Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Five Symphonies from Joseph Haydn

. . .  with something in common.

1) Symphony No. 45 in F-sharp minor - IV. Presto-Adagio

2) Symphony No. 60 in C major - IV., V., VI. Presto-Adagio-Prestissimo

3) Symphony No. 90 in C major - IV. Allegro assai

4) Symphony No. 93 in D major - II. Largo cantabile

5) Symphony No. 94 in G major - II. Andante

Monday, August 23, 2010

Ideas, Part II

This is Part II of our look at philosophical ideas represented in art. It comes on the heels of my stumbling upon and reading George Santayana's invigorating Three Philosophical Poets: Lucretius, Dante, Goethe, which brought me to consider the topic again sooner than I anticipated. Since the introduction to Part I will serve to introduce this essay also, I thusly refer it to you.

You will surely notice this selection to be more focused and to contain one item, from Heraklitos, also mentioned in our last list. One might consider reflecting on all of the following pieces in the light of Herakleitos and Eliot. I have also made fewer comments, but not with the aim of being cryptic or simply not wishing to comment, but to permit the reader the opportunity to discover the nature of the work in the light of philosophy. I add, though, one heading to the collection:

Being and Time

1) Herakleitos Fragment - Diels 2 / Kahn CIII

ὁδὸς ἄνω κάτω μία καὶ ὡυτή
The way up and down is one and the same.

2) Four Quartets. T. S. Eliot
Burnt Norton (three selections) (whole poem: link)


Time present and time past
Are both perhaps present in time future,
And time future contained in time past.
If all time is eternally present
All time is unredeemable.

At the still point of the turning world. Neither flesh nor fleshless;
Neither from nor towards; at the still point, there the dance is,
But neither arrest nor movement. And do not call it fixity,
Where past and future are gathered. Neither movement from nor towards,
Neither ascent nor decline. Except for the point, the still point,
There would be no dance, and there is only the dance.
I can only say, there we have been: but I cannot say where.
And I cannot say, how long, for that is to place it in time.

Words move, music moves
Only in time; but that which is only living
Can only die. Words, after speech, reach
Into the silence. Only by the form, the pattern,
Can words or music reach
The stillness, as a Chinese jar still
Moves perpetually in its stillness.
Nor the stillness of the violin, while the note lasts,
Not that only, but the co-existence,
Or say that the end precedes the beginning,
And the end and the beginning were always there
Before the beginning and after the end.
And all is always now.

. . .

The detail of the pattern is movement,
As in the figure of the ten stairs.
Desire itself is movement
Not in itself desirable;
Love is itself unmoving,
Only the cause and end of movement,
Timeless, and undesiring
Except in the aspect of time
Caught in the form of limitation
Between un-being and being.

2) Die Kunst der Fuge - Contrapunctus XIII a 3 (Rectus). BWV.1080. J. S. Bach

Consider the subjects of the fugue, their relationship, their in the light of Eliot's above poem, and additionally the following lines:
Time past and time future
What might have been and what has been
Point to one end, which is always present.
Four Quartets. Burnt Norton, I. T. S. Eliot

The subjects are different and yet the same, joined and yet separate, interdependent (notice the fermata and rest toward the end.) Each individual moment both of past and future, each moment of the present, joining both past and future, but do not call it fixity, where past and future are gathered. Neither movement from nor towards,
Neither ascent nor decline. Except for the point, the still point,
There would be no dance, and there is only the dance.

Also, same from Glenn Gould on the piano. [YouTube]

3) De Rerum Natura. 1.264-265 - Lucretius

Since it is impossible to reiterate all of Lucretius here, let us look at one particularly relevant quotation and one most excellent summary from George Santayana's Three Philosophical Poets: Lucretius, Dante, Goethe.

De Rerum Natura. 1.264-265 - Lucretius
 Alid ex alio reficit natura, nec ullam
Rem gigni patitur, nisi morte adiuta aliena.

Three Philosophical Poets: Lucretius, Dante, Goethe
[Love] destroys to create, and creates to destroy, her interest (if we may express it so) being not in particular things, nor in their continuance, but solely in the movement that underlies them, in the flux of substance beneath. Life, however, belongs to form, and not to matter; or in the language of Lucretius, life is an eventum, a redundant ideal product or incidental aspect, involved in the equilibration of matter. . .

Nothing comes out of nothing, nothing falls back into nothing, if we consider substance; but everything comes from nothing and falls back into nothing if we consider things–the objects of love and of experience. Time can make no impression on the void or on the atoms; nay, time is itself an eventum created by the motion of atoms in the void; but the triumph of time is absolute over persons, and nations, and worlds.

4) Sonnet 73, William Shakespeare

That time of year thou mayst in me behold
When yellow leaves, or none, or few, do hang
Upon those boughs which shake against the cold,
Bare ruin'd choirs, where late the sweet birds sang.
In me thou seest the twilight of such day
As after sunset fadeth in the west,
Which by and by black night doth take away,
Death's second self, that seals up all in rest.
In me thou see'st the glowing of such fire
That on the ashes of his youth doth lie,
As the death-bed whereon it must expire
Consumed with that which it was nourish'd by.
   This thou perceivest, which makes thy love more strong,
   To love that well which thou must leave ere long.

5 & 6) Consider the nature of the action depicted, and the way in which the piece chains past and future, drawing you into and creating the moment.

5) Philosopher in Meditation. Rembrandt van Rijn.

6) Aphrodite of Milos. Alexandros of Antioch(?)

7) Concerto for Harpsichord in D minor, BWV.1052 - Adagio (in G minor). J. S. Bach
The slow movement is in a form which only Bach has brought to perfection. . . We may call it the modulating ground bass. [After the opening orchestral ritornello] enters the dialogue between the solo and the upper strings. The ritornello becomes a ground bass to this dialogue throughout the movement, but it differs from an ordinary ground bass in that its final cadence shifts to a different key each time, and that before each recurrence a connecting link of three bars establishes yet another key for it to start from. At last, of course, it comes round to the tonic; the final cadence is expanded, . . . and the movement closes, as it began, with the bare ground bass. [Tovey, 183]

Tovey, Donald Francis. Essays in Musical Analysis. (Six Volumes.) Volume II: Symphonies II: D Minor Clavier Concerto. Oxford University Press. London. 1935.

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Book Review: Three Philosophical Poets

Three Philosophical Poets: Lucretius, Dante, Goethe by George Santayana. 1910.

