Sunday, 20 December 2015

An Index: Shaw on Music, ed. Eric Bentley (1955), Applause, 2000

NB. I have been rereading this excellent selection of Bernard Shaw’s ever-fresh musical criticism and decided, besides having plenty of fun, to do something useful – like compiling an index, for example. By no means is it comprehensive. I have taken the liberty to omit the countless names of nowadays forgotten musicians which Shaw mentions in his reviews. I have tried to include all major composers, works, singers and instrumentalists, but even here I have exercised a good deal of ruthless cutting; I have retained only what I think most interesting and characteristic. For the few names that recur constantly (marked in bold), I have also tried to give some idea of Shaw’s opinions; these are grouped in the beginning of each entry. Operatic characters and works, in this order, follow after that; they are listed only under their respective composers, never separately, and always with their original titles (even though Shaw often used English translations). Page numbers against a composer’s name mean general references that I consider significant. It’s been quite a challenge to follow Shaw’s nimble thought.

Bach, Johann Sebastian (1685–1750): 14, 27, 38-40.
-      The Art of Fugue: 27.
-      Mass in B minor: 30, 37-40.
Beethoven, Ludwig van (1770–1827): 14, 27, 53-4, 80, 83-9, 194.
-      Comparison with Mozart and Haydn: 85-6.
-      Moral horror of Mozart: 85
-      Leonora No. 3: 84, 92.
-      Symphony No. 7: 79-80 (“clumsy and obvious sensationalism”), 81-2, 84.
-      Symphony No. 9: 50, 76, 84 (allusion?), 115.
Bellini, Vincenzo (1801–1835)
-      La Sonnambula: 23.
Berlioz, Hector (1803–1869): 80, 82, 103, 162.
-      Le Damnation de Faust: 97-103.
-      Romeo et Juliett: 194.
Bizet, Georges (1838–1875)
-      Carmen: 94 (inferior to Der Freischütz), 187.
-      Carmen (Carmen): 192-3.
Boito, Arrigo (1842–1918): 162.
-      Mefistofele: 162.
Brahms, Johannes (1833–1897): 30, 162.
Chopin, Frederic (1810–1849): 303-5.
Dickens, Charles (1812–1870): 74-5, 172.
Donizetti, Gaetano (1797–1848): 182-3.
Elgar, Edward (1843–1907): 27.
Gluck, Christoph Wilibald (1714–1787)
-      Operatic reforms: 111.
-      Orfeo ed Euridice: 50, 62-66.
Gilbert, William S. (1836–1911) & Sullivan, Arthur (1842–1900): 213-9.
Gounod, Charles (1818–1893): 162.
-      Comparison with Spontini: 112.
-      Opinion of Don Giovanni: 76-7.
-      Mephistopheles (Faust): 16.
Grieg, Edvard (1843–1907): 83.
Handel, Georg Friedrich (1685–1759)
-      Messiah: 245-51.
Haydn, Joseph (1732 – 1809):
-      Attitude to Mozart and Beethoven: 74.
-      Opinion of himself: 75.
Hugo, Victor (1802–1895): 171.
-      Comparison with Molière: 80, 129.
-      Comparison with Verdi: 137.
Jazz: 84, 89 (“the old dance band beethovenized”).
Leoncavallo, Ruggero (1857–1919): 182-3, 187.
Liszt, Franz (1811–1886): 80, 82.
-      Inferno (Dante Symphony): 103.
Mascagni, Pietro (1863–1945)
-      Cavalleria rusticana: 36-37, 160-2, 183, 187, 194.
Mendelssohn, Felix (1809–1847): 3, 92, 162.
-      Ernani greater than his concertos and Scotch Symphony: 133.
-      Influence over Verdi: 134, 136.
-      Elijah: 255-7.
-      Italian Symphony: 104.
-      St Paul: 162.
Meyerbeer, Giacomo (1791–1864): 28, 92.
-      Les Huguenots: 28, 31.
Michelangelo Buonarroti (1475–1564): 15-6.
Molière, Jean-Baptiste Poquelin (1622–1673): 74, 80, 162.
Mozart, Wolfgang Amadeus (1756–1791): 68, 70, 109, 162.
