Monday, November 30, 2009

Signs of Life: 40 Years of the New Order

 (On Sunday, the New York Times with unwonted liberality published an Op-Ed by Kenneth Wolfe, "Latin Mass Appeal." In the editorial, Wolfe reflects on the liturgical crisis of the last four decades, its origins, and Pope Benedict's support for the Tridentine Mass, which, with his imprimatur, is growing in popularity and visibility. These are my own anecdotal reflections on the New Order in the Church, its cultural implications, and the new signs of vigor that are challenging decades-old attitudes and hegemonies.)

In the foreword to his 1988 Gelebte Kirche: Bernanos (in English, Bernanos: An Ecclesial Existence), Fr. Hans urs von Balthasar wrote, "The flourishing of Catholic literature, which blossomed so splendidly with Bloy, Peguy, Claudel, and Bernanos during the first half of the century, seems to have left no heirs. We often regret this fact. But we have done very little to make our own what we have already been so richly given."

It is unfortunate that von Balthasar's statements should be so self-evidently true. Catholic Christians are ignorant of or alienated from the early 20th century renaissance of Christian thought. This alienation is parallel with a widespread ignorance of the root-and-branch sources of Christian culture. This ignorance is itself part of a wider cultural and historical amnesia, but there are concerted efforts to change this state of affairs. I intend to highlight a few of them.

Lay movements such as Communion and Liberation, the journals Communio, The Chesterton Review, and Second Spring (UK),  the new religious orders and institutes such as the Fraternity of St. Peter, Benedict the XVI's pontificate and his freeing of the classical Roman liturgy are all powerful spokes in the wheel of reform: all are working in some measure  for lasting renewal, renewal founded on the actual precepts of the Second Vatican Council and its call for resourcement. But what prevented the widespread success of the Council in the first place? Taking a look at the most deleterious after-events of the Council may give us some insight into our current situation and provide prescriptions for future action.

Perhaps the most arresting cultural effect of the bungled implementation of the Council was the rapid destruction of the classic Christian aesthetic: much that was beautiful was callously destroyed or altered, retaining, however, the cheap thrills of devotional kitsch. To my mind, it is not coincidental that the wells of Christian inspiration seemingly dried up at precisely the moment when the Roman Church began to abandon en masse its liturgical and artistic patrimony. In recent decades, we can claim very little of lasting liturgical value: no liturgical art, architecture, or music worthy of its subject matter. But there too we see some incipient dynamism: the University of Notre Dame School of Architecture is establishing itself as a leading institution for church architecture, and the new institutes and orders devoted to the classical liturgy are increasingly in need of new and larger churches to house their growing congregations. In music too, we see the gradual recovery and dissemination of Gregorian chant and Renaissance polyphony. That recovery and creative re-reception is necessary if we're to again have a native school of liturgical composition. 

The abandonment and repudiation of the classical liturgical patrimony doubtless did much to dry up inspiration, but the concomitant surrender of the educational and apologetic achievements of the past only exacerbated the crisis. In the early twentieth century, the Church, as Fr. Aidan Nichols put it, was a "presentation of truth, goodness, and beauty that was at once a powerful philosophy, a comprehensive ethic, and a vision of spiritual delight." The abandonment of a coherent and reasoned apologetics (pre-empted doubtless by the many doctrinal controversies that rendered the apologetic task largely moot) and the missed opportunity after the Council to renew and reinvigorate the philosophical life of the Church only weakened the Her appeal to men and women of genius. The parochial clergy, whose self-proclaimed task it was to interpret and implement the Second Vatican Council, seem, in retrospect, to have been willfully ignorant of the best currents of European and American Catholic thought and art: instead of attempting to leaven the minds of their parishioners with the best, they often chose the expedient and shallow, adopting music, theology, and architecture devoid imagination, beauty, and order: they served up theological pabulum and political ideology instead of the  thinkers and writers like Henri de Lubac, SJ, Hans Urs von Balthasar, Jean Danielou, SJ, Joseph Ratzinger, and our very own Dorothy Day (whose life and work seems to me to be the most striking evidence for the possibilities of renascence and vigor in the American Church).  

That they chose the easy way is not altogether surprising: an immediately fruitful and lasting reception of Vatican Two would have defied conciliar odds (councils are notoriously productive of schisms, heresies, and controversies); immediate optimism should have been disciplined by a strong statement of the challenges at hand. 

I hope that the efforts at reform, particularly the recovery of the classical liturgy, will spark a renascence of Christian artistry, but suppose that does not come to pass. Previous eras of the Church have been characterized only by stability, not by grandeur or sublimity. Extraordinary outbursts of creativity are fleetingly rare, and men do not live perpetually on the heights. While we hope for the future and the improvement of our estate, we should make every effort to preserve and generously disseminate the patrimony of our past. I believe the pontificate of Pope Benedict will be particularly decisive in this effort. 

All of the efforts of the great pre- and post-conciliar thinkers and actors were ordered towards recovering elements of Catholic life they thought had been overlooked or overlaid in the Tridentine Church: recovering the evangelical counsels for the laity and their transforming role in secular society and the indispensable centrality of the liturgy in the life of the Church and of the individual Christian. In short, the Council was indisputably a call to perfection and holiness in life, liturgy, and theology. That's our still task, a task admirably summed- up by Fr. Aidan Nichols, OP:  "What the Church can do today is to reform herself by repeating like a mantra the words 'only the best will do': the best intellectually, morally, aesthetically."

The Church must not settle down with what is merely comfortable and serviceable at the parish level; she must arouse the voice of the cosmos and, by glorifying the Creator, elicit the glory of the cosmos itself, making it also glorious, beautiful, habitable, and beloved. Next to the saints, the art which the Church has produced is the only real 'apologia' for her history. . . The Church is to transform, improve, 'humanize' the world --- but how can she do that if at the same time she turns her back on beauty, which is so closely allied to love? For together, beauty and love form the true consolation in this world, bringing it as near as possible to the world of the resurrection. The Church must maintain high standards; she must be a place where beauty can be at home; she must lead the struggle for that 'spiritualization' without which the world becomes the 'first circle of hell'.
 Joseph Ratzinger, The Feast of Faith, 124-125

Movie Review: Mon Oncle

Directed by Jacques Tati. 1958.

Mr and Mrs Arpel have really everything they want, they have achieved every success, everything is new in their house: the garden is new, the house is new, the books are new. And I think they need to be warned, somebody should definitely say to Mr Arpel: “Be careful, you should not forget a bit of humour! Your son is only nine and I think you should enjoy yourself and have a good time with him.” People think it is a message but it isn’t: one should be free to say to a man who is building a house “Be careful. It might be too well-built.”
- Jacques Tati

Creating and maintaining that personal tone is perhaps Tati’s greatest achievement in Mon Oncle. Like Playtime, Mon Oncle is not a hyper-intellectualized criticism of modernity. Nor is it an unsparing critique of consumerist habits. Rather it is a wistful look back at the world Tati knew and loved, and a quizzical, apprehensive look at the one he saw replacing it.  He sets up the contrast  no sooner than the opening credits, where the camera pans down the names which are neatly typed out on a neatly designed sign at the loud construction site of a new building. In contrast, the title card is a plain old street corner from Mr. Hulot’s town, with Mon Oncle scrawled on the wall in chalk. Dogs walk by and relieve themselves on the street lamp.





That image, however inglorious, is not a bad representation of Hulot's world. It has puddles, garbage, misshapen patches of grass, cracked stones, and yes, dogs do relieve themselves. It is a lived-in world and one that reflects what the people who live there do. Tati’s town was not built at once according to one master plan, but built and changed over many years as people came and went, as families grew and people passed on. Like his house, it many ad hoc solutions, little cribs, additions, and cheats to meet a new need without destroying what was there.



