The Displaced Anxiety of Discontent – Dmitri Shostakovich – String Quartet 1

Nikolai Bukharin (Courtesy:

Nikolai Bukharin (Courtesy:

The Moscow Show Trial of the Twenty-One occurred in March, 1938. It was one of the culminating events of Stalin’s Great Purge of 1936 through 1938. All of the defendants were prominent, and were accused as Trotskyites guilty of murder, assassination, and treason. Particularly prominent amongst them was Nikolai Bukharin, former ally of Lenin and Stalin and member of the Politburo. All were convicted. Bukharin, who was shot, was, according to one account, first forced to watch the execution of sixteen of the others.

Shostakovich’s first quartet was written in the summer of 1938, about a year after the composition of the Fifth Symphony, which restored him to official favour after having fallen from it in 1936. Shostakovich’s second child, and son, Maxim, was born on May 10, 1938. There is more to this quartet than immediately meets the ear.

First, there is the selection of tempi – a moderato in three, followed by a moderato that sounds slower because it is in two, then a furious allegro molto, as fast as possible, and then a slight relaxation into a concluding allegro.

Shostakovich and son Maxim (Courtesy:

Shostakovich and son Maxim (Courtesy:

The use of repeated notes, that is, the ostinato of iteration, whether the pulse is regular or accelerated, is frequent. The quartet opens with three chords on C, somewhat reminiscent of the three-note figure in the Fifth Symphony, which end always as an incomplete phrase, and in the finale, as an ironic reaffirmation of uncertain closure. But in the quartet the repetitions resolve themselves. Even as soon as the third chord of the opening, the ‘cello begins to move into a commentary that is most frequently a counter-weight to the lyrical wanderings of the first violin. This weight is emphasized from time to time by the use of double-stopping or glissandi. The inner parts are often restrained to emphasis of the triple meter, but in diminished note values, typically eighth notes, six to the bar, rather than quarter notes, three to the bar. The viola, in particular, is obsessively given the note G to repeat, almost to the point of exhaustion. The pulse of the music changes to four towards the end of the movement, but the repetition of notes continues, and with the return, for the conclusion, to triple meter has the first violin now obsessing with repeated notes, six to the bar, over the ‘cello’s final lyrical contemplation, which subsides into an extended double-stop sounded heavily during the final twelve bars.

Lev Arnshtam

Lev Arnshtam

In sudden contrast, the second movement is sounded around the voice of the viola, which seems to recall aspects of remembrances both through the introspective nature of its tone and a distant recollection of time past through the theme’s folkloric characteristics. For the melody, in the form of seven variations, insists on itself throughout. Michael Parloff, in one of his lectures on the quartets, points out the theme first appears, on viola, when the opening credits roll in Lev Arnshtam’s 1936 film, Girl Friends, which Shostakovich scored in the year before his denunciation.

The allegro molto, which, in addition to being played as fast as possible, has the strings muted throughout, instantly removes this need for reflection and returns to the insistence of the present, again with a compulsive use of repeated notes, six to the triple meter, if this time on the note G#, again in the viola, although this time the note is permitted to wander, as if in an approaching panic, up and down and into double-stops; until repetition gives way to oscillation, which in turn is slowed to a figuration of half note followed by quarter, for many bars, in block chords that imply a type or sense of imposed serenity. The entire pattern—repetition, oscillation, augmentation—is then repeated in brief, with the oscillation winning out.

And it is this oscillation that opens the final movement, with the first violin endeavouring to find a way through by means of unconvinced jauntiness, a hard wandering into harsher harmonies that are single-, double-, triple-, and quadruple-stopped. But the repetition recurs, in all of its earlier formats and tempi, until the pace quickens with the employment of cut time, as if reviewing the material with a haste now somewhat approaching the desperate, to bring the movement, and the quartet, to a conclusion with the now inevitable three-note figures.


In my poem, Shostakovich in Peace River, published in Toronto’s Descant 167, and which concludes The Underside of Time segment of the third part of my book, Covenant, this quartet is described as “Modulants expérimentaux près des thinning peripheries of tenebrosity.”

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Professional Services – Falstaff Enterprises

Falstaff Enterprises, a partnership, is located at Vancouver, British Columbia, in Canada.

