Friday, August 26, 2011

1.9: Sturm und Drang

Jenger, Hüttenbrenner, and Schubert

Paul:  Anselm Hüttenbrenner.  You may not have ever heard the name before, but this early 19th century Austrian is very important to what we're going to talk about this week.

Franz Schubert lived in the shadow of Beethoven and his own creeping sense of inadequacy.  The woman he loved turned down his proposal and married a baker instead.  In fact, in all of Schubert's love life there was very little that appears to have been requited.  The only major performance of his work in his lifetime was upstaged by Paganini happening to come to town that same evening.  Everyone went to see Paganini instead.  Schubert's friends nicknamed him "Schwämmerl" which would be like calling your friend "little fatty."  He felt that he would be a great opera composer, but his genius in that genre seems to have been for picking the worst of librettos.  He was also one of the greatest composers ever.  He was utterly born to genius.

One of his best known works is his 8th symphony, known as his "Unfinished" symphony, perhaps one of the most debated works in musical history.  The speculations on the enigma of the unfinished status vary greatly.  Some believe that he did finish it and that it is rather a finished half-of-a-symphony.  Some believe that he was growing so increasingly discontent with the form and so increasingly syphilitic that he was only writing fragments by that point in his life.  But there is another theory.

Anselm Hüttenbrenner was a close friend of Franz Schubert, so close that, before he died, Schubert sent the manuscript for his 8th Symphony to Hüttenbrenner.  Hüttenbrenner, after Schubert died, sat on the manuscript for decades for reasons that are unclear.  Finally a conductor bribed the piece away from Hüttenbrenner by promising to perform one of his works in concert.  There is a theory, straight out of La bohème, that some cold, bleak, and lonely night, Hüttenbrenner tossed a stack of papers on the fire to keep warm, included in which was the Finished.

Maybe he hated Schubert's fame.  Maybe the cook or his mother came by and threw the papers on the fire or used them to wrap a haddock totally unaware of what they were eradicating.  Maybe he kept the Unfinished to himself for decades out of fear that he would be remembered as the loser who accidentally destroyed one of the finest works in musical history. One of the great lessons I have gleaned from this show is to take great care of what your legacy to The Grand Narrative shall be.  Some claims to fame are fates far worse than obscurity.

I tell you all of this because I am a firm believer in the concept of lost masterpieces.  I wholeheartedly believe that for every masterpiece in recorded history there are hundreds if not thousands of lost ones.  I believe this largely because I am a poet and a writer.  A lot of my friends are also poets and writers.  I do not wish to be grandiose, but I am a fairly intelligent man and I feel that I have very good taste in art and literature.  Some of the best contemporary poets I know of have not been published.  Some have died unpublished.  I believe that all over the world, all through history, there have been loners dying in small apartments filled with stacks of their writing of stunning brilliance that they silently typed in loneliness over decades instead of making social connections to ensure any future life for their work.  I believe that some of the greatest works in human history currently reside in landfills.

Laurie:  This puts me in mind of photographer Vivian Maier, who lived and died in obscurity only to have her work discovered at an auction in Chicago.  Her talent bordered on the miraculous.

Paul: Yes!  Precisely! 

Enter Nancy O'Dell.  Nancy O'Dell hosted a popular television entertainment news program at the time of the filming of this episode (she hosts a different one now.)  This challenge was for designers to create a dress for Ms. O'Dell to wear to the Grammy Awards.  I think she was going to be interviewing celebrities on the red carpet in the dress for her television program, but I really wasn't paying much attention.  Ms. O'Dell is given the Nero-like thumb to decide who shall be the final three contestants based solely upon which outfit she likes best.  Almost.

Austin's design

We'll cut right to the chase and let you know that Austin was out this week while Wendy Pepper remains.  This happened because Ms. O'Dell chose Wendy's dress (kind of. See Fig. 1.  We're supposed to pretend that it's the same dress), however she also stated that she would have chosen Austin's as an Oscars dress.  The Oscars are for some reason viewed as more dramatic than the Grammys. (Given the nature of popular contemporary music, I'm not sure I understand why.)  In fact, she even went so far as to ask Austin to design her Oscars dress, which sounds a lot like winning second place in this challenge to me.  I will reveal the rest of the story.  To date, seven years later, Nancy O'Dell has not worn an Austin Scarlett dress to the Oscars.

Laurie:   I must admit that bothers me.  She offered him that honor on national television, and he was clearly touched.  I feel she owed him that dress. Hopefully there was a good reason for her not following through.

Paul:  The cynical part of me wonders if this judgment wasn't orchestrated to preserve the tension that would come from Wendy being in the final three.  I am haunted by the existential questions posed by tonight's episode.  Did they just bring Nancy O'Dell on to distract us from the judges making what was a highly unpopular decision by shifting some of the blame onto a celebrity who no one operating in the consensus world of sanity has any business getting too upset about?  Austin clearly did not deserve to be out, but then when was this world we live on ever a world of "deserve?"