Sure, it is a rigmarole to get in, but what character it has! Mismatched shutters, mixed styles, hanging laundry, and so on. One wonders many people, how many generations worked on it. It reflects the characters of those who do, and who have, lived there. It is also, of course, Hulot’s home, filled with his friends and neighbors, so why would he want to live elsewhere?


Now the Arpel’s house is certainly a contrast to Mr. Hulot’s, but not so much in terms of outcome as of intent. Sure Hulot’s apartment building is inefficient, but it was not designed with the pretension of efficiency. The Arpel’s house is designed to be the pinnacle of modern style and efficient design. The house was built according to a plan, but a thoughtless, inhuman one. The building is simply not conducive for living. Take the kitchen for example, which looks like a cross between a dentist’s office and a NASA laboratory. It has every convenience, but it is cold and unwelcoming. The appliances buzz and whirr and crank. Even something as simple as a cabinet, which might have a gentle squeak as cabinets often do, instead has been engineered into a mechanical maw which nearly has Hulot’s hand for supper.

The yard is also quite a spectacle. It is large and walled off for privacy. It is the home of a ghastly fountain that only gets turned on for visitors and this touch most epitomizes the whole situation of the Arpels: they have all of this stuff that is not really for them. They have the fountain because it is supposed to impress others or display affluence. They have all of these conveniences and time-saving appliances, and what do they do with the time they save? They spend it on more time saving devices or they spend it away from their house. Have they really thought about what they would like to do, for its own sake? Of course none of what they do is bad, really, but it looks so silly because it is not done for any particular end. Look at the yard:



It is designed into many sections and cordoned off so you are only “supposed” to walk in certain areas. Why? Look at the picture above. In the scene, the party had to move from the other side of the yard to this side to sit down and eat, but there is no room because there is no other space sectioned off “for eating.” They have this big yard and cannot use it for what they want. In the scene depicted above, which may have presaged a similar scene in Playtime that uses cars instead of people, the characters walk around that little square like a circus line, amplifying the ridiculousness of the situation. We are glad to see later, when a dog gets loose at the party, the people running around trying to catch him. We want to say, “Yes, good! Go, run over the lines! It’s your yard, you can set the rules. Have fun in it and make a bit of a mess for once!”

Hulot’s brother in law works is a similarly sterile and highly polished, impersonal world. Trying to make Hulot more like himself, Mr. Arpel asks his boss to hire Hulot. The boss’ office looks like the lair of a James Bond villain, with ceilings so high they are out of sight, strange silver chairs, a map of the world in the back, and the boss sitting at an enormous desk. While in the office, Mr. Arpel phones Hulot to offer him the job, but wherever Hulot is, music is playing and Arpel cannot hear him. In a brilliant touch, Tati lets the music take over the soundtrack, and delightfully, it is as if Mr. Hulot’s world is pouring into that big and cold room, warming it and giving it life for the first time.  Of course the company is not up to any nefarious business like world domination and that is the point, why does it look like that? Why should someone's office, where someone works, be so uninviting? Even Arpel’s briefcase, which looked chichi at home when his wife neurotically dusted it, looks warm in such a hostile atmosphere.

Indeed it is atmosphere, specifically a personable one, that lies at the heart of Hulot’s world. The Arpel’s house, for all of its order, is in fact an order imposed upon them and not by them, and their house reflects their desire to live apart from others. (Recall that cursed, clanking, buzzer-operated fence that closes off their yard.) The human relationships are the heart of Hulot’s town, for better and worse. It is human incongruities that made it mismatched and imperfect, but also the desire of its people to live there, together, that kept it together. The combination of those two elements made it unique. The film’s title suggests what Tati’s quote about the film does: the desire to remind people who choose to live the “new way” to make the human component the heart of their endeavor. Hulot’s nephew is dreadfully unhappy at home. Quite simply, it is too clean and boring and more like living in a hospital ward than a home. When he goes out with his uncle, he rides on his bike amongst the townspeople (as opposed to riding past them in a car,) he eats jam-covered crullers with extra sugar, and plays pranks on people with other boys in the town. The boy’s classic prank, and a running gag throughout the film, is to whistle at someone as he approaches a pole in order to get him to turn around and look at you and thus crash into the pole. Towards the end of the movie, the boy’s father accidentally pulls the prank on someone and the boy grabs and squeezes his father’s hand in excitement as they try to sneak away. It is a beautiful little moment and we hope his father can learn from it.

We hope he learns what Mr. Hulot has taught us, that you have to be willing to make yourself a little vulnerable and go out and live with your neighbors. Sometimes you get splashed, covered in dust, or punched in the face, but that is probably better than having nothing happen at all, the same way the folksy little “town tune” is preferable to the silence of the Arpel household. Yet there is a certain wistful sadness to Mon Oncle, for just as surely as Mr. Hulot was moving away, the old world was passing. This theme is conveyed throughout the movie by cutting to a scene of construction workers tearing down an old building with pickaxes. The town is such a character this feels a surprisingly violent act, but we should not be too alarmed. It is not really the stuff we should be concerned about. Some change is normal, like Hulot’s little neighbor who is all grown up when he leaves. We should just make sure we do not get carried away with change just because it is novel and that we never forget the human element, the humour as Tati said; and in Mon Oncle Tati is not scolding or imploring us. The tone of Mon Oncle is not that of a self-righteous spokesperson crusading for a better world or an intellectual browbeating you into accepting his aesthetic philosophy. It’s more like your neighbor leaning over your fence as you  remodel your home and saying to you, “You’re going to add what? Really? Oh. . . Really?”

Sunday, November 29, 2009

Msgr. Albacete contra Christopher Hitchens



On a related bibliographic note, Dr. David Bentley Hart, an Orthodox theologian, has published a book, Atheist Delusions: The Christian Revolution and its Fashionable Enemies, to counter some of the claims made by the New Atheist authors. Dr. Hart was featured in the July/August volume of the Mars Hill Audio Journal, where he discussed his book and the New Atheism: the interview, however, is only available to subscribers.

(N.B. I cannot recommend the Mars Hill Journal highly enough: consistently high quality, it's worth the price of the subscription.)

Saturday, November 28, 2009

Thanksgiving (II)

In the spirit of Mr. Vertucci's list:

1) Gerard Manley Hopkins, Pied Beauty

Glory be to God for dappled things—
        For skies of couple-colour as a brinded cow;
            For rose-moles all in stipple upon trout that swim;
    Fresh-firecoal chestnut-falls; finches' wings;
        Landscape plotted and pieced—fold, fallow, and plough;
            And áll trades, their gear and tackle and trim.

    All things counter, original, spáre, strange;
        Whatever is fickle, frecklèd (who knows how?)
            With swíft, slów; sweet, sóur; adázzle, dím;
    He fathers-forth whose beauty is pást change:
 
      Praise him.

2)  Josquin des Prez, Ave Maria Virgo Serena



3) Willa Cather, Death Comes for the Archbishop

Father Latour's recreation was his garden. He grew such fruit as was hardly to be found even in the old orchards of California: cherries and apricots, apples and quinces, and the peerless pears of France--even the most delicate varieties. He urged the new priests to plant fruit tress wherever they went, and to encourage the Mexicans to add fruit to their starchy diet. Wherever there was a French priest, there should be a garden of fruit trees and vegetables and flowers. He often quoted to his students that passage from their fellow Auvergnat, Pascal: that Man was lost and saved in a garden.

He domesticated and developed the native wild flowers. He had one hill-side solidly clad with that low-growing purple verbena which mats over the hills of New Mexico. It was like a great violet velvet mantle thrown down in the sun; all the shades that the dyers and weavers of Italy and France strove for through centuries, the violet that is full of rose colour and is yet no lavender; the blue that becomes almost pink and then retreats again into sea-dark purple--the true Episcopal colour and countless variations of it.

