Sunday, June 14, 2009

The detective who almost loved Berlioz

I wrote during a recent discussion about Sherlock Holmes and English music that "I'd like see to how a Berlioz-loving consulting detective would go about his job. Berlioz ... might be the composer of choice for any number of hard-working but dissipated fictional detectives of a later time than his own."

"A Berlioz-loving detective would be great!" replied Lauren, who knows a thing or two about crime fiction and a thing or twenty-seven about music. "I can see the parallels between Paganini as Berlioz's benefactor and a glamorous celebrity hiring a private eye."

Lo and behold, here's the mystery-writer protagonist of L.C. Tyler's The Herring-Seller's Apprentice musing about a trait he tried to give one of his own protagonists:

"I once tried to give Fairfax an interest in Berlioz (I must have been reading too much Colin Dexter). Elsie had the blue pencil through that before you could say `Morse'. `Don't bother to develop his character,' she said. `Your readers aren't interested in character.' "
© Peter Rozovsky 2009

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26 Comments:

Blogger Philip said...

Ah, the Department of Missed Opportunities, even if inadvertent ones. The Herring Seller's Apprentice was published in 2007, the year in which that transcendant scholar of the history of ideas, Jacques Barzun, much weighted with honours and erudition of scope and depth rarely, if ever, equalled, reached his 100th birthday. Barzun, author of the monumental Berlioz and the Romantic Century, erstwhile President of the Berlioz Society, and a man much visited for advice on Berlioz by the likes of Colin Davis, is also, of course, the man who in his spare time read copiously and, with his boyhood friend Wendell Hertig Taylor, kept notes over the decades on crime fiction, from which came the extraordinary, if sometimes deliciously contrary, A Catalogue of Crime. And so I have to think what a nice birthday present a tale with a Berlioz-loving detective would have been in that centenary year. Not entirely too late, mind you, for he's still with us at 102, and pretty sparky by all accounts. He's a figure frankly revered by many of us in the same or contiguous fields, and it's a regret of mine that I met him just once when I was too young fully to benefit and at a time when dissent and rancour was so thick in the academic aerosol that it diverted energies almost totally from scholarly pursuits and almost totally occupied the attention of people in the sort of position Barzun then occupied as Provost of Columbia. It was nifty though, even when in one's salad days, which as Norman adverted the other day, I now very much am not.
If you haven't, Peter, you might want to look at his Dawn to Decadence: 500 Years of Western Cultural Life, 1500 to the Present, nine years in the writing, published when he was 93, and a boggler on a number of counts.

June 14, 2009  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

I home in on my books the way a dog homes in on even a long-lost master. I remembered where in the pile I'd last seen my jacques Barzun On Writing, Editing, and Publishing.

Actually, I should look for the crime book. Or Dawn to Decadence. Or the Berlioz book, perhaps before I go hear the Berlioz Requiem next week -- and contemplate a life wasted because I am not Jacques Barzun.

June 14, 2009  
Blogger Philip said...

Actually, Peter, a friend of mine, having just given birth to his second book, narrowly avoiding a ceasarean though it is, in fact, a fine one and copped a couple of honours, told me once that he had just made himself sick looking at Barzun's bibliography. Now, if he'd been, let us just say not a friend, I'd have said, well, yes, and when you think of his work with Mortimer Adler on the Paideia Program, running the Reader's Subscription/Mid-Century Book Club with W.H. Auden and Lionel Trilling...and do you know the story of how he and Trilling teamed up to save their mutual student Allen Ginsberg, 18 or so at the time, from the potentially dire consequences of his seduction by an older man who used him dispose of the body of a man he'd murdered? Makes you wonder how he found time to sit in that seat of his at Yankee Stadium. I know a couple of historians for whom that last bit would have been the unkindest cut of all.

June 14, 2009  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Hey there Pete! presently reading Bill James' Girls. a terrific book! this made me do a google. if ever there a crime series worthy of a decent movie - Harpur/Manse, Robert Wilson's Bruce Medway (Instruments of Darkness (1995)* The Big Killing (1996)* Blood Is Dirt (1997)* A Darkening Stain (1998) or J Robert Janes' St. Cyr and Kohler deserve it.

Marc

June 14, 2009  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

I had heard that Allen Ginsberg story, but I didn't kow Trilling ws involved. Are those historians Mets fans?

June 14, 2009  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Thanks, Marc. "Girls" has some terrific lines. The young prostitute's talking dirty in English as an enticement are especially funny and touching.

And the middle books in the series are even better.

June 14, 2009  
Blogger Philip said...

Ah, that I would not know, Peter, not myself being a follower of the game. All I know is that it will take something to cause either to miss a game on television, and both are now well into coronary territory engaging in the playing of it themselves.

June 14, 2009  
Blogger Linkmeister said...

I really should look into reading Barzun. I remember most his line (approximate): "If you want to understand America, learn baseball."

June 14, 2009  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

I've long known that line, but I didn't know it was Barzun's. I wonder if he'd repeat the sentiment today. Alas, I fear that to understand America today, one might better learn the NFL's version of football.

