Friday, December 04, 2009

Classical Misc.

Via the indispensable Comics Curmudgeon, we learn that Dick Tracy is extremely dubious about classical music. The look on the usually stoic detective's face in the second panel is all the more priceless / hilarious if you yourself are neither (1) usually stoic, nor (2) at all uncomfortable with the idea of sitting through a symphony performance. I can only hope that the no doubt warped and unintelligible plot line to come will actually take place in a concert hall.

Meanwhile, does anybody else remember Fingers by William Sleator? His Interstellar Pig is his best-known young-adult sci-fi novel, but Fingers is the one that comes up from time to time in my music-related thoughts: In part, it's about [YASF NOVEL SPOILER ALERT] an 18-year-old composer who unwittingly starts channeling the compositions of a crazied-up version of Hungarian composer Bela Bartok. (It occurs to me now because Kyle and I have tickets to hear Bartok's second piano concerto at the Oregon Symphony this weekend; to stave off any potential disappointment on her part, I add as a confidential note that the real-life Bartok was a collector of folk music who imitated Magyar themes in his own compositions, not an insane Gypsy whose head and hands were severed in a bizarre accident.) Probably it's more accurate to call it a ghost story than science fiction. At any rate, in with the supernatural business, I remember the book describing the kid's compositional process in some detail, as he enthusiastically reinvents a few developments in early-20th-century tonal music -- wrong-note harmonies, tone clusters, depictions of mechanical sounds, etc. I could tell that Bartok was the inspiration for Sleator's character when I read it (most likely I'd listened to Northland Public Library's CD copy of the Concerto for Orchestra by then), which probably means I was sixteen or so -- maybe slightly old for the book? -- but it was pretty neat, if memory serves. Certainly it's neat in retrospect; other than Testimony, I think Fingers was the only non-nonfiction book about classical music that I read as a teenager.

Strangely that book spoke to me more than Sleator's Singularity, in which cosmologically unlikely relativistic effects help a teenage boy to grow older, taller, and stronger than his more charismatic twin brother. Presumably this is because I was already the awesomer twin, and therefore had no need to relate. And perusing his list of works I also vaguely remember Strange Attractors, in which a boy is entangled in time travel / parallel universe shenanigans with a scientist, his comely daughter, and their vaguely Manson-like doppelgangers, all of which was allegedly related to chaos theory, or more likely to certain key words and attractive full-color illustrations from James Gleick's Chaos. And House of Stairs was definitely pretty rad. But this is no longer classical misc.


Blogger Jack said...

Funny, I didn't read Fingers or ever even know about it, so you must have never described it to me. Or I've just forgotten about it. Besides Interstellar Pig the only book by the guy I read was The Boy Who Reversed Himself, which involved higher-dimensional travel. It involved characters getting "flipped" so that their left became their right and their right became their left. Come to think of it, that's relevant to mirror-image twins, too.

Bartok's Second Piano Concerto is great. The main theme of the third movement often gets stuck in my head, or at least the first few notes before it gets completely unsingable. And I love all that messing around with the Firebird theme.

12/04/2009 7:19 AM  
Blogger nate said...

I'd forgotten the second concerto is the Firebird one. Neat; I remember you put that on a mix tape for me (an honest-to-goshen tape, no less) sometime back in college.

Maybe Pete was the one bringing home a bunch of Sleator books for a little while? Looking over the list I realized I'd read a few of them, though I think I was picking up library copies here and there that had already made it into our house somehow.

12/04/2009 11:52 AM  
Blogger Pete said...

Yeah, it was me that went through a big Sleator phase. But I must've been younger than 14... I had read Dune by my 13th birthday, and can't imagine (don't remember) having gone backwards into YA fiction after that. I did read quite a few of his books though. House of Stairs and The Boy Who Reversed Himself being the two that I can recall most easily. I must've read Fingers, but I don't really remember it.

12/05/2009 1:39 PM  
Blogger Dan B. said...

I wonder when this cartoon was made. Or, more fully, I've long been curious at what point "long-hair" did the 180 from being "conservative classical" to meaning "radical hippie."

12/06/2009 11:23 AM  
Blogger nate said...

The cartoon was made recently -- or anyway it just ran. I've always assumed that "Dick Tracy" takes place in a sort of surreal, lazily defined parallel world where the 1930s never really ended. And thus, for Tracy, hippie music doesn't yet exist.

To pinpoint just when the "long-hair" meaning changed, it would be more informative to see a classical concert mentioned in any of the many, many newspaper comic strips that are perpetually frozen in the 1950s / early 1960s. I suppose that non-comics-page-based research could be done as well.

12/07/2009 10:30 AM  

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