Sonata for Francis and Poulenc

Francis PoulencOn this day in 1800, Millard Fillmore was born. He is generally considered one of the worst presidents. I don’t really get this. Yes, I guess in retrospect, the Compromise of 1850 was a bad idea because the Civil War was coming no matter what. And the Fugitive Slave Act really was a vile piece of legislation. It said that slaves who made it to non-slave states had to be returned to their rightful “owners.” But it was a bad time and let’s face it, there are historical reasons why the south has been and continues to be a very big pain and, frankly, regressive in its politics. If there ever is another rebellion against the federal government it will almost certainly start in the deep south.

Brief Aside About Slavery and Health Insurance

One thing I don’t understand to this day is why the federal government can’t fix problems like slavery through money. What I mean is, why couldn’t the government have just bought all the slaves, relocated them to other states and even created new states? After a short period, since there was no money in it, there would be nothing stopping the abolition of slavery. It’s important to remember that for the slave owners, slavery was primarily about money. All the racial inferiority rhetoric was just a way to justify the “peculiar institution” to the poor white population.

I’ve thought much the same thing about the modern health insurance industry. Why not just have the government buy all of them so that we wouldn’t be stuck with a stupid insurance company-based system of healthcare reform? The truth is, the healthcare insurance industry really isn’t worth all that much money. I don’t mean to equate the insurance industry with slavery. Clearly, slavery is not even in the same moral universe as health insurance. But they are both systems that harm our society generally for the sake of relatively small profits for a small number of people. But instead of just buying the end of slavery, we had a war that cost far more just economically, not to mention in terms of human life. As for our healthcare system, our sub-optimal system (Obamacare) will cost some lives, but mostly it is just a huge waste of money.

Amazing Morning Coincidence

This morning I felt like listening to Jean-Pierre Rampal. That isn’t totally unusual. I admire the man greatly. He was a great performer with an easy and enjoyable style. It seems like he isn’t even trying, even while playing pieces that I know from my own brutal experience to be terribly difficult. Anyway, so I put on the wonderful Suite for Flute & Jazz Piano that Claude Bolling had written for Rampal (a lot of great composers wrote specifically for him—see later). Anyway, it was very interesting that I chose to listen to Rampal, because when I went to do today’s birthday post a few hours later, I found that it was Rampal’s birthday. He was born on this day back in 1922. Here he is playing the whole Bolling Suite (with some “behind the scenes” footage) with Bolling himself at the piano:

Of course, I’m sure that I’ve read Rampal’s birthday before, so it is very possible that some vague brain connections led me to wanting to hear him this morning. I doubt it has anything to do with God or the astral plane.

Alone in a Cage of His Own Making

I never know exactly what to make of Nicolas Cage. Is he a brilliant actor or just an interesting person up there on the screen. I don’t think it much matters, because he is interesting and he’s starred in a number of very good movies. I’m still very fond of Lord of War and he really seems to act in Adaptation. I could provide you the excellent compilation of Cage saying nothing, Cage Does Cage. But I so love this scene from Adaptation that I wrote an article about it, You Are What You Love:

Other Birthdays

One of our many racist Supreme Court justices, John Catron (1786); postal innovator Heinrich von Stephan (1831); the original Alfred from the television Batman, Alan Napier (1903); surrealist artist Roland Topor (1938); and singer-songwriter Kenny Loggins (66).

Finally: the Great Composer

The day, however, belongs to the great French composer Francis Poulenc who was born on this day in 1899. He was one of Les Six, a group of (six) composers who in many ways weren’t alike. But they were not Debussy and Ravel. I think of them all, however, following from their stuff but with more attention to melody and less with the atmospherics that was typical especially of Ravel’s worst work. I would almost call Poulenc neo-classical—the Mozart of the modern period.

Now is the time that I would normally embed Jean-Pierre Rampal playing Sonata for Flute and Piano, which Poulenc wrote for him. But I’ve already done that in the article, Jean-Pierre Rampal Plays Francis Poulenc. Instead, I present to you one of the last pieces that Poulenc wrote, Sonata for Clarinet and Piano. Here it is performed by the great German clarinetist Karl Leister with the great American conductor James Levine on piano. It is a lovely piece of music: sad and playful—even silly at the end. It is everything that I love about Poulenc. I really think that people who don’t think they like modern classical music should give this piece a listen.

Happy birthday Francis Poulenc!

0 thoughts on “Sonata for Francis and Poulenc

  1. Millard is a distant relative of mine. The only sitting president not to receive his own party’s nomination, he ran for an anti-immigrant third party. So, pretty useless.

    Cage I think is one of those guys who used to love acting and now just does it because he has money troubles. When he was in movies he cared about, he was amazing. But nobody can save "Ghost Rider."

  2. @JMF – Anti-immigrant is a grand American tradition and there have been a lot of people who have done good despite that. But I don’t mean to make Fillmore out as a hero–just not as bad as people normally say.

    I really don’t understand how one gets into financial trouble when one can just dash off a movie for a couple of million. If Robert Downey Jr can bring his career back, who can’t? Of course, my personal feeling is that RDJ is a brilliant guy. He has generally used that for evil rather than good. Can you really go back and say that he ever made good movies? At least Cage can say that he did. I can see Cage having a great later career as a character actor. If he really does love acting, that’s what he’ll do.

  3. Boy, that’s fair on RDJ. He’s so gifted as an entertainer, but he’s never really been in a good movie. Maybe his role as the gay relative in "Home For The Holidays," that was made me notice him in the first place.

    Anybody can fall out of love with something they’re good at. I’m good at my job, I’ve lost most of my love for it, and I keep doing it because I need the money and me at half-assed is better than most of the others. I don’t blame Cage for getting bored, and (for my sake, not his) I hope he has one of those late-career rediscoveries of his love for his gift. But the buying castles thing WAS weird, though . . .

    I’m down on Fillmore because we share a surname and every time I ever took a history course, the instructor would ask "so, are you related?" I disown him! Three times before the cock crows! (And, no, he wasn’t any worse than most were at the time.)

  4. @JMF – Exactly right about RDJ. I will note, however, that he put out a really good solo CD. It really pissed me off how good it was.

    Work is rarely fun when you [i]have[/i] to do it. I don’t think we’ve seen the last of the man. I think he will age well.

    Fillmore does show the problem of trying to thread that political needle. In general, the truth is not in the fuzzy middle. I can understand it as a tactical position. But today, that’s not what the professional centrists are doing. They think the center is an end in itself. It ain’t. They simply refuse to believe that there is an actual truth. They are the worst kinds of relativists. As I’ve argued in the past, how do you find a logical center when one side is, "All the Jews should be killed"? You don’t. And what you end up doing is lending support for killing all the Jews because you are admitting that killing (or otherwise abusing or exiling ) some of the Jews is justified. That’s what is being done by those who only wanted to cut SNAP by $4 billion instead of $40 billion.

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