Early zoology courtesy of The Aberdeen Bestiary (1100s, England), University of Aberdeen Library; accession number: MS 24. Special Collections Centre, Bedford Road, Aberdeen, Scotland, United Kingdom.
There is an animal called the beaver, which is extremely gentle; its testicles are highly suitable for medicine. Physiologus says of it that, when it knows that a hunter is pursuing it, it bites off its testicles and throws them in the hunter's face and, taking flight, escapes. But if, once again, another hunter is in pursuit, the beaver rears up and displays its sexual organs. When the hunter sees that it lacks testicles, he leaves it alone. Thus every man who heeds God's commandment and wishes to live chastely should cut off all his vices and shameless acts, and cast them from him into the face of the devil.
(This was written on February 28th before the news broke that Classics Declassified will be discontinued. I hope they make past Declassified lectures...declassified. It would be great if they were accessible online.)
I've been attending American Symphony Orchestra (ASO) concerts for several years. I especially enjoy attending the Classics Declassified series. Each concert of the series features an informative and entertaining lecture by the ASO's Music Director and Principal Conductor, Leon Botstein, concerning a famous composition that the orchestra then performs after a short post-lecture intermission. Botstein frequently calls upon the ASO's musicians to help him illustrate his points during the lecture, having them perform brief segments from the featured composition or other works.
As is evident in each lecture, Botstein, who is also longtime President of Bard College in Annandale-On-Hudson, New York, is erudite and possess an excellent dry wit.
One thing I've noticed over the years while attending the Declassified concerts, which are afternoon weekend performances and have an informal air compared to regular ASO concerts, is sartorial—and thus rather ridiculous, I admit. Botstein, who is partial to bow ties, sometimes wears a high-buttoned, unstructured black jacket with a shirt-like collar. Now, there are many worthy things to focus on regarding a Botstein lecture, and I've enjoyed discussing them with fellow subscribers during dinner after the concerts. But, I'll dare to delve into the trivial: What's the story with that jacket and where can I get one?
It's unfortunate that Botstein's Declassified lectures are not available online. The lectures would be excellent teaching tools for furthering music appreciation. But, I suspect there are contractual and legal constraints.
Botstein's lectures always place the featured composition in a larger musical context.
For example, in one lecture about Schumann, he discussed the War of the Romantics, which was a mid-1800s feud regarding the aesthetics of music. On one side were those aligned with Robert Schumann and Johannes Brahms who preferred conservative forms of music and, as I understand it, looked to Beethoven as the fount of inspiration and source from which music should evolve. On the other side were those aligned with Franz Liszt and Richard Wagner who preferred new musical forms and looked to Beethoven and his symphonic ancestors as geniuses, of course, but also as exerting an influence to break away from so that music could go in more modern directions.
Here is a short video clip of Botstein talking about Beethoven's 5th Symphony, "a castle of four notes"; "it never wears out its welcome.... whatever tempo you take it, you can't kill it". In Beethoven's 5th, the symphony as a musical form becomes a dramatic essay.
Botstein's lectures also often touch on the composer's personal life and how it may or may not have affected, indirectly or directly, the composer's music. For instance: the question of how Brahms's music was influenced by his relationship with Robert Schumann's wife, Clara (who, it should be noted, was a musical child prodigy, pianist, and composer herself).
The Classics Declassified series is also one of the best deals in town. Only $25 a ticket if you subscribe to the series.
If you ever get a chance to attend a Classics Declassified lecture, I highly recommend it.
And keep your eye open for that jacket.
ASO on Twitter: @asorch
A new Web site: Leon Botstein Music Room
Lower image: Brahms and Wagner.
Depression – here I use the term in a strictly technical sense – is something very different from sadness; it’s a terrible condition which is always linked to the idea of a final conviction, issued continuously on every moment of one’s life. And here we run immediately into language problems. Far more understandable are the pains of bereavement, poverty, hunger and unemployment. Although depression itself may result from each of these elements, it’s the idea itself that seems to have something wrong. The commodification of the word ‘depressed’ has really destroyed most of its medical semantic value. - Giorgio Fontana, Berfrois.com
Image: John Constable, The Sea near Brighton, 1826. (Click to enlarge.)
