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Frankfurt Book Fair – Part III

On the occasion of the Iceland’s presentation as Guest of Honor ad the Fair, many appointments were staged in Frankfurt for Iceland’s literature, art and culture in general. I was able to visit at least the Schirn Kunsthalle, (www.schirn.de), where two exhibitions were dedicated to two Icelandic artists: Gabríela Friðriksdóttir, with her impressive «Crepusculum» installation, and Erró (who now lives in Paris) with a selection of his paintings, notably the Scapes serie and, for the first time, the entire cycle of his Monsters. Both exhibitions will last until 8. January, 2012, and if you are going to Frankfurt for some reason, they are worth a visit.

Cover of the «Crepusculum» bookGabríela Friðriksdóttir’s installation merges very different materials (some medieval Icelandic manuscripts, too, leaving Iceland for the first time) creating a room whose exploration can last for hours: she created it for the Schirn, bringing all the materials from Iceland. Although full of carefully crafted details, Crepusculum gives a deep sense of breadth and expanse, notwithstanding the general crepuscular tone. Gabríela Friðriksdóttir is known also for her collaborations with Björk for her films and for this installation Kehrer Verlag für Kunst, Kultur und Fotografie, published a 308 pages book, with 164 color and 28 black-and-white illustrations (of course entitled Crepusculum). « Gabríela Friðriksdóttir’s working method – explains the presentation – is distinguished by a polymorphism of media: drawings, paintings, photographs and sculptures stand equivalent to installations, performance art and video films. In her works. Gabriela draws together different cultural, religious and psychological levels into an idiosyncratic aesthetic canon of symbols, forms and meanings. This applies notably to the films which, together with their surreal scenarios and abandonment of classical narrative models, produce a wondrous world, in which puzzling visions are interwoven with faces from Ancient Norse mythology and with psychosexual associations.»

Erro's Birdscape - detail

Erró’s works are of a completely different nature: the painting fo the series Scapes, for example, are built with an infinity of small variations on a single theme: a Birdscape is made of hundreds of birds, crowding a large canvas where it is very difficult to find a focus or a center – you can only take it on the whole or lose yourself in the small details. «Erró ranks among the great solitary figures of twentieth-century art. At once pop and baroque, eye-catching and narrative, critical of society and humorous, moral and inscrutable, he has produced an opulent, unmistakable oeuvre refusing all categorization in the course of the past fifty years. Combining pictorial elements from a wide variety of popular sources reproduced in painting, his critical narrative collages unfold eloquent tableaus: reflecting essential social issues such as politics, war, science, art, and sexuality, Erró’s dense visual arrangements seem to be aimed at assembling a comprehensive atlas of images of the modern world. »

The quotation is from the presentation of the book dedicated, on the occasion of this exhibition, by Hatje Cantz Verlag (edited by Esther Schlicht and Max Hollein. With a preface by Max Hollein, texts by Esther Schlicht and Wolfgang Ullrich, and a chronology by Danielle Kvaran. German and English edition, 128 pages, 86 illustrations and 270 film stills).

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Frankfurt Book Fair – Part II

Poster of the Fabulous Iceland Exhibition«Guest of Honour» of the 2011 edition was Iceland, «fabulous Iceland» or, better, in the German motto, «Sagenhaftes Island». Typically I wasn’t very impressed by the presentations of the guest countries in previous years, but Iceland’s presentation was really appealing. I’m sure many other visitors liked it: the area of the Forum where it was hosted was regularly very busy.

There is something fascinating in a country with a flourishing production of literary works, and of books in general, although its population is barely over 320,000, so as fascinating is the history of the language, whose evolution in the centuries has been so slow and shallow that the Icelanders are proud to say that they can read the works of almost one thousand years ago as if they were written today (or almost so). The Eddas (that’s the collective name of the sagas, whose exact meaning is obscure, probably hinting at the old age of the stories) are the written witness of an ancient tradition, probably dating back to the first centuries a. D., and crossed the centuries thanks to a famous manuscript, the Codex Regius, now in Reykjavík (the story of this Codex is in itself really interesting).

The Eddas were greatly influential on the German Romanticism, and they are the base of Wagner’s Ring – although Wagner modified them at his will, and for the sake of his purposes, the ascent is still worth exploring. Among the many publications already on the market, I’ll mention at least a very recent Longman Anthology of Old English, Old Icelandic, and Anglo-Norman Literatures edited by Richard North, Koe Allard and Patricia Gillies (published by Longman last August). The sagas are understandably well represented in the German book market (in German translation), with some fine high-level editions with commentary; on the occasion of the Fair also a few paperback edition were published, amon them Die schönsten isländischen Sagas, by Insel Verlag, a selection made by Arthúr Björgvin Bollason based on a much larger edition Insel published in 1982 (Isländer-Sagas) with the translation from old Icelandic written by Rolf Heller.

