Last week I wrote about art songs. Well, a concert at Symphony Center this Sunday features the world premiere of a song cycle by Chicago Symphony Composer-in-Residence Augusta Read Thomas. Entitled “In My Sky At Twilight,” it’s based on poems by Pablo Neruda, e.e. cummings, Robert Browning, Gerard Manley Hopkins and others. They’re also doing pieces by Boulez and Kurtag. So hey, if you’ve been meaning to catch Boulez during his annual visits here, this is a great opportunity to do so and also get your literary fix.
Archive for November, 2002
My browsing over the past week was not entirely fruitless. I came across a book of Chicago writers’ recollection of their time at in the city. It’s called An Unsentimental Education: Writers and Chicago. Also, here’s a cool article about novels with University of Chicago settings, from an old issue of The University of Chicago Magazine.
For the past week I’ve been looking in vain for the full text (online) of Philip Roth’s acceptance speech at the National Book Award Ceremony on November 21. Roth lived in Chicago for many years during his time as a student at the University of Chicago (A.M., 1955) and later as a lecturer at the same institution.
He was awarded the Medal for Distinguished Contribution to American Letters, the Foundation’s version of a life-time achievement award. I saw the ceremony later on C-Span and was really moved by Roth’s remarks, in which he looked back on the writers who influenced him and talked about his view of himself as an American (unhypenated) writer. As a boy growing up in New Jersey, he said, he was inspired by the odd and seductive names of towns and cities across the U.S. and was influenced by writers who brought that world into clearer focus: Anderson, Garland, Drieser, Lardner, Caldwell, Lewis. You’ll note that all but the last two made their reputation in Chicago.
Articles in the Times, Post, and (usually reliable) Monitor failed to do justice to his comments, though I did hear (oddly enough) a radio report that got it right. Look for it to appear on the Foundation’s site under Speeches, in the fullness of time.
Of course, his remarks reminded me instantly of the first line of Bellow’s Adventures of Augie March, in which the hero makes a similar claim, with a local twist:
I am an American, Chicago born.
If you’re lucky, you might still find a copy of last Friday’s issue of the Chicago Reader, the “Books Issue.” Good article on page 10, section one on the Chicago literary scene. Other than the Hot Type column, I don’t think much of their journalism, but I sure like their arts coverage.
A piece in the Trib today about the Ars Viva Symphony Orchestra’s performance of Max Raimi’s “Lisel Mueller Songs” made me regret missing this performance. I’ve enjoyed Mueller’s poetry for a long time, seen her read, and would have really enjoyed hearing this piece, based on four poems from her collection Alive Together. What a wonderful thing that Raimi, Chicago composer and violist for CSO and Ars Viva, would pay tribute to a (Pulitzer-prize winning) poet who also resides here.
You know, art songs, lieder, oratoria and the like can be a great way to enjoy immortal literature in the company of great music. A few of my favorites are:
* Purcell’s King Arthur, with text by John Dryden.
* Stravinsky’s Rake’s Progress, with libretto by poet W. H. Auden and Chester Kallman.
* Shubert’s Lieder, composed to poems by Goethe, Shakespeare, and assorted 18thC German poets who should perhaps be better known to English readers than they are.
Really though, there are far too many to mention. I sometimes think that Shubert set more poems to music (about 600) than I’ve read. A large number of poets have had their work set to music; here’s an amazing list.
ADDITION 1/30/04: My original link to song texts by poets has been dead for about a year, but I discovered another, better site and have fixed the link (thanks, OH).
Lot of things caught my eye over the past six days, the longest I’ve gone so far without blogging. So I’ve set aside an hour tonight, tuned into the KCRW music channel, and I’m going to try to catch up . . .
Today’s paper brought the welcome news that the Chicago Athletic Association has created the annual Ring Lardner Awards “to honor broadcasters and writers who exemplify the wit and warmth of the late Lardner.” Lardner of course lived in Chicago, inaugurated the “Wake of the News” column at the Trib, and wrote some of the finest short stories of the century. A native of nearby Niles, Michigan, Ring lived on Goethe Street for most of his sojourn in our city.
Exemplifying the Lardner wit is a tall order. A hundred lines come to mind, none sufficient to represent the range of his humor, but here’s one of my favorites:
I have known what it’s like to be hungry. But I always went straight to a restaurant.
John Theodore has a new book on baseball great Eddie Waitkus, the 1940s Cubs player who was the inspiration for Roy Hobbs, the hero of Bernard Malamud’s The Natural. The shooting that derails the career of 19-year-old phenom Hobbs parallels Waitkus’ shooting at the old Edgewater Beach Hotel, that pink pile at the corner of Bryn Mawr and Sheridan.
Now I liked Roy Hobbs, but my idea of a Malamud hero is more along the lines of S. Levin, “formerly a drunkard . . .”
CORRECTION: Sorry, I learned later that the hotel was torn down years ago. The pink pile is actually the hotel’s companion apartment building.
Went to Milwaukee on Friday to see the fantastic exhibition Leonardo da Vinci and the Splendor of Poland, which ends November 24th. Seeing Walenty Wankowicz’s Byronic portrait of Adam Mickiewicz prompted me to think that a neat addition to Holden’s literary guide to Chicago would be a literary tour of the Art Institute. Some of possible stops on the tour:
– Exquisite Corpse drawings, Andre Breton and friends
– Honore Daumier’s Ratapoile, portrait of a poet
– Duchamp-Villon’s bust of Baudelaire
– Henry Fuseli’s painting of Milton Dictating to His Daughter
– Edouard Manet, Woman Reading
– Mary Reynolds’ bindings of works by Jarry, Duchamp, Cocteau, Queneau, Eluard, and others
– Rodin’s Portrait of Balzac
– Paul Strand’s Manhatta, a 1920 film about New York, based on Whitman’s Leaves of Grass
– Tiepolo’s illustrations of Torquato Tasso’s Gerusalemme liberata
– Pierre Charles Tremolieres’s Sancho Panza Being Tossed in a Blanket
– Van Gogh’s The Poet’s Garden
– Jean Baptiste Joseph Wicar’s Virgil Reading the Aeneid to Augustus, Octavia, and Livia
“Perhaps the most deeply hidden motive of the person who collects can be described this way: he takes up the struggle against dispersion. Right from the start, the great collector is struck by the confusion, by the scatter, in which the things of the world are found . . . The collector . . . brings together what belongs together . . . by keeping in mind their affinities.”
Walter Benjamin, The Arcades Project.