Monthly Archives: March 2010



Sonata no. 29 (“Hammerklavier”), Largo e Allegro Risoluto.  Alfred Brendel, piano.

On this date in 1827 Beethoven died.

Here’s the 19 year old Frye on Beethoven:

Beethoven’s attack on the sonata form is more subtle [than Wagner].  Broadly speaking, it centres around the pictorial approach, and, hence, the compression and economy of the Mozartian sonata disappears, and the sonata takes on a greatly enlarged aspect.  The speed no longer swings about a balance, but the various movements (Beethoven expanded the three‑movement form to a four‑movement one) are rhythmically contrasted.  The middle theme of Mozart is expanded to a tremendous development section*a purely pictorial idea which analyses every implication of the given themes and holds them up to the light, as it were.  A similar impulse leads Beethoven to develop the coda.  The egocentricity of his later forms is, if often exaggerated, nonetheless present, and it can hardly be altogether an accident that the greatest of romantic musicians became deaf in his later years, whereby the individual concentration power would be so much augmented.  There is in Beethoven, however, a good deal of the will‑to‑power spirit as well.  In his later works he is no longer content merely with a spatial attack on the sonata form; he must probe deeper and analyse the fundamental secrets of the time‑problems in his art form.  In consequence, the two works of his last period which are on perhaps the largest scale deal first of all with an exhaustive and distinctly pessimistic and despairing analysis of the sonata form, ending in a slow movement, and followed by a terrific burst of energy which tears to pieces, in the one case the fugue, in the other the oratorio.  The two works in question are Hammerclavier Sonata, op. 106, and the Choral Symphony. (Student Essays)

(Thanks to Bob Denham for the quote.)

Finale of the 9th Symphony after the jump.

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Claude Debussy


On this date in 1918 Claude Debussy died.

From the first entry of Frye’s 1942 diary, July 12th;

The French have consistently ignored the great forms, the sonata and the fugue, and have stuck to dainty descriptive pieces not to be taken too seriously.  It seems to be an outlet for their crotch-bound paralytically caesured poetry. The pictorial tendency, often with a dance basis, is so persistent it should be worked out in some detail… The French are not a rhythmically moving race — a Celtic-Latin alloy… The highlights of a musical history would probably be CouperinRameau fanciful titles, with some of Landowska‘s notes (lunatic but interesting). The attack on opera centring on the Gluck and the Tannhauser fights the impossibility of producing music while pretending to be a Roman (Revolution: Cherubini & Napolean were both Italians): the 19th c. partition into the Provencal, and Belgian and a Pole (Frank is purely Teutonic and Chopin‘s music is entirely pictorial.  His non-committal titles are a pose: one doesn’t expect any other music to follow his Preludes. There’s a closer link between Chopin and Debussy than one would at first think): the opera bouffe parodies of the Faust type: revival of the Rameau tradition with Debussy & Ravel: Saint-Saen‘s last-war journal.  Do the French hate music? Why is there no lust of the flesh & pride of the eyes in it? no Renoir or Boucher or Hugo even? I’m getting cultural dysentery again.  Hangnail is an incorrect form of angnail, a clear sense of false etymology. (CW, 8, 4-5)

There are actual recordings by Debussy, but I wasn’t able to find one I could post.  However, above is a piano roll made by Debussy of “Golliwog’s Cakewalk“.

Frye Alert


Two student bloggers produced brief posts yesterday on The Educated Imagination‘s “Giants in Time“.  Either it’s a remarkable coincidence, or they’re both working through the same academic timetable.  Either way, it’s nice to see that young students especially continue to engage this work.

You can look at their posts here and here.

William Morris


Portrait of William Morris, by George Frederic Watts, 1870

Today is William Morris‘s birthday.  Morris is a touchstone for Frye when it comes to romance.  Here’s a sample from The Secular Scripture, The Recovery of Myth“:

William Morris is an example of a writer whose attitude to the past is one of creative repetition rather than of return.  Morris admired the Middle Ages to the point of fixation, and yet the social reference of his medievalism is quite different from that of Carlyle, or even Ruskin, who so strongly influenced him.  According to Morris, the Middle Ages appears right side up, so to speak, when we see it as a creation of artists, not in its reflected or projected form as a hierarchy: when we realize that the genuine creators of medieval culture were the the builders and painters and romancers, not the warriors or the priests.  For him, the fourteenth century was the time when, with the Peasants’ Revolt, something like a genuine proletariat appeared on the social scene, it’s political attitude expressed in John Ball’s question, where were the “gentlemen” in the working society of Adam and Eve? In News from Nowhere, the “dream of John Ball” (the title of another work of Morris) comes true: the people in that happy future world are an equal society of creative workers.  They have not returned to the fourteenth century: they have turned it inside out.

