Choral Music Over Time
“Traditor Autem – Benedictus”
Benedictine Monks Of Santo Domingo De Silos
“Will the Circle Be Unbroken”
A. P. Carter
Johnny Cash, Roy Acuff, Ricky Skaggs, Levon Helm with Emmylou Harris and Jimmy Ibbotson
“Noumi Noumi Yaldati”
Jordi Savall, Montserrat Figueras, Lior Elmaleh & Hespèrion XXI
“Loves Me Like a Rock”
Paul Simon and The Dixie Hummingbirds
“I’ll Fly Away”
Albert E. Brumley
The Blind Boys Of Alabama
Crosby, Stills, and Nash
“Vespers, Op. 37 – The Great Doxology”
Irina Arkhipova, Victor Rumyantsev; Valery Polyansky: USSR Ministry Of Culture Chamber Choir
“Mass for Five Voices: IV. Sanctus & Benedictus”
Peter Phillips & The Tallis Scholars
“Inkanyezi Nezazi (Star And The Wiseman)”
Ladysmith Black Mambazo
“The Warmth of the Sun
Brian Wilson and Mike Love
The Beach Boys
“Dixit Raphael angelus”
In Dulci Jubilo
“In My Life
John Lennon and Paul McCartney
“When I Die”
Sweet Honey in the Rock
“People Get Ready
Curtis Mayfield and The Impressions
John Tavener and William Blake
Harry Christophers & The Sixteen
“500 Hundred Miles
Peter, Paul, and Mary
“Spem in alium”
Peter Phillips & The Tallis Scholars
Sheila Armstrong, Gerald English, Etc.; André Previn: London Symphony Orchestra & Chorus
“After the Love is Gone
David Foster, Jay Graydon, and Bill Champlin
Earth, Wind, and Fire
Missa Luba, “Credo”
Traditional, arranged by Father Guido Haazen
Les Troubadours Du Roi Baudouin
Vanitas with Violin and Glass Ball
The painting above is a self-portrait, of sorts. The artist can hardly be seen, but the title gives us a clue, Vanitas with Violin and Glass Ball. The violin dominates the painting and other inanimate objects, including a skull suggesting a person who was once living and animate, but is no more, are also prominent. But if we look carefully at the glass ball at the back of the painting we can see, if we look very closely, the reflection of the painter in the glass. He is distorted as are the other objects in the painting. There is the watch suggesting the passage of time, the skull suggesting the end of life, and objects, like the violin and quill, that suggest the work some do, as well as the wine glass that might suggest how we spend our leisure time. Perhaps this is what vanity is, the objects with which we fill our time that come to say more about who we are than we ourselves, or our actions, perhaps, say about who we are. The painter is lost in the background and the objects that fill his time are all that we see clearly. And is this not, to an extent, what vanity is, the pride we take in what we have or what we do for work or how we fill our time, and not in the way we conduct our ourselves, how we behave, how we treat others, or the values our lives embody that define us as members of our communities, which more clearly and truly define who we are as people.
Pope Innocent X
By Diego Velázquez
Charles I in Three Positions
Sir Anthony Van Dyck
Adriaen van Ostade
Here are three portraits. Two are of people who possessed great power, Pope Innocent X possessed great religious power and King Charles I possessed great political power. Pope Innocent X, though a religious leader, increased the political power and influence of the 17th century Catholic Church. King Charles I, on the other hand, in the eyes of some, abused his political power and in the end this abuse of power led to his execution. If we look into the face of Pope Innocent X we see a man who looks very serious and, in my view, very hard and uncompromising. If we look into the face of King Charles I, and we have three views of his face, we see man who looks softer and more carefree. There is a kind of “gentle” sternness in his look and also the suggestion that this is a man used to privilege and self-indulgence. The third portrait is of a fishmonger who is focused on his work and there is in his appearance the suggestion that he is content in his work. There is no sense of privilege about him and no sense of power or authority. In these three portraits we see the “three estates” of the medieval and renaissance world. We see in these portraits a view of the world as it is to this day, those that pursue power, those that pursue wealth and luxury (it was the pursuit of luxury that brought about King Charles I downfall, at least in part) and those that pursue work and everyday responsibility. For me, of the three, the fishmonger looks the most content. Art and literature can show us the world and life as it is lived by the various groups and classes of people that fill the world. It can reveal to us how life is and suggest to us how it ought to be.
Kapitsa and Semyonov
But too often we define ourselves by the work we do. I probably should know who Kapitsa and Semyonov are and in this day and age I can do a “Google” search that would tell me why they were important enough to have their portrait painted. But I can infer from the painting that whatever they did, it had something to do with science for one is showing to the other what appears to be a tool of their trade (of course this may be a trick, the painter may be engaging in deception so I should be careful about my assumptions). And this is often the way of things, we do not want the portraits drawn of us, whether with words or paint, to reveal too much about who we truly are, we want to be remembered for what is safely known about us and has earned us whatever degree of fame and respectability to which we are entitled. Though what we do is important, it often reveals only a small slice of who we really are.