-      Greater than Haydn: 76.
-      Neglect by the superficial public: 80-2.
-      Not a founder of new school: 75-6.
-      Perfection vs innovation in his works: 73-5.
-      Personal inability to criticise him fairly: 76-7.
-      Versatility: 85.
-      Vocal characterisation (cf. Verdi & Wagner): 130
-      Commendatore (Don Giovanni): 16.
-      Don Giovanni (Don Giovanni): 16, 70-1, 85.
-      Finale (Don Giovanni): 72 (“beyond all comparison the most wonderful of the wonders of dramatic music”).
-      Leporello (Don Giovanni): 68.
-      Sarastro (Die Zauberflöte): 85.
-      Zerlina/Leporello duet (Don Giovanni): 69 (“a very dispensable piece of buffoonery”).
-      Das Veilchen: 76, 83.
-      Die Entführung aus dem Serail: 75-6, 81
-      Die Zauberflöte: 76, 109.
-      Don Giovanni: 27, 36-7, 53-4, 67-72, 87 (overture), 130 (vocal characterisation).
-      Fantasia in C minor: 83.
-      Idomeneo: 27.
-      Jupiter Symphony [No. 41]: 87.
-      Le nozze di Figaro: 152.
-      Requiem: 3, 78.
Offenbach, Jacques (1819–1880): 201-2.
Paderewski, Ignacy Jan (1860–1941): 299-302.
Patti, Adelina (1843–1911): 156, 189-91.
Praxitelles (4th century BC): 74-5.
Puccini, Giacomo:
-      Manon: 183-4.
-      Likely successor to Verdi (in 1894!): 184.
Raphael (1483–1520): 74-5.
Reszke, Jean de (1850–1925): 126, 190.
Rossini, Gioacchino (1792–1868): 80, 139.
-      Orchestration: 89-90 (“the most “absolute” of musicians”).
-      Otello: 92.
-      Semiramide Overture: 91-2.
-      William Tell: 30, 93.
Ruskin, John (1819–1900): 48-56.
Shakespeare, William (1564–1616): 74, 113, 129, 172.
-      Othello: 142 (related to Verdi).
-      Romeo and Juliet: 114.
Schoenberg, Arnold (1874–1951): 155.
Schumann, Robert (1810–1856): 92, 162.
-      Szenen aus Goethes Faust: 162.
Verdi, Giuseppe (1813–1901): 33, 128, 134, 137-40, 148, 162, 171-3.
-      Adapting Shakespeare: 141-3.
-      Boito’s influence: 132, 136.
-      Changes with age: 135-6, 143.
-      Comparison with Spontini: 112.
-      Humour: 128-9, 139-41.
-      Scorn for other critics of Verdi: 133-4.
-      Vocal characterisation (cf. Mozart & Wagner): 129-32, 143-4.
-      Wagner’s influence: 134-8.
-      Count di Luna (Il trovatore): 2, 16, 131 (tessitura).
-      Falstaff: 50, 129-30.
-      Aida: 129, 135.
-      Ernani: 128, 133.
-      Falstaff: 50, 127-8, 132-3, 185-6.
-      Il trovatore: 129, 137-8, 148-54, 156-7.
-      La Traviata: 162.
-      Otello: 129 (humour), 136 (Boito’s influence), 142-3 (related to Shakespeare).
-      Rigoletto: 157-8.
-      Un ballo in maschera: 129 (humour).
Wagner, Richard (1813–1883): 14, 30, 53-4, 109, 112-4, 132, 135, 162, 182, 189-90, 194.
-      Bayreuth Festival: 116-26.
-      Comparison with Gluck: 111.
-      Greater than Beethoven: 76.
-      Not a founder of new school: 75-6.
-      Vocal characterization (cf. Verdi & Mozart): 130.
-      Walkürenritt: 30, 80-2, 103-4.
-      Loge: 108 (“northern Mephistopheles”).
-      Wotan: 110.
-      Götterdämmerung: 30
-      Das Rheingold: 28, 105-10.
-      Der fliegende Holländer: 162-4.
-      Der Ring des Nibelungen: 28.
-      Die Meistersinger von Nürnberg: 30, 36-7.
-      Lohengrin: 27, 122-4 (in Bayreuth).
-      Parsifal: 30, 119 (in Bayreuth).
-      Rienzi: 93.
-      Siegfried: 105.
-      Tannhäuser: 161.
-      Tristan und Isolde: 30, 113-5 (compared with Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet), 182.
Weber, Carl Maria von Weber (1786–1826)
-      Der Freischütz: 93-96.