Writing about philosophy is not so easy, likewise for poetry. Writing about their intersection is, then, quite the challenge. It would seem that while many words are needed to provide context and explication, only a very few will impart a sense of clarity. Likewise living in and observing the world are also required for making the most of these subjects. How does one study these worlds, then? Diligently and over a long period of time. Maybe that's not such a useful answer, but it's probably true. There is plenty of help to be had, but the quality and approaches of that help widely varies. Of philosophy and poetry both it is trivial to find general books, "On Poetry" or "Great Poetry" or even "Writing Poetry" and books too specific. The academic world is particularly good at providing the specifics: I'm sure someone has scanned every line of Lucretius and I'm sure there's an article on Aristotelian influence on 17th century pre-Metastasian opera libretti. I pass over entirely the 20th century "schools" of approach which mean to deconstruct and then, at best, to cobble back together again. Murdering a poem to dissect it (and then dissecting it) and getting lost on a philosophical byway is not the path toward appreciating, and using and living, art and philosophy. What is required is something which broadens your horizons and gets out of the way.

As such I'm grateful to whoever at Barnes and Noble decided to re-issue George Santayana's Three Philosophical Poets: Lucretius, Dante, Goethe. The text has passed into the "public domain" in American copyright law and I understand it is now available from a few presses. It is also available for free online, here. I bought it from Barnes and Noble for about seven dollars. Nonetheless I had not heard of it before and coming on the heels of our recent inquiry here into philosophy and art, I gladly snatched it up. I didn't really know what I was in for as I am not terribly familiar with Santayana and his work.

Opening up to the following page from the section on Dante I read:

Love itself dreams of more than mere possession; to conceive happiness, it must conceive a life to be shared in a varied world, full of events and activities, which shall be new and ideal bonds between the lovers. But unlawful love here cannot pass out into this public fulfillment. It is condemned to be mere possession–possession in the dark, without an environment, without a future. It is love among the ruins. And it is precisely this that is the torment of Paolo and Francesca–love among the ruins of themselves and all else they might have had to give to one another. Abandon yourself, Dante would say to us,–abandon yourself altogether to a love that is nothing but love, and you are in hell already. Only an inspired poet could be so subtle a moralist. Only a sound moralist could be so tragic a poet. [p. 93]

Ary Scheffer. 1855. Oil on Canvas.

I was sold. Yet I'm not sure what to say in this "review." Perhaps just a few remarks about and selections from each section will suffice. Pardon my if I quote liberally, as I wish not to summarize but to pass on some of Santayana's beautiful analogies and descriptions. There would be little point for me to summarize Santayana explaining Lucretius.

The book is in fact a collection of six lectures "with a few additions" read at Columbia University in February, 1910 based on one of Santayana's courses. The preface begins on a note of frank modesty:
. . . my book can make no great claims to learning. It contains the impressions of an amateur, the the appreciations of an ordinary reader. . . I am no specialist in the study of Lucretius; I am not a Dante scholar nor Goethe scholar. My excuse for writing about them, notwithstanding, is merely the human excuse which every new poet has for writing about the spring. They have attracted me; they have moved me to reflection; they have revealed to me certain aspects of nature and philosophy which I am prompted by mere sincerity to express, if anybody seems interested or willing to listen. What I can offer the benevolent reader, therefore, is no learned investigation. It is only a piece of literary criticism, together with a first broad lesson in the history of philosophy–and, perhaps, philosophy itself.
What a wonderful sentiment, one which I'm tempted to adopt as the premise for this blog. Three Philosophical Poets is no treatise or dissertation. It is not a mighty tome assembled to change the world or cudgel you into the author's viewpoint nor a desperate attempt to cull something new from works which have been extensively written on, in one case for thousands of years. Rather, reading Three Philosophical Poets is like listening to a finely mannered house-guest who begins, "Isn't it funny how Lucretius. . ." and then proceeds to share his brilliance and insight. It is a brilliance which does not dazzle, though, but rather which illuminates heretofore invisible vistas. Regarding philosophy, often thought of as a ponderous topic, while we will delve to its roots we won't muck about there for long. Santayana does not really consider all of the myriad implications of every statement of these books. We are looking at essentials here, for the most part, and likewise Santayana, while he stops to say what an author misses, is mostly pulling out the best of each work.

The introduction begins no less encouragingly than the preface, "The sole advantage in possessing great works of literature lies in what they can help us to become. . . We can neither take away nor add to their past value or inherent dignity. It is only they, in so far as they are appropriate food and not poison for us, that can add to the present value and dignity of our minds." What an extraordinary sentiment. It will be the author's goal not only to discuss the three major schools of European philosophy and the greatest artist and exponent of each, but to suggest they are compatible. The first is Lucretius, to whom the world is one great machine and whose De Rerum Natura describes the birth and nature of all things. This is the school of naturalism, of materialism in natural science, humanism in ethics. A thousand years later Dante comes to us, "who partly understands his destiny; his own history and that of the world are transfigured before him and, without ceasing to be sad, become beautiful. The raptures of a perfect conformity with the will of God, and of union with Him, overtake him in his prayers." This is supernaturalism.

"Still later, the Teutonic races that had previously conquered Europe have begun to dominate and understand themselves. They have become Protestants, or protesters against the Roman world. . . They turn successively to the Bible, to learning, to patriotism, to industry, for new objects to love and fresh worlds to conquer; but they have too much vitality, or too little maturity, to rest in any of these things. A demon drives them on; and this demon, divine and immortal in its apparent waywardness, is their inmost self. . . Their will summons all opportunities and dangers out of nothing to feed its appetite for action; and in that ideal function lies their sole reality. Once attained, things are transcended. Like the episodes of a spent dream, they are to be smiled at and forgotten; the spirit that feigned and discarded them remains always strong and undefiled; it aches for new conquests over new fictions. This is romanticism. The greatest monument to this romanticism is Goethe's Faust." [p.7]

Perhaps you can see why I have taken the liberty of quoting Santayana at length. Yet Santayana is not merely going to catalog and describe these movements for us and quickly delves into a great question: why are the most "adequate and probably most lasting expositions" of these three schools of philosophy made by poets? "Are poets, at heart, in search of philosophy? Or is philosophy, in the end, nothing but poetry?" A fine question we recently pondered.

