, jeunes amies, d’un souvenir si doux!’, Les vêpres siciliennes (Act 5, scene 2)

verdi-3-4

No. 23: Scena: ‘Tradimento!’, Simon Boccanegra (Finale dell’Atto Primo, 1857 version)

verdi-3-5

(if this link does not work, simply do a search for Verdi Boccanegra Tradimento on Spotify)

https://play.spotify.com/album/3lF212F3oY6j4aU8MEhCC9/4GCB9Y3gwkVGVN2wVZ6BZc

No. 24: Coro, Burrasca e Finale: ‘Allora che gl’anni’, Aroldo (Act 4); ‘Vi fu in Palestina’, Aroldo (Finale Act 1)

verdi-3-6

aroldo-vi-fu-in-palestina

 

(From 1:56:54 for ‘Allora che gl’anni’, 40:32 for ‘Vi fu in Palestina’)

No. 25: Stretta: ‘Ogni cura si doni al diletto’, Un Ballo di Maschera (Act 1)

verdi-3-7

No. 26: Romanza: ‘Me pellegrina ed orfano’, La Forza del Destino (Act 1)

verdi-3-8

No. 27: Aria: (a) ‘Trionfai! Securi alfino’ (1847), (b) ‘La luce langue’ (1864-5), Macbeth (Act 2)

verdi-3-9a

verdi-3-9b

Book 4

No. 28: Chorus: ‘S’allontanarono! N’accozzeremo’, Macbeth (Act 1)

verdi-4-1a

verdi-4-1b

No. 29: (a) Duo: ‘Restez! Auprès de ma personne’ (Acte II, Tableau II); (b) Duo: ‘J’ai tout compris’ (Acte IV, Tableau I), Don Carlos (1866-7)

verdi-4-2a

 

for-blog-jai-tout-compris-1

for-blog-jai-tout-compris-2

(From 1:05)

 

No. 30: Romanza: ‘O cieli azzuri…’, Aida (Act 3)

verdi-4-3

No. 31: String Quartet: (a) III. Prestissimo, (b) IV. Scherzo fuga

verdi-4-4a

verdi-4-4b

No. 32: Aria: ‘Cielo, pietoso, rendila’, Simon Boccanegra (Act 2)

verdi-4-5

No. 33: Aria: ‘Tu che la vanità conoscesti’, Don Carlo (Act 5)

verdi-4-6

No. 34: (a) Ballet No. 3: ‘Chanson Grecque’ (Cancone Greca)’; (b) Scena: ‘Una gran nube turba’, Otello (Act 3, Finale)

verdi-chanson-grecque

(From 1:47)

verdi-4-7b

(From 1:31:30)

No. 35: ‘Brava! Quelle corna saranno la mio gioia!’, Falstaff (Act 3, Part 1)

verdi-4-8a

(From 1:41:25)

No. 36: ‘Requiem Aeternam’, Missa da Requiem

verdi-4-9a

verdi-4-9b


Culture in the EU (8): Estonia

 

[Because of other commitments, it has not been possible to post more in this series for a little while, but I am endeavouring to complete as many as possible before the referendum on Thursday. For now, I will mostly give links and text without so much commentary, which may follow later]

As a solid supporter of the Remain campaign, in the 18 days from June 5th until the European Union Referendum on June 23rd, I am posting a selection of links and other information about music, literature, film, visual art, dance, architecture, etc., from each of the EU nations.

I make no claims to be comprehensive in any case, and my choices undoubtedly will reflect my own aesthetic interests – but I believe that may be more interesting than a rather anonymous selection of simply the most prominent artists or art. All work comes from the post-1945 era, the period during which the EU has come to fruition, but may (and often will) include work which dates from before the nations in question joined the EU. As I am writing in English, where translations exist I will use these. Time does not allow for detailed commentaries, I just throw these selections out there in the hope others will be interested in the extraordinary range of culture which has emerged from citizens of the EU.

 

Estonia

[With profound thanks to Helen Harjak for various suggestions of Estonian culture to investigate]

A major figure in the post-war Estonian literary scene was the writer and poet Bernard Kangro (1910-1994), who founded the cultural journal Tulimuld, which ran from 1950 to 1993. A selection of his quasi-surrealist poems is available in English translation, called Earthbound.

Kangro - Earthbound

Here is Kangro’s poem, ‘Late Flowers, Wind, Sea, Sand and Fish’, translated Ivar Ivask.

Wind wilts
late flowers,
tiny blossoms
at edge of bay.

Don’t blame the breeze!
The sea’s there
thundering
upon the sand.

Wave above,
sand blow.
Fish laugh
and skip away.

Another poem can be read here.