Thursday, 10 December 2015

Of Human Bondage: A Triple Video Review (1934, 1946, 1964)

2015 marks the 100th anniversary from the first publication of Somerset Maugham’s best-known book. To celebrate this centenary, I decided to re-read the novel and complete two projects I have been contemplating for years. This is the second of them.

Of Human Bondage: A Triple Video Review

Of Human Bondage is obviously a novel impossible to be filmed without considerable abridgement. Even a massive production of three hours would have to cut a lot. Only mini-series can possibly do justice to the scope of the original, but many may consider it unendurably gloom. It’s never been done anyway. The thorny issue of abridgement looms particularly large in the three movies I am going to discuss: the longest of them is merely 105 minutes long. They all concentrate almost exclusively on Philip’s relationships with women (Mildred, Norah, Sally) and almost completely neglect his wretched childhood in Blackstable and Tercanbury, his first taste of freedom in Heidelberg, his artistic struggles in Paris or his medical studies in London. There are many readers who on this account refuse to bother with the movies. They do have a point. Somerset Maugham was quite aware of it himself. Garson Kanin amusingly recalls:

I mention John Cromwell’s production of Of Human Bondage with Leslie Howard and Bette Davis.
“Yes,” he agrees somewhat grudgingly, “that was fairly effective in some parts and… quite successful, I believe. But it seemed to me a sketch of my book, a sort of extract. Too much was… missing, for my taste. It had been edited brutally.”
“But a film can’t run on indefinitely,” I argue, “and certain adjustments have to be made.”
“Oh, I can see that… perfectly well,” he said, “but you can’t expect me to be… satisfied, can you?”[1]

Considering all this, one might reasonably ask the obvious question. Why bother with these movies? No reason except incurable curiosity, predilection for old movies and desire to see favourite stars again (I am fond of Paul Henreid and hopelessly in love with Kim Novak). They say curiosity killed the cat, but humans are more durable, if less smart, than cats. I have enjoyed greatly these three movies. They told me nothing Maugham hadn’t already, but they all captured, in various degrees, something of the essence of his characters.

Of Human Bondage (1934)

Leslie Howard – Philip
Bette Davis – Mildred
Frances Dee – Sally
Kay Johnson – Norah
Reginald Denny – Griffiths
Reginald Owen - Athelny

Screenplay by Lester Cohen
Directed by John Cromwell

83 min. B&W.

Gore Vidal once remarked that the best thing about the novel is that it gave Bette Davis a star role.[2] That may be, but I have found her the least interesting and the least convincing Mildred of the three. She looks and sounds completely artificial to me. She gives me the impression of an actress doing a first reading of a part. She conveys neither Mildred’s vulgar pretentiousness nor her incredible shallowness. Leslie Howard is a fine actor, but he captures little of Philip’s intense suffering and nothing of his sarcastic sense of humour. To be fair to Bette and Leslie, they don’t get much help from the script. Maugham’s original is ruthlessly pruned and turned into a tepid melodrama. The few original touches, for instance Philip’s meetings with Miller or Sally’s falling in love with him (?!), are for the most part embarrassing. The sets and the direction are nothing to write home about, either.

The best I can say about this movie is that it launched the career of Bette Davies. She did make one important contribution to the Maughamian filmography, but it isn’t this one. It is her Leslie Crosbie in the 1940 version of The Letter directed by William Wyler. The 1934 Of Human Bondage is a charming period piece, but it is by far the weakest of the three adaptations. The other two preserve little of Maugham’s power and depth: this one preserves nothing at all. Well, Athelny is well done, I’ll give it that.