Hendrik Slegtenhorst, Carmel, Saskatchewan, Canada

Southwest of Carmel, Saskatchewan, 20 July 2012 (Photo: Gloria Steel)

Founded in Kelowna, British Columbia, in 1991, for its first five years the consultancy conducted seminars and workshops, some 250 per year, in business development and sales training throughout Canada and the United States. From 1995 to 1999, in Vancouver, I specialized in full time-time consulting in heritage management and higher education. The creation, promotion, and sale of Canadian ceramics were added in 2002 through to 2009. International trade training, in the delivery of cultural goods and services, was offered for six years from 2003 until 2008. Writing and editing has been a business focus since 1999.

I became accredited as a CITP (Certified International Trade Professional) in 2003. In recognition of being the top graduate in British Columbia, I was awarded the HSBC FittSkills Award, presented by Hon. Pierre Pettigrew, then Canada’s Minister of Foreign Affairs and International Trade.

With Hon. Pierre Pettigrew, MInister of Foreign Affairs and International Trade. Vancouver, BC, 2003.

With Hon. Pierre Pettigrew, MInister of Foreign Affairs and International Trade. Vancouver, BC, 2003.

By design, I have lived and worked in Canada’s six largest cities—Ottawa, Montréal, Edmonton, Calgary, Toronto, and Vancouver—, many of the country’s smaller communities, and all regions of Canada except the far north. I have travelled extensively throughout Canada, some years in excess of 100,000 kilometres annually. I have as well travelled and worked in the United States, in 37 of the states; Europe, in 11 of its nations; and, Africa, in 5 of its countries.

My work in Africa resulted from York University’s involvement with co-operative education programmes for hospital and medical support services in Kenya, Tanzania, Zambia, and Zimbabwe. These were in conjunction with the Flying Doctor Service of East Africa, the Anglican Archdiocese of Toronto, the Canadian Consular Service in Kenya, and the African National Congress, with whom graduate opportunities for black students in South Africa were explored. The ANC, at that time, was an “illegal” organization based in Lusaka; and several days after meeting there, the same headquarters were bombed by Rhodesian forces. My own work was conducted in Cairo, Nairobi, Dar es Salaam, Harare (before it was ruined by the Mugabe regime), Lusaka, and Rome. I subsequently pursued potential business opportunities in Kenya, Zambia, and Egypt.

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Online Editorial Services – Falstaff Enterprises

Hans Selye

Hans Selye

With my return to Vancouver, my online professional editorial services are again available. My work is noted for its clarity and substance, and for its quick turnaround. My editorial work originated in my engagement as editorial assistant to Dr. Hans Selye, discoverer of the biologic stress response and founder of stress research, and one of the most remarkable individuals I have had the privilege to work with, at his Institut de médecine et de chirurgie expérimentales, at l’Université de Montréal. I have been further engaged in editorial activity as managing editor of five annual editions of the calendar of Alberta’s Athabasca University; through this private business, Falstaff Enterprises, in Vancouver, in the improvement of graduate theses and papers, largely in the field of information technology; and, as an international trade specialist, in the development of teaching materials for cultural groups and artisans.

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Caravaggio’s Dagger – A Pursuit of Right Action

The central theme of Caravaggio’s Dagger is Somerset Maugham’s admonition of the error of adopting a course of action thought to be right, even though we knew it could not bring us happiness, ever.

Exemplified by the art of Caravaggio, this work inquires: what, then, is a pursuit of right action? Caravaggio, the murderous, brilliant 16th-century painter, depicted the decapitation of John the Baptist at the moment the act is botched: jugular severed, head attached, the saint in agony—a rendering of humanity’s predilections placed above the altar of the Maltese co-cathedral of the military Knights of Saint John.

Many come to evil; many others search for a different way to be.

There is a matrix of music that permeates the book, and the book also employs a metaphorical and topical counterpoint of water and earth. I am in what has been termed the Sibelius camp, with its acceptance of the intrinsic value of and need for organic, structured, integrated style. Sibelius subscribed to the formal logic that governs an inner interconnectedness that enables artistic synthesis. This, of course, applies not only to music but also to other of the fine arts.

