Of Cabbages and Kings


So much has passed through my mind this morning
That I can give you but a dim account of it
—John Ashbery, The Skaters

These lines from John Ashbery’s The Skaters are among my favorites, for good reason. I keep thinking to write about something among my several ongoing projects, when next I know, I’m on to something else. So, I’m afraid, this is a bit of a miscellany, likely of no interest to anyone but me, but an attempt, at least, to record some of the “dim account” before even that is lost.

Berlin Philharmonic Digital Concert Hall

I bought a one-month ticket (19.90EU/~$21.50) to the Berlin Philharmonic Digital Concert Hall. (There are also 7-day tickets for 9.90EU.) The performances and camera work are top drawer, and the interface works brilliantly without the buffering that plagues so many of my attempts to stream on the “big screen.” (If you think I know what I’m talking about, let me disabuse you, but at least I’ve got enough figured out to do this.) What a pleasure it is, particularly when live concerts aren’t within reach, to be able to bring concerts of this caliber into one’s own living room.

What prompted this, and my first priority, was to watch the 2013 premiere of Hans Abrahamsen’s Grawemeyer Award-winning “let me tell you,” with the spectacular soprano (also a conductor) Barbara Hannigan, for whom the piece was written. With a ticket, you can listen to it here, and the DCH offers a discussion with Hannigan, Abrahamsen, and Paul Griffiths, the librettist, for free at the same link.

In addition to the Abrahamsen piece, I’ve so far watched the Peter Sellars’ semi-stagings of Debussy’s Pelléas et Mélisande and Bach’s St. John Passion. The St. Matthew Passion is yet to come, along with a loooong list of other concerts flagged to take in at some point. All can be watched, with a ticket, at the indicated links, and you can listen to Sellars talk about the Debussy at this link for free. The vast archive is free for viewing here.

Ashbery Online Discussion Group

The lovely, gracious, smart, and generous Mandana is curating for a second year, on the ModPo site, discussions on a smartly-chosen selection of Ashbery poems. If you enrolled in ModPo 2015 and are interested in Ashbery or think you might be, I commend it highly. The discussions are lively and wide-ranging, to say the least.

Great Composers Appreciation Society

GCAS continues on with exhilarating explorations of music. (My CD collection has expanded exponentially as a result.) Last month, the topic was “Composers & Painters.”  This month, Bert Carter is guest curating while our helmsman, Brian Long, is on the road. The listening selections are drawn from early French theater and chamber music as the starting point, and we are likely to have a look at uses of French forms in later works, as well.

Henry IV

Preparatory to spending quality time this spring with the Henry IV, I’m reading the relevant Arden Shakespeare editions and also reading up on the “back-story” of kings (and the occasional queen). Now, mind you, kings and queens are not my normal stomping ground. I was, after all, there way back then as controversy raged on college campuses over “top down” vs. “bottom up” history. Our hero was of course Howard Zinn, and, in keeping, our “bottom up” food consisted of baloney (double entendre intended) sandwiches with mayo on Wonder Bread.


I’m grateful to galleries like the 12 Star Gallery, artists, and art museums with an online presence for keeping me in the visual art loop until my next chance to get to galleries and museums in New York. I want particularly to note Sarah Faragher, who has embarked on a series of “Paintings I Love” posts on Facebook,  and Rebecca Allen, a terrific artist who has also flagged a host of paintings by other artists, both of which give visual pleasure every day.

So, here’s the thing: if you don’t “see” me in blog land for a while, this is why.

My friend devises the cabbage horoscope
that points daily to sufficiency. . . .

That, at least, is my hope.
—John Ashbery, Musica Reservata

Listening List

The text for, and a bit of back story about, Ja Nus Hon Pris is here. The text for let me tell you is here (see the first pages of score). As to the latter, I was underwhelmed by the text on its own. Turns out, however, that the words are those Shakespeare gave to Ophelia, so what looks bland on the surface roils with subterranean meaning waiting to be tapped. Abrahamsen and Hannigan do so with complete mastery.

On Spotify

Ja Nus Hon Pris, attributed to Richard the Lionheart (1157-1199) (2 versions)

Sumer is icumen in, attributed to W. de Wycombe (late 13th C) (3 versions)

Francesco Bartolomeo Conti (1681 – 1732), ‘Quando veggo un’usignolo’

Jean-Philippe Rameau, Selections from Pièces de Clavessin (1724), Suite in D major (Grigory Sokolov, pianist)

Henri Dutilleux, timbres, espace, mouvement (1978)

Hans Abrahamsen, let me tell you (2013)

On YouTube

Ja Nus Hon Pris

Sumer is icumen in


Conti (1681 – 1732), ‘Quando veggo un’usignolo’

Rameau, Les Tendres Plaintes, from the Suite in D Major (Grigory Sokolov, pianist)

Dutilleux, timbres, espace, mouvement (1st mvmt)

Abrahamsen, let me tell you (excerpt)  (Berlin Phil/Hannigan)


Credits: The source for the image at the head of the post may be found here. The source for each quotation in the text may be found at the indicated link.

