Wednesday, April 26, 2006

Tango with an axe to grind (by Anthony Howell, Times)

April 19, 2006

Robert Farris Thompson
An art history of love
368pp. Pantheon. £16.99 (US $28.50).
0 3754 0931 9

In London, the best way to hook up with a pretty Ukrainian, Japanese or Danish girl is to visit a salon such as Corrientes on a Saturday night. That’s hooking up in the sense of a gancho, a move in tango where the calf is hooked around the leg of your partner. Germans and Americans are dancing there too, plus a handful of black people – British, African and Caribbean. Your standard white Brits might constitute the largest single group, but they’re in a minority. Tango remains a dance to which immigrants are partial. Dance halls provide companionship if you’re new in a country, and tango offers a warmth of contact which makes one feel that one has friends – I have experienced this warmth of welcome myself when dancing in Cologne, Madrid and Paris, less so in Buenos Aires perhaps, but then there’s a difference – there you’re most definitely a tourist.

From the 1880s onward, the dance spots of Buenos Aires were frequented by single girls who arrived from the ghettos of Eastern Europe, and by men from Spain and Italy who came to work in the abattoirs and shoe factories that came into being owing to the wealth of good leather. Charities often disapproved of the single female immigrant in those days when emancipation was hardly taken for granted, and their censure led to the notion that all the salons of Buenos Aires were bordellos. This in turn, so the rumour goes, provoked the ire of the upper crust. The tango was seriously disapproved of in its native country; so much so that the adolescent Victoria Ocampo, who later founded the literary review Sur, was obliged to learn the tango in secret.

It is Robert Farris Thompson’s contention in Tango: An art history of love that the notion that tango had its provenance in the brothels is less a reason for its disesteem in the eyes of Argentina’s establishment than that its roots can be traced back to the Kongo Societies set up by the blacks of Argentina and prohibited to whites. Here, the grounded footwork of ceremonial African dance was fused with the embrace of European couple-dancing made familiar through the polka and the habanera. Thompson points out that the etymology of many of the terms associated with the tango, including the word itself, can be traced back to Ki-Kongo, a language of Central Africa. In creole Buenos Aires idiom tango means “A dance; a drum; a place of dance”. In Ki-Kongo tanga means “a festival”, tangala means “to walk heavily”. The names for related dances – candombe and canyengue – also have African origins. In addition, there is a Moorish influence via the influx of Spanish workers in touch with the floor-stamping zapateados of flamenco.

Never mind the fact that by 1887 the black population of Buenos Aires had been reduced to 2 per cent (the statistic is admitted by Thompson). In his view, the tango was very significantly formed by a black tradition which continues to haunt the dance. He makes some interesting observations: that African dancers made use of call and response – which may well have stimulated the evolution of the leading and following that epitomizes tango; that positioning oneself with feet apart and knees together is a sign of obeisance, like a curtsey, imported from Africa by the Kongo societies, and we may see a similar movement inserted into the swift and syncopated dance called milonga – a dance very close to the tango, enjoyed by tangueros along with the vals. He cites the stone faces and silence that ceremonial African dance entailed, and notes a similar absence of expression in the faces of tangueros, and he shows how among the Mande, Akan, Dahomea and Yoruba peoples the timing of the last gesture is critical, just as it is in the tango.

Thompson correctly identifies the arrastre – a sort of “vroom” that tango orquestas add to a significant note – as quintessential to tango, relating it to the grounded walk of the dancers. The strong, sliding push of their steps “makes visible the sweep of the sound”. This groundedness, indubitably an element of tango style, is a reinforcement, he maintains, of an element already present in the countrified dance music of the gauchos – many of whom were black. Thompson also refers to the now infamous report of Ventura Lynch, in 1883, that the tango, or more accurately the milonga, began when the, presumably, white compadritos – the tough guys – “burlesqued” the moves they had observed being performed by black dancers. He takes issue with this, insisting that not all such dancing was making fun of blacks, since some of the compadritos would themselves have been black, and “in the competitive spirit that was dominant in dancing . . . blacks would inevitably have excelled”. He goes on to list each and every dancer known to have African blood, every musician of colour, however few and far between they were in the predominantly Italian orquestas and ensembles of the 1930s and 40s, and he notes, interestingly, Dizzy Gillespie’s appearance with Osvaldo Fresedo’s tango band at the Rendez-Vous nightclub in 1956. He observes that certain figures are named after sweets and tells us that naming dances after sweets is black.

Some of this is already common knowledge. The Afro-Argentine pianist Rosendo Mendizábal is renowned for being the author of some of the first true tangos, and Facundo Posadas is a black tango star, known the world over, who is also a brilliant exponent of swing – fabulously kept alive and kicking by the B. A. Shimmy Club through much of the twentieth century. But black tango composers such as Mendizábal and more recently Horacio Salgán remain the exceptions to a Latin rule. As a dance favoured by immigrants, the grafts on to tango are more significant than its roots, though even in its origins it was a fusion. Criollo means “native” in Argentina, not creole in the sense of mixed race – but this is never admitted. While the author may be correct about its origin, tango might suggest a different etymology to a dancer of Italian extraction, perhaps related to the Latin for to touch, while in old Castilian tangir meant “to play an instrument”.

If you’re born of a black mother and a white father and you learn tango from sitting under your father’s piano, why is this an indication of black influence? Knocking the knees together may well be African, but we also find it in the czardas of Russia, and, as might be expected, in the charleston – but did the Buenos Aires manifestation of this come from the Congo or from Finnish sailors who had stopped off in New Orleans? Russian dances are also named after sweets – look no further than the dance of the sugarplum fairy; and most refined dance forms make a great deal out of the last gesture. Tangueros show stone faces and dance in silence, not because it is African in origin but because it is seriously difficult to do and they are concentrating! As to whose account is authentic, they are all difficult to prove, being largely oral histories backed up by a few journalistic snippets on etiolated newspaper. As Martha E. Savigliano points out in her anthropological study, Tango: The economy of passion, the dance’s history is prone to colonization by political expediency. In the 1930s, jaded Europeans thrilled to louche accounts of a dance born in the brothels of a country where men outnumbered women by fifty to one. As the dance craze threatened to define Argentina’s capital, the establishment there encouraged an origin in the “authentic” exoticism of the pampas, as nostalgically evoked by the singer Carlos Gardel. Tango history is “a garden of forking paths”, a labyrinth of stories.

In a chapter on film, Thompson fails to point out that the tango in Last Tango in Paris is competition ballroom tango, not tango Argentino at all, and at no point does he explain this crucial difference – one which television has also failed to grasp. He makes no mention of Naked Tango, Leonard Schrader’s brilliant evocation of Buenos Aires in the 1930s, starring, among others, Fernando Rey; presumably because its story of a judge’s wife, who changes places with a girl who has committed suicide aboard a liner, and ends up in a tango brothel, abets a history he rejects. In his chapter on music, he makes much of Horacio Salgán, who is indeed a great innovator, but fails to acknowledge band leaders of the calibre of Biagi. He pays scant attention to singers such as Edmundo Rivero, Raúl Berón or Alberto Castillo, and among contemporary ensembles picks out El Arranque, which is fair enough, but omits electronic groups such as Gotan Project and Bajo Fondo, both hugely influential. Worst of all, except for Eladia Blásquez, he misses out female singers – a line that starts with the cross-dressing Linda Thelma. Dorita Davis, Tania, Nelly Omar, Adriana Varela and Haydée Alba all go unacknowledged. Is it because they are white?

Thompson’s attempts at the description of dance steps are at best opaque. These he revels in naming – emphasizing that particular flourishes have been invented by black exponents. But his knowledge of the dance itself, emphasizing the faster, earlier variations – milonga, canyengue and candombe – seems limited to the views of a particular handful of ageing practitioners. Facundo Posadas, for instance, is oft-quoted, while important innovators such as Gustavo Naveira and Giselle Anne go unsung, as does Carlos Gavito and his partner. Naveira and Chicho Frumboli have moved the dance on from a collection of molecular figures with fancy names to an atomic notion of step-dynamics danced and taught from San Francisco to Istanbul by exponents of all races. This Tango Nuevo with its leanings-in and leanings-out – volcadas and colgadas – might have proved useful to Thompson’s argument, since he mentions cakewalk-like leanings in Congo dance. But the development of the dance since the now-dated days of the hit show Tango Argentino (1983) are nowhere dealt with, any more than is Miguel Zotto’s popular Tango por dos, or, perhaps more importantly, Mora Godoy’s brilliant dance drama Tanguera – either because the author does not know about it, or, as I suspect, because it again follows the porteño brothel theme which Thompson discounts.

I fear that Professor Thompson, the author of Black Gods and Kings, and African Art in Motion, has an onyx axe to grind. One senses that he is not interested in writing a comprehensive account of the tango – as the book’s cover proclaims – but only in tracing and emphatically asserting black influence on it, if not inserting such an influence into it.

As an overview of the tango, this is a bit of a one-note samba. If a comprehensive account of the phenomenon were possible, I would expect to learn as much about the polka as this author offers about M’tela funeral dances. I’ve heard that the vals was introduced in the salons to loosen the girls up for the close embrace demanded by milongueros. This may be a myth, but Thompson hardly refers to the vals at all. And the habanera? It gets a chapter to itself, emphasizing that it was danced by blacks in Havana, yet nowhere does the author say that it evolved from the French contredanse, whose origin was the English country dance. Tango takes on the colour of the immigrants who dance it: mazurkas, czardas and horas have all contributed hues. Thompson admits as much, but only just. However, when it comes to black roots, black innovation and black influence, he protests too much.

Why does “the issue of race” provoke such biased scholarship? Perhaps if this book had been titled “Black Contributions to the Tango” I would feel less oppressed by its bountiful euphoria (if not by its faux-gonzo style – cut to this, recall that). Exaggerated claims for African culture by Ivy League academics seem somehow condescending when the neglect of the Louisiana levees leads to homelessness, in the main for citizens of colour.