On Berfrois's Facebook page, the above by Giorgio Fontana is beautifully accompanied by the Constable painting seen here.
Fontana is correct, depression is not sadness. It's not quiet, either. It's a distracting mental static that at best is mercilessly stupefying, like the sound and motion of waves that are slightly too big to be gently lulling or mesmerizing in effect. quite crashing, but they don't crash like stormy seas, either. Collectively, they are a seemingly inescapable ocean, always ominous, sometimes slightly so, sometimes dreadfully so with occasional swells and fits. A gray sea without sight of land. It is not "feeling a little blue," it is not "having a bad day," and when one is in its shore-less midst ones mood can pitch back and forth at times between desperation and lassitude.
In 1974, Gary Gygax (1938–2008) and Dave Arneson (1947–2009), both influenced by tabletop wargames and fantasy fiction, created Dungeons & Dragons (D&D). In 1977, the Dungeons & Dragon's Basic Set was published by the company Gygax and Arneson co-founded, TSR, Inc., and Gygax next wrote the more complex three-book Advanced Dungeons & Dragons.
The game, under the simple title Dungeons & Dragons, is the epitome of tabletop role-playing games. Its fifth edition debuts in summer 2014 as a product of Wizards of the Coast (WofC), a Hasbro subsidiary based in Seattle.
Tabletop wargames, a major influence on Gygax and Arneson, descend from chess but are less abstract. They are strategy games that first became popular in the 1950s in the U.S. through the Avalon Hill gaming company.** Before that time, wargames existed as instructional tools for military officers--for instance Kriegsspiel (1812) used by the Prussian army--however, popular wargamming arguably descends more directly from the game H.G. Wells created in his 1913 book Little Wars. The book transforms typical improvisational play with toy soldiers into a parlour game version based on codified rules.*** (Read Little Wars at the Gutenberg Project website.)
Both tabletop wargames and RPGs use dice and probability. In wargames, dice and chance tend to stand in for battlefield or strategic conditions generally termed "friction," which are not encapsulated by the rules, e.g., weather conditions, the "fog of war" (Nebel des Krieges, a concept identified by Prussian general Carl von Clausewitz (1780–1831), troop morale, etc.)
In role-playing games, the dice serve the same basic function but relative to friction operating almost always at the level to the individual character (the player character (PC)) not a military unit.
The various polyhedral dice used in many RPGs are sub-cultural icons and are designated by their number of sides, e.g., d4, d6, d8, d10, d20, etc.****
Fantasy fiction was the second influence on Gygax and Arneson. It dramatically expanded as a literary genre following the tremendous popularity beginning in the 1960s of J.R.R. Tolkien's The Lord of the Rings (1954).***** The genre includes many unremarkable "Tol-clones" written since the 1960s as well as comparatively more worthwhile works. As I see it, the genre as it exists now descends from three literary categories pre-dating Tolkien, the first two of which influenced Tolkien and the latter two of which are now generally considered to be as sub-genres within fantasy fiction:
1) mythology and myth-imbued lore, primarily those of medieval Germanic peoples (e.g. the Prose Edda, penned c. 1220 by Snorri Sturluson, and Beowulf, of the Nowell Codex that was penned c. 975–1025);
2) a type of tale Tolkien describes in his 1947 essay "On Fairy-Stories," which include works by George MacDonald (e.g. The Princess and the Goblin, 1872) and William Morris (e.g. The Well at the World's End, 1896); and
3) fantastical or horror pulp fiction, such as that published in the 1920s magazine Weird Tales, including works by H.P. Lovecraft (e.g. "The Call of Cthuhlu"); this category also falls into one often termed weird fiction.
The Role-playing Games Industry After D&D
From the 1990s on, tabletop role-playing games evolved into card-based games, computer- and mobile device-based role-playing games, and what is now the $1.4 billion massively multiplayer online role-playing game (MMORPG) industry.
