Tuesday, February 9, 2010

A haunting read

One of the most honest books I have read recently. I never expected Khaled Hosseini, an Afghani settled in America to write such brilliant stuff. He is so honest in his expression that sometimes you feel like strangling the protagonist of the story yourself. If a writer can achieve this, then he is a bloody good writer.
There were passages in the book that made me cry.
This book revolves around Amir, a twelve year old who is fighting with his feelings to gain favour in his father's eyes and mighty jealous of anyone else who shares that favour with him. He is an ordinary boy, a coward and a weakling but possesses enough talent to win the local kite fighting tournament in Kabul.
The depiction of peaceful seventies' days in Kabul and the post Russian and Talibani regime passages are brillianly written.
More than Amir, it is Hassan who is 'The Kite Runner' and his boy Sohrab who tug at your heart strings. Hassan is younger to Amir, hare-lipped, a low caste Shia Hazara servant who is mocked in the streets. This story is about these two boys who could not see what was going to hit them on the afternoon of the kite flying tournament. That incident shatters their lives.
This is one of the greatest tales of redemption that I have read.
Hats off to Mr. Hosseini. This is a master story written with pain and honesty.
I will give you few glimpses of this master work : "I became what I am today at the age of twelve, on a frigid overcast day in the winter of 1975. ... Hassan and I fed from the same breasts. we took our first steps on the same lawn in the same yard. And, under the same roof, we spoke our first words. Mine was Baba . His was Amir - My name. Looking back on it now, I think the foundation for what happened in the winter of 1975 - and all that followed- was already laid in those first words. ... We crossed the river and drove north through the crowded Pashtunistan Square. Baba (father) used to take me to Khyber restaurant there for kabab. The building was still standing, but its doors were padlocked, the windows shattered, and the letters K and R missing from its name ( Excellent imagery, typical and reminiscent of most of the civil and war torn strife areas not only of Afghanistan but universally could be describing any place in the world and you will come across images like these)... After all, life is not a Hindi movie. Zindagi Migzara. Afghans like to say - Life goes on, unmindful of beginning, end, kamyab, nah-kam, crisis or catharsis, moving forward like a slow, dusty caravan of kochis." Well written.
Khaled Hosseini was born in Afghanistan and his family received political asylum in the States in 1980. He is a doctor and lives in California now. This is his first novel and richly deserving of the San Fransisco Chronicle Award and being declared Bestseller by the New York times.
It is full of haunting images. It is lively, engaging and will definitely bring a tear or two to your eyes.
People living in the subcontinent would identify with the importance of kite flying and kite running during Tilsankrat and other days of the year. Run with this kite and read. You will not be able to forget this book.

Friday, February 5, 2010

Dvorak's New World by Solti

The first four symphonies of Dvorak were rejected by himself as immature and were omitted from his list of acknowledged works. Hence, this symphony was known as No. 5 till 1955. Earlier, his sixth symphony was published as No.1, Seventh as No. 2, Fifth as No. 3, Eighth as No.4 and occasionally labelled as 'Pastoral'.
NEW WORLD : This descriptive title is illuminating for this symphony. First, it sticks in the memory. Secondly, it reveals ethnic negro melodies adapted by Dvorak.
In 1891, Dvorak received a telegram from a wealthy American woman, Mrs. Jeanette M. Thurber, asking him to accept the post of Director at the National Conservatory of Music in New York founded by her some years earlier. Dvorak refused at first as he was reluctant to leave his native Czechoslovakia but was tempted later by the very large salary. When Dvorak reached New York in the autumn of 1892, he was the centre of attention of all musical circles. Mrs. Thurber wanted that Dvorak , who had produced a truly national music based on the folk music of his own country, should show Americans how to do the same thing with their own folk music. A close friend of Dvorak, Henry.E. Krehbiel, wrote that Dvorak held it to be the duty of composers to reflect in their music the spirit of the folk music of the people to whom they belong, not by using those tunes badly as themes, but by studying their characteristics and composing in their vein. Dvorak strove hard in his New World Symphony to reproduce the fundamental characteristics of the Red Indian and Negro melodies which he found in America. Henry Wordsworth Longfellow's ' Song of Hiawatha' made a deep impression on Dvorak as his notebooks show. Mrs. Thurber would have liked to see him make an opera of it but this did not work out. However, a tune jotted down by Dvorak in December 1892 under the heading 'Legend' became the theme of the middle section of the slow Largo movement of the symphony.
Like many nineteenth century symphonies, the New World exemplifies the cyclic principle of connecting the various movements thematically. In the slow introduction to the first movement, there is presented on the horns an emphatic rhythmic figure consisting of a rising arpeggio followed by a falling one.
This recurs as a motto theme in all the later movements. It is answered by a springily rhythmic phrase on the clarinets and bassoons. The second subject is announced on flutes and oboes. Near the end of the exposition, the flute plays a third lyrical tune. This theme carries over into the development. In the recapitulation, the first subject is much condensed and the second is elaborated and there is a coda based on the motto. The repeat in the exposition of this movement has been honoured only by Istvan Kertesz,Leonard Bernstein and Carlo Maria Giulini.
The Largo is made up of two memorable tunes. The first is on the cor anglais and the second is on flute and oboe.
The Scherzo is in the traditional form with a trio.In its coda, the motto theme again occurs.
In the finale, the massive main theme is announced by the horns and later passed to the strings. The second theme is accompanied on the cellos beneath a long breathed tune on the clarinet. The cor anglais tune from the Largo is brought forward now on the flute. A phrase from the Scherzo now comes on the violins and the motto theme as usual on the horns. In the viola counterpoint to this passage, there is a resemblance to 'Yankee Doodle'. Some recapitulation of the finale's own material follows until the motto theme heralds the coda in a grand thematic apotheosis.It is a magnificent work.
The noteworthy readings of this symphony in order are: Istvan Kertesz/London Symphony; Leonard Bernstein/New York Philharmonic; Carlo Maria Giulini/Chicago Symphony; Sir Georg Solti/Chicago Symphony; Arturo Toscanini/NBC Symphony; Jascha Horenstein/Wiener Symphony; Vaclav Talich/Czech Philharmonic; Rudolf Kempe/Royal Philharmonic; Zubin Mehta/Los Angeles Philharmonic; Rafael Kubelik/Berlin Philharmonic; Herbert Von Karajan/Berlin Philharmonic.
The Kertesz set is the definitive for complete symphonies.The definitive version of Dvorak's New World Symphony is by Leonard Bernstein with the New York Philharmonic in the late sixties version on Columbia with the first movement repeat honoured and the climaxes being utterly blazing. Another performance that rivals Bernstein is by Istvan Kertesz and the London Symphony. This performance could also share the definitive stamp. I am attaching a Vienna Philharmonic reading of 1961 under Kertesz. Pay close attention to the intensity of the timpani. http://youtu.be/J10s82y28QY There are three other performances that have to be noted for excellent renditions of this symphony. They are Rudolf Kempe with the Royal Philharmonic, Herbert Von Karajan and the Vienna Philharmonic and Zubin Mehta and the Los Angeles Philharmonic. Add to this the performances by Sir Georg Solti and Chicago as well as by Carlo Maria Giulini and Chicago Symphony.Royal Philharmonic Rudolf Kempe and Royal Philharmonic Paavo Jarvi.