Archive for the ‘Germany’ Category

Felix’s Fortress Forté

August 4, 2019

While tuned into radio WDAV a day or two ago . . .

listening to Felix Mendelssohn’s 5th Symphony,

we suddenly discerned a developing  melodic surprise:

gentle strains of a classic religious tune, A Mighty Fortress is Our God . . .  drifting into the 3rd movement of the music.

Twenty-three minutes into this performance,

Orchestra

those first melodic snippets of Luther’s famous hymn—I heard, venturing in discreetly, during the slow Andante phase of Mendelssohn’s 1832 orchestral composition.  By the end of the piece, however, the understated entrance of that well-known melody had morphed into being the very core of the symphony’s dynamic, forceful conclusion.

This gentle arrival of a familiar melody that incrementally develops into a forcefully conclusive forté—this is a composer’s technique found in several classical music masterpieces. . . most notably Beethoven’s (last) 9th Symphony, and a favorite American piece of mine, Aaron Copland’s Appalachian Spring.

In the case of Ludwig van Beethoven’s use of  a developing melodic theme that overpowers all other musical elements, Ludwig used his own emphatic original tune to fortify a potent message of popular 18th-century zeitgeistuniversal brotherhood. The words that Beethoven chose to accompany his theme had been composed by Friedrich Schiller, a primary 18th-century poet of the Romantic period in our western history.

In the similar case of Aaron Copland’s Appalachian Spring, the composer employs a traditional religious melody—the “Shaker” theme, Simple Gifts, as a musical fulcrum for propelling the idea of mere simplicity into a commendable lifestyle.

The emphasis on simplicity is a powerful motivating factor in American history. The Puritans. for instance, who landed at Plymouth Rock in 1620, were fleeing an oppressive European religious straightjacket culture; they wanted to simplify their worship of God and to enable the practice of glorifying our Creator in community life.

Like Felix Mendelssohn, a great composer whose family heritage was Jewish,  20th-century composer Aaron Copland chose to utilize a well-established Christian melody as the basis for  fortifying a powerful musical masterpiece.

In other trends of this earthly life . . . in the realm of, let’s say, political compositions—as compared to musical ones—recently I read a book that represents a similar dynamic of compositional accomplishment. David Horowitz’s timely book, Dark Agenda brings to light a contemporary American Christian culture that is under attack from secularizing—yeah, even aggressively anti-religious—zealots.

Perhaps we simple-minded Christians of this era–as well as those more complex Reformed believers whose reforms originated with Martin Luther five centuries ago–will find fortifying encouragement and strong inspiration in these classically-inclined masterpieces:

~~ Felix Mendelsson’s 5th Symphony

~~ Aaron Copland’s Appalachian Spring,

     oh, and btw. . . honorable mention . . .

~~ Ludwig van Beethoven’s 9th Symphony

King of Soul

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Beethoven

October 8, 2018

Before he raised the baton to conduct Beethoven’s 5th Symphony, Christopher Warren-Green told us Beethoven was a revolutionary.

ConductorCWG

He matter-of-factually referred to the most disruptive orchestral composer ever as a revolutionary. And just before cranking up the Charlotte Symphony, Chris speculated that those infamous first-four-notes, da-da-da-Dahhhh, were probably lifted from a French Revolutionary song of that era.

It was the worst of times; it was the best of times, as Charles Dickens later wrote.

Forsooth, ’twas a very revolutionary time—1776-1820.

And Ludwig van Beethoven was right in the middle of it.

Right in the middle of a time when the 18th-century European order of things was being torn apart by radical new  ideas about the People running the show instead of the old fuddy-duddy royals who had been doing it for hundreds of years.

The young composer from northwestern Germany was indeed a musical revolutionary; he revolutionized music.

He turned the purpose of music upside down. Whereas the old order of things, financed by the royals, was all about making beautiful, harmonic, perfectly constructed sonatas and concertos to celebrate order and perfection—-

Ludwig, unable to ignore the terrible angst of that tumultuous age in which he found himself living, reflected—yeah, he even embraced—that disruptive spirit of the times.

