Hannah – The Beast of Gevaudan

The sun made the circular gates gleam, he thought, like polished silver.  The platform wasn’t rotating; it wouldn’t budge until the first cows were loaded at five minutes to six, but he stopped to admire, as he did every morning, it’s sterile, gleaming precision. He found his milking parlor beautiful; sometimes he was moved to tears at the sight of a full twenty-three cow load rotating ‘round its ghost-quiet motor.  “Wilhelm Gevaudan is a 20th century man, and he runs a 20th century dairy farm.” Wilhelm had never actually heard that said about him or his work, but, entering his office, he imagined it was the kind of thing people thought.

He enjoyed running his farm, and contributing, in his way, to developments in farming equipment and agricultural science.  His rotating dairy parlor might be labelled an oddity by shorter-sighted farmers, but it made him a member of the scientific community.  That was meaningful, that was substantive.  He knew that his colleagues at the Dairy Science Conference found it (and him) a little unorthodox, but he believed that they were secretly pleased to have in him a rock of unwavering principle.

He was not an amateur, or like many of his neighbors who were farmers because their fathers had farmed, because they had been born to it.  Wilhelm’s nail beds tingled, as they tended to when he grew excited, and for a panicked moment he glanced at his desk calendar, made special note of the date.  Reassured, he sipped his morning chamomile and sifted through yesterday’s mail.

Was it wrong to feel pride for building as he had built? For starting as he had started, the proverbial stranger in a strange land?   He didn’t listen any longer to the rumors he would once have overheard: that there was something wrong with him designing his dairy farm the way he had designed it.  That locals speculated poor production volume.  He had long given up his last remnants of uncertainty, which at one time, like flies on a carcass, could be scattered by the slightest wind, and would buzz inside him, cause him to clench his fists, knuckles white and bulbous, against his head.  Something had calmed the swarm; he liked to think it was the smooth, circulating breeze, generated from the turning wheels of his milking parlor.  The flies never flared up now. No, he never thought of it at all.

Mary Gordon – Eleanor’s Music

How she loved her mother! Still perfectly beautiful at eighty-six. The only concession she’d made to her age was a pair of hearing aids. “My ears,” she called them. Everything her mother touched she touched carefully, and left a little smoother, a little finer for her touch. Everything about her mother reminded her of walking through a glade, from the chestnut rinse that tinted what would be bright white hair, to the shadings of her clothes. Each garment some variety of leaf tone: the light green of spring with an underhint of yellow, the dark of full summer, occasionally a detail of bright autumn — an orange scarf, a red enamel brooch. Wool in winter cotton in summer; never an artificial fiber next to her skin. What she didn’t understand, she often said, was a kind of laziness, which in the name of convenience in the end made more work and deprived one of the small but real joys. The smell of a warm iron against damp cloth, the comfort of something that was once alive against your body. She was a great believer in not removing yourself from the kind of labor she considered natural. She wouldn’t own a Cuisinart or have a credit card. She liked, she said, chopping vegetables, and when she paid for something, she wanted to feel, on the tips of her fingers, on the palms of her hands, the cost.

Some people might have considered these things crotchets or affectations, but Eleanor considered them an entirely admirable assertion of her mother’s individuality. As she considered her father’s refusal to step outside their Park Avenue apartment without a jacket and tie, regardless of the heat of the day or the informality of the occasion.

She knew that many people thought it odd, to say nothing of unhealthy, for her to be living with her parents at the age of fifty-one. “Health,” said her father, “is the new orthodoxy. The new criterion by which we are judged of the fold or outside it. In the old days, they just tested people by trying to drown them, and if they survived they were allowed back in the community. But that’s too good for the health nags.”

And of course there was Billy. People thought it was peculiar that she should choose to be such close friends with her ex-husband, as they thought it was peculiar that she lived with her parents. But she was proud of that as well; she considered the shape of her life not peculiar, but original; she lived as she liked; real courage, she believed, was doing what you believed in, however it appeared.

He had come to her, weeping, confessing that his problems in bed with her had nothing to do with her, or with him, for that matter: it was just the way he was; he had fallen in love with Paul, and realized for the first time the way he had always been, the way he had always been made, what he had been afraid of, had repressed, but could no longer. Because love had come his way.

“Love,” she had said, as if she’d just picked up, between two fingers, an iridescent, slightly putrefying thing. “And what do you call what we have for each other, devotion, loyalty, shared interests, shared valued, joy in each other’s company, what do you call that if not love?”

She didn’t say, “Don’t you know that I would die for you,” because although she meant it, she didn’t want to mean it, and certainly, she would never say it. It sounded too operatic. Opera was the center of both their lives, she as a singer, he as an accompanist, but she had no interest in living at the intense, excessive temperatures opera suggested.

