Tuesday, December 23, 2008
Thursday, December 18, 2008
Wednesday, December 17, 2008
Which is fair enough, I suppose, and I'm not knocking the need to attract tourists and bring revenue into the country. (Although when did a leisure pursuit become a natural resource? Surely natural resources are things like forests, oil, copper, arable land, and suchlike? Seeing as golf tends to impact heavily on wild habitats, as they're manicured into social clubs for the bourgeoisie, while being surrounded by large fences to keep out the proles, one could question the use of the word "natural", but then again, it is Martin Cullen we're talking about here, once described by a Waterford-based friend of mine as "Ireland's greatest waffler".) But it's a shame that Mr Cullen's clear enthusiasm for this aspect of his Ministry doesn't communicate elsewhere. For on the same day, in the same paper, it was reported here that:"Cullen ... insisted the Government, through his Department, were committed to ensuring the tournament's future. Credit where it's due, much of the behind-the-scenes dealings in finding a sponsor were conducted by the Minister, who made contact with 3's board of directors in Hong Kong when he was in China for the Olympic Games. The loose ends were tied up yesterday at a meeting in Dublin between the European Tour's Richard Hills and James Finnegan with 3's Robert Finnegan ... Of 3's involvement, Cullen - a member of Waterford Golf Club - said: "They are going to be very committed to it. It is a big commitment from them. They are not half-hearted. It is a big title sponsor. It is a big step." Part of Cullen's philosophy in putting so much time into securing a sponsor was that the tournament is a strong marketing tool in attracting tourists."I felt it was the right thing to do. We don't have that many natural resources, and golf is one of them."
"The Arts Council is still stuck in a ridiculous limbo, with more than half of its places having lain vacant for four months, and no sign of the appointment of a chairperson or six other members this side of Christmas. The department and Minister for Arts, Martin Cullen, dragged their heels initially in making appointments that were well signalled in advance, and now seem caught in the ever-escalating crises besetting the State, from the tottering banking system to the current pork pie. Piggy in the middle, indeed. Imminent crises in arts organisations are less visible, but a Budget cut that threatens to destabilise funding and a barely quorate Arts Council that has long-fingered funding decisions have made the entire arts sector apprehensive about creative work next year. But the attitude among many is that, while bad news is coming, arts organisations will make the most of it and try to find creative ways to deal with recession."
Sunday, December 14, 2008
Saturday, December 13, 2008
There are few experiences in life as pleasant as a nocturnal walk on a moonlit beach in winter (pleasant in a quiet and contemplative way, as opposed to an ale-fuelled, red-lit, damn-I’ll-be-sore-tomorrow way). It’s also very hard to write about; even as I type these words a pushy and unruly mob of clichés are pounding at the flimsy wooden door of this article, yelling “Use me! I’m soooo poetic!” You know the sort of adjectives that inevitably muscle their way into any rhapsodizing about the Moon (especially by a sensitive, blushing soul such as myself): ghostly, mysterious, cold, eerie, silvery, pallid, bone-white, or that old Gothic favourite, gibbous. This is immensely frustrating, because even with their assistance my language simply isn’t capable of communicating just how beautiful the experience is, unless, of course, I was to get all Finnegans Wake on its ass and start combining words into arresting new juxtapositions, but I lack both the linguistic skill and the verbal range to do that. So I’ll take the advice of a greater authority than myself: “…what barbarian would go bawling into the night to welcome the moon? We tread softly; look and think with caution; as if to be in keeping with this stealthy and motionless lustre.”
Anyway: there I was, wandering along the (ghostly) moonlit beach, pondering (and trying to keep an eye on the red bicycle light attached to the dog’s collar, which bobbed erratically in and out of sight as he bounded through the darkness). There is something of eternity in such an experience; at any time in history, any human being, just like me, could have wandered along such a moonlit beach and heard and seen precisely what I did (minus the bicycle light, obviously...). As I watched my dog gambol away into the distance, he was visible only for a few minutes, then an indistinct smudge on the charcoal sand, then gone; I'd be calling him for five minutes at a time, only to discover that he was right beside me, padding along in the shadow of the dunes. Listening to the noise of the surf and the wind, I started thinking about Sappho, who may be (and I’m guessing here) the first poet to write about the beauty of the moon (or at least the earliest that’s still survived). Sappho is such an elusive, opaque figure (we know next to nothing about her) that her presence can be felt most strongly on a bright moonlit night, when landscape is at its most spectral and uncertain, like a chill dream. (I strongly recommend the books by Reynolds, Carson, and Balmer listed below for more information about this most well-known yet unknown of poets). Here are several translations of Fragment 34, a scrap of a poem in which she sings of how the stars retreat when the moon shines at full brightness. Pick out your favourite (mine is Carson's) and, if you're sufficiently capable, take them as a template and make your own translation!