4) Henri Matisse, The Plum Blossoms & Blue Nude II



 

5) Richard Wagner, Die Meistersinger von Nurnberg

Act 3






6) Dante, The Divine Comedy

Paradiso, Canto 33

O Light Eterne, sole in thyself that dwellest,
Sole knowest thyself, and, known unto thyself
And knowing, lovest and smilest on thyself!
That circulation, which being thus conceived
Appeared in thee as a reflected light,
When somewhat contemplated by mine eyes,
Within itself, of its own very colour
Seemed to me painted with our effigy,
Wherefore my sight was all absorbed therein.
As the geometrician, who endeavours
To square the circle, and discovers not,
By taking thought, the principle he wants,
Even such was I at that new apparition;
I wished to see how the image to the circle
Conformed itself, and how it there finds place;
But my own wings were not enough for this,
Had it not been that then my mind there smote
A flash of lightning, wherein came its wish.
Here vigour failed the lofty fantasy:
But now was turning my desire and will,
Even as a wheel that equally is moved,
The Love which moves the sun and the other stars.


7)  Johann Sebastian Bach, Cello Suites

Suite No. 1 Prelude



8)  John Constable, Wivenhoe Park




9) James Boswell, Life of Johnson

BOSWELL. 'Pray, Sir, did you ever play on any musical instrument?' JOHNSON. ' No, Sir, I once bought me a flagelet ; but I never made out a tune.' BOSWELL. A flagelet. Sir! — so small an instrument''? I should have liked to hear you play on the violoncello. That should have been your instrument.' JOHNSON. 'Sir, I might as well have played on the violoncello as another ; but I should have done nothing else. No, Sir ; a man would never undertake great things, could he be amused with small. I once tried knotting. Dempster's sister undertook to teach me ; but I could not learn it.'


10) Giovanni Palestrina, Missa Papae Marcelli

Kyrie





Ton Koopman on the Cantatas of Bach


Friday, November 27, 2009

John Finnis on Secularism

When I began this blog, I conceived it primarily as a forum (for Mr. Vertucci and myself and our readers) for 'theoria' as I called it. There are too many blogs concerned with the rather sordid business of practical politics: such blogs no doubt serve their purpose, but for myself, I enjoy an elevated discussion, one that can embrace theology, philosophy, political and economic history, and other relevant branches of human thought and endeavor. 

This blog, like a good many others, exists to raise the tone of discussion and highlight important thinkers and creators. To that end, I'd like to bring to attention an intriguing lecture by Dr. John Finnis.

Dr. Finnis is a leading proponent of the New Natural Law Theory. Among his former students is the distinguished Princeton philosopher Robert George (whose recent involvement in the Manhattan Declaration has stirred up discussion and interest in my own parish). Dr. George, like Dr. Finnis, is Roman Catholic, and since I have recently been occupied with reading the social encyclicals of the Roman Church (including Pope Benedict's Caritas in Veritate), I've spent some time familiarizing myself with the various strains of Catholic political thought, both in this country and in Europe. The New Natural Law Theory is certainly one of the more interesting, but until I spend some more time reading and digesting it, I'll refrain from comment. Mr. Vertucci is an astute reader of St. Thomas Aquinas and of political philosophy in general will doubtless have much to contribute to the discussion.

I hope, in the future, to expand my discussion and commentary on the various strains of Christian political thought. I'm very interested in recent developments in the Catholic Communio circle (represented by David Schindler and Tracey Rowland), the Anglican Radical Orthodoxy Movement, and of course, the Natural Law Theorists.

Around the Web

For the week of Saturday, November 21 through Friday, November 27.

1) In Spiked Online, Frank Furedi on education:
Education needs to conserve the past. As Arendt argued, conservatism, in the sense of conservation, is of the essence of education. Her objective was not to conserve for the sake of nostalgia, but because she recognised that the conservation of the old provided the foundation for renewal and innovation. The characterisation of conservation as the essence of education can be easily misunderstood as a call inspired by a backward or reactionary political agenda. However, the argument for conservation is based on the understanding that, in a generational transaction, adults must assume responsibility for the world as it is and pass on its cultural and intellectual legacy to young people.
2) In the WSJ, Alexandra Mullen reviews, "Mr Langshaw's Square Piano" by Madeline Goold.

3) From Pope Benedict's meeting with artists in the Sistine Chapel on Saturday:
"Beauty ... can become a path toward the transcendent, toward the ultimate Mystery, toward God," Benedict said.

"Too often. . . the beauty thrust upon us is illusory and deceitful. . . it imprisons man within himself and further enslaves him, depriving him of hope and joy," he said.

"Faith takes nothing away from your genius or art," he said. "On the contrary, it exalts them and nourishes them."

Amongst the other guests were Iraqi-born British architect Zaha Hadid, whose Maxxi modern art museum has just opened in Rome, and F. Murray Abraham, the American actor who won an Oscar for his role as Salieri in the Mozart film, Amadeus, in 1985.
4) In City Journal, 1919: Betrayal and the Birth of Modern Liberalism.

5) At last someone (Gene Healy at the Cato Institute) has said it, "Obamacare" is unconstitutional:
In answer to the question "by what authority?" Reid's bill offers the Commerce Clause — the go-to provision for friends of federal power. That clause gives Congress the power "to regulate Commerce ... among the several states."
It was a modest measure designed to regularize cross-border commerce and prevent interstate trade wars — so modest, in fact, that Madison described it in the Federalist as a clause that "few oppose, and from which no apprehensions are entertained." [Federalist 45]
The Founders would have worried more had they known that the Commerce Clause would eventually become a bottomless fount of federal power. In 1942's Wickard v. Filburn, the court held that the Commerce Power was broad enough to penalize a farmer growing wheat for his own consumption on his own farm.
That farmer, Roscoe Filburn, ran afoul of a New Deal scheme to prop up agricultural prices. The fact that he wasn't engaged in interstate commerce — or commerce of any kind — was quite beside the point. If "many others similarly situated" engaged in the same behavior, it would substantially affect interstate commerce, and frustrate Congress' designs.

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Thanksgiving

Now fear not, I do not intend to make list-writing a habit here, but in light of the time of year I thought it appropriate to share with you some things I am grateful for. This may shed some light on the character of your humble blogger and also offer a foretaste of topics to come here at APLV. This year I thought I would focus on a particular topic: art.

In no particular order:

1) Horace, Ode 2.3
Aequam memento rebus in arduis
seruare mentem, non secus in bonis
  ab insolenti temperatam
    laetitia, moriture Delli,
seu maestus omni tempore uixeris,
seu te in remoto gramine per dies
  festos reclinatum bearis
    interiore nota Falerni.
Quo pinus ingens albaque populus
umbram hospitalem consociare amant
  ramis? Quid obliquo laborat
    lympha fugax trepidare riuo?
Huc uina et unguenta et nimium breuis
flores amoenae ferre iube rosae,
  dum res et aetas et sororum
    fila trium patiuntur atra.
Cedes coemptis saltibus et domo
uillaque flauus quam Tiberis lauit,
  cedes et exstructis in altum
    diuitiis potietur heres.
Diuesne prisco natus ab Inacho
nil interest an pauper et infima
  de gente sub diuo moreris,
    uictima nil miserantis Orci.
Omnes eodem cogimur, omnium
uersata urna serius ocius
  sors exitura et nos in aeternum
    exsilium impositura cumbae.
Translation and notes by Michael Gilleland.

