31 ene 2008

In January I've biked 185 miles and walked 92, so on the average day I walked almost three miles and biked almost six. It's hard not to walk three miles a day just doing errands and walking around the house. My goal was to ride 10 miles a day. For every day I didn't ride, I wanted to walk at least five miles. By that measure I did pretty well.

29 ene 2008

Suite 3. V. Bourrée.

This is the high point of the entire sequence for me. This movement. Yet ironically this is where I stalled, listening instead to the Goldberg Variations, the Well-Tempered Klavier, Beethoven's late quartets... According to my computer I have listened to this 14 times.

What is a Bourrée anyway? This is where you normally expect to find a minuet.

Nothing I have read so far is as good as the type of novels I normally read--by Harry Mathews, Gilbert Sorrentino, Murakami, and a few select others. A few novels I've started--by Faulkner and G. Eliot--are a bit more promising. My plan is to read quality literary type novels checked out from the public library, avoiding novels I've read before, and not repeating authors more than a few times each.

If a person read novels instead of watching television for two hours a night, that person would in a few years' time be very well read.
My cousin was a prophet. Actually, THE prophet. Technically he was my first cousin twice-removed, the first cousin of my paternal grandmother Vera Hinckley Mayhew. I never met him, of course, and the only thing I can remember from family lore was that she liked her younger cousin.
One of my new (new to me that is) favorite blogs is University Diaries. "Scathing On-line School-Marm" is both useful and funny as hell. You can also read about James Joyce, Philip Larkin, or the abuses of big-time college sports.
Shadowing my 100 novels will Mark's 100 poem-books. It's too bad we don't have a word for that like the Spanish Poemario.

Stanley Elkin. The Living End. 1979.

Elkin's concise, comic treatment of eschatology is probably the best novel I've read so far in this project. He achieves a funiness that his buddy Gass often gestures towards without reaching.

28 ene 2008

To translate poetry you must be a poet, because you are actually writing poetry. The activity of verse-translation is not a fundamentally different activity from that of writing poetry. That is one lesson I might draw from Eliot Weinberger's demolition of Robert Alter's Psalms.

Weinberger softens this precept a little by saying that the translator has to be at least a reader of poetry. That doesn't make too much sense to me, because translation involves the production of a text, not just an act of reception. There may be poet-translators with no work of their own, but they are still poets in the act of translating.

"On the evidence here, Alter seems to know very little about the last hundred years of English-language poetry."

Harsh, but Weinberger backs up this point with examples.

Vladimir Nabokov. Glory. 1932/1971

It seems like a rather conventional Bildungsroman for the most part. The main character, Martin Edelweiss, is an athletic, not quite believable, aimless Russian emigré. The translation, by Dmitri Nabokov, is rather interesting. It read well in English but never conceals its origins.

27 ene 2008


William Gass. Cartesian Sonatas and Other Novellas, 1998.

Every one of these four novellas has a brilliant conceit at its core. "The Master of Secret Revenge," about a man who needs to exact revenge for every trivial slight and offence. Another about a sleazy itinerant accountant enchanted by the odd knicknacks and momentoes at a Bed and Breakfast run by an earnest older woman and her invalid husband. Still another about a woman with sensory overload, extreme synesthesia. Each is carried to its logical extreme at excruciating length. They are short stories bloated to the length of novellas, rather than novels made into concise, pared-down versions of themselves. Gass can write. He can also overwrite. You often find yourself listening to an explanation of something you understood perfectly well 30 pages earlier.

24 ene 2008


The Sandcastle. Iris Murdoch, 1957.

Reading this is like watching a very clumsy-looking fighter take apart a smoother and supposedly more "correct" stylist. Murdoch signposts her plots, explains things too much, introduces jarring shifts of focalization. Then, just when you think she doesn't know what she's doing, Bam! There are some well-done dramatic scenes--the car going into the river; the rescue of the protagonist's son off the tower; the afterdinner speech by his wife that seals his fate. Murdoch manages to develop all the pieces of the plot so that it all works, even the more contrived elements. There needed to be more about Felicity, the psychic daughter. I didn't quite believe the young painter, Rain, falling in love with the middle-aged schoolteacher.