Trumpet Music Over Time
Brandenburg Concerto #2 In F, BWV 1047 – “3. Allegro Assai”
Johann Sebastian Bach
Rudolf Baumgartner: Lucerne Festival Strings
Trumpet Concerto In E Flat, H 7E/1 – “1. Allegro”
Wynton Marsalis; Raymond Leppard: National Philharmonic Orchestra
Fanfare for Trumpet
Camerata of St. Andrew & Leonard Friedman
“Potato Head Blues”
Louis Armstrong and His Hot 7
Violin Concerto in A Minor, BWV 1041: “II. Andante”
Alison Balsom, Edward Gardner & Göteborg Symfoniker
“E. S. P.”
The Miles Davis Quintet
The Barber’s Timepiece
BBC Symphony Orchestra
Alison Balsom, Edward Gardner & Göteborg Symfoniker
“The Lonely Bull”
Burt Bacharach, Hal David/Sol Lake
Herb Alpert and the Tijuana Brass
“Brotherhood of Man”
Clark Terry & Oscar Peterson Trio
Pictures At An Exhibition – “Promenade; Gnomus”
Gilbert Levine: Berlin Radio Symphony Orchestra
“Soon We All Will Know”
“Things to Come”
Charlie Parker & Dizzy Gillespie
“The Unanswered Question”
Leonard Bernstein & New York Philharmonic
Margaret in Skating Costume
But art and literature do more than show us the world and the people in it. Commenting on an assignment recently, I suggested to a student that literature, and the arts in general, teach us to live more fully. The student was commenting on a poem and the emotions the poem evoked. He did not address the ethical implications of the issue the poem addressed, living fully and freely, he only responded to the emotions provoked by the poem. The arts usually appeal first to the emotions, but if we are thoughtful, reflective readers, viewers, or listeners we do not stop with the emotions, we experience the emotions, and enjoy that experience, but we also start to question, why do I feel the way I feel? Ought I to feel the way I feel? What is the psychology of the work, what is the point of view? Our intellect is aroused and engaged, our psyches, our philosophies and faiths, or world view, our point of view are all stimulated and experienced. We begin to live more fully, more dynamically. This is not to suggest other things do not evoke multiple aspects of our being, only that the arts, if we let them, are one of the few pursuits that stimulates all avenues of our existence. We are after all moral (or at least ethical) beings, we have a psychological, an intellectual, and an emotional life and we are most fully alive when all these qualities that define who we are as individuals are given the freedom to express themselves and exert their influence on the choices we make and the lives we construct.
Alva Noë in “What Art Unveils” puts it this way:
Art unveils us ourselves. Art is a making activity because we are by nature and culture organized by making activities. A work of art is a strange tool. It is an alien implement that affords us the opportunity to bring into view everything that was hidden in the background.
If I am right, art isn’t a phenomenon to be explained. Not by neuroscience, and not by philosophy. Art is itself a research practice, a way of investigating the world and ourselves. Art displays us to ourselves, and in a way makes us anew, by disrupting our habitual activities of doing and making.
I think also art confronts us with ourselves. We look at emotions, for example, that we wish to feel, enjoy feeling, and seek to feel and art asks us to consider the “rightness” of those emotions, the appropriateness of them; or at least to consider them in light of other responsibilities and in light of their suitability to the present moment. Art does not deny us these emotions or ask us to deny ourselves the emotions, only to consider them in a larger context. On the other side of the coin they can liberate the emotions, free us from “over-thinking” things. Art helps us to fully be the complex beings that we are.
Allegory of Iconclasts
Marcus Gheeraerts the Elder
The drawing capture an imaginary world and presents itself as a somewhat fantastical allegory. It is perhaps unseemly for an English teacher to be too much in love with fairy tales and other stories grounded more in fantasy and the fantastic than in the world as it is, but often to world as it is, is made clearer by stories set in made up worlds or that involve contact with imaginary creatures and beings. David Mitchel in “David Mitchell on Earthsea – a rival to Tolkien and George RR Martin” writes about the imaginary world Ursula Le Guin created in her series of stories set in the fictional land of Earthsea. Of course the world we live in is made up of earth and sea, and in this respect it is like our world. David Mitchell points out that this world captures the moral complexity of our own world and the dangers of the magical, which, if we believe Arthur C. Clarke, that the science of today would be seen as magic in a past that could not imagine this science, or as he said, “Any technology, no matter how primitive, is magic to those who don’t understand it,” as might be the case if a time machine were to enable you to bring your smart phone with you on a visit to Puritan New England.
