From here. . . to there
EILEEN BATTERSBYponders Frank Lloyd Wright and Paul Simon
THERE IS A LOVELY house in Pennsylvania consisting of tiered levels over the stream tumbling down from a waterfall. In an idyllic setting of water and greenery, with a mountain side as a backdrop, Fallingwater is a dramatic and serene celebration of space in which light refracts back from the running water. Elegant fluidity gives life to the design and most would agree that it is the masterwork of Frank Lloyd Wright (1867-1959), America’s greatest architect. He was a colourful character and his private life was the stuff of television drama, but his buildings, particularly his houses, convey the dynamic essence of a confident young country asserting itself by glancing at traditions while looking to the future. Wright was born in Wisconsin and, restless by nature, he abandoned his engineering studies within a year and set off to Chicago to become a draughtsman at an architecture firm. By 1893, he had established his own practice. In 1900 he inaugurated the Prairie House style, a truly American response to an emerging phenomenon, the suburb.
Wright had been married for 20 years and was the father of six when he went off to Europe with the wife of a client. She would later die in an arsonist’s fire which destroyed Wright’s famous Taliesin, the house and studio he had built at Spring Green, Wisconsin. Wright advocated an organic approach to architecture in harmony with the landscape. His vision remains the defining influence on American architecture.
“Architects may come and/ architects may go and/Never change your point of view” wrote another American genius singer/songwriter Paul Simon, who celebrates his 71st birthday today. Born in Newark, New Jersey and raised in the middle-class suburb of Queens, Simon is the son of a college professor father and schoolteacher mother, Belle, who lived to the age of 97. Simon’s majestic body of work includes some of the finest modern songs ever written:The Sound of Silence, Bridge over Troubled Water, The Boxer, Song for the Asking, The Only Living Boy in New York and so many others. America is just that, a wistful elegy articulating the mood and uncertainty of a nation. Simon is a superb guitarist. He is also an intellectual, shaped by Wallace Stevens and Philip Larkin, as well as the life and the loneliness of New York city.
He is the most likely US artist to honour a pioneering architect. Wright died in 1959, about the time that Simon and his high school buddy Art Garfunkel formed their early partnership and presented a sound that was as beautiful as it was eloquent, sustained by Simon’s lyrics. The Boy in the Bubble from the Graceland album is as insightful a comment on society’s chaos as a Don DeLillo novel. Simon can be funny, emotive, moving and profound. His nervy demeanour was always in contrast to the sexual confidence of the benign Garfunkel. Simon’s range is extraordinary, embracing all music. His meditative American Tune (1973) is based on a melody line from Bach’s St Matthew Passion (1727). Simon’s music looks both to and beyond America.