And when they heard it sounded forth in the 5th Symphony, the royals hardly know what to make of it.

Beethoven was like the Elvis of his times, except he had an entire orchestra behind him. Multiply Elvis’ chutzpah by the number of musicians in an orchestra. That was the effect of Beethoven on the world of music.

And on the world itself, as thousands of performances since then have revealed.

Or, If not Elvis– think of  Bob Dylan, the Beatles, Rich Mullins or whoever expresses your disruptive angst and propels it into an awareness that the world is forever changing.

Like it or not, the world changes; sometimes that transforming is not pretty. Sometimes it is even disruptive, destructive, revolutionary. Music–and art generally–needs, in order to be valuable, to reflect the times we live in, and the changes that need to happen–not portraying a rose-colored-glasses dream that masks the profundity and excitement of living on this dangerous planet.

It would have been very hard, you see, for the young German prodigy to adopt the comfortable precision and beauty of his courtly predecessors—Mozart and Haydn. Au contraire, Ludwig caught hold of the gritty thrust of those revolutionary times. He deeply felt that terrible, violent wind blowing out of France; and he did, as any self-respecting genius would do, transform that terrible zeitgeist into revolutionary Music.

A truly new music, never heard before.

Unlike like any orchestra ever heard before.

Better to make disruptive music, than impose bloody revolution.

CharlotteSymph

Be like Beethoven, not like Robespierre.

Work together like a revolutionary Symphony.

Teach the world to ring out Liberty!

King of Soul

Barcelona v. Berlin in 1936

September 9, 2018

When it comes to European civilization, Greece is where the  legacy originated about 2500 years ago.

Among the many enduring contributions  by which the early Greeks set Europe into cultural motion, I find two, in particular, that have demonstrated incredible longevity:

Democracy, and Olympics.

Those early Greeks were incredibly active in their sporting competitions, and also in their zeal to launch the world’s most notable experiment in governance by “the people.”

Their idea of Democracy was later amended by the Romans as a form of governance known as Republic, which was perhaps a more practical working out of the egalitarian concept, because groups of citizens could, by vote, select representatives to do the actual decision-making.

Many centuries later, the notion of democracy ascended on a fresh new wind of modern life. Most notably in the 1700’s, certain forward-thinking individuals in America and central Europe used the ancient democratic ideal as a basis for updating and improving human governance. The working out of it has been, over the last two or three centuries, somewhat messy and unsure, but the idea of government by the people for the people is still widely considered to be the best and fairest framework for doing collectively whatever it is that we humans are trying to do to improve our situation here on earth.

A lot could be said here but I’ll just toss up an example of how the idea of democracy continues to capture Euro imagination. Here’s a photo I snapped a few days ago while walking through a public square in Barcelona.

Democracia

As we can see here, democracy seems to be a readily attractive notion, worthy of public mention. However, the prospect of promoting democracy has not always been easy here in Espanya. Spain has had a rough history in which Democracy and Authoritarian governments have bloodily contested each other.

Following their rejection of a King in 1931, the Spanish people fought a civil war, 1936-39; it began in a political competition between zealous advocates of these two opposing models of governance.

But during those tumultuous years, the people of Spain were not the only nation who were grappling with such controversies. A few European borders away, the people of Germany were in a similar contest.

After the Germans suffered the defeat of World War I, they had a massive reconstruction project going on, as they were striving to re-assemble not only their physical nation and its infrastructure, but also their way of governing themselves.

During the 1920’s and ’30’s, both the Germans and the Spanish  wrestled with themselves to establish a democratic Republic. Both attempts ended in failure.

When the Nazis took over Germany in 1933, they ditched the Weimar Republic and degenerated into Third Reich bellicosity. Also in the 1930’s, the people of Spain ousted their King and declared a new Republic. But in 1936, the Franco-led Falangists attacked their own people. By 1939, they had driven the Republicans out of office.

Meanwhile, back at the crunch, there was an athletic contention going on between these two violence-torn countries–Germany and Spain. This  competition gets back to the other great contribution that I mentioned earlier from ancient Greece:

the Olympics.