In this light the magic found in stories and the uses of that magic, might suggest to us how we ought to use the “magic” that science opens up to us. Or in Le Guin’s words, “’Rain on Roke may be drouth in Osskil,’” teaches the Master Summoner, “’and a calm in the East Reach may be storm and ruin in the West, unless you know what you are about.’” Magic has its consequences and what we do here affects the environment over there, as products of our science and technology such as acid rain and nuclear waste, have consequences for those that had nothing to do with their creation. David Mitchell draws some larger conclusions, conclusions more pertinent to all of us and not just the scientists. He writes concerning Le Guin’s fantasy:
If Earthsea is one of literature’s best-written fantasy worlds, it is also one of the most cerebral. Chief among its concerns are morality, identity and power. In The Farthest Shore the Master Patterner on Roke will ask Ged, “What is evil?” and be answered, “A web we men weave,” but the seed of this theme is germinating in A Wizard of Earthsea. From Beowulf to Tolkien, to countless formulaic fantasy movies at a multiplex near you, the genre generates two-dimensional Manichaean struggles between Good and Evil, in which morality’s shades of grey are reduced to one black and one white. The real world, as most of us know (if not all presidents and prime ministers), is rarely so monochromatic, and neither is Earthsea. Ged’s quest is not to take down a Lord of Darkness but to learn the nature of the shadow that his vanity, anger and hatred set loose – to master it, by learning its nature and its name. “All my acts have their echo in it,” says Ged of his shadow; “it is my creature.” The climax of A Wizard of Earthsea is not the magical shootout that lesser novels would have ended with, but the high-risk enactment of a process Jung called “individuation”, in which the warring parts of the psyche integrate into a wiser, stronger whole. To quote Le Guin again: “In serious fantasy, the real battle is moral or internal … To do good, heroes must know or learn that the ‘axis of evil’ is within them.”
This is one of the great benefits of art and literature, it helps us see ourselves and where the true danger is in daily life, often within us and not in the darkness that often seems to surround us. The wizards of Earthsea are responsible for the consequences of what they do, as at the center of the first story are the consequences of Ged’s, or Sparrowhawk’s, actions that he must work to undue as best he can. We may not have magical powers, the ability to work miracles, but we do act in ways that have consequences for others and we ought to at least reflect on what we ought to do to undo to the best of our ability the harm that we have done.
Piano Music Over Time
The Well-Tempered Clavier, Book 1 – Prelude & Fugue #8 In E Flat Minor, BWV 853”
Johann Sebastian Bach
“Tears from the Children”
The Modern Jazz Quartet
“The Single Petal Of a Rose
Duke Ellington and His Orchestra
“Sonata No. 16 In C Major for Piano, K. 545: II. Andante”
Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart
“Your Cheatin’ Heart”
“Roll Away the Stone”
“Piano Sonata No.7 in D, Op.10 No.3 – 4. Rondo (Allegro)”
Ludwig van Beethoven
“Blue Rondo A La Turk
“I Left My Heart in San Francisco
12 Etudes, Op. 25, No. 11 in A Minor “Winter Wind”
“Phantasy, Op. 47”
Ulf Wallin and
Back Country Suite, “New Ground”
“Medley: All the Things You Are/Midnight Mood”
Oscar Hammerstein II, Joe Zawinul, Jerome Kern & Ben Raleigh
“Prelude & Fugue No.24 In D Minor: Prelude”
“The Köln Concert, Pt. 2c”
“3 Gymnopédies – No.1”
“Let It Be”
“Etude No. 11”
Self Portrait with a Palette
Fairy tales often reflect our inner psychology, the way fear and the way uncertainty and self-doubt work in our imaginations. The dogs that fly through Julian Falat’s self-portrait are probably not painted from life, they are painted from his imagination, which, like all of our imaginations, is a life of its own and unto itself. It thrives by a different set of rules, but if we are healthy human beings it does thrive. Ellen Handler Spitz suggests in her article “The Irresistible Psychology of Fairy Tales” that, as very young children, everything is new and strange. We are aware of needs, of things around us that look strange and maybe scary. It is all new and we do not know what to make of it. Fairy tales can help children confront that world, though, as J. R. R. Tolkien has pointed out in his essay on fairy tales, these stories were not initially stories for children and many of them in their earliest forms are probably much too grizzly and frightening for the very young. In talking about the “uncanny” she points out, “A key concept here is Freud’s notion of the uncanny, by which he meant the way in which familiar objects and events and people can suddenly seem strange and vice versa.” She goes on to say “the first few years of life are inevitably ‘uncanny’ for children, a topic noted and often brilliantly exploited by the finest children’s book authors and illustrators.” From these two thoughts we can see that where almost everything has an uncanny quality to it when we are very young, this sense of the uncanny follows us throughout life and life contains many mysteries.