A selection of Morris’s wallpaper after the jump.

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Frye and Fairley


From Barker Fairley: Portraits (Toronto: Methuen, 1981): 48–9

Further on Barker Fairley and the refusal of U.S. customs to grant him a visa to lecture on Goethe at Bryn Mawr because of his leftist sympathies (he had supported a Soviet friendship organization), these passages from Frye’s Diaries:

“Poor old Barker still feels pretty blue: he was just beginning to start exploring U.S.A. & get some real recognition when they slammed the door on him & he has to pick up a trip to England as consolation prize, & of course he knows all about England.”  (20 March 1950)

“Barker [Fairley] is taking the C.P.R. [Canadian Pacific Railway] train to St. John that goes across Maine, so he says he’ll have a chance to piss on the United States.  Just the same Barker has been deeply hurt by his exclusion.  I wish the Americans didn’t do all the silly things the Communists expect them to do and know in advance how to take advantage of.”  (9 April 1950)

The lectures that Fairley was to give at Bryn Mawr were later published as Goethe’s Faust: Six Essays (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1953).  Fairley incidentally painted Frye’s portrait in 1969, which is reproduced above.

About his subject, Fairley has this to say:

I first ran into the name of Northrop Frye when, returning to Canada in 1936, I read an article by him in The Canadian Forum about that delightful dance troupe “The Ballet Joos.”  They acted, or rather danced, scenes from social life.  I remember particularly “The City,” which conveyed both gregariousness and loneliness and gave me a pleasure greater than any I got from classical dancing.  Does he remember this too with the same vivid pleasure, I wonder?

He now switches my mind back to the University of Toronto as it was then.  It seemed to me in those days that University College with its undenomina­tional freedom was carrying the torch of the humanities ahead of the other colleges.  This was a pardonable illusion, which any of the four colleges was entitled to.  But what with Northrop Frye and his mastery of the whole field of literature as we know it and his colleague, Kathleen Coburn, with her com­mand of the Coleridge battalion — to say nothing of her very special autobiog­raphy In Pursuit of Coleridge — it appears now that I was wrong and that Victoria is in the lead as taking the University’s name more effectively abroad than I ever expected.

My portrait of Northrop Frye is a third attempt after two ignominious failures.  I was with Aba Bayefsky the first time.  He succeeded — more than succeeded — and I collapsed.  After a second collapse I said, “Norrie, let me try again.”  He agreed.  And sure enough, that inscrutable face of his yielded at last, and his gentle nature came through to my great delight.

Frye and Border Security


Barker Fairley by Frederick Varley, 1920

Further to Michael’s post on Peter Watts’s conviction for obstructing a border guard.

The more things change, the more they stay the same.  Exhibit A is Frye’s editorial, which appeared in the Canadian Forum 29, no. 346 (November 1949): 169–70.

Nothing to Fear But Fear

For some months now the American immigration authorities have been busily defending our otherwise undefended border. A number of labour leaders, students, and unfrocked Communists have been held up, turned back, or refused visas, and on a principle of chance well known to duck hunters, they have even managed to bag a few authentic members of the Labor Progressive Party. The recent refusal of visas to Professor Shortliffe of Queen’s and Professor Barker Fairley of Toronto, amounting in at least the latter case to permanent exclusion, has brought the matter more into the open. As practically every Canadian has friends or relatives in the States, Canadian protest has been somewhat muffled. When made, it has usually been carefully qualified by two points: first, that it is intelligible that the U.S.A. should want to exclude people with a vocation for overthrowing its government by force; and second, that as a sovereign nation it has a perfect right to exclude whom it likes.