If you would like to read some excerpt from the book, please click here.

Another Season of Love: The Original Cast Reassembles for a 'Rent' Anniversary (by Anthony Tommasini, the New York Times)

Note to the caption: Cast alumni of the original production of "Rent" joined Monday at the Nederlander Theater in a semistaged version of the show, celebrating the 10th anniversary. Droppable audience names included Senator Charles E. Schumer and Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg, who praised "Rent" as exemplifying "culture, community and creativity." Photo by Joan Marcus.

Published: April 26, 2006

Over the years, as the musical "Rent" has reached milestone after milestone — playing around the world in more than 200 productions from Boise to Little Rock to Reykjavik — the thousands of people who have been affected by this vibrant, gritty and compassionate work may well wonder what its creator, Jonathan Larson, would have thought of it all.

Another milestone came on Monday night. The original Broadway production of "Rent" opened at the Nederlander Theater 10 years ago this Saturday. That production, directed by Michael Greif, was an almost-intact transfer of the initial production at the New York Theater Workshop, which had opened three months earlier.

To celebrate the anniversary the original cast members reassembled, rehearsed for two days and performed the show in a semistaged version at the Nederlander on Monday. The event was a benefit for the New York Theater Workshop, for Friends in Deed (a support organization that gave comfort to several of Mr. Larson's friends dealing with H.I.V. infections.), and for the Jonathan Larson Performing Arts Foundation, which was set up by his family after the enormous success of "Rent."

Before the performance, the co-chairmen of the benefit told the star-studded audience that more than $2 million had been raised. Also addressing the crowd were Senator Charles E. Schumer and Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg, who praised "Rent" as a timeless work exemplifying "culture, community and creativity," in the mayor's words, and saluted the show's vast contributions to New York's theatrical life.

Once again you could only think, "Would Jonathan ever have imagined all this?" Mr. Larson, who wrote the music, lyrics and books for his stage works, struggled for more than 10 years to get a producer to take a shot at one of his shows. Now he was being posthumously thanked for giving Broadway a creative and economic boost. "Rent" is the seventh longest running show in Broadway history.

I count myself among those who were personally affected by Mr. Larson's work, because of the inadvertent role I played in the last hours of his life. In 1996 an editor at The Times tipped me off to the opening of a rock musical, inspired by "La Bohème," which transplanted Puccini's struggling bohemians from Paris in the 1830's to the East Village in 1990's. So on Jan. 24 I went to the New York Theater Workshop to see the dress rehearsal of "Rent," which was scheduled to open in February.

That performance was pretty ragged, with technical glitches and a misbehaving sound system. But I was swept away by the sophistication and exuberance of Mr. Larson's music and the mix of tenderness and cleverness in his lyrics. After the show Mr. Larson and I sat down for an interview in the tiny ticket booth of the theater, the only quiet space we could find amid the post-rehearsal confusion. For almost an hour, this sad-eyed and boyish creator talked about his approach to songwriting, his determination to bring the American musical tradition to the MTV generation, and about friends struggling with H.I.V. infection who had inspired the show.

We shook hands, he went home to his ramshackle walk-up apartment in the West Village, put a kettle on the stove to make some tea, then collapsed and died of an aortic aneurysm. He was 35.

Understandably I have felt a little protective of "Rent" ever since. Four years ago, curious to see how the show was faring, I took in a performance at the Nederlander and was dismayed. The young and handsome cast was full of talent. But the sound system was blaringly loud. The show was pumped up with a rockish brashness that seemed forced, as if the presenters, afraid that the subtlety of Mr. Larson's score would be lost on young audiences, had opted to bludgeon them into submission.

On that last night of his life Mr. Larson spoke of his desire to bridge the world of musical theater, which has championed the artful mingling of words and music, with the world of rock, which feeds on pulsating rhythms and visceral power. He wanted his score to have rockish energy. But lyrics were everything to him, and he wanted the words to be audible, not buried in buzz-saw speaker noise. "The bane of my existence is that I'm relying on electronics, and I'm only as good as my sound board operator," he told me that night.

Note to the caption: From left, Wilson Jermaine Heredia, Anthony Rapp, Jesse L. Martin and Byron Utley in a 10th-anniversary performance at the Nederlander, another milestone for a show that is much loved around the world. Photo by Joan Marcus.

My guess is that Mr. Larson would have been pleased by the film version of "Rent" directed by Chris Columbus, released last year. I went to the film with trepidation. To me "Rent" is a triumph of theater. But adapting a musical for film inevitably involves opening it up, as this movie did with street scenes filmed on location in New York. Onstage the death of Angel, the endearing drag queen, is depicted abstractly with billowing sheets and a circle of bereft friends. In the film the scene is made literal, set in an intensive care unit. The filmed "Rent" seems a safer show than Mr. Larson may have intended. Still, every word in every lyric is audible, every voice in the complex choral numbers comes through, and the richness of Mr. Larson's harmonies works its magic.

The producers were worried at first that the original cast — many are in the film — would look too mature. But just as in Puccini's opera, there is no reason the circle of friends in "Rent" cannot be in their early 30's rather than their early 20's. They looked terrific in the film.

The original cast members looked more than terrific when they walked onstage on Monday night to the screeching ovation of the audience and lined up in a row to sing the show's disarming anthem "Seasons of Love."

Though this performance was not intended for review, I can say that that the cast did itself proud. Understandably, as actors fumbled for lines now and then, the event became as much an affectionate reunion as a straight-ahead performance. But moment after moment brought you back to the early days of "Rent" when the show's honesty and power were so stunning. Adam Pascal, the original Roger, the punk band singer and songwriter at the heart of the show, has lost none of his sexiness and charisma. His voice, at once raw and plaintive, especially when he lets a note swell with earthy vibrato, soared in "Glory," the ballad that seems like Mr. Larson's premonition of his own death: "One song/ Glory/One Song/Before I go/Glory/ One song to leave behind."

The crowd broke into frenzy when Daphne Rubin-Vega, as Mimi, the S&M club dancer who falls for Roger, straddled the railing of the stage's upper level to sing the gritty "Out Tonight." Idina Menzel as Maureen and Taye Diggs as Bennie (who are now married and have both gone on to thriving careers) could not resist bantering during scenes that brought them together. The audience loved it. Anthony Rapp was again the ideal Mark, the loose-limbed and insecure video artist who believes so strongly in his community of friends. Though Jesse L. Martin is by far best known these days for his role as Detective Edward Green on "Law & Order," he looked elated to be singing and playing the good-hearted Tom Collins, who falls in love with Angel. And the slight-framed yet dynamic Wilson Jermaine Heredia, who won a Tony Award for his portrayal of Angel, again disarmed the audience with his cross-dressing dance number "Today 4 U."

At the end of the evening the original cast retreated to the rear of the stage and the current cast appeared to sing "Seasons of Love." They looked like fresh-faced kids playing grown-up roles. Then the stage filled with dozens of actors, all former members of "Rent" casts who joined in the song, until, at the end, everybody hugged everybody. Afterward there was a reception at Cipriani on East 42nd Street, where the original cast members were swamped by autograph-seekers and you could see celebrities like Jon Bon Jovi chatting with the mayor.

For me the original production at the 150-seat New York Theater Workshop will never be topped. The intimacy of the space allowed the performance to have subtlety and clarity, while still packing a rocking wallop. But "Rent" has become something bigger than Jonathan Larson ever imagined.

Wednesday, April 19, 2006

Desire to Burn (by Tim Appelo, Poetry Foundation)

Photo credit: Kurt Cobain (© Charles Peterson)
Did Kurt Cobain die because he misread a poem?

Kurt Cobain was a tenth-grade dropout who bitterly regretted his truncated education. Yet he was a scholar in his weird way, and not just of obscure B-sides. As he noted in his journals, “When I read, I read well.” Cobain’s poetic mentor was Courtney Love, the fitfully bookish granddaughter of novelist Paula Fox (ranked higher than Bellow, Roth, and Updike by Jonathan Franzen).
Love thrust improving books on him, and some he took to heart. He wrote out lines by the 1920s poet Elinor Wylie in his journals.

He was attracted by Wylie’s doomy voice, scandalous life, and young death by stroke the day after she finished her last book. He would have loved a Wylie line like “My flesh was but a fresh-embroidered shroud,” and these quatrains, about a hero who fled humanity to live in a cave:

     If you would keep your soul

     From spotted sight or sound,   

     Live like the velvet mole;

     Go burrow underground.

     And there hold intercourse

    With roots of trees and stones,

     With rivers at their source,

    And disembodied bones.

But Cobain didn’t read with an open mind. He sought what resonated with his fiercely puritanical disenchantment, and with his plan to get rich and famous “and kill myself like Jimi Hendrix,” which he announced to at least seven friends in junior high school.

We can study his poetical imagination at work by reading the only poem in his published journals, “A Young Woman, a Tree,” by award-winning poet Alicia Ostriker. Cobain’s response to Ostriker’s poem demonstrates that he died by a willful act of misreading.

On page 204 of his journals, he incorporated “A Young Woman, a Tree” into a drawing. It was a page so painfully revealing that reviewers were forbidden to reprint it, presumably on Love’s orders. Cobain took a comic-book version of his life story, tore out the cartoon portrait of his head heroically shrieking his number-one lyric “Here we are now, entertain us,” and drew onto it a rather good expressionist sketch of his emaciated body. The drawing is meant to contrast the muscular comic-book superhero head—the public myth—with the shabby private reality of what he called his “Auschwitz” body, which shamed him.