At the meeting of the International Olympic Committee in 1931, Spain had proposed that the 1936 Olympics take place in Barcelona. But, by a process of democratic voting among the member nations, the IOC awarded the hosting to Berlin.

That was an ill-fated turn of events. Germany was at that time being taken over by the Nazi Third Reich. Hitler and his Nazi thugs were striving to use the Olympics as a showcase of their supposed bullshit Aryan supremacy.

Down in Republican Spain, the leftist government caught wind of what the Nazis were up to. They smelled a rat in Europe. So they launched an attempt to conduct an alternate Olympics, which they thought would express more appropriately the sporting competition of  classic  events.

BarcOlyPop

But the so-called Olimpiada Popular in Barcelona never happened. As it turned out, the Spanish people were having a war among themselves in 1936 instead of inviting the world in for some friendly sports.

Later, during and after the Second World War,  the civilized world  awakened to the disastrous truth of what Nazi Germany had been doing behind the scenes while they had been hosting their facade of pseudo-Olympic propaganda back in ’36.

Spanish Catalunya Barcelona did, however, ultimately have its day in the Olympic sun. That came 56 years later, in 1992.

A few days ago, here and now 2018, we visited that Olympic site in Barcelona where the competitive events were conducted in ’92;  quite an impressive sight it still is:

BarcOlymp

My hope is that both ancient institutions—Democracy and Olympics will survive and thrive in this century we live in now—the 21st.

 Smoke

Austerity or Stimulus?

February 25, 2017

Well this is an improvement.

When I was still a gleam in my daddy’s eye, Germany fought a world-sized war against France. But now, in 2017, all the obsolete ideology that then fueled both fanaticisms–fascist v. communist–has withered down into a battle of ideas.

Fiscal ideas, like whether budgets should be balanced, or put on hold until things get better.

From a Peace vs. War standpoint, I’d say that delicate balancing act is an improvement, wouldn’t you? Budgets and Economic Plans are, theoretically, much more manageable than tanked-up military campaigns.

Now Germany and France– those two nation-state heavyweights whose fiscal priorities set the course for the rest of Europe–they are getting along just fine now. They expend financial energies trying to keep the whole of Europe humming along on all cylinders. Budget deficits that drag down Euro economies are generated mostly in the lackadaisical southern  economies–Greece, Italy and Spain.

But those two mid-continent economic heavyweights–France and Germany, function as fiscal opposites, polarizing European values and budget priorities in opposite directions. They are two very different countries; and yet Germany and France are not as opposite as they used to be. A lot has changed since they finally made peace back in 1945.

At the time of that last Great War, early 1940’s, Germany was suffering through the death-throes of a dying monarchy. What was left of the Kaiser’s authoritative legacy had been lethally manipulated into a world-class death regime by a demonic tyrant who wore an odd, obnoxious little mustache on his flat German face.

France up to that time was still stumbling through a sort of awkwardly adolescent stage, having booted their kings and queens out back in the early stages of the industrial revolution, and then replacing, in stages, the ancient monarchy with a struggling new Republic.

What the French did as the 18th-century came to a close was similar to what we Americans did, but different. We had ditched King George III in 1776. The French cut off Louis XVI in 1792. On the other side of the Rhine, the Germans kept their Wilhelm top dog hanging on a thread until the Allies ran him down in 1918.

We Americans did a whole new thing after we rejected the old wineskins of monarchic government back in 1776; we had a lot going for us–a vast, nearly-virgin continent that stretched out for 3000+ miles, with plenty of room to grow,  and to expand our new-found explorations for Life, Liberty and Pursuits of Happiness.

The Europeans–neither the French nor the Germans–did not have all that fruited-plains expansion space like we had. They were cramped up over there in the Old World.

Having wielded a fierce guillotine ruthlessness upon their king and queen, the French tried to spread the wealth all around, ensuring that everybody got a chunk of it. They had wrung a blood-stained liberte from the palaces of privilege in 1789. Over the course of the next century and a half, they generally moved leftward the whole time, toward an egalitarian idea of solidarity.

The Germans have always tended toward authoritarian leadership, which is one reason why Hitler was able to pull off the abominations that he did. But we Allies put that to an end in 1945.

