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Obesssion and balance in creativity. Greeks’ and Romans’ Golden Mean (& Paolo Buonvino’s, a Sicilian composer.) Dialectics (5b)

diary

Read the original non pruned post and discussion.

Draft. Pictures might be changed /added.

Notice. I’ll stop posting until April 23rd. Easter reflection (a notion you can expand chez Tarot psychologique.)

ψ

James Evershed Agate (1877 – 1947), British diarist and critic, once wrote:

“Now that I am finishing the damned thing I realise that diary-writing isn’t wholly good for one, that too much of it leads to living for one’s diary instead of living for the fun of living as ordinary people do.”

What is said above applies equally to blog-writing / writing tout court since, when dealing with passions the challenge is always the right measure.

The ancient Romans developed the fine art of cuisine so that the delights of life were augmented, but there was undeniably gluttony in some milieus.

I remember that, much younger, I stopped composing music since it had become an obsessive pastime that basically swallowed me up.

Life should be harmonious. A single part should not devour the rest (as Benedetto Croce, master of harmony, reminds us.)

Benedetto Croce

Benedetto Croce (1866 – 1952), filosofo italiano

Christopher: You wrote: “Life should be harmonious. A single part should not devour the rest”
If everyone lived according to this precept there would be no civilisation and we would all be living short and brutish lives.

MoR: “Hard to say, although my post regards happiness more than creativity in the arts & sciences. Besides, creativity seems related to both balance and unbalance (take Vincent van Gogh etc.).

You possibly suggest that big creators lived disharmony in their life. Frank Lloyd Wright devoted *most* of his time to architecture, Einstein to physics etc.

Ok, but one has to see how these people actually spent their days.

I remember a Roman top advertising agency, at the end of the 80′s, where extremely well-paid copywriters and art directors were walking around in robes and were sunbathing on an elegant terrace overlooking the Parioli district’s skyline (where the rich and famous live, or lived).

I was puzzled at first because these creativi seemed to do everything except what they were paid for. The agency’s output was though brilliant and rivalled Milan’s creativi (the best we’ve got in this country).

One often needs quiet and relaxation to produce ideas, which suggests ‘balance’.

Moving to bigger examples, Beethoven’s music conveys to me the image of ​​an unhappy person.

There are many elements of anger, of obsession, in his music. His life was almost certainly disharmonious: Beethoven’s father was an alcoholic; Karl, the composer’s nephew, whose custody Beethoven had obtained, attempted suicide. And so forth.

Johann Sebastian Bach aged 61 (1685 – 1750). Click for source

Johann Sebastian Bach aged 61 (1685 – 1750). Click for source

 

Bach’s music on the contrary (with its powerfully abstract architectures that unfold like a majestic river flowing) is much more enriching consoling, imo, and well fits the image of ​​the patient German artisan, whose methodical, quiet work was conceived as a service to God. Bach was a musician but also a good Christian, a good father, a good husband and a good teacher – which suggests harmony of life.

Which doesn’t mean many breakthroughs weren’t the product of unbalanced lives. The commonplace of the deranged genius is more than a commonplace imo, though it’s not my post’s point.

Cheri: “Your point is well taken. My grandfather always told me that moderation is the key to a balanced and contented life.”

MoR: “Hi Cheri! I like roots (as you probably like your Jewish or whatever roots), this blog being a search for roots from a past that, I believe, is still working on us Latins, though not only on us.

Enjoying the pleasures of life without excess, drinking without getting drunk, a life outside compulsions or obsessions – I am often obsessing / obsessed – is not only wise, it is part of a lifestyle, and an element of grace.

To me this is particularly evident in the French, the Latin people I possibly love most.

Neapolitan Benedetto Croce, ‘master of harmony’ …

Incidentally, the Olympian beauty seeping through his works is probably of Hellenic origin, and, like the Hellenic miracle arose from formidable difficulties (if we may compare a huge thing to a small one) Croce’s serene attitude and sharp mind came at a hard price: at 17, on vacation with his parents and his sole sister, their house being wiped out by an earthquake he barely survived and remained alone.

Claudia (my daughter): “Croce’s picture doesn’t exactly conjure up Hellenic beauty!?!?”

