I’ve always wanted the string quartet to be vital, and energetic, and alive, and cool, and not afraid to kick ass and be absolutely beautiful and ugly if it has to be. But it has to be expressive of life. To tell the story with grace and humor and depth. And to tell the whole story, if possible. — David Harrington of the Kronos Quartet
I like string quartets quite a bit, be they playing compositions written in the present day such as the music of the Methera Quartet or groups such as Les Witches whose usual fare is the likes of John Playford, a composer active in the early Seventeenth Century.
The latter’s what I’m playing as I’ve got the Library to myself this afternoon as the warm weather has Gus, our Estate Gardener and Groundskeeper, getting as many of Estate staff as possible including my Several Annies to do a survey of what needs attending to on the grounds and the buildings as well.
So wander around the Library while I finish this up so you can read it. You’ll even find a number of items of interest if you’re a gardener in this edition.
Marta McDowell’s Beatrix Potter’s Gardening Life was a work much liked by Gus: ‘Like many serious gardeners, I collect books about gardens and those who created them. This one is a recent acquisition of mine that ranks among the best I’ve encountered! Subtitled ‘The plants and places that inspired the classic children’s tales’, it is just what it says it is: a look at the gardens (and botanical things) that inspired her children’s writings.’
Margaret Lane’s The Tale of Beatrix Potter garners this intro by Laurie: ‘I like biographies, especially author biographies. When I was a small child, I was absolutely fascinated by a copy of a children’s biography of Louisa Mae Alcott that I found in my elementary school library; I thought it was an even better story than Little Women. I had a copy of a biography of Laura Ingalls Wilder and I loved to read it and look at the pictures included in the center. And Humphrey Carpenter’s Tolkien has long been a favorite of mine.’ Read her review to see why this biography measured up to those works.
Robert has some comments on a book about writing. In fact, that’s the title: About Writing, by Samuel R. Delany: ‘A bit of history: I don’t really remember when I started reading Samuel R. Delany’s novels. . . . I liked his novels: they were “good,” which at that point was the most precise description I had available. (Now that term falls somewhere between describing my evaluation of literary quality and my gut response as a reader.) Then Dhalgren happened, which led me to understand that there was much more going on in these books than I had bothered to think about.’
Speaking of Dhalgren, guess what: Robert has a review of that, too: ‘Samuel R. Delaney’s Dhalgren was originally published in 1974. It was brash, it was overtly experimental, it was greeted with everything from wild hallelujahs to roars of outrage. It was in many ways the culmination of science fiction’s New Wave: where writers such as Aldiss, Ballard, Disch, Zelazny, and Delany himself had pushed the envelope, Dhalgren finally ripped it up and scattered the pieces. Mainstream critics, caught flat-footed, came up with the term “magical realism” in an attempt to link it to “respectable” if someone outré writers such as Borges and Garcia Marquez.’
Reese’s Dark Chocolate Peanut Butter Cups doesn’t sound like the sort of roots and branches of our shared global culture that we’d bother to comment upon but our resident Summer Queen explains why we are doing so: ‘I have a confession to make. Yes, I have a problem. And that problem’s name is Reese’s Peanut Butter cups. I’m the person at Hallowe’en who looks at the bowl of candy designated for trick or treaters and asks, plaintively, “Could we hold the Reese’s in reserve? Or at least hide them on the bottom of the bowl?” and who will blatantly pilfer from the bowl throughout the evening. And if there’s any left over? Bliss!’
In live music this week we have a preview of a festival of Québécois traditional music, called FestiTrad. It’s being held April 7-9 in St. Gabriel, and will feature artists such as De Temps Antan, Les Charbonniers de l’Enfer, André Marchand & Grey Larsen, and more.
American fiddler Jenny Scheinman has created an album of music to accompany a film that celebrates the legacy of North Carolina Photographer H. Lee Waters. Gary says ‘Here on Earth consists of 15 tunes, all of which stand securely on their own, each a mini-masterpiece of deceptively modern Americana.’
Gary also reviews the new CD from Cory Branan, called Adios. He says of Branan, ‘he wraps up clever wordplay, catchy tunes, ass-kicking music, and tales of woe, love, violence, debauchery and loyalty in one generous package.’
Gary also has a review of an album of some music in a genre called doom. ‘Its antecedents are in Black Sabbath, but the music on Aseethe’s Hopes of Failure seems to come from several circles lower down in Dante’s Inferno,’ he says.
Lars has a review of Battlefield Band’s The Producer’s Choice: ‘So how do you sum up a recording career spanning 40 years, with a number of albums that excludes the possibility of taking one track from each? The answer is you do not even try. Instead their long time manager and producer Robin Morton, once a founding member of Boys of the Lough and founder and owner of Temple Records, have come up with the novel idea to pick on track to represent each of the 19 members the group has had.’
Robert has some thoughts about an album by some of our favorite artists, Kronos Quartet Performs Philip Glass: ‘The thing about chamber works is that the composer often feels free to explore ideas that won’t necessarily work in larger, orchestral works, or might (in the case of Dmitri Shostakovich, for one) result in exile to Siberia. Glass himself said “It’s the way composers in the past have thought and that’s no less true for me.”’
Our What Not this time is the matter of bees. We have a lot of bee hives here, several hundred at least, and there’ve most likely been hives here for a thousand years. Every culture has its folklore about bees and the Irish are no exception. Gus, our Estate Head Gardener and our primary beekeeper, passed on this article to me, Eimear Chaomhánach’s ‘The Bee, its Keeper and Produce, in Irish and Other Folk Traditions’. If you’re interested in the folklore of these fascinating creatures, this is a must read for you.
We seem to be a bit focused on string quartets today. Robert has some thoughts on that: ‘String quartets, like painters’ drawings and other small-scale works, can offer us a glimpse into an artist’s thought like nothing else. They are intimate and immediate in a way that larger works are not. Take, for example, the third movement of Beethoven’s String Quartet in A minor, Op. 132, titled “Heiliger Dankgesang,” (“Hymn of Thanks”). The story is that Beethoven had recently recovered from a near-fatal illness, and put his gratitude to the powers that be into this piece of music. You can see a performance by the Alban Berg Quartet here, but be warned: there is another story, of the first time I heard this quartet in concert. My companion happened to look over at me during this movement and saw me sitting there, eyes fixed on the stage, with tears streaming down my face. That’s how close these small-scale works can get to you.’