December 30, 2011

Gödel's secret theorem

It was only months before his complete mental breakdown and subsequent death that the great Austrian-born mathematical logician Kurt Gödel discovered the proof of his last theorem which revealed to him a shocking crack in the foundations of mathematics.  After surveying the rather short proof he had written on the blackboard in his office at the Institute for Advanced Study, Gödel knew at once that his discovery, if made public, would cause immediate and permanent collapse of the world's banking system and financial markets, thus ending civilization as we know it.  He sat for several hours in the chair next to the blackboard, frozen with fear, his vacant gaze fixed on the empty space before him.  At long last he stood up, erased the proof, and went home a broken man, determined to take his terrifying secret with him to the grave.

Unbeknownst to Gödel every office at the Institute had a hidden security camera designed to take snapshots of the office blackboard at regular time intervals.  Somehow a copy of the security camera photograph showing  Gödel's blackboard with his proof still written on it - the photograph still classified "Top Secret" by the U.S. government - had found its way into the hands of the WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange.

Today that photograph was made public:

December 22, 2011

The joys of anterograde amnesia...

A few days ago, while driving home, I played Jean Barraque's piano sonata on my car stereo to soften the boredom of a long commute.  About ten minutes into this 45-minute long complex serial composition I suddenly felt (rather than thought) that I have no idea of how the music got to the point where it was at that moment.   If the music I listened to at that time were to be considered the whole of my experienced reality (which would be not far from truth, as I was cruising in a nearly empty carpool lane with next to no driving-related distractions), then I failed to form memories of events experienced only a few minutes earlier.  It then occurred to me that listening to this kind of music - in which the organization of every parameter is perceptually inaccessible without a detailed knowledge of the score - is about as close as a neurologically normal person can come to experiencing what it's like to have anterograde amnesia.

December 14, 2011

Bach's works for unaccompanied violin

In my experience the average music lover is a reasonably open-minded person.  He may have Furtwangler Rules! tattooed on his chest, but still will agree (if grudgingly) that Toscanini and Szell each had something worthwhile to say in their performances of Beethoven's symphonies.  And what goes for Beethoven's symphonies, goes for Mozart's concertos, Schumann's piano music, and Wagner's operas.

Yet when it comes to Bach's works for unaccompanied violin, even middle-aged, bespectacled, balding men with advanced degrees in Accounting quickly turn purple of face and violent of heart at the mere suggestion that these works may be played differently from the one and only recording they have worshiped since their college days.  If you are old enough to have spent a serious amount of time in the classical wing of Tower Records on East 4-th Street, you might have overheard a brief exchange between two distinguished looking gentlemen loitering next to the "B"- labeled CD bin -- the exchange which quickly culminated in the loudly hissed

Fuck implied counterpoint! Fuck Baroque dance forms! And FUCK YOU, you fat fuck who can't understand that this music is about metaphysical depth and theological grandeur, and not about the anal-retentive articulation of double-dotted notes!

No wonder the sales clerks at Tower Classical kept a baseball bat under the counter (just to the right of the cash register) on the days when a new recording of Bach's Sonatas and Partitas was placed in the New Releases section...

December 5, 2011

And you thought you like Dostoevsky ....

Suppose you ask me who my favorite composers are, and I respond with the usual trio of Bach, Mozart, and Beethoven.  I then add that
(a) the only works of these composers that I know are Bach's Cantata BWV 12, Mozart's opera Don Giovanni, and Beethoven's 9th Symphony, and
(b) the only performances of these works that I am familiar with are recordings by Leslie Howard.
       Knowing that Leslie Howard is a pianist, you give me that hard, squinty Dirty Harry look and ask if I'm fucking with you.  I assure you that I am being utterly sincere, and point out that Leslie Howard has recorded the complete piano works of Franz Liszt, among which are
(i)   Prelude for piano after Bach's Cantata BWV 12,
(ii)  Operatic fantasy Réminiscences de Don Juan on themes from Mozart's Don Giovanni, and
(iii)  piano transcriptions of all nine symphonies of Beethoven.
      At this point, if you are a kind and very patient person, your voice will fill with pity as you exclaim: Boom, you hopeless imbecile! These works of Liszt are at best only approximations of the original compositions, and at worst they are outright recreations whose ties to the original music are as tenuous and superficial as your apparent grasp on the concept of authorship in music!