2) Mozart's Le nozze di Figaro:

Act III: Riconosci in questo amplesso


3) Les vacances de Monsieur Hulot. Directed by Jacques Tati. 1953.



4) The Lord of the Rings by J. R. R. Tolkien
It was said to me by Elrond Halfelven that I should find friendship upon the way, secret and unlooked for. Certainly I looked for no such friendship as you have shown. To have found it turns evil to great good.' – The Two Towers
Suddenly the king cried to Snowmane and the horse sprang away. Behind him his banner blew in the wind, white horse upon a field of green, but he outpaced it. After him thundered the knights of his house, but he was ever before them.  Éomer rode there, the white horsetail on his helm floating in his speed, and the front of the first éored roared like a breaker foaming to the shore, but Théoden could not be overtaken. Fey he seemed, or the battle-fury of his fathers ran through him like a god of old, even as Oromë the Great in the battle of the Valar when the world was young. His golden shield was uncovered, and lo! it shone like and image of the Sun, and the grass flamed into green about the white feet of his steed. For morning came, morning and a wind from the sea; and darkness was removed, and the hosts of Mordor wailed, and terror took them, and they fled, and died, and the hoofs of wrath rode over them. And then all the host of Rohan burst into song, and they sang as they slew, for the joy of battle was on them, and the sound of their singing that was fair and terrible came even to the City. – The Return of the King

5) Cyrano De Bergerac by Edmond Rostand
'Behold the nose that mars the harmony
Of its master's phiz! blushing its treachery!'
--Such, my dear sir, is what you might have said,
Had you of wit or letters the least jot:
But, O most lamentable man!--of wit
You never had an atom, and of letters
You have three letters only!--they spell Ass!
And--had you had the necessary wit,
To serve me all the pleasantries I quote
Before this noble audience. . .e'en so,
You would not have been let to utter one--
Nay, not the half or quarter of such jest!
I take them from myself all in good part,
But not from any other man that breathes!
[Translated by Gladys Thomas and Mary F. Guillemard]

6) Homer's Iliad.
Book I
Down on the ground
he dashed the scepter studded bright with golden nails,
then took his seat again. The son of Atreus smoldered,
glaring across at him, but Nestor rose between them,
the man of winning words, the clear speaker of Pylos. . .
Sweeter than honey from his tongue the voice flowed on and on.
Two generations of mortal men he had seen go down by now,
those who were born and bred with him in the old days,
in Pylos' holy realm, and now he ruled the third.
He pleaded with both kings, with clear good will,
"No more–or enormous sorrow comes to all Achaea!
How they would exult, Priam and Priam's sons
and all the Trojans. Oh they'd leap for joy
to hear the two of you battling on this way,
you who excel us all, first in Achaean councils,
first in the ways of war.

Stop. Please.
Listen to Nestor. You are both younger than I,
and in my time I struck up with better men than you,
even you, but never once did they make light of me.
I've never seen such men, I never will again. . .
men like Pirithous, Dryas, that fine captain,
Caeneus and Exadius, and Polyphemus, royal prince,
and Theseus, Aegeus' boy, a match for the immortals.
They were the strongest mortals ever bred on earth,
the strongest, and they fought against the strongest too,
shaggy Centaurs, wild brutes of the mountains–
they hacked them down, terrible, deadly work.
And I was in their ranks, fresh out of Pylos,
far away from home–they enlisted me themselves
and I fought on my own, a free lance, single-handed.
And none of the men who walk the earth these days
could battle with those fighters, none, but they,
they took to heart my counsels, marked my words.
So now you listen too. Yielding is far better. . .
Don't seize the girl, Agamemnon, powerful as you are–
leave her, just as the sons of Achaea gave her,
his prize from the very first.
And you, Achilles, never hope to fight it out
with your king, pitting force against his force:
no one can match the honors dealt a king, you know,
a sceptered king to whom great Zeus gives glory.
Strong as you are–a goddess was your mother–
he has more power because he rules more men.
Atrides, end your anger–look it's Nestor!
I beg you, cool your fury against Achilles.
Here the man stands over all Achaea's armies,
our rugged bulwark braced for shocks of war."
[Translation by Robert Fagles.]

7) Beethoven's 7th Symphony

Allegretto

Wilhelm Furtwängler conducting The Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra

Allegro con brio

Otto Klemperer conducting the Philharmonia Orchestra of London.

8) 2001: A Space Odyssey. Directed by Stanley Kubrick. 1968

 

9) T.S. Eliot: Four Quartets

from No. 2, "East Coker"
You say I am repeating
Something I have said before. I shall say it again.
Shall I say it again? In order to arrive there,
To arrive where you are, to get from where you are not,
    You must go by a way wherein there is no ecstasy.
In order to arrive at what you do not know
    You must go by a way which is the way of ignorance.
In order to possess what you do not possess
    You must go by the way of dispossession.
In order to arrive at what you are not
    You must go through the way in which you are not.
And what you do not know is the only thing you know
And what you own is what you do not own
And where you are is where you are not.
Full texts of the poems.

 10) Mozart: Piano Concerto No. 25, KV.503

Allegro maestoso

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Remembrances: H. C. Robbins Landon and Elisabeth Söderström

Remembering two giants of the musical world: musicologist H. C. Robbins Landon (March 1926 - Nov. 2009) and soprano Elisabeth Söderström (May 1927 - Nov. 2009).
Obituary of the late Mr. Landon [The Guardian UK]
Obituary of the late Elisabeth Söderström [Times Online UK]
Jessica Duchen remembers them also at Standpoint Magazine.
In particular I would like to note and praise their many years of study and practice, the many solitary hours of combing through manuscripts or singing scales, that is, all of the thankless, often painfully slow work nonetheless required for such brilliant scholarship and performance.
J. Haydn.
Die Schöpfung, Part I: Die Himmel erzählen die Ehre Gottes
Herbert von Karajan. Wiener Philharmoniker.


Beethoven.
Fidelio, Act I: Mir ist so wunderbar
Elizabeth Gale, Elisabeth Söderström, Ian Caley, Curt Appelgren.
Directed by Bernard Haitink. Glyndebourne Festival Opera.

Monday, November 23, 2009

Movie Review: Amadeus (Part III)

This is part three of a three-part review of Milos Forman's Amadeus.
Part I | Part II | Part III

Now that we have discussed the relationships and arcs of the emotions in Amadeus we may discuss their significance.  Specifically for us, we want to know why they are ethically significant, what does Amadeus say is good and bad?

First, the structure of the film suggests that emotions have particular causes and relationships.  Feelings are not random, vague, inexplicable effusions of feeling but specific responses that either please or hurt us, and accordingly can affect our judgment.  Salieri does not decide to murder Mozart because he was slighted, such slights made him angry.  Salieri decides to kill him because Mozart’s existence gnaws at his soul.  Also, jealousy does not motivate Salieri to murder, such a weak feeling of jealousy could not motivate someone.  Envy can.

This may seem trivial, but think how many characters in films and television programs are simply caricatures, with their emotions indistinct and indefinite.  One might say, at best, that their emotion might fall somewhere around something called “jealousy,” but how many characters can you call to mind when you think of the word, “envy?”  Then, thinking of Salieri’s seething envy; how shallow does that “jealousy” seem?  This is not the “light” version of an emotion, this is an emotion in its purest and most elemental form.  It is only by having the characters pass from one distinct emotion through others, to its opposite that we appreciate the range and relationship of feelings.  

Aside from the structural relationships between the emotions, how do the emotions suggest ethics?  Foremost, morally positive emotions attend to happiness and morally inferior emotions lead to despair.  Mozart’s boastfulness only serves to alienate Salieri, and it should be obvious by now that Salieri’s host of emotions leads him down a dark path.  Let us examine him first.