13 thoughts on “Of Cabbages and Kings

  1. shoreacres

    All things considered, I wouldn’t have been surprised to see you pairing Sumer is icumen in with Ezra Pound’s Ancient Music. I’m sure many along the East Coast would be happy to sing along with Pound just now, although the older song’s more to my taste.

    Speaking of taste: while I haven’t a clue who Zinn is, or what “bottom up” food might be, I still have a fondness for fried baloney on white — with mayo, of course. It was a childhood favorite, and almost on a par with grilled cheese. I remember it as a Saturday lunch staple.

    Your mention of Ashbery brings to mind this piece I wanted to share with you. It made sense to me, and was helpful in sorting out my own responses to, for example, the poems of “Breezeway,” and the discussion surrounding them.

    1. Susan Scheid Post author

      shoreacres: Ah, if only I’d known. In recompense, here t’is:

      Winter is icumen in,
      Lhude sing Goddamm,
      Raineth drop and staineth slop,
      And how the wind doth ramm!
      Sing: Goddamm.
      Skiddeth bus and sloppeth us,
      An ague hath my ham.
      Damm you; Sing: Goddamm.
      Goddamm, Goddamm, ’tis why I am, Goddamm,
      So ‘gainst the winter’s balm.
      Sing goddamm, damm, sing goddamm,
      Sing goddamm, sing goddamm, DAMM.

      Re the big snow, interestingly enough, this round passed us by, a few flakes and that was all. I attribute this to installation of heat tape on the roof, something I’ve been trying to accomplish for months and only succeeded in doing on Friday. (Until last year, I’d never heard the terms “ice dam” or “heat tape.” Live and learn.)

      Fried baloney. Now that is new to me. Thanks, too, for the article you linked. The oral/aural vs. type-written poems observation is an interesting one, for sure. I see a lot of poems on the page in which it seems to me that the poem is sort of artificially induced by inserting arbitrary line breaks, and really is just a prose sentence in disguise. I don’t find that to be the case with the famous WCW poem, as I think the visual representation does bring an extra dimension to the poem. Ashbery is a different case, I’d say. The reasons I like his work so much probably vary pretty markedly from what an academic sees. I’m sure I’ve said this before, but what he does for me, most of all, is positively to prevent my mind from proceeding with its feeble attempts at analysis and set it free to associate away . . . oh, the places you’ll go (though not always). Interestingly enough, the only way I was able to get all the way through The Skaters was to read it aloud. I can’t explain that, and I don’t know what significance it has. It’s just what happened.

  2. mandana

    You are so insightful, Susan; I am always learning from what you have to say, and how you say it. I’m sorry we won’t be doing a full-on analysis of “The Skaters” because you especially have so much to offer with respect to that masterwork, but I *am* looking forward to the challenges of “Clepsydra,” which I’ve yet to discuss in a group setting.

    1. Susan Scheid Post author

      Mandana! How nice of you to come by. I’m so enjoying our discussion group, and as you can see, can’t thank you enough for bringing us all together. It will definitely be interesting to try Clepsydra and see where we go.

    1. Susan Scheid Post author

      larrymuffin: So pleased you enjoyed the music. The Jaroussky-Cencic piece, which Bert posted on GCAS, was my introduction to both of them. I just love that piece, and indeed the whole album. How lucky that you saw Jaroussky sing live.

      1. larrymuffin

        and not to make you jealous, after the concert we ended up in the same restaurant, he sitting just at the next table. We thanked him for a beautiful concert. Rare that you get to see an artist so up close.

  3. David N

    Very rarely, you’ve hit on a lot of my betes noires here. Barbara Hannigan gets away with a lot because she’s so good at new music, but the voice doesn’t hold up well under usual circumstances – and I’ve heard a couple of nightmare stories from players about her conducting (which is a great pity because we need more…so far Susanna Malkki is a rather lonely standout of the women conductors I’ve experienced).

    Nevertheless – and this time not at all rarely – you’ve covered so much ground that there’s something for everyone here.

    1. Susan Scheid Post author

      David: You’re ever the diplomat, but I don’t know how rare it is, actually, based on recent exchanges. If (and I agree) Hannigan is “so good at new music,” that suggests to me that she’s not “getting away with” anything, but rather is bringing something quite substantial to the table. I also doubt very much Abrahamsen’s piece would have come to pass without her, and that would have been a shame.

  4. Brigitta “Britta” Huegel

    Dear Sue, an acquaitance in Berlin asked my to come to the Sony Center here – to listen to a Live-film-show of a concert in the MET! Now – these are possibilities – we are now offered also film-live-events from the Bolshoi Ballet – thus I cannot understand people being angry with the new technique.
    As to “many thoughts” flitting through the brain: I am so with you! And yesterday it happened, that my intention – going to an exhibition “The Roaring Twenties of Berlin” was after another event totally forgotten by me – I was a bit shocked… well: as I am free I will go today – now.

    1. Susan Scheid Post author

      Britta: Have you taken your friend up on the invitation, and, if so, what will you see? I’ve gone a couple times to the Met-on-film performances (get this, Gotterdammerung and The Nose, both of which I also was able to see “live”). They were both terrific. For those of us who are out of reach of live events a good bit of the time, this is a godsend. The Roaring Twenties of Berlin sounds fantastic. I hope you will report in!

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