The interest spanned by this year’s Guest of Honour is to be seen also in the special “Fabulous Iceland” feature developed by the British Library as part of their British Libray 19th Century Historical Collection iPad App (freely downloadable from Apple’s AppStore). The books featured are 42: among the others, A Pilgrimage to the Saga-Steads of Iceland by W. G. Collingwood and Jón Stefansson, a book first published in 1899. The selection was edited by Barbara Hawes, the British Library’s Curator for Scandinavian Studies.

Although most of the Icelandic books translated today are mistery and thriller novels (with Arnaldur Indridason as the most notable writer, whose books are translated in many languages, English, German and Italian included), the German publishers pay attention also to the recent Icelandic literary fiction: Insel Verlag published this year also and interesting anthology, Die schönsten Erzählunge Islands, edited by Gert Kreutzer, Soffía Auður Birgisdóttir and Halldór Guðmundsson, dedicated to the 20-century short-stories writers. Who wants to know something more about contemporary Icelandic literature, can find many information on a fine website, www.literature.is (in Icelandic and in English), run by the Reykjavik City Library. At a press conference at the Fair, AmazonCrossing (the new imprint of Amazon) announced the intention to publish in the near future ten Icelandic titles, starting with The Greenhouse by Auður Ava Ólafsdóttir and Hallgrímur Helgason’s The Hitman’s Guide to Iceland.

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Frankfurt Book Fair 2011, Part 1

The Frankfurt Book Fair 2011 took place October 12-16 and was more than usually full of events – conferences, workshops, forums, presentations, talks, and of course exhibition stands. Approximately 3200 events in five days, 7384 exhibitors from 106 countries… that isn’t something a single person can reasonably follow in any sense of the word. And I wasn’t even there for the full five days: so my impressions are just that, impressions from a very partial sample of this complex world. (If you want to know more, you can browse the Fair’s site, http://www.book-fair.com/en/ in English, http://www.book-fair.com/de/ in German, or publishingperspectives.com, the site of the international online publishing newsletter; and you can still download also a free app for iPhone and Android with all the information about the Fair.)

Wandering around the aisles of the Halls, you can only feel that something is changing: e-books are not easy to show up, as the traditional printed books are, so you can see the usual long lines of paper covers, and the electronic books are more a topic of conversation than an actual object to be seen and appreciated. Something should change in the future, unless the all-digital turn will completely wipe out this kind of events. E-books of course are there, and you can find them; but for now they are less visible than the conventional books, that’s all.

Overview from outside

One of the aspects that struck me is linked to the organization: the growing number of specialized «islands», stands regrouping based on the subject area, in particular in the Halls of the German publishers: Tourism, Comics, Children Books, and this year also a Music island and an Audio books island, among the others. It seems to simplify your task, if you are specifically interested in one of this areas, but of course in these groups you can find only the specialized publishers (Schott, for example), and if you are not a little more adventurous, there is a clear risk of missing something, among the not-so-specialized publishers. And then, that’s true only of the German Halls (that are, anyway, a substantial fraction of the whole), and not of the other Halls, still arranged mostly by country. Anyway, this is an interesting aspect, that seems to point towards a growing specialization (or at least, to a growing awareness of it).

Cover of book on Bach hörenThe Music island wasn’t particularly attracting, for me at least: many scores, learning handbooks of any level and for any musical genre – from primary school to college level, from classical to pop, rock, folk, jazz. That’s not my field of expertise, so I can tell you only that the offer is really very rich, but I can tell nothing about the actual quality of those products.

In general, however, many are of course the new publications you can see in the stands: but the feeling is that the efforts are now mostly focused on fiction (and in particular on «category fiction» –  mistery or thrillers, historical novels, fantasy and so on) and general traee books; essays seem to be a shrinking fraction of the whole production – or maybe they are more quickly migrating to other formats. I have no hard data on which to ground a solid statement, but the feeling was very clear.

