For my February 2011 diary, go here.

Diary - March 2011

John Baez

March 1, 2011

March 10, 2011

I love Beethoven's late quartets, profound and introspective explorations written after he was deaf. Of these, perhaps the most futuristic in conception (though not my personal favorite) is the Grosse Fuge, or Grand Fugue, opus 133. It occupies a unique position in his work....

It was composed as the last movement of his String Quartet No. 13, opus 130. However, after the first performance of this quartet, the audience demanded encores of only two of the middle movements. Beethoven growled:

And why didn't they encore the Fugue? That alone should have been repeated! Cattle! Asses!
But audiences never warmed to the future. Later he bowed to his publisher's demand and removed it from the quartet, replacing it with a less challenging final movement. These days it is sometimes played as part of String Quartet No. 13, and sometimes on its own.

A century later, Joseph de Marliave said that "The attitude of mind in which most people listen to chamber music must undergo a radical change" in order to understand this piece. Still later, Stravinsky said that it is "an absolutely contemporary piece of music that will be contemporary forever".

This beautiful video lets you see the architecture of the Grosse Fuge:

March 22, 2011

After Lisa's class ended we caught a cab to the airport and flew to Hong Kong. We passed customs around 11:30 pm and took a taxi to Robert Black House, which is a kind of residential college for scholars at Hong Kong University. By the time we got there it was about 1 am and we were exhausted.

March 23, 2011

On Wednesday I got up bright and early, had breakfast with Lisa in Robert Black House, which looks like a kind of Chinese maze inside. Lisa took off for Chinese University to give a talk. Then I walked down to the Run Run Shaw Building housing the math department of Hong Kong University, and was shown my office. And, who who was there? None other than my old grad school pal Mathai Varghese! As usual, we started talking math... went down for tea... and then my host, Jiang-Hua Lu, showed up. I know her from the two years I took leave from UCR and taught at Wellesley College to be in Boston with Lisa. She was a Moore Instructor at MIT, and we took a course on quantum groups together, taught by David Kazhdan. Many good memories. Both these pals looked noticeably older than when I'd last seen them. I know I do too. Getting old.

I gave a colloquium talk on Energy and the Environment: What Mathematicians Can Do. It was my first try at what I hope is a talk I keep giving and keep improving. It went okay.

March 24, 2011

Lu drove me to the Chinese University of Hong Kong to talk to Conan Leung, and at 11 am I gave a talk at the Institute of Mathematical Sciences on the number 8, since Conan is interested in the octonions and G2 manifolds. Then we had lunch in Sha Tin, and later I met up with Lisa in Kowloon Tong, our old stomping ground.

Lisa and I had dinner at a truly great yet not astoundingly expensive Chinese restaurant back in Central. It's called Shui Hu Ju and it's on 68 Peel Street, a steep little street. It has wonderful old-fashioned Chinese decor and magnificent spicy Szechuan-style food. It's my favorite restaurant so far in Hong Kong: you feel like you're back in the Tang Dynasty as you sip your rice wine, but it's quite unpretentious. It looks like this:

View Larger Map

March 25, 2011

On Friday I gave a talk as part of the workshop on geometry and Lie groups at Hong Kong U. I spoke about what my grad student John Huerta has been doing — he's finishing up a thesis on Higher Gauge theory, Division Algebras and Superstrings. At the time he didn't have a job offer. Luckily Peter Bouwknegdt was in the office and liked the talk. Later he offered John a postdoc at ANU! I was so happy. I guess it really pays to promote your students' work.

March 26, 2011

Varghese Mathai, Peter Bouwknegt and David Vogan spoke at the workshop on geometry and Lie groups. Later Lisa hiked up from the campus into the peaks. The next day we walked around town and then flew back to Singapore.

The great thing about Hong Kong University is that a half-hour walk uphill to the peaks takes you to views like this:

while a half-hour walk downhill to Central gets you into some serious urban scenes like this:

(Click for bigger images.)

For my April 2011 diary, go here.

What does it mean, chaos
gathered into a sudden bronze sweetness,
an October flourish, and then that moment
denied, turned acid, disassembling,
questioned, rephrased?

     - Mark Doty, Grosse Fuge

© 2011 John Baez