Conversation with Christopher & Sledpress on Bach, Vivaldi, Glenn Gould, the Russians. Dialectics (5a)

MoR: “…. What I mean is that we all have our obsessions, themes, leitmotivs (read the 2008/2014 original unabridged conversation]

This seems evident in people we know well – close friends, family members, colleagues. We are aware of their fixations … It can be a father (or mother) figure obsession, a pervading mental escapism that comes out in many occasions, behaviours – it can be anything.

Leitmotivs are also present in the works of writers, musicians, scientists etc., more complex to detect it being the big part of a critic’s job to probe their works in search of elements which make the stylistic imprint of an author.

Take Russian composer Sergei Rachmaninoff. We often recognize his music because of this bizarre Arabic-scale leaning he had and that may related to some profound experience … had he Tartar ancestors? Was he desperately in love with a Muslim girl?”

Christopher: “I think I also detect jazz influences in Rachmaninov’s music. Was he, then, also once in love with an American jazz-loving girl?!!
… [Besides] these influences may also have affected other Russian composers, like Rimsky-Korsakov (Scherezade) and Tschaikovsky (4th movement, 6th symphony). I think also of Borodin …”

MoR:

I also detect jazz influences in Rachmaninov. Was he, then, also once in love with an American … girl?”

He was. And the girl was black. Which brings to mind Bach and his clear penchant for black boys (not over the age of twelve though!). It explains why his music is so ‘dancing’.

“… melancholic oriental/Arabic influences … in Rachmaninov … Rimsky-Korsakov ….Tschaikovsky”

Right, ok, Rachmaninov was simply Russian, and Russia is partly Asiatic.
You seem to like Russian music, Cristo. I do too (Shostakovich, Prokofiev) but most of the time I need Bach, Rossini or Busoni.

Sentimental music like Rachmaninov’s (his pianism though, wow!) … enough.

The Russians
‘encounter’ Bach via Gould

Russian Sokolov is my favourite Bach performer at this moment though your compatriot, Glenn Gould, has opened the path. He btw went to Moscow in the 50′s and made communist Russians ‘encounter’ Bach’s works (until then neglected as ‘religious music’.)

You might enjoy Gould’s Russian journey and its consequences on the Russians.

And, some Bach dancing by Grigory Sokolov (‘dance’ lol starts at 2:20).

Cristopher: “I watched these videos – particularly the Glenn Gould Russia one – with much interest.

Gould’s youth, pianistic brilliance, and his coming into their midst suddenly and from so far, Russians, from their awed reception of him, may have seen him as a Redeemer, the One who would lead them away, who would transport them to a Paradise, far, far removed from the drab Socialist Realism from which they could bodily never flee.

Was Gould deserving of all this reverence, not just in Russia but everywhere?

This is explored in this provocative piece written some twenty years ago by another concert pianist, a fellow Canadian, who knew Gould well.
When I read of the extremely eccentric Gould I think of the extremely eccentric Bobby Fischer – equally a genius, albeit in another skill entirely. Both appeared to reside somewhere within the continuum of Autism.

In the matter of Bach, while I appreciate his brilliance, and surmise he would be the preferred musical taste for mathematicians, I have always found him as a result, cold.
Far more my cup of tea is the warmth and sunniness of Bach’s contemporary (and your fellow countryman) Antonio Vivaldi.”

MoR: “Awesome, Christopher.

[The Russians] may have seen [Gould] as a Redeemer, the One who would … transport them to a Paradise, far, far removed from the drab Socialist Realism from which they could bodily never flee.

I agree. Generally, a good knowledge of Bach is important, as far as my music comprehension, to any professional musician and possibly to the Russians of that time even more.

“Russian art: sensuous, intuitive,
mystically powerful”

An English philosopher (Last and First Men, 3, rephrased) wrote:

The Russian mode of art is blended with a passion of iconoclasm, sensuousness and a remarkable, mystical, intuitive power that can profit a lot from German discipline and rational mind

Adapted to Gould’s trip tp Russia, they need(ed) Bach like bread (who doesn’t need bits of German discipline btw? We do.]

Metaphorically – I’m getting confused – Bach is like a gym where one works out up to sheer power – made more (mystically) vigorous by doses of Ashtanga (excruciating lol) Yoga. Although, playing Bach well can be learned via toil.

Classical music: pureness,
clarity, proportion

Italian music plus Mozart, Haydn, Schubert etc instead – since you’ve mentioned Vivaldi- reaches beauty through the alternative paths of pureness, clarity and proportion – things from a certain heritage (Classical Antiquity), not easily learned.

I may dig Bach more than Rossini or Italian opera, although yes, it takes some training to appreciate Bach’s music (I studied it at the Conservatory.)