Casey – Woldemar Schumann: Lebenszyklus einer Ringelblume

Schumann’s intense musical sensibility was often felt by his companions as an intense irritability. In Vienna, he depended financially upon a group of bohemian admirers whose rowdy lifestyle further destabilized him, prompting violent outbursts as well as long periods of near-catatonic depression. Alienating–or alienated by–his friends, in January of 1834 Schumann abandoned the capital for the small town of Mariazell, where he took on the modest job of organist in the Basilica of the Birth of the Virgin Mary.   

Accustomed to the lively musical and theatrical world of 1830s Vienna, Schumann had trouble adapting to the life of a small-town church musician. He began drinking heavily, and in letters he often complained about the Kappelmeister, whom the composer described as “unpleasant, like a lizard, or a prison guard.” Upon arriving drunk to a mass one morning, so the legend goes, Schumann got into a fight with the cantor, and in the resulting tussle fell from the organ loft down into the pews below. Remarkably, his only injury was a broken arm, but this still left him unable to perform. The Baroness Wertmuller, a sympathetic parishioner vaguely aware of Schumann’s musical talents, offered him the use of a summerhouse on her estate while he convalesced. It was there that Schumann composed, without the use of any instrument, the Lebenszyklus einer Ringelblume (the Life Cycle of a Marigold).

The sonata begins with a berceuse in lilting compound time, growing steadily from an andante to an adagio before bursting open, unexpectedly and yet inevitably, into the celebrated rhapsody of the second and central movement. The liberal use of glissando and varying intonations achieve a lively, vitalistic effect whose alterations of key prevent any one emotional tone from taking primacy. (In his notes, Schumman specified that the sonata ought to be played in late summer, at 5 in the afternoon.) The dramatic contrasts of the piano find balance only in the tripling accompaniment of the flute, the true obligatto of the piece. The codetta brings together elements of the nocturne–a cantabile melody over an arpeggiated accompaniment–with the flute assuming an almost percussionary role, meant to evoke, wrote Schumann, the movement of fireflies or the chirping of crickets at twilight.

The Ringelblume is a sonata a dúo. To achieve its complex and tenuous harmonies, pianist and flutist will generally have performed together for many years. Schumann, who would live the remainder of his brief life alone in Mariazell, never performed the piece himself; indeed, it is doubtful that he ever heard it played at all.

Richard Rodda – Ludwig van Beethoven: Der Hammerklavier

Beethoven’s younger brother, Caspar Carl, a bank clerk of modest success in Vienna, died of tuberculosis on November 15, 1815. Though Caspar seems to have lived with her contentedly, his wife, Johanna, was a woman of sullied reputation whom the composer characterized as “wicked and vicious…The Queen of the Night.” Beethoven felt that she was unfit to rear the couple’s nine-year-old child, Karl, and he persuaded his brother to name him as the boy’s guardian. Two days before he died, Caspar Carl included this provision in his will. During the following hours, however, he had misgivings about taking Karl from his mother, and added a codicil that, in effect, named his wife and brother as co-guardians, thereby contradicting the earlier provision.

Thus ensued nearly five years of bitter legal battles between Beethoven and Johanna over the custody of Karl, who was mired in misery all the while by the unsettled state of his young life. The case was first decided in Beethoven’s favor in February 1816. Johanna instituted subsequent proceedings (usually after Karl had fled to her from the smothering attentions of his uncle), and the courts again formally took up the matter in 1818. Litigation dragged on for the next two years. The eventual settlement in 1820 was painful for Beethoven, even though he won the suite.

The proceedings also revealed that he was without noble ancestors, a lifelong belief that he held tenaciously until it was publicly exploded in court. With declining health, shattered hearing, and family turmoil sapping so much of Beethoven’s energy during that time, it is little wonder that half decade was the least productive period of his creative life…the only major works he completed were the song cycle An die ferne Geliebte and the piano sonata in B-flat, the Hammerklavier.

(…)

The Hammerklavier Sonata is epic in scale yet inexhaustibly subtle in detail. Its four movements– a sonata-form Allegro with a cantabile second theme, a scherzo with a contrasting central trio in quick duple meter, an Adagio in sonata form of almost unparalleled sublimity, and a vast fugue that employs virtually every contrapuntal technique–encompass and bring into balance an enormous range of emotional states that find no counterpart in mere words. Opposites are here joined. The sonata contains the broadest slow movement that Beethoven ever wrote, as well as one of his most minutely realized fugues; the work is firmly rooted in traditional formal procedures, yet seeks constantly to break their fetters; those who perform the Hammerklavier must bring to it both the physical endurance of an athlete and the most exalted interpretative skills of the artist.

