Round the web

There’s some good stuff out there on the ol’ internet to read this week.

First, Dick Cavett has a nice piece on the forgotten art of the insult, that is, the forgotten art of the clever insult.

I haven’t ever found any great writing on that wonderful and often unappreciated art form, the insult.

There are two kinds of insult. “I was bored by your book” is one kind. “Your book? Once I put it down, I couldn’t pick it up,” is the other.

The insult is, along with the apology and the question, one of the fast-disappearing parts of our discourse. A proper insult is a form of social engagement- it takes wit, thought, energy and a degree of interest in your subject. Today, hostility is usually expressed in either simple invective- terms of hatred that could apply to anyone. “Fuck you” is not a proper insult, as it is not tailor made for the recipient. (The exception is to be found in the denoument to the “clown joke.”) Fortunately, orchestra musicians tend to excel at the art of the insult- in my experience, British professional orchestra musicians are among the most creative and witty masters of the insult in the world.

That the apology is becoming rarer than even a good insult. I could hardly hide my surprise the other day when a player apologized in advance for having to miss a rehearsal for a funeral the other day- not even everyone bothers to tell a conductor of an absence in advance anymore. When I was wee, we were taught to ASK if it was okay to miss, even if it was a completely non-negotiable situation. “I’m afraid I am scheduled to have open-heart surgery that conflicts with a rehearsal for this concert- is it okay if I miss the rehearsal for my surgery, and would you still consider allowing me to play the concert,” is the way I was taught to do it. I have had players ask almost identical questions, but I also get simply told “I’m missing rehearsal next week because I’m busy.” Anyway, I sound like an old fart, but when a train is cancelled, or the whatsit I just ordered on line is no longer available even though the website lists it as in-stock, I kind of expect an apology from an actual person (not the recording the train companies use, which is worse than  nothing).

Also on line today is an excellent piece on Mendelssohn from blogger Jessica Duchen in the Indy. Jessica has been designated as the official blogger of the Mendelssohn anniversary year by the BBC, and this article is a good sign. I have no idea if the hypothesis that FM may have offed himself after being rejected by Jenny Lind, but I’m not suprised his private life may not have been the simplistic study in happiness that previous writers have sometimes depicted because I know a good bit of his music fairly well….

I’ve written before about my general feelings for Mendelssohn, in this post called Felix Rocks, which more or less sums up my outlook to Mendelssohn. How anyone could listen to the A minor quartet (probably my favorite Mendelssohn piece) and recognize that this was not only a precious talent, but a great soul- one of the few composers who has ever been able to understand the world of Beethoven’s late quartets? How can you not see the passion and tragedy in the Hebrides Overture- that’s not happy music, not one-dimensional music. It’s high tragedy.

I like, even love, Wagner’s music, but he committed countless wrongs against other composers- he discovered early on he could build his own reputation by destroying those of his peers and predecessors. His two most consistent targets were Schumann (who he stole a great deal from) and Mendelssohn (whose talent he was deeply, deeply envious of). What is sad is that his talking points against these two composers are still getting repeated. Wagner tried his dirty tricks on Brahms, but Brahms was smart enough to cultivate his own friends in the press. Anyone who tells me that Mendelssohn was somehow “facile but one-dimensional,” is likely to get a properly constructed insult unless they construct a proper apology…

BTW- check out the obit of Betty Freeman at the Indy. It’s a great example of how one person can put a bit of old money to very good use and change the world in the process. Where would music be without her and Mrs Elizabeth Sprague Coolidge

c. 2009

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About the author

American conductor, composer and cellist Kenneth Woods is Principal Conductor of the English Symphony Orchestra, Artistic Director of the Colorado MahlerFest and cellist of the string trio Ensemble Epomeo. He records for the Avie, Somm, Nimbus, Signum, MSR and Toccata labels.

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