Leslie Howard as Philip Carey.
Club-foot humiliation.
Bette Davis as Mildred Rogers.
Mildred posing as a Lady.
Mildred as a damsel in distress.
Mildred trying to seduce Philip.
But Philip is made of iron.
Philip contemplating Mildred.
Philip is disgusted with Mildred.
Mildred going berserk
Trying the old tricks again.
But they don't work anymore.
The End.
Philip and Norah.
Athelny the Great.
Sally when Philip first sets eyes on her.
Philip contemplates Sally.
Sweet Sally.
Sally and Philip in love.
Still in love...

Of Human Bondage (1946)

Paul Henreid – Philip
Eleanor Parker – Mildred
Janis Paige – Sally
Alexis Smith – Norah
Patric Knowles – Griffiths
Edmund Gwenn – Athelny

Screenplay by Catherine Turney
Directed by Edmund Goulding

105 min. B&W.        

Now, this is a better achievement. The adaptation is just as brutally cut (the Paris episode is reduced to five minutes in the beginning and never heard of again) and full of dubious “improvements”. Norah is an American widow whom Philip meets in Paris, he is half-Austrian himself (probably to accommodate for Henreid’s accent), things like that. On the other hand, we see more of Athelny and his family, an important influence on our exasperating protagonist, and there is a first-person narration by Philip himself which is rather effective as a unifying device (I wish it had been used more often).

It is the acting that makes this movie superior to the 1934 version. Eleanor Parker is a great Mildred, crafty, cheeky and common. She sounds perfectly natural; her “I don’t mind” is priceless. She is careful to overact neither Mildred’s belligerent insolence nor her terse gratitude. It’s a superb performance, an acting tour de force par excellence. In short, Eleanor Parker makes Bette Davis look even more boring and less convincing. This includes the “mad scene” Paul Henreid similarly overshadows Leslie Howard. He brings to Philip passion, variety, depth and pathos unseen and unheard before.

On the whole, this is more like Maugham’s Bondage. Heavily abridged, certainly, considerably toned down, oh yes, but the characters are recognisably the same.

Paul Henreid as Philip Carey.
Eleanor Parker as Mildred.
Philip and Mildred going out.
Mildred working her charms on Philip.
The Art of Seduction.
The Art of Seduction continues...
The Art of Seduction continues...
The Art of Seduction fails.
Mildred on fire.
Griffiths-induced jealousy.
Griffiths-induced jealousy continues...
Norah and Philip in friendship.
Norah and Philip in love.
Philip breaks Norah's heart.
Norah in mourning.
Athelny and Sally.
Heart to heart conversation.
"The whole world is like a sick house."
"There's a certain solace and comfort
in the feeling that things don't matter."
Philip sees in Sally milk and honey.
"There's no one else I would marry."

Of Human Bondage (1964)

Laurence Harvey – Philip
Kim Novak – Mildred
Nanette Newman – Sally
Siobhan McKenna – Norah
Jack Hedley – Griffiths
Roger Livesey – Athelny

Screenplay by Bryan Forbes
Directed by Kenneth Hughes and Henry Hathaway

100 min. B&W.

This is my favourite adaptation, partly because of Kim Novak of course, but partly for a number of other reasons.

First of all, the adaptation is far and away the best from the bunch. It is the only one which includes a brief, but telling, reference to Philip’s childhood and the humiliation he suffers from his schoolmates. The script is bold, with words like “whore”, “syphilis” and “crippled bastard” and even Philip slapping Mildred with a force enough to knock out a professional prizefighter. An interesting original touch is Philip’s going to bed with Mildred (they never do in the book) which gives us an excellent opportunity of appreciating Kim’s shapely back. It also makes his later rejection of her more dramatic. It is important to understand, however, that the adaptation does not change the mental character of Philip’s bondage. Considering the looks of Kim Novak, this is no mean achievement. Lastly, this is the only version that includes Mildred’s death and even something like reconciliation in the end. This is entirely original and, in view of the rest, natural and moving.