Above the drawing, he clipped six lines from Ostriker. The girl in the poem envies a tree, whose explosion of fall color makes her own life feel pallid:

    Passing that fiery tree—if only she could

    Be making love,

    Be making poetry,     

    Be exploding, be speeding through the universe

    Like a photon, like a shower

    Of yellow blazes—

Cobain places these lines above his self-portrait, which seems to represent a painful absence of creative energy. Ostriker tells me that this is her subject, too. “The poem is from the point of view of a girl who wants to live more intensely than she is doing.” But Cobain stops there, missing the ultimate point of the poem, which is one of endurance. The poem continues:

         She believes if she could only overtake

         The riding rhythm of things,

         Of her own electrons,

         Then she would be at rest

         If she could forget school,

         Climb the tree,

         Be the tree,

         Burn like that.

So far, Ostriker sounds the same yearning note that Cobain does elsewhere in the journals: “I used to have so much energy and the need to search for miles and weeks for anything new and different. Excitement. I was once a magnet for attracting new offbeat personalities who would introduce me to music and books of the obscure and I would soak it into my system like a rabid sex crazed junkie hyperactive mentally retarded toddler who’s just had her first taste of sugar.” If he didn’t get his idea fix, he got suicidal. When he sought refuge from despair in the creative process, it was a process very like suicidal sehnsucht.

But as the poem continues, the girl lives to learn the true lesson of creativity:

         She doesn’t know yet, how could she

         That this same need

         Is going to erupt every September

         And that in 40 years the idea will strike her

         From no apparent source,

         In a Laundromat

         Between a washer and a dryer,

         Like one of those electric light bulbs

         Lighting up near a character’s head in a comic strip—

         There in that naked and soiled place

         With its detergent machines,

         Its speckled fluorescent lights,

         Its lint piles broomed into corners as she fumbles for quarters

         And dimes, she will start to chuckle and double over

         Into the plastic baskets’

         Mountain of wet         

         Bedsheets and bulky overalls—

         Old lady! She’ll grin,

         beguiled at herself,

         Old lady! The desire to burn is already a burning! How about that!

Maybe Cobain would never have been able to read the redemptive message of the poem. His imagination was all about the moment of explosiveness, not the wisdom of reflection. He felt he had exhausted all creative possibilities: if you think his posthumously released tune “You Know You’re Right” sounds like the same old formula, he felt the same way. In his journals, he sarcastically envisions Nirvana as a washed-up oldies act.

But his biochemistry made him believe from the start that all hope was exhausted before he was born. He writes in his early journals that it’s all been done, there’s no point in music, and yet “it’s still fun to pretend” that his generation could find a living music of its own. As the forbidden page shows, he no longer had the spirit to keep up the pretense. He could not see that his restless questing, his gnawing hunger to create, and his ability to pour that frustration into art was in itself potentially his deepest gift.

“What I wonder is where Cobain would have gotten to if he’d survived,” wrote Ostriker in a recent e-mail. “We are so drawn to the ones who burn out early—some sort of compelling romanticism about death fascinates us—the Cobain cult seems to me very much like the cult of Sylvia Plath as a poet. Passion and power as artists, tangled in poisonous self-contempt, contempt for the world, two sides of the same coin. Here are some lines of Plath’s, from the poem ‘Lady Lazarus’:


         Is an art, like everything else.

         I do it exceptionally well.

         I do it so it feels like hell.

         I do it so it feels real.

         I guess you could say I’ve a call.

“If there’s an afterlife,” writes Ostriker, “I can picture Plath and Cobain prowling through it together.”

Saturday, April 08, 2006

Barenboim hits out at 'sound of Muzak' (By Kathryn Westcott, BBC News)

Note to the caption: Daniel Barenboim says people don't actively listen to music enough

Last Updated: Friday, 7 April 2006, 15:08 GMT 16:08 UK

Conductor and pianist Daniel Barenboim is to launch a campaign against Muzak - the background music which for many has become the inescapable soundtrack to daily life.

The 63-year-old musical director of the Chicago Symphony is delivering this year's BBC Reith Lectures, the flagship broadcast series now in its 59th year.

In his second lecture, to be broadcast next week, Barenboim argues that too often we hear music over which we have no control and too infrequently do we listen to music of our own choice.

"Active listening is absolutely essential," he says.

He says that Muzak is largely responsible for encouraging people not just to "neglect" the ear but to "repress" it.

"If we are allowed an old term to speak of musical ethics, it is absolutely offensive," he says.

Music as a commodity

Strictly speaking, Muzak is a trade name for the system of delivering music to many parts of a building simultaneously, but it has come to stand for a whole genre of music "piped" into businesses, restaurants, shops, hotels, and transport hubs.


Muzak started in 1920s when General George Squires patented the process of transmitting music over electrical lines

The name is a combination of "music" and "Kodak", Squires' favourite hi-tech firm

It is known as elevator music because of its early use in skyscrapers to calm people's nerves

In the 1940s, it was used as a musical way of relaxing workers with the aim of improving productivity

Barenboim says music must not be used as a commodity to manipulate human thoughts and emotions.

But Michelle Colyar-Cooper, an "audio architect" specialising in classical music at the Muzak corporation, rejects the idea that somehow, she and her colleagues are responsible for a "dumbing down of music".

In defence of her industry, she points to the 20th Century composer Erik Satie, who she says wrote classical music in some respects and in some pieces to be more of an "aural background".

"He was perhaps the first person ever to think of the fact that you did not have to actively listen to every note and pay close attention to it - it was more of a mood enhancer - so we're just elaborating on Satie," she told the BBC News website.

"We try to pick a piece that we feel is representative of an emotion - that's what we are after, to create an emotion in the listener."

She argues that she and her colleagues could be doing the classical music world a service by exposing more and more people to it.

"We get a fair number of phone calls every day from people who have heard something and want to know what it was - there will be a segment of the population that will seek out something that has touched them."

Note to the caption: Background music is used extensively in supermarkets

Powerful stuff

David Hargreaves, a music psychologist at Roehampton University in London, says the whole argument hinges on the question of what music is for.

"Daniel Barenboim's argument is that the aesthetic functions of music are paramount - that as a musician, you have to achieve the highest possible levels of artistic expression and communication. But that means you have to say music can't be used in other ways and that's something others will disagree with.

He says that while there is evidence that all kinds of music at its highest level can create "peak experiences", in which audiences experience physiological reactions - shivers down the spine, sweating - other forms of music can serve a useful purpose.

Note to the caption: Musicians aim to create "peak experiences" for the audience


"Music has many functions, social, aesthetic, cognitive, emotional - it's very powerful stuff and we're only just starting to understand it," says Professor Hargreaves.

Note to the caption: Muzak was known as elevator music because of its early use in skyscrapers

He says that recent research done by his department and other psychologists shows that for many people about 40% of their waking lives involves music in some way or another.

"It really is all around us," he says. "And we are finding more and more that people don't necessarily always want the high-level aesthetic experience. It has a much more functional use.

People are increasingly using music to control their own moods and emotions - they don't just passively respond to it."

Mixed opinions

So what do people really feel about the background music that increasingly invades our daily lives.

BBC News website reporter Becky Branford took a straw-poll of tourists and businessmen in a busy hotel district in the heart of London's West End. Many said they found Muzak irritating but others said it had an enjoyable, calming affect.

"It depends on the music," said Sue, a tourist from Los Angeles. "If it's elevator music it annoys me - but if people take the trouble to make the music interesting, it can be nice."

Ray a businessman from Northern Ireland, said he found it "tiresome".

"Unless it's music I like, I don' t really want to hear it. Inspirational music, I find does lift my spirits."

Tracy, who worked at one of the hotels had this to say: "I find it quite irritating actually - although some of the classical music's quite nice, I do enjoy that."

Abiyadou, a businessman from Nigeria was more enthusiastic.

"It's good, it's very good. Very nice. The classical music is not too loud - it's nice and gentle. Yes, it definitely relaxes me," he said.

But theatre director Nick's comments would strike a chord with Barenboim.

"I think there's something drone-like and quite mundane and repressive about Muzak. It does suffocate and stifle you, it does get in the way of individuality."

The Reith Lectures 2006 can be heard every Friday at 9am from 7 April until 5 May on Radio 4.
They are repeated on Saturdays (April 8-May 6) at 10.15pm.
You can listen online, read transcripts and download the lectures at this link.

Wednesday, April 05, 2006

A Broadway Legend's Lessons for Singers (By Anthony Tommasini, the New York Times)

Note to the Caption: Elaine Stritch's new one-woman show at the Carlyle Hotel provides, among other things, an enlightening example of phrasing and timing.
(Richard Termine for The New York Times)

January 7, 2006
Critic's Notebook

During her cabaret act, "At Home at the Carlyle," which returned to the Carlyle Hotel's swanky cafe on Tuesday night after a six-week run in the fall, the indomitable actress and singer Elaine Stritch tells a revealing story about the intensely private conductor James Levine. As Ms. Stritch found out to her great surprise, Mr. Levine is one of her biggest fans.

Two years ago, after she presented her acclaimed one-woman show "Elaine Stritch at Liberty" at the Neil Simon Theater, the show played a limited run in Boston. One night after a performance there, Ms. Stritch was told that a man who said he had attended her show 12 times in New York and now twice in Boston dearly wanted to meet her.

At first she thought this guy must be "some kind of nut," Ms. Stritch said, recounting the tale on Tuesday. But she consented to see him. When Mr. Levine appeared, Ms. Stritch did not recognize him. Still, she was touched by his sincerity. He explained that he worked part-time in Boston and lived in New York and that he wanted to take her to dinner at the Carlyle Hotel, where, it happens, Ms. Stritch lives. He told her that seeing an artist perform with such intensity at this stage in a career (Ms. Stritch was nearing 80 at the time) "inspired him to go forward, to keep going," she recalled.

When Mr. Levine gave her his business card and she realized who he was, Ms. Stritch was terribly embarrassed, she said: "I told him, 'I really should work on getting out more.' "

Later in New York, Mr. Levine took Ms. Stritch for that dinner date at the Cafe Carlyle, where Barbara Cook was then appearing. During the show, when Ms. Cook sang a meltingly romantic rendition of "It Might as Well Be Spring," as Ms. Stritch recounted proudly, "James Levine held my hand." She was flattered by Mr. Levine's devotion. "Talent is seductive," she explained.