An exotic thing, probably, like when German radio stations are so full of Italian Bel Canto (try NDR Kultur Belcanto.)

I read your article.

Indeed, an Elvis-type cult has grown up around Glenn Gould. But I don’t quite agree with the article points. Gould operated two miracles imo: 1) made a large number of people appreciate Bach (no small feat) and 2) he taught pianists to squeeze Bach beauty out of a piano. Now much-better-than-Gould Bach pianists exist imo (Sokolov etc) but it was Gould who opened a path. Sokolov himself said he was heavily influenced by GG.

So Canadian Gould was in my view a genius.

Sledpress: “My Transgender Ex, back in high school days, played Bach obsessively — the Goldberg Variations and the Well Tempered Klavier. He (I guess it is now she though I am not sure of the stage of progression) could neck seamlessly while playing the Inventions. A person of Russian Jewish provenance as it happens. It left me with a lifelong impression of Bach’s keyboard work as an almost violent synthesis of erotic and cerebral energy.

I always sensed it, nonetheless, as a sort of Tantric energy that never actually grounded itself. The classical idioms, Mozart and Schubert cases in point, touch the earth in a way that reaches my heart.

Did Protestant Bach, with his two wives and twenty children, represent a kind of creative energy that had to keep climbing to heaven because the ground seemed like the wrong place to be? Not cold, but ruthlessly contained, scooped up at every level and taken to a higher one. It says Come Find Me If You Have The Chops. Schubert’s lieder or the Mozart Clarinet Quintet hold out a gift instead.

As for Vivaldi, I fear I cannot bear him. My late and ex once spoke sighingly to me of “deedle music,” meaning Vivaldi and his ilk, and it was one of the reasons I fell in love with him.

Repeated minor seconds or octaves in OCD splendor. Auditory equivalent of a handwashing fetish.

Both that and Bach would speak to an autistic type of exponent. I’m glad that Gould pumped for Bach.”

ψ

Awesome Sledpress too.

More with Dialectcs 5b where some incandescence will glow too within a discussion on how to reach creativity outside any obsession (by following the Romano-Greek golden mean).

See you soon then.

Giorgio

Love Never Did Run Smooth. Dialectics (1)

HUGUES

“The path of true love never did run smooth” by Talbot Hughes, English Painter (1869–1942). Many paintings from the Victorian era referred to literary quotes, like this one, whose title is from Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream, I, 1, 134

“Mai al mondo fu piano e senza ostacoli il sentiero dell’Amore”

[Shakespeare-Talbot Hughes, in Italian]

ψ

Uomo e donna, complementarietà discordante, sopravvivono meglio in perenne dissonanza.

[Magister-διδάσκαλος; see his ikon, if not his face, below]

Olaf Stapledon.
“Like two close trees whose trunks …”

“ONE night when I had tasted bitterness I went out on to the hill … Overhead, obscurity. I distinguished our own house, our islet in the tumultuous and bitter currents of the world. There, for a decade and a half, we two, so different in quality, had grown in and in to one another, for mutual support and nourishment, in intricate symbiosis [...]

True, of course, that as a long-married couple we fitted rather neatly, like two close trees whose trunks have grown upwards together as a single shaft, mutually distorting, but mutually supporting. Coldly I now assessed her as merely a useful, but often infuriating adjunct to my personal life. We were on the whole sensible companions. We left one another a certain freedom, and so we were able to endure our proximity.”

[Olaf Stapledon, Star Maker, Ch. I, The Earth]

ψ

αἴνιγμα (riddle)

Why Darwin and Hegel
Enter into the Equation?

An old sage. Image is not mine but copyrighted. I have bought it

ψ

Note, to be read when despaired :-)

ψ

Tough, (and to the writer too.)

Well, I’ll let you know (as a consolation) that despite the fact that thanks to Magister, 40 years ago, I was able to absorb (in a few months only) a tiny bit of the essence of Plato, Croce, Gramsci, eg various sides of the weird dialectics possibly invented 2,400 years ago in Athens (we’ll skip Indian dialectics.)

Despite I mean this sudden germination … I got into the Hegel’s block.

Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel‘ (well, just the name is hard) dialectics, proved too hard to me.

My Mentor, incidentally kept telling me Hegel was no inferior to Plato or Aristotle. Magister being Magister – I was frustrated.

ψ

In later years I absorbed Hegel a bit by reading some Gramsci and Croce, although I was kinda sensing that Hegel’s deep core, plus the capacity (more importantly) to have fun reading this Master’s works – I never quite fathomed.

A New διδάσκαλος

Now one year ago it turned (just a few months, again) that reading Hegel though still hard was suddenly FUN.

