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Greetings, my fellow port swillers!
Pray allow ol’ Robbo to draw the attention of all you Revolutionary War geeks out there to the fact that on this date in 1777, British General Burgoyne surrendered to American General Gates after the Battle of Saratoga, and on this same date in 1781 Lord Cornwallis surrendered to Washington at teh Siege of Yorktown.
I don’t have much specifically to say about either fight, really. I just like the coincidence. Plus, I’m a fan of the works of John Trumbull and like having an excuse for putting up a couple of them.
Oh, and just to add a bit more, it is said that at Yorktown the Brit fifers played a tune called “The World Turned Upside Down” to show what they thought of the biznay. Here’s a rendition snapped up more or less at random:
When ol’ Robbo was a lad, his grandmother gave him a collection of Revolutionary War songs put out by, I think, National Geographic. (I still sing a few of them in the shower.) One was a more folksy version of TWTUD (in point of fact, it was a different tune altogether from this) and had lyrics that went, IIRC:
“If buttercups buzzed after the bees/If boats were on land and churches on seas/If ponies road men and the grass ate the cows/If cats should be chased into holes by the mouz/If mammas sold their babies to gypsies for half a crown/If summer were spring, t’other way round/Then all the world would be upside down.”
I know nothing about these lyrics except they were what the man sang on the record.
*Verified by the CDC.
Greetings, my fellow port swillers!
Late last Saturday afternoon, as ol’ Robbo drove teh Middle Gel to a friend’s house downtown for a birthday party sleepover, he found himself listening to an excruciatingly beautiful performance of one of Vivaldi’s Opus I trio sonatas on teh local classickal station. (The fact that Robbo drives a Wrangler while listening to classickal musick, by the bye, will tell you much about what a weirdo he really is.)
Anyhoo, so moved was I – Baroque trio sonatas are perhaps my very favorite form of art musick – that this evening I hunted up the playlist from that afternoon and tracked down the CD from which the election came. It’s Vivaldi’s Sonate Da Camera a Tre Opus 1, performed by L’Estravagante, a fairly new group which, it would seem, has not yet recorded very much. (Yes, the cover art on the CD is somewhat cheesy, but I’m afraid that’s a reality of modern marketing, even for high art.) Of course I nipped over to the devil’s website and bought a copy for myself.
This is a perfect example of what I was on about the other day regarding the glorious Golden Age of historically-informed performances in which we are fortunate to live. It may not seem like much when one considers all the signs of the intellectual, spiritual and moral collapse of Western Civilisation that dominate the headlines these days, but it is at least something.
You can insert a “fiddling while Rome burns” joke here if you like, but I prefer to think of it as lighting a single candle instead of cursing the Darkness.
Greetings, my fellow port swillers!
Waiting around for the dew to dry up a bit before mowing the lawn this morning, ol’ Robbo finds himself sampling a track recommended by the Middle Gel, who is a huge fan of the Piano Guys.
“Evolution” – There’s that word again. Just the other day I believe I was ranting here about the whiggish implication in its use that Newer means Better. When teh Gel told me about this video, which (if you aren’t going to click it) is a mash up of the principle Batman themes going back to the old 60’s teevee series, I could not resist pointing out that the only real Batman among them all was, of course, the legendary Adam West. (Okay, I’ll also give you Olan Soule, who voiced Batman on the old Super Friends cartoons. BTW, did you know that Ted Knight was the narrator for those shows?) In my opinion, once an actor and a role have reached a certain level of association, it becomes downright heretical to let somebody else play the part. See Kirk, James Tiberius.
Not that I’ve really paid any attention to Batman’s later manifestations – I never saw any of the Dark Knight movies, for instance. All of this fantasy/sooperhero stuff that seems so en vogue these days strikes me as extremely juvenile. (Ducks.)
As for the musick? Eh, it’s a nice sound and I can see why teh Gel likes these guys. At her age, I probably would have, too. But you know what Paul says about thinking as a child.** These days, the stuff is really too fluffy for my taste. (Ducks again.)
** [Ed. - Um, you put up a picture of a guy sitting on a potty in the post just below this one.]
UPDATE: Aaaaand, in before the rain!
I posted below about Sir Christopher Hogwood and the rise of the historically-informed performance school. Well, poking about on U-toob, I came across a splendid example of what I was talking about, members of Cafe Zimmermann (one of my favorite current ensembles) performing Marin Marais’s (1656-1728), “La Sonnerie de Saint Genevieve”:
It’s certainly not the greatest piece of musick in the world, but I’ve always found the play of invention over the endlessly-repeating continuo to induce a nicely meditative frame of mind.
