Wednesday, September 3, 2014

the last book I ever read (Nicholson Baker's Traveling Sprinkler, excerpt six)

from Traveling Sprinkler by Nicholson Baker:

He reminds me a little of me in his single-mindedness, except that he’s doing pop music and I was doing classical music in high school. I barely passed Algebra II and I refused to write papers on King Lear, which I thought was an unbearable, false, vile jelly of a play with no beauty in it anywhere, and instead I read Aaron Copland’s book on music and Rimsky-Korsakov on orchestration. Rimsky-Korsakov really understood the bassoon—that’s why he gave it Scheherazade’s D minor solo. In minor keys, Rimsky-Korsakov wrote, the bassoon has a “sad, ailing quality,” while in major keys it creates an “atmosphere of senile mockery.”

I read some of Stravinsky’s books, too, all written with the help of the overly allusive Robert Craft, including the one where he says, “I am the vessel through which Le Sacre passed.” And I read one of Paul Hindemith’s books. Hindemith, a composer, outraged me when he wrote that the bassoon, “with its clattering long levers and other obsolete features left in a somewhat fossil condition,” was due for a major overhaul. I had to admit, though, that the keys did make a lot of noise. There’s no way to play a fast passage without some extraneous clacking. Listen to Scheherazade—you’ll hear all kinds of precise metallic noises coming from the bassoonist.

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