Moreover, Hegel plus evolution - eg biological science + philosophy - were unexpectedly, rocket-like, jostling me around in outer space (on my puffy armchair, I mean) towards infinite cosmos, or κόσμος τὸ πᾶν, should one prefer.

What had happened? Another Μέντωρ-διδάσκαλος, had shown?

ψ

Well, yes.

Shy, decent (and brilliantly creative) Olaf Stapledon, a British philosopher from the Wirral Peninsula.

Olaf Stapledon (1886 – 1950)

Copyrighted image of Olaf Stapledon (1886 – 1950). Fair use. Click for source file

Ferruccio Busoni. Mozart (and Classical) are no Simpleton Stuff (3)

Ferruccio Busoni (1866 – 1924) at 11 years old in Vienna. Via Wikimedia

We have talked about a concept, classicism, that can embrace for example the works of Horace, Raphael, Racine, Mozart, Goethe, Jane Austen and elements of British and American Georgian culture.

Mozart’s works – according to Ferruccio Busoni (an Italian-German pianist, composer & writer) – faced a curious indifference in 1917. He wrote in that year:

To the Wagnerian generation Don Giovanni’s text and music seem like simpleton stuff. “The baroque splendour – he continued – has made the world insensitive to the pure lines of the ancients.”

Mozart in 1780

Here’s a choice of Busoni’s earlier aphorisms on Mozart published in 1906 in Berlin’s Lokal Anzeiger. A good conclusion in our opinion to our series on ‘what is classical’.

“So denke Ich über Mozart”

So denke ich über Mozart:
Thus I think of Mozart:

Seine nie getrübte Schönheit irritiert.
His never-clouded beauty irritates.

Sein Formensinn ist fast außermenschlich.
His sense of form is nearly supernatural.

Einem Bildhauer-Meisterwerke gleich, ist seine Kunst – von jeder Seite gesehen – ein fertiges Bild.
Similar to a sculptor’s masterpiece, his art – seen from every side – is a finished picture.

Er hat den Instinkt des Tieres, sich seine Aufgabe – bis zur möglichsten Grenze, aber nicht darüber hinaus – seine Kräften entsprechend zu stellen.
He has the instinct of an animal, setting himself his tasks up to the utmost of his limits, but no further.

Er wagt nichts Tollkühnes.
He dares nothing venturous.

Er findet, ohne zu suchen, und sucht nicht, was unauffindbar wäre – vielleicht ihm unauffindbar wäre.
He finds without seeking and does not seek what would be unfindable–perhaps what would be unfindable to him.

Er besitzt außergewöhnlich reiche Mittel, aber er verausgabt sich nie.
He possess extraordinarily rich resources, but never uses them all.

Er kann sehr vieles sagen, aber er sagt nie zu viel.
He can say very much, but he never says too much.

Er ist leidenschaftlich, wahrt aber die ritterlichen Formen.
He is passionate, but preserves the chivalrous forms.

Seine Maße sind erstaunlich richtig, aber sie lassen sich messen und nachrechnen.
His measurements are surprisingly accurate, but they allow to be measured and calculated.

Er verfügt über Licht und Schatten; aber sein Licht schmerzt nicht, und seine Dunkelheit zeigt noch klare Umrisse.
He has light and darkness, but his light does not hurt, and his darkness still shows clear contours.

Er hat in der tragischen Situation noch einen Witz bereit – er vermag in der heitersten eine gelehrte Falte zu ziehen.
In a tragic situation he doesn’t lose his sense of humour – in the most cheerful he can insert an erudite word.

Er ist universell durch seine Behendigkeit.
He is universal through his spryness.

Er kann aus jeden Glase noch schöpfen, weil er eins nie bis zum Grunde ausgetrunken.
He can still drink something from every cup, since he never drank any to the bottom.

Ferruccio Busoni (April 1, 1866 – July 27, 1924). Click for credits

Sein Palast ist unermeßlich groß, aber er tritt niemals aus seinen Mauern. Durch dessen Fenster sieht er die Natur; der Fensterrahmen ist auch ihr Rahmen.
His palace is huge, but he never leaves its walls. Through its windows he sees nature; the windows frame is also nature’s frame.

Heiterkeit ist sein hervorstechender Zug: er überblümt selbst das Unangenehmste durch ein Lächeln.
Gaiety is his most distinct trait: even the most unpleasant he adorns with a smile.

Sein Lächeln ist nicht das eines Diplomaten oder Schauspielers, sondern das eines reinen Gemüts – und doch weltmännisch.
His smile is not that of a diplomat, or of an actor, but that of a pure heart – and yet worldly.