While this story gives a poignant glimpse into Mr. Levine's private life, it also suggests how highly this astute expert on singing regards Ms. Stritch's artistry.

During her tireless performance on Tuesday, with 16 songs woven into an engagingly rambling monologue about her bittersweet life in the theater and her midcareer struggle for sobriety, I, too, found her gritty vocal artistry an object lesson. Opera singers in particular could learn something from "At Home at the Carlyle," which runs through Feb. 4, two days after Ms. Stritch's 81st birthday.

To point to the gravelly-voiced Ms. Stritch as a vocal role model might seem a stretch. She is no Barbara Cook, a rich-toned singer with consummate technique who gives regular master classes in the interpretation of musical theater songs to voice majors at the Juilliard School. As Ms. Cook approaches her 80th birthday in October 2007, she continues to sing with miraculous elegance and, if anything, even greater depth. She will perform at the Metropolitan Opera House on Jan. 20.

Ms. Stritch, even in her youth, was a brassy belter who was tapped as the understudy to Ethel Merman in "Call Me Madam" in 1950. By 1970, when she appeared in the original production of Stephen Sondheim's "Company," Ms. Stritch had secured her place in Broadway history with a raspy account of "The Ladies Who Lunch." In this song, her character, Joanne, bitterly toasts the bored, bitchy and moneyed New York ladies, herself included, who swap histories of husbands over too many martinis.

What is remarkable about Ms. Stritch's singing these days has little to do with the quality of her vocalism. Her sound may be raw and patchy, her pitch may be approximate, but her cabaret show is a vivid reminder that, in essence, song is musicalized speech. Words come first in her artistry. She knows how to put lyrics across, how to deliver a song. In the ruminative "I Think I Like You" (music and lyrics by Leslie Bricusse), you sense Ms. Stritch pondering her feelings with each new phrase, as if searching for the words to express them at that moment.

Her silences between phrases - when she holds a thought and hardly moves - are riveting. They reminded me of the way Maria Callas used to sing stretches of dramatic recitative as Bellini's Norma, making the silences as gripping as the arrestingly sung phrases. Of course, Ms. Stritch could not have taken such interpretive liberties were it not for the attentive playing of her excellent six-piece band, directed by the stylish pianist Rob Bowman.

Opera singers, who can become obsessed with technique, should read the letters of Mozart, who was always directing singers in his operas to "think carefully of the meaning and force of the words." For a demonstration of what Mozart was talking about, go hear Ms. Stritch sing "Why Him?" (music by Burton Lane, lyrics by Alan Jay Lerner). In this wistfully amusing song, the singer wonders why she fell for the man she loves, who on the surface would seem to be nothing special. "Where he should be he isn't thin. Why him?" she sings in one sweet lyric. Ms. Stritch performed the song in memory of her husband, the actor John Bay, and naturally her emotion infused her singing. But only a savvy actress and vocal artist could make "Why Him?" seem so spontaneous and true.

If Ms. Stritch does not have much voice left, she certainly has a whole range of expressively weathered vocal inflections. Sometimes, capping a song with a sustained high note, as in Rodgers and Hart's "He Was Too Good to Me," she sort of shouted the top note and defiantly thrust a hand in the air, as if to say, "You get the idea." It was easy for the audience to fill in what was missing.

The Cafe Carlyle is a dining room that accommodates about 90 (and dinner is required along with the $125 ticket). It was so wonderful to experience Ms. Stritch up close that I wished she and her band had taken a chance and simply turned off the amplification, which, though very subtle, was perceptible.

Still, if a little electronic assistance is what it takes to keep Elaine Stritch singing, even in this intimate cafe, then so be it. Classical singers looking for insights into the art of putting songs across should try to attend this show. Besides, they might just bump into James Levine.

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Sunday, April 02, 2006

Culture cash (By Christopher Reynolds, the Los Angeles Times)

Note to the caption: Illustration by Gary Taxali / For The Times

Get a job iIllustration by Gary Taxali / For The Times
n the arts and make seven figures? Maybe — if you're a marquee name at Disney Hall. But not if you're dusting dinosaurs. Check out the highs and lows in our first L.A. arts salary survey.

April 2, 2006

Nobody chokes on their Cheerios anymore hearing that Tom Cruise might make $80 million on one movie ("The Last Samurai") or that the Rolling Stones gross $162 million in a year of touring (last year). But since when do museum people make a million a year, and since when do we hear about it?

These questions occurred to many people in February, when Barry Munitz resigned his well-paying post as president of the J. Paul Getty Trust. The result, indirectly, is this: Calendar's first salary survey of the Southern California museums, playhouses, orchestras and other bastions of high culture.

Among the findings:

The biggest salary among Southern California's nonprofit arts organizations goes to the Los Angeles Philharmonic's music director for more than a decade, Esa-Pekka Salonen.

Los Angeles Philharmonic
Music director Esa-Pekka Salonen
Salary: $1,260,639 (plus income from guest conducting elsewhere) for the year ended September 2004
(Genaro Molina / LAT)

The second-biggest? To the L.A. Phil's chief executive, Deborah Borda.

Los Angeles Philharmonic
President and Chief Executive Deborah Borda
Salary: $799,970
Annual budget: $74.8 million
Bonus data: By contract, orchestra players earn at least $112,840, with pay rising to $348,988 for concertmaster Martin Chalifour. And those page-turners who sit next to the pianists in Disney Hall? $40 per concert.
(Hector Mata AFP/Getty)

Meanwhile, the dangling acrobats who squeegee the metal skin of Disney Hall get by on $18 an hour. The top-earning stagehand at the Los Angeles Opera makes nearly four times as much as a bit-part actor on the boards at the Mark Taper Forum. And the most richly compensated arts official in Orange County until last year was apparently an accounts-receivable clerk.

Late in 2005, Orange County Performing Arts Center officials discovered that clerk Ana Limbaring had embezzled $1.85 million since 2000, or $370,000 a year. On Monday, she was sentenced to 10 years in prison.

Conversely, the only Los Angeles museum director to be profiled in the New Yorker and awarded a MacArthur "genius" grant puts in 60 hours a week for nothing: Museum of Jurassic Technology director David Wilson.

As for the directors of the city's big three art museums — the Getty, the Los Angeles County Museum of Art and the Museum of Contemporary Art — their base salaries ranged from $350,000 to $455,153 in 2004. (That's the most recent year for which figures are available.) On top of that, each director goes home at night to a house owned or financed by his museum. (Some leaders get cars too.)

But if you wonder exactly what LACMA's new director makes, you'll have to wait. Even though the museum in the next year will have to tell the IRS in a public filing — and even though the museum stands on county land and gets millions in county funding — its leaders won't disclose what they're paying Michael Govan.

A wrong turn
Getting back to Munitz for a minute: He wasn't just running the Getty Museum, he was running the wealthiest arts organization in the world. Along with the Getty Museum sites in Brentwood and on the edge of Malibu, the $9.6-billion trust bankrolls grant-making, conservation and research, spending more than $270 million yearly.

What sunk Munitz, most close observers agree, wasn't his salary but his effect on morale and accounts of spending on perks and expenses, including first-class travel for his wife on trips of arguable value to the trust. The state attorney general's office is probing. Most of the numbers in this article came from disclosure forms these organizations fill out as a requirement of their tax-exempt status — 990 forms, in arts-accountant shorthand. But as many arts administrators will be pointing out in the days ahead, it's dangerous to draw too many conclusions from these numbers. There's more than one way to legally fill out a 990 form.

From one glance, for instance, it seems that Uri Herscher, president and chief executive of the $15.2-million-a-year Skirball Cultural Center, makes just $50,000, a pittance compared with the $219,077 base salary earned by Skirball vice president Lori Starr. But the lion's share of Herscher's income, undisclosed on the form, comes from Hebrew Union College, a close institutional ally of the Skirball. Through a spokeswoman, Herscher said his combined compensation is more than $220,000 but declined to specify.

The president of the Huntington Library, Art Collections and Botanical Gardens in San Marino, Steven Koblik, also looks notably underpaid. The form shows he draws less than $170,000 in salary while handling an annual budget of more than $25 million. But Koblik's nonsalary benefits — which the filing values at about $39,000 but doesn't specify — include residence in a spacious house on the Huntington property with a view of 80 undeveloped Huntington-owned acres.

Koblik notes that living there is a requirement of the job. Don't cry for Steve, Pasadena.

Now, on to the rest of this region's culture leaders and some of their followers, most of whom dwell in a substantially less salubrious world.

"We work very hard for the money we get paid," said Dick Messer, who earns a little over $120,000 yearly as director of the Petersen Automotive Museum. "By the hour, I'm making about $8 to $10 per hour."

Unless there are 33 hours in Messer's days, he's exaggerating slightly. But veteran nonprofit board members and staffers say his point stands. They also note that most organizations couldn't open their doors without modestly paid junior staffers; volunteer docents, ushers and others; and the donors who prop it all up by writing checks instead of receiving them.

Compensation inflation
Among the city's most visible arts outfits, the drift of leadership salaries is up, up and up. If you lump together salaries for the top executives of the Los Angeles County Museum of Art, the Museum of Contemporary Art, the Los Angeles Opera, the L.A. Philharmonic and the Center Theatre Group from 2002 to 2004, the average increase was 28%, while inflation was rising 5%.

This doesn't surprise veterans of the nonprofit world, who say top cultural executives nationwide have followed the lead of their corporate counterparts, seeking raises that sometimes outpace the performance of their organizations.

Like many for-profit executives, nonprofit leaders respond that their jobs have gotten harder and the demand for talent is greater. A recent study on top nonprofit executives by the CompassPoint research group suggests that most expect to be out of their job within the next five years and that 1 in 3 will be booted by their boards.