Cover of the book JohannespassionNot many titles struck me as interesting or really new. I will just mention a German publisher, Reclam, based in Stuttgart (www.reclam.de), which publishes many low-price, small trim size books (most of them, traditionally with a simple, yellow cover – but that is changing, too). Reclam just published two «introductions to listening», dedicated to J. S. Bach in general and to his Johannes Passion: the authors are ichael Wersin (Bach hören, 176 pages), and Meinrad Walter (Johann Sebastian Bach. Johannespassion, 280 pages, with an interesting subtitle: «Eine musikalisch-theologische Einführung», a musical-theological introduction). Just published also a collection of Texts to musical Aesthetics (Texte zur Musikästhetik, edited by E. Böhm and F. von Ammon, 360 pages), spanning 2000 years, from Plato to Pierre Boulez.

Worth mentioning also, although in another field, a book published by a Swiss publisher, Christoph Merian Verlag (www.merianverlag.ch) : Kultur digital. Begriffe, Hintergründe, Beispiele, edited by Hedy Graber, Dominik Landwehr, Veronika Sellier (for Migros-Kulturprozent), peter Haber and Claudia Rosiny, with essays by Aleida Assmann, Peter Haber, Knut Hickethier, Verena Kuni, Georg Christoph Tholen and others (more info at www.migros-kulturprozent.ch/kulturdigital: in German).

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The Istituto Liszt

The «Istituto Liszt» in Bologna is a relatively small but important institution, dedicated to the great composer, with the aim of promoting «a better knowledge of Liszt’s works both in the field of the musicological research and in that of the interpretation». Founded in 1997, in May 2010 it became a Foudation: its headquarters are in the center of the city, and host a specialized library and, among other things, a small hall with a beatiful and perfectly restored 1860 Steinway piano (made in Germany), similar to the one Franz Liszt had (and which is now at the Museum of the Teatro alla Scala in Milan).

The 1860 Steinway at Istituto Liszt

I met Rossana Dalmonte, the fine musicologist who is the founder, the soul and the main driver of the Istituto: she has been for many years on faculty at the Trento University, whose library is now (thanks to her efforts) one of the best endowed libraries, as far as music history is concerned. Professor Dalmonte wrote in the Eighties an excellent book about Franz Liszt, published (in Italian) by Feltrinelli, and has never ceased to devote a fair part of her research time to the great Hungarian composer.

The Istituto has an important editorial production: the Quaderni dell’Istituto Liszt is a scientific journal (the most recent issue is number 8); the «Rarità» is a series of scores where are bein published rarities and new discoveries – three issues are already published, a fourth is ready to be printed. The Istituto manages also every year a  series of concerts, mostly piano concerts, performed on the historical Steinway in the hall of the same organization – with thematic programs, performed by some of the best Italian and international musicians.
The 2010-11 season began in October (more information on the institute’s site: www.liszt.it), and will close in May 2011 with a symposium, Sunday the 22nd, on «unpublished Liszt», celebrating the anniversary of the composer.
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Danilo Rossi: 25 years at La Scala

Danilo Rossi and Stefano Bezziccheri yesterday gave us a wonderful evening. The concert at La Scala and then the presentation of the new CD/DVD production with Oreste Bossini as a host at the theatre’s bookstore were brilliant and deeply moving. The room was full – someone wasn’t allowed to attend, there were too many people for the seating-capacity of the hall.

Have you already seen the video recording of Brahms’s Sonatas on Limenmusic.com? Well, then you can imagine what you missed. The way the duo deals with the two Brahms’s masterworks is always fascinanting: the depth of hundreds of performances and the freshness of an always renewed encounter.

Danilo Rossi is celebrating in this way 25 years as the principal viola of La Scala’s Orchestra, and the talk after the concert was mostly about this experience and the twenty-something years of association with Bezziccheri. Oreste Bossini (who is, among many other things, the author of the presentation text in the CD booklet) prompted them to tell a few interesting (and often funny) episodes of their career.

Rossi and Bezziccheri explained also the nature and goals of their recording project, of which the Brahms’s Sonatas are only the first milestone. The whole project (six CD/DVDs) will take them a couple of years to complete – but Rossi hinted at the idea of expanding it further…

There will be more occasions to hear the two of them in concert, in the near future, and there will be more presentations of the recordings: we’ll keep you updated.

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In praise of the viola

By Virginio Sala

The viola is an interesting instrument, whose role unfortunately is often misunderstood by the layman (and for some time in the past also among the musicians) – partly because of its (sort of) intermediate position between the violin and the cello  in the bowed instruments family. But the great composers, of the past and of our time, has always been well aware of its meaning. It suffices to remember that Johann Sebastian Bach liked to play the viola in ensemble music: his deep concerns for the architectural building of music led him unerringly to this instrument, «as from this central location he could best observe the unfolding of the whole work», as Karl Geiringer observed.

