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06 August 2006

piano concerto for pianist missing a hand or arm

Photo by Don Hunstein

This past week, my favorite e-List jumped back into my life in the most delightful way -- which I am sworn to secrecy not to blab about for the moment -- but it led me deep into the old bowels of the f_minor archives.

f_minor is the List devoted to the late Canadian pianist Glenn Gould.

This thread dates to March 2003, the moment when the United States and the United Kingdom partnered to invade Iraq and end the regime of the dictator Sadaam Hussein.

I think the f_minor archives are pretty public and transparent, so if you want more, you can probably find it.

But here, I have -- gently, I hope -- redacted a bit (names, e-mail addies), and left out My Public Spanking (for the serious crime of writing about political matters on a classical music List), and a few angry posts.

My aim has been to avoid embarrassing this and that member. If anyone thinks I've been Unfair and Unbalanced (I've often been accused of being Unbalanced), Vleeptron as always welcomes any Comments (except Anonymous Drivebys -- ya got somethin' to say, use yer goddam name or something with a Link).

If the Zeta Beam is busted and you're stuck on Planet Earth, even during times of ghastly wars, the f_minor community, and the Piano Deity we all worship and adore, is about as lovely, talented, brilliant and humane as any community you'll find anywhere on Earth -- at least in the English language and Internet parts of this sad, exhausted planet.

~ ~ ~

war music / Kriegsmusik / musique du la guerre / musica de la guerra
Elmer Elevator
Sun Mar 23 13:29:38 EST 2003

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Dearest f_minorites everywhere,

One feature of my cable TV system is about fifty genre channels of FM-quality continuous music. The other day I looked up at the screen and noticed that one of its classical channels was playing a piano piece for orchestra and right hand (sorry I didn't copy down the title).

From the style and era, I suspect I knew the naughty little secret about the composition, which wasn't mentioned in the screen's "fun facts."

In the decade following World War I, a large body of piano music was composed for one-hand piano, because a large number of Europe's most promising and gifted young pianists returned from the war missing a hand or an arm. I've heard quite a few of these pieces, and surprisingly very few of them are maudlin or somber or funereal or grim, they're usually quite upbeat and major key, yet none could be described as Pollyannaesque. Just because you play the piano and have had one of your hands blown off or amputated is no reason to want to live out the rest of your musical life playing the blues, and most of the composers were pretty hip to this.

As much of the Internet has heated up and boiled over because of this ghastly and (to me) inexplicable war, f_minor seems to have fallen largely silent. There is a protocol, usually unspoken, about lists like this, and I suspect most of us with deep feelings about this grotesque war feel a bit embarrassed about groping around to link it to Glenn Gould.

And then another difficulty, or oddity, or embarrassment: this List originates in the USA, and conducts nearly all its business in the English language. It is just possible that the more polite among us don't want to hurt anyone's feelings -- Continental Europe has expressed very different and very heated feelings about this war from the official positions of the governments of the UK and the USA.

And that's to the wonderful credit of the highest values of this civilized, educated and cultured bunch. War makes it seem quirky and odd -- people getting their piano hands shot off in large numbers, and other people not wanting to hurt anyone's feelings.

Well, I will dutifully provide a link to the List topic. GG provided the Bach score to the movie version of one of world literature's most moving first-person testaments of the rain of war death on civilians from the sky: "Slaughterhouse Five." (It only seems like a goofy science fiction novel; Vonnegut was a young enlisted American soldier when he was sent as a prisoner of war just in time to witness and barely survive the firebombing of Dresden -- a city whose contribution to the war effort was the manufacture of exquisite porcelain figurines.)

Link provided, I will now speak to this remarkable crew -- the skimmed cream and the stewards and guardians of whatever this world can honestly claim to have created of beauty, thought, culture -- about this dreadful war, and war in general.

