Bernstein’s posthumous victory

Last Saturday morning they chose the best recorded version of Leonard Bernstein’s Chichester Psalms. In the course of this, the guest chooser, Edward Seckerson, read out this excerpt from a poem that Bernstein sent to the New York Times:

For hours on end, I brooded and mused
On materiae musicae, used and abused;
On aspects of unconventionality,
Over the death in our time of tonality, …
Pieces for nattering, clucking sopranos
With squadrons of vibraphones, fleets of pianos
Played with forearms, the fists and the palms
— And then I came up with the Chichester Psalms.
These psalms are a simple and modest affair,
Tonal and tuneful and somewhat square,
Certain to sicken a stout John Cager
With its tonics and triads in E-flat major,
But there it stands — the result of my pondering,
Two long months of avant-garde wandering —
My youngest child, old-fashioned and sweet.
And he stands on his own two tonal feet.

Backstory to this here.

When Bernstein wrote the Chichester Psalms, and this poetic description of how he created the Chichester Psalms, the self-styled musical “avant garde”, inspired by the theoretical musings and compositions of Arnold Schoenberg and his comrades in the “Second Viennese School”, was fast approaching its decline and replacement by more appealing sorts of music. As the change in the dominant atmosphere at the BBC, Radio 3 in particular, illustrates.

There are many reasons for this transformation. Classical music, although still very popular, no longer has the effortless cultural clout that it had then. Then, classical music was an eternal fact, and the only questions were things like: Where is classical music (which was typically then referred to as “music”) going? Where should it go? Now, classical music jobs are as appealing as ever and students are being cranked out by the colleges as never before. But now that the core repertoire is all recorded, pretty much, performers now make their livings by performing to live audiences, and post-Schoenbergery may be enough to sell some records around the world, but it won’t fill a particular hall in a particular place, unless they make it part of the price of the ticket by surrounding it with popular favourites. Which only turns indifference into active hatred.

If you like Schoenberg and his post-WW2 imitators and followers, then I’m very happy for you. But if you do, you are in a minority within a minority. Since the time when Bernstein wrote as he did above, tunefulness and melodiousness and rhythm has come back into the classical world with a bang. (Well, often more like a tinkle.) Christians have refused to stop writing their stuff, and though fewer now believe in such Christian messages, they (we) still love the sounds that they can inspire.

On Radio 3, you are now far more likely to hear old jazz classics, or famous French chansons or South American tangos, than you are to be subjected to 12-tone dissonance. Successful music contains at least some melody, some harmony, some rhythm, and some novelty. When they first arrived, the atonalists at least sounded different, but by the end of their brief moment, they weren’t even doing novelty, because it all sounded alike, and all equally off-putting.

Oddly enough, some of the “avant garde” music of those days has kept its appeal, to a few. But that’s typically because some of it deviated from the theoretical template, and actually smuggled in melody, harmony, rhythm, and novelty of the sort that wasn’t just novel in being so very horrible to listen to. One of the most obnoxiously bullying prophets of all this stuff, Pierre Boulez, often wrote music which broke his own rules, by sounding more like post-Debussy and post-Ravel rather than post-Schoenberg. Boulez used to announce that recent composers he disapproved of were not “important”, as if lots of people just liking these guys was an irrelevance. Well, Sibelius and Shostakovich, and now Adams and Glass and Ligeti, are embedded into the classical canon, put there by the audiences and the orchestral musicians, who loved them from the get-go, and institutions like BBC Radio 3 had to either go along with that or fold their tents.

LATER: And as I forgot to mention, the late Lenny’s own first recording of his Chichester Psalms was the one that Edward Seckerson said is still his favourite. 30 mins 20 secs in for that part of the programme.

Perry de Havilland on those Covid demonstrations

Well, I managed to do a posting that I had merely hoped to do for Samizdata, about the Covid demo in London the weekend before last, linking back here to all the photos of it that I stuck up here.

Here. and there, I added some rather rambling verbiage about how I had mixed feelings about such demos. Do they work? What do they achieve? That kind of thing.

And I really liked Perry de Havilland’s comment on my Samizdata piece in response:

Demonstrations are much misunderstood; particularly ones like this (& this was a huge demonstration).

They are not going to change state policy directly because that just isn’t how things work, they are mostly about deisolating activists, they are about demonstrating to the demonstrators that they are not crazy (even if some of them are as is the case in any group of disparate people).