Wolfang Amadeus Mozart (aged 14) in Verona, Italy. Painting by Saverio dalla Rosa (1745–1821)

Sein Gemüt ist nicht rein aus Unkenntnis.
His soul is not pure out of ignorance.

Er ist nicht simpel geblieben und nicht raffiniert geworden.
He has not remained simple and has not become raffiné.

Er ist ein Freund der Ordnung: Wunder und Teufeleien wahren ihre 16 und 32 Takten.
He is a friend of order: miracles and devilries keep their 16 and 32 bars.

Er ist religiös, soweit Religion identisch ist mit Harmonie.
He is religious as long as religion is identical to harmony.

Das Architektonische ist seiner Kunst nächstverwandt.
Architecture is the art closest to his.

Ferruccio Busoni liked Italy but preferred Germany. He died in Berlin in 1924 and there he was interred in the Städtischen Friedhof III, Berlin-Schöneberg. Marlene Dietrich and, weirdly, Helmut Newton rest with him.

ψ

Previous posts on ‘classic’ and ‘classical’:

Tapas, Cartizze and Ragù. What on Earth do we Mean by ‘Classic’? (1)

Ragù, Chianti (and Grappa.) Is ‘Classic’ Just a Trick by Goddess Fortune? (2)

See also:

How Can Japanese Little Girls Play European Classical Music Perfectly?

And the second half of:

Music, Politics and History

Ragù, Chianti (and Grappa.) Is ‘Classic’ Just a Trick by Goddess Fortune? (2)

Spaghettoni alla chitarra e ragù. Wikimedia. Click for credits

After aperitivo at the bar the conversation continues to unwind at our home while we consume a simple dinner made of spaghettoni al ragù, cheese with a side dish of boiled vegetables, all washed down with Chianti and some Grappa as digestivo.

Classicus and King Servius Tullius

Servius Tullius

Servius Tullius, 6th Roman King. Image via Wikipedia

Extropian: “In my Calonghi Latin dictionary classis means both ‘fleet’ and ‘social class’; classicus is both a ‘sailor’ and ‘a member of the first Servian class of citizens’, out of the five tax classes set up by the Roman King Servius Tullius.

So why do we say today that Herman Melville is a classic and that Dan Brown (or our Giorgio Faletti) will probably never be?”

Giorgio: “It implies some timeless worth, it is known. Less known perhaps the origin of the notion. In the 2nd century CE Aulus Gellius, a Roman grammarian, [see image below] in his Noctes Atticae (Attic nights) – I just found out – was the first to mean by classicus ‘a writer of the first Servian class’ (classicus scriptor). He was the first to connect via a metaphor 1) literary and 2) social excellence. Classicus to him was a first-class & exemplary writer.

English: Frontispiece to the 1706 edition of A...

English: Frontispiece to the 1706 edition of Auli Gellii Noctium Atticarum (Aulus Gellius Attic Nights) libri xx. prout supersunt, quos ad libros Mss. novo et multo labore exegerunt, perpetuis notis et emendationibus illustrarunt Joannes Fridericus et Jacobus Gronovii. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Extropian: “Well, it somewhat reflected the elitism of antiquity.”

Flavia: “Yes, but I’d say excellence is excellence. Horace and Virgil were of humble background (Horace – read a reply to Sledpress on him – was even the son of a freed slave,) but were revered as excellent (and timeless) as soon as their works came out.”

Giorgio: “Horace himself refers to his Odes as timeless. But people didn’t call them classici. The new meaning didn’t immediately spread. In the 5th and 6th centuries CE authors such as Martianus Capella, Fulgentius and Boethius began to reconsider earlier pagan authors as models of style and thought, although again no use was made of the term classicus in the sense Gellius did.”

Extropian: “I see.”

Villa Rotonda, Veneto, Italy, by Andrea Palladio (1508 – 1580). Click for attribution

Classicus to Renaissance People

Giorgio: “And throughout the Middle Ages too we have the concept but not the word for it. Until we get to the Renaissance men, in 1400s-1500s CE.

In their Latin classicus refers again to something seen as timeless and as a standard of excellence: to the people of the Renaissance [see a Palladian villa above] the Greek and Roman past was THE classicus exemplary model in all fields.”

Mario: “In fact we still say ‘Classical Antiquity’. Of course the Renaissance is neoclassical ante litteram since it found inspiration in Antiquity and looked down upon the Middle Ages.

By the way, wasn’t the second half of the 18th century labelled as neoclassical?”

Rome and the Grand Tour

Goethe in the Roman countryside as painted in 1787 by his friend Tischbein. Click to enlarge

Flavia: “It was. Giorgio and I recently visited the exhibition Rome and Antiquity. Reality and vision in the 18th century.