Salieri is overwhelmed  by his emotions, which continually run away with him.  Running unchecked, his emotions degenerate from the positive (calmness, amity, kindness) to their opposites.  Unlike Mozart, Salieri is unable to channel his emotions into his music.  A moment that should have been his triumph, the premiere of Axur, his greatest opera, provides him no joy.  The fact that the emperor loves the piece is just another insult to Salieri, who realizes that even at the height of his powers he is no match for Mozart.  The emperor compounds the insult by awarding him a medallion, which he wears throughout the rest of the film as it becomes an ever-present reminder to the him and the audience of the composer’s mediocrity.  In contrast we see the premiere of Don Giovanni, an opera into which Mozart poured all of his genius, his creative energy, and his emotion, but instead of the great (and hollow) fanfare that Axur received, Don Giovanni is a flop.  Not only is the emperor missing but the house is half-empty and gives him a pitiful applause.  When Salieri turns around he looks directly at Mozart.  All that matters to him is Mozart’s appraisal of the work.  In contrast, Mozart is so carried away with giving his creation life that he can barely stand at the end of Don Giovanni.  Mozart is not awaiting anyone’s approval.  Where Salieri is still stuck in the conventions of the era, where Axur ends with the chorus singing gracefully and waving their little branches in the air, Don Giovanni ends with a chorus of devils waving torches.  (This is actually a bit of a trick on the part of Milos Forman, since Don Giovanni actually ends with another chorus that is a coda for the opera.  It is a just edit though, since the title character’s finale is a sufficient note to end on.  It is also a brilliant touch by Forman and Twyla Tharp, since the musical text of Don Giovanni does not specifically call for the devils or the fire, merely “deep voices.”)

We should also note that more reversals attend to the drama.  The opera that should be a flop is met with great fanfare.  The event that should be the height of Salieri’s career is of significance only in comparison to Mozart.  As Salieri’s emotions are degenerating to the unpleasant, his career reaches its height.  In contrast, the opera that should have been hailed is a disaster.   The event that should be the highlight of Mozart’s career is a flop.  As Mozart’s musical powers are that their height, his life is unraveling. Thus we see that while the more destructive emotions gain sway in Salieri, the significance of the events become much different.  The Salieri that would have rejoiced at having his favorite leading lady star in his best work and at receiving a prestigious award from the emperor fades away into the Salieri of envy. 

Yet Salieri’s faith and his war with God are at the center of his fall. Salieri clearly believes in a god, and he assumes two traits of this god that are relevant to his actions in the plot, 1) that this plays an active role in shaping our human affairs, and 2) that this god plays an active role in creating mankind, deliberately endowing us with certain traits.  One interpretation is that these two beliefs are what caused Salieri’s fall, and that if he believed that he and Mozart were not deliberately fashioned as they were, he might take some consolation in the randomness instead of feeling tested or punished.  Also, one might suggest that if Salieri did not believe a divine force was responsible for their talent, he might have attempted somehow to improve himself (perhaps even condescending to study with Mozart himself), rather than relying on divine intervention for success.  A more theological interpretation would be that Salieri erred in presuming to know the will of God, mainly that his vows were accepted.  Similarly, he erred in presuming to act as he desired (with the desire to becoming a musician) and trying to get what he wanted from God instead of acting to discover God’s plan for him. 

In great contrast to Salieri’s envy we have Mozart.  As an artist, fundamentally he is a creator, especially worthy of our praise because of the genius, joy, and brilliance of his work.  We overlooks his foibles and indiscretions because his powers are beyond ours and he can create what and as no one else can.  The act of giving life to something, Mozart’s creative acts are the perfect opposites to Salieri’s envy.  Mozart’s creative gift is an absolute good, and Salieri’s envy an absolute hatred of that good.  Mozart is the unwitting recipient of much evil by the end of the film, and particularly saddening ones at that.  He not only suffers death but illness and discord beforehand.  He suffers several misfortunes as two of his operas fail to bring him success and prosperity.  On his deathbed, he is deprived of enjoying the good when it finally comes (in the form of the profits of The Magic Flute and the knowledge that it was a success.)  Yet worst of all is that he suffers evil coming from a source from which good should have come, from the man who loved his music most of all. 

The final note on the ethics of Amadeus is that while our hero dies, his destroyer is punished and the greater composer’s music lives on.  Like in Don Giovanni, while the villain might have temporarily gained mastery of worldly matters, in the end supernatural power puts matters as it wishes.  While Don Giovanni killed the commander and outwitted his pursuers and Salieri killed Mozart and got away with it, powers beyond their control had the final say.  Don Giovanni was dragged down, Salieri was subjected to the slow torture of watching himself become extinct, and Mozart’s music is eternal.

Friday, November 20, 2009

Around the Web

For the week of Saturday November 14 through Friday November 20.

1) At City Journal, Theodore Dalrymple on Le Corbusier’s "baleful influence."
His ahumanity makes itself evident also in his attitude toward the past. Repeatedly, he talks of the past as a tyranny from which it is necessary to escape, as if no one had discovered or known anything until his arrival. It is not that the past bequeaths us problems that we must try our best to overcome: it is that the entire past, with few exceptions, is a dreadful mistake best destroyed and then forgotten. His disdain for his contemporaries, except those who went over to him without reserve, is total: but a stroll through the Parisian suburb of Vincennes, to take only one example, should have been enough to convince him, or anyone else, that right up to World War I, architects had been capable of building differently from, but in harmony with, all that had gone before. These architects, however, were not mad egotists determined to obtrude their names permanently on the public, but men content to add their mite to their civilization. At no point does Le Corbusier discuss the problem of harmonizing the new with what already exists.
2) From the magazine of the National Endowment for the Humanities, Meredith Hindley on The Imperial Scrolls of China.

3) In the Journal of Religion and Society, Paul Cliteur of The University of Leiden, Netherlands asks, What is Atheism?

Thursday, November 19, 2009

Joseph Haydn's "Missa in Angustiis" Part II

This is part two of a two-part essay on Joseph Haydn's "Missa in Angustiis." Part I.

8) Sanctus

The Sanctus is comprised of two parts, the first being an adagio of Sanctus Dominus Deus Sabbaoth. Haydn here achieves a gentle majesty for this most solemn part of the liturgy. A forzando, crescendo, and decrescendo on the first two repetitions of Sanctus create breadth and, starting on the third repetition, the strings pulsing out eighth notes on the beat creates an aura of stateliness. The third repetition is forte but the chorus quickly retreats to piano. The overall impression of this adagio is of an exuberance restrained by awe, a balance difficult to achieve, to say the least. Stephen Town is quite right to say:
The tempo here requires a very poised, deliberate pace, so that the three choral Sanctus invocations may unfold fully, and the ensuing orchestral material may attain its appropriate espressivo character. [1]
In D major and in 3/4 time the following allegro is of an exuberance far less restrained, although it retains a certain regalness. The text, pleni sunt coeli et terra, gloria tua, is repeated only twice before the chorus erupts into a flurry of Hosannas, dynamically contrasted with forte and piano markings.

9) Sanctus: Benedictus

This movement begins with just over 30 bars of orchestral prelude. Also in D minor, it brings back the martial quality of the Kyrie. Strophic in construction, the movement proceeds with the text (broken into two units: benedictus qui venit and in nomine domini), traded back and forth between a soloist and the tutti. The phrases take on different characters in their repetitions, forceful in its first appearance in the solo soprano, then quite gentle. In the third repetition, the alto soprano takes up the phrase, but the tension increases as the other soloists make their entrances on different measures. The fourth repetition is the same as the first, though the half-notes in the tutti on the Do- of Domini are replaced by rising and falling eight note figures in all but the tenors. The last repetition is a mix of the two sentiments with a preparation of the return of the martial atmosphere with the three-note trumpet figure. The tutti enters forte, followed by a heart-stopping chord forte from the orchestra, and an equally strong final repetition of in nomine domine from the tutti.