I spent many hours during my teenage years playing tabletop role-playing games. Some fellow Generation X gamers include Steven Colbert, Conan O'Brian, Ben Affleck, Matt Damon, Trey Parker, Matt Stone, Jon Favreau, Ewan McGreggor, Seth Greene, Patton Oswalt, Joss Whedon, Jack Black, and David Boreanaz. Vin Diesel is a major D&D fan. He's been interviewed about role-playing and cites Dungeons & Dragons as an influence on his Riddick films. (On the set of Riddick in 2004, he introduced Dame Judi Dench to D&D.) Wil Wheaton is also a fan and an enthusiast of tabletop gaming in general. He hosts the program TableTop on the Geek & Sundry YouTube channel. Among the Baby Boomer generation, Stephen King is a D&D fan.
The second part of Jerry Whitworth's excellent article "The ’80s – Geek Edition" gives a good sense of the evolution of RPGs, in part from from the perspective of the comics art profession.
Tabletop RPGs that I played the most often, some of which are still in production:
- Middle-earth Role Playing (MERP), a product of Ice Crown Enterprises, Inc., and the first role-playing game I purchased,
- Warhammer Fantasy Roleplay, a product to Fantasy Flight Games in Roseville, MN licensed by the British company Games Workshop (LSE: GAW.L),
- GURPS (Generic Universal RolePlaying System; see the Web site), a creation of Steven Jackson Games--the Austin, Texas offices of which were raided by the Secret Service in the 1990s relative to concerns that GURPS Cyberpunk was a how-to on cyber crime--including related products GURPS Autoduel, GURPS Horror, and GURPS Old West.
- Star Frontiers,
- Twilight 2000,
- Top Secret,
- Ars Magica (I merely dabbled; it's now in its fifth edition)
and, of course,
- Dungeons & Dragons (D&D), the fifth edition of which will be released in 2014 as a product of Hasbo-owned Wizards of the Coast (WofC).
OF SPECIAL NOTE:
"Happy 40th Birthday to Dungeons & Dragons," The Guardian, Jan. 3, 2014.
The Great Kingdom is an upcoming documentary about the origins of D&D.
This TSR timeline offers a look at D&D's evolution over the last 40 years.
See the Salon.com article, "All I needed to know about life I learned from 'Dungeons & Dragons'"
Images; top: "The red box," the 1983 revision of the Dungeons & Dragons Basic Set, this product probably more than any other introduced people to tabletop RGPs; second from top: polyhedral dice (okay...my polyhedral dice actually--unused for about 20 years now, alas--photo by yours truly); middle: the first edition of The Lord of the Rings; second for bottom: a webisode of the Geek & Sundry program TableTop; bottom: the cover of an edition of Middle-Earth Role Playing (MERP).
*What's a role-playing game? The short first two paragraphs devoted to the topic on Wikipedia are as good of a definition as any I've encountered.
**The Avalon Hill brand is, like the Dungeons & Dragon's brand, owned now by Wizards of the Coast (WofC). As a teenager in the 1980s, I played numerous Avalon Hill tabletop wargames, too. That quality tabletop wargames possess that chess lacks I term "military simulation," others use the term "battlefield emulation." I find it difficult to describe. It's something like a concern for the historicity of the simulated military encounter or some history-based technical detail that not only the aesthetic of the game but also at least some of the rules attempt to impart. This degree of military simulation varies widely from game to game.
Regarding the emergence of tabletop wargames in the 1950s, perhaps it reflects, in part, American society's heightened awareness of military matters as the U.S. moved into its second decade of almost unrelenting war or concern for war: the Second World War followed by the Cold War and the Korean conflict.
