December 2004


Accentuating the Positive
In this final issue of 2004, we avoid any comment here on the dismal aspects of the artworld, to end the year on an upbeat. What a relief!

EXHIBITION: Geo. Washington's Portraitist
Gilbert Stuart, Metropolitan Museum of Art, through January 16, 2005, is a major retrospective of work by the painter, best known for his iconic portrait of George Washington. Also included are portraits of John Adams and Thos. Jefferson, among others. The exhibition (both at the Met and, permanently, online) may be of interest to children who have studied this period of American history in school.

Music Long Ago
News of the discovery of a flute carved from the ivory tusk of a woolly mammoth 30,000 years ago should delight any music lover, and the sight of even an image [more; scroll down to read more] of it may take your breath away. The ivory flute, reconstructed from fragments found in a cave near Stuttgart, Germany, will be on display in a special exhibit on Ice Age music at the Württembergisches Landesmuseum in Stuttgart between now and January 30, 2005 (that date may have been extended; check first). Should you visit the exhibition, send us a postcard! (Photographs on the museum's website include one of another prehistoric flute, this one 35,000 years old and carved from the wing bone of a swan--if you don't read German, copy and paste the museum's name at Google, then click on "translate this page" in the first result. The instrument is also shown being played before an attentive audience.)

We are reminded here of Robert Payne's allusion to the first flutists in his splendid survey The World of Art (see note below): "In [some prehistoric] caves thin bone flutes have been found, leading to the pleasant supposition that the Paleolithic artists, like Leonardo da Vinci, enjoyed painting to music."

The First Artists
Robert Payne's evocation of the first artists and musicians in his World of Art (see above note) continues: "Although we shall never be able to penetrate their minds, and we can no more follow them in their daily pursuits . . . [their] paintings reveal a good deal about their way of looking at the world. We know, for example, that they looked at animals with grave tenderness and affection, even though they were hunters. The animal kingdom lay all around them, and their imaginative life was filled with the gleaming presences of the beasts who gave them fur and food and bone, sinew and hide and horn. So they painted them out of reverence and fellowship, with a deep compassion for them, knowing themselves to be sharers of the same kingdom. They did not paint them in orderly rows on the cave walls, but as they saw them: singly, or in massed herds, running free or at pasture, and they filled the walls with them because their minds were filled with them." For an appreciation of Payne (1911-1983) and The World of Art [cover] [], see Michelle Kamhi's "Robert Payne--Uncommon Guide to the World of Art" in the December 1993 Aristos (search in Contents).

WORTH READING: On Shakespeare
If you didn't catch the broadcast of Brian Lamb's recent interview with Stephen Greenblatt--author of Will in the World: How Shakespeare Became Shakespeare--on C-SPAN's Booknotes, you can still view it or read the transcript online. We haven't had the pleasure of reading Greenblatt's book yet, but it was a nonfiction finalist for this year's National Book Awards and, judging from the Booknotes interview, is one recent book on Shakespeare worth reading (see, for example, Greenblatt's observations on The Merchant of Venice). By the way, the long-running Booknotes--by far the best book interview program we know of--has recently ended, it saddens us to say. However, in addition to periodic rebroadcasts on Encore Booknotes, its 800 interviews will eventually be available as searchable videos and transcripts on the Booknotes website.

Barbara Cook--We Love Her
In "The Broadway Musical: Past & Present" (November Notes & Comments), on Terry Teachout's tribute to Broadway's golden age, we ought to have mentioned another such tribute, Barbara Cook's Broadway [more] [more]. Lovers of Broadway musicals who were not as lucky as we were to attend Cook's incomparable performance at Lincoln Center's intimate Mitzi E. Newhouse Theater earlier this year (an evening we will never forget), can still savor on CD the classic numbers she sang (brief snippets can be sampled online). Her heartfelt rendition of Rodgers and Hammerstein's poignant "This Nearly Was Mine" (from South Pacific) alone is worth the price, matched in value by the humor and bounce of such songs as "A Trip to the Library," from the delightful musical She Loves Me, by Jerry Bock and Sheldon Harnick. Also delightful in the live recording are Cook's often humorous reminiscences between songs. And we tip our hats to Wally Harper, her longtime music director and accompanist.

Song Lyrics as Poetry
Do the lyrics of popular songs of the pre-rock era qualify as poetry? What do you think? If so, which lyricist(s) would be at the top of your list? If not, would anyone qualify as an exception? Those questions were raised by one music critic recently. Let us know your views. We will reveal all in this space in our next issue.

Archival Treasures
Peruse the Aristos Archives for links to all our past Notes & Comments, articles, and reviews--and don't forget the items "Of Further Interest" on our contents page.

Letters to the Editors
We invite readers to comment on matters related to items published in the current or past issues (see Archives).

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