Swans Commentary » swans.com July 30, 2012  



Special Summer Issue: Books, Music, Films


My Offerings For Your Pleasure


by Isidor Saslav



Fundraising Drive: Dear readers, here is a summer special edition on books, music, and films, which was imagined, organized, and put together by Manuel García, Jr. -- with the help and guidance from Swans editors. We hope you enjoy the result and have an enriched and peaceful summer. But keep in mind, to maintain Swans with the quality and dependability you have grown used to over the years we need financial help. Ask yourselves the value of our work, and whether you can find a better edited, more trenchant, and thoughtful Web publication that keeps creativity, sanity, and sound thoughts as first priorities. Please help us. Donate now!



(Swans - July 30, 2012)  




•   Who Killed Homer?: The Demise Of Classical Education And The Recovery Of Greek Wisdom (1998), by Victor Davis Hanson and John Heath (Free Press hardcover, 1998, or Encounter Press paperback, 2001)

The self-destructive anti-Greek Post-Modern activities of the current Classical professorial establishment and their non-teaching of the next generation. Perceptive analyses of the Greek classics by the two authors, Classics professors themselves, alternating with their witty polemical arrows launched at the destroyers of a millennia-old tradition: the Greek basis of Western Society; as pursued by the "professoriat" in the name of multiculturalism. Swans contributors may perhaps sympathize with that aim but this book is the conservative pushback, well worth reading.


•   Slavery By Another Name: The Re-Enslavement Of Black Americans From The Civil War To World War II (2008), by Douglas A. Blackmon (Doubleday Books 2008 or Anchor paperback 2009)

The loophole in the 14th Amendment that enabled the southern white establishment to re-terrorize blacks not only by lynching but by imprisonment on trivial charges and renting out their newly chain-ganged "slaves" to the railroads, mines, and the Bessemer Steel works in the post-Civil War South. As the title indicates, this went on till the end of WWII. A chilling story and probably until now unknown to most Americans.


•   The View From The Oak/The Private Worlds Of Other Creatures (1977), by Judith and Herbert Kohl (Sierra Club Books, Charles Scribner's Sons)

How the human perception of time and of humanity's surroundings differs substantially and remarkably from that of the animals with which we share our planet. A revelatory book.


•   Fumblerules (1990), by William Safire (Doubleday)

Egregious grammatical mistakes and solecisms have never been more wittily exposed and corrected than by this nationally syndicated maven of correct English usage and custom. It's a spirit-lifting book in a field known for its nail-biting perplexity. Each rule-breaking stricture is illustrated by its usage in a negative example, for example, "Don't use no double negatives." Hilarious.


•   Lincoln Unmasked: What You're Not Supposed To Know About Dishonest Abe (2007), by Thomas DiLorenzo (Three Rivers Press)

An anti-hagiographical study par excellence. Lincoln in his own words as white supremacist, in his political ties as a pawn and legal representative of the eastern railroad companies (that's how he got the nomination), by his presidential actions as a suppressor of civil liberties and a jailer of political opponents, plus the true economic roots of the North-South conflict which led to war (hint: it wasn't slavery). What a book!


•   Cosmos, Earth And Man: Short History Of The Universe (1978), by Preston Cloud (Yale University Press)

Geologist, archaeologist, engineer, and anthropologist Preston Cloud takes you from the biggest picture out in space and how it started, down to the minutiae of the evolution and existence of our planet and ourselves, and on to the future of the earth and its surroundings as inhabited by an ever-exploding population. This book will open your mind to an enthralling picture and discussion of our far-flung and much-loved universe.




For many of the composers of the past, we remember only one or a few of their works today. Here are some of these not quite forgotten composers, with suggestions for deeper explorations into their oeuvres.