***Wells' game may reflect British society's formality and preoccupation with the British Empire, which in 1913 was arguably at its height, as well as the fact that the upper- and middle-class lifestyles afforded the leisure time (and indoor space during inclement weather?) necessary for Wells' game. As others have pointed out, it's ironic the Wells, a pacifist, created Little Wars. Perhaps him doing so points to just how pervasive the aforementioned societal preoccupation was. Nonetheless, Wells notes in his book that "much better is this amiable miniature [war] than the real thing." (See Michael Rundel's "HG Wells' 'Little Wars': How An Icon Of Sci-Fi Invented Modern War Games 100 Years Ago.")
****I played several, the most original of which I encountered but never had opportunity to play was Ogre, which is now in its sixth edition and which also exists as the Kickstarter-funded, 29-pound The Ogre Designer's Edition (photo, click to enlarge) that shipped in November 2013. It garnered 5,512 backers and funding that was $903,680 in excess of the stated $20,000 goal.
*****Some might include certain historical novels set in the Middle Ages in the fantasy category, too, but this is a gray area. There are historical novels involving magic as the novel's characters understand it. An example is Mary Stewart's Merlin trilogy. To the characters, magic is a reality--it seems to be a real, operative thing in their world--and thus within some such novels it is described as such, usually from a first-person point of view. Another gray area is what I call naturalistic fantasy: works that, like a historical novel, are devoid of magic or the supernatural except as they might exist in the perception of characters, but that are set in a time and place imagined by the author and not corresponding to reality. George R.R. Martin's fiction comes close to this type of fiction. Compared to Tolkien's fantasy, for instance, Martin's is less mythic in tone, less concerned with magic, and is more informed then are Tolkein's works by anthropology and the dynamics of power and politics, gritty subjects than, say, philology and mythology, which inform Tolkien's works greatly).
Allan Kozinn's review from The New York Times of a 1990 performance of the operetta The Journey of Snow White, which was composed by Al Carmines, formerly of The Judson Memorial Church in Greenwich Village, NYC. (My friend the late Wayne Eley of Atlanta, Georgia produced a video of the original production of the operetta.)
The Judson Memorial Church has for decades been a home for offbeat art exhibitions and music, theater and dance productions that reflect the spirit of its Greenwich Village neighborhood. This year, the church is celebrating its centennial with a varied schedule of events, including revivals of three shows by one of its former ministers, Al Carmines.
Mr. Carmines, who has moved uptown to the Rauschenbusch Memorial Church, is a prolific composer with eclectic tastes. His 1971 quasi-operatic musical comedy, ''The Journey of Snow White,'' was presented at the Judson Memorial Church (55 Washington Square South) through last night.
In this amusing fantasy, Mr. Carmines freely embellishes the fairy tale. In his version, Queen I - Snow White's mother - predicts her death in a melancholy Purcellian recitative. But before leaping into the grave, she persuades the King to marry Queen II. While not overtly evil, as wicked stepmothers go, Queen II is unusually attached to her mirror (a character here), and the Queen turns on Snow White only when the mirror voices a preference for the younger woman.
When Queen II discovers that Snow White is living in the woods with the seven dwarfs (actually, there were six in the performance on Sunday evening, the seventh singer having sustained an injury), she commissions three witches to kill her. Instead of a single, charming prince who can wake Snow White with a kiss, Mr. Carmines sends three: an opera singer, a cowboy balladeer and a rock star who acts like a young Elvis Presley.
None of them rouse her, and the rock-and-roll prince's aria is lewd enough to get him ejected by the dwarfs. In the end, the full court and the ghost of Queen I turn up, and Snow White is rescued by the mirror, who has decided that he would prefer to be human.
The mood of the work is suggested in some of the aria titles: the two oddest are ''Love Is Our Epistemology,'' sung by the dwarfs, and ''The Impression on Our Retina Has Gone,'' sung by the woodland creatures. But there are serious notions beneath the layers of overt silliness. Mr. Carmines takes his tongue out of his cheek long enough to show the power of love as a transforming force, and his finale is a gorgeous choral paean to free will.
The work's musical side has its charms as well, one being Mr. Carmines's organized approach to eclecticism, in which parodied styles are intrinsic to characterization. Snow White's agile, sugary music would be at home in a Lehar operetta. Queen I hops between moody Baroque settings and a bright cabaret style. Queen II and the mirror are more straightforwardly theatrical, and the King's music bears traces of Gilbert and Sullivan.
