Fade to Black

CHRISTOPHER HITCHENS – The New York Times

Copyright The New York Times
(A lovely lede to a review of a favorite author, Ishiguro.)
“The owl of Minerva,” wrote Hegel, “spreads its wings only with the falling of the dusk.” By this he meant to say that an epoch or an era cannot really be judged or estimated until it has entered its closing phase. For those of us fated to lead smaller and less portentous existences, it is still the gathering shade of evening that very often gives rise to our most intense, and sometimes necessarily our most melancholy, moments of reflection and retrospect.
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NOCTURNES
Five Stories of Music and Nightfall
By Kazuo Ishiguro
A whole musical repertoire has been consecrated to (one of my favorite words) the crepuscular. Many of these compositions, too, are marked by a certain mournfulness, though some of Debussy’s nocturnes can strike the ear as relatively affirmative. It has been proposed that Debussy was influenced by the nightfall paintings of James McNeill Whistler, and it would certainly be apt for the purposes of this article if that turned out to be true. The best-loved of Whistler’s “moonlights,” as he called them, is the hauntingly lit “Nocturne” that gives us Battersea Bridge as a long London day fades to black. Critics seem to agree that Whistler’s main influence at that time was the Japanese woodblock master Hiroshige, whose marvelous work, along with other Japanese aesthetic achievements, was just then being made known to the West.
So Kazuo Ishiguro has quite a tradition on which to draw in these five tales of human emotion in the waning hours of light. It’s the time of day that isn’t quite day when some people — such as myself — start to feel truly awake. It’s also pre-eminently the moment, especially if moonrise chances to be involved, when life may seem rather stale without music. This is all well known to the cafe proprietors of Venice — the location of the first and last of these stories — who make sure to employ bands or orchestras that never cease to perform. Indeed, the narrator of “Crooner” tells us that as a freelance guitarist on the Piazza San Marco he can remember “once last summer, going from band to band and playing ‘The Godfather’ nine times in one afternoon.”
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