Music Appreciation

“Debussy’s music is the dreariest kind of rubbish. Does anybody for a moment doubt that Debussy would write such chaotic, meaningless, cacophonous, ungrammatical stuff, if he could invent a melody?” — New York Post, 1907

“It is probable that much, if not most, of Stravinsky’s music will enjoy brief existence.” — New York Sun, Jan. 16, 1937

“Tchaikovsky’s First Piano Concerto, like the first pancake, is a flop.” — Nicolai Soloviev, Novoye Vremya, St. Petersburg, Nov. 13, 1875

Rigoletto is the weakest work of Verdi. It lacks melody.” — Gazette Musicale de Paris, May 22, 1853

“Sure-fire rubbish.” — New York Herald Tribune on Porgy and Bess, Oct. 11, 1935

Nice Kitty

French sculptor Louis Vidal was blind since youth, but he produced startlingly faithful renderings of animals: a bull, a wounded stag, a horse, a cow, a dog.

With domestic creatures he could do this by feeling their anatomy directly, or by referring to skeletons or to stuffed specimens. But how did he create The Roaring Lion, the masterpiece first shown at the Salon in 1868?

Legend has it that he did it the hard way: by running his hands over a live lion at the Jardin des Plantes.

“Convinced he would not succeed without having recourse to the living ‘king of beasts,'” reported The English Illustrated Magazine in 1900, “he entered the cage without the least hesitation, accompanied by the lion-tamer. The animal allowed itself to be caressed for some time, and Vidal was thus enabled to study its anatomy. As a result, he produced that most wonderful example of his art, ‘The Roaring Lion.'”

If that’s just a story … then how did he manage it?

Music Appreciation

Excerpts from concert reviews in London’s Harmonicon:

June 1823:

Opinions are much divided concerning the merits of the Pastoral symphony of Beethoven, though very few venture to deny that it is much too long.

July 1825:

[Beethoven’s Seventh Symphony] is a composition in which the author has indulged a great deal of disagreeable eccentricity. Often as we now have heard it performed, we cannot yet discover any design in it, neither can we trace any connexion in its parts. Altogether it seems to have been intended as a kind of enigma — we had almost said a hoax.

June 1827:

[Beethoven’s Eighth Symphony] depends wholly on its last movement for what applause it obtains; the rest is eccentric without being amusing, and laborious without effect.

April 1825:

We now find [the length of Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony] to be precisely one hour and five minutes; a fearful period indeed, which puts the muscles and lungs of the band, and the patience of the audience to a severe trial.

“But how did you get to understand Beethoven?” wrote John Ruskin to John Brown in 1881. “He always sounds to me like the upsetting of bags of nails, with here and there an also dropped hammer.”

Good Girl

Here’s some pretty abstract expressionism — it was painted by a dog. Tillamook Cheddar is a Jack Russell terrier who works with her claws and teeth, spending hours on each canvas and biting anyone who interferes.

She knows what she’s doing — to date she’s had 16 exhibitions in the United States, Bermuda, the Netherlands, and Belgium, and earned $100,000.

Low Art

schon woodcut

We met Erhard Schön’s anamorphic woodcuts back in 2006.

This one, Was sichst du? (What Do You See?), from 1538, seems to promise an edifying religious theme — there’s Jonah on the left being spit out of his whale. But view it edge-on and you’ll see this:

schon woodcut - compressed

So, maybe not.

Cat Snap

Harry Whittier Frees did a booming business in novelty postcards in the early 20th century, posing animals in human situations, including props and sets.

“I take occasion to give my personal assurance that all pictures appearing in this book are photographed from life,” he wrote in 1915’s The Little Folks of Animal Land. “The difficulties encountered in posing kittens and puppies for pictures of this kind have been overcome only by the exercise of great patience and invariable kindness.”

Writing Weather

1816 is known as “the year without a summer” — the eruption of Indonesia’s Mount Tambora flung huge amounts of volcanic dust into the atmosphere, dropping temperatures worldwide and giving the sky a sallow cast that’s visible in Turner’s landscapes of the period (above).

It was a great calamity for farmers, but a boon for horror literature — the “wet, ungenial summer” forced Mary Shelley and John Polidori indoors on their Swiss holiday, where they wrote both Frankenstein and The Vampyre.

Pan King

Excerpts from the reviews of James William Davison, music editor of the London Times from 1846 to 1878:

  • “Perhaps a more overrated man never existed than this same Schubert.”
  • “[Schumann is] the very opposite of good.”
  • “We should rather be inclined to class [Berlioz] a daring lunatic than as a sound, healthy musician.”
  • “Never was a writer of operas so destitute of real invention, so destitute in power or so wanting in the musician’s skill [as Verdi].”
  • “The entire works of Chopin present a motley surface of ranting hyperbole and excruciating cacophony.”
  • “[Wagner] is such queer stuff that criticism would be thrown away upon it.”
  • “He who imagines that, at any time within the last half century Franz Liszt was a musical composer must entertain either very odd notions of art or must be, qua music, an absolute ignoramus.”

But: “[William Sterndale Bennett] lives with us in his works. The music he created conquered, in some sense, the power of death.”

King Prong
Image: Flickr

A gorilla made of coat hangers. David Mach’s 2007 sculpture Silver Back won him a place in the Guinness Book of Records for “largest coat hanger installation”; it’s not clear how much competition he had.

The whole piece is 7 feet tall, 9 feet long, and 5 feet wide, and it required 2,705 hours and 7,500 hangers to make.

Special Delivery

This is the Flammarion woodcut, so named because it first appeared in Camille Flammarion’s 1888 book L’Atmosphère. No one knows who created it; it’s thought to depict a medieval pilgrim who discovers the point where earth and sky meet.

Flammarion’s book itself seemed touched by magic. As the astronomer was completing a chapter on the force of the wind, a sudden gale blew the last few pages out the window and off in a whirlwind among the trees. Then a downpour started, and Flammarion gave them up as lost.

He was astonished, then, a few days later when his printer delivered the full chapter, with no pages missing.

It seems the porter who normally brought Flammarion’s proof sheets had been returning to his office when he noticed the sodden manuscript leaves on the ground. He assumed that he himself had dropped them and so had collected them and carried them to the printer without telling anyone.

“Remember,” Flammarion writes, “it was a chapter on the strange doings of the wind.”