Fall and All

Late September, Buttercup Farm

Late September, Buttercup Farm

The blackbird whirled in the autumn winds.
It was a small part of the pantomime.

—Wallace Stevens (from Thirteen Ways of Looking at a Blackbird)

Stevens was a master of autumn. (Spring, he didn’t like so much, it seems.) Last year, in my Autumn Thoughts post, I quoted from Stevens’s An Ordinary Evening in New Haven. This year, ModPo is again in session, and the “leaves in whirlings” passage from An Ordinary Evening came to mind as I thought about Thirteen Ways of Looking at a Blackbird, the Stevens poem discussed in the course.

Autumn . . . all wind and whirling leaves and the one whirling blackbird, the whole of it communicating by signals and signs, by pantomime.

 —from The Compleat Prufrockian Impressions (Ways of Looking at Thirteen Ways of Looking at a Blackbird)

This time around, I’ve encountered a bit of a problem keeping up, even with my intention of auditing ModPo selectively. Not only did I undertake a “self-study” of the Shostakovich symphonies, but I enrolled in two other online courses: pianist Jonathan Biss’s Exploring the Beethoven Piano Sonatas (just about to end), and From the Repertoire: Western Music History Through Performance (recently begun; we shall see . . .). The listening list in part reflects these preoccupations.

The slideshow is of photographs taken on walks at Buttercup Farm, Innisfree Garden, and Montgomery Place in the mid-Hudson Valley in September, as the first glimmers of autumn began to appear. Now, it’s October. Fall here is coming into its full glory, and I must confess that sitting in front of a computer, no matter how engaging the subject matter, begins to lose its appeal . . .

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Listening List

On Spotify:  Eve Beglarian’s Falling, Shostakovich’s Fourth String Quartet, Beethoven’s String Quartet, Op. 131, and Jonathan Biss performing Beethoven’s Piano Sonata, Op. 109.

On YouTube and SoundCloud:

The Guidonian Hand plays Eve Beglarian’s In and Out of the Game.

I wondered how this trombone quartet got its name; From the Repertoire filled in the blank.

Leaves are falling steadily now, and acorns are banging on the roof. As protection against falling objects, Jeremy Podgursky offers a spell:

As A Spell, Against Falling Objects (or How I Learned to Love Gravity) 

Shostakovich and Beethoven are represented by string quartets about which a classmate in Exploring the Beethoven Piano Sonatas noted a kinship between Beethoven Op. 131’s first movement and the Andantino in Shostakovich’s Fourth Quartet.

From Beethoven’s Op. 131, the First Movement

From Shostakovich’s Fourth Quartet, the Andantino

Biss eloquently communicated his understanding of and passion for Beethoven throughout the Beethoven Sonatas course. The final words and music go to him, with grateful thanks.

From the closing lecture in the course (my transcription from the video lecture):

The reason we come back to great music again and again as players or as listeners is that you can barely ever scratch its surface. That is truer than ever in the case of late Beethoven with its vision of the infinite. I have played Opus 109 for something like seventeen years now, and I feel that I have come only marginally closer to it with time. But there is more sense of fulfillment in inching towards this music than there is in playing just about anything else.

Biss playing the Adagio molto from Piano Sonata No. 5, Op. 10


Credits: The sources quoted are as indicated in the text.

Turtles at Innisfree Garden, listening to music on the listening list

Turtles at Innisfree Garden, listening to music on the listening list

17 thoughts on “Fall and All

  1. hilarymb

    Hi Susan .. so much here – and one day I hope to listen to your recommendations .. it is wonderful to know you are studying a variety of musicians through experts …

    However I love your take on Autumn – and those photos are gorgeous … our Arctic air is about to hit – today is the day for the south to share the blast.

    Your site is a wonderful resource … enjoy your autumnal walks .. and acorns bouncing from the roof – yes I’ve some very full ones ready to burst from their holding cup on the tree … Hilary

  2. David N

    Exquisite one and all. Such lushness, such mosses and lichen. And a bobcat! You and wanderer with his eucalypti make me pine for natural otherness. Well, I shall have to make do with a mycological guided tour of Kew tomorrow – and revisit Fulufjallet Over There.

    And thanks, Hilary, for warning me about the impending Arctic blast. 16 degrees at the moment, and no sign of leaf colour here. Maybe that nip should do it.

    1. Susan Scheid Post author

      David: Ah, making good on your further pursuit of things fungi with a mycological guided tour of Kew! We have a neighbor here who is a mycologist and has visited us with proffers of many delicious mushrooms. He is a delightful guy and a font of knowledge. Perhaps you’ll get a chance to meet someday, who knows? He takes the Culinary Institute students out on mushroom walks, and last year, I think it was, gave the annual John Cage lecture on the topic.

      It was quite the thing seeing that bobcat. It was very far ahead of me (the photo is hugely cropped), and at first I thought it was somebody’s dog, but its way of walking didn’t fit, and I saw no owner around. That was a first for me–I didn’t even know they could be found here, but apparently it’s not so uncommon.

  3. T.

    I loved that piece by The Guidonian Hand! It was mesmerising. I read the description on the YouTube page, it said that “In and Out of the Game” was inspired by the composer’s trip down the Mississippi River. It sounded just like that, Like a dream almost, and I could feel the water.