If philosophy is simply an investigation into truth, then no, there is not so much in common between philosophy and poetry. Epicurus, St. Thomas Aquinas, and Kant were not poets. ("leafless forests" he calls them.) Santayana reminds us how even Lucretius himself said his verses relative to his ideas were like the putting of honey on the rim of the cup of medicine for a child. This statement which seemingly refutes any connection between art and poetry, Santayana sees to unite them. Yes, philosophy is along and arduous path but the order it reveals is beautiful, and that same beauty is forever the aim of the poet. Philosophy is but a tool and not the end itself, the end is insight, or theory or θεωρία, "a steady contemplation of all things in their order and worth."
Such contemplation is imaginative. No one can reach it who has not enlarged his mind and tamed his heart. A philosopher who attains it is, for the moment, a poet; and a poet who turns his practised and passionate imagination on the order of all things, or on anything in the light of the whole, is for that moment a philosopher. [p.9]
This sounds plausible and good, but how can the poet be a good poet if he is a philosopher, philosophy being such a reasoned and dense thing, and poetry, "something winged, flashing, inspired?" Poetry exists in the increase and relaxation of tension, existing essentially in moments. Most verse exists to carry us to those moments, moments of poetic insight and perspective. Is not some of it merely mechanical, designed to bring us somewhere else and not significant in itself? It is the vulgar moment that knows only itself. Yet Santayana does not delve into practical concerns about the length of a poem and whether one can really take it all in at once. We might infer that there ought not to be "vulgar lines" or that they ought seamlessly carry us over into moments of greater insight and intensity, albeit brevity.

So if the brief moment is significant for being of greater scope, "how much more poetical ought a vision to be which was pregnant with all we care for? Focus a little experience, give some scope and depth to your feeling, and it grows imaginative; give it more scope and more depth, focus all experience within it, make it a philosopher's vision of the world, and it will grow imaginative in a superlative degree, and be supremely poetical." The poet-philosopher has to imagine, symbolize, and give expression to this, and we must strive to suspend it all at once in thought before us.
As in a supreme dramatic crisis all our life seems to be focused in the present, and used in colouring our consciousness and shaping our decisions, so for each philosophic poet the whole world of man is gathered together; and he is never so much a poet as when, in single cry, he summons all that has affinity to him in the universe, and salutes his ultimate destiny. It is the acme of life to understand life. The height of poetry is to speak the language of the gods. [p. 12] [1]
Sometimes the poet may err and his work may be lose sight of the part or the whole and sometimes we are unable to live in the poetic moment, for we do not speak the poet's language or cannot keep in our head at once what he asks us to. Yet this is such a beautiful sentiment of what poetry and philosophy should be, rather, could be: a synthesis of all that is significant made beautiful.

I. Santayana's sweep in describing the poems and philosophies of Lucretius, Dante, and Goethe is remarkable. One would not have expected Lucretian Epicurean materialism to be presented with such vigor and enthusiasm in the 20th century. Santayana is downright persuasive in presenting the world of De Rerum Natura, and "presenting the world of" is exactly what he does for the three works. He does not give us dry criticism or line-by-line analyses. He presents the poem with the zest of a discoverer or delighted observer, and with such clarity we forget the abstract nature of what seems so clear:
One of the first things that impresses the poet, the man of feeling and reflection, is that these objects that people the world all pass away, and that the place thereof knows them no more. Yet, when they vanish, nothingness does not succeed; other things arise in their stead. Nature remains always young and how in spite of death at work everywhere; and what takes the place of what continually disappears is often remarkably like it in character. Universal instability is not incompatible with a great monotony in things; so that while Heraclitus lamented that everything was in flux, Ecclesiastes, who was also entirely convinced of that truth, could lament that there was nothing new under the sun. [p.18]
Such observation gave birth to the notion of all we observe being passing forms of a permanent substance, whether we call it change, or "the triumph of time," or put it as Lucretius did, that nothing arises in the world not helped to life by the death of some other thing:
 Alid ex alio reficit natura, nec ullam
Rem gigni patitur, nisi morte adiuta aliena.

We see this flux in Lucretius, that between Love and Strife, most notably as the revolutions between Venus and Mars. Ruling the universe together, the former cultivating the latter ravaging. This natural flux cares not for particulars but only the movement itself. In Lucretius life is the result of a chance, the "acme of the dance of atoms," and the philosopher at the top of the wave, the "foam in the rolling tempest; and as the wave must have risen before he bursts into being, all that he lives to witness is the fall of the wave."

Fear not death, then, but what a disconsolate life. Anyway what is feared is not death, or even suffering, but "the defeat of a present will directed upon life and its various undertakings." [p. 41] Indeed life to Lucretius is a mad one.

Yet Santayana has a few regrets of Lucretius, who was slightly too blind to pleasures in life, like friendship, and something with which to reinforce the materialistic view: supernaturalism. The emotions which Lucretius associated with his atoms and void, with his religious denials and his abstentions from action, are emotions necessarily involved in life."

II. Santayana considers the essence of supernaturalism that things are to be understood by their uses or purposes and not by their antecedents: that what is best ought to be. "The use of the body is the mind, whatever the origin of the body may be." This concept he traces to Socrates but it is in Dante that the idea had its greatest expression. In Dante the Aristotelian ethics, the Neoplatonic cosmology, the living Hebraic and Church traditions, and the parallel classical tradition, converged. He fused all into one moral unity and one poetical enthusiasm. The fusion was perfect "between the personal and the traditional elements. He threw politics and love into the melting-pot, and they, too, lost their impurities and were refined into a philosophic religion."

"Throughout the Divine Comedy, meaning and meaning lurk beneath the luminous pictures; and the poem, besides being a description of the other world, and of the rewards and punishment meted out to souls, is a dramatic view of human passions in this life; a history of Italy and of the world; a theory of Church and State; the autobiography of an exile; and the confessions of a Christian, and of a lover, conscious of his sins and of the miracle of divine grace that intervenes to save him." [p. 82]

Dante and Virgil in Hell, or The Bark of Dante. 1822. Eugène Delacroix.

Dante, then, is not just a philosopher. He looks not at philosophy, but beyond to theology, just as he looks beyond the other woman to Beatrice. Yet still he looks further: "the eyes of Beatrice reflect a supernal light. It is the ineffable vision of God, the beatific vision, that alone can make us happy and be the reason and the end of our loves and our pilgrimages."