Spitz goes on to point out other aspects of the psychology of fairy tales:
If, by the term “psychological,” we mean relevance for mental life in its entwined cognitive and affective functioning, we are right to invoke it here, for fairy tales speak directly and indirectly to the psyche. They stimulate rainbows of feeling, insatiable curiosity, and inexhaustible searches for meaning. Psychology, moreover, pace Bettelheim, Pullman, and others concerns more than the so-called imaginary inner lives of characters; it concerns the experience of listeners and readers. Year after year, we still need to know what will happen to Cinderella and Rapunzel, to Jack, to the man who needed a godfather, and to the unnamed youngest daughter who asked her father for a rose. Beyond glittering imagery of silver and golden-haired princesses, roses, shiny keys, and iron caskets, thorns, and fry-pans, we are pulled by our deep yearning for, and terror of, that which defies understanding. Beyond sense and beyond justice and morality, the fairy tales beckon us and we sit on the edge of our chairs waiting to find out what lies ahead—even when we have heard the tale a dozen times before.
I personally find this to be true with more than just fairy tales. I want to believe that maybe this time Heathcliff will not seduce Isabella Linton, that the cat will not break Zeena’s dish, that Dr. Jekyll will escape the clutches of Mr. Hyde, that Oedipus will escape his fate and not murder his father and marry his mother, or if he does, somehow he will escape the consequences. I think there is a fairy tale quality to most great literature that speaks to our psychology, that leads us into the woods of our inner being, our fears, and our hopes and aspirations; that holds up a mirror to our inner lives while also providing an avenue of escape from the terrors that linger there. Often it seems the greatest terrors we face in life are those that live inside of us, the fear of what we will find if we look too deeply into ourselves. Of course these fears, like all fears can only be confronted and conquered by facing them and stories often help us to do that.
The drawing above suggests, at least to me, that the human psyche is a landscape unto itself. It has its forests, its villagers, it towns and villages in which the villagers live and work. In one of Rabelais’ Pantagruelian books, he describes the “world in Pantagruel’s mouth. The world he describes is not unlike the world in this etching. Pantagruel is a giant and therefore the creatures that live there may be more like us than the creatures that live in our imaginary mouths. But as Neil Gaiman said in “Happily Ever After”:
Once upon a time, back when dragons still roared and maidens were beautiful and an honest young man with a good heart and a great deal of luck could always wind up with a princess and half the kingdom – back then, fairytales were for adults.
Children listened to them and enjoyed them, but children were not the primary audience, no more than they were the intended audience of Beowulf, or The Odyssey. J. R. R. Tolkien said, in a robust and fusty analogy, that fairytales were like the furniture in the nursery – it was not that the furniture had originally been made for children: it had once been for adults and was consigned to the nursery only when the adults grew tired of it and it became unfashionable.
There may come a time when the stories we tell today become relegated to the nursery, but then perhaps not. W. H. Auden pointed out that “good literature for adults requires an adult sensibility, but there is no such thing as good literature just for children.” So maybe some of the stories we tell will find their way to the nursery, but, as with other stories from the age of fairy tales there are others that will not. Or, perhaps, as with the fairy tales themselves that in their original form were much too gruesome for children, the stories we tell, when they lose their adult audience, will also be “reformed” for the nursery. Children often understand best the truths that stories tell.
But, I think there is a bit more to this. Children’s stories, folk and fairy tales are seen by many to be overly simplistic; simple narratives without much complexity. And though there is truth to this, these stories and the motifs they contain often do find their way into much more complex storytelling. The story of “Sleeping Beauty” is a simple fairy tale in its most familiar form. But its basic motif finds its way into other tales. The story of Brunhilde, for example, in Wagner’s Ring Cycle is on, in part, a “Sleeping Beauty” story. Brunhilde, in The Valkyrie falls in love with Sigmund and when her father, Woden, commands her to orchestrate his death and deliver him to Valhalla, she cannot do it. Woden punishes her disobedience by putting her to sleep on a stone table an surrounding her with a ring of fire. Siegfried, in the subsequent opera in the cycle, Siegfried, finds Brunhilde on the mountain top, penetrates the ring of fire and awakens Brunhilde with a kiss. Basically the same story as “Sleeping Beauty” but with some darker twists. Brunhilde is put to sleep by her father who is the chief of the Norse gods.
The story does suggest the power of love, but it also depicts a deity who is not loving, and there is much about Woden that is disturbing. Ultimately the story does not end well as it is the love between Siegfried and Brunhilde, when it is undermined, that brings about the end of the world, the cataclysmic Twilight of the Gods. We might also look at Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet as a “Sleeping Beauty” story that goes off the rails. Juliet does not awaken to Romeo’s kiss producing the tragic ending of that story.