Potsoc: “I agree with Cheri. Many creators were, indeed, unhappy people but as many had a relatively simple and happy life. The examples given speak by themselves.”

MoR: “Someone must have already done it, Potsoc le Canadien, but it’d be interesting to systematically analyse the biographies of creators (in both arts & sciences) in search of a correlation between creative intelligence and lifestyles.

My post was more about the gratification from a life with nicely distributed, non compulsive, activities, but one can blabber a bit and wonder if Balzac, for example, was compulsive in his writing.

He may have been, but his work – so vital, energetic & rich with an immense number of vividly depicted characters – suggests a life not spent exclusively on a desk with a pen in his hand.

A correlation between scientists’ lifestyles and their innovation level seems much harder to establish. They (seem to me to) reveal less about themselves.

ALL this, in any case, is a-blowing in the wind, Paul.”

Potsoc: “I guess nobody wrote a Ph.D thesis on the subject and I will not write it.”

MoR: “Ah ah ah, right Paul :-) Getting stuffy, I know.”

Sledpress: “The need for quiet and mental space in which to be creative can’t be denied, but does that support an argument against being too obsessional as a creative person?

I can only write fiction (or songs, or music) when I’m in an obsessional fugue, and it is bitter for me, because I want to have at least something of a life otherwise — probably few people are willing to have their spouse or friend snarl “GO AWAY!” should they be so unfortunate as to come ask about dinner or the water bill when one is creating.

But if I put the chisel down, it’s cold when I pick it back up, and what I wrote mocks me. (Blog posts and so on don’t count; those are five finger exercises.) I can’t start the fire again if I’ve let myself be jollied into putting it out so as to make nice on the rest of the human race. And if I don’t create something, who cares if I lived? It won’t matter.

I’ve already lost the thread of so many good ideas (maybe not lightning genius, but worth something) that I could spend the rest of my life in mourning, and for what in the end? People who really were only bored or wanted me to do them something. I vote for the obsessed people, myself.”

MoR: “You say, Sled:

“I can only write fiction (songs, music) when I’m in an obsessional fugue, and it is bitter for me, because I want to have at least something of a life otherwise …”

“If I don’t create something, who cares if I lived? It won’t matter”

Well, if creation & obsession necessarily go together with us, and creativity is our top priority, let us embrace obsession, why not.

Besides, obsession, as far as I can tell, may produce compellingly emotional results etc.

As for my experience, the insignificant (though much important to me) things I have written or composed were produced in both situations: within a quiet, balanced routine of life; or via obsession, pain, sacrificing the rest.

I sometimes think that, had I more discipline, I’d be able to kill two birds with a stone and reach a synthesis.

Paolo Buonvino 001

What I mean, I’m witnessing an example of creative discipline in my neighborhood, where a certain Paolo Buonvino is leaving a couple of blocks away from my home (it, en wikies.)

Italian from Sicily, conductor, composer of film scores, Buonvino’s music is extremely good, Sicilian-sunny and much appreciated. I exchanged a few words with him. He gave me some inspired advice on related-to-music stuff. Flavia and I have visited him once at his home.

In short, he’s the classic example of one who, compelled to compose scores at appalling speed, is nonetheless able to enhance productivity by finding the right breaks, walking about the rione, enjoying something at a bar (an ice-cream, a coffee, a cake) or watching trees or the sky on a park bench.

You see him around, always relaxed, a mobile at his ear, talking quietly with loads of people (this amazing ease with human relationships being typical of many Italian from the Mezzogiorno.)

So Paolo Buonvino, despite high productivity rates, manages to live quite well. A gift from heaven? Hard to say but some creative discipline should be taught when very young, I believe.”

Sledpress: “There is a trapdoor when someone has asked a creative person to produce something. I say this from experience.
Somehow it frees you to be both creative and human. I don’t know how this works. Only that knowing someone *wants* what you can create substitutes for the energy that otherwise only comes from obsession and a sort of rage against the people who don’t understand why you are working so hard to produce a composition or poem or story, however minor.”

