by James Bowman
In a poll by Time Out London of “101 industry experts,” David Lean’s Brief Encounter of 1945 has been voted the most romantic film ever — in spite, says Matilda Battersby of The Independent, of its having “no sex and no happy ending.” In fact, the movie’s extreme romanticism — echoing that of Rachmaninoff’s second piano concerto which accompanies so much of it — is more likely because there is no sex or happy ending. The same would be true, more or less, for the first six of the top ten on Time Out’s list (after Brief Encounter they are Casablanca, In the Mood for Love, Annie Hall, Harold and Maude and Brokeback Mountain), in all of which the lovers must part. And even in numbers seven through ten (The Apartment, A Matter of Life and Death, Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind and Punch Drunk Love) at the end of which they are together, the happiness of the united pair is shadowed by doubt or other emotional hangover from those movies’ darker sides. It’s a reminder that most of the greatest of classic romances from the pre-cinematic era — Abelard and Eloise, Tristan and Isolde, Lancelot and Guinevere, Romeo and Juliet — are also tragic.
by Eric Simpson
Earlier this week, I wrote about some uncharacteristically fervid conducting by Fabio Luisi in Siegfried. Well, on Thursday night he doubled down for Götterdämmerung, and with the help of some exceptional vocal performances, delivered a reading that was thrilling, moving, and altogether remarkable.
by Eric Simpson
Mark Delavan and Jay Hunter Morris in Siegfried; Photo: Cory Weaver/Metropolitan Opera
The second of the Met's three complete Ring cycles this season features Swedish Soprano Katarina Dalayman as Brünnhilde, fresh off her success as Kundry in Parsifal. On Monday it was Siegfried, and while the cast as a whole did not give a vocally perfect performance, it was an exciting one for all of the right reasons.
It looks like the folks over at First Things have been keeping up with the most recent issues of the The New Criterion. In Micah Mattix’s latest installment of his weekly series celebrating “Great Lines” of poetry for National Poetry Month, he considers the final lines of Frank O’Hara’s “Poem (Lana Turner has collapsed!)” and reflects broadly on the role of humor in the history of poetry. Drawing on David Yezzi’s piece from our April issue, “The Bitter Fool,” which critiques the lack of satire in contemporary work, Mattix considers satire’s importance in the canon of comedic poetry:
Jacqueline Rose, a professor of English at Queen Mary, University of London, has spent her career studying psychoanalysis and Marcel Proust - all the while penning criticisms of Israel. Rose’s latest book, Proust Among the Nations: From Dreyfus to the Middle East, uses Proust’s great work In Search of Lost Time to launch a self-indulgent condemnation of Israel.
Proust Among the Nations, which the University of Chicago Press published in 2012, has received more attention from British media outlets than American ones. Most of these have been favorable, alarmingly so. The London Review of Books gave the book its stamp of approval. The Guardian called Rose “brilliant.” Of course, The Guardian also reviewed her 2005 book, The Question of Zion, with deference for her comparison of Nazis and Zionists. These reviews lauded Rose for her ability to incorporate so many writers into her brief 256 page mischaracterization of Zionism, and did not challenge the problematic conclusions Rose draws from Proust, Sigmund Freud, Samuel Beckett, and others.
by Eric Simpson
Photo Courtesy The National Endowment for the Humanities
On Thursday, Yale College bid farewell to one of her lions. Donald Kagan, Sterling Professor of Classics and History, sometime Director of Athletics, sometime residential college Master, sometime Yale College Dean, and all-time Yale College great, delivered his final lecture, to a generous audience in Sterling-Sheffield-Strathcona Hall.
For just under an hour he discoursed on not just the merits of liberal education, but also the failings in what passes for it at most modern colleges and universities. Today's liberal arts college, he charged, provides a sort of education most suited to an eighteen-century English gentleman: it teaches students the manners, style, opinions, and prejudices of polite society but does little to prepare them for responsible participation as citizens of a free society.
Fear. Horror. Disgust. For me, that melancholy trinity defines the response to latest act of Islamic terrorism on U.S. soil, the hideous bombings at the Boston Marathon just over a week ago that left 3 dead and more than 260 injured (at least 15 were in critical condition). Let’s start with the horror. Martin Richard, [...]
Over at The Wall Street Journal, The New Criterion’s David Yezzi has a review of poet Christian Wiman’s new book, My Bright Abyss: Meditation of a Modern Believer, a book he praises for its serious consideration of the viability of faith in the modern world and in the face of death. Wiman is a well-known poet and editor of Poetry magazine who, in recent years, was diagnosed with a rare and incurable form of cancer, and the book is his spiritual and literary meditation on Christianity and poetry in light of these events. In the review, David highlights the stark contrast between Wiman’s “weighty account of modern faith” and the airy simplicity of other contemporary accounts of spirituality:
One of the curious, but also most predictable, responses to the Boston Marathon bombings from the Left has been the fervent expression—amount nearly to a prayer—that the perpetrator or perpetrators of this act of mass murder be “home grown,” preferably white, male, Christian, and conservative. Why? Why does the Left prefer to have its terrorism [...]
by Eric Simpson
The Orion String Quartet; Photo: Lois Greenfield
As thematically-constructed programs go, I think the Orion String Quartet's concert at Alice Tully Hall on Tuesday night was among the darker that I've heard lately. That they could stay so long in such heavy emotional territory without growing burdensome was impressive.
They opened powerfully, with Schubert's Quartet No. 13 in A minor (“Rosamunde”). Before I say anything else, I have to note that their intonation was wanting in all four movements, sometimes to the point of distraction. This was really a shame, as they demonstrated musicianship of the very first rate. Their playing was nuanced and sensitive, and their mesh was just exquisite. I prefer the first statement of the Rosamunde theme in the Andante to be simpler than they played it, but that is a matter of taste. This was a lovely treatment, and by no means overdone.
( AHR-mah wih-ROOM-kweh)
In the Aeneid, the Roman poet Virgil sang of "arms and a man" (Arma virumque cano). Month in and month out, The New Criterion expounds with great clarity and wit on the art, culture, and political controversies of our times. With postings of reviews, essays, links, recs, and news, Armavirumque seeks to continue this mission in accordance with the timetable of the digital age.
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