What does the face reveal about character? Whether the face is like the portrait above or a literary description there is something present, if the portrait is artfully done. The portrait above is a self-portrait, what does it reveal about the painter? In the film The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie (based on the novel of the same name) there is an art teacher at Miss Brodie’s school who is in love with Miss Brodie. All of his portraits look like Miss Brodie, no matter who he looks at Miss Brodie is all that he can see. And from the paintings we see of his, there is little that is original to his work, most of it appears to be derived from other, more competent painters. It is the ability to capture what is not seen in a portrait that makes it artful. In the painting above there is a kind of defiance in the artist’s demeanor. Perhaps it comes from her being a woman in a field dominated by men. Perhaps it comes from her determination to succeed at something very difficult. Whatever it is, there is an interior life that is revealed. But there is also a sense that not all is revealed, that there are secrets she intends to keep as we all have secrets we intend to keep. The portrait painter has the goal to reveal, the subject, perhaps, has the goal to conceal. Art can liberate, but it doesn’t always and if the goal of art is to liberate the viewer, the reader, or the listener, perhaps one way it seeks to liberate is to confront our desire to keep secrets and the propriety of doing that from time to time.
Symphonic Music Over Time
Symphony No. 47 in G Major (“The Palindrome”), “Hob.I:47: II. Un poco adagio, cantabile”
Radio Symphony Orchestra of Zagreb & Antonio Janigro
Mozart: Symphony #41 In C, K 551, “Jupiter” – “2. Andante Cantabile”
Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart
Bruno Walter: Columbia Symphony Orchestra
Symphony No. 6 in F Major, Op. 68 “Pastoral”: “I. Allegro Ma Non Troppo”
Ludwig van Beethoven
London Symphony Orchestra & Josef Krips
Symphony No. 4 in C Minor, D. 417 – “Tragic”: “I. Adagio Molto – Allegro Vivace”
Academy of St. Martin In the Fields & Sir Neville Marriner
Symphony #5 In E Minor, Op. 64 – “1. Andante, Allegro Con Anima”
Peter Illych Tchaikovsky
Herbert Von Karajan: Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra
Berliner Philharmoniker & Rafael Kubelik
The Isle of the Dead, Op.29
Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra & Vladimir Ashkenazy
Symphony #2 In C Minor, “Resurrection” – “1. Allegro Maesto”
Riccardo Chailly: Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra
An Alpine Symphony: “Waning Tones / Dying Away of Sound”
The Philadelphia Orchestra & Charles Dutoit
Symphony No. 6 in D Minor, Op. 104: “I. Allegro molto moderato”
Kurt Sanderling & Berlin Symphony Orchestra
Capriccio for Piano and Orchestra: “I. Presto”
Baden-Baden Radio Symphony Orchestra, Harold Byrnes & Charlotte Zelka
Symphony No. 7, Op. 60 – “Leningrad”: “I. Allegretto”
Chicago Symphony Orchestra & Leonard Bernstein
Black, Brown & Beige Suite
Maurice Peress: American Composers Orchestra
A Symphony of Three Orchestras
New York Philharmonic & Pierre Boulez
Introitus (1978) Concerto for Piano and Chamber Orchestra
Beatrice Rauchs, Kiev Chamber Players & Vladimir Kozhukhar
Symphony No. 4 “Heroes”: “I. Heroes”
Bournemouth Symphony Orchestra & Marin Alsop
Fantasia on Greensleeves
Ralph Vaughan Williams
Leonard Bernstein & New York Philharmonic
Margaret Atwood suggests in “We are double-plus unfree” that there are two kinds of freedom, two kinds of liberty. When we read, when look at paintings and photographs and sculptures, when we listen to music, we may only be seeking an escape from the present, to be freed from whatever is distressing us or we may be looking for something deeper. The portrait suggests there are times we want to be free to keep our secrets and times we want to be free to express them. But Ms. Atwood considers another kind of liberty:
“A Robin Redbreast in a cage, Puts all Heaven in a Rage,” wrote William Blake. “Sufficient to have stood, though free to fall,” wrote John Milton, channelling God’s musings about mankind and free will in the third book of Paradise Lost. “Freedom, high-day, high-day, freedom … !” chants Caliban in The Tempest. Mind you, he is drunk at the time, and overly optimistic: the choice he is making is not freedom, but subjection to a tyrant.
We’re always talking about it, this “freedom”. But what do we mean by it? “There is more than one kind of freedom,” Aunt Lydia lectures the captive Handmaids in my 1985 novel, The Handmaid’s Tale. “Freedom to and freedom from. In the days of anarchy, it was freedom to. Now you are being given freedom from. Don’t underrate it.”