It's a "B-." If a major character has an ample bosom we shouldn't learn that 10 pages from the end. You don't have to explain who a character is after the first mention of that character in the first chapter, and do this several times in a row!

I wish it were more polished and modernist. Virginia Woolf she's not. But I will be reading more Murdoch. Last one I read was The Severed Head in about 1978, which I remember as better than this one.

23 ene 2008

I don't read much fiction, so I've decided to read a little more in those "dead hours" when I'm usually just randomly flipping through blogs and such, say 9:30 to 11 p.m. I'm reading 100 novels and blogging about them. It might take a year or two. My plan is to start somewhat randomly and, if I like a particular novel, read another by the same author. If I don't like it, I'll switch to another author. The blog tag "100 novels" will help me keep track of what I've read. Since it's a "stretching exercise" in some respects I'm not reading novels that I know I'll like in advance, or revisiting old favorites.

I still haven't forgotten Bach, either. I took a break to listen to The Goldberg Variations for a few weeks but should return to the cello suites very soon.

22 ene 2008

Preciosa throws away her tambourine
and runs off without stopping.
The stud-wind pursues her
with a hot sword.
The sea scowls up its roar
The olive trees grow pale.
Flutes of forest shade sing,
and the smooth gong of the snow.

That's Langston Hughes. His translation of the Gypsy Ballads is the best one out of all. Not only that, but I'm prepared to argue that this is some of the best poetry Hughes himself wrote. (Just as Cathay and the Seafarer belong to Pound's best work.)

It took me a while to be a connossieur of Lorca translations. It takes a special kind of bracketing off, of forgetfulness. I have to forget that I would use the word "chase" instead of "pursue" in this case, that "y el liso gong de la nieve" HAS to be "and the smooth gong of the snow." That's a gift from Lorca so why credit the translator? The translation dissolves in the analysis. You have to sit back and enjoy it as the particular performance that it is, not judge it against the one true performance that it will never be. You have to know you are reading a poem by Langston Hughes, not a poem by Lorca.

Hughes has a defined voice as a translator. What I like, though, is that it isn't intrusive. It's vernacular in tone, but there is no attempt to reproduce any particular American vernacular.

20 ene 2008

Improvisation on a Theme by Joseph

I saw a worm blow a hole through the roof.

I saw a worm question a stork.

My feet on the grass were wet.
My feet on the grass were dry.

I saw a root grab an ankle.

I saw Henry eating pie.

My feet on the grass were wet.
My feet on the grass were dry.

The ankle was mine.

The pie was mine.

The roof was not mine.

I saw something else, off in the snow and fog.

I'll never tell.

My feet on the grass were wet.
My feet on the grass were dry.

17 ene 2008

I went to a barbecue and a stir-fry broke out.

Or something like that. My lame attempt at a joke based on on the boxing/hockey snow-clone.

16 ene 2008

I now have a contract with the University of Chicago Press to publish my Lorca book, once I've written the rest of it. My email was down all day, with the message from the editor waiting there for me in the inbox. I decided to check one last time before I went to bed and finally got through.

15 ene 2008

Speaking of Bach, I heard some Brandenbrug concerti at the symphony over the weekend. I'll get back to the cello Suites soon. I'm trying to come to terms with Lorca/Blackburn right now...

10 ene 2008

Suite 3. IV Sarabande

Getting lost in a forest at night. Yet somehow immune to its very real dangers. It's not a place we live; what happens here will not have a permanent effect on our lives. We can come here any time we like, and leave again.
I have a pedometer on my belt, a computer on my bike telling me how far I have gone (as of yesterday), and a running word count that I keep on my book and print out each month. So the SMT of the day is keep track of how much you do.