Perhaps once in a long lifetime, perhaps no more than once in a century, a war does indeed take place that must be fought FOR good and decent and human and humane things. I am thinking of one war in particular; its guns finally fell silent two years before I was born. A century earlier, for Americans, the shame and scourge of slavery ended because of a monstrous, ruinous, fratricidal war, although all my reading and all my visits to its great battlefields cannot convince me that slavery could not have somehow been ended, nearly as swiftly, through ideas, pursuasion, through the peaceful arts of a democracy.

Since 1945, the world has been plagued by a continuing string of wars that I cannot possibly classify as having had any necessary or possible virtues, except the most primitive virtue of exhausting and finally ending itself. In recent decades, younger historians have stopped talking about World War I and World War II, and have just described the unhappy 20th century as the Century of War. To the dead, to the maimed, to the veteran, to the refugee, the distinctions between wars do indeed seem small, or trivial, or non-existent.

I myself am a veteran of one of these meaningless, inexplicable and very long wars, and served two conscripted years far, I am happy to report, from the sounds of guns, typing dutifully away (you have probably noticed I am a very verbose typist with few errors), often in air-conditioned offices; I could not have requested a safer and more inoccuous soldier experience, though I braved death daily and nightly aboard my beloved Triumph motorcycle. Many of my friends were not nearly so fortunate, and if I had the courage, I could find their names engraved on the Vietnam War Memorial in my hometown of Washington DC; I visit Washington often and have scrupulously never visited it.

If the wars since 1945 have drifted into a pattern of meaninglessness and mindless slaughter and waste, this current war threatens to establish and enshrine a new pattern for the future of America and the world: America as The New Rome, the world's most powerful military and economic machine demanding that its will be obeyed throughout the world, or murderous consequences will be projected to whomever we perceive is defying us.

America in the past has indeed experimented with "gunboat diplomacy" both actively and theatrically; when President Theodore Roosevelt sent our new huge warfleet around the world, not a shot was fired in anger, but a very clear message was delivered in every port where our cannons boomed a "diplomatic" salute. (One of the hydrogen bombs dropped on the Soviets in "Dr. Strangelove" is graffitied "HI THERE.") But I do not think that this was really ever what most Americans wanted America to do or to represent to our neighbors throughout the world.

The phrase "Pax Americana" is being bandied about in the world's newspapers -- a peace designed and maintained by the threat of the quick projection of overwhelming military force, like the Pax Romana and Pax Brittanica of old.

If anyone is curious, I do not want to be a citizen of The New Rome; I do not want a Pax Americana -- except a Jimmy Carter style of diplomatic American leadership. If we are big, rich and powerful, let us content ourselves to express it in treaties and peaceful pursuasion, a vision which just earned Mr. Carter the Nobel Peace Prize. The "impossible" peace treaty he brokered between Egypt and Israel lasts to this moment, though no one can promise it will survive President Bush's actions in the Middle East.

Diplomacy, and the peaceful and verbal sorting out of sovereign disputes, is so very frustrating and tedious and time-consuming.

War, on the other hand, is so simple and emotionally satisfying, and boils away all controversy.

We here should not, I think, feel embarrassed or fall silent at such moments because our thoughts and loves are of beauty and the highest achievements of culture. We are the stewards of the only human-made things which make Earth an interesting and unique place to visit or eavesdrop on. No matter how many intelligent and advanced civilizations there exist in our Milky Way galaxy -- tens of thousands is the guess of Sagan and his expert colleagues -- there is only one Mozart in the whole Universe, and only, for that matter, one Glenn Gould to interpret him sublimely or wrong-headedly.

One of my soft spots for World War II is because, in the 1930s, as he saw the handwriting on the wall, a German labor union activist buried his beloved treasury of phonograph records of the live performances of Kurt Weill's and Bertolt Brecht's cabaret and opera music in oilcloth in his backyard, and then fled one step ahead of the Gestapo. When he returned in '46, he dug it up again, and I've had the wonderful pleasure of hearing CD transcriptions of these original squawky recordings from the '20s and '30s, in German and French, with Lotte Lenya's tremulous and beautiful voice. Wars are accompanied, far too rarely, by these desperate moments of the preservation and salvation of beauty. I have been told that the Swedes authentically revere the historical Baron von Munchausen -- a genuine lecher, parasite and sociopathic liar -- because he likewise buried and saved some gorgeous ancient tapestries one step ahead of an advancing army, and they can still be viewed today in Upsula.

