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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

Western Values, Again (2)

Posted on

Relativism, Yes

The commentator thus commented my first comment to Rob’s post, saying: “Was the above (specifically regarding our values versus terrorists) a defence of moral equivalism?”. Well – apart from endorsing Islamic terrorism, which of course I don’t – if being a relativist means (as I think it means) not believing in absolute truths valid forever and outside any historical and social context, yes, I am a convinced relativist. Also democracy to me is relative (I can see many readers jumping up in their chairs).

Separation of state and religion, ok, I like it a lot, but this is not enough to proclaim our superiority over other civilizations (such as the Islamic) plus why should secularism be an absolute truth? As regards democracy, it doesn’t seem in my view the ideal solution for some people, plus it is not granted, as many analysts now start to recognize, that economical growth automatically will lead to more democracy. The case of Russia and China is often indicated as instructive from this point of view. And I believe it really is.

This reminds me when all the world applauded (me included) when Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev started to swiftly democratize the Soviet Union. At the same time all the world protested (me included) when the Chinese students asking for more democracy (hence imitating the Russians) were crushed by the military in the Tien An Men Square in 1989 (watch above a famous movie regarding that tragic episode).

But then, what the heck has happened? Who the heck was right? The Russians (who accelerated democracy) or the Chinese (who hindered it because they thought it would tear down a country of 1.5 billion people)? I have lived almost one year in Russia (in the year 2000) and I have witnessed the almost TOTAL collapse of a society and all the terrible consequences that ensued (this country now pulling itself together thanks btw to its new Caesar, or Tzar, Mr. Putin: can this be by mere chance?).

I know Anglo-Saxons are very sensitive about this democracy thing. They use it as a propaganda weapon, not many doubts about it, but there is something deeper. If democracy was invented by the ancient Greeks, only the British and the American people in modern times were capable of creating truly great democracies (plus, isn’t the Indian democracy – the biggest in the world – somewhat derived from Great Britain as well? I hope Falcon won’t be upset ;-) ).

We admire the Anglo-Saxons for what they have achieved, for this great contribution and influence in all this. But if they do not really try hard to understand the rest of the world, especially those very old civilizations so different from theirs (and ours), and if they do not get out of their mental schemes, I am afraid their decline (and ours, unfortunately) will be swifter than expected. They (especially the Americans) cannot expect they can export their political solutions (that took so many centuries to develop, from Magna Charta on) to totally different historical and social environments (like Iraq or Afghanistan) which might embrace these solutions in the long run, who knows, although it is not granted at all, I am sure it is not granted at all, not many doubts about it. In any case, I am for democracy, that’s for sure. I just wanted to add some elements of reflection.

The Ugliest of Tyrannies

I know almost nothing about Professor Norman Geras’ thought but in your quotations, Rob, he condemns the:

“apologists for terrorism, the mumblers and rootcausers, the people seemingly capable of understanding everything except the need for drawing a clear line between those who uphold the politics of democracy and those dedicated to their destruction. The left today …is a loose movement which is able … to mobilize … to oppose conflicts fought by the Western democracies against the ugliest of tyrannies and/or reactionary social and political forces…”.

Well, first of all I do not consider myself belonging to the left any more, hence many things he says here and elsewhere do not regard me much; secondly, I see in his words some hypocrisy, sorry to say that, exactly like in Tony Blair’s words (but I may be wrong and I’ll try to read more of his writings).

The thing is I am not blaming America for being a superpower and for fighting (sometimes badly, I’ll admit) for her interests. I love and admire America. And I believe she is a true democracy. But – as I said – I also believe that empires and powers (such as the Romans, the Turkish Ottomans, the Victorians, the USA etc.), are not ruled mainly by idealism or ethics; they are rather ruled most of all by Realpolitik, namely by practical considerations regarding their interests.

So, according to Norm, as you call him, am I an apologist of terrorism if I say that a democracy like America now says she fights against “the ugliest of tyrannies” (it is still to be proven for which reasons) while, at the times of Henry Kissinger, she fought for “the ugliest of tyrannies” (Greek colonels, ruthless dictators all over South America etc.)?
My opinion is that this passage by Norm is a bit abstract and apologetic, not to mention a few apparent doses of historical amnesia.

All the best,

Man of Roma

Pleasure in Craft. The Germans

Germany. Cologne Cathedral. Creative Commons License

The Germans like to do things well and feel pleasure in their craft. It comes out in everything they do. They are far away from the utilitarian attitude typical of the Anglo-Saxon, who works hard but most of the time has practical goals in mind, money and commerce being not seldom among them.

We will not mention the somewhat revealing episode (I do hope I recall well) of Heinrich Heine – one of the greatest German Romantic poets – and his totally puzzled reaction the first time he visited London in the first half of the 19th century, such a great city London (at that time the more powerful place in the world) though in his view an exclusively trade-oriented centre, which kind of disgusted him.

Neither we want to get much into the concept that concentrating so often on practical stuff only, while it can surely provide tremendous intervention power (it really does) it can nonetheless narrow human experience, which presents a much richer potential.

Pretty nice opposition, the German and the British, providing such a complicated insight on the German soul of Europe (not only the German soul, but I do not want to be repetitive). An opposition that has undone Europe. Well, ok, today we won’t plunge into that.

Here just 3 examples that can illustrate what we mean about the Germans.

Computer Bild Logo

I. Minimum ex. ComputerBild, a PC magazine also translated for the Italian market. Inexpensive (only 1.5 Euros here,) highly reliable and rich with meticulous analyses, a small instance of handicraft devotion in a market, the publishing market, where garbage is increasingly dominating.