Another surrealist Estonian writer was the poet and sound poet Ilmar Laaban (1921-2000), who lived in Sweden from 1944. Here is Laaban’s poem ‘Silence and Violence’, as translated by Richard Adang and Andres Ehin

Silence and Violence

Long ago on a windy hunt
a horrible happiness abruptly bloomed in me
and the landscape congealed only its pungent
blood rustling through my veins the gun smoked
incessantly the hound did not bark
as it gazed at the clouds tightening
into meat and skinning over with fur
streaming tangled by despair

Because on the horizon a stout tower appeared
which swayed slowly between emptiness
and the overflowing clamor of hideous joy
like a gigantic latrine
the sweaty sun mottled Earth and Welkin
until suddenly it was eclipsed by cold
ravens of freedom who carried my eyes
and fresh images like flags in their bills

At twilight which was only flashes
as the sea is but the triumph of the drowned
my hunting jacket was freed of its heavy
web of lust I simply ran forward
along the mute moor coming across
animals with shining coals for hearts
I shot them so many that the road home
was finally choked with grass

Long ago I seized the empty beaker
and faced its inflexible challenge
and ever since this endless draught rinses –
my gun-barrel mouth which sparkles
in the starry sky and when it sees
some too-warm nebula defiling cosmic night
it proclaims ponderously and clearly
I DENY DEATH BUT AFFIRM ICE

Here is Laaban’s sound-text composition Ciel Inamputable (1969)

 

Amongst the most renowned Estonian writers of the post-war era are Jann Kaplinski (b. 1941), who drew widely upon mythology and Asian thought, and Jaan Kross (1920-2007), who spent an eight-year period as a prisoner in Soviet labour camps. Here is an obituary of Kross in The Guardian. Kross’s novels often had historical settings, but served as allegories of the contemporary situation under Soviet communism. His four volume sequence of novels Kolme katku vahel/Between Three Plagues (1970-1976) told the story of the sixteenth-century chronicler Balthasar Russow, who wrote the chronicle of the Livovian War, detailing his experience of the effects upon the peasantry from which he came.

Kross - The Ropewalker

 

A sparse form of poetry, reflecting post-1968 disillusionment and disenchantment, can be found in the work of Paul-Eerik Rummo (b. 1942), who also went on to become an Estonian politician. A selection of his poems can be read in translation here; here is one, ‘Crooning’.

Crooning

I am so fleeting
sighed the girl to the sea
oh, what can I do
you are eternal

I am transparent like you
sighed the girl to the window
oh, what can I do
my heart’s in full view

I open like you
sighed the girl to the door
oh, what can I do
the sun steps in

I am so small
sighed the girl to the sun
oh, what can I do
you are so large

I am so foolish
sighed the girl to the wise man
oh, what can I do
everyone is so wise

More on Rummo can be read here.

Poet and author Tõnu Õnnepalu (b. 1962), who has also published under the names Emil Tode and Anton Nigov. His novel Piiririik/Border State (1993), a short novel about the overwhelming and sometimes destructive effect of Western culture upon a Baltic citizen, comes highly recommended; more can be read about it here.

Onnepalu - Border State

Also, do check out the poet, short story writer and librettist Maarja Kangro (b. 1973). Here is her poem ‘The Butterfly of No Return’, as translated by Ilmar Lehtpere. A further selection of poems, with various translations, can be read here.

THE BUTTERFLY OF NO RETURN

‘again’ is a big word.
slowly and quickly
again

again men rejoice on the radio
that they are on the right road
and talk of the cyclical nature of time

a proper road goes in circles, even I
recognize young skin on the beach and
”et si tu n’existais pas,” is sung loudly

men on the radio speak of the connection
of everything to everything else:  ringingly
one says butterfly effect – I lift my wings

a good sleep gives you cyclical time
for after such a sleep you think you’re revived
and again

I flutter my wing
the good men on the radio start coughing
I flap my wings more amply and a wind comes up

the men cough wheezing, the airwaves revolt
ships sink and swimmers drown, the final sleep
comes stormy and grey

let’s think of a word that never was before
was just now
and now isn’t anymore

***

There’s a whining and ringing in the air.
You talk of a lout.
I’m the very one.  Through me you’ll never
reach the deeper levels or the heights,
the flash of pure being that you believe
you see in the village drunkard
or the poet gone mad.
When he drinks, secrets come to light.
When I get legless, I attack.
Or I drift off, stinking.  My gaze is dark.
I give off my exhaust in your face.
I want lovely meat that won‘t shame me.  I’m afraid of losing.
Words anger me.  I bellow.
I watch the telly, don’t read, can’t write properly.
Rubbish is left behind me.
I am rubbish. I’m the one you’re talking about.
– Ah no, what are you going on about, it’s me.
– Ah no, it’s me.
– No, I’m the one.
– No, I am.  Forgive me.
The whole road is full of us, and our fragile souls
are ringing.  Listen, how quietly, dear girls and boys.