•   The Music of Adolphe Adam

The French composer Adolphe Adam (1803-1856) is remembered today mostly for three works: "Oh, Holy Night," (1847; and to me the greatest Christmas music ever composed), and two ballets, the ever-popular and often revived Giselle (1844; known as "the Hamlet of ballet"), plus the work that helped launch the world-renowned Russian ballet in the 19th century, Adam's final composition, Le Corsaire (1856). Since ballets should be seen as well as heard, DVDs would be preferred to CDs, but Adam's infectious music can be greatly enjoyed on its own. I like Giselle as danced by Alicia Alonso and Vladimir Vasiliev with the Cuban National Ballet (1980), and issued as VAI DVD Video 4391. Adam also wrote 11 other ballets and 22 operas. To sample one of his romantic operas try Le Postillon de Lonjumeau (1836), sung in German by Robert Swensen, Pamela Coburn, and Peter Lika, with the orchestra of the Southwest German Radio conducted by Klaus Arp, recorded live on October 1, 1992, and issued as CD Capriccio 51-180.


•   The Music of Gaspare Spontini

A composer of dramatic operas, Gaspare Spontini (1774-1851) is known today for La Vestale (1807) and Fernand Cortez (1809), the latter being musical propaganda written in Paris at the height of Napoleon's Spanish campaign. The Spaniards of 1809 were encouraged to unite politically with their French invaders, by the operatic analogy of an Inca princess marrying one of her 16th century Spanish conquerors (a fruitless suggestion, as it turned out). Spontini's final opera, Agnese di Hohenstaufen (composed in 1827 and revised in 1829 and 1837), anticipates, with its dramatic and lyrical intensity and massed choruses, the operas of Meyerbeer and the young Wagner's Rienzi (1840). As with ballets, operas are best enjoyed on DVDs, and with English subtitles. Alternatively, you can follow the action by reading the libretto (the text), which is included with CD recordings of complete operas. I like the following recordings: La Vestale with Maria Callas (soprano) and Franco Corelli (tenor), and with Antonio Votto conducting at La Scala on December 7, 1954, in a CD reissued by Allegro as OPD-1227; Fernand Cortez with Renata Tebaldi (soprano) and Gino Penno (tenor), recorded live at the Teatro San Carlo in Naples on December 15, 1951, and remastered and reissued on CD by the Instituto Discografico Italiano, as IDIS 6441/42; Agnese di Hohenstaufen with Montserrat Caballé, Antonietta Stella and Sesto Bruscantini, with the RIAS Orchestra and Chorus conducted by Ricardo Muti, and recorded live in Rome on April 30, 1970, and issued as Opera d'Oro OPD-1187. Before he left Italy for Paris and Berlin, the 22-year-old Spontini composed his one and only comic opera, Li Puntigli dei Donne (1796). As you listen to this charming and ebullient work you can't quite decide whether you're listening to Mozart's The Marriage of Figaro (1786) or Rossini's The Barber of Seville (1816). Spontini's work sits stylistically midway between the two (though Rossini himself was but four years old that year). This work was recorded for the first time only in 1997. I like Li Puntigli dei Donne with Susanna Anselmi, Gianpiero Ruggeri and Nicola Ulivieri, with the Spontini Classic Orchestra conducted by Alberto Zedda, recorded live in January 1997, and issued as CDS 189/1-2.


•   The Music of Louis Joseph Ferdinand Hérold

Though Hérold (1791-1833) composed 21 operas and 6 ballets, only his overture to Zampa (1831) is heard with any regularity nowadays. It has been performed continuously since it was written, and rightly so, for it is brilliant and engagingly melodic. You can hear this work as well as three of his lesser known works: the overture to Le Pre au Clercs (1832), as well as Symphony No. 1 in C Major (1813), and Symphony No. 2 in D Major (1815), recorded by the Orchestra della Svizzera Italiana conducted by Wolf-Dieter Hauschild, on Dynamic CD DM8028.


