The beginning of "More Reluctant," a John Ashbery poem in this week's New Yorker:
It's time for a little chamber music
of Arensky or Borodin, something minor
and enduring, as we imagine ourselves
to be, let that be a wake-up call,
as the man said . . . .
I've had the good fortune to meet Ashbery on a few occasions, and am always eager to hear of his musical discoveries. While his knowledge of the repertory is fairly comprehensive, he has a particular love for lesser-known composers of the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. On one occasion he mentioned to me that he was very absorbed in the music of Tristan Klingsor, and another time he extolled the piano pieces of Georgy Catoire. He writes about Ernest Chausson's Le Roi Arthus in the liner notes to Leon Botstein's recording of that work; Botstein has said that Ashbery got him interested in the opera. (If the Bard Festival ever stages Déodat de Séverac's Héliogabale, there will be no great mystery about the true culprit.) Earlier this month, Ashbery received a National Humanities Medal from President Obama. I watched the ceremony on the Internet; it was somehow very moving to see so intransigently fine an artist honored in such fashion.