A 1999 Porsche 996 Carrera Cabriolet. Public Domain

II & III. Maximum exs. Cars made in Germany (above a 1999 Porsche 996 Carrera Cabriolet, picture taken from here) or the outstanding Deutsches Museum in Munich, Bavaria (Museum of Masterpieces in Science and Technology).

As for the third example, apart from the term Museum of masterpieces that already implies a lot, at the DM practically everything – from small-scale models to entire huge reconstructions (i.e. reconstructions of underground coal mines and all the technology involved) – has been fondly manufactured in touching laboratories where artisans, some of them advanced in age, work(ed) with so much devotion and amore. Of course, models are one thing, real machinery – small and enormous aeroplanes, entire ships etc. – another totally (and impressive) thing at the Deutsches Museum.

Deutsches Museum. Germany. Munich

Well, what is incredible here is that almost any kind of machine, plus theoretical (and factual) models so various, plus tons of other astonishing stuff can be watched, analysed (and admired) in this awe-inspiring Institution, one of the best places in Europe for Science and Technology (maybe in the world? Well, American Science Museums and Science centres are pretty impressive too, but I am not capable of any useful comparison.)

Here, S&T are obviously seen as potent tools capable of diminishing hunger, making life easier etc. This of course is so important, do not misunderstand me. Nonetheless, S&T are also seen with a work-of-art approach involving the above-mentioned devotional attitude, which is a totally different thing. Yes, it is a totally different thing, I have little doubts about it.

It is this quality, among others, this pleasure of doing everything so well, that finally makes the Germans excellent engineers and, I would say, outstanding constructors of no matter what.

Two associative examples, if you please:

1) they are constructors of absolutely breathtakingly complex musical structures (where minds not well equipped can easily get lost, or bored, which is exactly the same thing.)
2) They are constructors of equally breathtakingly complex and sumptuous philosophical palaces, the deepest in the West (where one gets even more easily lost unfortunately.)

So, what the hell is their secret then? I do not know, why the hell do you think I know. Well ok, among other virtues, I might guess they are endowed with patience, calm and inflexible perseverance. Plus this great capacity of toiling (and suffering) in silence, an imprint of true force and indubitable courage.

PS
I wonder why India has always attracted me, though probably it is too late to seriously delve into that much diverse and impenetrable depth. The depth you find in the beautiful eyes of many Indian women, both terribly sweet and unfathomable, where I could really (and hopelessly) lose my mind…

Aishwarya Rai. Bollywood star. Fair use

The Neapolitans & the Quiet Shoemaker

The Italian musicologist Massimo Mila was from Turin (northern Italy, under the Alps) and adhered to the philosophical school founded by the Neapolitan Benedetto Croce. This school engendered a large number of solid intellectuals and dominated the Italian intellectual scene for more than half a century: Piero Gobetti, Antonio Gramsci, Nicola Abbagnano, Attilio Momigliano, Massimo Mila, Giulio Confalonieri ecc. this list being very long. Giovanni Gentile, another influent Italian philosopher of that period was instead Croce’s peer, and Sicilian.

[I told you the Neapolitan Greek cousins of Rome were full of surprises: wonder why they had excellent philosophers and why southern-Italy thinkers like Croce (and Gentile) had this special connection with the Germans.]

Mila, in his inspired Breve storia della musica (Einaudi 1963 p. 144,) writes about Johann Sebastian Bach, the greatest Western composer in my opinion:

“His immense musical production was put together with assiduous, methodical, quiet work, carried out with the scrupulous care of an artisan and conceived, without any pause, as service of God. Without any pause since, had Bach been a shoemaker, he would have made a boundless number of shoes to the great glory of God, all carefully crafted and finished off with scrupulous care”.

lupaottimigut1.jpg

Discussion with readers

Very interesting comments (in my opinion) have been made on this post on the Germans. If you click down on “comments” you’ll follow holistic discussions among two lovely Indians and Man of Roma. Ashish especially, a young gifted man, and Poonam, a woman who talks little but whose words have weight.

Discussion about what?

Well, about: Bollywood, India, Europe, America, the UK, WW1, WW2, Europe’s decline, German tremendous virtues, Indian women’s eyes, China, Cindia, Great Britain’s awesome success, highly refined & beloved France, Hitler’s folly and death in a bunker, Hitler’s perverted sadism, Hitler’s evil psychological seducing powers, German tragedy, Italian Comedy, Mussolini and Fascism. Mussolini, his balls & his petty calculations, comparisons among the British the Germans the Russians the Romans (of course,) the French, the Spaniards. Plus Elisabeth I, Shakespeare & the Spanish Armada defeat, Russia invading Germany thirsty for blood, Tolstoy’s War and Piece greatness, Napoleon, the Brits’ greatness in some ways similar to the Romans’ greatness, the UK as Europe’s trojan horse, and much much more.

One friend of mine just said: “This is crazy!”

I provided no answer.

UNESCO World Heritage LIMES logo

PS
Let us first enjoy this J.S. Bach’s Toccata und Fuge BWV 565 played by Hans-Andre Stamm on the famous Trost organ in Waltershausen, Germany (have a look here). It is a very famous piece of music and I’d prefer other ones by Bach. But it is good for starting to appreciate a totally new spiritual world of sounds. Most of the time Toccatas are not as deep as Fuges.
Up to you to guess which is which.

Let us finally compare the majestic piece linked above with this electric-guitar improvisation by Lonn, a refined French man and guitarist of Towersound French band. He’s improvising on the above Toccata only, though improvisations being tricky, up to you to figure out if he sticks to the Toccata only.

Two last things. A. I met this French band just now on YouTube, so I do not know their value (the impro seeming to me decent enough though, and the French accent of the player absolutely delightful). B. Purists to me are morons. They absolutely have no home in my virtual Neverland.

Italian version
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