Aesthetically, I am an Aristotlean. The fine arts, he wrote, are aesthetic, rather than applied; thus they engage the intellect and meaning, without seeking practical application. The appreciation of aesthetic quality relies upon refined judgement, which can also be described as good taste; hence, it establishes a differentiation of the fine arts from popular entertainments. The adjective ‘fine’ refers not to the artwork’s quality within the discipline, but the purity of the discipline itself.

Caravaggio's Dagger, Mozart, Clarinet Quintet, K. 581

Mozart: Clarinet Quintet, K. 581, opening bars

Caravaggio’s Dagger is structured as six taxonomies or sections, and contains 83 poems. Taxonomy in this instance refers to division into ordered group or categories. The opening taxonomy, “Pyre of the Accidental Butterfly,” deals with instances of war and social disruption. The second taxonomy, “In the North of the Afternoon,” with the perplexities and vexations of personal life. Taxonomy Three, “At the Widening of the Narrow,” of the intrusion of death into these perplexities. Taxonomy Four, “The Waterways of Avalon,” of approaches to what is gone and past. Taxonomy Five, “Confluence of the Tributaries,” a synthesis of how to recognize what is worthwhile and of beauty in this decay of time. And, the sixth and last taxonomy, “Caravaggio’s Dagger,” with how the artistry of place can assist in an awareness of the inexorability of war and social disruption.

An article on the poem that concludes Taxonomy One, on destruction by bombardment, is found here; from the opening of the book, on refugees, is found here; on the fragility of relationships, is found here; and, on emigration, is found here.

An article on the origin of Caravaggio’s Dagger can be read here.

Many of this book’s poems have previously been published in established Canadian literary periodicals such as Canadian Literature, Descant, The Fiddlehead, Grain, Prairie Fire, The New Quarterly, Nashwaak Review, Malahat Review, Contemporary Verse 2, Qwerty, WordWorks, and Windsor Review, as well as in well-regarded periodicals that have ceased publication, such as Quarry and The Far Point.

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Covenant – Of the Caravan of the Pilgrimage of Life

Covenant Cover, Pyramid Lake from Pyramid Island, Jasper, Alberta (Image: Hendrik Slegtenhorst)

Covenant Cover, Pyramid Lake from Pyramid Island, Jasper, Alberta (Image: Hendrik Slegtenhorst)

The subject of Covenant, a book of poetry, is the contract life imposes on a human being as the fundamental condition of its existence. It is explored as the unstated, never negotiated covenant between existence and life; that is, the conditional situation that existence provides to those that live within it, and the necessity in particular of human life to acknowledge and respect the inexplicability and inexorability of the situation it has been given.

The epigraph is from the second chapter of Book the First of Charles Dickens’s Little Dorrit:

… the caravan of the morning, all dispersed, went their appointed ways. And thus ever, by day and night, under the sun and under the stars, climbing the dusty hills and toiling along the weary plains, journeying by land and journeying by sea, coming and going so strangely, to meet and to act and react on one another, move all we restless travellers through the pilgrimage of life.

Covenant is in four parts and ten sections, contains 72 poems, and was written between June, 2005 and March, 2015.

Part One: The Covenant of Mortal Dreams

1 Cedar Street, my house in St. Stephen, New Brunswick. 28 February 2008. (Photo: Gloria Steel)

1 Cedar Street, my house in St. Stephen, New Brunswick. 28 February 2008. (Photo: Gloria Steel)

Mortal Dreams is concerned with the obligations of the journey. It is in two sections: “Dispossession,” which deals with unexpected transitions and the suddenness of uncertainties, and “Stopover,” which deals the randomness of experiences, and how intentions, however much they are earnest or indifferent, and however good or evil, and however much explored, produce complications that evade explanation.

In some respects this Part has an examination of the indifference and mysterious inevitability of good and evil that is merged in the human being—just as it is universally immaterial throughout the rest of nature, which, in the inexorable rendering of consequences, has no need of the moral and ethical attributions we peculiar animals put on: with our often purposeless predilection for concepts—and the utter unpredictability of fortune, chance, and happenstance that so greatly shapes any human being’s way.