Demonstrations are a building process. Demonstrations in this case are particularly effective at highlighting assorted lies about this particular disease. After all, get hundreds of thousands unmasked unvaccinated people shouting for a few hours face to face, there is going to be an observable spike in deaths each time, right? Right? 🤣

Some demonstrations against the lockdown got hammered by the police earlier on … why? Because they were small enough to get hammered by the police to try and discourage other demonstrations. In this demonstration, the police were so vastly outnumbered, by a march that refused to even tell the police where it was going to march (by design), there was never any chance it could be stopped with truncheons. And the demonstration’s organisation was connected yet dispersed, utterly protean: a couple organisers were arrested before the march to try and derail it, and expecting that, others on various platforms seamlessly took over.

What THAT demonstrates to the marchers is that resistance is not futile, they are not alone. In fact, they are legion. It was an anti-lockdown march but it was also an anti-media march, giving lie to the idea that utterly dominating the media dominates public opinion (as if Brexit had not already proven the falsity of that in the internet age). How many times do crap opinion polls have to get it wrong for demonstrable things (such as election & referendum outcomes) for you to stop believing them when things are less demonstrable?

If you don’t ‘get it; then who cares; you are most likely not the target audience. But these marches are not a pointless hissy fit like some marches, these particular marches are literal in-your-face defiance of instructions by the state intending to protect you from “the inevitable consequences of a terrible disease spreading amongst crowds”. These marches are an absolute refusal to obey & a demonstration that the state relies on your willing even if grudging compliance, because there is a tipping point beyond which they do not have enough people with truncheons to force your compliance. That is what demonstrations like this are for & it is working just fine.

Perry and I have since talked further about this, and it is clear, from his and other comments, that libertarianism, as I merely speculated hopefully, really is spreading amongst those demonstrators. In general, says Perry, a lot of people are going to be radicalised by Covid, more precisely: by the response to Covid. This will take time, as the economic damage done by this response makes itself felt and as the facts start emerging in greater detail, both the scientific facts and the policy making facts. Of course, nothing like all of this radicalising will be in a libertarian direction, but a lot of it will.

And I had completely ignored the crucial point that this one was a demonstration in favour of the right to demonstrate, and in defiance of the claim that demonstrations would spread The Plague.

Perry and I also agreed that if it had been a real Plague – dead bodies in the street, double digit percentage deaths and so on – our attitude would have been very different. This is an argument about the mishandling of medical data, not just a libertarian “hissy fit”, to quote his phrase.

Although, I rather suspect that for many, “hissy fit” is simply a demonstration they don’t agree with. Which was why I mentioned those pro-Remain demos in what I wrote at Samizdata. I disagreed with those demos, yet they were clearly demos, and they clearly will have consequences, even if not those that the demonstrators will be fully satisfied with, of just the sort that Perry described.

Perry also mentioned how getting to know this lady had informed his thinking on these matters. He zeroed in on this sentiment, that I also mentioned in that earlier posting:

Being a dissident wasn’t about overthrowing the regime; it was merely about staying sane.

In other words demos say, if only to the demonstrators, but typically also to many sympathetic but timid onlookers: You are not the only ones thinking like this.

Developing countries were able to leapfrog that bottleneck

Mixed metaphor alert! as recycled by Jacob Tudor:

The landline phone never reached more than 21.4% of the world’s population

By adopting cellular technology, developing countries were able to leapfrog that economic bottleneck.

Could it be that mixed this particular metaphor on purpose, to draw attention to the very good news they were trying to publicise, by getting mixed metaphor spotters like me all excited about how they’d said it?

Good news is notoriously hard to spread, because it typically happens so gradually.

I got into a muddle with linking to the original tweet, which is why I linked instead to Jacob Tudor’s rehashing of it. The original is number 75 of a set of 78 tweets, and linking to that gets you to the entire set, instead of linking to this particular one, so that link would only get you to this particular one while it remains the latest one.

BMNB quote of the day: If you feel something is missing …

Here we go:

It’s been a quiet day here at BMNB, which is not surprising given how wonderful the weather has been. Just the right amount of warm. Not a cloud in the sky. Perfect. Who, on a day like this, spends their time looking at a mere blog? Well, a few of you did, but fewer even than usual, and that’s absolutely fine by me given how fine the weather was today.

I journeyed out into south London to visit friends, the above photo being of a big biscuit tin they showed me, which provoked a brief discussion of the decidedly odd role played by biscuits in Roman Catholicism. I had not seen these friends face-to-face since the Plague struck, and it was a hugely enjoyable day, not least because of the chance I had to get to know the young son of the household. I was awake for at least half of last night fretting about whether I’d wake up in time, so was severely sleep deprived this morning. But the company from lunchtime onwards, to say nothing of the lunch itself, was so good that it had me completely forgetting that, and even though it is now nearly midnight I’m still wide awake. Nothing like reconnecting with friends to wake you up, by which I mean wake me up, especially when that company includes a boisterous boy.