At the end of the War of the Austrian Succession (1748) a long period of peace ensued in Europe. Winckelmann arrived in Rome in 1755. He there conceived his master-work History of Ancient Art (1764) which influenced the entire neoclassical attitude from that year onwards and basically blew the minds (to mention the Germans only) of people like Hölderlin, Goethe, Lessing, Herder, Heine, Nietzsche etc. The marriage and the tyranny of Greece over Germany started with him.”

Giorgio: Those were the days of the Grand Tour. People flocked to Italy and especially to Rome to study classical culture. Rome with all her statues etc. also became a huge workshop of copies purchased worldwide. Bartolomeo Cavaceppi was the best sculptor to make casts, copies and fakes.

Caffè Greco – 86, via Condotti -, possibly the oldest caffè in Rome, frequented by Goethe, Byron, Stendhal, Liszt, Keats, Mendelssohn etc. Click to enter the Caffè Greco web site

Cavaceppi’s studio was in via del Babbuino, close to Caffè Greco (opened in 1760, see above,) to via del Corso (where Goethe lived at num 18 between 1786 & 1788,) to Piazza di Spagna: all popular places among the expatriates of the time. Cavaceppi’s shop was a must-see. Goethe was there and Canova himself was greatly impressed by Cavaceppi’s atelier. Goethe bought a cast of the Juno Ludovisi [see the last big picture below] but I forgot from whom though.

Anton Raphael Mengs, Jacques-Louis David, the Scottish architect Robert Adam, Canova, Piranesi with his efforts to build a map of Ancient Rome: surely a great period for our city.”

[The exhibition catalog is now on the living room table. Grappa is unfortunately served. Art and Bacchus are a perfect match since Homer, what did you think ...]

Giorgio: “Last (but least) Italians played the guitar quite a lot during the 18th c. before the Spanish took over. I am studying Mauro Giuliani and Ferdinando Carulli who composed delightful classical pieces for this instrument, mixing sober taste (Giuliani) or brilliant grace (Carulli) with rationality.”

Jeu des dames, by Louis-Léopold Boilly (1761–1845). Click to enlarge. Elegance, sobriety, classical décor and Hellenic attire (and face features) of the women

Extropian (reading the catalog): “New archaeological discoveries fuelled the Roman and Greek frenzy. A great number of statues and mosaics were unearthed and reproduced. Décor and clothes were created in the neoclassical style in Europe and in the New World. Also Nero’s Domus Aurea wall paintings – at that time thought to belong to Titus’ thermae – were reproduced on mansions, on decorative furniture etc.

[Hope you can reach this great 3d reconstruction of Roman Emperor Nero's Domus Aurea (see another movie below too:) you'll think you are in a 18th century rich palace!]

The spirit of the Ancients and of the Enlightenment (Age of reason) splendidly matched. Classical triumphed and influenced the French and American Revolutions.”

Roman Emperor Nero’s Domus Aurea fresco. 1rst century CE

Classicism as a Concept. Mere Chance?

Extropian: “Classic, more generic for valuable, is related to classical … Wait a minute. Such fundamental concept going back to this Aulus Gellius, an almost unknown, second-rate Roman writer? Something is wrong here.”

Giorgio: “Weird in fact. I now read in Google what Ernst Robert Curtius observed (in his European Literature and the Latin Middle Ages):

What would modern aesthetics have done for a single general concept that could embrace Raphael, Racine, Mozart, and Goethe, if Gellius never lived?

Extropian: “Or if Servius Tullius didn’t divide Rome into 5 classes! I wonder whether we know the exact connection Gellius-Renaissance, but certainly goddess Fortune plays her tricks when making ideas successful or not, as Curtius also suggests.”

A cast of Juno Ludovisi (ie Antonia minor, Mark Antony’s daughter), similar to the one bought by Goethe. Antonia became a model of junoesque, imposing beauty

ψ

Grappa is making all blurred at this point.

That is, we have traced some origins but couldn’t define that general concept that can embrace Horace, Mozart, Mauro Giuliani, Haydn, Raphael, Schubert, Pindar, Canova, Racine, Goethe, Jane Austen and many elements of British and American Georgian culture.

A glass of Grappa

Grappa. Click for attribution

Next time Ferruccio Dante Michelangelo Busoni‘s aphorisms (big name, I know) on Mozart might help us hopefully.

Busoni’s aphorisms are in German since Busoni was Italian & somewhat German too [following Philippe's advice we try to expand language variety in this blog.]

See you then.

A vase made for the foreign market. Italians found it too rich.