We recently had a few occasions to hear a wonderful instrument, the «viola Maggini» played by Danilo Rossi, and to appreciate the enchanting qualities of the viola, when skillfully mastered by a great musician. The «viola Maggini» takes her name from Giovanni Paolo Maggini (1580-1632), who created it: it is, then, a four centuries old instrument, that at the end of the nineteenth century was owned by Count Antonio Freschi Cucanea di Cordovado (Padova), a musical instruments collector but also a musician, pupil of a well-known violin player, Antonio Bazzini. His nephew, Nicoletta Freschi in Piccolomini, gave the viola to Dino Asciolla (1920-1994), one of the most important performers of the twentieth century, as a soloist and as a member of many ensambles (among them, the unforgotten «Quartetto italiano») and dedicated teacher in many public institutions, in italy and abroad. Valeria Mariconda Asciolla then gave the instrument to Danilo Rossi, according to the will of her husband.

Danilo has a strong and affectionate relationship with this viola, whose beauty, as a craftsmanship’s masterwork and as a musical instruments, is still growing every year. You cannot play the viola as if it were a bigger violin – emphasizes Rossi: this instrument has its own personality and has to be played according to its own technique, in particular for the mastering of the bow. In 1752 Johann Joachim Quantz stated that «the viola was of little consequence in music and that its players lacked ability» – from there stems the bias against the viola, at best considered as a second choice for untalented violinists (but don’t forget: Paganini was also a great viola player: for him Berlioz wrote his Harold in Italy). From the instruments’ maker point of view, it is also a difficult object to build, and that can at least partly explain its unfortunate record, against the long and successful history of the violin; it certainly explains why there were many different designs, with different body lengths (the classical from 37,5 to 39,5 cm, or 14,75 to 15,25 in; more recently from 40 to 43 cm, 15,75 to 17 in).

A handful of great players battled, in the twentieth century, and were able to conquer again a central position for the viola: Roger Primrose and Lionel Tertis, Piero Farulli, Dino Asciolla, Bruno Giuranna, Yuri Bashmet reevaluated and further developed the specific technique of the instrument, and brought it again to the foreground, supported by many composers, who greatly expanded and improved the repertoire.

Back to the Baroque Era and to the early great violin-makers, a quote from Karl Geiringer Instruments in the History of Western Music:

Italy, which had first developed the modern forms of the stringed instruments, remained their center of production. In consequence of an unbroken workshop tradition, and favored by a lively demand – especially from France – certain towns of Italy and the neighboring Tirol achieved supremacy in this field. Although stringed instruments of every type were made, the main object of the master-craftsmen was the improvement and refinement of the «queen of instrument», the violin, The first important center of violin-making was Brescia; its oldes eminent master was Gasparo da Salò (1540-1609). The very few examples of his work that have come down to us are still somewhat old-fashioned in detail, but they none the less show the typical shape, which was later to become the norm. Gasparo’s pupil was Giovanni Paolo Maggini, in whose person the Brescia school reached its zenith. Following at first in the footsteps of his master, he eventually made his own richly ornamented model, notable for its low ribs and lightly waisted middle bout. Maggini’s instruments are distinguished by a mild, yet sonorous tone-quality.

The same general observations can be made for their violas: unfortunately, very few instruments of the Brescia’s school remain today, but they are witnesses of the high quality of the production of those workshops, decades before the leadership in this field moved from Brescia to Cremona and to the celebrated families of the Amatis and Stradivaris.

November 18 at the Teatro alla Scala we will have a chance to appreciate the viola Maggini and the powerful technique (but also the musical depth of interpretation) of its owner, Danilo Rossi, performing with Stefano Bezziccheri the two Brahms’s Sonatas for viola and piano. But if you cannot come to Milan for that occasion, don’t miss the new CD/DVD of the duo, where it will be possible to listen to that wonderful instrument and see it in the foreground. On the DVD there is also an interesting interview I made to Rossi and Bezzicheri; another one, with Danilo Rossi, will be soon on air on Limenmusic.com’s Channel 1, where Rossi describes at length his relationship with the great viola players and with his instrument.

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Liszt’s Mazeppa

by Virginio Sala

When, after the year 1848, Liszt accepted a “stable employment” in Weimar, he devoted most of his time to conducting the orchestra and managing a musical theatre; and at the same time changed his general attitude, paying more attention to the expressive values of music. In those years he revised many of his earlier piano compositions, making many, often deep, changes – not necessarily simplifying them (although in many cases he did so), but mostly refining the poetic feeling.

