Category Archives: Art

Which piece of music was the first to “move” you?

Jordan Peterson and two clergymen are discussing range of issues here. One question that suddenly popped up was: Which song was the first that “moved” you, as opposed to the first song you “liked”? Meaning, which song touched you deeply because it transported some meaning?

The Bishop said, people usually know this, and he named something that was his first; I didn’t quite catch the name, but it was something modern.

I know exactly what he means. For me, it was this: Beethoven’s Piano Concerto No. 5, 2nd movement. I will never forget the first time I heard it. I was 11 or 12. It was as if the door to a different, better world had been opened.

“I bid you stand, men of the West!”

The title is a quote from Aragorn just before the final battle in “The Lord of the Rings” – here are clips from the film of that scene.

Writes a commenter under the above linked Youtube:

“Aragorn embodies what true masculinity is. It’s not about being aggressive and pushing your weight around to dominate others. It’s about service. Service to the people you love, to protect them, to lead by example and bring others up with you when they are down.”

Die Walküre, Act 2, Scene 4

The hinge of Richard Wagner's Ring Cycle

Start here, the scene takes about 15 minutes (with English subtitles). Then watch the following 10 minutes to the end of the act, where there will be a dramatic battle. (I chose this particular version, from Bayreuth in 1979, because here the singers not only sound great, they also look the part.)

Here‘s the whole story.

The above linked scene is central to the whole story of the 4 mega operas. In this scene, Brünnhilde, Wotan’s daughter and favourite Valkyrie, “grows up” so to speak and does what she thinks is right (and knows that her father really wants) instead of what her father told her to do.

She initially tells Siegmund that he is about to die. But it’s all right, she says. You’re going to Valhalla (the Nordic equivalent of heaven). Siegmund asks some questions about Valhalla, which Brünnhilde answers: Will he be there alone with Wotan (no), will his father be there (yes, but Brünnhilde doesn’t say that Wotan is his father), will a woman greet him fondly there (yes, and not just one). But then he asks: Will his twin sister and love of his life, Sieglinde, join him there (no, and Brünnhilde initially doesn’t say why: Sieglinde is pregnant). Because of the last answer, Siegmund declines the offer and says, if he has to die, he’d rather not go to Valhalla.

What get’s me every time I watch this is the fact that Brünnhilde is the half-sister of Siegmund. She knows it, and loves him dearly. He doesn’t know it. For him, Brünnhilde is a beautiful apparition, but a stranger.

The scene I’ve linked above is well-directed with some great ideas that enhance the storytelling by the music and words. When Siegmund rejects Brünnhilde’s offer to go to Valhalla and says he thinks she is heartless and cold, the actress wonderfully plays the deeply hurt sister.

When she sees Siegmund’s determination not to go to Valhalla (because his great love Sieglinde will not be joining him there), Brünnhilde changes her mind and says that, contrary to what she said before, Siegmund will win the coming battle with his love rival.

When, during the battle, Wotan finds out that Brünnhilde is defying his instructions, he makes sure that Siegmund does die after all, even though it hurts him terribly. He then runs after Brünnhilde, who has fled the scene with Sieglinde.

At the beginning of the next act, we hear the famous “Ride of the Valkyries“.

By the way, JRR Tolkien’s “Lord of the Rings” contains a somewhat similar scene. Similar in that it contains similar archetypes and archetypal relationships. I mean the one where King Théoden dies, with his niece Éowyn by his side to comfort him, who had just before heroically saved him from being devoured by the monster carrying one of the Ring Wraiths. Watch the two-minute scene here.

My two favourite Beethoven symphonies

I’m not listing the ninth. That’s just otherworldly and can be savoured in small dosages only. It’s in a league of its own.

However the ninth has a worthy “little sister”, and that is the 7th. Of those available on Youtube, I like this version best, with Iván Fischer conducting the Dutch Concertgebouworkest.

The other Beethoven symphony on my favourites list is the 3rd, or “Eroica”. This is the version I like best, with Leonard Bernstein conducting the Wiener Philharmoniker.

Hate & Perversion in the Catcher in the Rye

It's "only three-quarters of a great novel"

I read “The Catcher in the Rye” when I was 18, and was disturbed by it. This review by Spencer J. Quinn of J.D. Salinger’s famous novel goes some way in enabling me to verbalise what exactly it was that disturbed me.


Literature can shape the way we look at the world — even without our knowing it, or being beware of the specific literature in question. A Bible verse shared during a church service or a few lines of poetry offered in a classroom can have this effect. With novels, well-drawn characters can stick with us until we view life through their fictional eyes. I imagine Ernest Hemingway had this in mind when he claimed that “all modern American literature comes from one book by Mark Twain called Huckleberry Finn.” There is a little of Huck Finn in all of us, in other words.

By the 1960s, however, Huck Finn had been largely replaced by Holden Caulfield in the American imagination. Despite what an original character Holden is and how deftly author J. D. Salinger developed him in the 1951 novel The Catcher in the Rye, that’s hardly a good thing.


Holden Caulfield is indeed a wonderful, unforgettable character. But then why is The Catcher in the Rye only three-quarters of a great novel? Why is it bad that Holden has replaced Huck as the character through which so many Americans see their world?


None of this would be to the detriment of the novel had Salinger not molded Holden as the poster boy for revenge-minded alienated youth. Holden is treated so sympathetically by Salinger, especially at the end, that the reader is constantly tempted to view life through Holden’s jaundiced eyes — as if it’s the world that’s at fault, not Holden. This is dangerous. Given the connection between The Catcher in the Rye and John Lennon’s killer, Mark David Chapman, and others like him, yes, this is dangerous. Huck Finn may have viewed himself as an outlaw for helping Jim escape slavery, but he never saw himself as a predator constantly at odds with most of humanity the way Holden Caulfield seems to be at times.

What further enables the psychopath-as-hero reading of The Catcher in the Rye is the fact that so little is nice in Holden’s world. So much of it is dingy, seedy, or vomity, and, boy, does Holden Caulfield love dwelling on that. Other than during his dreamy walk through the museum, Holden fixates on the ugly and the revolting in New York City, as if that’s all there is. And his penchant for exaggeration doesn’t help. A hotel lobby smells like “50 million dead cigars.” Walking down steps to the sidewalk, he nearly breaks his neck over “10 million garbage pails.”

Even worse, Salinger normalizes sexual perversion. In a hotel Holden finds “a few pimpy-looking guys, and a few whory-looking blondes.” Through the open windows of his hotel, he sees a man trying on women’s clothing and a drunken couple squirting alcohol at each other from their mouths. “The hotel was lousy with perverts,” he states.


Most tragically, when a man Holden admires touches him inappropriately and forces him to flee into the night, Holden wasn’t even terribly surprised. He admits that “perverty” things like that have happened to him “about twenty times” before. Rounding that down to the more accurate-sounding once or twice, we still have the normalcy of perversion. It’s as if most American boys in Salinger’s world are forced to deal with unwelcome come-ons from grown men.

Who wouldn’t want to shoot up a world like that?

With such a splendid character as Holden Caulfield, The Catcher in the Rye could have been a much greater contribution to Western literature. Salinger only needed to tone down the murder in Holden’s heart and the perversion in Holden’s world. Instead, however, he was happy to paint the world to be a darker place than it really is, and make it cool to hate your fellow man.