One of the first major groups of Estonian artists to look beyond Soviet orthodoxy was ANK-64, who were responsible for resurrecting cubist and constructivist work from earlier in the century. One of the leading figures in this movement was Jüri Arrak (b. 1936), whose work employs cartoon-like imagery and surrealist ideas; other important artists who were involved with this movement include Kristiina Kaasik (b. 1943) and Marju Musu (1941-1980)

Arrak - Lennuk 6-20

Jüri Arrak, Lennuk 6/20 (1972)

 

Kaasik - Vaade treppu

Kristiina Kaasik, Vaade trepilt (1974)

 

Mutsu - Early in the Morning

Marju Mutsu, Early in the Morning (1970)

In 1967, artist Kaljo Põllu (1934-2010) created another group called the Visarid, which disseminated much information on Western artistic movements and ideas, not least relating to pop art and graphic design.

Pollu - Mangutuba

Kaljo Põllu, Mängutuba (1967)

 

Pollu - Kullatja

Kaljo Põllu, Kuulataja (Vaikus) (1968)

 

Pollu - Keegi

Kaljo Põllu, Keegi (1987)

A starker type of art came from the SOUP-69 group, also inspired by pop art and other movements. Amongst the leading figures here were Leonhard Lapin (b. 1947) and Ando Keskküla (b. 1950).

 

Lapin - Woman Machine

Leonhard Lapin, Woman-Machine X (1974)

 

Keskkula - Finish

Ando Keskküla, Finish (1979).

Also part of this movement was the architect Vilen Künnapu (b. 1948), who would later engage with post-modern architectural ideas.

Künnapu - Office of the State Farm October

 

Kunnapu - Snail tower

Vilen Künnapu, Snail Tower, Tartu (2008)

 

Other notable modern Estonian architects include Raine Karp (b. 1939) and Riina Altmäe (b. 1949), whose best known work is the brutalist Tallinn City Concert Hall (Linnahall) (1976-1980), shown here from various angles.

 

The Estonian painter Raoul Kurvitz (b. 1961) formed a group called Rühm T in 1986, whose work (which included performance art as much as painting) was described by them as ‘Cold Expressionism’. Here is Kurvitz’s painting Chapelle (1999):

Kurvitz - Chapelle

And here is a picture of Kurvitz’s ‘Reconstructed Environment’ Maelstrom (1999/2013):

Kurvitz - Maelstrom

An interview with Kurvitz can be read here, while more information on his work can be read here.

One artist inhabiting the wilder realms of video and performance art is Jaan Toomik (b. 1961), some of whose work was inspired by the Viennese Actionists, and involves various types of degradation to the body, use of bodily fluids, and so on, but also clear political themes, as well as a recurrent concert with the nature of communication. An interview with Toomik can be read here, and here are some videos of his work.

 

 

 

Another is Ene-Liis Semper (b. 1969), whose work focuses on the body, and especially the mouth and tongue. More can be read on her work here, not least her notorious Licked Room (2000), in which she literally licked a room clean with her tongue.

Here are some samples of Semper’s work:

 

 

Semper also formed the theatre group NO99 together with Tiit Ojasoo. Here is a video about their work:

 

This is one of NO99’s best-known works, NO83 How to Explain Pictures to a Dead Hare, inspired by Joseph Beuys.

 

Another important figure in radical contemporary Estonian theatre (about which more can be read here) is writer and director Mati Unt (b. 1944). Here is a video of his production Hot (2002).

 

Best-known of Estonian composers is undoubtedly Arvo Pärt (b. 1935), whose works such as Fratres (1977), Tabula Rasa (1977), Spiegel im Spiegel (1978), and St John Passion (1982) appealed to certain Western ideals of ‘spiritualism’ and won world renown as a result. But not all of Pärt’s work is like this; the cello concerto Pro et contra (1966) is clearly indebted to aspects of a Western avant-garde language, including collage-like techniques, whilst in Credo (1968) for choir, piano and orchestra, Pärt distorts and defamiliarises Bach’s C major Prelude from Das wohltempierte Klavier, Book 1.

 

 

 

 

Here are two examples of Pärt’s later work:

 

 

 

Another composer of the same generation whose work Kuldar Sink (1942-1995), who began engaging with some modernist traditions, including the neo-classicism, the Second Viennese School, aleatoric composition, and even happenings (Sink, like Pärt, and ANK-64, was linked to an Estonian Fluxus movement in the late 1960s).

 

 

In later work, before his death in a house fire, Sink turned to Central Asian folk musics and drastic simplification.

 

 

 

A younger composer who also traversed a path from the avant-garde to modalism and postminimalism (from the early 1980s onwards) was Lepo Sumera (1950-2000)

Lepo Sumera, Pantomiim/Pantomime (1981)

 

Lepo Sumera, Senza metro (1986)

 

Lepo Sumera, Tähed / Stars for soprano and piano (2000)

In the  fascinating work of Jüri Reinvere (b. 1971), however, one finds a particular type of fusion or interplay of modernist, aleatoric, and romantic elements to varying degrees.

 

Jüri Reinvere, t.i.m.e. (2005)

 

Jüri Reinvere, Requiem (2009), excerpt.

