“The close of the Arietta variations has such a force of looking back, of leavetaking, that, as if over-illuminated by this departure, what has gone before is immeasurably enlarged. This despite the fact that the variations themselves, up to the symphonic conclusion of the last, contain scarcely a moment which could counterbalance that of leavetaking as fulfilled present–and such a moment may well be denied to music, which exists in illusion. But the true power of illusion in Beethoven’s music–of the ‘dream among eternal stars’–is that it can invoke what has not been as something past and non-existent. Utopia is heard only as what has already been. The music’s inherent sense of form [emphasis added by blogger] changes what has preceded the leavetaking in such a way that it takes on a greatness, a presence in the past which, within music, it could never achieve in the present.”

–Adorno, musing on Op. 111 Beethoven

and then:



The agonizing question
whether inspiration is hot or cold
is not a matter of thermodynamics.
Raptus doesn’t produce, the void doesn’t conduce,
there’s no poetry a la sorbet or barbecued.
It’s more a matter of very
importunate words
from oven or deep freeze.
The source doesn’t matter. No sooner are they out
than they look around and seem to be saying:
What am I doing here?


rejects with horror
the glosses of commentators.
But it’s unclear that the excessively mute
is sufficient unto itself
or to the property man who’s stumbled onto it,
unaware that he’s
the author.

–Eugenio Montale, musing

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  1. Qais Al-Awqati
    Posted January 26, 2006 at 1:49 pm | Permalink

    One of my favorite poems though I dont know this translation which sounds euphonius. In Italian (I only know “operatic” Italian, Gran’Dio, Perfido ..etc but still love to read poems aloud in it) Montale says:

    L’angosciante questione
    se sia a freddo o a caldo l’ispirazione non appartiene alla scienza termica.

    Il raptus non produce, il vuoto non conduce, non c’è poesia al sorbetto o al girarrosto.

    Si tratterà piuttosto di parole molto importune
    che hanno fretta di uscire
    dal forno o dal surgelante.

    Il fatto non è importante. Appena fuori si guardano d’attorno e hanno l’aria di dirsi:
    che sto a farci?”

    So thermodynamcis sounds nice but is slightly different from thermal science though perhaps not for Montale; in part because thermodynamics is a formal way of stating a general description of the world, where (at least facetiously) one can easily make a mathematical model of “ispirazione” in a neural network which will have to obey thermodynamic principles.
    But all in all a lovely pairing of two of my favorite writers

  2. Anonymous
    Posted January 26, 2006 at 7:51 pm | Permalink

    Thank you for the wonderful class on Op. 111 on tuesday. I’ve been applying what you said to my pieces and it’s helping so much!

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