Jay's design
Laurie:  Somehow I doubt it was a conspiracy. The judges couldn't have predicted that Wendy would actually come up with a non-frumpy Grammy dress.  I think if they were scheming, it was actually to get rid of Wendy. This is exactly the kind of challenge I would not have expected her to win. And as for Ms. O'Dell, she offered clear reasons for her choice.   She seemed underwhelmed by her choices and didn't really care for any of them.  I think her choice really was the most appropriate for the Grammy's, well either that or Jay's design, but she stated at the beginning she hated hot pink (or was it fuschia?) and that is exactly what Jay gave her. The skirt was amazing. I think if he's pulled a different color from it for the top she would have chosen it.

Paul:  Now, I'm not crazy.  I do understand that Austin Scarlett is doing just fine right now.  He has a career, mainly designing for things that I am interested in like opera and ballet, also creating wedding dresses.  I don't think anyone on the show will end in the lonely apartment full of stacks of their writings, dying when one topples over onto them.  Even the greatest losers will all go on to live much more artistically fulfilling careers than any of us can hope for.

I hope you'll forgive the shade of Palahniuk that I am about to introduce.  One of the fuels of our society is the great Horatio Alger lie which states that you too can rise up to greatness.  You can't.  The game is rigged.  You have the wrong pigment, the wrong gender orientation, or simply the wrong last name to ever be allowed into the rich and famous club.  The celebrities that you idolize are the exceptions that prove the rule.  Your life is like digging a hole in the ground in the wilderness and screaming into it, then filling it back in.

Laurie:  Wow, I don't know whether to feel depressed or relieved.  I mean, if I don't have the anvil of potential failed greatness hanging over my head I might actually be able to get something great accomplished. On the other hand....well, perhaps I just need to reevaluate what I think true greatness really is. Vivian Maier's work was great, whether anyone ever knew it or not.

Paul:  We know it now and it's unclear if she knew or even cared at about becoming one of the great photographers posthumously.  I think there's a lesson there in plugging away although there is something to be said about appreciation in one's lifetime.  I guess.  I hear tell of such things anyway.

I am suddenly reminded of why I don't watch television.  This is what it does to me.  I've got like an allergy or something.

And so, three months after the end of the world, as we begin the ending of Season One, we return to the topic of Envy.  In 100 years we'll all be dead and there will be a new set of chimps holding and withholding essentials from one another, killing others for looking funny or standing in the wrong place, and only allowing a handful in front of cameras.  We'll bumble and strive and lose masterpieces and have occasional moments of glimmering beauty.

Let's take Jay for example.

Jay is in my own age range.  I think he's wrapping up the second half of his 30s as I am currently wrapping up the first half of mine.  Not to get ahead of our narrative, but he is doing fairly well.  You haven't heard of The House of McCarroll, but he is supporting himself on his designing career in one of the most expensive cities in the world.  Jay is currently doing better than I probably ever will.  I would dare to extrapolate that both Jay and I are leading lives that are nothing like what we imagined they would be back in 2004.  But we both continue to make art, me in obscurity and he in modest fame.  It is impossible to know what Franz Schubert thought would become of his 8th Symphony after he died.  I like to think he would be delighted and full of wonder to know that in 2011, anyone could listen to it anywhere in the world at any time.

One important point about everything I've written in this post, which I would like to put an even finer point on, is that I have spoken only to the external life, of wealth and fame or want and obscurity.  I have not mentioned the internal world, that of thought, appreciation, devotion, and love.  The external appearance of the glorious speaks nothing to the splendor of the internal life and vice versa.  I am put in mind of Wilde's oft quoted line from Lady Windermere's Fan, "We are all in the gutter, but some of us are looking at the stars."  

But we are talking about fashion after all.

Laurie:   Sometimes when I look at a beautiful garment I feel like I'm in my gutter looking at a star, only on a really miniscule scale of course.  I've visited and seen pictures of homes that were really in bad shape,  either from neglect, or poverty, or both.  And in these homes there is almost always an item that seems totally out of place by virtue of its beauty, something clearly kept there for the sole purpose of giving those who live in it something beautiful to rest their eyes on.  These images have usually left me feeling depressed. But now that I think about it what they really are is cause for hope.  Even in abject squalor, people love beauty and clutch what they can of it to their hearts.

Paul:  I have noticed the illustration of human's capricious capacity to dole out inhumanity or generosity to other humans in the behavior of the judges on this show.  Their moods seem to be at the mercy of the elements.  Perhaps they are holding a mirror up to us all, to show the reflection of the divine image or at least the machinations of the universe that we perpetuate on one another: a universe where one day you're in, the next day you're out.  

1 comment:

  1. Though I enjoy the appreciation I've gotten in the course of my activities, I've never really expected to succeed in my lifetime to the degree that I hope to. My fantasy involves someone finding my work long after I've passed and recognizing its awesomeness, thus entering me into the Big Book of Literary History. I'd say we'll see if that happens, but, of course, we won't. That doesn't bother me.

    PS: I think it's interesting that my profile identifies me as "Unknown." Good thing there's a picture.

    PPS: My verification word is "NOMMO." Oddly appropriate, eh?