Helena Tulve (b. 1972) combines modal elements with a wider musical language influenced in part by musique spectrale, and in some ways reminiscent of the work of Kaija Saariaho.

 

A much more pared-down music can be found in the work of composer and harpist Liis Viira (b. 1983), notorious for her Reverbeebi/Baby Symphony (2015), in which babies’ voices were combined with instruments.

 

The group Ensemble U have garnered attention through their creation of an ‘audience orchestra’ in which the audience members control much of the musical decision making.

 

Estonian cinema is generally thought to have come into its own in the 1960s. One of film which generated a fair degree of international interest was Arvo Kruusement’s Kevade/Spring (1969), based on a popular novel by Oskar Luts, a coming-of-age story set at the end of the 19th century. Here is a section of it, alas without subtitles, but which enables one to sample the visual qualities.

 

 

(the rest of the film can be viewed on the same YouTube channel)

Here is a film from the previous year, Kaljo Kiisk’s Hullumeelsus/Madness (1968)

 

And here is Leida Laius’s Kõrboja peremees (1979)

 

Of post-independence Estonian cinema, required viewing includes Hardi Volmer’s parody of the Russian Revolution, Minu Leninid/All My Lenins (1997), here available with English subtitles.

 

There is also an important tradition of Estonian animated film, in which the leading figure is Priit Pärn (b. 1946). Here is his  Ein murual/Breakfast on the Grass (1983, released 1986)

 

Here is a clip from Pärn’s 1992 film Hotel E:

Many other of Pärn’s animations can be viewed online.

An article on the evolution of Estonian contemporary dance post-independence can be read here. Here is a clip of the work of Fine 5 Dance Theatre, founded in 1992:

 

One can read about the United Dancers of Zuga here (unfortunately I have not found a good clip of their work).

 


Culture in the EU (6): Czech Republic

As a solid supporter of the Remain campaign, in the 18 days from June 5th until the European Union Referendum on June 23rd, I am posting a selection of links and other information about music, literature, film, visual art, dance, architecture, etc., from each of the EU nations.

I make no claims to be comprehensive in any case, and my choices undoubtedly will reflect my own aesthetic interests – but I believe that may be more interesting than a rather anonymous selection of simply the most prominent artists or art. All work comes from the post-1945 era, the period during which the EU has come to fruition, but may (and often will) include work which dates from before the nations in question joined the EU. As I am writing in English, where translations exist I will use these. Time does not allow for detailed commentaries, I just throw these selections out there in the hope others will be interested in the extraordinary range of culture which has emerged from citizens of the EU.

 

Czech Republic

The Czech Republic was part of the single state of Czechoslovakia from 1918 until 1993. Through the course of this blog (and in the later one on Slovakia), I will refer to the area which became the Czech Republic by that name from 1945 onwards, without neglecting the effect of the unified state.

Czech cinema was relatively conventional in the 1950s, but this changed dramatically by the end of the decade, and led to an overwhelming wave of creative imagination from then onwards. One of the first films to win an international audience, is the notorious Ostře sledované vlaky/Closely Watched Trains (1966) by Jiří Menzel (b. 1938).

 

 

Soon afterwards followed the Czechoslovkian New Wave, most active in the 1960s and early 1970s, centered around the Film and TV School of the Academy of Performing Arts in Prague (FAMU). Characteristic of this movement is Věra Chytilová’s abstract, elemental and fantastical tale of two teenage girls undergoing a Candide-like odyssey: Sedmikrásky/Daisies (1966)

 

Few other major New Wave films are available online, but here are a few clips, trailers and features:

 

The Czech Republic has one of the most distinctive animation cultures in Eastern Europe. Jiří Trnka’s film Ruka/The Hand (1965) is thought by many to be amongst the greatest animations of all time.

 

The most internationally well-known of Czech animators is Jan Švankmajer (b. 1934). Here are three contrasting works.

 

This is a scene from his 1988 film Alice:

 

The complete works of a slightly younger figure, Jiri Barta (b. 1948), can be viewed here:

 

A brief overview of modern Czech literature can be read here. Highly significant in the establishment of an underground literary scene immediately after the war was the poet, writer and painter Jiří Kolář (1914-2002), a quite detailed account of whom can be read here. Kolář was a key member of Skupina 42a group of modernist artists founded in 1942, but disbanded in 1948. The writer Elinor S. Miller has written in detail about the relationships between Kolář’s work and that of French nouveau roman author Michel Butor.

Kolar - The End of Words

A selection of Kolar’s poems can be read here.

Kolar, ‘No One Ever’

Draw a square on the floor
a circle
a triangle
and a trapezium
Place into each
an everyday item
a book
a gadget
into the last arrange yourself
– test out all sixteen combinations
which can be formed
Afterwards switch on the radio
get undressed
attach to your naked body
the book as well as the gadget
clear your mind of thoughts
remain calm for several seconds and say:
“I loved you since the first moment I saw you…”
Listen attentively and after a while reply:
“I hated you since the first moment I saw you…”
Listen attentively and after a while continue:
“No one has ever love and hated you so much as I have.”