Tapas, Cartizze and Ragù. What on Earth do we Mean by ‘Classic’? (1)

Late evening in a cozy bar of our rione where we wash down Spanish tapas with Cartizze Prosecco.

Our before-dinner aperitivo, once in a while.

ψ

Mario: “You recently wondered how come far eastern little girls, hence culturally ‘alien’ in some way, can perfectly play European ‘classical music’ (in the narrow sense.) You also added that such music (from 1750 to 1830 roughly) originated in that crossroads between Germania and Italia, once the ancient frontier or limes of the Roman Empire which separated the Roman from the non Roman.”

Flavia: “Your associations are bizarre.”

Giorgio: “Allow me to be bizarre at least in my blog amore.”

Extropian: “I remember you saying at the end of a post on music that Mozart who came from that area perfectly combined Italian taste with German knowledge.”

Giorgio: “Yes, a perfect fruit of that cross-way region, although Schubert shouldn’t be ignored either.”

[A classic lied by Schubert I owe to Sledpress]

Giorgio: “Incidentally Flavia, I’m struggling both with Mauro Giuliani (on my guitar) and with the Latin poet Horace. I do feel they have something in common.”

Flavia: “Despite the big difference in greatness and time? Ti stai rintronando il cervello?” :-)

What do We Mean

Mario: “Now the problem arises: what the hell do we mean by classic? Entire generations of students have been plagued by this aesthetic notion.”

Giorgio: “You know I don’t like clear definitions. That’s what dictionaries are for, not blogs (not mine in any case.)”

ψ

We leave the bar. Roma may not be Canada, but winters get damn cold here too sometimes.

 

Oil painting of Franz Schubert, after an 1825 ...

Franz Schubert. Image via Wikipedia

How Can Japanese Little Girls Play European Classical Music Perfectly?

Japanese little girl. Click for attribution and to zoom in

In the previous post we have shown two little Japanese girls capable of perfectly playing some music of the classical period.

Which surprised me in many respects and made me reflect.

Germany, Vienna and Italy

First of all by ‘classical style’ we mean the music created from the mid 1700’s until the first decades of 1800 thanks to contributions from Germany (Southern Germany – Mannheim etc. -  but not only), Vienna and Italy, which changed the spirit & the technique of music into something inspired by the ideals of ancient classical art.

In other posts we’d mused about this magical region where many centuries earlier Roma and Germania met (and clashed,) ie the Roman provinces (Germania Superior, Raetia, Noricum and Pannonia) along the axis of what was once the limes germanicus or frontier of the ancient Roman Empire (look at this map!) that separated the world of Rome from the un-romanized Germanic (and non Germanic) tribes (read more: 1, 2, 3.)

It may be a simplification (and an obsession,) but that ‘classical music’ in its narrow sense (in the broad sense it refers to all Western art music since its beginnings) was much later to be born in such cultural crossroads – well, it didn’t happen in our opinion by mere chance.

[Roman & non Roman. Where are hence the traces of this duality in today’s societies? - we had asked ourselves]

Haydn. Portrait by Thomas Hardy. Wikipedia image

Now this ‘classical music’, that followed Baroque and developed before the spread of Romanticism, is characterized by formal balance, a certain restraint and a terse simplicity attained with extreme economy of means together with a very refined taste: which makes the performance of such art daunting despite its apparent easiness. Its model is in fact that of Hellenic art, although adapted to modern times (and to modern music, since we know so little of ancient music.)

This may be a reason why playing Mozart, Haydn or Boccherini and Clementi ‘well’, that is, with the necessary purity, is often more difficult than rendering subsequent and technically harder pieces of the Romantic and contemporary repertoire. I saw pianists who could easily play Brahms and Scriabin but sweated their way through the end of a Mozart adagio.

The Japanese and the Russians

Now, that these Japanese children, coming from a different planet, are able to do this extremely well – isn’t it amazing?

Classical balance and taste is nothing one can improvise. One needs to have breathed such air.

Take the Russians, such formidable musicians. Not completely European ok but closer to us than the Japanese for sure, they have traditionally always hesitated before the classical repertoire (and when they didn’t … the result was often not among the best.)

So, the Russians fail where the Japanese don’t – there must be something in those Eastern cultures I am not aware of.

Some readers have got any ideas?

ψ

In the meanwhile, as an Italian, I know the Japanese – a few I’ve met who study bel canto in Rome – love Italian opera quite a lot whose style always resisted the complexity of the romantic and late-romantic German harmonies and voicing (Verdi Bellini and Donizetti etc. on one hand, Wagner or Richard Strauss on the other hand: two different universes altogether! Roman & non Roman?)

Once more. What these oriental people may find in the Western ‘classical’ style of music?

