A Week in Culture: Richard Brody, Part 2


The Culture Diaries

This is the second installment of Brody’s culture diary. Click here to read part 1.


10:19 A.M. WQXR: Schumann, Three Romances for Oboe and Piano, op. 94, played by Heinz Holliger and Alfred Brendel. One of the great chamber-music recordings.

11:05 A.M. The Genius and the Goddess: “Mailer satirized the homespun Miller as ‘the complacent country squire, boring people with his accounts of clearing fields, gardening, the joys of plumbing (“Nothing like taking a bath in water that comes through pipes you threaded yourself”).’”

11:55 A.M. Tag Gallagher’s superb biography of Roberto Rossellini—remarkable to learn that Italian critics hated Germany Year Zero.

2:10 P.M. Village Voiceinterviews with the directors Lena Dunham, Aaron Katz, and Matthew Porterfield (the director of two great movies, Hamilton and the forthcoming Putty Hill), about BAMcinemaFEST.

5:30 P.M. I Am Love, which opens June 25. Operatic, for those who don’t like opera; Viscontian, for those who don’t watch Visconti; erotic, for those who like to watch.

8:10 P.M. The Genius and the Goddess: “In February 1959, when the seventy-four-year-old Danish author Isak Dinesen—wasted, skeletal and ravaged by syphilis—expressed a desire to meet them, Carson McCullers invited the actress and playwright to lunch at her house in Nyack, New York.”

8:30 P.M. Mozart K. 497, Malcolm/Schiff on Mozart’s own piano from around 1780. Reminds me that my favorite recording of this masterwork of symphonic scope, a Nonesuch LP of it, performed by Robert Levin and Malcolm Bilson, is unavailable on CD. Haven’t heard it since I sold my LPs in 1995. Wonder how it would sound now.

9:30 P.M. Watched Jonathon Niese complete his one-hit shutout; saw bits and pieces of the last few innings. Pessimistically expected that, pitching into the ninth inning, he’d lose both his one-hitter and his shutout—I was wrong.

10:00 P.M. Clifford Jordan and John Gilmore, Blowing In from Chicago, a Blue Note recording from 1957. The cut “Blue Lights,” composed by the alto saxophonist Gigi Gryce.

10:25 P.M. Erica Morini, Mozart, Violin Concertos 4 and 5. Morini: a Viennese immigrant (born 1904) with a mellifluous tone, who speaks Mozart as her mother tongue. These are privately-made live recordings, from concerts with a local orchestra, from 1965 and 1971, and a document of the vast cultural enrichment of New York that resulted from the desperate emigrations of the nineteen-thirties and forties.

10:57 P.M. I notice a strange Heisenbergian aspect to this diary—the nocturnal chunks of time usually devoted to reading are, this week, instead go into filling out the up-to-the-minute account of the day’s cultural doings. Am reminded of what one great rabbinic scholar said to me about another: I read ten books and write one; he reads one and writes ten. Nonetheless, I am learning something else about my own cultural life: that it’s weirdly regimented, by day and time.

11:25 P.M. Gabriel Fauré, Piano Quintets nos. 1 and 2. A fine but strange recording, by Peter Orth and the Auryn Quartet, an American and four Germans.

2:20 A.M. The Genius and the Goddess: “The young poet Sylvia Plath, married to the English poet Ted Hughes and trying to be a writer, a wife and a mother, identified with Marilyn’s apparently ideal life. . . . Conned by Hollywood publicity, she had no idea of Marilyn’s troubles.”


10:05 A.M. WQXR: Brahms, “Variations on a Theme by Haydn”. A stirring and smart way to start the day.

10:06 A.M. Blogging about Busby Berkeley’s Blonde Inspiration, viewed last week but present in memory; re-read my own posts about it. Wonder whether I’d recognize them as mine if I stumbled on them by accident.

11:00 A.M. John Cassavetes’s Opening Night, on DVD—one of my favorite movies, ever. Therefore hard to talk about.

12:17 P.M. The Locusts Have No King, Dawn Powell: the literary life in New York, 1948, as it overlapped with the commercial life, the advertising life, the drinking life, the sex life. . . I’m surprised by her judgmental sarcasm.

2:20 P.M. Reading, again chez Glenn Kenny at Some Came Running, while doing a post about Tiny Furniture, his response to a negative but interesting remark by its director, Lena Dunham, in the Voice interview, about a film that I love, Nicholas Ray’s Bigger Than Life. She’s missing a great experience, but I can’t hold it against her. Around the neck of every artist, a sign should dangle: “Entitled to be wrong.” Critics are obligated to be right.

3:14 P.M. Doing a post about Brian De Palma’s Blow Out. Remembered the beginning was a film-within-a-film; happy to find the first sequence on YouTube; impatient to see the whole movie again.

3:30 P.M. Read my colleague Lila Byock’s tweet linking to (and deriding) Sam Tanenhaus’s attempted debunking, at the Times, of The New Yorker’s “20 Under 40” concept.

7:25 P.M. Mozart, String Quartets, K. 387 and K. 458. “K” for “Köchel,” the cataloguer of Mozart’s works.

8:35 P.M. Mets v. Orioles; R. A. Dickey, the knuckleballer, 35 years old. Remembering Hoyt Wilhelm, who retired at age 50. I thought his birthdate on the back of the baseball card was a misprint.

9:30 P.M. Thelonious Monk at Newport 1958-59. A great bootleg, especially the first four tracks—Monk in a great trio with the bassist Henry Grimes and the drummer Roy Haynes. Monk plays “Blue Monk.”