Another survey, conducted last year by the nonprofit watchdog group Charity Navigator, looked at more than 4,200 organizations and found that environmental, religious and healthrelated charity leaders generally earn more than arts and culture leaders. (Most arts and culture nonprofits spend between 2% and 3% of their budgets on top executive pay — the bigger the organization, the smaller the share that goes to the executive.)

That study also found that West Coast nonprofit leaders tend to make less than East Coast leaders. But as our survey shows, individual results vary widely. The Brooklyn Museum pays its director about the same amount as LACMA does. The Metropolitan Opera in New York pays its top executive about $280,000 more than the Los Angeles Opera does.

At the L.A. Phil, Deborah Borda earns about $200,000 a year more than the New York Philharmonic's top executive. But Esa-Pekka Salonen is paid less than music directors in New York, Chicago, Philadelphia and San Francisco — even though his orchestra has won more critical acclaim lately.

Autry National Center

  • Executive Director and Chief Executive John Gray
    Salary: $208,092 in calendar year2004
    Annual budget: $15.4 million
    Bonus data: The Autry operates the Museum of the American West in Griffith Park (formerly the Autry Museum of Western Heritage) and the Southwest Museum on Mount Washington, along with the Institute for the Study of the American West.

Bowers Museum
  • President Peter Keller
    Salary: $142,701
    Annual budget: $4.4 million
    Bonus data: In Santa Ana, this institution brought in its own mummy show, "Mummies: Death and the Afterlife in Ancient Egypt," to compete with last year's King Tut extravaganza at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art.

California Science Center
  • President Jeffrey Rudolph
    Salary: $19,169, plus $111,444 from the state
    Annual budget: $10.3 million
    Bonus data: Because the science center — which stands in Exposition Park and features an Imax theater — is a state agency, some employees, like Rudolph, draw wages from both the state and the affiliated California Science Center Foundation.

Getty Museum
  • Director Michael Brand (started in January)
    Salary: $482,000, plus use of a $15,000-per-month Holmby Hills home
    Annual budget: About $270 million, shared among the museum and the Getty's conservation, research and grant-making operations
    Bonus data: Brand reports to the president of the Getty Trust, a post now filled on an interim basis by veteran administrator Deborah Marrow. In that job, Barry Munitz earned $580,000, plus $478,472 in benefit-plan contributions and deferred compensation. Brand's predecessor, Deborah Gribbon, was paid $350,000.

    Getty Museum
    Director Michael Brand (started in January)
    Salary: $482,000, plus use of a $15,000-per-month Holmby Hills home
    Annual budget: About $270 million, shared among the museum and the Getty's conservation, research and grant-making operations
    Bonus data: Brand reports to the president of the Getty Trust, a post now filled on an interim basis by veteran administrator Deborah Marrow. In that job, Barry Munitz earned $580,000, plus $478,472 in benefit-plan contributions and deferred compensation. Brand's predecessor, Deborah Gribbon, was paid $350,000.
    (Rebecca D’Angelo / For The Times)

  • Gift shop sales clerk
    Wage: $12.35 per hour and up. (Don't scoff: That's $2.05 per hour more than the Disney Hall gift shop pays.)

Huntington Library, Art Collections and Botanical Gardens
  • President Steven Koblik
    Salary: $162,504, along with use of a house on site
    Annual budget: $25.5 million
    Bonus data: Directors of the Huntington Library, art collections and gardens in San Marino also live in Huntington-owned houses. The payroll includes about three dozen gardeners tending about 150 acres.

  • Gardener
    Wage: $11.85 an hour on average

    TRIMMING: Jennifer Brandt works near the Huntington’s Rose Hills Conservatory for Botanical Science.
    (Brian Vander Brug / LAT)

  • Museum security guard
    $10.72 an hour on average.

Japanese American National Museum
  • President and Executive Director Irene Hirano
    Salary: $165,000
    Annual budget: $12 million
    Bonus facts: Sited downtown on East 1st Street, the museum stages exhibitions and events from drumming lessons to play readings. Hirano also serves as chief executive of the neighboring National Center for the Preservation of Democracy, which opened in 2005.

Los Angeles County Museum of Art
  • Director Michael Govan
    Salary: shrouded in mystery
    Annual budget: $48.5 million
    Bonus data: Govan, who starts this week, has a five-year pact. The county supervisors have agreed to pay him $124,600 a year and he gets use of a home near the museum that would otherwise rent for $9,000 to $12,000 per month. But wait, there's more: LACMA officials will substantially sweeten Govan's salary through the affiliated private, nonprofit Museum Associates. Govan's predecessor, Andrea L. Rich, received more than $330,000 from Museum Associates on top of her county pay. But LACMA leaders won't say how much they're paying Govan — even though the law requires them to disclose it within the next year or so.

Museum of Contemporary Art

  • Director and Chief Executive Jeremy Strick
    Salary: $405,530
    Annual budget: $16.6 million
    Bonus data: When the museum brought Strick and his wife west from Chicago in January 2000, it loaned them $528,000 to buy a house. Strick pays 6.21% interest, but no principal, in monthly installments. Payment comes due in January 2010 or upon the end of his job, whichever comes first. And when payment comes due, Strick will also owe 5% of the appreciation of the property.

Museum of Jurassic Technology
  • Director David Wilson
    Salary: none in calendar year 2004, and none since
    Annual budget: $290,289
    Bonus data: Wilson, who estimates a 60-hour workweek at the 18-year-old Culver City institution, does have a substantial outside income: a 2001 MacArthur Foundation "genius" grant of $500,000 over five years (Wilson estimates he's spent half of it on the museum).

Museum of Latin American Art
  • Director Juan Gregorio Luke
    Salary: $70,000 in calendar 2004
    Annual budget: $2.8 million
    Bonus data: Founded in 1996 on the site of an old silent-film studio, the Long Beach museum is in the middle of a $10-million expansion that will double its size in 2007.

Natural History Museum of Los Angeles County

  • President Jane Pisano
    Salary: $180,816 from the Los Angeles County Museum of Natural History Foundation, plus a county salary of $120,972
    Annual budget: $19.6 million
    Bonus data: The museum, which also runs the Page Museum at the La Brea Tar Pits and the William S. Hart Museum, uses Diamond Contract Services for janitorial work, which includes cleaning three rooms of re-created dinosaurs and one of Cenozoic fossils.

  • Dinosaur-skeleton duster
    Wage: $8.32 per hour and up

Norton Simon Museum of Art, Pasadena

  • Executive Vice President and Chief Operating Officer Walter W. Timoshuk
    Salary: $197,000 from the museum for the year ended June 2005, and $189,792 from the Norton Simon Art Foundation for the year ended November 2004
    Annual budget: $4.9 million
    Bonus data: If you read the 990 form alone, it seems the museum, renowned for its collection of Old Master paintings, is paying its store manager more than any of its five curators — about $61,500. But Simon, who died in 1993, left behind a web of nonprofits, including the museum and two foundations. Some employees, including senior curator Carol Togneri, draw salaries from more than one, and not all of their income is specified.

  • Security guard
    Wage: $8.25 hourly and up

Orange County Museum of Art
  • Director Dennis Szakacs
    Salary: $165,000 for the year ended March 2004, since bumped to $186,000
    Annual budget: $3.1 million
    Bonus data: Newport Beach-based OCMA, known for its contemporary bent, recruited Szakacs in 2003 from a position as deputy director of the New Museum of Contemporary Art in New York.

Petersen Automotive Museum
  • Director Richard Messer
    Salary: $122,400 in the year ended September 2004
    Annual budget: $3.9 million
    Bonus data: Born in 1994 and housed in a former department store across from LACMA, the Petersen has collected scores of vehicles on four floors, from bakery trucks to hot rods.

Skirball Cultural Center
  • President and CEO Uri Herscher
    Salary: $50,000, not counting the much larger amount (at least $170,000) kicked in by Hebrew Union College
    Annual budget: $15.2 million
    Bonus data: The 10-year-old center stands near the Getty in the Sepulveda Pass. Senior Vice President Lori Starr, who directs the Skirball Museum in its efforts to explore connections between Judaism and American democracy, earned $219,077.

UCLA Hammer Museum

  • Director Ann Philbin
    Salary: $234,334
    Annual budget: $7.1 million
    Bonus data: Philbin arrived from the Drawing Center in New York in 1999. An ongoing expansion will add a 288-seat theater to the 16-year-old museum in Westwood.

UCLA Hammer Museum
Director Ann Philbin
Salary: $234,334
Annual budget: $7.1 million
Bonus data: Philbin arrived from the Drawing Center in New York in 1999. An ongoing expansion will add a 288-seat theater to the 16-year-old museum in Westwood.
(Al Seib / LAT)


Los Angeles Opera
  • General director Plácido Domingo
    Salary: $598,465.
    Annual budget: $43 million
    Bonus data: Domingo draws an additional $450,000 or more yearly for running the Washington National Opera. Music director Kent Nagano, who earned $680,000, will be succeeded by James Conlon in September. If you do your tallying per diem, the richest L.A. Opera paycheck lately may be the $250,000 paid guest performer Mstislav Rostropovich for conducting five widely scorned performances of the company's "Nicholas and Alexandra" premiere in September 2003.

    Los Angeles Opera
    General director Plácido Domingo
    Salary: $598,465.
    Annual budget: $43 million
    Bonus data: Domingo draws an additional $450,000 or more yearly for running the Washington National Opera. Music director Kent Nagano, who earned $680,000, will be succeeded by James Conlon in September. If you do your tallying per diem, the richest L.A. Opera paycheck lately may be the $250,000 paid guest performer Mstislav Rostropovich for conducting five widely scorned performances of the company's "Nicholas and Alexandra" premiere in September 2003.
    (Stefano Paltera / For The Times)

  • Stagehand Steve McDonough
    Salary: $160,556

Los Angeles Philharmonic
  • Music director Esa-Pekka Salonen
    Salary: $1,260,639 (plus income from guest conducting elsewhere) for the year ended September 2004
  • President and Chief Executive Deborah Borda
    Salary: $799,970
    Annual budget: $74.8 million
    Bonus data: By contract, orchestra players earn at least $112,840, with pay rising to $348,988 for concertmaster Martin Chalifour. And those page-turners who sit next to the pianists in Disney Hall? $40 per concert.