The robin redbreast is safer in the cage: it won’t get eaten by cats or smash into windows. It will have lots to eat. But it will also not be able to fly wherever it likes. Presumably this is what troubles the inhabitants of heaven: they object to the restriction placed on the flight options of a fellow winged being. The robin should live in nature, where it belongs: it should have “freedom to”, the active mode, rather than “freedom from”, the passive mode.
That’s all very well for robins. Hooray for Blake, we say! But what about us? Should we choose “freedom from” or “freedom to”? The safe cage or the dangerous wild? Comfort, inertia and boredom, or activity, risk and peril? Being human and therefore of mixed motives, we want both; though, as a rule, alternately. Sometimes the desire for risk leads to boundary-crossing and criminal activity, and sometimes the craving for safety leads to self-imprisonment.
Freedom is costly. We live in a time when living in a free and open society carries risks. There are dangerous people who keep their secrets until they can do great harm to those that get in their way and when we see this, it frightens us and we want safety; some want the safety of tyranny. It takes courage to live in a free society and when real danger comes we discover how deep our courage, or lack thereof, runs. In the end, I suppose, a good part of being whole is recognizing our limitations and the limitations that can be changed, ought to be changed, and those that needn’t be changed.
The Chelsea Pensioners Reading the Waterloo Dispatch
Sir David Wilkie
We cannot, of course, always overcome our limitations, and if fearfulness is one of ours, we may not be able to change it, we may seek to be free from the need to, but even if we cannot change ourselves, should we in deference to our limitations, impose restrictions on others’ freedom of movement and expression. I think it is important to at least consider this before we find ourselves in the position of having to make such choices and art and literature can help us inhabit these fearful places and make judgments about what to do in such places before we find ourselves in them. I am not sure how much we can prepare ourselves to be courageous, true courage is often only found in the moment it is called upon, but it helps to know what courage looks like and how others have shown it.
At the Dressing Table
The painting above is from 1909, but it illustrates to a degree how things do not change much. There is little in this painting to suggest the date of the painting, the candles perhaps, but not necessarily. Does it capture vanity or does it capture the desire to make a good impression? Does it invite a “value” judgment? I think we all want to look our best in public and one message of the painting is that we needn’t feel ashamed of that desire. I feel happy when I look at this painting because the woman in the painting looks happy and seems to be enjoying her preparations to meet the day. And this, too is a valuable contribution art makes to our finding ourselves and finding wholeness. I think of this in contrast with Pieter Claesz’ painting earlier Vanitas with Violin and Glass Ball. Claesz asks us to look at how the way we live prepares us for the way we will end, it invites us to look towards the future and our ultimate destiny. This painting invites us to look into the present moment and the satisfaction that can be gotten from it. I think both are important.
“High culture,” which is another word (or two) for “great art” ought to offer us more than just enjoyment, more than entertainment; it should be revelatory and the desire to seek, enjoy, and discover the insights offered by high culture is part of what defines a people. Joseph Epstein in a review of the book Notes on the Death of Culture, “Whatever Happened to High Culture?”, takes a pessimistic view:
Today it is not difficult to imagine a world devoid of high culture. In such a world museums will doubtless stay in business, to store what will come to seem the curiosities of earlier centuries; so, too, will a few symphony orchestras remain, while chamber music will seem quainter than Gregorian chant. Libraries, as has already been shown with bookstores, will no longer be required. The diminishing minority still interested in acquiring the benefits of high culture will have to search for it exclusively in the culture of the past. No longer a continuing enterprise, high culture itself will become dead-ended, a curiosity, little more, and thus over time likely to die out. Life will go on. Machines will grow smarter, human beings gradually dumber. Round the world the vast majority might possibly feel that something grand is missing, though they shan’t have a clue to what it might be.
If art, if “high culture” were to die out, I think Epstein is correct in his analysis of what would be lost and the ultimate price a society would pay. This price was nearly paid during the “Dark Ages” when interest in the arts seemed to be lost, but high culture, civilization, was not lost, it did make a resurgence and not all of that age of darkness was as dark as some would have us believe. But what is not valued will not likely be preserved and it is likely that much could be lost. Its loss is worth thinking about, as is its preservation.
Leon Wieseltier in “Among the Disrupted” also considers the contribution of art and culture to society. We are reaching a time where, digitally, all art, music, and literatures can be saved and preserved. Is this enough? He asks if this desire to preserve a culture, what we call The Humanities just empty, inconsequential sentimentality. Perhaps it is, but is that a bad thing:
Is all this — is humanism — sentimental? But sentimentality is not always a counterfeit emotion. Sometimes sentiment is warranted by reality. The persistence of humanism through the centuries, in the face of formidable intellectual and social obstacles, has been owed to the truth of its representations of our complexly beating hearts, and to the guidance that it has offered, in its variegated and conflicting versions, for a soulful and sensitive existence. There is nothing soft about the quest for a significant life. And a complacent humanist is a humanist who has not read his books closely, since they teach disquiet and difficulty. In a society rife with theories and practices that flatten and shrink and chill the human subject, the humanist is the dissenter. Never mind the platforms. Our solemn responsibility is for the substance.