June 14, 2009  
Blogger Philip said...

"Whoever wants to know the heart and mind of America had better learn baseball, the rules and realities of the game -- and do it by watching first some high-school and small-town teams." From God's Country and Mine: A Declaration of Love Spiced with a Few Harsh Words. But that was in 1954, and I think you're right, Peter, though the three years preceding might suggest that your idea had some application then.

June 14, 2009  
Blogger Linkmeister said...

Philip, "the three years preceding"

Meaning 1951-1953, or meaning the most recent three years?

'51-'53 -- Giants-Dodgers playoff (curse you, Bobby Thomson!), Dodgers-Yankees WS (twice). Three pretty scintillating years in baseball history, I agree (although my guys lost all three times).

June 14, 2009  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

And my favorite Strat-O-Matic team: the 1953 Dodgers.

Philip, football is often likened to war. Do you suggest that the Korean War marks the beginning of professional football's ascendancy in American life? Others have suggested World War II as a convenient dividing line. Still others have called baseball a rural game and football an industrial one.

June 14, 2009  
Blogger Philip said...

Sorry, Linkmeister, I was a little vague in expressing that. I meant June 1950 to July 1953 -- the Korean War, as I think you have surmised, Peter. I'm really in two fields not my own here, but the kinship of American football with war once struck me, and to the wars of attrition exemplified by WW1, but then by the defensive war of attrition that was the final phase in Korea. Thereafter, the continuing Cold War, the continuation of the hot by other means, was a permament backdrop on the stage of life, so, yes, I should think Korea the dividing line, Peter.

June 14, 2009  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Philip, with respect to World War I, it is no accident that the offensive and defensive lines in football are known as the trenches. And the game's movement, with each team attempting to advance by claiming small chunks of territory at a time has suggested warfare to commentators.

Your mention of Korea suggests that staple of football, the goal-line stand.

June 14, 2009  
Blogger Philip said...

You are nicely adding details to the rather sketchy thought I had about American football, Peter, for I am not a follower of it. I had to look up goal-line stand, and yes, that is a pefect metaphor for that defensive war of attrition in the final phase in Korea. And I am thinking that perhaps football might best characterize the goings-on in Congress, between Congress and the White House, between State Department and Defense...in recent years, as perhaps baseball might once have done.

June 14, 2009  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Or dirty pool, another game that I think is less popular now than it once was.

June 14, 2009  
Blogger Philip said...

Whatever it is, it ain't cricket.

June 14, 2009  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Not the straight bat, eh?

June 14, 2009  
Blogger Philip said...

Noooo. Just bowling bumpers at one another while the night watchmen stall for time and the spin bowlers put on a show for the news cameras.

June 14, 2009  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

I must confess that I can only make a rough guess what "Not (quite?) the straight bat, eh?" means. But Bertie Wooster once taunted a vanquished antagonist with it, and it has beguiled me since. Despite a helpful tutorial with Uriah "Crime Scraps" Robinson, my knowledge of cricket remains fragmentary.

June 14, 2009  
Blogger Philip said...

It's a cricketing metaphor, Peter, but the connection is a bit tenuous, I've always thought. A straight bat is someone who is honest and straightforward. A straight bat in cricket is the 'right' position of the bat, vertical to the ground, after a hit that sends the ball along the ground, a defensive shot, rather than into the air where it might be caught and the batsman be out. A baseball player wouldn't find anything laudable in that at all.

June 14, 2009  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Thanks. That one was not too hard a guess. In any case, Wodehouse's context makes the meaning clear.

In I recall correctly, the villain accused of not being a straight bat replies, "Tchah!"

June 14, 2009  
Blogger Philip said...

I'll provide a link back to crime fiction here, Peter, for those of your readers I suspect are rather hoping for one. On June 28th, from 11.30 onwards, the gentlemen of the Sherlock Holmes Society of London will taking on the Gold Bats of the P.G.Wodehouse Society in a cricket match at High Wycombe in Buckinghamshire. Wouldn't we like to be there. And Norman, of course. A tissue restorer or two afterwards at some promising hostelry.

June 14, 2009  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

I'd love to be there. A trusty gentleman's personal gentleman will be available, of course, shimmering in with a foolproof pick-me-up the nest morning for any who should happen to overindulge the night before.

June 14, 2009  
Blogger Lauren said...

Am AWOL this week - I'm giving a paper on Eduard Hanslick, actually - but would love to come back to the last few postings when I get time.

And I'm honoured to have made it "above the line" twice in receint times!

June 21, 2009  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Poor Hanslick -- all I know about him is that he is supposed to have hated every composer who was any good and that Sixtus Beckmesser in Die Meistersinger was Hanslick. Oh, and that Wagner's targeting of Hanslick may have been due to that ugly little prejudice of his (Wagner's).

Heard the Philadelphia Orchestra play Berlioz's Requiem this week and was suitably dazzled. I now have his memoirs and Evenings With the Orchestra on hold at the library.

Above the line? Do you mean cited in the body of a post? You're an inspiration.

June 21, 2009  

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