Music Center of Los Angeles County
  • President Stephen Rountree
    Salary: $311,325
    Annual budget: $41.1 million
    Bonus data: The Music Center operates the Ahmanson Theatre, Dorothy Chandler Pavilion, Mark Taper Forum and Walt Disney Concert Hall, serving as landlord to the Center Theatre Group, the L.A. Phil, L.A. Opera and the L.A. Master Chorale.

  • Maintenance worker, Disney Hall
    Wage:$18 an hour if you're up on a rig, skimming the hall's metal skin; $13 if you're on the ground.

SKIN CARE: Walt Disney Concert Hall’s steel-paneled covering gets some TLC from Jose Paiz.
(Ken Hively / LAT)


Center Theatre Group
  • Artistic director Michael Ritchie
    Salary: $302,500 this year
    Annual budget: $44.5 million
    Bonus data: CTG consists of the Ahmanson Theatre, the Mark Taper Forum and Kirk Douglas Theatre in Culver City, an empire built by Ritchie's predecessor, Gordon Davidson. In the year ended June 2004, Davidson earned $385,000, plus $1,019,941 in benefit contributions and deferred benefits.

    Center Theatre Group
    Artistic director Michael Ritchie
    Salary: $302,500 this year
    Annual budget: $44.5 million
    Bonus data: CTG consists of the Ahmanson Theatre, the Mark Taper Forum and Kirk Douglas Theatre in Culver City, an empire built by Ritchie's predecessor, Gordon Davidson. In the year ended June 2004, Davidson earned $385,000, plus $1,019,941 in benefit contributions and deferred benefits.
    (Glenn Koenig / LAT)

  • Supporting actor at Mark Taper Forum
    Salary: begins at $816 a week, by current Equity contract

Geffen Playhouse
  • Managing director Steve Eich
    Salary: $150,467 for the year ended August 2004
    Annual budget: $6.5 million
    Bonus data: Geffen producing director Gil Cates (who is also the sometime producer of the Oscars broadcast) was paid $56,900 by UCLA, the Playhouse's landlord affiliate. The operation includes five paid ushers, along with many volunteers.

  • Artistic director Randall Arney
    Salary: $125,467

  • Playhouse usher
    Wage: $26-$28 per performance

THIS WAY, PLEASE: Abdoulaye N’gom is a longtime usher at the Geffen Playhouse.
(Gary Friedman / LAT)

Laguna Playhouse
  • Executive Director Richard Stein
    Salary: $120,572
    Annual budget: $5.3 million
    Bonus data: Aided by a $5-million donation last year, the playhouse, near the Pageant of the Masters site along Laguna Canyon Road, plans to build a second performance space.

  • Artistic director Andrew Barnicle
    Salary: $117,697

Orange County Performing Arts Center
  • President Terrence Dwyer
    Dwyer starts April 20 at the Costa Mesa facility, and OCPAC officials (who don't get government funding) say they'll wait until tax filings are due to disclose his pay.
    Annual budget: $35.2 million
    Bonus data: Dwyer succeeds Jerry E. Mandel, whose salary was $301,886.

Pasadena Playhouse
  • Artistic director Sheldon Epps
    Salary: $125,000 (via St. Kathryn Productions)
    Annual budget: $6.2 million
    Bonus data: Epps moonlights as a TV sitcom director. The playhouse's executive director, Lyla White, pulled down $91,371 in calendar year 2004.

    Pasadena Playhouse
    Artistic director Sheldon Epps
    Salary: $125,000 (via St. Kathryn Productions)
    Annual budget: $6.2 million
    Bonus data: Epps moonlights as a TV sitcom director. The playhouse's executive director, Lyla White, pulled down $91,371 in calendar year 2004.
    (Mark Boster / LAT)

  • Box office cashier
    Wage: $9 hourly and up

South Coast Repertory
  • Artistic director Martin Benson and producing artistic director David Emmes
    Salaries: $146,012 each for the year ended August 2004
    Annual budget: $10.4 million
    Bonus data: Founded by Benson and Emmes in 1964, SCR has grown to offer six productions this season on its main Segerstrom Stage in Costa Mesa and eight on the smaller Julianne Argyros Stage.

South Coast Repertory
Artistic director Martin Benson and producing artistic director David Emmes
Salaries: $146,012 each for the year ended August 2004
Annual budget: $10.4 million
Bonus data: Founded by Benson and Emmes in 1964, SCR has grown to offer six productions this season on its main Segerstrom Stage in Costa Mesa and eight on the smaller Julianne Argyros Stage.
(Mark Boster / LAT)

The time frame: Unless we say otherwise, salary figures quoted here cover the year ending June 30, 2004, the most recent period for which numbers are available. The same goes for the organizational budgets.

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Getting Fresh With Mozart (By Gavin Borchert, the Seattle Weekly)

Note to the caption: Man of the moment.

He wrote about 650 pieces; why do we always hear the same old six?

March 29, 2006

It's Mozart's 250th birthday, and almost as prevalent as concerts of his music are complaints by critics that everyone plays Mozart all the time anyway. How do you keep standard repertory fresh and bring in audiences in such a situation? With Mozart's birth (1756) and death (1791) both celebrated every 50 years, we've barely had time to get over the 1991 party.

Any music festival's first responsibility in programming, I suppose, is to justify itself—to convince concertgoers that saturation bombing of Composer X (or Period Y or Geographic Region Z) is warranted. Among a somewhat halfhearted collection of standard-repertory symphonies and concertos, the Seattle Symphony's January Mozart festival took an oddly funereal tone with a performance of his Requiem. No doubt, there were some concertgoers puzzled that it was his birth, not his death, that was being observed—not to mention that the SSO plays the work every year anyway, and it's only half by Mozart.

On the other hand, its Feb. 2 concert told us something new: Opulent, Technicolor arrangements of Mozart's music by Tchaikovsky (a few obscure piano pieces) and Richard Strauss (an ensemble from the opera Idomeneo) showed us how two arch-Romantics reworked Wolfgang in their own image. Their admiration for him didn't prevent them from tinkering with holy writ, revealing that our culture's own worshipful attitude toward Mozart is a recent development.

Yet the essential Mozart in these reworkings survives and shines through—just as it did in an even more daring reimagining, the big-band version of Symphony No. 40 that, as played by the UW Studio Jazz Ensemble, made a fantastic climax to the School of Music's Feb. 9 all-Mozart evening. Witty without being shticky, it demonstrated how little you had to alter (a ninth chord here, a syncopation there) to twist one idiom into another, and how thin and fragile are the walls we build to compartmentalize musical genres.

The Northwest Sinfonietta put Mozart in historical context by placing his music next to that of a typical 18th-century journeyman like Antonio Salieri. The two sinfonias played on its Feb. 17 program were snappy little numbers, but alongside Mozart's Symphony No. 36—richer, more imaginative, and more compelling—the difference between craftsmanship and genius becomes clearer. And remember which one had the fame, the money, and the cushy Kapellmeister post; ponder the relationship between immediate popularity and lasting artistic value, and you may pause a moment the next time you're inclined to dismiss an "inaccessible" piece of new music.

Yet why pick on Salieri? Mozart's peaks can be put into perspective as well by his own lesser works. Earlier this month, the Seattle Symphony did a salutary service in this season of reverence by presenting a rare Mozartean misfire: the Adagio and Fugue, K. 546, a leaden, charm-free string version of an earlier work for two pianos. Wolfgang could turn out four-voice counterpoint like nobody's business, but he sure didn't have Bach's skill at keeping things moving along.

Even with a composer this beloved, programmers still gravitate to the greatest hits. It was already a problem in 1891, when George Bernard Shaw griped about the unadventurous death-centennial observances: "The Crystal Palace committed itself to the 'Jupiter' Symphony and the Requiem; the Albert Hall, by way of varying the entertainment, announced the Requiem and the 'Jupiter' Symphony."

But back then, much of his music was still unexplored. Exhibit A, Cosí fan tutte, Seattle Opera's contribution to this Mozart season (Feb. 25–March 11) was ignored in the 19th century and didn't earn warhorse status until the 1970s. (Strauss sugared up Idomeneo to make it go down easy for a 1937 audience.) But what's left to discover, and where do we go from here?

Myself, I've always wanted to hear an unfinished Requiem—a performance confined strictly to the notes Mozart left, without any cobbling up by Süssmayr, even if some passages are just first-violin/bass skeletons, even if others trail off midphrase. After all, wouldn't that be more poignant? Here Death stayed the Master's hand. . . . 

Then there are the oddball pieces Mozart devoted more time to than maybe any other famous composer. Chamber music for glass harmonica. Divertimenti for two flutes, five trumpets, and timpani. The proto-Cagean Musical Dice Game, 16 bars in minuet tempo that can be played in any order. Or his overture to the ballet Les petits riens, the best Mozart overture you've never heard. Perhaps some choir could take up the vocal canons on naughty texts, like "Leck mich im Arsch," K. 231, which means in English exactly what it sounds like in German.

Asked about her ideal Mozart commemoration, Seattle Baroque violinist Ingrid Matthews confessed to voice envy: "The way Mozart spins a tune in his vocal writing, to me, is something every violinist should study! Then there is the sorcererlike ability to evoke and manipulate human emotions." Or, alternately, "It wouldn't be bad to be locked up in a room with a feather bed and a dessert tray and listen to all the piano concertos one after another."