9 ene 2008

Suite 3. III. Courante (3/4 Fast)

I have nothing to say about this one. Fast music is hard to write. This sounds like Bach, but has nothing distinctive about it.
My strengths as a writer:

Writing itself. Prose. That's the bedrock. Got prose?

Work ethic & habits.


Ability to choose interesting critical problems.

Intellectual curiosity and knowledge of subject matter.


Disorganization of physical workspace and research materials. Lack of system for constructing bibliography and keeping track of references. I'm not a very good archival researcher, tending to work mostlyl from published sources. I tend to construct and argument first then find the citations to back it up a posteriori. I have a hard time finishing projects and dealing with publishers. I'm not good with getting permissions and the like.

Other things I have difficult doing: coordinating many different tasks during the same day or week. Deriving courses from my research. Limiting my commitments to a manageable number.

Rather than addressing all these weaknesses at once, I am starting by getting a better handle on the actual physical space in which I work. I'm starting by spending at least 15 minutes a day on this.

8 ene 2008

Suite 3. II. Allemande (4/4)

The préludes are about development of rhythmic motifs in almost minimalistic style. The allemandes are more melodic. This one starts out with a wonderfully assertive or self-confident melody. From this Suite so far I am getting the feeling of "no nonsense, just the music." Plenty of arabesques but he'll always return to the basics.

I've hesitated to say that certain movements of these Suites are my favorites, because I have so many favorites that this would be meaningless. But this one is one of them, at least when I am listening to it. There's one measure (the second complete measure of the piece) that always gets me every time. I don't know how he does it, or what it is.

There are moments in the fifth and sixth suites I can't wait to get to.
Suite 3 in C Major. I. Prélude. (3/4 moderate to fast; no repeats)

Wow. The idea of starting the piece with a descending C Major Scale, from C to C, followed by a nice descending arpeggio on a C major Chord! Then the melody goes up again, wavy lines up and down. From the simple to the incredibly complex. Here comes a pattern that, if repeated for an hour or two, would be good minimalist composition. There's a tension that results from a seeming stasis or repeated arpeggios.

There's a language to the preludes that I'm gradually getting a handle on.

Then at the end: that same descending scale and arpeggios, followed by a round tonic chord. Sweet!

We are in different emotional territory from the 2nd Suite.

7 ene 2008

Suite 2. VI. Gigue. (3/8 fast tempo)

There's something very emphatic about this rhythm. After the pick-up note it hit the ONE very strongly, descending a fifth from A to D. In fact the first beat of each measure is more strongly accented than in most of the movements. The Gigues are more dance-like than other positions in the six section Suites.

I don't know if I have sense of Suite 2 as a whole, other than the obvious fact that it is one of two in a minor key.
What does "literal translation" really mean? Is it a translation of literal meaning, or a kind mirroring of syntactical structure? Take reflexive constructions in Spanish. They are used in various ways:

The "true reflexive," in which the subject of the verb also is the direct object or indirect object.

Simply to make a verb intranstiive. Pierdo las llaves (I lose the keys transitive) vs. Me pierdo (I get lost). Depierto a los niños (I wake the children vs. "Me despierto" = I wake up.

To express the fact that one is eating or consuming all of something. Me comí todas las galletas = ( I ate all the cookies up.)

For an impersonal construction. "Se dice que..." (It is said that.)

As part of the lexical meaning of a verb, but without any reflexive connotation. "Me voy" (I'm leaving)

Reciprocal: Se quieren mucho (they love each other a lot)


Now in English, the reflexive structure is used mostly if not exclusively for the "true reflexive." So most of the time a "literal" translation of one of these other kinds of reflexive verbs will not involve a reflexive in English. "I go myself" is not a "literal" translation of "Me voy." Nor is "Spanish speaks itself" a "literal" translation of "se habla español." The phrase doesn't mean that in Spanish. So "word-for-word" translation or "syntax mirroring" is not "literal."

