Posts Tagged ‘19th-century’

Czech out the New World!

November 20, 2018

Antonin Dvorak was born in the Czech region of Europe in 1841. His life path brought the gifted musician through a trailblazing role as a composer of bold, new symphonic music at the Prague Conservatory,

In 1892, Antonin chose, like many other adventurous Europeans of that age, to travel to  the land of wide open spaces and wide open opportunity—America.

Amerca2

Although his residence here was for only for a few years, that was enough time for the inspired Czech to catch hold of the American Dream; by skillful composition, he enunciated that dream in one of the most American-spirited pieces of music ever performed.

The symphony he composed here—his 9th—became known as the “New World.”

This transplanted Czech’s musical  gifting had propelled him to a podium of international renown, so the National Conservatory of Music of America recruited Dvorak as their Director. When Antonin left Europe in 1892, he was bound for the big apple— New York City, USA.

During that New World phase of his life’s journey, Antonin extended his westward adventure far beyond our Atlantic coast, into the very heartland of the frontier experience. In an Iowa community of transplanted Czechs, Antonin dwelt comfortably for a season with his countrymen.

That trip from New York out to our heartland and back must certainly have been a life-changing experience for the alert musician; the orchestral  piece he dreamed up— and then committed to musical score in New York in 1893— generates vivid images in my imagination. Whenever I listen to the New World Symphony, my mind fills up with excitement about the urgency and resourcefulness of our vast continent-wide expansion, which began in the farthest regions of an Old World and culminated in a New.

A recent New York Philharmonic performance of Dvorak’s New World Symphony, under the masterful hand of Alan Gilbert, presents a tender, and yet impetuous, rendering of the piece. An energetic portrayal of what Antonin had in mind when he composed his New World masterpiece.

AlanGilbert

Hearing this symphony summons adventures of travel in my imagination.

Embarking on a great adventure: this, it seems to me, is the theme of Dvorak’s  musical odyssey. In the early passages, I catch glimpses of a virtuoso voyage across the rolling Atlantic Ocean. . .

ShipSail

with the wind in my face and a sensation of sailing steadily toward some new venue of opportunities and bright horizons.

The bouncy flutes and piccolos set this course for my imagining.

Sailing onward through Dvorak’s audible vision, I hear a finely-honed orchestra moving melodically westward, inducing a sense of fair wind favorable terrain . . . past the Statue of Liberty, then disembarking in a bustling 19th-century New York port, negotiating the busy streets, through a dynamo of enterprising business and yankee industry, then rolling farther along, out of the city and into the countryside . . . moments of repose along the way . . . through coastal commerce past planted fields o’er dusty roads,  riding into green Appalachian hills,

Appalachian

over blue mountain ridges, catching a locomotive in Cincinnati, steaming past the fruited plains and barreling along across vast, wind-swept prairies:

The New World!

Along with the rhythmic locomotive journey through verdant landscapes, Dvorak’s bold, loud use of the trombones and trumpets provokes urgency, tension, danger at points along the way—then periodic resolvings through the ministry of exquisitely tender woodwinds—mellow oboes,

Oboe

resonant clarinets—and the declarative legato of French horns, backed up, sometimes boisterously, sometimes gently, with those ever-present violins and violas.

And low thumping bassos that stand as tall and deep as elms in the great American landscape.

These flights of fancy then deliver us into thankful moments of contemplation, yeah, even reverence for a Providential presence, accompanied by fluted tremelos, and blown deeper into the traveler’s soul by the vibrant contemplation of oboes, with resonant clarinets and mellowing horns. Excitement decrescendoes past repose, into full  contemplation, with the ultimate reward: wonder.

And by ’n by, sudden stirrings of urgency—yea, even danger and warning—from the bells of the trumpets and trombones, because that is the real world.

Always back to the real world. That’s the American way.

The real world of conclusion. A good thing can’t go on forever; it has to end at some point.

Oh, what a strong, bold brassy conclusion from our trombones and trumpets!

Brass

A great piece of Music!

But maybe you’d have to be there to catch my vision of it.

Or, maybe not. Next best thing:

   https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=HClX2s8A9IE

Glass Chimera

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

The Prescience and Presumption of Karl Marx

May 17, 2018

If you take the time to read Marx and Engels’ Communist Manifesto, you may be surprised at how accurate is their assessment of the 19th century industrializing world.

Before Marx and Engels were born, back in the last quarter of the 18th-century, the world witnessed two major revolutions, the American one in 1776. and the French version in 1789.

These two major historical uprisings evolved very differently, although they had both originated conceptually with the Enlightenment ideas of Liberty, Equality and Justice.

Here in the USA, all we had to do was eject King George III and his soldiers. We sent them packin’ back to the old country, England. Then we had what appeared  to be a virgin continent 4000 miles wide populated by indigenous tribes who had not yet been industrially developed.

In France it was a very different story. The newfound revolutionaries, after decapitating old monarchs and killing off their privileged network of landed royalty, still found their mob-enforced movement dragged down by a thousand-year-old heavy baggage of entrenched, fortified autocratic economy.

I can simplify an explanation the difference between the American and French Revolutions for you this way:

In France, the whole revolutionary process got a lot bloodier, more vicious, and it took a hell of a lot longer time to play out.

A few years after the revolting peasants decapitated Louis XVI and his queen Marie Antoinette, Napolean came along, took charge of the debilitated French state and rearranged everything. Later, after he went down, France  was in disarray for the next century, trapped in a revolving door of revolutionary fervor, anarchy, stubborn monarchists and a world that was changing faster than you can say “modernizing industry.”