(…)

 

T.R.Pearson – A Short History of a Small Place

He said Everet Little, the jailer’s boy, was riding the iron gate in and out of the yard and half the town was standing up snug against the fence watching her jig on the lawn and cut capers on the oak stump where the geraniums should have been.  She danced as tireless and light as a child all across the yard and up onto the stump and off again, and she brought the hem of the bedsheet up under her nose and played out what Daddy called the siege of Thebes, taking all of the voices herself and making the likes of a swordfight by beating together a hickory branch and a piece of a staub.  Folks were quiet, he said, and polite and they leaned up easy against the fence with their forearms through the palings and their faces drained of most every expression except for an unexcited and slightly critical strain of curiosity like they were seeing something they’d expected, maybe even paid for.

He said every so often she’d break off whatever she was in the middle of, be it swordplay or some puffed up oration on the agony of kingliness, and she’d work her arms up and down, quivering them in the air, and say, “Putrefaction, putrefaction, sniff it on the breeze, ripeness and death,” and Daddy said her voice was all shaky and inhuman.  It sounded ghostly, he said, and a little ominous too, so people obliged her by sniffing and snorting and got for their trouble the stink of the Dan River Paper Mill, which Daddy said was slightly more potent than a pile of carcasses.

Daddy said he didn’t imagine anybody sent after Sheriff Burton but that he had probably seen the crowd from his courthouse window and had come nosing in on his own.  He was a man who was fond of paraphernalia, Daddy said, and as he edged his way toward the gate he used his arms to clear out a berth for his pistol butt and the shaft of his nightstick.  He had a badge on his hat and a badge on his shirt pocket and a badge in a wallet on his left hip, and Daddy said he was dripping with bullets, festooned with them, he said.

Daddy said Sheriff Burton’s first official act was to tell Everet Little gates weren’t made to be swung on, and Daddy said that cowed Everet some and he stepped down onto the sidewalk where he made out to be enchanted with the workings of the latch. Miss Pettigrew was fresh off her stump, he said, and had just recently set out on a high-stepping tour of the front lawn which Daddy imagined was meant to serve as a kind of airy distraction from the ponderous and dismal goings on at Thebes. Sheriff Burton went after her, he said, chased her down along the side-yard, across the front of the house, up the walkway, and then back along the fence where Daddy said folks watched the two of them go by with the same sort of detached and curious expressions as before except for the hint of merriment, and he said the good money was on Miss Pettigrew who was pulling away from the sheriff with her bedsheet sailing and popping behind her.

Aside from being naturally soft and mealy, Daddy said Sheriff Burton was probably a little too much encumbered with the implements of law enforcement to have the chance of being nimble. He couldn’t take half a step without the leather creaking and the metal jangling, and when he tried to run, Daddy said he was extremely musical and put himself in some peril what with all of his free-swinging attachments threatening to beat him senseless. So he drew up short alongside of the fence, Daddy said, and took hold of his knees while he waited for Miss Pettigrew to sprint back around to him. This was an unpopular tactic with the crowd who considered it shameful enough for their sheriff to have been beaten in a footrace by a woman nearly twice his age and saw no call for him to become unsporting in defeat and humiliate himself further. So when he latched onto Miss Pettigrew’s arm as she tried to dash by him, Sheriff Burton had to suffer what Daddy called public ignominy.

Hannah – Bee Sting Cake

As Mrs. King understood it, Mrs. Herowitz had made a point to guard her recipe for Bee Sting Cake about as closely as the US Government monitored the Fort Knox Bullion Depository.  Three generations of Mrs. Herowitzes had maintained its serecy with what Mrs. King called residual Polish stoicism.  She said Herowitz Bee Sting Cake was by equal parts a quest and a mystery since the 4th of July Family Methodist Picnic of 1912 and had gone about seventy-three years of July 4ths since until the day Mrs. Herowitz marched a hatbox full of letters across East Main and up the post office ramp.  According to Mrs. King, Mr Peede said that Mrs. Herowitz had been in no mood for friendly discourse which under normal circumsntaces would not have been remarkable except that her eyes looked what Mrs. King said Mr. Peede called hellishly cold.  Local history has it that the Wasilla postal department had never before and has never since moved any correspondence with such nimble alacrity as that which Mrs. Herowitz’s icy presence inspired.  Upon her departure, Mrs. King King said that Mrs. Peede asked Mr. Peede behind the counter, “Is it over?” And Mr. Peede shot back at her. “Shit yes, it’s over.” And Mrs. King said Ashley Benson, who had just returned from his rounds and thereby happened to be handy enough to get appointed special courier took the hatbox and said, “She’s gone then?” in a most hopeful voice and Mrs. King said Mrs. Peede told him, “She’s gone alright.” And Ashley situated the hatbox full of Mrs. Herowitz’s letters into his mailbag humming “Blessed Redeemer” and flew out the post office in his mail car like a proverbial chariot of fire.

