[Humanist] 28.503 musical help received

Humanist Discussion Group willard.mccarty at mccarty.org.uk
Fri Nov 21 08:32:48 CET 2014

                 Humanist Discussion Group, Vol. 28, No. 503.
            Department of Digital Humanities, King's College London
                Submit to: humanist at lists.digitalhumanities.org

        Date: Thu, 20 Nov 2014 08:08:48 -0500
        From: Francois Lachance <lachance at chass.utoronto.ca>
        Subject: Results of Musical Help
        In-Reply-To: <20141120062600.BF5A26659 at digitalhumanities.org>


In response to my recent appeal for assistance in elucidating a musical 
component in Robin Blaser's Moth Poem, subscriber to Humanist conveyed 
their daughter's suggestion that I pose the query to the American 
Musicological Society list. A most fruitful suggestion.

It was with a bit of trepidation I trod on the turf of the experts. But I 
was curious about what it might be that the poet Robin Blaser in The Moth 
Poem presents as the penultimate section of his serial poem :

C D Eb G A Bb B D

What I proposed the AMS-list: What I am trying to determine is whether 
Blaser is citing an existing piece of music, inventing something, or 
translating (i.e. modifying something that exists). The musical 
"quotation" occurrs before the final section of the poem which is devoted 
to the figure of the translator.


I was kindly disabused of the notion that the letters represented chords. 
(Ever so nicely done off list: "Those notes are probably not chords per 
se, but some fragment of melody.  If they were chords it would sound 
something like smashing your entire hand on the piano, a cluster of 
pitches rather than a chord with meaning (which can exist in modern music 
but is rare in music overall").

The series of pitches is not connected to Ravel (WWW keyword searches had 
revealed A possible allusion to Ravel's _Miroirs_ of which the first 
movement is Noctuelles ("Night Moths") but the evidence is negative for a 
citing of the Ravel)..

Likewise for a direct connection to Pierrot Luniare, a set of poems by 
Albert Giraud set to music by Arnold Schoenberg.

The series of pitches may represent the notes that the author heard as a 
moth touched the strings of a piano. See posting from Eric Grunin 
(grunin.com). This is a very elegant solution -- in an Occam's Razor 

Bonus: Harrison Birtwistle set the poem to music in the "The Moth 
Requiem". Question remains if Birtwistle took up the pitch-row given at 
the end of the Blaser poem in his "Requiem".

Other searches uncovered a possible intertext for the Blaser 
poem in the verse of Don Marquis (http://www.donmarquis.org/themoth.htm). 
Blaser is likely to have known this item of the popular culture. BTW I first
encountered Archy and Mehitabel through the music and stories of Rosalie
Sorrels (Always A Lady).

An abundance of riches, gratefully acknowledged. And a testament to the 
onoging value of discussion lists.

Francois Lachance, Scholar-at-large

to think is often to sort, to store and to shuffle: humble, embodied tasks

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