Anyhoo, I post this clip mostly to assert that this kind of performance was simply unpossible to find back in the day and that, if you heard the piece at all, it would likely be at the hands of a twenty-odd piece string section that could only get through it by playing both more slowly and more rigidly.
(Oh, and speaking of Cafe Zimmermann, if you haven’t got their collection of Charles’ Avison’s Concertos after Scarlatti, I certainly encourage you to snap it up instanter. I promise you won’t regret it.)
Greetings, my fellow port swillers!
The passing this week of Debo, Dowager Dutchess of Devonshire and last of the Mitford sisters prompts this article in today’s UK Telegraph: The Mitfords and the Kardashians: class vs trash.
They dazzled, outraged and added immeasurably to the gaiety of the nation; only a churl could fail to shed a nostalgic tear for the passing of Debo Mitford. The death, aged 94, of the Dowager Duchess of Devonshire, the last of the glamorously posh, gloriously eccentric Mitford Girls, marks the end of an era. And the beginning of a new one.
Times change, modern mores evolve, and if it is true that every generation gets the celebrity dynasty it deserves, then we must (however reluctantly) pass the baton on to another clan of strong women. Yes, Kardashians, it is your time to shine.
Most of the rest of the article really boils down to comparative trivia.
Apart from the headline (which she probably didn’t write) and the second paragraph quoted above, the author remains fairly ambiguous about whether this change is a Good Thing or a Bad Thing. Needless to say, ol’ Robbo thinks it a perfectly Horrid Thing, even while he believes the author to be spot on. “Evolve” is misused here, however, because to the average person it implies to get better. I’d have said metastasized. Show me the evidence that things – politics, culture, morals, civility et al. – have got better. Go ahead. I’ll wait.
Know what this reminds me of? The evolution (there’s that word again!) of the Official Preppy Handbook. The original was a (very gently snarky) compendium of rock-solid Old Guard New England Upper and Upper-Middle values and standards. The new one is an abomination of post-modern nouveau chic (a lot of which, come to think of it, applying to the Kardashians).
I don’t really know what else to say about it other than Gawd help us.
UPDATE: Apropos musickal riff, inspired by RBJ. Enjoy!
Greetings, my fellow port swillers!
As regular friends of the decanter know, ol’ Robbo despises much of our current so-called culchah, even that part of it allegedly devoted to the higher arts. However, one aspect of it that makes him very grateful for having been born when he was is the modern proliferation of the so-called “historically -informed” school of Renaissance, Baroque and Classickal musickal performances, played on either period instruments or modern replicas. I believe it’s fair to say that Nikolaus Harnoncourt was the original historically-informed warrior, but Hogwood, along with Sir John Eliot Full Of Himself and Trevor Pinnock, was definitely in the first wave of musicians to exploit the breach made by Harnoncourt in the wall of stuffy, stilted, heavy-handed 20th Century treatments of these periods. Nowadays, the wall has collapsed completely and there are more crack historically-informed ensembles than ol’ Robbo can even count, much less keep up with.
Indeed, the AAC isn’t even really among ol’ Robbo’s favorite ensembles these days, but I still feel the need to raise a glass to it and to its founder. In my misspent yoot, I spent a lot of time listening to the Old Gentleman’s collection of Baroque and Classickal records, almost all of which had been recorded in the 50’s, 60’s and 70’s. Even then I could grasp the stodgy, slow, turgid, over-instrumented feel of these recordings, and in a way understand why the musick they performed was dismissed by some as clockwork, soulless and boring. In this mode, Bach sounded mechanical, Handel sounded pompous and other composers sounded bizarre.
I can’t remember my first exposure to a genuine period performance but I can remember my reaction, which was something along the lines of, “Whoa”. It was something equivalent to seeing all the gunk cleaned off the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel for the first time. Since then, I haven’t looked back.
UPDATE: Now with spelling and grammar and stuff!
Friends of the decanter, ol’ Robbo feels it is time to ask your collective opinion on an issue that has plagued Port Swiller Manor for some little while and now threatens to flame up into outright civil war.
You see, some time in the past couple years, we became possessed of a set of Washington Nationals Russian-style nesting dolls. (It must have been in 2011 or the immediate offseason, because both Jason Marquis and Mikey “Beast Mode” Morse are included.) The set occupies a shelf in the Port-Swiller library that also holds some chick lit, a porcelain fox, a miniature globe and a plaque commemorating one of the gels’ softball seasons.