(I'd just like to comment that the following section was an appalling pain in the face to format - when I put the text in block quotes spaces were removed and added arbitrarily, and lines were jumbled together or spread out at random. I don't think Blogger is designed for poetry! So I've put it in as normal text, which is irritating because it ignores where the poets have words or lines starting in the middle rather than at the edge of the page, and thus my apologies to all. With most it's not a major problem, but in Carson's poem the two last lines should start under the "e" in "whenever" I recommend writing it out by hand on a blank sheet of paper, or (better yet) buying her book!).
Stars above their faces in awe are hiding,
While the Moon, with beauty the world adorning,
At the full, with silvery beams delightful,
Shines from Olympus.
(Percy Osborn, 1909)
Stars around the luminous moon – how soon they
hide away their glitter of diamond light, when
she floats over, and at the full, refulgent,
glamours the landscape …
(John Frederick Nims, 1990)
(Both from The Sappho Companion, by Margaret Reynolds, Vintage 2001)
The stars around the lovely moon
hide their brightness when it is full
and shines the clearest over all
(Josephine Balmer, from her book of translations, Sappho: Poems and Fragments, Bloodaxe, 1992)
stars around the beautiful moon
hide back their luminous form
whenever all full she shines
on the earth
(Anne Carson, from her book of translations, If Not, Winter: Fragments of Sappho, Virago, 2002)
The gleaming stars all about the shining moon
Hide their bright faces, when full-orbed and splendid
In the sky she floats, flooding the shadowed earth
with clear silver light.
(Edwin Marion Cox, 1925. The rest of his translations, if you're so inclined, are here)
Planets, that around the beauteous moon
Attendant wait, cast into shade
Their ineffectual lustre, soon
As she, in full-orbed majesty arrayed,
Her silver radiance pours
Upon this world of ours.
(John Hermann Merivale)
The stars around the lovely moon
Their radiant visage hide as soon
As she, full-orbed, appears to sight,
Flooding the earth with her silvery light.
The stars about the lovely moon
Fade back and vanish very soon,
When, round and full, her silver face
Swims into sight, and lights all space.
(Edwin Arnold, 1869)
Stars that shine around the refulgent full moon
Pale, and hide their glory of lesser lustre
When she pours her silvery plenilunar
Light on the orbed earth.
(JA Symonds, 1883)
(All of the above are taken from Henry Thornton Wharton's collection of Sappho fragments from 1895, including translations by the above writers and others, which can be found here.)
Thursday, December 11, 2008
Saturday, December 6, 2008
"Many labourers, especially in the West of England, use potatoes instead of bread to a very great extent. And I find from the same evidence, that it is the custom to allot to labourers "a potato ground" in part payment of their wages. This has a tendency to bring English labourers down to the state of the Irish, whose mode of living, as to food, is but one remove from that of the pig, and of the ill-fed pig too..."Leaving out the slovenly and beastly habits engendered amongst the labouring classes by constantly lifting their principal food at once out of the earth to their mouths, by eating without the necessity of implements other than the hands and the teeth, and by dispensing with everything requiring skill in the preparation of the food, and requiring cleanliness in its consumption or preservation; leaving these out of the question ... we shall find, that, in mere quantity of food, that is to say, nourishment, bread is the preferable diet..."Suppose a bushel of potatoes to be cooked every day in order to supply the place of the bread, then we have nine hundred boilings of the pot, unless cold potatoes be eaten at some of the meals; and in that case, the diet must be cheering indeed! For it must be a considerable time before English people can be brought to eat potatoes in the Irish style; that is to say, scratch them out of the earth with their paws, toss them into a pot without washing, and when boiled turn them out on a dirty board, and then sit round that board, peel the skin and dirt from one at a time and eat the inside. Mr. Curwen was delighted with "Irish hospitality" because the people there receive no parish relief; upon which I can only say, that I wish him the exclusive benefit of such happiness..."I trust that we shall soon hear no more of those savings which the labourer makes from the use of potatoes; I hope we shall, in the words of DR DRENNAN, "leave Ireland to her lazy root," if she choose still to adhere to it. It is the root also of slovenliness, filth, misery, and slavery; its cultivation has increased in England with the increase of the paupers..."This was written in 1821. Now (1823) we have had the experience of 1822, when for the first time the world saw a considerable amount of a people plunged into famine, at a moment when the government of a nation declared food to be abundant! Yes, the year 1822 saw Ireland in that state; saw the people of whole parishes receiving the extreme unction preparatory to yielding up their breath for want of food; and this while large exports of meat and flour were taking place in that country. But horrible as this was, disgraceful as it was to the name of Ireland, it was attended with this good effect; it brought out, from many Members of Parliament (in their places), and from the public in general, the acknowledgement, that the misery and degradation of the Irish were chiefly owing to the use of the potato as the almost sole food of the people."