Potsoc: “I moderate a group called “Imaginations”, each week we meet around a theme, different each week, and we write a short piece on the week’s theme that we will read to the group the following week. It’s much fun…and work but we all enjoy it and it has been going for most of ten years with a core of 5 steady participants and another 5 or 6 that come and go.”

MoR: “Sledpress, Paul, you two imply that creating for someone ‘waiting’ for your production can release the pressure?

I agree, an act of communication, then, almost always good. When I was writing the Manius so-to-say novel my motivation were you, the bloggers of my circle, ‘waiting’ (so I felt) for each new installment and the resulting fun, as Paul says, the jokes that we shared etc.

When a publisher told me one day that he was interested, the magic vanished. I tried to continue, but felt only the obsession (plus depression for my failure, lack of discipline.) I quit writing.

Potsoc: “Being approached by a publisher is an altogether other proposition, I agree. Sharing with friends is just plain fun.”

Sledpress: “Yes! You are touching on something that I meant.
If a publisher dangled money in front of me I might still be motivated. Because money is something squeezed out of one’s bloodstream (unless one is one of the one-per-cent who wallow in it), so it is like enthusiasm.

However the biggest fun was an experience like yours, of people hanging on for the next installment to find out what happened!!!

Stephen King writes of something like this in his classic novella “The Body” which became the film Stand By Me.

The pathetically young kid with the gun in this clip — earlier the film shows him telling stories around a kids’ camp fire with everyone asking him what comes next, what comes next. King later called this “the *gotta.*” “I gotta find out what happens.”
I miss having people who cared about that, which happened to me for five minutes.”

MoR: “You’ve said, Sled:

“the biggest fun was an experience like yours, of people hanging on for the next installment to find out what happened!!!
I miss having people who cared about that, which happened to me for five minutes.”

When was that and where? Can we reach it?”

Sledpress: “Oh, that was my silly detective novel, an inner circle read every chapter as I wrote it — the way Dickens used to work, releasing installments before the story was all set down. Then as I wrote, with caricatures of everyone who is politically active around here, I looked forward to the public consternation it would cause, another incentive.

And oh yes, I made it look as if the author was a local newspaper editor who had been a real jerk to me a couple of times — it was easy to lift little quirks of style from his editorials. People pestered him about it for years.

It got one good review even. A lot of it is free.

Along the way it let me say and even discover a lot about my outlook on the whole “res publica”, the “public thing” that constitutes local political life, which both attracts and repels me — so many people trying to be important, yet actually doing important things despite their flaws. It is really the only thing I ever finished.

Everything else I ever did disappointed me and I threw it over or put it in the drawer, but I had people asking for this, so I had to finish it, amateurish as it may be. I wrote like hell for two months and was burned-out for two more but I wish I could do it again. Only I’m afraid to yell GO AWAY at the few friends I really have.”

MoR: “Wow. Quite a good review. I’ll read the book as soon as I can, or rather buy it (I also missed your poems over at your blog: my next comment)
In the meanwhile, a portion of the review, to the benefit of readers:

“Is this story (MURDER ACROSS THE BOARD by *******) of local interest? Sure. But the writing here is so good it is irrelevant. This is just as good a murder mystery as you will find anywhere, with a compelling story and clever writing to match. The story is truly twisted [...] and the murder-mystery here is fun and energetic. No one is who they seem in this fast read, and as the story unfolds, the plot rolls along like a freight-train. What may have started as a goof on some friends or a dig at local politics has turned into a clever, engaging page-turner.”

Sledpress: “Mind you, another reader said it was cliched and awful. Then again, the point was to throw every trope of gritty detective stories into a story about local politics. Looking back I thought it needed tightening, but I’ve always hugged that one rave review to my heart.
I’m editing the pseudonym in your comment just because it really did piss off a number of people, one of whom is a habitual troll, and I’d prefer they didn’t find this blog too easily.”

Sledpress: “Oops, I was on a dashboard when I wrote the above reply and thought we were talking on my page. Oh well — if you wouldn’t mind “asterisking” the author name. Trolls shouldn’t find you either. ”

MoR: “Well, there are good and there are bad reviews, always. Who the hell cares?
I have ‘asterisked’ the author’s name, as you asked me.
And, tell this troll I am ready here waiting.”