Here’s the problem: I believe that the set should be displayed in what one might call “extended” ranks, with the dolls lined up next to each other. Mrs. Robbo, on the other hand, seems to think that they are better off in the “contracted” position, all of the smaller ones nestled safe inside Jayson Werth’s belleh.
We’ve spoken on this issue but have failed to reach an accord. Instead, we find ourselves in a low-intensity domestic conflict. When ol’ Robbo finds the dolls contracted, he quietly spreads them out. When Mrs. Robbo finds them in extended order, she just as quietly stacks them again.
Am I wrong?
Incidentally, The Beast is with San Fran this year and the Giants look to grab one of the NL wildcard slots. Morse was so beloved by us Nats fans that, even if we find him facing us at some point in the playoffs this year, I think I’m right in saying on behalf of all of us that we all wish him the very best. Indeed, I – and I think almost all of us – would sing along lustily if, on Morse’s coming to the plate at Nats Park, we put on his old walk up musick. Enjoy!
Greetings, my fellow port swillers!
Earlier today, a friend of the decanter (who knows who they are) asked of ol’ Robbo, “Tom, how have the first few weeks of school worked out so far this year?”
Well, I’m happy to say that things are (touch wood) going pretty well.
Teh Eldest, now a high school junior, seems finally to have grasped that whatever her record is, she owns it. In other words, after all those years of complaining about us nagging her, she’s finally beginning to learn to nag herself. Laus Deo.
Teh Middle Gel, now a high school frosh, is talking much about leadership (particularly in her choir program) and is running for Class VP. She’s an awesome kid, about whom we have very little to worry except for her apparent resistance to learning math. (I say this here because she regularly reads this blog. Thpppppt!! )
Teh Youngest is taking to middle school like a duck to water, loving every aspect of her new school. One thing: she originally signed up to play cello in the school orchestra, the course description assuring that no previous experience was necessary. Well, it turned out that a) she and one other kid were the only ones in teh whole troupe with no experience, and b) the director was not much interested in babysitting newbies. After a couple days, teh YG decided to chuck it and I can’t say that I blame her. The good news is that, when she went to her counselor, it turned out that a slot had become open in drama, the course the gel had wanted to take originally but was full up when she applied. And so she switched. Apparently, teh gel had them rolling in the aisles during an improv session this week, and her new theatre teacher is quite bananas about her. I’m not in the least surprised.
And speaking of such things, this week teh Eldest was assigned by her Art teacher the task of snapping a photo of a family member in a “characteristic” situation, and using such photo as the model for a sketch. In pursuit of said goal, teh gel caught me quite unawares as I was engrossed in Handel:
Not the greatest pic, but nice composition. And, I must admit, substantively quite pleasing, at least to me.
UPDATE: In response to myriad queries as to what particular piece of Handel I was mutilating when teh gel snapped, this pic, I can tell you that it was Handel’s Suite No. 7 in G minor, HWV 432. Here’s a genuine performance version of it:
Subtract a bunch of technical errors, add a great deal of blasphemy (you can’t see it from this angle, but I’ve got a frieze of St. Cecilia on top of the piano to give me strength), and you’ve got my rendition. Sort of.
An opera lover beat a cabbie over the head with his ornate walking stick and swore at him because he feared he would miss a performance of Puccini.
Peter Williamson, a retired doctor, swore at the cab driver as he shouted at him and asked where they were going because he feared he would be late for the open air show in Holland Park, west London.
The physicist, who is a fellow with the Royal Institution, was turfed out of the taxi after launching a tirade of abuse at driver Kevin Johnson.
After dropping Williamson at a cash point on Kensington High Street, Mr Johnson saw Williamson walk past the machine, so climbed out of the car to point him in the right direction.
But Williamson raised his stick above his head and struck his head with the handle, leaving him bleeding and needing stiches.
At a hearing at Hammersmith Magistrates’ Court Williamson admitted assault occasioning actual bodily harm.
The court heard he had been keen to see a performance of one of Puccini’s lesser known works, ‘The Girl of the Golden West.’
Mozart or Monteverdi, I perhaps could understand. But Puccini? Really?