But Mrs. King said not even fiery chariots could outrun the telephone, and before the second letter had reached Mrs. Singer, who had played organ at the Family Methodist church even before it had been replaced after the unfortunate candle lighting incident of 1962, Mrs. Hapsburg had Mrs. Singer on the phone to tell her just what it was she was about to walk down her driveway for.  Consequently, Mrs. Singer was deprived the thrill of discovery as Mrs. Hapsburg read to her what turned out to be Mrs. Herowitz’s cake, own recipe for Bee Sting cake, ingredient by ingredient.  Mrs. Singer, in turn, did not bother to verify that her own recipe card matched Mrs. Hapsburg’s until she herself had made some calls.  And so, according to Mrs. King, Mrs. Singer and Mrs. Hapsburg together outpaced Ashley, successfully preventing him from putting any more letters in any mailboxes.  The remaining addressees–all, as it happened, lifelong members of the Wasilla Family Methodist church–intercepted him before he could get well off the sidewalk.

Speculation commenced almost immediately.  Once folks had filed the recipe in their card collections they moved to wondering what could possibly have prompted Mrs. Herowitz’s change of heart.  Mrs. King said she had never witnessed a piece of gastronomical literature open to such widespread interpretation. Irregularities amongst the handwritten recipe cards fell under what Mrsl King called public scrutiny.  Of note were Mrs. Ershwell’s and Mrs. Dannis’s cards, which uniquely specified “sifted flour,” Mrs. Singer and Mrs. Phillips cards, which did not specify if butter should be “room temperature” or not and, most significantly, pastor Julius’s wife, whose card forfeited mention of salt in presence or quantity altogether.  Mrs. King said that facts were facts, and she said folks were compelled to call the Bee Sting Cake debacle for what it was: the latest in Mrs. Herowitz’s counterintelligence campaign.

Casey – Museum Audio Guide

“Welcome to the Marcel Mauss Portrait Gallery, designed by George Albert Battle and completed in 1957. On our tour today we will hear from artists, architects, curators and historians about the history of this remarkable building.

You should now be on the top floor, just below the domed skylight.  Look out over the central void of the atrium. A quarter mile of concrete ramps spiral around the perimeter of the atrium, descending at an angle of three degrees. The ramps create a continuous floor space from the rotunda to the terrazzo floor, 96 feet below you.  

Mauss asked Battle to design the museum as a gallery for  the large collection of portraits that had fallen into Marcel Mauss’s possession in the wake of the second world war. Art historian Sylvia Lowry explains:

Well you see at that time, in the late 40s, many museums in Europe were remodeling and desperately in need of money. They had accumulated all these portraits that they had no place to store and were of no interest to the public. So they figured, great, we’ll pawn them off on the Americans. And so the Mauss family was able to purchase, in bulk as it were, nearly 130,000 portraits–of shipbrokers, courtiers, society beauties, zoologists, Sultans and Maharajas, Jesuit missionaries, and thousands, quite literally thousands, of European aristocrats.….though naturally, after that infamous party on opening night, there are now not quite so many.

Battle’s grandson,  Henry Battle, an apprentice during the time of the museum’s construction, recalls the party:

The night before we opened to the public, Marcel had decided to throw this lavish banquet. The guests were all seated at a single table, a quarter mile long, that ran the whole length of the ramp and followed its natural curve down to the center of the spiral, ending in one small circular table. Marcel sat on one end of the little table, and my grandfather on the other.

No one has ever understood  how it happened, or why.  But at one point I looked out over the railing and saw that down on the floor Marcel had stood up from the table and was now stabbing away with his steak knife at a portrait of the Fifth Marquess of Bath, while my grandfather rammed his cane through the freshly plastered walls.  Then Marcel, steak knife still in hand, began to ascend the ramp, slashing away at the paintings on the walls behind the guests, while my grandfather strode about wrenching the knobs off the water fountains, chipping the marble, scratching the wood.  Naturally the guests all got upset, but no one did anything to intervene. I couldn’t tell you why we didn’t try to stop them.  Maybe because everything they were breaking was theirs to destroy. Or maybe because the frenzy of destruction was simply so fascinating, in a primitive sort of way.  In any event, it wasn’t until  Marcel had destroyed a 16th-century portrait of the bearded Dutchwoman–his most valuable acquisition–that my grandfather finally stopped trying to shatter the glass skylights he had designed, and whose installment he had supervised so carefully the week before.”