The twelve Transcendental Etudes are a noteworthy example of this path: their origin is in the Etudes Op. 1, that Liszt created in 1826 (he was only fifteen), and dedicated to his master Carl Czerny. He revised them in 1837, transforming them in Great Etudes (published in 1839), that Schumann deemed of an unapproachable difficulty, in certain points at the limits of what a human could play (but Liszt did really play them). During the Weimar years Liszt further modified them, clearing difficulties that then perhaps he perceived as pointless exhibitions of bravura, and giving more room to the expressive and poetic component. What is usually performed today is in fact the 1851 version.

A short Prelude opens the set, as in a recital; then the path goes through a series of descriptive pictures (only two Etudes do not have a title), from the quiet landscape to the snowstorm of the 12th Etude. Between those extremes all the possible nuances that a piano can express are touched: from the tender to the thoughtful, from the heroic to the horrifying.

The fourth Etude (that you can hear and see on limenumusic, performed by Takahiro Yoshikawa) is titled Mazeppa: Liszt published it also as a separate work in 1840, and then revised it, making out of it an orchestral piece (a symphonic poem) in 1851, then revised in 1854, then transformed into a tone poem for two pianos (1855) and, last but not least, into a tone poem for four-hands piano (1875). The legend of Mazeppa, poetically celebrated by Lord Byron and, more specifically, by Victor Hugo (from one of his ballads Liszt took his inspiration) is based on the character of Ivan Stepanovic Mazepa-Kolendinskji, born in Kiev in 1644, pageboy at the court of John Casimir, King of Poland, condemned for a love affair with a countess: he was tied naked on the back of an Ucrainian horse, set at gallop in the barren steppe. The horse comes back to its homeland, and Mazeppa is saved by the Cossacks — whose leader he will become.

Allayed with the Turks and then with the Russians, made prince by Peter the Great, he conspires with the King of Sweden, Charles XII, and in the war against the Russians he is definitively defeated in the battle of Poltava and is forced to flee to Turkey, where he will die in 1709 (supposedly committing suicide).

In his ballad, Victor Hugo sees in Mazeppa the artist, and in the horse his genius:

As when a mortal – Genius’ prize, alack!
Is, living, bound upon thy fatal back,
Thou reinless racing steed!
In vain he writhes, mere cloud upon a star,
Thou bearest him as went Mazeppa, far
Out of the flow’ry mead,–
So–though thou speed’st implacable (like him,
Spent, pallid, torn, bruised, weary, sore and dim,
As if each stride the nearer bring
Him to the grave) – when comes the time,
After the fall, he rises – KING!

On the Net, you can find the original ballad by Victor Hugo (in French), for example, here.

In 1988, John Douglas Fry wrote a dissertation for the Degree Doctor of Musical Arts at the Ohio State University about “Liszt’s Mazeppa: The History and Development of a Symphonic Poem”, that may interest you, if you would like to learn something more about this work. You can find a pdf of his dissertation here.

For further information, there are a few books available: for example, Jim Samson’s Virtuosity and the Musical Work: the Transcendental Studies of Liszt (Cambridge University Press, 2007); Christofer H. Gibbs and Dana Gooley (eds), Franz Liszt and his World (Princeton University Press, 2006).

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Last day in Frankfurt: at the MMK

by Virginio Sala
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Last day in Frankfurt was a wonderful, sunny autumn day, perfect for a long walk in the city – just a short visit to the fair, where the doors were open for the general public, and the stands were, as usual the weekend, too busy for a fruitful visit. The amusing part was the long trail of young people coming out of the trains in costume: cosplay at the book fair.

Frankfurt is a city of some appeal, mostly modern with high-rise glass-covered buildings, but with traces of its old history coming, sometimes unexpectedly, in sight. The Zeil, the commercial avenue, was full of people strolling along the stores, but just a block away there is a small, quiet park I didn’t know of – and very few people enjoying the peace and the sun: really refreshing and relaxing, after three days in the crowd.

Anyway, my destination was the MMK, the Museum für moderne Kunst (Museum for modern Art), just near the cathedral. The building itself is fascinating: opened in 1991 (yes, another anniversary for 2011: MMK’s first 20 years), it was designed by the Austrian architect Hans Hollein, and its unusual triangle form (that earned it the “Tortenstück” [pie slice] nickname) enables a very peculiar layout of the internal spaces, whith a central room spannig the three levels and multiple flights of stairs that open surprising perspectives – from certain rooms you can suddenly catch a glimpse of part of another room, at the same or at a different level. The geometry of the place creates unsuspected and gratifying contaminations.

