Saturday, January 05, 2008


Copies of The Poem of a Life turning up in various quarters: coastal California, even Edinburgh. While I wait for the possible silence of the print reviewers – no news is not good news – one of the readings that really matters begins to materialize: that of John Latta, marooned on the always lively Dumpster Island.
As I scramble to paste & staple together syllabi for next week's classes, I've been listening to a range of Passions: Heinrich Schütz's St. Matthew, Alessandro Scarlatti's & Arvo Pärt's St. John (of the former, LZ writes – or rather, quotes Debussy, "Whose choruses seem to be written in pale gold / Like halos, primitive frescoes"), & of course Bach's St. Matthew Passion, which poor WCW was unable to hear with Zukofsky at Carnegie Hall on April 5, 1928 ("I'd give my shirt to hear the Mattaus Passion this week," he wrote, but couldn't).

That's the performance that kicks off "A"-1, with an almost perfect 200-year span between premiere & poet's audition: "The Passion According to Matthew, / Composed seventeen twenty-nine, / Rendered at Carnegie Hall, / Nineteen twenty-eight, / Thursday evening, the fifth of April." Recent scholarship suggests a 1727 first performance for the piece, but LZ had no way of knowing that.

Neither did Felix Mendelssohn-Bartholdy, when he mounted a performance of the Passion in Berlin in 1829, to celebrate both the composition's centenary & his grandfather – the philosopher Moses Mendelssohn – 's birth in 1729. A rousing success, helped along by the performance of the popular young singer Eduard Devrier. At the celebratory dinner afterwards, Devrier's wife Therese found herself squeezed in between Mendelssohn-Bartholdy & a rather pushy elderly stranger: she recalled,
Felix was in an effervescent mood, we chatted and laughed, so that I didn't notice the servant offering me things. The man on my left bid me to let him do it. Afterward, he continuously tried to talk me into drinking some more wine and to fill my glass, which I declined until it was proposed that we toast to the health of the artist, from which, he rather affectedly whispered, I could not exclude myself, to which he then festively clinked glasses with me. He unrelentingly gripped my furthermost lace sleeve 'in order to protect it!', as he put it when he occasionally turned to me. In short, he so annoyed me with his gallantries that I turned to Felix and asked, 'Tell me who this dumb goofball is beside me.' Felix held his handkerchief over his mouth for a moment and then whispered, 'The dumb goofball there beside you is the famous philosopher, Hegel.'
(And where, God help me, have I heard this anecdote before?)

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