10) Sanctus: Osanna

This Osanna is contains the same material from the Osanna following the Sanctus.

11) Agnus Dei

The similarities between parts of this movement and other portions of this mass are significant and not due to any lack of originality. Rather the congruities serve to unify the parts of the mass by quoting its elements and focusing them around the concepts of Agnus Dei, qui tolis peccata mundi, and miserere nobis. 

12) Agnus Dei: Dona nobis

Where the last movement ends with only the soloists completing the personal plea dona nobis, here the chorus joyfully takes it up. As if being catapulted up, we hear a note on the timpani and then the altos enter forte in D, followed by the tenors, basses, and sopranos for a glorious choral fugue and finale.

III. Conclusion

Overshadowed by Bach, Mozart, and Beethoven's grand sacred pieces, I think the Missa in Angustiis is still relatively overlooked despite its conception in Haydn's prime. I have passed through several phrases in my opinion regarding this mass. I had much enjoyed it before studying it, grew to see it as in imperfect synthesis of classical era taste and the sacred tradition, and finally, now, enjoy a more nuanced appreciation. For example, no, the Kyrie does not call forth the supernatural, elemental forces that Mozart's do, and the terror of such things, but it does recall an earthly terror, perhaps that of a man who knew a besieged homeland and a war-torn Europe. The celebratory movements, e.g. the Gloria, Osanna, and Dona nobis balance an overflow of praise and enthusiasm with a wonder of that which is being praised.

To conclude our discussions as to whether this piece is a good mass as well as good music, we perhaps must draw one more distinction, that between creating a setting of a text, i.e. creating musical analogues for the words, and creating a text for liturgical use. Tovey noted this distinction comparing Bach's B Minor Mass and Beethoven's Missa Solemnis. [2] In the Missa in Angustiis, despite some particular themes I consider misplaced, we largely have a structure largely appropriate to a mass. It does not introduce the problem of scale that the Missa Solemnis presents us with, nor does it possess a movement, like the Sanctus of Bach's B minor mass, which is more of a setting than a liturgically-usable expression of the text. Overall, I think Rosen exaggerates in condemnation. Wherever classical era playfulness or Haydn's exuberance might have undesirably crept in, the Missa in Angustiis, with its turns terrifying, solemn, and exulting, is a glorious mass.



[1] Town, Stephen. Sacred Music. "Joseph Haydn's Missa in Angustiis" Volume 11, Number 2 (Summer) 1983.

[2] Tovey, Donald Francis. Essays in Musical Analysis Vol. V Vocal Music. "Essay CCVIII. Missa Solemnis, Op. 123." Oxford University Press. London. 1937.

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

After an involuntary sabbatical, I have made my return to Apologia pro literati vita. 

I'd like to thank my friend and collaborator, Nick, for doing solo duty. As I'm sure our readers can see, Nick has an admirable handle on several interesting subjects, and I myself am always eager to read his posts.

My own contributions may be thin for a time: I write chiefly in response or reaction to what I read, and my present reading material has not suggested itself as blogging material. Nevertheless, I shall endeavor to ferret out something original or spare.

Monday, November 16, 2009

Movie Review: Amadeus (Part II)

This is part two of a three-part review of Milos Forman's Amadeus
Part I | Part IIPart III

iii.    Pity to Indignation and Indignation to Pity

For the first half of the film, Mozart is not the most likable character.  He rolls around on the floor with his bride-to-be, he has a piercing cackle of a laugh, he is late to conduct his own piece of music, he composes a bawdy opera.  Mozart has a concerned (if not controlling) father who he disobeys, whereas Salieri’s father mocked his musical aspirations.  Yet while the viewer cannot really bring himself to dislike Mozart, whose brilliance, enthusiasm, and childlike nature balance his faults, we feel a sense of indignation that Mozart should be grateful for his fortunes, especially the good graces of the emperor.  Similarly, we feel pity for Salieri as his labors of love are continually outshone by the rising Mozart and as the young composer disrupts every aspect of Salieri’s life: his life at the court and his relationship with the emperor, his relationship with the Vienna’s prima donna, his own pride in his music, and his relationship with his god. Gradually, though, as Salieri’s emulation morphs into envy and his friendly feeling into enmity, Mozart instead becomes the object of our pity as he becomes the object of Salieri’s vengeance, and Salieri becomes the object of our indignation for the unjust control he wields over Mozart’s life. 

iv.    Confidence to Fear

Lastly, Mozart passes from mastery of his life into complete terror.  When he arrives in Vienna, he tells the lead composers of the imperial court that their tradition of Italian opera is rubbish and shows them up with a new work of his own making.   He complains of their stupidity and calls them “musical idiots” to the emperor’s chamberlain.  Mozart has the audacity to put on an opera set in a harem and then include a ballet in his opera.  He gets married without his father’s consent.  Slowly, as the other emotions of the film gradually give way to their opposites, Mozart’s confidence too gives way to its contrary, fear.  In the middle of the night Mozart is visited by a clandestine patron who commissions a requiem mass from him.  Cloaked in the costume his late father once wore, the figure terrifies the composer, who is haunted by his father’s relentlessly controlling nature years after the man’s death.  Mozart is terrified of every knock on the door.  One time out of fear he asks his wife to answer the door, although it turns out only to be his actor-friend.

The movie’s final scene unites all of these emotional reversals and amplifies them with reversals of plot.  The first of these is the premiere of The Magic Flute, which is a smash hit, a fact that should have brought Mozart great joy since his previous operas flopped.  He is denied this pleasure because he passes out at the harpsichord during the final act and misses the curtain call.  Next Mozart is taken home, where he should be safe to recuperate with his wife.  Not only is his wife absent, but it is Salieri who has taken him home and who remains with him.  Instead of being afforded comfort, Mozart is thrust into danger.  Then, when the actors drop by Mozart’s apartment with his share of the profits, an event would have eased Mozart’s mind is turned into a tool for his destruction, for Salieri tells Mozart it was not the actors but the man who commissioned the requiem.  Salieri then pressures Mozart to complete the mass, claiming the anonymous patron promised much money if the work is finished by the following day.  Thus instead of being eased by receiving the profits of his work, he is burdened to finish a work that is torturing him. 

When Mozart begins to dictate his final work to Salieri, all of the films emotional reversals are amplified.  The emotions that have degenerated into their opposites, will now return, but in a false form.   First, there is the irony that Salieri’s enmity for Mozart should be culminated in a collaboration.  Mozart went from being Salieri’s idol, to his rival, to his enemy, to his tool, and lastly his friend. We get a brief, sad glimpse at the partnership that might have been. Only the friendship is a false one.   Emulation has passed into anger and then to envy and then at last to false-friendship.  Second, at last Salieri begins emulating Mozart, but it is not a true emulation since he is merely copying Mozart’s work verbatim, a task he is barely capable of.  Emulation has passed into enmity and then into false emulation.  Third, that Mozart’s fear, while it should be at its greatest as he falls victim to Salieri, is ebbing because he trusts the man.  Thus Mozart’s confidence gave way to fear, which has given way to a false confidence now. 

The fact that this last scene is the final stage of the emotional arcs is amplified by the contrasting fact that the scene appears to be a happy and successful resolution.  It looks like Salieri is helping Mozart, it looks like Mozart has the money he needs and will get more. . . but none of this is true.  The opposite emotions have taken over, and the false ones fade away as the composer dies.