A "literal" translation of "voy entendiendo que.. " is not "I go understanding" but "I'm coming to the realization that..." In other words, that is what that phrase actually means. An overliteralistic, word by word, parsing of the syntax doesn't result in accurate translation at all and doesn't even deserve to be called "literal." Put in another way, so-called literal translation may require paraphrase.
I made an awesome soup yesterday. The lime and ginger seem to complement each other and the spinach. The lentils had a creamy texture. It's a Madhur Jaffrey recipe, with a few "improvements": red lentils for the normal green-brown ones. Lime in place of lemon. I added the coriander and cumin too, because the original recipe didn't have any spices in it. A pinch of a few other spices wouldn't hurt it, but why gild the lily? This is one of the best tasting things I've made in a long while.

It's vegetarian (vegan actually) if you lean that way.

Spinach-Lime-Cilantro-Ginger-Red Lentil Soup

1 cup red lentils.
3 cups water
1 lb. chopped fresh spinach
1 t. fresh grated ginger
1 small green hot pepper, diced
1/2 t. ground coriander
1/2 t. ground cumin
1/2 cup fresh cilantro
Juice of one half a lime
Canola oil

salt / black pepper

Boil the lentils for an hour in the water and spices (coriander / cumin).

Heat a few T's of oil in a large frying pan and add the ginger and hot pepper, then the spinach and cilantro. Cook until these are wilted. After the lentils have cooked for an hour, add the spinach mixture and lime juice to the lentil pot and simmer for 20 minutes. Season with black pepper to taste. Makes about 4 servings.

6 ene 2008

Suite 2. V. Menuet 1 & 2 (3/4 moderate)

Each minuet is an 8-bar phrase followed by a 16-bar development (each section repeated). The first minuet is reprised again at the end.

The serious mood continues, but now there's a note of playfulness. The second minuet switches from D minor to D Major and has that playful bounce from high to low to high again.
Suite 2. IV. Sarabande. (4/4, slow; two 12 measure sections, each repeated).

Now it's time to sit down for a serious discussion; we can tell each other how we really feel, how we've been feeling for a good while. There's a depth of feeling to explore. Don't you dare skip the repeats on this! This four minute stretch might as well be four hours, in emotional terms. There is one voice, but two people talking, dancing slowly around each other.
Suite 2. III. Courante. (3/4 Fast; two 16-measure sections with repeats)

The rhythm is mostly just a constant stream of sixteenth notes, with a quarter note or two thrown in. It often sounds like two lines of music in counterpoint, even though there is only one linear flow. This is achieved through rapid alternations between notes in two distinct register. What kind of jazz is this? As Joseph Duemer might say.

I''m getting a feeling of "righteous indignation" from this particular movement, with a dose of self-confident pride, as of someone who knows how do do her job very well and is doing it. She'll show you how it's done! It's not child, but a person of a certain maturity, seriousness but not obnoxiously put on "gravitas."

4 ene 2008

I'm listening to a poet read now. I don't know who it is yet. He is a wonderful reader; great imagery. A little quietudinous, maybe, but with definite "chops."

"Mark Nichols" is the poet apparently. Wow. I'd like to hire him to read my poems aloud for me.

Now he's reading another poem, a little faster.

UPDATE: "Mark Nickels"
Suite 2. II. Alemande (4/4; moderato)

Structure: 2 twelve-measure sections with repeats.

I like how unpredictable the development is here. Even if you know it well as I do it is hard to sing along. The movement projects a kind of brash self-confidence in its ability to go all over the place, up and down. My visualization of this is of a woman dancing in suprising circular movements. She knows what she's doing even if you don't.
Suite 2 in D minor I Prélude (3/4/ moderate, played here on the slow side)

I'm getting a handle on the the préludes. They are introductory and repetitive, based on arpeggiated patterns and rhythmico-melodic patterns. The central pattern here is that the longest and highest note of the measure falls on beat 2 in 3/4 time. (Sycopation again: this is the most marked place in the pattern, but it falls on a weak beat.) The melody rises to this point, then fall again. This doesn't occur in each measure, but in measure 1, 2, 3; 5,6,7, for example. The ascending and descending lines can be eigths or sixteenths. Their are some spectacular arpeggios to conclude the movement, and some nice harmonic and rhythmic variations throughout. Preludes don't have repeat signs (so far). They are about incremental variation, the interplay between the horizontal line and the vertical harmonic structure.