III. If there is perhaps too much Dante in the Divine Comedy, and perhaps Dante's world places man in too high a place, such is the essence of Romanticism. The Romantic hero:
. . . disowns all authority, save that mysteriously exercised over him by his deep faith in himself. He is always honest and brave; but he is always different, and absolves himself from his past as soon as he has outgrown or forgotten it. He is inclined to be wayward and foolhardy, justifying himself on the ground that all experience is interesting, that he springs of it are inexhaustible and always pure, and that the future of his soul is infinite. In the romantic hero the civilized man and the barbarian must be combined; he should be the heir to all civilization, and, nevertheless, the should take life arrogantly and egotistically, as if it were an absolute personal experiment. [p.113]

Santayana's journey through the many episodes and faces of Faust is exciting and brimming with insight, but it won't do to recap it here. Nonetheless, the passage on Helen is particularly good:
It is evidence of Goethe's great wisdom that he felt that romantic classicism must be subordinated or abandoned; that Helen must evaporate. . . Perhaps in the commonwealth he is about to found, Faust would wish to establish not only dykes and freedom, but also professorships of Greek and archaeological museums. And the lyre of Euphorion, which is also left us, may signify that poems like Byron's Isles of Greece, Keats's Grecian Urn, Die Götter Griechenlands of Shiller, and Goethe's own classical pieces will continue to enrich European literature. This is something, but not enough to lift Faust's immense enthusiasm for Helen above a crass illusion. That dream of a perfect life to be lived according to nature and reason, would have ended in a little scholarship and a little pedantry. Faust would have won Helen to hand her over to Wagner. [p. 139]
It is the pursuit not the end which defines the Romantic view: "everything is worth pursuing, and nothing brings satisfaction–save this endless destiny itself." Yet while the Romantic hero was just born Mephistopheles is ancient. Willing evil, championing darkness, he reminds us of the folly of living. Yet "while everything falls successively beneath his sickle, the seeds of life are being scattered perpetually behind his back. The Lucretian Venus has her innings, as well as the Lucretian mars. The eternal see-saw, the ancient flux, continues without end and without abatement." [p. 128]

It was a perceptive mind that saw the philosophical thread running through Lucretius, the poet of nature, Dante, the poet of salvation, and Goethe, the poet of life, and the contrasts of substance, morals, and immediacy in their works. Great works and artists all, but in combination! Lucretius sees all in proper place, Dante the distinctions of all forms of good and beauty, and Goethe the passion of the present.

What would a work perceptive of all three be! Santayana waited for the poet who would make it, and so do we. In the meanwhile we have quite a bit to work with.

[1] One recalls a similar sentiment from Beethoven in a letter to a young pianist: "Do not only practice your art, but get at the very heart of it: this it deserves, for only art and science raise men to the God-head." [link]

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Mozartian Counterpoint Part I

Part I | II | III | IV | V | VI | VII

The word "counterpoint" tends to conjure images of 17th century schools, where stern counterpoint masters taught "academic counterpoint." By this "academic" style we mean a style not so concerned with making beautiful music but following the rules of stretto [1] and assuring proper entrance and resolution of the subjects, matching point against point, punctus contra punctum. Johann Joseph Fux (1660-1741), Austrian composer, music theorist, teacher, and author of the classic treatise on counterpoint "Gradus ad Parnassum" typifies this conception. In contrast the word "polyphony" has a rather distinctive medieval ring, bringing with it associations of monks and minuscule scripts. Perhaps we think of the period between those, the era of Renaissance polyphony and the era of the great church composers and polyphonists like Palestrina and Monteverdi.

Those seem to be the three popular associations with what we broadly call "counterpoint," a word with both beguilingly simple and confoundedly complicated definitions. The most important feature of counterpoint is a relative rhythmic and melodic independence for each voice. The weaving together of these multiple "strands" of melodies allows for both horizontal and vertical relationships, i.e. each note is relative to the others being played simultaneously (up and down on the sheet music) and to the ones which preceded and which will succeed it. This weaving is said to create a polyphonic, or contrapuntal, texture. We should add that rhythm may be both harmonic and melodic, i.e. based on the movement from dissonance to consonance and vice-versa, and based on metrical units created from notes of varying length. With these observations alone one can imagine the many potentialities of contrapuntal writing.

We ought perhaps to make a few more technical and definitional observations before proceeding. First, is the concept of the canon. It comes from the Greek κανών, rule or standard. While the word itself explains the concept, another might be helpful: the Italian caccia, chase or hunt. Thus in the canon a melody is played and then imitated, or chased, by another, which follows by a particular rule, or canon, i.e. it comes a measure later, a fifth above, inverted, et cetera. The canon and the idea of imitation are the central concepts of counterpoint. Later, the fugue developed into the archetypal contrapuntal form. Perfected by J. S. Bach, the fugue has a specific structure of exposition of subjects but a somewhat looser overall organization. Edmund Rubbra put the fugue well saying, "fugues begin canonically with well-defined statements of the material, and then develop freely within the orbit of the tonal scheme. . . Fugue is a contrapuntal discourse that has a beginning, middle, and end but admits of no subtler labeling of its arguments." [Rubbra, 58]

While there is no accepted theory of the origins of its practice, polyphony has more or less worldwide origins.  Polyphony, a word which notionally is identical to counterpoint, is considered a more broad term, referring more generally to the simple practice of having multiple melodies.[2] In contrast counterpoint as we have seen is thought of as a more defined body of practices for writing polyphonic music. This unification began in the development of schools, like the 13th-century Ars Antiqua and 14th-century Ars Nova, and continued around the practices of 15th-century composers like Dufay and Josquin, and again around 16th-century composers like di Lasso and Palestrina. This period, the time of di Lasso, Palestrina, and Monteverdi, is often referred to as the Golden Age of Counterpoint.

Fux's Gradus ad Parnassum is part summary of the basic relationships among musical intervals and part counterpoint instruction, describing rules and procedures for writing against a fixed melody (cantus firmus) counterpoint of increasing complexity.

Yet from the time of the Golden Age onward tonal organization grew to rival and succeed contrapuntal structural organization. In the music of Johann Sebastian Bach the fusion of these focuses reached its zenith with his great, indeed incredible, attention to both tonal and contrapuntal structure. [3] While one could spend a lifetime on Bach alone, he is not the focus of this essay. In fact, in his own time J. S. Bach was more famous as an organist than a composer as the contrapuntal style in which he worked was gradually being replaced by the styles and forms we have come to know as "classical."

In the mid-to-late 17th century counterpoint remained a significant part of musical training even though it had faded from popular taste. Mozart's familiarity with the practices of counterpoint would have come in more or less three phases: early exercises under the tutelage of his father Leopold, rigorous exercises with Padre Giovanni Battista Martini, the prominent head of a musical school who the teenage Mozart met in Bologna during an extended Italian tour, and through Baron Gottfried van Swieten, the Prefect of the Imperial Library who befriended Mozart during his decade in Vienna and introduced him to the music of J. S. Bach via his considerable collection of manuscripts.