Equally central to post-war Czech literary history is the Nobel Prize winning poet Jaroslav Seifert (1901-1986). Some translations of Seifert’s poems can be read at one site here, and another here.

Seifert, ‘Fragment of a Letter’

All night rain lashed the windows.
I couldn’t go to sleep.
So I switched on the light
and wrote a letter.

If love could fly,
as of course it can’t,
and didn’t so often stay close to the ground,
it would be delightful to be enveloped
in its breeze.

But like infuriated bees
jealous kisses swarm down upon
the sweetness of the female body
and an impatient hand grasps
whatever it can reach,
and desire does not flag.
Even death might be without terror
at the moment of exultation.

But who has ever calculated
how much love goes
into one pair of open arms!

Letters to women
I always sent by pigeon post.
My conscience is clear.
I never entrusted them to sparrowhawks
or goshawks.

Under my pen the verses dance no longer
and like a tear in the corner of an eye
the word hangs back.
And all my life, at its end,
is now only a fast journey on a train:

I’m standing by the window of the carriage
and day after day
speeds back into yesterday
to join the black mists of sorrow.
At times I helplessly catch hold
of the emergency brake.

Perhaps I shall once more catch sight
of a woman’s smile,
trapped like a torn-off flower
on the lashes of her eyes.
Perhaps I may still be allowed
to send those eyes at least one kiss
before they’re lost to me in the dark.

Perhaps once more I shall even see
a slender ankle
chiselled like a gem
out of warm tenderness,
so that I might once more
half choke with longing.

How much is there that man must leave behind
as the train inexorably approaches
Lethe Station
with its plantations of shimmering asphodels
amidst whose perfume everything is forgotten.
Including human love.

That is the final stop:
the train goes no further.

Seifert’s collection Odlevdni zvonu/The Casting of Bells (1967) has been available to read in English for some time.

Seifert - The Casting of Bells

Dissident novelist Pavel Kohout (b. 1928), in his novel White Book, created a terrifying narrative developing Kafka and the Theatre of the Abusrd, relating (though not explicitly) to the craziness of communism, especially following the crushing of the Prague Spring. A short review can be read here.

Kohout - White Book

Some of the most disturbing work of writer Ota Pavel (1930-1973) (whose Jewish father and two brothers were incarcerated in camps during the Nazi era) was written when he was coming to terms with his own bipolar disorder and facing a break down. A book of unsettling but memorable tales from Pavel’s childhood was published just after his death as How I Came to Know Fish.

Pavel - How I Came to Know Fish

 

A younger, but no less important, Czech writer is former underground poet and songwriter Jáchym Topol (b. 1962). Some of Topol’s work writes outwards from his experience as a journalist; elsewhere he considers sites saturated by memory, such as the camp of Terezin, during the post-Nazi era, in his The Devil’s Workshop. Here is an important interview with Topol.

A wide range of new developments ensued in Czech theatre throughout the post-war period. One of the most innovative developments was black-light theatre, founded by Jiri Srnec in 1961, which played on the illusion to the eye which encounters black on black. Srnec founded the Černé divadlo Jiřího Srnce.

 

Here is a sample of Laterna Magika, founded in 1958, whose work mixes projected images with live stage production:

 

No-one could ignore the work of Václav Havel (1936-2011), who went onto become the first President of post-communist Czechoslovakia, then of the Czech Republic.

Here is a site devoted to Havel’s work, and here is a selection of it:

 

 

Puppet theatre is also a prominent feature in the post-war Czech Republic, not least in the theatre Divaldo Minor, dedicated to such work:

 

The theatre of Divadlo Alfréd ve dvoře focuses on motion and the body as much as words:

 

Here are some of the most notable contemporary Czech composers:

 

Miloslav Kabeláč (1908-1979):

Zbyněk Vostřák (1920-1985):

Jarmil Burghauser (1921-1997):

 

A link to earlier musical worlds, with a certain displaced sensibility, can be found in the music of Jan Klusák (b. 1934):

 

Rudolf Růžíčka (b. 1941)

Some more samples of Růžíčka’s electroacoustic music can be listened to here.

Several periodicals appeared in the 1960s devoted to experimental music, including Konfrontace (1968-1970) and Nové cesty hudby (1964, 1970).

A whole album devoted to music from the Czech Electronic Music Studios, founded in 1967, specifically from composers Vostřák, Miloslav Ištvan, and Václav Kučera, can be listened to here:

 

The Czech artistic avant-garde flourished between the wars, but was largely neutered during the communist period. A range of highly iconoclastic artists have come to prominence in this later period; here are a few examples.

