The Age Of Anxiety

Now is the age of anxiety

Both professor and prophet depress,
For vision and longer view
Agree in predicting a day
Of convulsion and vast evil,
When the Cold Societies clash
Or the mosses are set in motion
To overrun the earth,
And the great brain which began
With lucid dialectics
Ends in a horrid madness.

W. H. Auden, The Age of Anxiety


We are just back from a refreshing weekend away in Paris, where we were able to soak in some culture and indulge in excellent food.

If you find yourself in the vicinity, I strongly recommend a trip to Yam’Tcha for lunch or dinner. In an horrific act of oppressive cultural appropriation (…), chef Adeline Grattard makes an amazing dim sum style bun filled with molten Stilton cheese and cherry, a sublime Franco-Chinois combination that works so well that you just want to stuff one into the whining mouths of every little SJW on tumblr, only of course they are far too good to waste. It is a beautiful but small space, so you will need to book well ahead to get a table. Non-celebrities like us gave it a month.

We also took in an excellent exhibition at the Musée de l’Orangerie, entitled “The Age Of Anxiety“, a display of American art from the depression-era 1930s. The exhibited works (featuring paintings by Edward Hopper, Georgia O’Keeffe, Paul Cadmus and Grant Wood, including the first overseas loan of “American Gothic” from the Art Institute of Chicago) give an insight into how different artists of the period captured or reacted to a period of great economic turbulence, uncertainty and (for many) deprivation.

The theme of the exhibit picked up the thread of my last blog post, in which I pondered why it is that Americans were able to endure the Great Depression with its attending sufferings and indignities without coming close to electing a hyper-authoritarian strongman as president, while today’s America may potentially elect Donald Trump to the presidency on Tuesday.

As I wrote last Thursday:

Now, this blog has every sympathy for many of Donald Trump’s supporters, who feel utterly let down by an American political class which has alternately pandered to them before betraying them, ignored them or held them in open contempt. And while this blog is very much pro free trade and managed immigration, the fact that Americans have not even had a choice when it comes to these issues based on the position of the two main parties is sufficient reason alone for the rise of a populist like Trump, albeit not necessarily a candidate with Donald Trump’s gargantuan personal flaws.

So yes, things are bad, and yes, the political class has not been responsive. But America managed to survive world war and economic depression in the twentieth century without coming this close to electing a dangerous authoritarian. Whatever afflictions the struggling “left behind” class said to make up much of Trump’s support may now be experiencing is nothing compared to the suffering of, say, the Dust Bowl. To react to these present circumstances by reaching for Donald Trump when their ancestors typically bore their tribulations far more stoically is in some way a reflection of American moral decline, which is very worrying indeed.

A few Trumpian defences immediately spring to mind – the fact that the stagnation of real wages and living standards among the squeezed middle is in some cases decades long now, leading to a much greater build-up of anger than was perhaps the case prior to 1929, or the fact that the alternative to Donald Trump is such a flawed candidate. But I think the criticism remains valid, and the question a pressing one.

Regardless: given that we are but two days away from the American presidential election in what is very much shaping up to be a 21st century age of anxiety, today’s Music For The Day is the Masque (Part 2, Section B) from Leonard Bernstein’s Symphony no. 2, The Age of Anxiety, performed here by the Simon Bolivar Youth Symphony Orchestra under the direction of Gustavo Dudamel, with pianist Kirill Gerstein.

This nervous, skittish piece with its odd syncopated rhythms and unpredictable air seems to perfectly encapsulate the current American political climate (and my mood).

I’ll be live-blogging the election results here on Semi-Partisan Politics on Tuesday night and through into Wednesday morning, while also hosting an election watch party and serving up some of Sam Hooper’s famous Buffalo chicken wings.

Do pour some strong coffee and join me.




Bottom Image: New York Movie by Edward Hopper, 1939

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Music For The Day

Thank you for the music

The late Leonard Bernstein, whose 98th birthday would have been today, conducting Candide Overture from a concert performance of Candide with the London Symphony Orchestra and Chorus, recorded in December 1989.

This performance took place just a few short years before I started the first of many pilgrimages to the Barbican Centre to see the LSO perform. Many faces in the orchestra, some sadly now departed, are familiar to me.

Leonard Bernstein is one of my heroes – an exuberant man brimming over with talent and energy, someone who knew exactly what he wanted to do with his life, and who got on and did it: making music in all its glorious forms.

A rich life truly lived, and an unparalleled contribution made to American music, including some of the 20th century’s most achingly beautiful.

Happy birthday, Maestro.


Leonard Bernstein

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Music For The Day

A flawed, beautiful 20th century masterpiece

Is there a more beautiful 20th century chorale than “Almighty Father”, the hushed invocation from Leonard Bernstein’s Mass? If so, I struggle to bring one to mind.

Almighty Father, incline thine ear
Bless us, and all those who have gathered here
Thine angel send us,
who shall defend us all.
And fill with grace,
All who dwell in this place.

Leonard Bernstein is my favourite composer. Several of his compositions make my Top 50 list – Serenade for Violin and Strings in particular, but also Chichester Psalms and Symphony no. 2, The Age of Anxiety – and while other pieces of music by other composers often get more of a hearing on my iPhone, it is my contention that these Bernstein compositions contain some of the most beautiful (and profoundly human) music ever written.

This is certainly the case with Mass. As to whether Bernstein’s dramatic staged reworking of the Latin Mass works as a cohesive whole, my answer probably varies day by day and according to my mood. Mass is certainly transcendent, flawed, beautiful, stark, cheesy, smug, original in places, derivative in others and often achingly rooted in 1970s style.

The orchestral meditations, interspersed throughout the piece, have a uniquely haunting beauty of their own – particularly the first meditation, whose desolate questioning in the ethereal violin phrase followed by the slowly-building crisis and final, soothing, repeated falling notes on the organ are about as close to a religious experience as music has yet taken me.

A rather mediocre recording of the first meditation is here:


The complete recording of a recent (2012) performance of Mass at the BBC Proms is below:


Leonard Bernstein - Mass - Kennedy Centre

Leonard Bernstein

Music For The Day

The second movement of Ravel’s Piano Concerto in G, performed by Leonard Bernstein and accompanied by the Orchestre National de France:


I have never been a tremendous aficionado of Bernstein’s piano performances – a great (if variable) composer and conductor, he simply spread himself too thin to have made himself one of the greats. But this is a superb performance, very well conducted from the keyboard.

It is also interesting to see Bernstein (partly through necessity) adopt the pre-Liszt piano/orchestra configuration.

Music For The Day

The first movement from “Chichester Psalms” by Leonard Bernstein:


Performed here by the LA Philharmonic Orchestra under the baton of Gerard Schwarz, at the Walt Disney Concert Hall, Los Angeles.

הָרִיעוּ לַיהוָה, כָּל־הָאָרֶץ.

עִבְדוּ אֶת־יְהוָה בְּשִׂמְחָה;

בֹּאוּ לְפָנָיו, בִּרְנָנָה.

דְּעוּ– כִּי יְהוָה, הוּא אֱלֹהִים:

Hari’u l’Adonai kol ha’arets.

Iv’du et Adonai b’simḥa

Bo’u l’fanav bir’nanah.

Du ki Adonai Hu Elohim.

Make a joyful noise unto the Lord all ye lands.

Serve the Lord with gladness.

Come before His presence with singing.

Know that the Lord, He is God.


More on the Chichester Psalms here.

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