Looking at Mozart's output then, we see early simple canons, some elaborate contrapuntal pieces, stylistic exercises in earlier forms, early hybrids and combinations, and lastly what we formally consider Mozart's own fusion sonata and contrapuntal form. There are also of course varied uses of contrapuntal techniques and instances of canon and fugato (a passage in fugal style within a non-fugal work); the practice had not disappeared, but one would more seldom see a fugue proper than, say, a serenade, sonata, or symphony.  We said earlier that composers were more and more growing to consider music harmonically rather than contrapuntally. By Mozart's time one could fairly say such was the status quo. By the Classical era, counterpoint was being used as a tool in a larger structure.Scholar Arthur Hutchings suggested suggested Mozart, even in great contrapuntal works, still conceived of the structure harmonically. [Hutchings, 126] Indeed of composers after J. S. Bach, Beethoven is the most famous for using counterpoint. (Wagner is appropriately noted too in this regard.) Perhaps an investigation into Mozart's use of the practice will be illuminating. Where, how, and why did he employ it?

Such is the introduction to this essay, which in fact was intended to be a simple list of interesting Mozartian uses of counterpoint in his music. Yet one could ask, "why make such a list?" With our background sketch completed we may now justify such a list, the purpose of which is to shed light on why one would attempt such difficult musical experimentation. Looking back on musical history it seems a logical and natural progression, but it was far from necessary and far from simple.

The only necessary tool for hearing these differences in construction is being an attentive listener. The more carefully one follows the main line of the piece, the more one will hear the other voices when they come, and then one will be able to appreciate one of the effects: being able to jump to that line, stay on the main line, or focus on the totality. Sometimes Mozart, to borrow Hutching's phrase, will "feint" in a contrapuntal direction, and then pull back. Sometimes he will alternate between clearly delineated homophonic and contrapuntal sections.

We won't  count every point and identify every species: far from it. We will make a few, hopefully elucidating, comments on some of the pieces but leave as much investigating to the listener as possible. My goal is simply to give direction to the inquiry.

Detailed and repeated listening is recommended!

Please Note:
  • This list is chronologically organized.
  • The above introduction of course treats topics in broad strokes, but it did not seem reasonable simply to dive into a list of "Mozartian Uses of Counterpoint."
  • We won't be comprehensive here, but please let me know if I've left anything significant out.
  • I've placed the text before the videos: consider whether or not you'd like to listen first.

1. Missa Solemnis in C minor, "Waisenhausmesse": Gloria: Cum Sancto Spiritu KV.139 (1768)

This robust fugue on cum sancto spiritu, "rolls along like a river in full flood. It, too, has a revolutionary element to it in the form of the tritone interval of its subject and great length, while its technique, structure and expressivity all mark it out as a great advance on Mozart's earlier style." [Abert, 224]

 2. Litaniae De Venerabili Altaris Sacramento: Pignus Futurae Gloriae KV.125 (1772)

This second of Mozart's Litanies dates from March 1772. The phrase pignus futurae gloriae (pledge of future glory) was often singled out in the Litany for contrapuntal treatment. Though with an attractive theme, a bright and clear tone, and a certain regal dignity, this feels over-long; in fact Mozart edited it down already and the changes are visible at the Neue Mozart Ausgabe (NMA) I/2/1.

3. Misericordias Domini, Offertory in D minor KV.222/205a (1775)

A setting of the words, "Misericordias Domini" from Psalm 89, Misericordias Domini in aetarnum cantabo, "The mercies of the lord I will sing forever" with great vigor and in brilliant variety of imitation.

4. Vesperae Solennes De Dominica in C - Laudate Pueri KV.321 (1779)

As with the pignus futurae gloriae of the Litany the Laudate Pueri of the Vespers was treated contrapuntally by tradition. Here we see the procedure outlined above: a theme outlined and then followed in canon. Then (at m.17) all of the voices converge and join in homphony on "excelsus super omnes gentes Dominus." The question, "Quis sicut Dominus Deus noster, qui in altis habitat, Et humilia respicit in caelo et in terra? / Who is as the Lord our God, who dwells on high and looks down on the low things in heaven and in earth?" concludes with a Phrygian half cadence before the bit of word painting with a trilled rising figure accompanying "suscitans." After more ingenious variation he concludes on a five-bar crescendo Amen.

5.  Vesperae Solennes De Confessore in C - Laudate Pueri KV.339 (1780)
With an almost intimidating D minor opening in the basses, this setting of laudate pueri is quite distinct from its companion in KV.321. Too it feels more tightly structured, with little homophony it proceeds through contrapuntal treatment and several motifs.

6.  Fantasia and Fugue in C KV.394/(383a) (1782)

Who can think of the form of the "Prelude and Fugue" without thinking of J. S. Bach and his Well-Tempered Clavier? These pieces clearly date from the period in which Mozart began his more intensive looks at J. S. Bach and Handel with Baron van Swieten. The "keyboard poems" that are these fantasias are themselves beautiful and fascinating, with their freedom of modulation, increased chromaticism and dissonance, and a structure which "combines freedom and constraint in the most felicitous manner." [Abert, 836]

The C major fugue, reminiscent of the opening fugue of the Well-Tempered Clavier, exhibits a great struggle between the subject and counter-subject. Abert is correct to point out the peculiar harshness to this piece, the quaver and semi-quaver figures at the end in particular suggesting a bare, desperate, attempt at survival before the struggle ends abruptly at the two-bar, chordal andante.

See also:
Fugue in G minor KV.401 (Fragment) [YouTube] (1782)

7. String Quartet in G major - Molto allegro KV.387 (December 1782)

The final movement of this quartet is both one of Mozart's most famous movements and the most famous examples of his fusion of counterpoint and sonata-form. This is the first example we have looked at which is strictly instrumental and thus more abstract.  The opening bars are provided below, showing the four entrances:

click to enlarge

The ensuing imitation, texture, and contrast of color, along with the playful dynamics is glorious. At m.52 a new theme begins before being taken up by the other voices. The imitation falls away and at m.91 we get a bright theme in the first violin against repeated crotchets. After a rising scalar figure, a jaunt in staccato crotchets, and a highly gestural quaver figure, we raise twice in scalar figures falling off onto crotchets, as if coming to earth. Then from a short passage we conclude with a rising chromatic figure and a section repeat after m.124. After the repeat we hear a figure with an interval of a fifth and rising by semitones. After a brief imitative treatment we return to a recapitulation and, "The fugal texture of the opening measures gradually turns into the more normal obbligato writing of the late eighteenth century, in which accompaniments have only a shadowy independence given by their thematic significance." [Rosen, 441]