I had a professor in college who drew a distinction between sentiment and sentimentality. Sentimentality, in his view was the stuff of melodrama, of soap opera, but sentiment was the stuff of something real and deep inside of us. He would suggest that it is sentiment that captures “our complexly beating hearts.” Sentimentality may produce tears, but sentiment along with those tears brings a kind of catharsis, it is evidence of changes being made inside us, of inner truths and insights coming to the surface and the comprehension that this coming to the surface brings. We are in need of regular epiphanies if we are not to be drowned by the cares of the world; if we are to have “a soulful and sensitive existence.”
Violin Music Over Time
“Violin Partita No. 3 in E Major, BWV 1006_ I. Preludio”
J. S. Bach
Rachel Barton Pine
“Rhythms of Hope”
“Tati Un Mama Tants”
“Concerto No. 1 in B-Flat Major for Violin and Orchestra, K. 207: I. Allegro moderato”
Wolfgang Amadeus Motzart
Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra, Emmy Verhey & Eduardo Marturet
“Violin Concerto In E Minor, Op. 64 – 1. Allegro Molto Appassionato”
Itzhak Perlman; Daniel Barenboim: Chicago Symphony Orchestra
“Night and Day”
Django Reinhardt & Stéphane Grapp
“Sonata for solo violin Sz.117 in G Minor_ II. Fuga”
“Violin Concerto _To the Memory of an Angel__ I. Andante – Allegretto”
Josef Suk, Orchestre philharmonique tchèque, Karel Ančerl
Aly Bain & Jay Ungar
“Concerto For Violin, Cello & Orchestra In A Minor, Op. 102, _Double_ – 1. Allegro”
Itzhak Perlman, Yo-Yo Ma; Daniel Barenboim: Chicago Symphony Orchestra
“Violin Concerto, Op. 47 in D Minor_ Allegro moderato”
Itzhak Perlman, Erich Leinsdorf, Boston Symphony Orchestra & Harold Hagopian
Django Reinhardt, Stéphane Grappelli & The Quintet of the Hot Club of France
“Violin Concerto In D, Op. 61 – 1. Allegro Ma Non Troppo”
Ludwig van Beethoven
Itzhak Perlman; Daniel Barenboim: Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra
Stuart Duncan, Yo-Yo Ma, Edgar Meyer & Chris Thile
Storytelling, whether they are the stories we equate with childhood or pulp fiction or the stories we equate with great art, is about telling lies of a sort. They are lies in the sense they did not literally happen, they have been made up, but they are truthful in what they reveal and this is true of even the simplest most “unartful” of stories. There is usually something there that resonates, even if only superficially, with what we need to know if we are ever to become whole. And those stories that are too superficial to fill that empty space we feel inside, they often point us on our way to stories that do help to fill that space. Not all reading is equal, but if the reader is a serious thoughtful reader, and often even if they are not, all reading has the potential to point us in the right direction. Cynthia Ozick in her essay “The Novel’s Evil Tongue” suggests that the novel, that story telling is a kind of gossip:
Gossip is the steady deliverer of secrets, the necessary divulger of who thinks this and who does that, the carrier of speculation and suspicion. The gossiper is often a grand imaginer and, like the novelist, an enemy of the anthill. The communitarian ants rush about with full deliberation, pursuing their tasks with admirable responsibility, efficiency, precision. Everything in their well-structured polity is open and predictable — every gesture, every pathway. They may perish by the hundreds (step on an anthill and precipitate a Vesuvius); the survivors continue as prescribed and do not mourn. And what a creaturely doom it is, not to know sorrow, or regret, or the meaning of death; to have no memory, or wonder, or inquisitiveness, never to go up and down as a talebearer, never to envy, never to be seduced, never to be mistaken or guilty or ashamed. To be destined to live without gossip is to forfeit the perilous cost of being born human — gossip at its root is nothing less than metaphysical, Promethean, hubristic. Or, to frame it otherwise: To choose to live without gossip is to scorn storytelling. And to scorn storytelling is to join the anthill, where there are no secrets to pry open.
There is truth to this, when we read a story and are caught up in it we are spying on people that, in our imaginations, are real people. If we have bought into the story, we believe it is really happening and those that it is happening to are real as well. But also, by the end of the tale we might discover that we are, after a fashion, the target of the gossip, that the gossiper could be talking about us.