Friday, December 5, 2008
(Author's note: There’s very little information on Frederick May available on the internet, and acknowledgement is due to David Wright's invaluable article here.)
There were only three people present when Frederick May was lowered into his grave in 1985, one for every decade since he had written any music. May hadn't enjoyed an easy life. An embittered alcoholic afflicted by a dreadful hearing disorder and a victim of his nerves, he came across as an often truculent and difficult man, suffering the indignity of having his inheritance spoon-fed to him by a solicitor, as if he were a child, to prevent him frittering it away on strong liquor. His lonely death in a psychiatric hospital in Portrane was a melancholy end to a career which began with so much promise decades previously, in the 1930s. A talented student of music from Dublin, he travelled to London to study with Vaughan Williams before winning a scholarship to continue his studies in Vienna with the great Alban Berg (who, tragically, died of blood poisoning on Christmas Eve of 1935, before May could meet him) and Egon Wellesz. On his return from that troubled city, at a time when Europe was in a state of heightened dread and anticipation over the ambitions of Der Führer, he wrote his 'String Quartet in C Minor', a radically advanced piece for an Irish composer which was described by James Plunkett in his liner notes as "superb music; fluent, authoritative, and immediate" and by Brian Boydell as "[May's] finest work".
I found this LP, like so many in my collection, in a jumble sale on a spot of waste ground outside Wexford, mixed in with the usual dreck that one unearths at such affairs. I had never heard of Frederick May, but I was intrigued to discover an Irish composer of undoubted ability and intelligence whose work was utterly unknown to me. I didn't realise at the time that this was one of the only recordings, not just of this particular piece, but of any composition at all by this unjustly neglected composer (it is, thankfully, available on CD now, on the Naxos label). Not that May was a prolific writer; his hearing problems, combined with his increasing frustration and alcoholism, not least inspired by an ambivalent (to put it mildly) attitude to his country of origin, means that his collected works could probably fit in a single box set. However, it does seem a shame that, regardless of his personal foibles, one of the few Irish pioneers of what he called "art music" (to distinguish it from the traditional forms of music in which Ireland excels) is so little known, and entirely unrepresented in publication outside of sheet music. But, in a country where art, sport and tourism are covered by the same ministry, as if they were of equal standing (and no prizes for guessing which one matters more to most Fianna Failers), and where the connection hasn't been officially made between the arts, heritage, and the Irish language (all portioned out in separate ministries), it's not overly surprising that a man who tried to bridge the gap between Ireland and Europe as regards music ("It is doubtful if any nation with such a wonderful storehouse of traditional music has made such a negligible contribution to art music as we have, and it is high time we set about redressing the balance") should have been overlooked in this fashion, especially in Ireland of the rare ould times. Whether the neglect led to the personality, or vice versa, is another question, but one has to hope, in our more enlightened times, that a generous soul would commission a recording of his complete works for posterity. After all, if they're erecting statues of Joe Dolan (a figure of utter insignificance as regards culture) surely someone could fund a retrospective of Fred May's major works? (I must point out that I'm uncomfortable with May's differentiation between "traditional" and "art" music, which suggests that the former is somehow not "art", but it's a problem of labelling rather than anything else.)
But what of the music itself? To be honest, it's not entirely my cup of tea, as I like my classical music considerably more abrasive and experimental, but it's fine work nonetheless, with many beautiful passages. Part of the problem for me with this music is that I'm simply not familiar enough with May and his contemporaries (such as Vaughan Williams) to be able to comment authoritatively on its strengths and weaknesses - after listening to this I put on a Pierre Boulez CD and immediately felt on more recognisable terrain - but let's allow Raymond Deane to do the talking here: "[T]he Frederick May [String Quartet], while in some ways it's fairly traditional, in other ways represents an amazingly individual approach to the kind of things that were in the air at his time, the mid-1930s - the twelve-note system and so on - and blending that with tonality. It's an amazing piece." (New Music News, September 2002; full interview here.) Or James Plunkett, from the LP's liner notes: "[In this piece] there are darker elements present to torment a natural innocence and lyricism, which he constantly struggles to contain. If he surmounts them, it is not by exorcism but by acceptance - the conscious act of resignation. The Quartet in C Minor, completed ... at a time when the first hints of the affliction of deafness were beginning to threaten him, exemplifies this struggle and gains enormously in power ... because of it." That says it all, really, except that I'm delighted to have it in my collection and hope that further jumble-sale investigation will uncover more of his legacy.