The MMK offers now two exhibitions, both opened the 25th of September: The Lucid Evidence (an impressive show of a small part of the over 2600 photographic works featured by the museum, one of the largest collections of international contemporary photography), and Not in Fashion (an exhibition about fashion and photography in the Nineties) – totalling almost one thousand of black and white and color photos. The MMK’s web site provides much information about the exhibitions, and the catalogs are commercially available, so I’ll not try to duplicate it here; I’ll offer just a few personal impressions.

The image (Elisabeth Berkley stuck in bamboo bushes) that was used by the organizers for the cover of the presentation flyer was shot by Bettina Rheims, a French artist born in 1952, and is for sure one of the more remarkable images of the show, as in general the complete series of photographs in the room dedicated to this artist: all female portraits, in color, full of sensuality, with a glossy beauty that borders on fashion photography but at the same time with a sort of restrained quality.

The first thing that the visitor can see, in the central room, is a wall covered by photos of the Japanese artist Nobuyoshi Araki – an impressive and somehow disturbing collection of women and nude works from the series Tokyo Comedy; but what impressed me most was the photojournalism section, in particular the works of Anja Niedringhaus (born 1965), who from 1993 to 2000 was in the war zones of the Balkans and shot a stunning series of images, amidst many difficulties as a woman in an exclusively male domain. A few paragraphs from the Jean-Christophe Ammann’s presentation are worth mentioning:

It is a true rarity that this type of photographer even continues to exist. I mean those photographers who have a “view of the world”, which is not subject to the cynicism of the “sensationalist image” as part of the race in the print media to achieve the sales figures. The “view of the world” presumes less a moral than an ethical stance, curiosity, and an understanding of what is happening, a lack of prejudice in encountering what humans do even if their actions are strange and incomprehensible, a intuitive feel for the fact that each event is a special case.

Photojournalism always has to do with people. It is always following people. To summarize: photojournalists with a “view of the world” create pictures that always contain a document. However, a document alone never ever contains a picture. By “picture” I refer to the composing eye which,as If shooting from the hips: recognizes. I am of the opinion that something like that cannot be taught It is a talent that you either have or you don’t. Without a “view of the world” the composing eye loses its way in the coincidental nature of every moment and can likewise only capture an extreme situation as a document. The composing eye of the photographer is the eye of an artist. Even if the person does not see him- or herself as an artist. The composing eye presumes a vantage point with an inherent “view of the world”.

It’s very hard to think that what Anja Niedringhaus shows us happened just around the corner. These photographs seem to costantly raise the unanswered question: why? Just yesterday, four Italian soldiers were killed in Afghanistan … Why?

I’ll not leave you with this sad note: I’ll mention the Jeff Wall’s fascinating Odradek, Taboritskà 8, Prag, 18. July, 1994 – an image showing a complex geometrical composition and suggesting a light suspension, with the movement of the girl on the stairs, the strong contrast between her fresh look and the rusty and ageing look of the ambient, an ageing without nobility, but somehow balanced by the contrast between the diagonal lines of the stairs and the vertical lines of the pillar.

“Odradek” comes from a short story by Franz Kafka (Die Sorge des Hausvaters, from the collection Ein Landarzt) – and Kafka’s text is duly reproduced near the big photo. The beginning:

Die einen sagen, das Wort Odradek stamme aus dem Slawischen und sie suchen auf Grund dessen die Bildung des Wortes nachzuweisen. Andere wieder meinen, es stamme aus dem Deutschen, vom Slawischen sei es nur beeinflusst. Die Unsicherheit beider Deutungen aber lässt wohl mit Recht darauf schliessen, dass keine zutrifft, zumal man auch mit keiner von ihnen einen Sinn des Wortes finden kann.

(I do not have here an English translation… and I will spare Kafka an awkward attempt of mine at translating this passage – I’m confident that someone will provide a quotation from a valid source.)

I’m sure that it would be possible to write a full book about this (enigmatic?) image.

There was no literary accompaniment to the series of portraits by Thomas Ruff, a German artist living in Düsseldorf (you can see an interesting article about him on the Tate Magazine, but somehow, I don’t know why, they reminded me of the very first page of A. S. Byatt’s The Virgin in the Garden (1978), where Alexander, entering the London National Portrait Gallery, reflects on the words “national” and “portrait”:

They were both to do with identity: the identity of a culture (place, language and history), the identity of an individual human being as an object for mimetic representation.