8. Fugue in C minor for two keyboards KV.426 (1783)

". . . the fugue avoid all pianistic effects, being conceived in purely abstract terms and pursuing a similar goal–albeit on a far less grandiose scale–to Bach's The Art of Fugue. . . The fugue is developed with both rigor and boldness and explores to the full the emotional antithesis of its subject, with its contrast between heroism and weary resignation." [Abert, 839]

9. Mass in C minor KV.421/(KV.417a) (July 1782 – October 1783)

Kyrie Eleison

The C minor kyrie opens with a haunting, limping figure. The canon seemingly begins with the entrances of the four voices, but the orchestra intervenes forte with the opening theme and cuts off the canon on its final syllable. The sopranos continue on alone, with a more lyrical kyrie eleison. They're soon joined by the altos, but the company provides no solace and they continue on, echoing and amplifying the anguish. The tenors and basses join but they too cry out and with all the voices it is as a sea of people crying out in grief over that grim opening them which marches on inexorably and heedless of the outcry. After the bass theme has ratcheted itself up and up, the upper voices leap up a 7th and octave and then as if exasperated all fall silent. The sopranos then take the melody and the lead, as if to sit and pray in unison for salvation, while the other voices follow in homophony. From a descending scale from the 6th to C the soprano enters alone, piano, on Christe. In the relative major E-flat major we now find solace, and the chorus enters together not in despair but with a figure of grateful supplication.

After a passage of effusive prayer with the soprano, to which the others add only punctuating affirmation, we return to the material of the opening. Yet what was once sole despair is now mixed with confidence. The opening theme here is now met with somewhat of a brazen fanfare, stricken but not lost.

The other contrapuntally-treated parts of the C minor could not be more different from the opening Kyrie. They know no darkness, proceeding in joyful sureness.

Gloria: Cum sancto spiritu [YouTube]
Osanna in excelsis Deo [YouTube]
Benedictus qui venit in nomine Domini [YouTube]

10. Piano Concertos of 1784:

No. 14 in F major - Allegro ma non troppo KV.449 [YouTube]
"The four re-dressings of the refrain could not have been made by a composer who was not an adept in academic counterpoint; any student can force contrapuntal imitation, but it is style even in the modification of a single part, that tells the contrapuntist. One could easily force the theory that the entries of this refrain were intended to bring a laugh against the series of text-book "species" which seem to be parodied in turn.

So sure is Mozart's sense of contrapuntal style that in all kinds of unexpected places–the finale presto of Don Giovanni, for instance– he makes a fugato gesture which makes us we are going to have something on the scale of the 'Jupiter' finale; yet when the parts disappear in smoke, or find themselves on firm homophonic ground, we are aware of no incongruity." [Hutchings, 87]

No. 19 in F major - Allegro assai KV.459 [YouTube]

This movement lacks the wit of the fugato gambits of KV.449. Here in the concerto as he did earlier in choral writing Mozart varies the texture between homophonic and contrapuntal. This concerto is simply to large and complex to handle here; Girdlestone takes ten pages to discuss this movement alone. Minimally one may observe the opening: the main theme introduced by the piano is taken up and treated contrapuntally by the tutti, the soloist returns, varies the main theme and adds another, both of which will later be taken up in a double fugue by the tutti.

With many modulations, polyphony erupting and then quieting into homophony, some motives remaining in homophony others in counterpoint, the mirrored recapitulation, and the movement of material from the tutti to the piano which often decorates the material in competition with the orchestra, this movement is monumental. Too it has remarkably rich texture with various rhythms and instruments suddenly flaring up into fugato. As we have noted before we are seeing more and more chromatic lines. Mozart makes much of the piano's solo nature, it sometimes refusing to submit to the order of the counterpoint. To say listening to this concerto is a blast is incomplete: the panoply is mesmerizing and it is invigorating to experience that which seems to spring up unexpectedly each time.

"The form of this movement, at once concise and expansive, is the synthesis of Mozart's experience and of his ideals of form. Everything plays a role here–operatic style, pianistic virtuosity, Mozart's increasing knowledge of Baroque counterpoint and of Bach in particular, and the symmetrical  balance and dramatic tensions of sonata style." [Rosen, 227]

See also the first two movements of this concerto.


[1] Italian for narrow or close, stretto refers to the answer replying to the subject before the subject has completed. (It can also refer to a section of increased speed. [See The Harvard Dictionary of Music, entry, stretto.]
[2] For the purposes of clarification, we consider music with:
  • one melody, monophonic
  • one dominant melody accompanied by chords, homophonic
  • independent (or mostly independent) melodies, polyphonic
[3] Dan Brown's essay from "Why Bach?" "Bach as Contrapuntist" is a wonderful introduction to Bach, his music, and the concept and practice of counterpoint. http://whybach.crosstownbooks.com/chapter.html

Abert, Hermann. W. A. Mozart. Yale University Press. New Haven and New York. 2007.

Hutchings, Arthur. A Companion to Mozart's Piano Concertos. Oxford University Press. New York. 1948.

Rosen, Charles. The Classical Style. W. W. Norton and Company. New York. 1997.

Rubbra, Edmund. Counterpoint: A Survey. Hutchinson University Library,  London. 1960.

Monday, August 9, 2010

Manners, Duties, and Society

"Manners are of more importance than laws. . . Manners are what vex or soothe, corrupt or purify, exalt or debase, barbarize or refine us, by a constant, steady, uniform, insensible operation, like that of the air we breathe in." [1]

These words from Edmund Burke no doubt sound stodgy and exaggerated to us today. Important as they may be, how can manners not only be so very important, but more important than actual laws? According to Burke manners are important in at least two ways: somehow in themselves and insofar as they are not laws, i.e. have no threat of force behind them. Burke in fact adds a third, that they are pre-rational. Let us examine these claims and find out if manners are as important as Burke says.