Zbyněk Baladrán  (b. 1973)

Dead Reckoning (2014)

Ján Mančuška (1972-2011) – website here:

http://janmancuska.com/en/page/show/id/143/title/video

a middle aged woman (2009)

From Invisible (2011)

Here are some of the most arresting examples of post-war Czech architecture:

Jested TV Tower

Karel Hubáček, Jested TV Tower (1963-1983).

 

CKD Building

Alena Šrámková, ČKD building (1983).

 

Church at Cernocise

Zdeněk Fránek, Church in Černošice (2010)

Modern dance was an ill-developed genre in the Czech Republic until the fall of communism. But the range of new work which has emerged since then is extraordinary. One very important director of recent decades is Mirka Eliášová (b. 1975), who has done much of her important work with children.

 

Here is the group DOT504 and their work of dance-theatre Collective Loss of Memory (a wide range of other work from this group can be found online):

 

In the work of dance company TOW with their director Petra Hauerová (b. 1975), one encounters a mixture of dance with elaborate use of lasers and animation:

 

Here is a longer sample of TOW’s work.

And here is a sample from the group Farm in the Cave, who were established in 2001:

Farm in the Cave, The Song of an Emigrant (2007).

 

 


Culture in the EU (5): Cyprus

As a solid supporter of the Remain campaign, in the 18 days from June 5th until the European Union Referendum on June 23rd, I am posting a selection of links and other information about music, literature, film, visual art, dance, architecture, etc., from each of the EU nations.

I make no claims to be comprehensive in any case, and my choices undoubtedly will reflect my own aesthetic interests – but I believe that may be more interesting than a rather anonymous selection of simply the most prominent artists or art. All work comes from the post-1945 era, the period during which the EU has come to fruition, but may (and often will) include work which dates from before the nations in question joined the EU. As I am writing in English, where translations exist I will use these. Time does not allow for detailed commentaries, I just throw these selections out there in the hope others will be interested in the extraordinary range of culture which has emerged from citizens of the EU.

 

Cyprus

Writing some of these blog posts is in many ways a discovery for me, and sometimes involves laying down pointers to work about which I have read interesting things, but not read itself (but intend to do so). Reading poetry in translation is always problematic, but I am struck by the following poem, ‘Gece otobüsü/Night Bus’ by Turkish-Cypriot Mehmet Yaşın (b. 1956), translated by Taner Baybars:

NIGHT BUS
to Baris

Women were lying with horrible knife wounds
the bus drove on without stopping
those living on the floors above
had bolted their doors to the screams below.

I watched the same reel, shivering lightly
night after night,
secretly learning my part every day,
and I waited my turn
to see my own face on the screen,
I’ve paid the entrance fee to enter myself.

The night kissed him on the brow, on the lips,
opened the door and ushered him to his seat,
— neither man, nor woman —
mass produced dollies to tickle the flesh
blood-red drinks in hand
went round and round the house of lust.

They asked us who we were, but we forgot our names,
we had been severed from ourselves
by horses with dark wings…
The night changed our clothes
and fastened sequins on our hair
then carried us off to a sunken land.

Women were lying with horrible knife wounds
and the bus drove on without stopping.

Other poetry of Yaşın in translation can be read here.

Equally worth checking out in translation is Greek-Cypriot Kyriakos Charalambides (b. 1940). Here is a 1989 poem of his, taken from this blog which contains a range of translations and links:

CHILD WITH A PHOTOGRAPH

A child with a photograph in hand,
a photograph in the profundity of his eyes,
held upside down, was staring.

Around the child a crowd; and he
had in his eyes a small photograph,
a big one on his shoulders and vice versa —
a big one in his eyes, upon his shoulders a smaller one,
and in his hand one even smaller still.

He was amid a crowd screaming chants
and he was holding it upside down; it troubled me.

I approach him bypassing signs
of loved ones or arcs and voices
frozen in time and all completely inert.

The photograph bore some resemblance to his father.
I set it straight, and still I saw
the missing man with his head upside down.

Just like the king, the jack and the queen,
which, seen upturned, are found to be straight,
this man, as well, when looked at straight,
turns upside down and stares.

Many of Charalambides’ poems have been translated into English, some of them published by Dionysia Press.

An example of something I would like to read, but have not yet, would be the novel Üzgün Kızların Gizli Tarihi/The Secret History of the Sad Girls, about an affair between a Greek-Cypriot man and a Turkish-Cypriot woman, written by Turkish-Cypriot writer Neşe Yaşın (b. 1959). It appears as if a translation is at least underway.

 

Yaşın has apparently been attacked in the right-wing Turkish press for this book, called a ‘traitor and prostitute’ – more details can be read here. I cannot say any more about the book, but will also point to a small and striking selection of Yaşın’s  poetry in English translation here.

Also of great potential interest is the work of Greek-Cypriot writer Panos Ioannides (b. 1935), much of whose work has been widely translated into many languages. Here is a short review of the collection Gregory and other Stories, published in English in 2014.

Ioannides - Gregory.