Focusing in this case on the notion of portrait: I’m convinced that the portrait has to do with identity, but not only on the person “as an object for mimetic representation”. There is something more in it: the relationship between the person and her/his (in this case photographic) portrait seems to me more complex than that. As soon as Ruff shots a portrait of Petra Lappat (you can see the image here), the portrait becomes for us part of her identity. And seeing it exhibited ant the MMK in Frankfurt adds something to her identity… I don’t know where this could take me. But it’s intriguing that Ruff’s portraits, and not other images in the same exhibition should evoke this idea.

Let’s close with An American Index of the Hidden and Unfamiliar, a series of photographs by Taryn Simon that is also a book published by Steidl in 2007 – there were thirteen to see. Some depict not easily seen conditions or places (as the Olympic National Park, Washington), some border on the disturbing (Standard Patient, University of California Los Angeles Medical Center, Westwood: the standard patient is a professional actress who is trained to simulate a real patient for testing the diagnostic competence of the students; or the Imperial Office of the World Knights of the Ku-Klux-Klan), but at the end there is also a little humor, with a photo of the Braille Edition of Playboy (realized by the National Library Service for the Blind and Physically Handicapped).

I can tell you less about the Not in Fashion exhibition, because I visited it last and I was running out of time (planes do not wait), so my concentration was fading. But that’s a pity, the subject would deserve some attention. For those who will be able to visit Frankfurt in the near future (this exhibition will close January 9, 2011; The Lucid Evidence will be open until April 25), a few words from the official presentation, just as an appetizer:

In the 1990s, the fashion scene was fundamentally reinvented specifically by the medium of photography. The decade gave rise to a new generation for whom personal identity, individualism and a self-defined style were of crucial importance. Back then, the joie de vivre of the generation of 20-30 year old creative minds thrived on music, subculture, intimacy and fashion. […]

The exhibion at the MMK demonstrates just how radical and innovative this new generation was and highlights the strong impact it has had on the visual arts to this very day.

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Frankfurt Book Fair, Day 3

by Virginio Sala
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My third day in Frankfurt was long and tiring – public transportation problems made the usual trip to the hotel in the outskirts of the city a smal nightmare: it took two hours more than usual, so now my concentration is faltering.

So, a short account of the day – an extended evaluation will be postponed to another day, after some rest.

Focal Press, an imprint of Elsevier, has a fair numberr of new titles in the media field. The most exciting is the third edition of Writing for Visual Media by Anthony Friedman, a book whrth looking at in detail in the future. Mix Smart: professional techniques fo the home studio is been published this month. Just published is the fourth edition of James Alburger’s The Art of Voice Acting: the art and business of performing for voice over. On the motion picture front: a new edition of Sheila Curran Bernard’s Documentary Storytelling and the fourth edition of David Lewis Yewdall’s Practical Art of Motion Picture Sound; a completely new entry is The Filmmaker’s Eye: Learning (and Breaking) the Rules of Cinematic Composition by Gustavo Mercado. I do not even try to list the many books about Photoshop and other graphics software (Focal Press offers good books, but the competition is tough).

Back to the German Hall and to classical music: DTV offers a new book about Gustav Mahler, written by Jens Malte Fischer – to be evaluated.

There were no more discoveries in this area – I was hoping for something more. I hope I missed something – otherwise, the report would be a little disappointing.

Although in a completely different field, it’s worth mentioning a really big book published by Taschen: 75 Years od DC Comics by Paul Levitz: 720 pages in 29 x 39,5 centimeters format, all in 4 colors, almost impossible to lift. Just for fun.

The interesting part of the afternoon was in the academical and technical publications hall, where I had a chance to see a presentation of the SMART technology on the whiteboard – the applications already available are really amazing. Martin Caren, Product Manager of Young Digital Planet, the Polish company that provided the demonstration, tld me that there are mostly products in the scientific area, for this tool. But I was wandering what could be done in the humanities, or in the music education…

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Frankfurt Book Fair, Day 2

by Virginio Sala
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I expected a few books about Franz Liszt, pending the 2011 anniversary, but I was in for a surprise: up to now, I found only one, not too surprisingly published by Schott, but surprisingly dedicated to the Italian years of his life: Franz Liszt. Die Jahre in Rom und Tivoli was written (in German) by Ernst Burger, pianist and writer based in Munich (and author of Robert Schumann. Eine Lebenschronik in Bildern und Documenten, published at the beginning of 2010). It is a large fomat book, lavishly illustrated (around 400 color and b/w illustrations) with a foreword and a CD of Sir Alfred Brendel, for a cover price of 49,95 Euros (in Germany). Anyway, Liszt was in Italy from 1861 to 1886, 25 years, so the book covers a good part of his life, and virtually all of his late works. The publisher emphasizes also the fact that the book gives an extended portrait of Rom in the nineteenth century, probably hoping to lure in not only the lovers of Liszt but also the lovers of Italy and of the Italian capital city. As an Italian, the idea can flatten me but I’m a little skeptical about the double target.