Conductor Roupen Shakarian's dream concert? "Tough call, but . . . a wind Serenade, the Sinfonia Concertante, the C-minor Mass." And Adam Stern's Mozart wish runs counter to current musical correctness: "Any and all Mozart is always welcome—so long as it's not played on period instruments."

The Beat Arts writer Gavin Borchert reviews new classical CDs with Dave Beck, every other Tuesday at 2:50 on KUOW-FM (94.9).

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Bosses in love with claptrap and blinded by ideologies (by Simon Caulkin, the Observer)

Sunday March 12, 2006

Heroic leaders are a disaster. Seventy per cent of mergers fail. In most organisations, financial incentives cause more problems than they solve. There is no connection between high executive pay and company performance (well, there is - the wider the pay differentials, the lower the commitment of the less well paid). The main result of many consultancy assignments is another consultancy assignment. All 'silver bullet' or 'big ideas' on their own are wrong.

These are not theories, but facts. Yet companies trip over themselves to buy others, launch change initiatives, introduce pay for performance, flit from one big idea to the next - and pay their CEOs stratospherically. It's hardly surprising so many go belly up. If doctors were as cavalier with the evidence, a lot of their patients would be dead and many medics would be behind bars.

The last is a line from what bids fair to be one of the management books of the year. Hard Facts, Dangerous Half-Truths and Total Nonsense (Harvard Business School Press), by Stanford professors Jeffrey Pfeffer and Robert Sutton, is a compelling tour of management conventional wisdom and why it so often turns out to be unwise, untrue and a stranger to fact - bollocks, in fact. Every potential manager should be made to read it before they are allowed to be in charge of anything, even a whelk stall.

So why don't managers make judgments on evidence, as doctors at least try to do? The book pinpoints a number of factors, many of which come down to the human factors economic theorists carefully exclude. They overestimate power, fail to cut losses, underestimate cost and difficulty, and ignore the lessons of failure. They put too much faith in superficial impressions and repeat what worked in the past. Or they fall back on unexamined but deeply held ideologies. (An unqualified belief in anything, except the likelihood of being wrong, is a certain predictor of tears ahead.)

Another factor is the messiness of the market for ideas, not least the quantity of information and the self-serving interest of gurus in talking up successes and downplaying the side effects of their prescriptions. People prefer simple solutions, even if there aren't any: 'If someone tells you they have the answer,' one candid guru noted, 'they probably haven't understood the question.'

Less obvious is the effect of facts on conventional leadership. If only the facts matter, it shouldn't matter where they come from. That undercuts the traditional justification for hierarchy: that the boss knows best. Facts force the boss to choose between being 'in control' and being right. Many choose the former.

All this sets up a bizarre corporate amnesia - a kind of conspiracy not to learn in which organisations find new ways of repeating mistakes in an endless loop. They are suckers for half-truths - more dangerous than total nonsense because they are not entirely wrong, except when treated as whole truths, in which case they become total bollocks. Pfeffer and Sutton line up a number of these, often naming names, showing how some of management's ingrained habits of thought cause them to undermine their own organisations.

Thus, leaders do make a difference, but not as much as you might think, and more on the downside. Yes, strategy and recruiting good people are important. But strategy is usually overrated, to the detriment of implementation; and overestimating raw talent can impede learning. It's no use putting good people to work in a crappy system; conversely, putting people in a good system and expecting them to improve increases their individual and group capabilities - another example of the (ignored) self-fulfilling nature of so many assumptions.

Incentives do incentivise - but be careful what you wish for. As W Edwards Deming said, people with sharp enough targets will probably meet them even if they have to destroy the company to do so. And what about change or die?The trouble, they say, is that companies are so bad at it that 'empirically it is change and die'.

It's a weird paradox. Despite management's obsession with hard numbers, many organisations are a fact-free zone, swirling with untested assumptions. Horrifying sums of money are committed on superstition or whim. Thus, fact-based management is really triple-distilled common sense. It's hard. It requires judgment, practice, help, humanity and wisdom. It needs scepticism and experimentation. It needs reasoned optimism and learning, and, as F Scott Fitzgerald put it, the ability to function while holding two contradictory ideas in your head at the same time.

Ironically, applying such honed common sense is a great recipe for competitive advantage because so few do it. Despite the heroic efforts of the professors, this will almost certainly continue. As Peter Drucker says: 'Thinking is very hard work. And management fashions are a great substitute for thinking.'

Which is why most companies and managers will continue to ignore the facts, make the same mistakes and perpetrate the same old bollocks: not fact-based so much as voodoo management.

Harvard Business Online link to Hard Facts, Dangerous Half-Truths And Total Nonsense: Profiting From Evidence-Based Management, by Jeffrey Pfeffer, Robert I. Sutton

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The Housekeeper of a World-Shattering Theory (by Jenny Diski, London Review of Books)

Martha Freud: A Biography by Katja Behling trans. R.D.V. Glasgow · Polity, 206 pp.

In the membership roll of the worshipful guild of enabling wives, the name of Martha Freud ranks with the greatest: Mrs Noah, Mrs Darwin, Mrs Marx, Mrs Joyce, Mrs Nabokov, Mrs Clinton, and their honorary fellows, Mr Woolf and Mr Cookson. Wives, of either sex, are what keep the universe orderly and quiet enough for the great to think their thoughts, complete their travels, write their books and change the world. Martha Freud was a paragon among wives. There is nothing more liberating from domestic drudgery and the guilt that comes of avoiding it than having a cleaning lady who loves cleaning, a child-carer who’s content with child-care, a homebody who wants nothing more than to be at home. And Martha Freud was all those things. Quite why she was those things is something that her husband might have been the very person to investigate, but Freud was nobody’s fool and knew when to leave well alone in the murkier regions of his personal life – especially that dark continent in his mind concerning women. Freud mentioned in passing in a letter to his friend Wilhelm Fleiss (to whom he wrote that no woman had ever replaced the male comrade in his life), that at the age of 34, after the birth of her sixth child in eight years, Martha was suffering from writer’s block. Impossible to imagine why. But like other mysteries about Martha’s life, this new biography does not (or perhaps cannot because some of the source material remains unavailable) elaborate on what she might have been trying to write. A shopping list, I expect. Unless it was that book about interesting new ways she had thought of for interpreting her dreams, which she worked on in those odd moments when the children weren’t down with chickenpox or needing their stockings mended.

History tells of Mrs Freud – the wife – as a devoted domestic, and there is little in Katja Behling’s biography to suggest we adjust our view of her. The big idea seems to be that we must value her contribution to the development of psychoanalysis as the provider of a peaceful home life for its founder. The sine qua non of radical thought is someone else changing the baby’s nappy. In his foreword to the book, Anton Freud, a grandson, puts it with incontestable logic:

Would he have had the time and opportunity to write this foundational work if he had had, say, to take his daughter to her dancing classes and his son to his riding lessons twice a week? . . . His youngest daughter was born in 1895. When she cried in the night, was it Sigmund who got up to comfort her? . . . If Martha had been less efficient or unwilling to devote her life to her husband in this way, the flow of Sigmund’s early ideas would have dried to a trickle before they could converge into a great sea. Martha always saw to it that her husband’s energies were not squandered.

And if Freud had comforted his daughter when she cried in the night, would Anna have been so desperate for her father’s attention as to devote her life to publishing his papers and continuing his work? Apostles need more than ordinary unhappiness to fit them for their task.

Juliet Mitchell, in praise of the new biography, berates those who dismiss Martha Freud as a stereotypical Hausfrau rather than seeing in her ‘a highly ethical and decent human being’, though it isn’t at all clear to me that they are mutually exclusive descriptions. As to dismissing her, on the contrary, one wrings one’s hands and weeps over her, or would if she didn’t seem to have been perfectly content with her existence. In his biography of Freud, Peter Gay quotes Martha’s reply to a letter of condolence after Freud’s death that it was ‘a feeble consolation that in the 53 years of our marriage there was not a single angry word between us, and that I always tried as much as possible to remove the misère of everyday life from his path’. Like strange sex between consenting adults, there’s nothing to be said against contentment and a division of labour which both parties are happy about. We must read and wonder at the good fortune that each should have found the other. Which of us would not wish for a Martha of our own to take care of the misère in our daily life while we sit in our study or silently at the lunch table bubbling up enlightenment for the world? Then again, who among us would wish to be Martha, no matter how essential her biographer might claim her to be in the production of the grand idea? To be a muse, an inspiration, might, I suppose, have its attractions; but to be the housekeeper of a world-shattering theory isn’t quite the same.

There’s no point in pretending in the light of 53 years’ evidence that there was a great originator in Martha struggling to get out. But you can’t help wondering how it could be that she wanted only this of herself, a woman who at her marriage was neither thoughtless nor completely self-effacing. Martha was a voracious reader of John Stuart Mill, Dickens and Cervantes, though her husband-to-be warned her against the rude bits unsuitable for a woman in Don Quixote. She was interested in music and painting, and had no shortage of suitors. When Freud became obsessively suspicious of her brother (and the husband of Freud’s sister), Eli, who controlled the Bernays’s finances, he insisted, on pain of ending their relationship, that she break with him completely. She held her own, firmly reflected Freud’s ultimatum back at him, and maintained her relationship with Eli. She travelled to northern Germany to holiday with only her younger sister for company and had a wonderful time in spite of her fiancé’s suspiciously heavy-handed use of ironic exclamation marks: ‘Fancy, Lübeck! Should that be allowed? Two single girls travelling alone in North Germany! This is a revolt against the male prerogative!’ But as soon as they were married Freud forbade his devoutly Orthodox Jewish wife to light the sabbath candles. It wasn’t until the first Friday after her husband’s death that she lit them again. What do women want is one thing, but the real question is what made Martha run: run the household, the children, the travel arrangements, the servants, and with never a word of complaint except a mildly expressed bafflement at her husband’s choice of profession. ‘I must admit that if I did not realise how seriously my husband takes his treatments, I should think that psychoanalysis is a form of pornography.’

