Digressions: H.L. Mencken dances about architecture

24 Jul

I’ve been seasoning my trips to and from my dayjob by dipping into the essays of H.L. Mencken. Written over a fifty-year period in the first half of last century, this stuff’s quite old but still packs a whipcrack. Even now, and even still set in antique type, the man’s razor wit and formidable erudition glints at you down the years. He could be a contrary, offensive bastard (some of his views certainly rile me) but he was always, always worth reading and he still is.

Anticipating character journalism, Mencken wrote on anything that took his fancy, and on occasion he wrote about music. Here’s a series of little simile sketches which he came up with in 1912 – over a hundred years ago! – to describe a number of classical composers. Part squib, part haiku, always on the money. He was from a different age, with a different and wider education and with some of the particular prejudices of his time; but even with all that in mind most contemporary music journalists now would kill to get their zingers this right.

Wagner – The rape of the Sabines… a kommers in Olympus.

Beethoven – The glory that was Greece… the grandeur that was Rome… a laugh.

Haydn – A seidel on the table… a girl on your knee… another and different girl in your heart.

Chopin – Two embalmers at work on a minor poet… the scent of tuberoses… Autumn rain.

Richard StraussOld Home Week in Gomorrah.

Johann Strauss – Forty couples dancing… one by one they slip from the hall… sounds of kisses… the lights go out.

Puccini – Silver macaroni, exquisitely tangled.

Debussy – A pretty girl with one blue eye and one brown one.

Bach – Genesis 1,1.

H.L. Mencken online:
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2 Responses to “Digressions: H.L. Mencken dances about architecture”

  1. FormerConformer July 25, 2014 at 9:00 pm #

    These remind me of Christgau’s reviews, except they don’t fill me with rage.

    • Dann Chinn July 25, 2014 at 11:29 pm #

      Hah – I know what you mean. I’m not a fan of the supercilious Dean…

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