The Nicosia-born poet Christodoulos Makris (b. 1971) moved to live and work in the UK. Here is a very interesting interview following the publication of his collection The Architecture of Chance, speaking of issues of language, languages (and the model of Beckett as a multilingual writer), form and his relationship to his home country, and here is Makris’s blog.

Makris - The Architecture of Chance

A paper by Petro Phokaides suggests that architectural modernism came to Cyprus in the 1930s, but gained a new symbolic value after independence in 1960. Here are some notable examples he gives:

Baheddin

Neoptolemos Michaelides, Neoptolemos Michaelides House, Nicosia (1965).

Ahmet Baheddin, Suleyman Onan House, Nicosia (1961-1966).

Michaelides

Neoptolemos Michaelides, AlexandrosDemetriou apartment building, Nicosia (1963-1965).

Neoptolemos Michaelides, Grecian Park Hotel,Famagusta (1965).

A composer who also studied architecture is Fedros Kavallaris (b. 1950):

 

Compositional directions drawing more widely upon international avant-garde tendencies (and popular musics) can be found in the work of Yannis Kyriakides (b. 1969):

Or Tasos Stylianou:

 

 

Or Christina Athinodorou (b. 1981):

Or Haris Sophocleous (b. 1977):

 

And here is a diverse selection of popular music from Cyprus:

 

 

The artist Adamantios Diamantis (1900-1994) travelled around Cyprus to study many peoples, in a type of anthropological approach to painting, producing his massive work The World of Cyprus between 1967 and 1972, which portrays, and arguably celebrates, a traditional way of life. Here is an article on the work, with links to illustrations, and here is a news feature on the return of the work to Cyprus in 2013.

 

From a later generation, a more forward-looking approach can be found in one of the leading Cypriot artists was Stass Paraskos (1933-2014), who did spend most of his working life in the UK. Some of his paintings can be viewed here. Paraskos founded the Cyprus College of Art in 1969, which came to attract many international figures both to study and teach.

Paraskos - Lovers and Romances

Stass Paraskos, Lovers and Romances (1966).

A very different type of work is that of Savvas Christodoulides (b. 1961), who manipulates everyday objects in distorted fashion. His website is here.

Christouolides

Savvas Christodoulides, My Precious II (2011)

Another general article on Cypriot art can be viewed here.

Even more boundary-breaking is the work of Cypriot-born performance artist Stelarc. His work deals with robotics and bodily modification, placing cameras in his lungs, colon and stomach, and most notoriously  having an ear created from biocompatible material attached to his left arm.

Sellars - Oblique

Nina Sellars, Oblique – Images from Stelarc’s Extra Ear Surgery.

Here is the main website for Stelarc, and here is an interview with him:

 

And here is a film of his 1997 performance Parasite.

In 1970, the Theatre Organization of Cyprus (THOC or ΘΟΚ) was founded. This consisted of multiple ‘stages’: a Main Stage for large ancient, classical and modern plays, a New Stage: for smaller plays in smaller spaces, a Children’s Stage, and (of most interest to me!) an Experimental Stage promoting more radical new work. Here is an article on the playwright Giorgos Neophytou (b. 1946), influenced by Brecht, who worked extensively in THOC.

Here is some of the work of Cypriot theatre troupe One/Off, performing Cypriot work in Avignon in 2011:

 

There are two major studies in English of Cypriot cinema, which are the following:

Little of the earlier wave of post-independence Cypriot cinema, such as the work of George Filis, Vangelis Oikonoimides’s O Paras o Maskaras/Money, Mischievous (1969) or Orsetis Laskos’s Diakopes stin Kypro Mas/Vacation in Our Cyprus (1971)  is available to view online.

From Turkish-Cypriot filmmaker Derviş Zaim (b. 1964), Tabutta Rövaşata/Somersault in a Coffin (1996), a film about a homeless criminal and a car thief, can be viewed in full, with English subtitles here:

 

Another film of Zaim, Filler ve Çimen/Elephants and Grass (2001)

A controversial film was Nikoladis Theodoros and Floridis Adonis’s Kalabush (2002), portraying the story of an illegal immigrant arriving in Cyprus, which he mistakes for Italy, but comes to inhabit a world on the margins of Cypriot society.

Kalabush

Equally controversial was Panicos Chrysanthou’s Akamas (2006), portraying a love affair between Turkish and Greek Cypriots (as in Neşe Yaşın’s novel mentioned above).

Akamas

However, a collaboration between Chrysanthou and Zaim, the film Paralel Yolculuklar/Parallel Trips (2004), attempts to show the conflict in the island from both sides.

 

Finally, here is a selection of the photographs of Jack Iacovides:

 

 


Culture in the EU (4): Croatia

As a solid supporter of the Remain campaign, in the 18 days from June 5th until the European Union Referendum on June 23rd, I am posting a selection of links and other information about music, literature, film, visual art, dance, architecture, etc., from each of the EU nations.