•   The Music of Daniel François Esprit Auber

To French composer Daniel Auber (1782-1871) belongs the unique honor in music history of having composed an opera that initiated a political revolution. When the conspirators who were inside the opera house at the 1831 Brussels premiere of Auber's La Muette di Portici ("The Mute of Portici," also known as "Masaniello") saw the curtain descend for the last time, they rushed into the streets of Brussels, occupied all the important buildings, overthrew the previously reigning Dutch, and established the modern state of Belgium. The plot of the opera was itself about revolution, and this no doubt inspired the revolutionaries to an even greater degree of enthusiasm and excitement. The leading female role was, as its name implies, a non-singing part that is presented by a ballet dancer, a revolutionary concept in itself. I like La Muette de Portici/Masaniello with Alfredo Kraus, June Anderson, and John Aler, with the Orchestre Philharmonique de Monte Carlo conducted by Thomas Fulton (the original recording has been reissued on CD).


•   The Music of Arthur Foote

About the only music of Bostonian composer Arthur Foote (1853-1937) that is heard in today's repertoire is his lovely Suite for Strings in E Major, Op. 63 (1907). To hear this favorite, along with a selection of his other works, I recommend this eclectic recording with the Seattle Symphony Orchestra conducted by Gerhard Schwarz, Francesca da Rimini, Op. 24; Serenade, Op. 25; The Rubaiyat of Omar Khayyam, Op. 48, a Naxos American Classics CD, #8.559365.


•   The Music of Josef Woelfl

Woelfl (1773-1812) was a pianist and composer who is remembered for his piano duel with Beethoven in Vienna in 1798 (it ended in a draw). None of his works are known to audiences today. But, some of his piano sonatas and symphonies have finally been recorded, and they show a marked tendency to sound like Haydn, Mozart, and Beethoven himself. I like Woelfl's Piano Sonatas Op. 25 and Op. 33, Nos. 1-3, as performed by Jon Nakamatsu on Harmonia Mundi CD HMU-907324. The world premiere recordings of Woelfl's Symphony No. 1 in G Minor, Op. 40 (1803) and Symphony No. 2 in C Major, Op. 41 (before 1808) were performed by the Pratum Integrum Orchestra with artistic director Anatolyi Vasiliev, and issued as Caro Mitis CD CM 0022005 (which includes the Grand Duo For Cello And Piano in D Minor, Op. 31).




•   Groundhog Day (1993), by Harold Ramis, with Bill Murray

This movie portrays a man condemned to live the same day over and over until he gets it right, like the Flying Dutchman endlessly sailing the seas.


•   Broken Flowers (2005), by Jim Jarmusch, with Bill Murray

This film is a Lolita type satire of travels through American culture, and another demonstration of the brilliant acting of Bill Murray.


•   Devil's Doorway (1950), by Anthony Mann, with Robert Taylor

Taylor portrays a Native American and Civil War hero who is robbed of his postwar acreage out west by greedy, white land-grabbers. This is a classic noir western.


•   Death of a Gunfighter (1969), by Don Siegel and Robert Totten, with: Richard Widmark, Lena Horne

Widmark portrays an honorable sheriff outdone and assassinated by the corrupt power structure of his town. It's High Noon in reverse, and like Devil's Doorway a chilling, under-recognized film.


•   Renaissance Man (1994), by Penny Marshall, with Danny DeVito

DeVito portrays a tutor forced to expose a camp full of ignorant army recruits to the Shakespeare plays, and successfully guides them to experience the transformative power of the fine arts; an inspiring and wonderful movie.


•   What's Eating Gilbert Grape (1993), by Lasse Hallstroem, with Leonardo DiCaprio

The 18-year-old Leonardo DiCaprio superbly portrays an 18-year-old mentally challenged brother in a dysfunctional family headed by a 500-pound mother. It could well be his greatest movie performance. Woefully under-recognized as a great film by the critics, but praised by many fan commentators on the Internet who love it as I do.


Under the "nom de screen" Shawfan, I have submitted over 40 reviews of movies to the Internet Movie Database. You can find them at:


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Published July 30, 2012