As for the weather, well, I seriously doubt whether weather this year will ever be any better than it was today:

1: View from my friends’ garden; 2: Kent House Railway Station, a station whose platform clutter is particularly noticeable; 3: The towers of Vauxhall, as seen through the window of the train back to Victoria, which also reflects the view out of the train window opposite; 4: The same towers through the same window, this time with Brixtonian graffiti in the foreground: 5: More Quite Big Things, this time those surrounding the now dwarfed US Embassy and the newly redeveloped Battersea Power Station. Total number of clouds to be seen: zero.

What has actually been missing from my life in recent months is not biscuits. It has been the chance to meet up with more than only a tiny few good friends. An Osimertinib a day is still way out in front as the best way for my lung cancer to be kept at bay. But, if how today felt is anything to go by, then a very creditable second in that contest is: the best sort of company in the best sort of weather.

Big demo – zero Covid result

Winston Tarquin Smith:

Evening all … 1 million marched in London 2 weeks ago … and nobody died of Covid.

And in the follow up tweets, this:

I don’t know why it’s “CONVID” rather than COVID.

To be clear, the question is not: Are they now getting this wrong? Yes, of course, but merely guessing wrong is forgiveable. The question is: Should they have known a long time ago? I suspect: Yes again.

I reserve the right to change my mind about all things Covid. (Come to think of it, something like that applies to everything I say.)

But, see also, this on Samizdata today. Every time I see a clever person talking this way, the more I am inclined to believe it was all a horrible over-reaction. And yes, this is an “argument from authority”. Arguments from authority are to be taken with seasoning, but they are not a “fallacy”, like post ergo propter hoc (after therefore because). They aren’t definitive proof, because experts can certainly be wrong. But they are a clue, to add to all the other clues.

Take a few deep breaths when Tweeting …

The Niggle Magazine:

Reminder: Before you type something offensive on Twitter, sit back, count to 10, and take a few deep breaths. The brief pause may give you a chance to think of something even more offensive.

Twitter is surely what you make it. If you follow lots of political mouthers-off, as I do, then the ones who get excited are the ones who Tweet the most, and who pause and consider and take deep breaths the least, and that’s a lot of what I see. But I also follow lots of people who, although often also political, are more interested in fun, truth, beauty, or (in the case of the above quote) humour, and suchlike. I tend to scroll past all the shouting and pick on the nicer and subtler stuff to savour. It can be done.

BMNB QotD: On the sunk cost fallacy

Ryan North:

I’ve learned far too much about the sunk cost fallacy to stop now.

And I might as well carry on blogging, given how long I’ve been at it.

How to win the libertarian argument with hippos

Once again, I am saying a big thank you to Rob Fisher, for doing his bit to make my life and libertarianising echo in eternity. (Commenters, what movie am I quoting there? I liked that phrase the moment I first heard it.)

If you go to the website that Rob is referring to, you will see that right near the top there is a slowly moving clutch of quotes that come from the publications in question. I think this is a good idea. My strong point is probably not essays, or even long explanations. When I attempt any of those, I generally make some mistakes, especially given that when I wrote a lot of this stuff I was, as now, my own editor. Books? forget it. No, my biggest strength is, or was, single sentences, or at the most small clutches of sentences.

I only just saw Rob’s posting, which went up yesterday, but today is my day here for animal stuff, so, is there an animal connection here? I only started really banging on about animals in an animal rights sort of way when scientists started creating semi-affordable artificial meat, which will mean that we humans can now stop being so mean to animals, which we now do by stuffing them full of food and then slicing them up and eating them. When we’re not just keeping them as pets and merely stuffing them full of food.

However, there is an animal link, at any rate as of now, in Rob’s very kind posting. Early manifestations of which included the subject of “Hippos”, in the bit just under the title where it says what the posting is about. “Opinions on liberty” gets a mention, but Rob would appear to have forgotten to scrub Hippos from the list, Hippos being what goes on a Samizdata posting by default if you forget to mention any subjects. Here, it is merely “uncategorized”. But Samizdata Supremo Perry de Havilland likes hippos, and knows how to make things like that happen.

If you have an argument with a hippo, about anything never mind about libertarianism, chances are you’ll lose, especially if it thinks you are in its way.

Dragons on the road map

Guy Herbert:

It’s the sort of #roadmap that has “Here be dragons” written all over it, isn’t it?

Yes. My part of Twitter is all: The politicians are tyrannising over us. I wonder. What if they are just scared? Of course, the second does not rule out the first.

Beware of all enterprises that require new clothes

Michael Jennings said this, five years ago. I believe he now has a new job.