Mario: “By the way, I heard that classical music makes hogs as fat as whales.”

MoR: “What?? Are you kidding me?”

Mario: “It is true! This Vietnamese pig farmer, Nguyen Chi Cong, found a new way to make his 3,000 hogs eat more quickly and happily by having them listen daily to the music of Beethoven, Mozart and Schubert. It seems the soothing effect is also working for other domestic animals!”

MoR: *Rolling eyes*

ψ

Related posts:

Music, Politics and History

Roman Limes. Between Two Worlds

Arturo Benedetti Michelangeli’s Chilly Genius

From the two Sides of the Roman Limes

See also the series dedicated to the notions of ‘classic’ & ‘classical’ (1, 2 and 3)

Toccare le corde della chitarra con i polpastrelli, l’orecchio alla cassa

Chitarra classica

Chitarra classica. Click for attribution

Toccare le corde della chitarra con i polpastrelli (see translation following), carezzandole e accostando l’orecchio alla bella morbida cassa intarsiata per coglierne le vibrazioni più intime. Ho passato così tra i momenti più belli della vita.

Non amo la chitarra suonata con le unghie. E’ bella solo nelle musiche andaluse, ma per altre musiche il suono, più potente, è però meno ricco e più meccanico.

In altre parole ha meno colore.

ψ

Divagando, cosa possono avere in comune il concetto di colore in musica e quello di colore nel pensiero / scrittura?

Foro della chitarra. Click for attribution

[English translation.

Touching the guitar strings with bare fingertips, caressing them while drawing our ear close to the beautiful, soft-wooden inlaid body to perceive its most intimate vibrations. I so spent some of the most beautiful moments in my life.

I do not like the guitar sound when strings are plucked with nails. It is beautiful only in Flamenco music, while for other music though more powerful the sound is not as rich and more mechanical.

In other words it is less colourful.

ψ

What can (I’m digressing) the concept of colour in music and that of colour in thought / writing possibly have in common?

See our next post and its discussion for answers to this question]

Published in: on December 20, 2010 at 8:58 pm  Comments (6)  
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Basilica di San Clemente, Nero’s Domus Aurea and the Mithraic Mysteries

San Clemente, named after Pope Clement I, 3rd successor of St Peter, is located in via San Giovanni in Laterano, called 'Stradone S. Giovanni' by today's Romans (see 2 pictures below.) Click for credits and to zoom in.

Mostly Otium (little Negotium)

As I said in the previous post (1) we are having some rest although (2) we are obliged to take care of our company a bit plus (3) I’m having fun musing upon ancient texts I try to read in the original.

Moreover (4) my walk paths about Rome will also follow a tentative list of archaeological places I want to visit much more attentively than I ever did before.

As a Celtic unspoilt-heart poet once wrote:

What is this life if, full of care,
We have no time to stand and stare.

[Btw, 1, 3, 4 are called otium in Latin (leisure, sort of), while 2 is called negotium (business, sort of.) The on-line magazine Otium from Uchicago may be worth glancing through]

 

Caelian hill with San Clemente on the right, the Coliseum on the left, via di San Giovanni with 'Gay Street' at its left end right on top of Gladiators' Ludus Magnus. Above, the Domus Aurea villa area on the beginning Esquiline slope where I take my walks (Google Maps)

A Jewish Freedman: Pope Clement I

Now, as an appetizer I have just been to a place nearby, the Basilica di San Clemente as I told Paul Costopoulos.

One of the greatest places in Rome for archaeology history and religion, this basilica was named after Pope St Clement, the third successor of St Peter.

According to recent research Clemens was a Jewish freedman who belonged to the household of the martyr Titus Flavius Clemens, great-nephew of the Roman Emperor Vespasian.

[It is known freedmen or liberti - also called libertini, nothing to do with libertines - took the family name or their own master's name though we'll see Roman naming conventions another day]

 

San Clemente on the Stradone or Via San Giovanni in Laterano. This is where we buy bread and eat the true Neapolitan Pizza. Direction is towards the bigger Basilica of San Giovanni in Laterano. Photo by MoR, public domain.

The Pilgrimage Road where Gay Street is now

 

Today’s basilica was built during the High Middle Ages (12th cent. AD) and despite some baroque maquillage it is still romanesque in its main structure. It is located on the ‘via di San Giovanni in Laterano’ pilgrimage road that led (and still leads) to San Giovanni in Laterano, the Roman Popes’ former residence until they moved to St. Peter at the Vatican.

The last 325-yard area of this road just in front of the Colosseum is today called Gay street. I think gays & lesbians feel protected right in the heart of pagan Rome, with (see the Google map above) the Oppian hill and Nero’s Domus to the right, the Coliseum in front, and just under their feet the Ludus Magnus, the greatest school of gladiators of the Empire (see a model of it.)