The menu also includes the diverse arias of the princes, a blues tune from a witch and Mr. Carmines's best moments, the exquisitely harmonized choral writing that turns up intermittently.
The production by Russell Treyz is endearingly homespun, with Nan Childress's robust piano playing, and Steve Hull's flute, clarinet and saxophone lines serving as the orchestra. Mary Ann Lee's lithe soprano and wide range is perfectly suited to Snow White's music. She was supported ably, if vocally more modestly, by the two Queens (Ann Harvey and Robin Manning), the King (Robert Sevra), the huntsman (Fred Einhorn) and the large community of animals and dwarfs.
Other notable members of the cast were Karl Heist, who as the country-and-western prince yodeled his way through his aria to his own guitar accompaniment; David Edwards, who contributed a fine tenor parody as the operatic prince; Robert McNamara, as the rock-and-roll prince, and Karen Cooper Smith, as the witch who sang the blues.
Photo: Rev. Al Carmines, photo by Gene Bagnato
Oh my. The Contact Us page on Time Warner's website for New York area customers as an interesting greeting for October 2nd-9th, 2013. (Click image to enlarge.)
Solar interference, or sun outage, is expected between October 2nd and October 9th this autumn. Solar interference can affect TV services in the spring and fall every year and causes the degradation or loss of satellite signals for short periods of time, up to 15 minutes each day, for 5-7 days.
In the summer of 1931, archaeologist Gustav Riek discovered the body of a ice-age mammoth-ivory figurine from a cave in Germany. Eighty years later the head belonging to that same figurine has been found and reattached to the body.
Below: the image I was so tempted to post instead....
Hear me ask my question to the panel of BBC Radio 4's Any Questions? this week. It will be broadcast online and on UK radio at 3:00 p.m. EDT (New York), 20:00 in the UK and available as a free podcast for download.* (Also available for free via iTunes.)
This week's panelists:
Sir Harold Evans of The Sunday Times, US News and World Report, The Atlantic Monthly, and the New York Daily News. In 1986 he founded Conde Nast Traveler. His book The American Century (1998) receiving particular acclaim. He is editor-at-large of The Week Magazine.
Former U.S. Rep. Nan Hayworth (NY 19th Congressional district) who may be considering a re-entry into politics. She was defeated in 2012 by Sean Patrick Maloney (who I've met several times over the course of years, as well as his partner Randy who is a fellow Hawkeye).
U.S. Rep. Donna Edwards (MD 4th Congressional district) who was elected to the House of Representatives in 2008 and sits on the Committee on Science, Space and Technology and the Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure.
I attended a recording on the evening of April 18th, 2013, of one of my favorite radio shows, BBC Radio 4's Any Questions?, the world's longest-running radio panel discussion program, begun in 1948.** The show traveled across the pond to NYC this week to Columbia University's School of Journalism. Usually the show is broadcast live in the UK, and broadcast from a different location each week.
Attendees' questions are submitted ahead of time and selected by BBC staff. Panelists don't know ahead of time what the questions will be. For this taping, my question was one selected. I got to read my question aloud to the panel. For me this was very exciting.
The show has 3 million listeners a week, and it is part of my BBC Radio 4 triumvirate podcast I listen to each weekend--the other two programs being Friday Night Comedy (The News Quiz hosted by Sandi Toksvig and The Now Show with Hugh Dennis and Steve Punt) and In Our Time with host Melvyn Lord Bragg of Wigton.
*It's rebroadcast at 8:10 a.m. EDT on Saturday, 13:10 in the UK, too. Once archieved, it will be here.
**Technically, Gardeners' Question Time was founded a year earlier, in 1947, but it's a niche program really. ;)
PHOTOS, top to bottom: The panel (in the Pulitzer Building's lecture Hall on campus); me with Congresswoman Donna Edwards; me with Jonathan Dimbleby after the recording.