Of course, the only emotions that are not brought back in false-form are ours, namely those of pity and indignation.  Mozart, once triumphantly and joyfully conducting, is pale and dying on his bead with the villain magnanimously standing over him.  This unjust situation is magnified when Mozart utters his last words to Salieri, “forgive me.”  This is the last reversal, Mozart uttering the words that should have come from his murderer, and Mozart’s inability to grasp not only the gravity of his situation but all of the events leading up to it make us pity him and loathe Salieri even more since it reminds us how long and how completely Salieri was sabotaging him.

Part I | Part IIPart III

Saturday, November 14, 2009

Emotions!

I. Introduction

Book II of Aristotle's Rhetoric takes a rather lengthy look at the emotions, listing, describing, and differentiating them. In the context of rhetoric, a systematized approach is clearly useful to the speaker, who wishes to manipulate the emotions of the listeners to his advantage, and to the listener, who wishes foremost to consider the speaker's arguments. When is not an organized approach useful, though? While this may sound inordinately highfalutin, I only actually mean it is useful specific definitions for what you are talking about. It seems to me we have a tendency when discussing matters, emotions in particular, and whether in the context of personal reflection or of analyzing a drama, to be vague. We say mad when we mean angry, jealous when we mean envious, sad when we mean pitiable, funny instead of ironic, satirical, or farcical, we use tragedy to mean anything bad, and happy to cover virtually any positive experience.

In light these frequent misconceptions, vagaries, and verbicides, I thought it would be fruitful to take a look at Aristotle's study, if not necessarily toward any other end than to ensure we use the proper word on a given occasion. One need not agree with each specific categorization, but I think it would prove a fruitful exercise to explore the nuances and differences of these concepts that often get lumped under broad categories.

II. The Emotions of Book II of Aristotle's Rhetoric (sections 1378a - 1389a)

Emotion - feelings that change men so as to affect their judgments and are attended to by pain or pleasure.

1) Anger - an impulse accompanied by pain to a particular revenge for a particular slight directed unjustifiably toward what concerns self or one's friends.
Slighting - an actively entertained opinion of something of no importance, including
a) contempt - contempt for the unimportant
b) spite - thwarting the wishes of another solely to deprive him of something
c) insolence - shaming the victim for pleasure
2) Calmness - the quieting of anger. Felt towards those who:
- do not slight us or do so only involuntarily
- intended the opposite of what they did
- treat themselves as they treat us
- admit fault (we accept their grief as satisfaction)
- are humble before us
- are serious when we are serious
- have done us more kindness than we have done them
- share our anger or fear
3) Friendship - wishing for someone, for his own sake, what you believe to be good things and being inclined insofar as you are able to bring such things about.
- a friend feels and excites those feelings in return
- friends consider the same things good and evil
- friends wish for each other what they wish for themselves
 N.B. Aristotle discusses friendship at great length here (section 1380b) and of course in Book VIII (1155a) of the Nichomachean Ethics.

Enmity vs. Anger

Enmity
Anger
- concerned with individuals or classes
- cannot be cured by time
- aims at doing harm
- hater does not care if victim feels the hater's enmity
- hater does not feel pain, nor pity
- hateful man wishes offenders not to exist
- concerned with individuals
- can be cured by time
- aims at giving pain
- angry man wants his victim to feel his anger
- angry main feels pain
- angry man wishes offenders to suffer

4) Fear - a pain or disturbance due to a mental picture of a destructive or painful future evil; not all evils, since some (e.g. wickedness and stupidity) do not frighten; also, only of imminent danger (danger is the approach of what is terrible)
- we do not feel fear amidst great prosperity
- those do not feel fear who have experienced every kind of horror
- if one is to feel the anguish of uncertainty, one must have some faint expectation of escape
- we are afraid of those we have wronged
5) Confidence - the expectation associated with a mental picture of the nearness of what keeps us safe and the absence/remoteness of what is terrible; may be due either to the presence of what inspires confidence or the absence of what causes alarm. We feel it if:
- we can take steps to prevent trouble
- have no rivals or not strong ones, or of our rivals are friends
- have the same interests as the stronger or more numerous party
6) Shame - pain or disturbance in regard to bad things (past, present, or future) which seem likely to involve or discredit us. (Shamelessness is indifference toward same bad things.)

We feel shame toward:
- evils due to moral badness
- cowardice
- injustices
- intercourse with forbidden persons
- making profit in a disgraceful way
- giving less or no help to those worse off
- borrowing akin to begging, begging as in asking return for a favor
- refusing to endure hardships endured by the weaker
- talking incessantly about yourself
- those who speak evil of everyone
- those who have not known us to come to grief

7) Kindness - helpfulness toward someone in need, not in return for anything nor toward one's own advantage.

8) Pity - feeling pain caused by the sight of some evil, destructive or painful, which befalls one who does not deserve it, and which we might expect to happen to us or a friend, soon. In order to feel pity one must believe in the goodness of some people, for if everyone is evil than everyone deserves evil. The terrible is not the same as the pitiful. In particular, the cowardly and those who have themselves escaped evil feel pity.

9) Indignation - pain caused by the sight of undeserved goods. (We should feel both sympathy for unmerited distress and indignation at unmerited prosperity.) What is undeserved is unjust
- Indignation is felt toward what is happening to another regardless of its likelihood to affect us.
- The type of man who delights in others' misfortunes is identical to the type who envies others' prosperity.
- Servile, worthless, unambitious people cannot become indignant because there is nothing they can think they deserve.
10) Envy - pain at the good; felt toward equals.
- Small-minded men are envious since all seems great to them
- We envy those whose possession or success is a reproach to us.
11) Emulation - pain caused by seeing in persons whose nature is like our own good things that are highly valued and possible for us to acquire.

- only felt because we lack such goods
- emulation spurs us to secure the good
- is a good feeling felt by the good; is the opposite of envy and contempt
- moral goodness is an object of emulation
III. Conclusion


I hope considering the above proves a useful exercise for you as it does for me. On verbicide, C.S. Lewis had some insightful words, saying its greatest cause:
. . .is the fact that most people are obviously far mor anxious to express their approval of things than to describe them. Hence the tendency of words to become less descriptive and more evaluative, while still retaining some hint of the sort of goodness or badness implied; and to end up by being purely evaluative–useless synonyms for good and bad. . . I am not suggesting that we can by an archaising purism repair any of the loses that have already occurred. It may not, however, be entirely useless to resolve that we ourselves will never commit verbicide. [1]
More than 'not useless,' certainly, but for the purpose of utilizing and preserving a rich and descriptive language. Of course one cannot list the ways "knowing what you're talking about" is useful. Specifically regarding defining the emotions, though, one hopes bearing the aforementioned definitions in mind would assist one in criticism and writing, helping one to notice where something is adequately or even beautifully defined or simply vaguely sketched in. It is also possible this study could lead to some reflection of our own emotions which, according to some, is not bad.


 
[1] Lewis, C. S. Studies in Words. Cambridge University Press. 1960.

Friday, November 13, 2009

Joseph Haydn's "Missa in Angustiis" Part I

aka The Lord Nelson Mass. Hob. XXII:11

I. Introduction

What makes a good mass? (Musically speaking.) Such is not a question I had pondered until this past summer and a discussion with my esteemed co-blogger. Surely there are many masses (i.e. musical compositions set to the form of a mass) filled with great genius and beautiful music, but how effective are they as masses? Is the music appropriate to the text? I decided to explore this question and, owing to my enthusiasm for it, began studying Joseph Haydn's "Missa in Angustiis" aka Lord Nelson Mass in the context of this question. I was initially aghast to read Charles Rosen's somewhat strong words on the topic in his excellent book, The Classical Style. He remained quite unconvinced that Haydn and Mozart had successfully reconciled the "classical style" with the liturgical tradition and that to do so "was left to Beethoven." [Rosen. p.373] Without debating that obviously larger point, let us look at this mass in particular and consider "Is this is a good mass as well as a good musical composition?"