The birthday of Liszt was the 22nd of October, so there is more than one year for celebrating the virtuoso and the composer – and my grand tour of the Buchmesse is not yet complete (and probably something I missed).

Schott is of course a specialized publisher, and its new publications flyer has got something else for us (everything in German): Musik und Rhythmus. Grundlagen – Geschichte – Analyse [Music and Rhythm. Fundamentals, History, Analysis) by Peter Petersen, formerly author of a couple of books about Werner Henze; Die Ordung der Klänge. Eine Kulturgeschichte des Hörens [The order of Sounds. A cultural History of Hearing] by R. Murray Schafer, edited by Sabine Breitsamete, professor of Sound Design and Production at the Hochschule of Darmstadt, and a few titles in the “Serie Musik”, a very good paperback serie: Bartok. Leben und Werk [Lfe and Works] by Tadeusz A. Zielinski, just published in October, and Carlos Kleiber. Eine Biografie by Alexander Werner.

Interesting also a series of books for children (of at least 4, 5 or 7 years, depending on the title), with four color illustrations, hardcover and a CD: Maximus Musikus besucht das Orchester [Maximus Musikus pays a visit to the orchestra], Schlaf gut mit dem Musikater. Geschichte, Gedichte und viel Musik [Sleep well with the Music Cat. Tales, poems and a lot of music], Robert Schumann (a portrait), and so on.

The most interesting discoveries (for me, at least) were a couple of smaller publishers in the Gerrman-speaking area. The first is Verlag Der Apfel (www.verlagderapfel.at), based in Wien, Austria: one of the new titles is a collection of essays on Donizetti und seine Zeit in Wien [Donizetti and his years in Wien]. On their catalog also is a couple of books on Die Wiener Hofoper, both by Miichael Jahn, the first devoted to the years 1810-1836 (starting from year 1810, when was staged Spontini’s “La vestale” at the then Kärnthnerthortheater), the second to the “Balochino-Merelli era”, the years 1836 to 1848. 488 pages the first, 724 the second – wonderful sources for one of the most important historical theaters. Mister Thomas C. Cubasch, the publisher, is a wonderful man, who apparently loves his work. I’m sure we will have a chance to know him (and his other publications) better in the future.

Mister Lehmstedt, of the Lehmstedt Verlag (based in Leipzig) is the other surprise: he wrote a big book on Art Tatum, I’m sure, out of sheer passion. I hope to meet him here – or virtually on the Net.

Reclam has a long history of small paperback books, with a typical cover made of a solid background color (traditionally yellow, then also red or green, but recently they added illustrations or more complex designs) with a simple lettering. I’m a little biased, I love these books. They recently published Bach hören by Michael Wersin, a short intoduction to Bach’s music; at the beginning of the year, they published Robert Schumann by Dagma Hoffmann-Axthelm (a musical and psychological study). On the popular music side, next month will be available a book by Ingo Meyer, dedicated to Frank Zappa.

Of course, there are many other interesting books outside of the musical field. At least one deserves to be mentioned: Vittorio Magnago Lampugnani’s Die Stadt im 20. Jahrhundert [The city in the 20th century], published by Klaus Wagenbach (www.wagenbach.de). It’s a two-volume work (912 pages, 640 color illustrations), really fascinating at first sight. 1990 to 1995 Magnago Lampugnani (an Italian, Rom-born architect based in Milano) was diector of the German Architecture Museum in Frankfurt.

I spent part of the afternoon attending the Storydrive conference in the Fair’s Forum. One of the announced speakers was Dave Stewart, the musician, scheduled for a talk about “The X-Factor: remixed Marketing” and for the final round table “What’s next?”. Unfortunately, Dave Stewart wasn’t there, but I’ve got a chance to hear Mark Simmons (co-author with Stewart of The business playground, Where creativiy and commerce collide), Tendo Nagenda (Walt Disney Productions), Carl Erik Rinsch (Ridley Scott Associates), Tracey Armstrong (President & CEO of the Copyright Clearance Center) and a few other voices from the industry. Nothing was really new, but I appreciated Simmons’s presentation of the key concept in his and Stewart’s book (and in his previous book, Punk marketing) – entertaining and instructive.

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