Into this cauldron of overheating European political and mechanizing discontent, Karl Marx was born in 1818.

KarlMarx

Although the young communist was of German birth, his entrance to this world came in Trier, a town very near the French border.

Karl was a very smart guy. During the time of his educated, idealistic youth, he noticed and publicly identified many trends of modernizing industry and economics that were rapidly industrializing Europe and  eventually the entire world. Things were changing faster than a speeding locomotive.

Within all those changes, Marx identified a new socio-economic class that was establishing itself as the new people in-charge, after the fall of the French monarchy (the first of many monarchies that would be destroyed in coming years). This new, rising class of merchants, managers and craftsmen he called the “bourgeoisie.”

In his eerily prescient analysis of that emerging upper-middle class, Marx also hit on a description of  what we would later call ‘globalization,” Marx wrote:

“The bourgeoisie, by the rapid improvements of all instruments of production, (and) by the immensely facilitated means of communication, draws (sucks) all– even the most barbarian– nations into civilization. The cheap prices of its (the bourgeois’) commodities are the heavy artillery with which it batters down all Chinese walls, (and) with which it forces ‘the barbarians’ intensely obstinate hatred of foreigners to capitulate. It compels all nations, on pain of extinction, to adopt the bourgeois  mode of production; it compels them to introduce what it calls civilization into their midst, i.e., to become bourgeois themselves. In one word, it creates a world after its own image.”

During the turbulent 1840’s, Marx labored with his associate Friedrich Engels to describe and evaluate these historical changes. Together they devised a fix for the world’s problem of a new bourgeois upper-class cruelly exploiting proletarian workers. Thus the Communist Manifesto developed. In 1848, they published the first version of their hot-off-the-press world-changing document. Here’s one part of their assessment of a rapidly industrializing 18th-century Europe:

“Modern industry has converted the little workshop of the patriarchal master into the great factory of the industrial capitalist. Masses of laborers, crowded into the factory, are organized like soldiers. As privates of the industrial army they are placed under the command of a perfect hierarchy of officers and sergeants. Not only are they slaves of the bourgeois class, and of the bourgeois State; they are daily and hourly enslaved by the machine, by the overlooker, and above all, by the individual bourgeois manufacturer himself.”

Marx and Engels identified the disruptive attributes of a new, capitalizing economic steamroller of modern industrialization. They foresaw its accompanying alienation, which would, it seemed, forever confound the proletarian working classes  in Europe, Russia and eventually every nation in the world. In the Communist Manifesto of 1848, Marx and Engels wrote:

“The bourgeoisie cannot exist without constantly revolutionizing the instruments of production, and thereby the relations of production, and with them the whole relations of society. . . Constant revolutionizing of production, uninterrupted disturbance of all social conditions, everlasting uncertainty and agitation distinguish the bourgeois epoch from all earlier ones. All fixed fast-frozen relations, with their train of ancient and venerable prejudices and opinions, are swept away; all new-formed ones become antiquated before they can ossify. All that is solid melts into air, all that is holy is profaned, and man is at last compelled to face, with sober senses, his real conditions of life, and his relations with his kind.”

The dynamic theorizing duo, Marx and Engels, had figured out that very disruptive bourgeois-imposed changes were in store for humanity. Little did they realize that the revolutionary, ostensibly corrective measures they would soon be positing would be ultimately just as disruptive, if not more-so, than the maelstrom of rapidly escalating industrialism that was fast overtaking 19th-century Europe.

Marx and Engels went on to concoct an elaborate prescription to fix the world and thus deliver us from the ravages of modern capitalism and its dehumanizing industrialization.

If you look at the implementation of their communist doctrine as it has evolved in the last  century and a half, you may be dismayed at how brutally the zealous proponents of Marxist communism (Stalin, Mao, Ho Chi Minh, Pol Pot et al) screwed up the original idealized vision for world communism.

Which goes to show that the best-laid plans of mice and men are generally worked out in programs and institutions very different from their original visions and versions.

Later, when Socialists came along, attempting to reconcile the old System of autocratic Europe with a perpetually revolutionizing Communist big-fix, Marx pooh-poohed the wimpish compromisers, remarking . . .

“. . . Socialism, however, (does not) understand the (necessary) abolition of the bourgeois relations of production, an abolition that can be effected only by a revolution.”

So here’s my question for Karl and Fred:

Hey, since you did identify  the extremely disruptive, debilitating bourgeois rearrangement of a capitalist, 19th-century world,   would your proposed communist remedy  be less disruptive and crippling than the total, ongoing revolution that a communist fix would require?

I think not.

Furthermore, if subsequent history is any indicator, the changes in human activity that would be necessary to manifest a communist society as idealized by Marx and Engels—such changes would require constant correction, and therefore perpetual revolution.

Doesn’t sound very beneficial, from a human standpoint.

Furthermore, this writer would suggest:

Since your theorized systems for world improvement dictate that the revolutionizing proletariat must cast aside their “opiate” of religion, and thus deny the presence and power of “God” . . .

it would seem that many of the simpleminded 21st-century religious proletariat workers out there in flyover country or Manchester or Italy or wherever—they might rise up and reject the technocratic decrees of their elitist deep-state Marx-inspired EU overlords.

I know you wanta write them present-day uncooperative proles off as “alt-right” and reactionary, but it seems to me they are the same “proletarian” workers that Marx and Engels thought they had identified as the future vanguard of true communism.

Apparently they have something else in mind than technocrat-generated statism, maybe just a “leave us alone” revolution.

King of Soul