Beautiful Music: The Spring Sonata

Am trying (with, at best, mixed results) to learn the piano part to Beethoven’s “Spring” Sonata for violin and piano. Although not as difficult as many other of B’s works (talking about you, “Kreutzer Sonata”), it’s still plenty challenging.  The title “Frühlingssonata,” which he did not use, comes from the relatively sunny disposition of the first movement. Like the even-numbered symphonies it is full of good spirits and earthy humor.

I will probably never be able to play this piece very fluently, but it is fascinating to learn, particularly the compelling way it is built around pushing up against (and over) the bar lines (listen to the very first phase with that agogic accent). Throughout, the piece keeps unfolding implications of a sort of “head over heels” character–one idea moving to the next. (“A” becoming “B” as a German scholar wrote of Beethoven, rather than “A” becoming more perfectly “A” in Mozart.”)


And yes, it does evoke the happiness of spring, which seems, finally, to be here.

Here is a lovely performance by violinist David Oistrakh and pianist Lev Oborin,

There is also a spectacular recording of the complete sonatas by Isabelle Faust & Alexander Melnikov, which they discuss here (perfs not on YouTube) including some interesting comments about the melody in the sonata.

Media Futures and Pasts

Tipped by the American Press Institute‘s lively newsletter, I came across a fascinating portfolio site done by a class at NYU that is researching futures for the NYTimes. Engaging to nose around in (and fronted by an excellent video). Some things that will shock j-school old-timers (“division between advertising and editorial? why still a thing?”), but overall it’s clearly a labor of love, and a well-done one at that.

Future New York Times


Commonplace Book: The Books We Read as Teenagers

More commonplace book entries from the recent LRB (an exceptional issue, even by their high standard).

This bit from Adam Phillips “Against Self-Criticism

"Donquixote". Licensed under Fair use via Wikipedia -
“Don Quixote” by Picasso. Licensed under Fair use via Wikipedia –

The books we read in adolescence often have an extraordinary effect on our lives. They are, among other things, an attempt at regime change. In Freud’s language we could say that we free ourselves of our parents’ ideals for us by using the available culture to make up our own ego-ideals, to evolve a sense of our own affinities beyond the family, to speak a language that is more our own. In the self-fashioning of adolescence, books (or music or films) begin really to take, to acquire a subtle but far-reaching effect that lasts throughout a person’s life. We should, therefore, take seriously Freud’s adolescent passion for Don Quixote, a story about a ‘madman’ – as he is frequently referred to in the book – whose life is eventually entirely formed by his reading, in his case the reading of chivalric romances. He is a man who inhabits, lives in and through, the fictions about knights errant that he has consumed, a fictional character who makes himself out of fictional characters.

Rings true to me that what you do in those years has a resonance that lasts (although the ability to respond with such intensity does fade, on the whole a relief, I’m glad not to be undone by a song or a poem any more.)  My adolescent self was formed by a hodgepodge of often not very great music or books (I was in love with Wilkie Collins’ The Moonstone, which, though fun, is hardly Cervantes) but the idea of fashioning yourself out of those materials does seem part of what that age is about, and perhaps why it’s so unavoidable that you always measure the music (poetry, art…) that you encounter later against the template set by that ardent first discovery.

Phillips goes on to make a remarkable point about what Don Q means in the context of Freud’s theory, with the advice that we might all be a little more easy going and conversational with our super-ego.

Reasonable Words: John Lanchester “Here Come the Robots”

Great piece by John Lanchester in the LRB about the coming era of even greater automation, and its economic implications. Not rosy.

“That is a worrying trend. Imagine an economy in which the 0.1 per cent own the machines, the rest of the 1 per cent manage their operation, and the 99 per cent either do the remaining scraps of unautomatable work, or are unemployed. That is the world implied by developments in productivity and automation. It is Pikettyworld, in which capital is increasingly triumphant over labour. We get a glimpse of it in those quarterly numbers from Apple…”

The whole piece is well worth reading (as are most things by JL, including his great book on the financial meltdown, I.O.U.)

Shortly after reading this, I encountered the not surprising (but still mind-blowing) news that SanDisk has announced a microSD card that has a 200GB capacity.  (Those are the storage cards that go into phones and other devices.)  That’s nearly as big as the computer I’m writing this on (a relatively beefy MacBook Pro), and the equivalent of 25 DVDs, thousands of music files, hundreds of thousands of books, and god knows how many pictures of my cat.

As Lanchester points out, neither increasing storage nor upping processing power has proven to be so difficult. (The limiting factor, as a friend pointed out? plain old batteries…moving the atoms still takes a lot of work.)

A work by artist Sol LeWitt (who provided instructions for the works, which were often executed by others, and dazzlingly so.) This is a photo from Flickr by Marc Feldmann.