I make no claims to be comprehensive in any case, and my choices undoubtedly will reflect my own aesthetic interests – but I believe that may be more interesting than a rather anonymous selection of simply the most prominent artists or art. All work comes from the post-1945 era, the period during which the EU has come to fruition, but may (and often will) include work which dates from before the nations in question joined the EU. As I am writing in English, where translations exist I will use these. Time does not allow for detailed commentaries, I just throw these selections out there in the hope others will be interested in the extraordinary range of culture which has emerged from citizens of the EU.

 

Croatia

First, here is an article on the Grupa šestorice autora/Group of Six Authors who came to prominence in Croatia in the mid-1970s, especially around the journal Maj 75, published 1978-1984.

Maj 75-i-1982

And here is a detailed article on Vlado Martek (b. 1951), Croatian conceptual poet who was part of the Group of Six.

Martek - poemn

 

The following is a documentary film about the Group of Six, though has no subtitles:

http://www.mojnet.com/video-g6-grupa-sestorice-autora-dokumetarni-film-a/8b1625fc9f87e7491ae0

and http://www.mojnet.com/video-g6-grupa-sestorice-autora-dokumetarni-film-b/50704adf139d994d5472

Here is the website for writer Dubravka Ugrešić (b. 1947)

Ugresic - Fording

I greatly enjoyed reading this somewhat existential journey through post-Cold War Eastern Europe by Slavenka Drakulić (b. 1949):

Drakulic - Café Europa

Drakulić is perhaps best known however for her 1999 novel S: A Novel about the Balkans, dealing with the horrors of the Balkan wars and especially atrocities against women (Drakulić had been denounced together with other women by an advisor to Franjo Tudjman for not accepting the nationalistic line on the war, and later received threats, leading her to leave her country).

Drakulic - S

Another response to the Yugoslav war, drawing upon myth and fairytale, is the 2002 novel Smrt djevojčice sa žigicama (Death of the Little Match Girl), by Zoran Ferić (b. 1961).

Feric - Death of the Little Match Girl

On of the most important movements for Croatian poetry was Quorum, the name of a library formed in 1984 and magazine in 1985. A short piece on this movement, with a text which can be purchased, is here.

Here is some music by Milko Kelemen (b. 1924), whose work was known and respected by the Western European avant-garde.

 

And here is some more mainstream (with some audible relation to that of Prokofiev, Shostakovich and others) Eastern European contemporary music by Natko Devc̆ić (1914-1997):

 

But most remarkable of all is Ivo Malec (b. 1925), who spent much of his professional life in France:

 

 

Then, from Marko Ruz̆djak (1946-2012), after the work of Alfred Jarry, a little in the manner of the pitchless music of Carl Orff such as Astutuli:

 

And some very strange music by Igor Kuljerić (1938-2006) making extensive use of quotation:

 

The Croatian film director Nikola Tanhofer (1926-1998) had a major impact with his films from the 1950s onwards, not least with H-8 (1958), based upon a true story of a fatal traffic accident between Zagreb and Belgrade (this version has subtitles):

 

Here are two animated films (of many) from the 1960s: Surogat/Ersatz (1961) by Dusan Vukotic (1927-1998):

 

and Don Kihot (1961) by Vlado Kristl (1923-2004):

 

Here is Zoran Tadić’s 1981 Ritam zločina/Rhythm of a Crime:

 

And Vatroslav Mimica’s 1981 Banović Strahinj/The Falcon:

And here is an interview with director Vinko Brešan (b. 1964) on his 2013 film Svećenikova djeca/The Priest’s Children:

 

Puppet theatre is an important part of the cultural landscape of Zagreb, drawing upon guignol and Javanese stick-puppet traditions, especially through the work of the company Družina mladih/Company of the Young, established soon after World War Two. Here is a video of some work for children from the Zagreb Puppet Theatre:

 

I have not been able to find much in the way of films of contemporary Croatian theatre which would be comprehensible to non-Croat speakers (like myself!), but here is a trailer for a London performance of a modern classic, Glorija (1955), by Ranko Marinković (1913-2001):

 

And here one can read an article on the theatrical work of Ivo Brešan (b. 1936).

A site here gives some detail and examples of the work of painters and architects who were part of the movement EXAT 51/Experimental Studio, active from 1946 to 1968.

Srnec - KA-5 (1956)

Aleksander Srnec, KA-5 (1956)

A slightly later movement was the Gorgona Group, founded in the late 1950s in Zagreb, which can be read about in detail here.

Knifer - Gorgona No. 2 (1961)

Julije Knifer, Gorgona no. 2 (1961).

And here is a website about Croatian painter and graphic artist Miroslav Šutej (1936-2005):

Sutej - Alchetron

The following is a documentary on the painter Edo Murtić (1921-2005):

 

And here is some information on Croatian architect Alfred Albini (1896-1978):

Albini

 

Finally, here is a site about a Croatian Institute for contemporary dance and mine.