Incidentally, the fellah was trying to get to the open-air opera center in Holland Park. I don’t even know if this place existed when I spent a year in London back in ’87-’88, but I used to go to the open-air theater in Regents Park no great distance away to see performances of Shakespeare, Ben Jonson and others, and the shows were more than once disrupted by air traffic going in and out of Heathrow. When it got bad, the actors would simply stop and wait for the roar to subside. How do you do that with an opera?
UPDATE: As long as I’m on bombastic, diva-driven 19th Century opera (of which I am not a fan, in case you haven’t cottoned yet), let me just stick in this extremely short clip from the Marx Brothers’ A Night At The Opera. (It became something of a Thing in the Robbo Family Household in my misspent yoot.) In the immortal words of the New Yorker’s review, “doing to ‘Il Trovatore‘ what ought to be done to ‘Il Trovatore‘”.
Greetings, my fellow port swillers! Via the Puppy-Blender, ol’ Robbo found himself reading this fascinating article today: The Kennewick Man Finally Freed To Share His Secrets.
Remember Kennewick Man? He was a 9000 year old skeleton that turned up on the banks of the Columbia River during the Bubba Clinton years. When the remains were first discovered, they produced a good deal of consternation among forensic anthropologists because he didn’t seem to look anything like the usual ancestral “Native” American. The Army Corp of Engineers and several local tribes sought to get him put right back in the ground P.D.Q. without further study, but the scientists who got their mitts on him pushed back.
The kerfluffle, about which I read a couple articles in the WSJ at the time, sank beneath the surface after a short while and I had more or less forgot about it myself, but it seems that the scientists actually won. And get this: Kennewick Man looked different because he was different:
As work progressed, a portrait of Kennewick Man emerged. He does not belong to any living human population. Who, then, are his closest living relatives? Judging from the shape of his skull and bones, his closest living relatives appear to be the Moriori people of the Chatham Islands, a remote archipelago 420 miles southeast of New Zealand, as well as the mysterious Ainu people of Japan.
“Just think of Polynesians,” said [anthropologist Douglas] Owsley, [of the Smithsonian Institution].
Not that Kennewick Man himself was Polynesian. This is not Kon-Tiki in reverse; humans had not reached the Pacific Islands in his time period. Rather, he was descended from the same group of people who would later spread out over the Pacific and give rise to modern-day Polynesians. These people were maritime hunter-gatherers of the north Pacific coast; among them were the ancient Jōmon, the original inhabitants of the Japanese Islands. The present-day Ainu people of Japan are thought to be descendants of the Jōmon. Nineteenth-century photographs of the Ainu show individuals with light skin, heavy beards and sometimes light-colored eyes.
Jōmon culture first arose in Japan at least 12,000 years ago and perhaps as early as 16,000 years ago, when the landmasses were still connected to the mainland. These seafarers built boats out of sewn planks of wood. Outstanding mariners and deep-water fishermen, they were among the first people to make fired pottery.
The discovery of Kennewick Man adds a major piece of evidence to an alternative view of the peopling of North America. It, along with other evidence, suggests that the Jōmon or related peoples were the original settlers of the New World. If correct, the conclusion upends the traditional view that the first Americans came through central Asia and walked across the Bering Land Bridge and down through an ice-free corridor into North America.
Sometime around 15,000 years ago, the new theory goes, coastal Asian groups began working their way along the shoreline of ancient Beringia—the sea was much lower then—from Japan and Kamchatka Peninsula to Alaska and beyond. This is not as crazy a journey as it sounds. As long as the voyagers were hugging the coast, they would have plenty of fresh water and food. Cold-climate coasts furnish a variety of animals, from seals and birds to fish and shellfish, as well as driftwood, to make fires. The thousands of islands and their inlets would have provided security and shelter. To show that such a sea journey was possible, in 1999 and 2000 an American named Jon Turk paddled a kayak from Japan to Alaska following the route of the presumed Jōmon migration. Anthropologists have nicknamed this route the “Kelp Highway.”
“I believe these Asian coastal migrations were the first,” said Owsley. “Then you’ve got a later wave of the people who give rise to Indians as we know them today.”
He goes on to theorize that these early migrants, never large in number, were possibly swamped by the later, larger waves of immigrants coming over the Bering Land Bridge.
How cool is that?
We have no problem with theorizing about waves of emigration into Europe and Asia out of Africa, or even with speculation about the relations between Cro-Magnon and Neanderthal. Why should early human migration into the Americas be any less mosaic?
Read the whole thing for a discussion of teh research and a history of the attempts of the Powers That Be to repress it. As you might imagine, it’s a story of politicks poisoning science.