First let us look at the claim that manners are in themselves important. While we may deduce their importance from Burke's own statement, we in fact see his point much earlier in Giovanni della Casa's Renaissance treatise on manners, Galateo. The importance of manners lies in the frequency of their use:
. . . everyone must deal with other men and speak to them every day; thus, good manners must also be practiced many times daily, whereas justice, fortitude and he other greater and nobler virtues are called into service much more seldom. [2]
Indeed, manners are with us all of the time, applying everywhere. Not all social intercourse is of great importance and calls upon us to make critical and life-changing decisions. Nonetheless these little interactions can be pleasant or unpleasant. It is truly remarkable how much rudeness, inattentiveness, and surliness can offend and wrack the nerves.  The essence of manners, according to Della Casa, is taking into consideration other people's pleasures. Extravagant or improper dress, over-fastidiousness, inattention, and coarse language are all subtle disdains for others. Yet extreme sensitivity is improper too, since living with such a person is tantamount to servitude, like living amongst many fine glasses, afraid to make a move. Breaches of manners, then, are instances of saying "I'm more important than you" but they are more. These breaches are more, and more frustrating and unpleasant, because they appear arbitrary and not calculated. For example, the person blasting music from his car stereo is not saying, "Listen to this great music; I have such great taste you should listen to my music!" He is saying, "I'm listening to my music how and where I want and you don't figure into my world at all." Understood as such, lack of manners is incompatible with, and detrimental to, anything to be called society. It is surprisingly easy to ignore someone with bad ideas, quite hard to ignore someone who lets a door slam in your face. Manners are thus omnipresent and practical.

Let us now consider Burke's point that manners have a unique function insofar as they are pre-rational, that is we do not really think about them or are taught how or why to be respectful of them. This is likely true insofar as we observe them before we fully comprehend them, but in the end is it so? Not if they are indeed a segue into learning duties, for learning manners is a step toward assuming duties. We would seem to need finer definitions of the fuzzy terms "manners" and "duties." This task is somewhat complicated by the common usages of these words and by the fact the concepts behind them are inextricably linked, and in some cases seemingly overlapping. Manners can either be simply a way of doing things, i.e. a manner in which something gets done, or a particular way of doing things, i.e. a way known to be good. Thus "manners" usually means "particular manners" or "good manners."

How should we consider manners then? First and following Aristotle we should note that we ought not to expect more precision in our discussion than the material permits, as such we should be content with some necessary generalities and exceptions. Second, it would be pedantic and impossible to attempt to redefine the word "manners" for analysis, thus we should use the common usage in our discussion.

Let us say then manners have two aspects, the practical and the dutiful. The first sense is unique to manners themselves. Their ability to smooth relations and make life pleasant is practical. Yet why are they so and why do we praise people with them? Only because they are themselves manifestations of duties. For example, we consider it good manners to act a certain way toward one's parents, yet such is only so because it is thought to be a duty to be pious towards them. Piety being a broader concept which encompasses manners towards one's parents. Without concepts of duties, manners are simply empty gestures. As such without a concept of duties it would be indeed unsurprising for manners to endure since anyone can see they have no purpose any longer. (Besides their practical aspect, of course, which I do not expect as many people would notice.)

To learn manners, then, is to begin relationships with others, relationships of particular natures. We learn how to behave toward parents, toward grandparents, siblings, friends, neighbors, fellow citizens, each relationship being somehow unique. We may observe that since we learn manners as children incapable of actually performing duties, manners come first as affectations and precursors. As such then we may see each manner as connected to some duty.

We assume the responsibilities of duties by being born to a particular people, most centrally to a family, and learning how, i.e. the manner in which, to relate to them. Assuming duties toward them is something necessary, quite obviously, for the continuance of society. In a simply practical way, the assumption of familial duties is practical: no one can take care of himself as a child and as an old man, times when your parents and children ought to take care of you. Of course such is not always possible, and in such cases extended family and friends and neighbors help you. The authority to carry out these essential tasks is thus quite diffused, in unpredictable and imperceptible ways, amongst family and neighbors, forming a complex web of obligations, with the individual assuming various duties towards different people: friend to friend, son to parents, neighbor to neighbor, and so on. These complex webs give communities, both families and towns, unique characters.

Thus manners and associations, for example those familial ones which exist by nature, are inextricable. Manners are the immediate facilitators of duties.

None of this is of course codified anywhere and there is no legislation to turn to. It is simply customary, or custom. The best analogy here is that of the mores maiorum of the Romans. The customs of the Romans' ancestors were preserved not primarily through law and enforcement but by the impetus of the feeling that they had to be preserved, that such was simply the way a Roman ought to do things. How else would you do it, how else would a certain thing get done? The Roman way, this way.

It would be foolish and impossible to consider transplanting Roman virtues to the present day as is, though inquiry would be instructive as many of Rome's problems then are ours now. To that end let us briefly look to Cicero, who wrote de Officiis (On Duties) in the last year of Cicero's life in 44BC. We ought first to note that the Latin "officiis" and English "duties" do not quite carry the senses of consistency, propriety, and rightness of the Greek καθηκόντως (kathekontos.) Looking at Cicero's whole program is beyond our scope here, but there is one argument quite relevant to our Burkean concept of rights, in which Cicero contrasts the notion of a voluntary protector and personal domain and the ruler, or the notions of patrocinium (defense patronage), dominium, and imperium (rule.) C. N. Cochrane aptly summarizes the implications of Cicero's outlook:
From this standpoint there can be no question as to the ultimate residence of sovereignty; it is and must remain with the populus or organized community whose primacy is, thus, theoretically secure and final. This community is the generative source both of imperium and dominium, the former the principle of public order, the latter that of private right. But, in contradistinction from dominium, imperium is non-hereditary and, so far from conferring any title to ownership, it exists in order to protect owners in their titles. Accordingly, to transform it into an instrument of possession is to deny the fundamental idea of the commonwealth and to confuse it with those forms of barbaric kingship for which no such distinction exists. On this fact depend the scope and character of magisterial power. The magistrate is charged with the maintenance of public order and, for that reason, armed with coercive authority. But that authority is limited by the terms of commission; to abuse it is to create a right of resistance on the part of the sovereign people whose 'majesty' is thus infringed (laesa maiestas populi Romani). A situation like this is, however, pathological; it develops only when terrorism (vis et terror) has replaced the true basis of political cohesion, viz. consent (voluntas.) [3]
Aside from the republican, legal-political, natural rights, and what someone today would unavoidably characterize as Jeffersonian nature of these ideas, Cicero here acknowledges spheres of influence. Namely, that the domain of the family is not that of the state. The former, natural and hereditary, is the domain of our obligations to one another, and the latter positive, of legal maintenance, i.e. custodianship. The mixing of these spheres is destructive of families and obligations. Such a mixing could have a variety of causes, most obviously a broad failure of some highly necessary obligation which then gets taken up by the state or an outright usurpation by the state. In his essay on Burke, Ian Crow nicely summarized this transformation:
Of course, as our natural sympathies and associations are swept away there is one relationship that remains inviolable–that between the liberated individual, and the source of his liberation, the central government. If this is a contract, it is hardly one between equal parties! Nevertheless, the trappings of this liberation are likely to be present in force: written constitutions, paper rights, and all the other guarantees that lead us to equate legitimate authority with rationalism on parchment and, by a trompe l’oeil, the omnipresent government as the only legitimate source of that authority.