Popes or Pontiffs – can’t stop digressing – come from the Pontifices, singular Pontifex, a member of ancient Rome’s highest-ranking state priests’ Collegium (college), whose chief was the pontifex maximus.  Well, the Pope’s title is Pontifex Maximus too, therefore implying not only the actual Bishop of Rome but the survival (possibly) of such ancient magistratus. Majestic Julius Caesar was a Pontifex Maximus as well. I like the idea so much allow me.

Four Strata of History

High time now to tell the story of San Clemente, a tale made of 4 strata.

1) In the first century AD the area was occupied by insulaeapartment buildings for the indigent plebs – some plebeians were tho rich and belonged to the upper class -and for the Equites, middle class of knights (equestrians.)

Nero's Domus Aurea octagonal building (see below)

These houses were burnt in the famous Nero’s fire of Rome in 64 AD. Nero was only too happy to embody the area into his Domus Aurea (infos here too,) a marvellous portico villa with rooms sumptuously decorated and of various geometrical shapes, whose gardens covered parts of the Palatine, Esquiline and Caelian hills (so it possibly included the location of my house too: possibly the whole Google map above was Domus Aurea.)

Gaius Suetonius Tranquillus, equestrian and historian, called it a rus in urbe or ‘countryside in the city’ for its imaginative (and eccentric) man-made landscapes such as a luxurious (luxuriosus) pond where the future Colosseum will be built.

Axonometric Drawing of the DA, built by Severus and Celer in 64 AD, Rome. The central octagon with dome.

 

Nero Claudius Caesar Augustus Germanicus

2) After Nero’s damnatio memoriae the gutted buildings were again utilized as foundation for further houses (1rst-2nd cent. AD,) at a level roughly corresponding to the Coliseum’s floor.

3) The third level – 4rth century, see image below – displays 2 buildings, communicating via a a narrow passage: one (on the right in the picture) is an apartment in whose courtyard we admire a Mithraeum (see the other picture under the first one); the other (on the left) is a magnificent rectangular area built on large tufa blocks supporting brick walls clad with light yellow travertine,  the house possibly of Titus Flavius Clemens, even larger than the nave of the actual Basilica.

4) The fourth level is the 12th cent. AD basilica which later had the baroque maquillage. We mentioned the pilgrimage road. Those were the times of the crusades and of the conflict with the Muslims, much more advanced than Europeans.

3rd levelFourth Century Church and Mithraeum (from E. Junient, Titolo di San Clemente)

The Mithraeum of San Clemente. See triclinii for ritual meal and the altar

Mithra, Šamaš, Μίθρας.
The Indo-European Bullshit

First of all let’s get rid of the Indo-European bullshit.

Mithra was the main god of polytheistic Iranians who were mainly Indo-Europeans, true, but the god stemmed from a complex process which includes at least 2 fusions (syncretisms.)

A. One started in Babylon, Mesopotamia [Μεσοποταμία, ie (land) 'between the rivers', today's Iraq,] which was and is Semitic. Out there the Babylonian sun god Šamaš was the common Akkadian name of the sun god in both Babylonia and Assyria.

[the everlasting relationship between Persia and Mesopotamia, ie Iran and Iraq, continues today with both exchanges and wars we all know ...]

B. Such process reached a second larger syncretism in Asia Minor [Μικρά Ασία or Aνατολή: today's Turkey] when the Persian empire collapsed under the conquest by Alexander the Great – Μέγας Ἀλέξανδρος – in 330 BC. From that moment Mithraism became hellenized and especially romanized in terms of Platonic philosophy (the Greeks had suffered too much because of the Persian wars to fully embrace Mithraism.)

Mithra – see picture below – who slays the cosmic bull to generate life: from its blood sprang grain and grape, from its sperm the animals etc. With Hellenism he became the Platonic rational creator (demiurge) of the universe as we can read in Plato’s Timaeus – something to peruse to better grasp.

We’ll see all this in the next post. I’ll try to find inspiring passages, we need inspiration to understand.

Mithra about to slay the cosmic bull and to create the universe ... (click for credits and to enlarge)

Any Survivals of the Sun God?

While walking back home, while seeing roads in this city, statues, churches, inscriptions I’m starting to decipher a little bit better, I am asking myself:

Has this god of light & sun [θεός του φωτός και του Ήλιου] left traces or is he totally disappeared?

Well, you’ll be amazed by the list of survivals concerning the Western and Eastern mind I’ve prepared for you.

Just wait to delve a bit into the fascinating mythology, cosmology and worship of Mithraism!

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