The acting is stupendous. Kim Novak is way too hot to play Mildred (there is always the danger of the carnal element looming too large) and some have complained of her accent not being British enough (I suppose that’s true), but for me her relatively understated performance is a gem. Helped by the script, she actually develops Mildred into a more complex and less detestable creature than Maugham ever intended. The flighty and vacuous character is essentially preserved, but things like vulnerability, charm and poignancy are added while much of the obnoxiousness is subtracted. In the “mad scene” Kim is positively frightening without chewing the sets. Laurence Harvey likewise blows away the competition. He is the only one who manages to give some idea of Philip’s caustic wit. He preserves some dignity even in the most embarrassing moments of self-humiliation. Much to his credit, he never lets you forget that Philip’s bondage is entirely mental, no matter how seductive this Mildred may be. The supporting cast is excellent but completely overshadowed by the leads.

This is not Maugham’s Bondage. It is rather a set of different variations on the same basic themes. Philip is basically the same character and no more simplified than in the other versions, but Mildred is an original creation that used Maugham’s incorrigible slut merely as a starting point. As an adaptation the 1964 version is rather a failure, but as an independent work of art – which every movie has the right to be considered – it is quite a success. The cinematography alone, starting with the stunning Rodin-inspired opening credits, is a masterpiece.

Laurence Harvey as Philip.
Kim Novak as Mildred.
First smile (=snare).
It was all fun in the beginning.
Idyllic moment.
"The fact is... I'm going to get married."
"Just as a matter of academic interest,
would you tell me why you gave me the 
privilege of kissing the bride?"
"If I were a gentleman, I wouldn't waste
my time with a vulgar little tart like you."

Mildred as a damsel in distress.

Mildred, Philip and... a skeleton.
Philip, Griffiths and... a skeleton.
Griffiths-induced jealousy.
The tension is rising.
The tension continues to rise.

Seduction - level 2.
Seduction - level 3.
Mildred has never looked better.
Mildred going nuts.
Mildred as a pro.
The end.
The real end.
Norah and Philip.
Norah as a damsel in distress.
Athelny and Philip.
Sweet Sally.
Philip and Sally, pastoral style.

PS Of Human Bondage (1949)

Charlton Heston – Philip
Felicia Montealegre – Midlred
Guy Sorel – Griffiths

Screenplay by Sumner Locke-Elliott
Directed by Paul Nickell

60 min. B&W. Studio One, Season 2, Episode 11.

An honourable mention of this curiosity, available for free from the Internet Archive, should be made. It’s quite something to see the 26-year-old Charlton Heston, long before he became Ben-Hur, Moses or Michelangelo, and Felicia Montealegre, much better known as Leonard Bernstein’s wife. Heston is a wonderfully pathetic Philip, subtle and memorable. Felicia presents a vivacious and flirtatious Mildred, nothing in common with Maugham’s but suitably unpleasant for Philip’s infatuation to become despicable. Running for merely an hour (including commercials), this adaptation brings the fine art of compression to its utmost heights. Oddly enough, it is the only one that has time to retain the Persian rug and the meaning of life (and one boisterous fellow who must be Cronshaw), although Athelny and Sally are nowhere to be seen (Philip reunites with Norah in the end; neatly done that). The picture and the sound quality are atrocious, the sets cramped, and the camera work crude, but for a TV play from 1949 this is remarkably well done. It can stand comparison with the three far longer and more lavish productions mentioned above, especially with the first two.

[1] Garson Kanin, Remembering Mr. Maugham, Atheneum, 1966, p. 138.
[2] “The best that can be said of this masterpiece is that it made a good movie and launched Bette Davis’s career.” See Of Human Bondage, Modern Library, 1999, p. xvii. Mr Vidal’s indifferent hotchpotch of tedious biography and superficial opinions was originally published in The New York Review of Books (1 February 1990) as a review of Robert Calder’s biography Willie: The Life of W. Somerset Maugham (1989).