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Listening Alone by Stephen Klugewicz

Listening Alone


Wanderer above the Sea of Fog by Caspar David Friedrich

by Stephen Klugewicz

I am never merry when I hear sweet music.—Jessica in The Merchant of Venice, Act V, Scene I

Since the triumph of rock n’ roll in the 1960s, the lover of classical music has increasingly found himself a loner in most social circles, his great passion appreciated by an ever-shrinking number of people. This is true even among the educated class; one erudite and quite brilliant man I know who can converse on a wide breadth of topics confessed to me once that he was unable to talk about music, lacking the grammar with which to do so. As Allan Bloom noted in 1987, “classical music is now a special taste, like Greek language or pre-Columbian archaeology, not a common culture of reciprocal communication and psychological shorthand.”

We who love fine music sometimes find ourselves desperately seeking out soul mates when, say, attending a party or academic conference where there are many new faces. In such situations, however, the aficionado is often disappointed by this most frustrating of exchanges, which is all too common:

Aficionado: “I am a big fan of classical music.”

New acquaintance: “Oh, me too!”

Aficionado: (eagerly, getting his hopes up) “Really?”

New acquaintance: “Yes, it’s so relaxing.”

The aficionado is crestfallen. Such a response is worse than the new acquaintance simply expressing his total ignorance of serious music, for the reply equates the greatest, soul-searing pieces of music with modern muzak, or that dreadful stuff played during Yoga sessions.

“Relaxing?” The classical music lover is tempted ask. “Have you ever soared to the heavens during the final movement of Beethoven’s Fifth Symphony? Have you ever cowered in terror before the dreadful opening march of Mahler’s Sixth? Have you ever wept at the desolation of the finale of Tchaikovsky’s Pathétique symphony? Have you ever begged the Almighty for mercy during the Kyrie of Mozart’s Great Mass? Relaxing? I think not!” Continue reading

Five More Movies That Every Conservative Should See by Stephen M. Klugewicz

Five More Movies That Every Conservative Should See

lets-go-to-the-movies-sign-in-sepia-carol-groenenby Stephen M. Klugewicz

This is—appropriately for a piece about film—a sort of sequel to my previous piece for The Imaginative Conservative, “Eight Movies That Every Conservative Should See.” As I explained in my preface to that article, these are not “conservative movies,” as I am not sure what a “conservative” movie is. Such a notion has a whiff of the propagandistic, as if the films in question were intended merely as didactic pieces, meant to convey some cheap political viewpoint. The movies listed below, rather, are humane works, which all people, without regard to philosophical leanings, ought to see. They do, however, illustrate certain truths about the nature of man, the nature of the relationship between man and his fellows, and the nature of man’s relationship with God, all of which one must acknowledge if one can be called a conservative. The films are listed in alphabetical order.

The Browning

Albert Finney in The Browning Version

1.     The Browning Version (1994)

Andrew Crocker-Harris (Albert Finney) is an aging teacher of classics at an English boarding school for boys. His life is falling part, as he is being forced into retirement while at the same time dealing with the knowledge that his wife (Greta Scacchi) is having an affair with a young American teacher (Matthew Modine) at the school. A stern, humorless instructor, Crocker-Harris is unpopular with the boys, who nickname him the “Hitler of the Lower Fifth.” The one exception is a boy named Taplow (Ben Silverstone), who surprises Crocker-Harris with a gift—the Robert Browning translation of Aeschylus’ Agamemnon, which Crocker-Harris has been teaching his class. Taplow has inscribed the book with a quotation from the play: “God from afar looks graciously upon a gentle master.”

This act of kindness by the boy is an emotional watershed for Crocker-Harris, who decides that he has failed in his vocation as a teacher. In the dramatic conclusion, Crocker-Harris makes a public confession to the entire student body and faculty of the school: “I am sorry because I have failed to give you what it is your right to demand of me as a teacher: sympathy, encouragement, humanity. I have degraded the noblest calling that a man can follow: the care and molding of the young.”

Whether Crocker-Harris is too hard on himself is for the viewer to decide. Conservative viewers will relish his character’s commitment to teach classical literature and languages to his charges in the face of the headmaster’s desire to “modernize” the school’s curriculum in favor of more “relevant” modern languages.

“It’s for you, sir.”: Continue reading

The Top Ten Greatest Operas by Stephen M. Klugewicz

The Top Ten Greatest Operas

by Stephen M. Klugewicz

greatest operas

Don Giovanni

The human voice is God’s most beautiful instrument, and the blending of voices and musical instruments within the context of a dramatic visual presentation is the zenith of human artistic achievement. This is the glory of opera. Below is a list of the ten greatest operas ever composed, in order of greatness, in the estimation of the present author. Spirited disagreement is expected and welcomed.

1. W.A. Mozart: Don Giovanni

Kierkegaard called it the greatest work of art ever created by man.  At a time when opera was eitherbuffa or seria, Mozart and his librettist Lorenzo da Ponte created what they called a dramma giocoso (“jocular drama”), and Mozart’s masterpiece wonderfully blends the serious, even the frightening, with the humorous. The story centers on the eponymous aristocrat whose obsession in life is bedding as many women as possible by whatever means necessary, whether persuasion or force. As always, Mozart is fascinated by human relationships, and though much has been made of the tension between the Don and his servant Leporello, Mozart sees class not as determinative of human interaction but as a lens through which the nature of man can be better understood. The opera has sparked debate since its premier. The Romantics, who did not like old-fashioned moralizing, often cut the opera’s final sextet, in which the surviving characters make sense of the Don’s downfall: “Thus it is to evildoers.” And though Mozart was surely committed to having the lascivious Don get his comeuppance at the end of the opera, there is little doubt that the composer could not help but admire the prowess of Giovanni, who runs circles around the opera’s other characters and who is only defeated by an act of supernatural revenge.

Watch the legendary Cecilia Bartoli play Donna Elvira, one in a long line of women wronged by the merciless Giovanni, as she sings about cutting out the heart of the reprobate:http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nV8xs0_F3W Continue reading

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