Marriage, they say, changes people, and it does look as if Martha Bernays might have had the makings of another woman – at any rate, another life – altogether. What this otherwise rather dutiful biography (the mirror of its subject, perhaps) does offer us is a glimpse (but sadly very little more) of the by no means uninteresting Bernays family and their oldest daughter, Martha, before she became the other Mrs Freud. Three of Martha’s six siblings died in infancy; her oldest brother, Isaac, was born with a severe hip disorder and walked on crutches; and the next brother, Eli, was not much liked by his mother. When Martha was six, her father, Berman Bernays, was imprisoned for fraudulent bankruptcy after some shady dealings on the stock market. Two years later, the family moved away from the public shame in Hamburg to Vienna, and Martha recalled hearing the ‘sizzling of her mother’s tears as they landed on the hot cooking stove’. She was teased at her new school for her German diction. Isaac died when Martha was 11, and seven years later Berman collapsed in the street, dying of ‘paralysis of the heart’ and leaving the family without an income. Berman’s brothers had to support them, and Eli took over his father’s job in order to help out. Not an uneventful childhood, not lacking in trauma to be lived through. There are all sorts of pain and difficulty there, yet Martha did not take to her bed and succumb to the vapours. There is not the slightest indication that she lost the use of her legs, or found herself unable to speak. And this is all the more remarkable in view of the fact that when her father died, her mother appointed as her temporary guardian none other than the father of Bertha Pappenheim, later better known as Anna O., who might have told her a thing or two about the proper way to react to family loss. Nor is there any indication that her positively neurotic lack of neurotic symptoms (unless you count obsessive compulsive caring for her husband’s welfare) struck the father of psychoanalysis as worth a paper or two.

What Sigmund and Martha had in common were families embroiled in shadowy financial scandals. Freud’s uncle was imprisoned for trading in counterfeit roubles, and persistent rumour had it that his father was implicated in the scam. The way both dealt with the discomfort of public shame and lived happily ever after together was by embracing a perfect 19th-century bourgeois existence, provided you don’t include Sigmund’s incessant thoughts about child sexuality, seduction theory, the Oedipus complex, penis envy and the death drive – or perhaps even if you do. Presumably it was precisely that exemplary bourgeois surface, the formal suits, the heavy, glossy furniture, the rigid table manners, ordered nursery and bustling regularity, that made it possible for those deeper, hardly thinkable thoughts to be had and developed into something that looked like a scientific theory. By polishing that surface and keeping the clocks ticking in unison, Martha was as essential to the development of Freudian thought as Dora or the Rat Man. It’s just that she didn’t have the time to put her feet up on the couch, and Sigmund never cared to wonder what all that polishing and timekeeping was about. Martha was not there in order to be understood; she was there so that he might learn to understand others.

Not that women weren’t interesting. Anna O. and Dora were fascinating. Minna, Martha’s younger sister, who lived with them, was someone to whom, when no serious man was around, Freud could talk about intellectual things. Who could have been more stimulating than Lou Andreas-Salomé, Marie Bonaparte, Hilda Doolittle, Helene Deutsch or Joan Riviere? But they were none of them his wife. It is the woman’s place, Freud said to his oldest daughter, Mathilde, to make man’s life more pleasant. Intellectual companionship was to be found elsewhere. The more intelligent young men look for a wife with ‘gentleness, cheerfulness, and the talent to make their life easier and more beautiful’. (Not Lou, then.) In 1936 he spoke to Marie Bonaparte of his married life: ‘It was really not a bad solution of the marriage problem, and she is still today tender, healthy and active.’ He expressed his relief to his son-in-law Max Halberstadt, ‘for the children who have turned out so well, and for the fact that she’ – Martha – ‘has neither been very abnormal nor very often ill’.

In fact, it was precisely Martha’s sturdy, if somewhat timekeeping and cleanliness-fixated nature that Freud found most attractive, according to Behling. She was the lodestone, the quintessence, the elixir to which his life’s work was ostensibly devoted. He was the Doctor and she was what the cured would look like. She was normal. Obviously, it would have been extremely trying had Anna or Dora or the Wolf Man been like her. But in his world of psychical distortion, Martha represented what no one who takes his works seriously could ever really believe in: the ordinary, undamaged specimen. According to Ernest Jones, ‘her personality was fully developed and well integrated: it would well deserve the psychoanalysts’ highest compliment of being “normal”.’ No problem for Martha coming to terms with her missing penis at the right stage of her development, no big deal about transferring her Oedipal desire for the mother to the father. She had adapted nicely to her castration, and although it meant her superego was a flimsy thing compared to that of a man (woman ‘shows less sense of justice than man, less inclination to submission to the great exigencies of life, is more often led in her decisions by tender or hostile feelings’), it served well enough for Freud’s purposes. Imagine if Freudian analysis had gone quite another way and the master had studied the normality he apparently had so close to home instead of its deformation. What was it that Emmeline (whose bossiness and self-absorption Freud hated) and Berman Bernays did so right? How could he not have been in a rage to know? But what intellectual innovator would want to give up interesting for ordinary, especially when ordinary, if left to its own devices and sublimation of desires, arranged such a comfortable life for him?

Behling suggests that Martha’s great value to Freud was her very existence, which prevented him from getting too depressed about the nature of human nature. He was able to see in her ‘someone who stood apart from what he learned about humankind in general’. She was not part of the ‘rabble’, as Oscar Pfister explained, of ‘good-for-nothing’ mankind. So not only did he not study her, he did not communicate any of his professional thoughts to her. ‘Freud did not wish to share the blackest depths of his knowledge with Martha, but rather to protect her from them,’ Behling writes. Or perhaps, more likely, to protect himself. During their engagement Freud was taken ‘greatly by surprise when she once admitted that at times she had to suppress bad or evil thoughts’.

Martha’s sunny nature, so very different apparently from human nature, was encouraged if not carefully tutored by her fiancé during their epic four-year engagement. Martha’s mother had set her face against the marriage of her daughter to an impoverished researcher, and they were reduced to writing letters and stealing occasional meetings. It seems to have been Freud’s single stab at passion and he went at it with all the will of an adored son. He must have found it alarming, because the heavy curtains of contentment came down as soon as the wedding was over. Before that, he raged with jealousy at the mention of other men, demanding, for example, that Martha stop calling her interesting painter cousin by his first name. ‘Dear Martha, how you have changed my life,’ he said in his first letter to her. And when they were engaged and he was battling against her mother for Martha he explained: ‘Marty, you cannot fight against it; no matter how much they love you I will not leave you to anyone, and no one deserves you; no one else’s love compares with mine.’ Clearly the time for the master’s self-analysis had not yet come, so he was free to wish to give his fiancée a fashionable gold snake bangle and write how sorry he was that in the circumstances she would have to settle for ‘a small silver snake’. He wanted her well turned out so it would ‘never occur to a soul that she could have married anyone but a prince’. But his letters also made other things clear. Martha’s nose and mouth, he told her, were shaped ‘more characteristically than beautifully, with an almost masculine expression, so unmaidenly in its decisiveness’. It was as if nature wanted to save her ‘from the danger of being merely beautiful’. Even so the romance was powerful: the two young lovers exchanged flowering almond branches, and Freud told her that his addiction to cigars was due to her absence: ‘Smoking is indispensable if one has nothing to kiss.’ But in describing his views on the state of marriage he explained that ‘despite all love and unity, the help each person had found in the other ceases. The husband looks again for friends, frequents an inn, finds general outside interests.’ Martha, who would apologise each time she screamed during her labour, had been warned.

After his death, Martha did not run wild, aside from lighting the shabbos candles, but sat on a chair on the half-landing between the first and second floors of the house in Maresfield Gardens and took to reading again, though only, she assured a correspondent in case she was accused of idleness, in the evenings. Life, she said, had ‘lost its sense and meaning’ without her husband, but she quite enjoyed receiving the grand visitors who came to the house to pay homage. Anna took over her father’s work and Martha suddenly began to take an interest in it. Her daughter found Martha far too inquisitive about the patients who came and went. Martha even expressed a view: ‘You’d be amazed what it costs, this child analysis!’

Freud blamed Martha for preventing him from gaining early recognition in the world of medical science. ‘I may here recount, looking back, that it was my fiancée’s fault if I did not become famous in those early years,’ he wrote in his self-portrait. His experiments with cocaine in the 1880s were taken up and elaborated by others. What the late Princess Margaret knew as ‘naughty salt’ was found to have a beneficial effect as a local anaesthetic, a use Freud inexplicably hadn’t thought of and which he had omitted to mention in his paper ‘On Coca’. It was an unexpected opportunity to visit Martha that had distracted him from fully exploiting the potential of his discovery, he claimed in old age, but was generous enough to excuse his wife since, as Behling puts it, ‘49 years of wedlock had compensated him for missing out on fame in his youth.’ But here’s a thought, an unconsidered key, perhaps, to understanding Martha. While Freud was making his experiments with cocaine, he sent several vials of it to his fiancée extolling its effect on vitality, with instructions on how to divide the doses and administer it. Martha wrote and thanked him, saying that although she didn’t think she needed it, she would take some as he suggested. She reported back to her fiancé that she found it helpful in moments of emotional strain. From time to time, Behling says, Martha ‘enhanced her sense of well-being with an invigorating pinch of cocaine’. For how long she continued to do this is unknown, but it does suggest an altogether different way of viewing the devoted, domestically driven Martha Freud, who for half a century went about her frantically busy daily round of cleaning, caring, tidying, managing and arranging all the minute details of her husband’s life with a fixed and unfaltering smile.

Jenny Diski’s non-fiction book, On Trying to Keep Still, will be published in April. She is the author of Only Human, about a patriarch and his wife, among other novels.

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