June 2008

A falling tide strands all boats

Rod Mollise worries about the decline of astronomy magazines — namely, Astronomy and Sky and Telescope. Fewer pages on cheaper paper, staff turnover, schizophrenic content — all as a result of rising production costs and robust competition from the Web. It’s the same story I’ve heard elsewhere: magazines are hurting generally, genre and niche magazines especially so; see, for example, previous entries The decline of the science fiction magazine and The incredible shrinking Trains.

How print magazines can stay relevant in an online world is undoubtedly the industry question. I know that they can, otherwise a plugged-in putz like me wouldn’t keep subscribing to them. And print magazines can’t be inevitably doomed, or else The New Yorker wouldn’t have been able to buck the trend and become profitable after decades of losing money. And note that when it comes to books, the opposite is happening: e-books are struggling. Magazines can’t compete with the Internet on timeliness or cost — not when magazine subscription costs are rising and Web sites are free — and people don’t mind reading shorter pieces online. There is a solution or two out there, and Mollise tries to come up with some specific to the astronomy mags: stop trying to compete with the Internet on news, offer more reviews and distinctive content. In other words, be more interesting, more distinctive — more essential. These are not bad ideas.

About our new car

Jennifer and our new car

So we picked up our new car last week: a 2004 Subaru Forester with about 71,000 km on it.

We had decided to buy a new car some time ago. Not only was our 1998 Mazda Protégé, with 211,000 km on the odometer, growing rust, Quebec’s new law mandating snow tires comes into effect this winter — no sense buying new tires for an aging car.

We’ve been doing our homework for a while; our original thought was a small wagon — we decided that we needed cargo space — and our working theory was a new Toyota Matrix or Pontiac Vibe. In the end, however, we decided to buy used again. We wanted a Forester all along, I think, but it was too expensive new. This one presented itself, and we leapt at it. A Forester is less fuel efficient than a Matrix, but most of our driving is highway driving, and we drive less than 20,000 km a year, which is nothing for country folk: I carpool and Jennifer walks to work.

It seems to be in pretty good shape — better, in fact, than the Mazda was when we bought it five years ago. I’m hoping to get seven years’ use out of it. And for something marketed first as an SUV and now as a “crossover,” it drives like the jacked-up compact car it essentially is — which is to say, surprisingly nicely.

I also like the fact that “Subaru” is the Japanese name for the Pleiades. Dig the astronomy reference.

Beethoven links

Standalone websites about my favourite composer tend to have a lot of the same basic biographical information, with varying degrees of detail, but are frequently less strong on the musical analysis. Public radio sites are better at the music, but less comprehensive overall.

More entries below »

Fact and fantasy in Immortal Beloved

Like Amadeus, Immortal Beloved (Amazon.ca, Amazon.com), the biopic about Beethoven, plays fast and loose with the facts. Bernard Rose’s hypothesis about the identity of Beethoven’s mystery addressee is not widely accepted. Not only that, but the dates don’t add up. The letters in question date from 1812, when his nephew Karl was already five years old; Karl’s suicide attempt occurred two years after the premiere of the Ninth Symphony (whereas in the film Beethoven appears considerably older in the latter scene). And Napoleon’s attack on Vienna occurred six years after the Third Symphony. And so forth.

(But then Mozart didn’t die the evening of the premiere of The Magic Flute, either, and and in fact went on to write one more opera. And Salieri didn’t try to kill him. So go figure.)

Even so, Immortal Beloved makes interesting use of contemporary texts by or about Beethoven. The letters, of course, exist and are quoted. The funeral oration outside Währinger cemetery, given by Schindler in the movie, was written by the playwright Franz Grillparzer and actually delivered by Heinrich Anschütz, but the text is more or less the same. And in the scene after Beethoven’s deafness is revealed, a voice-over reads from Beethoven’s own Heiligenstadt Testament, written despondently in 1802 when he realized his deafness was incurable.

It was an interesting experience for me to watch the movie while checking my old copy of Hamburger’s Beethoven: Letters, Journals and Conversations (Amazon.ca, Amazon.com), which includes all these texts. It’s a sneaky way to build verisimilitude when you’re otherwise playing at fantasy.

(They even had an explanation for the appearance of “Muß es sein?” and “Es muß sein” in the manuscript of String Quartet No. 16 — how much Beethoven geekery is that?)