Thank God.

Now in the post-WWII Europe, the Germans have turned out to be pretty good kids on the block, considering all that had happened back in the day. The last 3/4 of a century has seen a remarkable recovery. They went through some serious changes, rebuilding after  losing two wars, and then being divide into two different countries.

Since 1990, when Germany became united again into one country, those krauts have established a pretty impressive record. They now have the strongest, most stable economy in Europe.  One reason it turned out this way is: the Germans have historically been, by necessity, very disciplined, rational people and they know how to get things done.

The French are different from that. You gotta love the French. As the Germans have made the world a better place with their great music (Bach and Beethoven), the French have brightened and lightened our worldly life with their very lively, expressive and impressionistic art, coupled with their unbridled Joie de vivre. And let’s not forget the original architectural piece-de-resistance of the Western World. It was French creativity married to inventive 19th-century industrialism that brought us the Eiffel Tower in 1889.

ParisGargoyl

The French do progress with style and artistry; the Germans get it done with impressive efficiency and precision.

As an American who has geneologic roots in both cultures, this fascinates me.

Their two different attitudes about generating prosperity also encompass, respectively, their approaches to solving money problems.

Or more specifically. . . solving “lack of money” problems.

A new book, Europe and the Battle of Ideas, explains how these two nations, as the two polarizing States of modern Europe, each lead in their own way to set policy, together,  for solving Europe’s financial problems. Their tandem leadership is enhanced by their two very different strategies.

The simplest way to describe their treatments of European deficits is this:

The Germans are into Austerity; the French are into Stimulus.

Or to put it into a classic perspective:

The Germans want to balance the books,  thereby squeezing all governments and banks into economic stability. The French want the assets to get spread around so everybody can have a chunk of it.

How do I know anything about this?

This morning I saw Markus Brunnermeir being interviewed; he is one of the authors of the new book, Europe and the Battle of Ideas.

  https://www.socialeurope.eu/2017/02/europes-future-will-settled-battle-ideas/

In this fascinating, very informative interview, the questions are being posed by Rob Johnson, President of Institute for New Thinking, whatever that is.

Together, these two guys explore the two basic problem-solving approaches to working out Europe’s economic deficiencies. And it just so happens that the two main strategies are related to those two old nationalized culture, described above, between Germany and France.

Sounds simplistic perhaps, but this comparative analysis makes a lot of sense when you hear these two knowledgable men talk about the present condition of economic Europe.

So, rather than try to explain it to you, I’ll simply leave you with this list of characteristics, as identified by. Mr Markus Brunnermeier. The list identifies how each country’s budgetary priorities contributes to a strategy for solving Europe’s fiscal woes.  My oversimplified version of it  looks like this:

France

Germany

1.Stimulus

1.Austerity

2.Liquidity

2.Solvency

3.Solidarity

3.Liability

4.Discretion

4.Rules

5.Bail-out

5.Bail-In

Consider these two lists of national characteristics as two different strategies for solving large-scale economic problems.

Here are a few notes I made while watching Mr. Johnson interview Mr. Brunnermeier:

For French, the problem is always liquidity. Stimulus will flush money out of markets again.

Germans see problems as solvency difficulty. Fix the fundamentals. Don’t throw good money after bad.

French: If you see it as a liquidity problem, just bail them out.

German. If you see it as solvency problem,  Bail in, to avoid future hazards. Bail-in means: Bond holders who essentially gambled with a country or bank and  then reap the gains on upside– they should take losses on downside.

There was a radical shift in attitudes in Europe over the Cyprus bank crisis in spring 2013. Who pays? Who covers the losses?

. . . Bail-in or bail-out?

French fear systemic risk so they tend toward governmental bail-outs.

The Germans, on the other hand, see crisis as an opportunity to address and solve the systemic deficiencies. So penalize  the depositors/ investors; others will learn from that, and you will have bank-runs in other places. Such circumstances provide incentives for institutions and individuals to take responsibility for their own actions and investments.

Just how the Europeans get all this worked out, we shall see in the days ahead. And the working-out may provide some lessons for all of us.

Smoke