Iraq -- Mesopotamia, Babylonia, Uruk, Ur -- is honeycombed with ancient treasures; it is one of the cradles of world civilization. They invented, among other things, writing, the preservation of records and literature and science, in wedge-shaped marks on soft clay, which baked in the sun and then proved to be remarkably survivable over millennia. They could predict solar and lunar eclipses -- an astonishing achievement not to be matched by our science for 4000 years. And yet we moderns have only begun to get a glimpse of and to translate these ancient treasures starting around 1880.

Each modern high-explosive war that descends on this land destroys our own heritage and history unrecoverably and forever.

George Orwell was only the first visionary to suggest that a future world that designs itself around perpetual (and meaningless) war would first strive to erase the history of the world; knowing our own history intimately always boils up passions to preserve and save and to know more of our ancient heritage. A world robbed of contact with its past is a world that can be sold on any idea, however nonsensical or genocidal or suicidal, however many past times it was tried with terrible results.

And yet I would argue that no one who has read "Gilgamesh" (I strongly urge Herbert Warren Mason Jr.'s beautiful translation) can wish MOAB -- America's recently unveiled "Mother Of All Bombs" -- to fall on this land, to pulverize the treasures that still remain of our nursery. You will find no apologies from me for Sadaam Hussein, but at his worst he is a thing of the blink of an eye, but "Gilgamesh" (there are still many missing sections, though they are almost certainly waiting somewhere underground) and the rest of Mesopotamia's yet undiscovered treasures are the fragile things of ages. A huge volume of these treasures will be reduced to dust by this war.

If we are truly Not Like Him, then we need to prove that by finding ways to do good and necessary things in the world in peaceful, diplomatic, broadly supported ways which prove to the world that we are Not Like Him.

Well, thank you all for suffering through these words. Quite simply, I did not want this war. I spent a lovely four hours in jail, with the loveliest and most thoughtful fellow criminals, protesting the first Iraqi war and perhaps will book myself into the same jail to protest this one. I am unabashedly a pacifist, stuck in a very flawed world where perhaps one war per century must just play itself out and then have some claim that good things were accomplished.

But not this one. A speedy end to it, and no more of them. I wish us all the preservation of beauty, and of course the safety of all our sisters and brothers, of every child of God, in any uniform, in any style of civilian dress.

Bob Merkin
Northampton Massachusetts USA

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war music / Kriegsmusik / musique du la guerre / musica de la guerra
Kate C*****-R***
Mon Mar 24 08:21:32 EST 2003

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To Bob : (and all other F-minors)

Thank you for your post yesterday.

It may indeed be a subject that can only be linked tenuously to Glenn Gould.

Yet he seems from the many descriptions we have of him to have been a gentle and peace-loving man, who avoided direct confrontation even with individuals who had upset him; I do not think for a moment that he would object to "his" list being used to express these ideas.

And I don't think that anybody should worry about offending the British or American members of F_minor. If people really are war-mongers themselves, perhaps they need to be made aware, forcefully, that many others consider their sentiments immoral! (I am perhaps not as gentle and peaceable as Mr Gould). Here in Britain we may have a government that has pushed us into this war, but very few people supported the decision. I personally have not met a single person who feels that war on Iraq is the solution to the problem of Saddam Hussein and his regime, and indeed the various peace marches and rallies that have taken place - even after the start of hostilities - show that there is enormous support for avoiding war and continuing to find a more diplomatic path, as Bob has urged.

Of course, now that the fighting is under way, we are being urged to unite and support 'our lads' out there. Maybe the powers-that-be hope that in this manner public opinion will be united and past differences overlooked.