Well, so it has, but its officials need not be so contemptuous of the national sovereignty of Canada, which, even if smaller, is quite as highly civilized, and quite as interested in democracy. It is an insult to Canada to have American authorities in charge of Canadian immigration who do not know the elementary facts of Canadian political life, and who cannot distinguish a Communist from a social democrat. Earlier in the summer a prominent CCF leader had some difficulty in getting a visa because he had been called a Communist in a Trestrail pamphlet. But no American official should be handling Canadian immigration at all unless he knows all about the trustworthiness of Trestrail pamphlets. A similar political astigmatism must have blurred the official view of Professor Shortliffe, who, though he has associated himself with the CCF, was otherwise merely a professor of French trying to proceed to an appointment in French at Washington University.

Professor Fairley wanted a visa to fulfil an invitation to lecture on Goethe at Bryn Mawr. For any normally competent official, the only question of importance would be: is there anything in this man’s record to indicate that he is going to do anything more subversive than lecture on Goethe? And the answer to that question was obviously no. Professor Fairley is a world famous Goethe scholar, and has never made a political speech in his life. But the officials, in a frenzy of misapplied subtlety, looked up all the occasions on which he had lent his name to the support of a Soviet friendship organization, and gravely decided that he was not sufficiently at war with Russia to be admitted even for a month. After all, had not Mrs. Fairley been sent home from the Peace Conference some months before? True, that action was as high handed and foolish as the exclusion of her husband. But perhaps the authorities reasoned that if they made two foolish decisions over the same family, they would save their faces by their consistency.

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Canadian Author/Marine Biologist Peter Watts Guilty of “Obstructing” Border Guard


Canadian science fiction writer and marine biologist Peter Watts

Peter Watts’s “crime” is detailed in a post by Cory Doctorow at Boing Boing:

Canadian sf writer Peter Watts was convicted of obstruction for getting out of his car at a US Border crossing and asking what was going on, then not complying fast enough when he was told to get back in the car. He faces up to two years in jail.


That’s apparently the statute: if you don’t comply fast enough with a customs officer, he can beat you, gas you, jail you and then imprison you for two years. This isn’t about safety, it isn’t about security, it isn’t about the rule of law.

It’s about obedience.

Authoritarianism is a disease of the mind. It criminalizes the act of asking “why?” It is the obedience-sickness that turns good people into perpetrators and victims of atrocities great and small.

I will link to mainstream media outlets when they get the story right!  They have not so far.  They are reporting that Watts was convicted of assualt.  He was not, according to a juror quoted at length in the Boing Boing post.  (Once again, the new media represented by the blogosphere surpasses the old media in getting both the story and its implications right.)

There are serious allegations that Watts was assaulted by border guards and talk of the possibility of civil action against them.  In the meantime, Watts faces two years in prison.

Watts’s version of events here.

David Frum: “Health Care Waterloo” [Updated]


Update: Frum yesterday declared in an interview with ABC, “Republicans originally thought that Fox worked for us and now we’re discovering that we work for Fox.” 

Ex-pat Canadian conservative pundit David Frum, (son of the late great CBC journalist Barbara Frum) has declared the GOP defeat on health care reform their Waterloo:

We followed the most radical voices in the party and the movement, and they led us to abject and irreversible defeat.

There were leaders who knew better, who would have liked to deal. But they were trapped. Conservative talkers on Fox and talk radio had whipped the Republican voting base into such a frenzy that deal-making was rendered impossible. How do you negotiate with somebody who wants to murder your grandmother? Or – more exactly – with somebody whom your voters have been persuaded to believe wants to murder their grandmother?

I’ve been on a soapbox for months now about the harm that our overheated talk is doing to us. Yes it mobilizes supporters – but by mobilizing them with hysterical accusations and pseudo-information, overheated talk has made it impossible for representatives to represent and elected leaders to lead. The real leaders are on TV and radio, and they have very different imperatives from people in government. Talk radio thrives on confrontation and recrimination. When Rush Limbaugh said that he wanted President Obama to fail, he was intelligently explaining his own interests. What he omitted to say – but what is equally true – is that he also wants Republicans to fail. If Republicans succeed – if they govern successfully in office and negotiate attractive compromises out of office – Rush’s listeners get less angry. And if they are less angry, they listen to the radio less, and hear fewer ads for Sleepnumber beds.

Frum’s punchline: So today’s defeat for free-market economics and Republican values is a huge win for the conservative entertainment industry.” [My italics]

That says it all.  “The conservative entertainment industry” includes all of Fox News: 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, 12 months a year, and prominently features the clownish figures who are its most public face: Glenn Beck, Sarah Palin, Sean Hannity.  How can you tell when Fox News pundits are lying?  Their lips move.

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