    I really wanted to take the Beethoven class but I knew that I had to be more present for that. I hope they will offer it again in the future. I think I’ve already told you this before—I am really enjoying your ‘self-study’ on Shostakovich. They are lovely, nuanced posts that make my life richer.


    1. Susan Scheid Post author

      T.: So glad you enjoyed the Beglarian/Guidonian Hand piece, and your description fits it just right, I think. And good spotting on the piece as part of Beglarian’s River Project. She spent 3 months traveling the whole length of the Mississippi River gathering songs, stories, and history and wrote a series of compositions of which this is one. (There’s a wonderful back-story to the piece, which is part of this wonderful interview: http://www.studio360.org/story/184626-eve-beglarians-huck-finn-adventure/.)

      And last not least, I’m so pleased you’re enjoying the Shostakovich project–and that you even have time to peek in, as you are this year a Community TA in ModPo. It’s so great that you are doing that!

      1. T.

        Thanks for the link. I enjoyed reading that. It tickled me when Huck Finn was mentioned, as that was what I thought of when I saw ‘Mississipi River’. (It’s one of my favourite books when I was a child.)

        Re: your Shostakovich project, yes I like it immensely, and am wondering if you’re going to do another after that haha. You have also inspired me to think of self-study projects of my own.

        Loved seeing you around the forums in ModPo!


        1. Susan Scheid Post author

          T.: I thought you might enjoy the “back-story” on the River Project. Glad you had time to take a look. As for another project after Shostakovich, well, let’s see if I can finish this one, first! It’s been wonderful to do, though, and I look forward to getting back to it before too long.

  4. newleafsite

    Susan, it began, for me, with a post over David Nice’s way (in “Parsifal all autumn, Fidelio anew”), where he describes this stage direction: “a string quartet descends in cages to play the slow movement from Beethoven’s Op. 132 Quartet – shorn of the bouncy bits.” I was compelled to go and listen to the Beethoven that would sound so heaven-sent, and then share it on Facebook .. whereupon, you expanded the subject, as you have here, with the comparison between the first movement of Beethoven’s Op. 131 string quartet and “any slow movement of a Shostakovich string quartet (say the Andantino from the fourth quartet).” Prompted by your comment, I have already listened a number of times to this Shostakovich and that – and now this – Beethoven quartet. The voice, whether or not one hears it echoing (and I believe I do), is transcendent. I’m glad for the introduction to Jonathan Biss: his devotion to Beethoven’s sonatas makes him an interpreter to investigate. So, from David, to you, and through you to Biss, it’s an unexpected and interesting journey into Beethoven. Now you have piqued our interest in your own exploration of Beethoven. And it’s only just beginning autumn – it seems as if this could carry us well into winter. — Elizabeth

    1. Susan Scheid Post author

      Elizabeth: I love the way you’ve put together this wonderful path from one thing to the next, and that it started with the string quartet in the cage from David’s Parsifal post is best of all. After the fall color fades, I’m looking forward to getting back Shostakovich. For one, I’ve finally got in some things I’ve been waiting for since August or thereabouts. But who needs me for Beethoven when there’s Jonathan Biss? While the course is just ending, he’s written a “Kindle Book Single” about performing the Beethoven sonatas here: http://www.amazon.com/Beethovens-Shadow-Kindle-Single-Jonathan-ebook/dp/B006MHF95G, and the reception to his course was so positive that I can’t imagine he won’t do another. Do you know, at the end of the course, he was so delighted at the response that he gave us all a download from his upcoming CD? That was a really nice touch.

      It was fun to put this post together, perhaps most of all the musical selections. With the acorns banging down on my roof, I was particularly thankful to have Jeremy Podgursky’s spell on hand!

  5. shoreacres

    Your entry here’s a lovely expression of autumn’s great truth: “fall” is both a noun and a verb, a season and the actions that come with it. Falling leaves, falling acorns, the “falling chords” so famously memorialized in Cohen’s “Hallelujah” – all presage the fallow season still to come. Spring-the-season springs forth, of course, and combines what is with what will be, beautifully. But I prefer autumn, myself, and always have.

    Your photos are exquisite, and I especially enjoyed listening to the “spell”. I confess to missing my squirrel. Were he still around, I’d be out collecting lovely, fresh acorns to freeze for the winter ahead.

    1. Susan Scheid Post author

      shoreacres: Fall is certainly the most beautiful season around here, and we’re having a glorious one so far (knocking all available wood!). So glad you enjoyed the “spell.” It’s just the right piece of music at certain times, I think. I remember your squirrel, and I’m not surprised you’re missing him about now.

  6. wanderer

    Despite a few revisits I still haven’t managed to delve into the music at depth and so as to not delay any more, tarry longer not, etc etc, must say that the photos are delicious, turtles and all. As far as I remember, colour change in leaves – fall – is driven by the changing balance of day/night as day length shortens and not related to temperature, although the two usually run in parallel of course.

    1. Susan Scheid Post author

      wanderer: what you say about what drives fall sounds right, though I also remember something about frost as relevant, too. So glad you enjoyed the photos. It’s been a beautiful fall so far here.

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