But sadly, it is reminiscent of urging us to support the national football team; such unification is artificial, and has nothing to do with moral questions, the rights and wrongs of our position. Obviously I hope that the soldiers and airmen will not be hurt, but (I guess like many people) I feel even more concern for the ordinary people who lie nightly under a terrible bombardment. This is war, not a game with arbitrary rules. It doesnt matter how much talk there is of only attacking "military' targets and government installations; other people are going to get hurt, and live in fear that they and their families are facing arbitrary injury and death.

I also do not wish to offend anyone, and I recognise the courage of the soldiers; but our military forces are after all not conscripts. Instead, all of them have made at some point a deliberate decision to adopt the military lifestyle, to learn how to fight and, if required, to kill other human beings. (This would be acceptable and necessary if our own country is invaded or threatened perhaps, but in [th]e present war, we are acting as the aggressors.) The military men therefore know what to expect.

The ordinary populace however has made no such choice; presumably all they want is to continue their normal day-to-day lives in peace and safety. They are not responsible for the acts of Saddam and his henchmen. It is no good our government spokesmen assuring us that the enemy is Saddam Hussein, and not ordinary Iraqis or people of the Islamic faith; war is too huge and blunt a weapon to aim precisely at an individual.

In a purely practical sense, then, avoiding the moral questions for a moment, can this war actually succeed in its stated ends?

But of course the moral questions are paramount. Leaving aside the subject of the underlying motives of the British and American governments, which have of course come iunder suspicion, what exactly is an acceptable way of dealing with an evil regime? As Bob says, going to war against the Nazis was perhaps justified, at least understandable. Does Saddam come in the same category? Maybe not on the same scale but of similar nature? He has after all treated some of his own people in a terrible way, and we should not forget that. At what point should the international community intervene? And if this is one of the avowed reasons for toppling Saddam's regime, why have we not intervened in similar situations elsewhere in [th]e world? Think of Tibet, for instance. But I am sure enough has been written about that elsewhere.

I am not a particularly political beast, and my views might perhaps be seen as naive and uninformed. But it seems to me that sadly, there might not be a single satisfactory answer. Some people I have met seem to think that if you can identify a problem,then here 'must' be an answer. I don't agree. I think there are plenty of complex problems that have no ideal answer; perhaps all we can do is choose the path that is most effective.... and does the least harm.

So although I do not, cannot support this war, I don't have any answer to the problem. Yes, diplomacy should work, and in an ideal world is the best way for nations to resolve differences. But sometimes we have to face the fact that it doesnt work. Some nations (And Saddam's regime is surely not the only guilty party!) just don't seem prepared to listen to the other view.

Bob writes "Since 1945, the world has been plagued by a continuing string of wars that I cannot possibly classify as having had any necessary or possible virtues." Yes. And ordinary people have become more and more vociferous about expressing their misgivings. We no longer accept blindly what those in power tell us (even if we lack enough clout to stop them in their tracks!)

Perhaps this is, in part, due to modern technology; not only has the moral climate changed maybe, but modern wars are carried out in the full glare of the media. We see things as they happen. A couple of days ago I watched tanks rumbling through the desert. A familiar enough scene from a myriad of war movies; but this was not only real, it was live, happening as I watched.

Maybe in the past, war was seen in a more romantic light because we didn't see it happen. Now the journalists and cameramen ride with the troops, and beam their images back to us via satellite. (It's a dangerous job - one of ITV's top journalists has just been killed in Iraq.) But maybe one drawback of all this is that we have become blase. The scenes, as I just said, are so familiar from movies and TV productions.

Modern communications used to be seen as miraculous bring GG into this again for a moment, think of his description of himself as a child in the thirties, listening to a radio and realising with a sense of wonder that he was hearing the voice of a man speaking maybe hundreds of miles away. Well, I guess we have lost that sense of wonder since now we take it for granted. Gould was fascinated by the possibilities that modern technology opened up in the field of communication, whether or not (in his case) he was communicating musically or verbally. I wonder what he would thought of the modern ability to show war as it happens? If the sight of suffering spurs people into action to stop what is going on, that would be fine. But does it?

