Hardy the Not So Obscure

Thomas HardyOn this day in 1740, Marquis de Sade was born. He was quite an interesting and twisted guy. He was clearly into torture and humiliation—the kind of thing that is associated with his name. On the other hand, he wasn’t a murderer, as many men who followed in his footsteps. He managed to spend almost half of his life in prison. In fact, if it had not been for the storming of the Bastille, he might well have been put to death. Although certainly not a man I would ever have wanted to be around, he did create some important works and lived a life that can’t be called banal.

The late Romantic-early Modern composer Edward Elgar was born in 1857. Composers who straddle musical periods are usually difficult for listeners and Elgar is definitely that. There is much romanticism to his music, especially in the layering of melodies. But the melodies themselves and the harmonic structure is distinctly modern if still entirely tonal. I appreciate it more than I enjoy it. In general, I prefer Prokofiev or Poulenc, but neither of them were the innovator that Elgar was. And some of Elgar’s music is great fun. For example, here is Yo-Yo Ma playing the second movement of the E-Minor Cello Concerto:

Another fine popular music composer Marvin Hamlisch was born in 1944. An awkward and nerdy man, I don’t think he ever got quite the respect he deserved. He is most known for his Broadway musicals. But I think he was one of the most inspired film composers ever. In particular, his scores for Bananas and The Sting really stand out. He also wrote the music for A Chorus Line, which alone would be enough for a lifetime, even if I think in the context of his career, he was slumming. And then he died much too young from things I would have thought doctors could have prevented. Sad, but here is the brilliant opening credits sequence to Bananas:

Actor Stacy Keach is 72 today. Columnist Frank Rich is 64. And public intellectual Cornel West is 60.

The day, however, belongs to the great novelist Thomas Hardy who was born on this day in 1840. He is probably best known for the novels Far from the Madding Crowd and Tess of the d’Urbervilles. But I am most fond of his last and most depressing novel Jude the Obscure. It’s interesting that as he got older, his novels got more depressing. Madding Crowd, of course, has a downright happy ending. In Tess and Jude, Hardy provides them enough of a glimpse of happiness to make their short lives all the more heartbreaking. But whereas Tess doesn’t relate quite so well today, Jude could be transformed to a modern American inner city without difficulty.

Interestingly, Hardy considered himself primarily a poet. He wrote almost no prose at all the last 30 years of his life. I’ve tried reading his poetry but I didn’t find it very compelling. But that’s not unusual. People very often don’t appreciate their true talents. And hardy gave us more than enough, even if it wasn’t exactly joy.

Happy birthday Thomas Hardy!

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About Frank Moraes

Frank Moraes is a freelance writer and editor online and in print. He is educated as a scientist with a PhD in Atmospheric Physics. He has worked in climate science, remote sensing, throughout the computer industry, and as a college physics instructor. Find out more at About Frank Moraes.

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