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

The third movement from Symphony no. 7, “Leningrad”, Op. 60, by Dmitri Shostakovich:


I know many people dismiss the Leningrad symphony as wartime propaganda, and don’t rank it among one of Shostakovich’s better works, but I love this particular movement, especially in contrast to the famous, bombastic opening movement. The almost-alien, plangent, stark opening chords in the woodwind are to me very evocative of Russia, and of the desolation of a besieged city. I also find the way that Shostakovich has the woodwind cut out at the end of their opening phrase, leaving the strings to hold the note, to be a particularly effective trick of orchestration.

The later variations on the theme, embellished by the violins as a mournful dance, is also very moving.

It is also quite fun to follow along with the score on the YouTube video.

Mahler’s Ninth Turns 100

Mahler’s Ninth Symphony was premiered on this day 100 years ago, and to celebrate, Gramophone Magazine has reviewed some of the finest recordings available.

I must confess – and I am sure this will forever mark me out as a classical music heretic, if the Glenn Gould appreciation hadn’t already done the job – that I am not a big Mahler fan. I have grown to like his first symphony a lot, especially the Leonard Bernstein/New York Philharmonic recording, but as a symphonist, in general, Mahler doesn’t do much for me. I feel that there is a lot of overwrought, introspective symphony-ing for the sake of it, especially in the ones where he felt it necessary to draft in vocal soloists and a massed chorus. Having said that, I’m sure I’m wrong.

However, I did listen to the various extracts selected by Gramophone, and enjoyed this one, conducted by Claudio Abbado:


So happy birthday, Mahler’s Ninth! I’m going to go listen to some Shostakovich now.