The other evening, in the canteen where I work, the TV was showing distant shots of Baghdad in flames, under bombardment. Some people watched without comment, some ignored the screen. The problem was, it looked just like the special effects created by a Hollywood movie team, which might be spectacular but you know nobody is really hurt.

Something similar happened on the morning of September 11th. A lot of people said that on turning their TVs on unwittingly, for the lunchtime news perhaps (in Britain) they could not understand what they were seeing and their first reaction was "this must be a clip from some disaster movie". It took a few moments for them to realise the full horror of what was happening.

We presumably subscribe to F-minor because we love music, and art, and beauty. Glenn Gould strove to create these things, sometimes wonderfully. sometimes in a rather offbeat way ... but the point is that he, and other people like him, contribute something positive that enhances our experience of life. Those that make war do not. Whatever their motives. Surely we can try to find a better way to settle disputes and protect mankind.


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Elmer Elevator
Wed Mar 26 15:20:22 EST 2003

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can't talk here. I don't want to get spanked again.

but I vote with your brother.


-----Original Message-----
From: Michael L******
To: F_MINOR at
Date: Monday, March 24, 2003 8:40 PM
Subject: hmm?

i was just having a discussion with my brother, a non-Gouldian, as to whether Glenn would be prowar or antiwar.

i insisted that glenn would be prowar, as he had a strong intellect, and a passion for justice. my brother said he'd be antiwar, as he was a liberal-minded artist.

not like it matters now, anyways. but still...any thoughts?



Bradley * L*****
Wed Mar 26 16:32:29 EST 2003

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I should think the answer would be obvious from reading "Glenn Gould Interviews Glenn Gould About Glenn Gould," and reading _Slaughterhouse Five_, and listening to "The Quiet in the Land," and listening to

p.s. I don't grasp that equation of "strong intellect" and "prowar."

Bradley L*****


Kate C*****-R***
Wed Mar 26 19:15:37 EST 2003

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I vote with your brother, too. But like Elmer, I had better be careful what I say ! ....Still, I can't imagine Glenn Gould either as anything but antiwar in principle. This was a guy who cared about his fellow creatures; in his will he left most of his estate to the Humane Society to save animals and to the Salvation Army to help homeless people. Surely a man who cared so much about saving even animals from an untimely death (remember his totally impractical dream of owning a farm in order to gather together all illtreated and unloved farm animals, and let them live out their natural lives in peace) - would care as much for his fellow men? And much as he loved justice, he might not have been convinced that fighting a war was automatically the best way of ensuring that justice be done.

He seems to have been a patriotic man - he said how much he loved Canada and recognised it had been good to him - but I think that he would never have condoned actually going to war, except, perhaps in the direst of circumstances, and then I think he might have bowed to the inevitable but with great reluctance and sadness.


Original messages- From: Elmer Elevator


No subject
M.M. {from Spain}
Fri Mar 28 03:58:37 EST 2003

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hi everybody

I dont think Gould matchs with a patriotic type, as Kate says; no doubt he loves Canada, but not the concept of Canada, if that exists. All war is in fact a matter of fighting words and concepts in a very realistic way, bloody way. Real life is beyond the concepts for an artistic mind, and probably somebody like gould prefers to escape of such simplification as war yes or war not., without considering previously ( and during all life) this question: is Human being perfectible?


Fri Mar 28 09:37:06 EST 2003

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I see your point, but don't agree. Unless you can call yourself an academic scholar on Gould, doing a PhD dissertation on him, or his mother, you cannot make assumptions on the nationalistic belief system of a man you never knew, and who's been dead for many years.

Also disagree with the idea that those with artistic temperments don't have political views, that political reality is this cold, sobering place where artists of the ethereal world never go, but would prefer to escape from - very untrue, if soviet artists of the early 20th century are any indication. I am an artist by trade (and, unfortunately, an
administrator), and have very stong political views, as do many of my friends who are also in the trade :)

Just saying my piece. Cheers!

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