The same rhythmico-melodic figure can accomodate any chord, logically. You just change the pitch values. Brilliant! Think of Monk's "Misterioso" if you are minded to. That's a piece based on a similar principle.

And emotionally that up and down movement is quite primal. You're kind of rooting to the note to get up to a certain pitch...

3 ene 2008

Suite 1. VI. Gigue (6/8 on the faster side)

The Gigues are all about swirling waters, circular patterns, impassioned energy. There is another syncopated pattern to start out. It starts on the pick-up note on six, then goes 6123 45 6123 45 before resolving after a few measures. It's like a dog trying to catch its tail. (1 and 4 should be the strong beats in 6/8, which is really two measures of 3/8 stuck together, so starting on 6 and creating two uneven groups of notes creates an interesting rhythmic tension. [At least that's how I hear it. I keep waiting for a musiclologist to write in and set me straight, if I happen to be full of **it].)


The high points of this first Suite for me have been the Sarabande and the Menuet. The Prelude is still too overfamiliar to me (maybe if I listen to it more it will become strange again!) and the Allemande is too respectable. It doesn't seem to stay with me as long even though I've heard it 25 times. I don't dislike any of it; it's more a matter of distinguishing the A++ from the A++++.


Too bad I can't write like Maryrose Larkin, who is doing actual writing about the Suites as opposed to mere commentary.
The "Seinfeld method" suffered a bit over the holiday season. My first streak was over 140 days. My second was 2 days, December 27-28. Now I am on day five of my third effort beginning on December 30. What was my downfall?-- travel home from California. Driving one day to see my Mom in Davis and stopping in Berkeley later to show my daughter the campus.

The idea is to string along as many days as possible in which you work on a major project or projects for some substantial number of hours, preferably at least two hours. It's like a marathon made of many tiny sprints. It works for me; Sure, I would have gotten something done anyway, since I am on leave, but I doubt I would have written 60,000 words in a little over five months. Having a leave is a good way to get nothing at all accomplished, since time seems to spread out in amorphous stretches that don't necessarily demand to be filled with work.
I am one step closer to getting an advanced contract for my Lorca book. The 3rd, anonymous reader said yes and even cited a comment from this very blog.
Suite 1. V. Menuet I and II. (3/4 moderately fast)

This is one of my favorite movements in the entire six Suites. Another unforgettable melody. I don't know whether to love it more for its pure kinetic movement or its logical development of ideas.

Imagine it played faster: it would still work. Now slow it down in your mind: it takes on a different character but still works. It would be great transposed for piccolo.

There are two Menuets, played in order, with the first repeated once at the end again.

I can tell already I'm going to favor the fifth movements of these Suites. I love that lilting quality.
Suite 1: IV Sarabande (3/4 Slow)

The Sarabandes are slow, sensual dances. Extensive use of chords for the first time. It is just 16 measures of music (32 with repeats). A lot of rhythmic variation within a very brief span. This is a very beautiful melody, which isn't surprising, but it is surprising that the first three movements didn't have such distinctive melodies, being more based on the variation of patterns.

1 ene 2008

Suite 1. III. Courante. (3/4 Up tempo)

The courantes are fast-tempo, "running" dances. This one is written in mostly sixteenth notes in three quarter time. One distinctive rhythmic figure is a group of four sixteenths in which the last note jumps up to a much higher interval, giving a syncpopated feel (measures 14-15). As in the preceding Allemande, there are two sections that repeat one time each, and which are not strongly differentiated.


The falling arpeggio on the tonic chord is a mainstay of many movements. It signifies closure. A variation on this is to go up first and then down on the same notes.