Mortal Dreams of the Demigod, St. Stephen NB

New Brunswick Southern Railway, off
Hawthorne Street south of Queen Street West, St. Stephen, New Brunswick, February 3rd, 2008. (Photo: Hendrik Slegtenhorst)

Much of this Part was written in St. Stephen, New Brunswick, and in New England.

Part Two: Covenant of the Lost Arias

The Lost Arias explores the influence of place, whether gained or lost, on artistry, and the reconciliation between the return of the insistence of voice and the inescapable insistence of the cultures it is within. In these contexts, Lost Arias examines the recovery of the highest that is in us.

Lost Arias is influenced in part by both the positive and negative aspects of Richard Wagner’s Der Ring des Nibelungen; for that work and its paradoxes, and, the irreconcilable paradox of the personality of its composer, both of which mirrored, with my realizing it consciously—the concentration of my consciousness of the tetralogy driven increasingly by the clash of good and evil—, a major journey of my own in quest of identity. In retrospect, I thought I was accomplishing security and comfort, when in fact what I was effecting was detour and abandonment—no matter how necessary these may have seemed, and, indeed, how truly important the content of these years were; and, whose manifestations seemed to press, at the time often well, yet later, increasingly less so.

Mortal Dreams of the Demigod, Das Rheingold, Loge

Wagner: Loge, Das Rheingold, 2

Lost Arias also has admixtures of influence from the symphonies of composer Dmitri Shostakovich; the poetry of Hafiz in Daniel Ladinsky’s fine translations; and, smaller but important elements of intellectual contribution from Québec composer Gilles Tremblay, from the fugal mind of Johann Sebastian Bach, and Isamu Noguchi, most particularly his Black Sun in front of the Museum of Asian Arts in Seattle’s Volunteer Park.

A debt to Aristotle’s Ethics, which is referred to in the conclusion of this Part, is warranted for suggesting portions of its development.

… we ought, so far as possible as in us lies, to put on immortality, and do all that we can to live in conformity with the highest that is in us; for even if it is small in bulk, in power and preciousness it far excels all the rest. Indeed it would seem that this is the true self of the individual, since it is the authoritative and better part of him; so it would be an odd thing if a man chose to live someone else’s life instead of his own…. [w]hat is best and most pleasant for any given creature is that which is proper to it. — Aristotle, Ethics, X:vii

Moreover, as is the case throughout much of my poetry, the subliminal influence of Dickens exists; in this Part, in particular, from Dombey and Son. There is also, once again, a substantial influence of the symphonies of Dmitri Shostakovich.

View of Howe Sound, British Columbia, from the Bowen Island-Mainland ferry, 7 October 2010 (Photo: Hendrik Slegtenhorst)

View of Howe Sound, British Columbia, from the Bowen Island-Mainland ferry, 7 October 2010 (Photo: Hendrik Slegtenhorst)

It is in three sections. The first, “Courting the Remembrances,” reviews places lost but nonetheless remembered, in that edited, sometimes edifying, manner in which human beings think about what has gone by. It conflates aspects of cultures present and past, and comes to a point of provisional reconciliation between beginnings and the subsequent travels to the present. The second section, “Passacaglia Pier,” moves to a consideration of the sustenance of voice in places of instability, illegality, lawlessness, and partisanship. The third section, “The Ferryman’s Obolus,” returns, in augmentation, to an assessment of right action, specifically that right action may enable a way not only to a re-discovery of voice, but also its reconciliation to an individual necessity of its recognition; and, a conscious awareness of acceptance, wherever one may find oneself.

Much of this Part was written on the west coast, in particular in Ucluelet and Parksville, both on Vancouver Island, and on Bowen Island in Greater Vancouver, and in Seattle.

Part Three: Covenant of the Golden Shadows

The impetus for Golden Shadows was clearly precipitated by an April, 2011 trip to San Francisco, which re-awakened the stimulus of the city and its connection with artistic undertaking and its dense collection of the varieties in life.

I found part of an answer regarding content and structure in Gustav Mahler’s Tenth Symphony, the first Deryck Cooke performing version of which, recorded by Eugene Ormandy, I purchased as long ago as October, 1966, in Ottawa; and the score to the adagio of which I purchased several years later in Montréal. How the book came to be overlain with Mahler’s Tenth Symphony is due to finding, in San Francisco’s City Lights, Norman Lebrecht’s excellent book on the composer, Why Mahler?

