The horror of face-to-face contacts

E. M. Forster: The Machine Stops ISBN 978-0-141-19598-8⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️ What a timely novel, I would say if that novel hadn’t been written in 1928. Instead Forster wrote a prescient book. He anticipated social networks, a service based economy, the ever growing dependency on machines, a fully transparent life and the degeneration of man’s social abilities – things we endure every day a little less than 100 years later. In Forster’s world men live in underground cities in small rooms and “the Machine” provides everything: contact to others living in an identical environment, food, books, music, medical assistance etc.

Face-to-face contact has become something bordering the obscene and parental duties are considered to end with the birth of the child. Thus says “the Machine” which is worshipped through a book of rules for all contingencies. Reading this novel now gives me awkward feeling when I reflect some of my daily interaction with others. What a deep thinker Forster was besides being a brilliant novellist!

The subject of the novel made the choice for a matching composer easy: Dmitry Shostakovich. Of course. He was a contemporary of Forster albeit he lived under the Communist rule while Forster lived in the capitalists’ capital, London. As for the piece to match the mood of the novel, something a little unhinged like the String Quartet No. 11, may be appropriate:

The mockingbird sings his defiant tune in F minor

Austria on the road to disaster

Hans-Peter Siebenhaar: Österreich – Die zerrissene Republik ISBN 978-3-280-05646-2 ⭐️⭐️⭐️ Austria is one of my favourite holiday destinations and it is heartbreaking to read how unfit for future this country is. Corruption, xenophobia, absence of corporate governance, bureaucratic madness, disrespect for the natural ressources and the inability to redress the mistakes of the past seem to characterize the ruling class of politicians and businessmen. An interesting if sobering view on Austria. Many typos, several factual mistakes and a shallow conclusion diminished my reading pleasure.

Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart was a keen observer of what was wrong in the Austrian-Hungarian Empire and his operas allude to quite a number of highly political issues such as the fact that noblemen like Don Giovanni could act outside the law:

Rape, murder, love and vengence in two acts

Confronting death, fear and guilt


Isabelle Autissier: Soudain, seuls.
ISBN 978-2-253-09899-7 ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️ A man and a woman decide to escape their daily routine and embark on a sailing trip through the Atlantic. A natural reserve in the vicinity of the Falkland island lurs them into a day trip with fatal consequences. A sudden storm prevents their return from that remote island to the boat. The boat with all their equipment sinks in the storm and they are stuck. They confront hunger and they fight for physical survival. They confront themselves, their past, their lack of future and fight to survive mentally. They taste brutality, merciless, hopelessness and the deepest fear possible: fear of themselves. One dies of privation, the other is tortured by guilt and shame. A powerful book written by an experienced French sailor and navigator. A fantastic read!

Linking the deep impression that these book made upon me was not too difficult. No “tragic” symphonic work, but rather an intimate piece of chamber music, Franz Schubert’s String Quartet No. 14 in D minor “Death and the Maiden”:

Composing while death is knocking on the door

Murakami on music – an absolute disaster

Haruki Murakami: Absolutely on Music. Conversations with Seiji Ozawa. ISBN 978-0-385-35434-9 ⭐️ A renown Japanese writer, passionate about classical music and jazz, speaks with a renown Japanese conductor about music – that sounded like a real treat. But the book is an absolute disaster. None of the two has anything meaningful to say. The obvious is abundant, the interesting rare, the language boring. Whenever an interesting subject arises, the two drop the matter and Murakami indicates what type of tea they are drinking. Murakami brings up an observation of his and Ozawa agrees. Or doesn’t know. Ozawa indulges in 50 year old souvenirs, but he offers no insight in the way he re-interprets a piece of, let’s say, Beethoven and he keeps quiet on the emotions it sets free. Murakami had better not published this book in this form. It’s a disgrace for such a good writer. And a good writer is not necessarily a good interviewer.

The book’s only merit is that it strenghtened my resolve to listen to Gustav Mahler’s music more regularly. There is another world of sound and thought to discover there, like Mahler’s Symphony No. 9 in D major, a hugely impressive work.

Guilt, confessions and a murderous violin

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Jaume Cabré: Confiteor (English title: Confessions) ISBN: 978-2-330-02226-6 ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️ The focal point of this novel is a violin built in the 18th century in Italy: the very first “Storioni”. A violin of an extraordinary quality and of exceptional value. A dangerous violin as betrayal, theft and murder follow it from its birthplace in Cremona through the Nazi extermination camps to Franco’s Spain. Its dark secret comes to haunt the young Adrià, violin student and precocious humanist, as his father is killed. It continues to haunt him as it drives a wedge between him as a successful humanities scholar and his Jewish wife Sara. An extremely thrilling novel with many facets, however it requires a certain patience as Cabré jumps from one temporal level to the next, voluntarily blends the characters, the events and the contradictory feelings. An interesting technique, but…

The novel is full of musical references: Brahms, Bruckner, Bartok, Beethoven, Shostakovich, Schubert. But as a link to the novel I picked Pablo de Sarasate’s “Spanish Dances”, representing everything that young Adrià hates about his violin lessons:

In love with a German violinist