One thing Bach will do a lot is to compose the same pattern, in terms of rhythm and the relation between pitches, but vary the actual pitches and hence the harmony. (We saw that in the first prélude.) This is a fairly basic musical technique, but Bach is the absolute master of it.


The order of the six movements in the Suites is Prelude, Allemande, Courante, Sarabande, X, and Gigue. (X can be any sprightly dance, a gavotte, a minuet, or bourrée.)

In tempo, the order goes: moderate, moderate, fast, slow, moderate to fast, and fast.

I don't have something insightful to say about each of the movements, I realize. I'll discover what I am really looking for when I hit the fourth or fifth Suite. So far I have mainly noted rhythmic figures and the principle of repetition with variation. Not every movement needs a really distinctive melody, something that catches on the mind.


Do you know Coleman Hawkins' "Picasso"? It is an unaccompanied, improvised tenor saxophone solo played rubato, the first of its kind in jazz history. I imagine it transcribed and played by Yo Yo Ma. That's the closest thing you could find to the Bach cello Suites.
Suite 1: II. Allemande. 2/2 Moderate tempo

This one has a sweeping, powerful melody, with a lot of up and down movement. This is not as horizontal sounding as the prelude. The allemandes are dignified German dances in moderate tempo. There are two sixteen measure sections, each one repeated twice. A lot happens in each section. The second is a variation on the first. Only Bach would introduce so subtle a variation in the second half of the movement.
Maryrose Larkin is also participating in this project. If you want to join in (anyone else?) I will link to your posts.

UPDATE: Joseph Duemer too.

... and Utopian Turtle Top

Caveat: I am not a musicologist or musician. Just a listener.

Initial thoughts. Bach is known for his polyphonic lines, but with the unaccompanied cello Suites there is one single line rather than numerous ones in counterpoint. (There are chords, but even those are usually played as arpeggios.) To get all the harmonic richness in this basically "linear" music Bach uses arpeggios: melodic lines that use all the notes of the triad. He also needs to exploit the full range of the instrument in order to get the fullness of sound. You never miss the presence of an accompaniment.

A lot of tension is created through the savvy use of intervals: the contrast between low and high notes, close and distant intervals. Try to sing the melodies and you'll see what I mean.

These pieces could be considered "technical exercises" or etudes, but they are much more than that. These and the unaccompanied violin partitas and sonatas are among my favorite parts of Bach, and Bach is my favorite in the European tradition of "classical" music. (Bach is not classical of course but baroque.)

I am using a version recorded by Yo Yo Ma, and looking at the scores from time to time. I am not doing comparisons between him and Casals, Rostopovich, etc... YYM plays with great clarity, minimal ornamentation and vibrato. He has an intuitive sense of phrasing. I am not going to offer extensive comments on his playing. Those using other versions as they read this series can still follow along, since my main focus is the music and not one particular interpretation of it.

Suite 1 in G Major. I. Prélude. (In 4/4; moderate tempo)

This music is instantly recognizable! This is often the piece used in a television commercial or a movie score.

The basic rhythmic pattern is a series of eight sixteenth notes of which the third and the fifth are the highest in pitch and thus the most prominent. So the ear catches the pattern of higher pitched notes on the three succesive eighth notes: the "and of one," "two," and the "and of two" in the first half of each measure, and the "and of three" "four," and the "and of four" in the last half of the measure. The result is an emphasis on weak beats (2 and 4 rather than 1 and 3) and an implicitly polyrhythmic group of three notes. The 1s and 3s are the weakest here, in that they are the lowest in pitch. They serve as the acompaniment, the harmonic base.

There are no repeat markers in the prelude. What is repeated is that arpeggiated pattern, numerous times, with many small variations, before building to a climax in the final measure. He'll try out some new ideas from time to time, and then return to that familar pattern. The effect is one of soothing horizontal lines stretching out through space. It is both calming and engaging, hypnotic and mentally stimulating. I sense a dignified solemnity, but nothing overly solemn. The tempo would be slow, if the piece were written in quarter notes, but since it's almost all sixteenths, it is more of a medium tempo.