II. Ordinary of the Mass

1) Kyrie

The D-minor opening of this movement sets the tone for the Kyrie and this movement most lives up to the theme of angustiis. More specifically than anguished though, this movement has an especially martial character, particularly the opening theme on the timpani and trumpets. The chorus then enters in unison not with a traditionally supplicative manner but rather in a terrifying forte. A brief passage for the soloists is then overtaken by a fugue, frighteningly effective in conveying a multitude of voices crying out for mercy. Here and there a soloist will rise above the grieving chorus only to be swallowed up again. The movement concludes with the first theme on timpani.

2) Gloria: Gloria in excelsis Deo

The music for this section of the Gloria could not be in starker contrast to that of the Kyrie and this movement is certainly free from the theme of angustiis. The suffering of man does not interfere with glorifying God. Joyous music like this is perhaps most characteristic, or most associated with, Haydn and it is especially brilliant here. We begin in D major with a soprano solo of Gloria in excelsis Deo, but she only sings it once before the choir joins her in jubilation. She begins again but this time the choir cuts her off in the middle with more Glorias. She continues solo once more but just before she finishes her phrase again the choir bursts in singing Gloria!

Et in terra pax hominibus is performed almost exclusively by the bass and tenor, with repetitive emphasis on the bonae of bonae voluntatis. The tutti returns with three short phrases with crescendos on the middle of each phrase, suggesting a supplicative bowing:

laudamus te,
benedicimus te
adoramus te


we adore you
we give you thanks
we adore you

while the strings play an urgent four-note phrase over and over creating a sense of nervous urgency as the vocalists try to praise God with mere words. With the same weight of the previous three phrases, the treble voices enter with Glo-ri-fi-ca only to be cut off by the entrance of the bass voices. The chorus finishes Glorificamus te and then repeats the above three-part praise (laudamus te, et cetera) but forzando and with te only in the basses and tenors.

The rest of the Gloria is treated to the same melody and taken up by either the treble or bass soloists, with the subsequent section taken by the tutti. The movment concludes with a Patris from the tutti, but the strings and trumpets finish out the melody.

3) Gloria: Qui Tollis

The jubilant tone of the preceding movement is gently shaken off by the first note in the strings. A beautiful bass solo for Qui tollis peccata mundi follows, but a curious theme comes next. Curious insofar as it seems extraordinarily casual a setting for qui tollis peccata mundi. Rosen wrote that the late 18th century tradition of religious music was relatively incoherent and such incoherence led to "effects of a peculiar irrelevancy." Once again, I was outraged at first reading of that statement, but came to agree. If not wholly in appropriate, this theme certainly is of imperfect relevance to the text. Likewise the theme on the organ after the tutti enter with their first miserere nobis feels similarly out of place. The rest of the movement is effective, with the soloists singing of Christ as sedes ad dexteram Patris while the tutti penitently repeats deprecationem nostram or miserere nobis.

4) Gloria: Quoniam tu solus

The first theme from the Gloria returns at the end, here at the Quoniam.  The movement contains some more expository material of the text, with the solo soprano declaring quoniam tu solus sanctus and the chorus following in reinforcement. In hushed tones the choir announces, cum sancto Spiritu in gloria Dei Patris before the basses burst in forte reinforcing. Allegro again also, this movement moves with a joyous swiftness before ending in a cavalcade of amens and glorias which functions as an act finale.

5) Credo: Credo in unum Deum

The Credo takes the form of a canon with sopranos and tenors entering first, followed by the altos and basses singing same one bar later. The effect of the structure of a canon upon the Credo, by nature a personal statement of faith, is the sense of many simultaneously professing their faith. The canon was also a traditional method of representing the fixedness of the faith, the repetitions emphasizing its timelessness. [Stauffer pp. 101]

Wisely Haydn chose to end the movement at descendit de coelis. He has the voices repeat the phrase many times until he brings them all together on coelis and holding them up there with a fermata until last neatly descending and landing back at D at de coelis, ready to move onto Christ's incarnation.

6) Credo: Et in carnatus est

The atmosphere of this movement is not dissimilar from the same passage in Mozart's C minor mass. They share an aura of great gentleness, sweetness, and purity. This sentiment is in many ways appropriate, but is it entirely? Indeed, what music is appropriate, i.e. what could possibly be appropriate, for such an event?

In the Missa Pange lingua of des Prez, it is sung without affectation of any kind. In Bach's B minor Mass it is spoken with a hushed tone amidst an atmosphere of great mystery. I consider Beethoven's setting the most appropriate but describing it here is beyond the focus of this essay. Let us return to Haydn.

After the instrumental exposition of the melody, the soprano soloist sings
Et incarnatus est de Spiritu sancto, ex Maria Virgine et homo factus est.
and the chorus follows and repeats it. The chorus continues forte describing the crucifixion with surprisingly little adornment other than being doubled by the strings. Emphasizing that Christ died for us, and also perhaps his falling on the road to Calvary, there is a drop of an octave and new five-note figure in the strings on no-bis.

The tutti continues piano, singing sub Pontio Pilato as the timpani plays five times an intimidating five-note figure, recalling both the mass' martial theme and atmosphere of angustiis, and Christ's march to his crucifixion. The solos take over the material now, the bass repeating sub Pontio Pilato and the tenor repeating crucifixus passus passus et sepultus est as the alto repeats, pro nobis, for us.

The movement ends pianissimo, with writing for the bass full of pathos:



and an especially hushed sepultus est recalling Christ being buried in the tomb.

7) Credo: Et resurexit

I do not know that this movement gets off to the best of starts. Perhaps due to some limitation on my part it seems overly harsh for a setting of The Resurrection and the music seems to tumble out of the gate, with everyone singing the initial et then the tenors resurrexit, then the basses and then the altos and sopranos following suit. There also seems to be a great emphasis on many of the "et"s throughout the movement as well. Naturally this is an inherent difficulty of setting this text to music. The choice seems to be to use them as punctuation or to attempt not to draw attention to them. Haydn seems to pursue the former path on most occasions, with the result they seem to entertain an undue distinction a number of times in this movement.

Compared to the dance-like celebration of Bach's B minor Mass and the heart-stopping entry in Beethoven's Missa Solemnis I do not consider this opening especially effective. (I likewise consider the "et Resurrexit" of Haydn's own Missa brevis Sancti Joannis de Deo in B-flat major (Hob.XXII:7) to be more effective.)

The movement quickly finds its way, though, and goes on to establish a joyous, even rollicking, inertia. The entrance of the tenors announces cuius regni non erit finis and the staggered entrances of the rest of the choir and the many repetitions of non erit finis beautifully emphasize the endlessness of God's kingdom and the emphases on non assert the believer's confidence in that fact. Once again the theme after prophetas seems most out of place to me and would be more at home in an opera or serenade. Perhaps it is a certain dullness or stuffiness on my part that finds the theme distracting behind et unam sanctam Catholican et Apostolicam ecclesiam instead of joyfully adorning the text about the Catholic Church. Lastly the soprano ends, announcing et vitam venturi saeculi in quite operatic fashion. It is nonetheless glorious and the entrance functions like a messenger bringing great news, "the life of the world to come." The tutti repeats the verse and concludes with a string of amens and a fluttering tune in the strings balancing a certain regalness  and playfulness that here is most welcome upon hearing the good news.




Rosen, Charles. The Classical Style. W. W. Norton and Company, Inc. New York, NY. 1971.

Stauffer, George B. Bach: The Mass in B Minor. Yale University Press. New Haven. 1997.