11:26 P.M. Pausing in the middle of a DVD of The Agony and the Ecstasy of Phil Spector, a documentary coming soon to Film Forum.


9:50 A.M. WQXR, indeterminate classical sounds—short of coffee. Much lower-than-usual dose of Lady Gaga and Shakira and Christina Aguilera and other Saturday-morning music-videos-on-demand this week.

10:50 A.M. Trawling news on-line, land on blog about it, and find myself wading through the on-line sewage of Mein Kampf and its ongoing international popularity.

1:20 P.M. After neighborhood errands (notably, acquiring coffee), another errand, outside the neighborhood, to the West Side, to get Louise’s clarinet repaired.

4:15 P.M. Paul Badura-Skoda, Schubert, Sonata no. 1, D. 157: played on an 1810 fortepiano by a pianist whose first musical language is Viennese. His Chopin (as Tuesday night) is all music, stripped of sedimented tradition; his Schubert is the essence of the tradition.

4:55 P.M. Let It Rain, a DVD of the new French film by Agnès Jaoui. The trailer was promising—there are a couple of good actors (Jamel Debbouze, Frédéric Pierrot)—but it’s scripted to death, the other actors are as broad as Broadway, and it’s full of absurd coincidences and plenty of stereotypes. A hermetically sealed and microwaveable French movie.

6:45 P.M. Badura-Skoda, Schubert’s Sonata no 17, D. 894, with the calmly majestic Moderato of the first movement.

9:14 P.M. New York Mets v. Baltimore Orioles, at Camden Yards (on SNY); watching with one eye while reading the bridge column in the New York Post. Baseball on TV is never as much fun as at the park, because the camera angles are always the same and can’t show the whole field at the same time.

9:40 P.M. A Star Is Born, the 1954 version. Simply one of the greatest, most shattering of all melodramas and Judy Garland gives one of the greatest of all movie performances. Shocking that she didn’t win an Oscar for it (she was nominated, but was beaten by Grace Kelly, for The Country Girl, which I’ve never seen.)

1:00 A.M. I want to read. I don’t want to read The Locusts Have No King. I need to find another book. I have and love the original 1911 version of Dreiser’s The “Genius”, a beautiful recent issue from U. of Illinois Press and a great editorial discovery. I’ve started it but it’s too heavy to carry around, too heavy to read in bed while lying on my back. Instead, I write—return a few e-mails, write in this diary.

1:15 A.M. Schumann’s Symphonic Etudes, the 1928 recording by Percy Grainger; a true communion of composers.


10:30 A.M. Awaken to Louise watching The Lovely Bones. She wants me to see the creepy scene of Stanley Tucci luring the girl to his underground lair.

10:45 A.M. The New York Times piece in the Arts and Leisure section on I Am Love. The return of melodrama? It has never been away.

11:05 A.M. A day of writing—including this diary. Leonard Rose, the great cellist, performing Bach’s Cello Suite no. 3 in C. I know it very well. I play a transcription on recorder, and can never get through the first movement without tears in my eyes.

12:55 P.M. Paul Badura-Skoda, Schubert’s “Unfinished” sonata, D. 840. Badura-Skoda finished it; better as a two-movement torso.

1:30 P.M. Ron Carter, Where?—Eric Dolphy with him, a kind of reciprocation for Carter’s participation in Dolphy’s Out There, one of the most perfect jazz albums that exists, and the one that made me love jazz, at age fifteen. Here, in Where?, Dolphy reins it in; intelligent easy listening, but parts of Dolphy’s playing sound like nose-thumbing—and he’s right.

2:15 P.M. A Modern Jazz Symposium of Music and Poetry with Charlie Mingus—he must have loved that “Charlie”; 1957 sextet, featuring a recitation—much earthier than the pompous title.

3:30 P.M. Sviatoslav Richter, live in Salzburg, 1977—a little Beethoven, much Chopin and Debussy. Iridescent playing, with a nostalgia and tenderness throughout. The Slavic soul yearning for Paris?

5:25 P.M. La Captive, Chantal Akerman in Paris: Proust’s La Prisonnière, through the prisms of the acrid romanticism of Contempt and the aesthetico-economic ironies of Nouvelle Vague. A crucial and truly accomplished modernist melodrama.

10:55 P.M. Brilliant piece of political philosophy and psychology by J. M. Bernstein at the Times on-line, “The Very Angry Tea Party,” viewing that movement as the ultimate rejection of the view—supported by the increased interdependency of the modern world–of the individual as essentially a social construct.

11:40 P.M. Chess and bridge in the Sunday Post: I’m a recovering chess player, never play any more.

12:11 P.M. As if on cue, Patricia Cohen, in the Times, writes a piece headlined “Long Road to Adulthood Is Growing Even Longer”—as if she herself were responding to Sam Tanenhaus on “20 Under 40.”

12:20 A.M. Miles Davis and the Modern Jazz Giants—including Thelonious Monk and Milt Jackson (I saw all three, in the mid-’seventies, not together)—in a great 1954 session. Davis’s sound was never fuller nor riper (someone perfectly compared it here to grapes hanging heavily on a vine)—this is where he seems to have found his definitive musical voice. The two takes of “Bags’ Groove” (the title tracks on another disk) are among the music I’ve listened to most in my life. As for these other cuts, I know them less and so, listen to them more now.

Richard Brody is The New Yorker‘s movies editor for Goings On About Town and the author of Everything Is Cinema: The Working Life of Jean-Luc Godard.