The Internet of Goofy Names

There is so much in the news about the “Internet of Things” and its promise and peril. It will, like everything else in our networked world, change everything, except the things it doesn’t. One reliable tech trend that it is here already and showing no sign of going away is the goofy naming of tech services, particularly software companies and their eponymous products.

As I left San Jose last week, a giant conference for Strata/Hadoop, which sounds like something the Sims would order in a coffee shop, “with an extra pump of zim please, and venti,” was getting underway. Hadoop I learned is the way Facebook, Yahoo! and all the rest make happy with our data and it is named after a stuffed animal belonging to the young son of one of the original creators of the software. The original name sake was a rather fetching yellow elephant.

Software names are it turns out intentionally meaningless (and sometimes the fodder for off color jokes). Hadoop has spawned a truly awesome eco-system of cheerfully named nonsense:

HadoopAvro, Squoop, Whirr, Kafka, Oozie, and Flume! Such linguistic wonders evoke those 18th century novels and plays with their colorfully satirical names, or Thomas Pynchon whose fondness for silly names echoes this world and perhaps is informed by his prodigious technical learning.  There is, of course, software just to create a silly name for your company. (Must have some hidden algorithm to get the trendiest double vowel; is any tech name more perfect for sound and sense than “buzz feed”? –it is what it says on the tin, and it’s fun to say!)

None of these is, it seems safe to say,  a “thing” in the sense of tangible item, but I guess as “all that is solid melts into [virtual] air” the names of the programs that will run our Internet of things, and us,  will at least provide a giggle.  Very truly yours, Mahout Yarn Pig.

Musical Words: Lindsay Kemp on the Mozart-Handel Connection

Mozart’s arrangement of Messiah.

Nice piece over on the Gramophone magazine blog about Mozart’s knowledge of Handel. As musicologist Lindsay Kemp points out, knowledge of older musical eras and styles was not as typical of 18th century composers as it became later, but Mozart’s encounter with baroque music was profound.  From the blog piece:

Above all, the realisation of the expressive potential of Baroque music found voice almost immediately in Mozart’s own music, at first in the grandiloquent choruses of the great Mass in C  minor, but also in a four-part fugue, also in C  minor, that he composed for two pianos in 1783, and which five years later he arranged for strings and prefaced with an Adagio much in the style of an overture by Handel (K546). This is no mere exercise in pastiche, but a piece of almost terrifying cumulative power, an acknowledgement of earlier genius that is deeply, almost disturbingly personal.

Here’s a performance of the Adagio and Fugue he mentions:

It may be too facile, but there does seem to be as much that looks ahead to the massive fugues of Beethoven as back to Bach and Handel. Four parts + minor key + 6 minutes + Mozart = more dramatic intensity than most operas or movies for that matter.

Minor Grumbles: “Architects” all about us…

“The 25 best jobs for today!” trumpets some click bait in my social media feeds and email newsletters. Falling for the siren song of the listicle, I found a lot of the expected tech jobs, but also came face to face with just how far the tech world has colonized the once distinctive term “architect.” There are “software architects” (#1 on one list). Networks need “architects” too, and then there is the “security architect,” concerning neither moats nor drawbridges and crenellations, presumably. And my favorite, the “solutions architect.” “Solution” is an approach to some business computing need. It always seemed slightly euphemistic, and a little over eager, “Hi, I’m the cloud-provisioned email services and I’ll be your solution today” it coos with a bright smile. I’m betting it was coined about the time of the advent of that scary yellow smiley.

“Solution” did ‘solve’ a terminology problem at least: what do you call software, hardware, maintenance, training etc. “Package” might have worked, but was too tangible. “Approach” was too vague. In any case “IT solutions” however much an oxymoron have escaped into the wild, kind of like starlings, and now is here to stay. “Software Architect” seems more of problem. I get that networks have an architecture, at least in the metaphorical sense. They do require design and structure, and they are intended to fulfill a ‘program’ in at least a couple of ways. You lay out and design an architecture, and that tells you how to build the infrastructure for the network. But does having architecture really instantiate an architect.?

Maybe it’s Miesonly used figuratively. “Kitchener: Architect of Victory” comes up on Google Scholar with a quick search, and that’s meant as a sort of an upmarket synonym for “planner.” I admit “planner of Victory” would be a pretty feeble squib. The figurative use seems most plausible with some kind of tangible effort, usually of historical significance. Perhaps the first person who makes a completely digital brain deserves the term cogno-neuro-science architect, but figuring out where the routers go or which firewall to buy?

If the ‘architects’ of the virtual are here to stay, and they probably are, then it does raise the question what to call architects of the real? “Architecture architect”? “Building architect”? “IRL architect”? “Architect of atoms (not bits).” “Architect: The Original™–accept no substitute? Now I’m off to be breakfast architect.