While the fight for influence, when it happens, turns upon this central power, the collapse of our true sources of liberty proceeds almost unnoticed. Burke saw a resistance to that centralism as built into our natures, but it is also a resistance rooted in our local affections: “The strong struggle in every individual found to belong to him and to distinguish him, is one of the securities against injustice and despotism implanted in our nature.” [4]
Indeed exchanging one's unwritten laws, customs, traditions, and manners for some theoretical guarantee from the government is a most unwise trade. First, it is depersonalizing. Instead of an individual personally carrying out duties of, say charity, toward his neighbors, the government "liberates" him from this duty. Now with the government "taking care of" charity, what is the relationship amongst neighbors? Between them and the state? The government is a sort of proxy in between relationships, usurping power of money and of loyalty. And as we said above, without duties, why should we expect manners to endure? Indeed having some unwritten code of living together, i.e. a society, is preferable to having everything legislated and administered.

In Rhetoric I.xiii Aristotle categorized these unwritten laws into two types, one essentially of honor ("springing from goodness or badness") and one of a practical nature, supplementing the written law. The latter, what he calls equity, is a similar smoothing of relations, asking us to distinguish between criminal acts and instances of misfortune and poor judgment." Equity bids us be merciful to the weakness of human nature; to think less about the laws than the man who framed them, and less about what he said than what he meant." Equity relies on similar conceptions of life, i.e. literally common sense, and good will. That it does not legally bind and has no threat of physical force behind it is significant,  and abiding by such ad hoc judgments reflects a desire for harmony and not simply requital. It requires, though, one to acknowledge bonds with others.

A hyper-litigious society in part is one whose people have forgotten how to relate to one another. A society with a massive welfare state is one whose people have either defaulted on their social obligations or had them usurped, in both cases to the detriment of liberty and community. Without duties, the end reason for manners, manners are mere pleasantries and people will sense their superfluousness and not bother with them. The result in both cases is a people who can only relate to each other through the state, or not at all.

A solution, or at least a step in the right direction, would be to suppress the urge that "there ought to be a law for. . ." and simply in one's personal life carry out one's duties. The difference on man can make not only by doing good but by being known to be good is quite remarkable.

[1] Burke, Edmund. The Works of the Right Honourable Edmund Burke: A New Edition, v. VIII. London: F. C. and J. Rivington, 1815. p.172

[2] Eisenbichler, Konrad and Bartlett, Kenneth R. (trans.) Galateo: A Renaissance Treatise on Manners by Giovanni Della Casa. Center for Reformation and Renaissance Studies. 1994.

[3] Cochrane, Charles Norris. Christianity and Classical Culture. Oxford University Press. London. 1968. p. 57

[4] Crowe, Ian. Edmund Burke on Manners. Modern Age, Volume 39, Number 34. Fall 1997. [PDF] [Journal]

Recommended Reading
Free (PDF) via Google Books

Burke by John Morley.  [Link]

Reflections on the Revolution in France by Edmund Burke [Link]

Friday, August 6, 2010

Around the Web

For Saturday, July 24 through Friday, August 6.

1) The struggle for the (possible) soul of David Eagleman.

2) In the WSJ, Terry Teachout on Emmanual Chabrier, "music's master of good cheer."

3) In the WSJ, does language influence culture?

4) Sophisticated synthesizers and computer-manipulated recordings are increasingly taking over theater orchestras.

5) In the WSJ, Trevor Butterworth reviews, "The Enlightened Economy: An Economic History of Britain 1700-1850" by Joel Mokyr.

6) A model of the universe with no big bang, no beginning, and no end.

7) William Spiegelman in the WSJ on The Unfinished Perfection of Leonardo da Vinci's 'The Virgin and Child With St. Anne'

8) In the WSJ, David Mermelstein interviews Yo-Yo Ma, the "ever-curious cellist."

9) In City-Journal, Jim Manzi on the limits of social science.

10) James Lasdun in The Guardian on "the wonder of Chekov."

11) In the Financial Times, "The Language of Food": an excerpt from Simon Schama's "Scribble, Scribble, Scribble, Writings on Ice Cream, Obama, Churchill and My Mother"

12) Jonathan H. Adler at The Volokh Conspiracy on The Roberts Court, "the most restrained in decades."

13) One of the biggest canals ever built by the Romans in an ancient port as important as Carthage or Alexandria has been discovered by British archaeologists.

14) Tim Black reviews "In Defence of the Enlightenment" by Tzvetan Todorov, for Spiked Online.

15) Mark Hannam at The Philosophers' Magazine reviews "A Revolution of the Mind" by Jonathan Israel.

16) Mark Bauerlein reviews "Higher Education?" by Andrew Hacker and Claudia Dreifus for the WSJ.

17) Captured: America in color from 1939-1943

Tuesday, August 3, 2010

Gardiner on Bach's Brandenburgs

Conductor Sir John Eliot Gardiner on J.S. Bach's "Brandenburg Concertos," discussing their highly varied nature, their conversational structures, and "exploring Bach's language."

Gardiner conducted the English Baroque Soloists performing the Brandenburgs and their recording for the SDG label came out in 2009.

Part I | Part II | Part III

Masterclass, on HBO

I was recently clicking around on the television and the word "Masterclass" in the on-screen guide caught my eye. This happens every so often and usually ends in disappointment, for example seeing "philosophy" and such turning out to be a perfume. This time, though, I did find an interesting program called "Masterclass" currently airing on HBO family, in which high school students selected by the National Foundation for Advancement in the Arts' "YoungArts" program engage in workshops with "legends in the fields where they aspire to become legends themselves."

The episode was about 25 minutes of playwright Edward Albee entertaining the kids' questions, asking them questions, and offering them some criticism of their work. It is certainly good viewing for youths and clearly they are the intended audience. Yet even adult creative artists would probably like to hear what worked (and what didn't) for someone who has succeeded, tips and tricks, and any insight into the craft. I'd have liked a longer program with more emphasis on technique and details although Albee went into surprising depth with the high-school students, substantially scratching the surface of the nature of writing plays: the essential goal of the artist, how play-writing differs from screenwriting, and his creative process.

The program is certainly well worth watching and hopefully more programming of this nature can follow, since while there is much history and science documentary programming there is little-to-no for the arts.

Masterclass on HBO Family

Sneak peeks:
Masterclass, with Michael Tilson Thomas