The propulsive motivation from the Lebrecht book was flautist Gareth Davies’s observation, upon having returned to performance after recovering from cancer, on the flute solo that comes in the opening section of the finale of the symphony:

Two bars before the flute solo, where the horns almost pre-echo the opening phrase, I felt completely isolated, almost as if on a thin mountain ridge with a drop either side—perhaps even with life on one side and death on the other. The music searches for peace and finally as it drops down, for me I felt a sense of acceptance of what will be. — Gareth Davies, in Norman Lebrecht’s Why Mahler?, p. 246.

Den Vergulden Turk, Breestraat, Leiden, Netherlands

Den Vergulden Turk, where Mahler and Freud met, Breestraat, Leiden, Netherlands

Intertwined with these, and specifically with an “acceptance of what will be,” was my own background in Leiden, where I was born. During the composition of the contents of my book, the Dickens of Bleak House and, to a lesser extent, of Little Dorrit was a supplementary influence, and my mind also returned to Rilke’s Duino Elegies and Sonnets to Orpheus—and, as it came about, to a re-examination of the symphonies of Shostakovich, which had made such an impression on me on long winter walks in St. Stephen, coupled with a study, on long winter walks in Peace River, of his extraordinary 15 string quartets.

Around the same I also re-reread Wendy Lesser‘s book on the string quartets of Dmitri Shostakovich, Music for Silenced Voices, which I had also found at City Lights in San Francisco:

“Criticism is, by its nature, reductive: at the very least, it reduces nonverbal artworks to words (or, if it is literary criticism, it reduces complex, ambiguous artworks to narrower, more linear descriptions of those artworks.)” (p. 143)

“It is easy to confuse the autobiography of reception with the autobiography of creation, to imagine that the composer (or writer, or painter) simply put in the same feelings that we later took out. This is not how art works, but part of its beauty and cunning is to make us believe that is how it works.” (p. 145)

“The feeling at the end of Quartet No. 8 is more human than [transcendence]; what we are being offered is not consolation or redemption, but companionship.” (p. 157)

Golden Shadows is in three sections. “Mahler and Freud Meet in Leiden” deals with origins. “The Underside of Time” deals with the nature of certain constants of society. “Torn by Victory” examines how artistry enables one to rise beyond such constraints.

This Part was largely written in Alberta, in the town of Peace River and in the city of Edmonton.

Part Four: Covenant of the River Valley

Courtyard of the the Ursuline Campus of the Southwest School of Art at Rio San Antonio, Texas, 25 July 2013 (Photo: Hendrik Slegtenhorst)

Courtyard of the the Ursuline Campus of the Southwest School of Art at Rio San Antonio, Texas, 25 July 2013 (Photo: Hendrik Slegtenhorst)

The theme of River Valley is first the acknowledgment, and then the recognition, in several guises, of the covenant. It is in two sections. “Countersubjects” is concerned with the paradox of antagonism and acceptance. “Landfall” deals with recognition of the interrelationship of existence and life, and the influence of this covenant upon purpose.

This Part was largely written in San Antonio, Texas and in Edmonton, Alberta.

North Saskatchewan River valley, Edmonton, Alberta, 8 May 2014 (Photo: Hendrik Slegtenhorst)

North Saskatchewan River valley, Edmonton, Alberta, 8 May 2014 (Photo: Hendrik Slegtenhorst)


Excerpts of this work are published in Antioch College’s The Antioch Review (Yellow Springs, Ohio), the University of New Brunswick’s The Fiddlehead (Fredericton, New Brunswick), the Federation of British Columbia Writers’ WordWorks (Vancouver, British Columbia), Prairie Fire (Winnipeg, Manitoba), the University of British Columbia’s Canadian Literature (Vancouver, British Columbia), St. Thomas University’s Nashwaak Review (Fredericton, New Brunswick), the Edmonton Stroll of Poets’ Society’s Anthology 2013 and Anthology 2014 (Edmonton, Alberta), Grain (Saskatoon, Saskatchewan), and Descant (Toronto, Ontario).

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