Jack Rollins and Charles H. Joffe & United Artists
In this clip from Woody Allen’s film Manhattan the Woody Allen character, which whatever the character’s name may be in the film is usually an incarnation of Woody Allen, is meditating on life, its meaning, and what we live for. He concludes by realizing that part of what he lives for is beauty and that one aspect of that beauty he lives for is his beloved’s face. But whether it is Mozart’s Jupiter Symphony or Louis Armstrong’s “Potato Head Blues” beauty transports, it is part of what we live for, it does more than fill the time, it transforms the time, it removes us from the constraints of time. One aspect of Virginia Woolf’s novel To the Lighthouse that I find especially satisfying is its depiction of the passage of time. In the opening section of the novel the grandmother is reading one of Grimm’s fairy tales to her grandchild. We can get a sense for how much time has passed between certain events by the grandmother’s place in the story. There are events that take pages to describe that in real time took only as much time as it takes to read a sentence or two and others that may take a few paragraphs to describe that transpired over the reading of many pages. This is how we experience the passage of time, a few hours may feel like a few seconds and a few seconds may feel like hours depending on the nature of the events that fill that time. I do not think anyone who has not lived through an earthquake can possibly know how long fifteen seconds can last.
Orchestral/Combo Music Over Time
“Lamento di Tristan”
Martin Best Medieval Ensemble
“Laïla Djân” (Afghanistan)
Ensemble Kaboul & Hespèrion XXI
“Ave Maria” (China)
“Somebody Stole My Gal”
“Samhradh, Samhradh (Summetime, Summertime)”
“Recorder Sonata In G Minor, Op. 1/2, HWV 360 – 1. Larghetto”
George Frideric Handel
Michala Petri and Keith Jarrett
Rhapsody In Blue
André Previn; London Symphony Orchestra
“Night In Tunisia”
John “Dizzy” Gillespie and F. Paparell
Turtle Island String Quartet
“’The Ancient’ _ Giants Under The Sun”
Jon Anderson, Steve Howe, Chris Squire, Alan White, and Rick Wakeman
“Concertino for Jazz Quartet and Orchestra: I”
The Modern Jazz Quartet
“Serenade in G, K.525 “Eine kleine Nachtmusik” – 1. Allegro”
Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart
Alois Posch and Hagen Quartett
“Prelude (Re Mineur)”
Karl Friedrich Abel
“String Quartet No.3: ‘Mishima’: ‘1957: Award Montage’”
The Smith Quartet & Philip Glass
“Adagio from Concierto de Aranjues”
Luis Manuel Molina arranged by John Lewis
The Modern Jazz Quartet
“Ceol Bhriotanach (Breton Music)”
Appalachian Spring Suite: “Doppio Movimento” (shaker Melody “The Gift to Be Simple”)
Leonard Bernstein & New York Philharmonic
“Night at the Caravanserai”
Yo-Yo Ma: Silk Road Ensemble
Edgar Meyer, Bela Fleck, Mike Marshall
“Cluck Old Hen”
Alison Krauss & Union Station
The arts also feed each other. In the musical bits included here it is possible to see how musical forms as distant from one another as the Baroque and Rock and Roll still share a kinship. I thought of Philip Glass as a very modern composer with a unique sound, but when his “String Quartet #3” is juxtaposed with Karl Friedrich Abel’s (an 18th century composer) “Prelude” we hear a very similar sound and discover that the pulsating sound that often characterizes Glass’ music is not original with him. We are all the products of our influences. In confronting us with ourselves art invites us, in some senses it demands that we be truthful with ourselves and suggests to us we cannot be wholly ourselves until we have owned ourselves. I am a Christian that works in an academic environment that is often, if not hostile, a bit condescending to those with a religious faith. It is seen by many as falling victim to mythology and superstition. But for those that have experienced faith, the presence of God is as real as the absence of God is to those that have not experienced faith, at least not a theistic one. We are all tempted to conceal what we fear others may ridicule. And part of living fully and being whole demands that we not mind being ridiculed. It has to go beyond just not being angry, because it is in not minding the ridicule that anger is truly vanquished and we have to replace it with something else that enables us to remain true to ourselves.
I cannot love my neighbor while I am angry with my neighbor. If love is to survive that vanity that produces embarrassment and makes me susceptible to ridicule, it must find another outlet. As the Bishop in Le Miserables had to find an outlet for his disappointment and feelings of betrayal so that he could enable Jean Valjean to go free by telling the police that what Valjean had stolen was actually a gift. It wasn’t a gift, of course, it was the lie Valjean told in order to escape arrest. But in corroborating the lie, the Bishop not only saved Valjean from prison, he transformed his life. To do this the Bishop had to not mind appearing ridiculous in the eyes of the police and the citizens of his town. The depth of our love is revealed in what we are willing to endure to preserve that love, and it is in preserving that love that true wholeness is found.
Portrait of Adele Bloch-Bauer