Saturday, October 13, 2007

The Glass Bead Game


Yet another interview with Philip Glass in today's Guardian. Appropriately the title is Play it again... A virtual prize for any reader who can send a link to a newspaper interview this weekend with a contemporary composer who is not Philip Glass.

Much more interesting is James Fenton's article on the electric harpsichord which refers to Wolfgang Zuckermann's 1970 book The Modern Harpsichord. Zuckermann was born in Berlin, and became an American citizen in 1938. He was one of the first harpsichord makers in the United States and in the late 1950's created a self-assembly harpshichord kit which sold in large quantities and revitalised interest in this neglected instrument.


In 1969, Zuckermann, in despair over US involvement in Vietnam, left New York to live first in England, and later in France. He sold his harpsichord business to David Jacques Way, who had been the publisher of The Modern Harpsichord. Although Zuckermann continued his musical activities, he became involved in the environmental debates of the 1970s and 1980s, taking an active part in creating small local collaborative projects in England that cut away from the values and patterns of the dominant consumer society.

In 1987 Zuckermann began his collaboration with The Commons, an independent non-profit policy research group based in Paris. He moved to France in 1994 and opened La Libraire Shakespeare in Avignon which is our local bookshop when we are in that part of the world. This gem of a bookshop featured here some time back.

I was in Avignon a few weeks ago. Among the books I came away with were Sophie Fuller's Pandora's Guide to Women Composers and Barry Miles' life of Allen Ginsberg. My copy of Thomas Merton's Seven Storey Mountain also came from La Libraire Shakespeare some years back when I was on my way to a retreat in L'Abbaye de Sainte-Madeleine at le Barroux, and that's a destination that will feature here again in the next few days. My photo shows Wolfgang Zuckermann in La Libraire Shakespeare - much more interesting than another picture of Philip Glass.

The Glass Bead Game is the title of Hermann Hesse's book that influenced many musicians including Karlheinz Stockhausen. And Hesse's poetry supplied the texts for Richard Strauss' Vier letze Lieder which were in the concert I wrote about on Sunday. More passion about books here.
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9 comments:

jcrane said...

Well it is his birthday(Glass) Although it is hard not to be upset by the incessant love of minimalists. Its old hack now!

Rodney Lister said...

Well, Tony Tommassini does have an article on Schoenberg, or at least "twelve-tone music" in the Sunday (New York) Times.

Pliable said...

Rodney, yes you win. Schoenberg is fine. John Adams would have been more borderline.

Pliable said...

Email in from Richard Friedman:

I was surprised to read that you picked up Barry Miles bio of Ginsberg. You will find that I'm mentioned in that book.

If you look for the reference to KPFA in the early 70's, you'll find an oblique reference. I was the late night board operator that let Alan and Barry use the vacant studios to record some of his unrecorded poems. This led to some very strange events. I never knew who Alan would bring with him to the studio. Once it was Lawrence Ferlinghetti, who then proceeded to read a very X-rated poem (which almost got me into trouble, had anyone been listening).

Another time it was a group of singing Tibetan monks. Sometimes Alan would read live on the air. And eventually, Alan and John Cage appeared (during the day) in our studios and we discovered that it was the first time they had ever met.

But, if I recall (my copy of the book is somewhere), my name may be misspelled, or approximated. A similar text appears in the final product of their late night prowling... the set of of CDs that Fantasy put out of his poetry readings.

And we had a Zuckermann harpsichord at KPFA. I even used it in an early tape piece of mine, again back in the good ol' 70's. I believe it was painted green.

sfmike said...

I haven't read the Barry Miles version, but the even longer 1992 Michael Schumacher bio of Allen Ginsberg called "Dharma Lion" is one of the best biographies I've ever read about anyone, and he even pulled it off while the old guru was still alive.

Pliable said...

Mike, the Michael Schumacher version was also on the shelf in Wolfgang Zuckermann's bookstore!

I opted for the shorter, and therefore more compact, Barry Miles book simply because it left room in the boot (trunk) of the car to bring some wine home.

Which I guess is as good a reason as any for choosing one book over another.

Scott said...

...a self-assembly harpshichord kit which sold in large quantities

And a clavichord kit as well. One which I assembled just made the trip from our bedroom to our university daighter's apartment. Still functioning well.

Garth Trinkl said...

I helped my Berkeley public high school teacher, a few times, build a Zuckermann self-assembly harpsichord in the winter-spring of 1972. (I still have a scar from an anti-war demonstration/riot incurred walking home from south Campus one such Saturday morning. -- I also recall that Mr. Haynes's son played baroque oboe with Frans Brüggen in Europe. -- Like Mr Zuckermann and the Vietnam war, I believe that Mr Haynes also left Berkeley in digust over the Vietnam War, settling in either Canada or rural Oregon or Washington State.)

*

I met Wolfgang Zuckermann briefly 25 years or so ago, when he was living/staying in a small carriage house in Georgetown, Washington, D.C. He might have have been in D.C. on environmental activist (or rare/used book business) issues, I vaguely recall.

Thanks for sharing the great photo and essay!

Pliable said...

I should have said in my post that Mr Zuckermann apologised that his favourite female composer was missing from the Pandora's Guide to Women Composers that I bought.

He then played a CD in the shop of Louise Farrenc's music to compensate.