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)

Merry Christmas! Great German Music With the Humour of Mr Bean. Enjoy

The British comedian, actor and writer Rowan Atkinson. Click for credits and to enlarge. GNU Free Documentation License

I once wrote that good food will not be missing in our discussions, together with good music and plenty of delicious wine.

Ok, wine, I have in my hand, a good Primitivo di Puglia.
Good pasta, I’ve just had, Spaghetti al pomodoro con pecorino.

And music?

Watch and listen to THIS.

[Felt like paying a little tribute to the German culture and to the British humour – delightful but irreverent sketch, Paul notes below in his comment. Pretty nice contrast the Germans and the British, I’d add, so many little neuroses dividing this petty though adorable Europe…

… too much wine …]

Ψ

**Merry Christmas to ALL of you, dear readers!**

In Absolute Asymmetry I Want to Find Symmetry

The Chandos portrait, believed to depict William Shakespeare. Public Domain

Wittgenstein wrote in his diary in 1950:

“I cannot understand Shakespeare because in absolute asymmetry I want to find symmetry. It seems to me that his plays are huge sketches, not finished paintings, roughed out by one who, so to say, can afford to do anything. I can understand those who admire his art and call it the most sublime, but I don’t like it. I can then understand those who are left speechless in front of his plays, although it looks to me we misunderstand Shakespeare when we admire him in the same way for example Beethoven is admired.”

[Wittgenstein, Vermischte Bemerkungen, 1977 Suhrkamp Verlag Frankfurt am Main. Translation by ManofRoma]

Shakespeare and the Continent

While Austrian philosopher Wittgenstein ( 1889 – 1951 ) laments a lack of symmetry in Shakespeare’s art, it is well known how French Voltaire ( 1694 – 1778 ) commented on Hamlet and his author (the French original text first, then a translation by Man of Roma):

“Je suis bien loin assurément de justifier en tout la tragédie d’ Hamlet: c’est une pièce grossière et barbare, qui ne serait pas supportée par la plus vile populace de la France et de l’Italie. [...] On croirait que cet ouvrage est le fruit de l’imagination d’un sauvage ivre. Mais parmi ces irrégularités grossières, qui rendent encore aujourd’hui le théâtre anglais si absurde et barbare, on trouve dans Hamlet, par une bizarrerie encore plus grande, des traites sublimes, dignes des plus grands génies. Il semble que la nature se soit plue à rassembler dans la tête de Shakespeare ce qu’on peut imaginer de plus fort et de plus grand, avec ce que la grossièreté sans esprit peut avoir de plus bas et de plus détestable.” (qtd. from Voltaire, Francois-Marie Arouet. Oeuvres Complètes de Voltaire. Vol. IV. Paris, Garnier Freres, 1877-85. 501-502.)

“I am certainly very far from justifying in all Hamlet’s tragedy: it is an unrefined and barbarous play, that would not be tolerated by the meanest populace of France and Italy. We would believe that this work is the fruit of the imagination of a drunken savage. But among all these unrefined irregularities, which to this day make the English theater so absurd and barbarous, we find in Hamlet, by a yet greater oddity, sublime elements worthy of the greatest geniuses. It seems like nature had delight in collecting within Shakespeare’s head all that we can imagine of what is greatest and most powerful, together with what rudeness deprived of wit can contain of what is lowest and most repulsive”.

Hitler and a boy who might be Wittgenstein. Linz RoyalSchool in 1903. Public Domain

I will just add a note, the relationship between ‘the structure of a work of art’ and ‘the structure of the world’ seeming too complex a topic here. First of all I personally adore both Shakespeare and a lot of English poetry (it’s been a drug for me for really many years) although in my view – the view of a passionate dilettante – impeccably polished and musical English verses came out only from Alexander Pope on. What I mean is that this infallible taste for perfectly refined verses, which Latin writers (Italian, French etc.) seem to have almost innate but which originates from hard work as well, was attained by English and British poets only at a later time; or so it seems to me, problem probably being the pronunciation of some words changing over time which makes a few or numerous verses – even of John Milton, for example – poor in rhythm. This observation should be checked.

Italian version
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