Posts Tagged ‘Vivaldi’

Life~Trouble~Tragedy~Music!

April 13, 2019

In chapter 18 of King of Soul, we encounter one exploration of how music arises from human life.

In the year 1969, Professor Victor Komienko explains to his Music Appreciation class how a certain kind of music may arise:

“The University is the Defender of  high standards in all of the arts; music is no exception. In the slings and arrows of outrageous  intrusion, the best standards of the ages are maintained at the Conservatory, or as we have here, the University. This is a college where the fundamentals of performance are passed on to the next generation of musicians, and where time-tested principles of effective composition are taught. At the same time, the Conservatory—or  University—retains and extends those foundations, so that appropriately innovative works can be brought forth.” Dr. Komienko looked up to the top row of the auditorium; he surveyed his class purposefully from the top row down. The baton in his hand tapped out a quick little rhythm on the podium.

“Do you have any questions so far?”

Teddy, halfway up the center aisle, raised his hand.

“Mr. Scher, of course you would have a question.”

“How do you feel about electrified instruments?”

“You are asking about electric guitars?”

“Yes, sir.”

“As you know, electric guitars have a high profile in contemporary popular music. As for their use in the classical legacy, we have not yet seen it. I will say, however, there is an indirect influence insofar as some of the big jazz bands of the 1930’s, such as Duke Ellington and Cab Calloway.  The electric guitar, used primarily as a rhythm instrument, has become a standard part of their jazz arrangements.

“George Gershwin has included in some of his compositions rhythms and melodic figures that originate with the Negro music, which has been brought over, as we know, from Africa. Gershwin’s Rhapsody in Blue is the most notable example of this influence. The sound of the electric guitar itself, as an instrument, has not yet been heard to any extent that I know of.

“Traditionally, the guitar, unamplified as an acoustic instrument, has found an honorable place in the classical repertoire, most notably in the works of Spanish composers such as Segovia, and  Rodrigo.”

Teddy Scher raised his hand again.

“Yes?” Dr. Komienko responded, with a slightly disconcerted tone.

“Have you heard that the London Symphony has performed with the Moody Blues?”

“I have heard that they have done that. I have not heard any of the recordings. Thank you, Mr. Scher, for bringing that to my attention. We must, however, move forward with our syllabus now. Today, we will listen to a selection from the Italian Baroque period, Vivaldi’s Summer movement of the Four Seasons.

“The composer wrote notes to communicate to the orchestra the character of the music. In this case, Vivaldi had written a poem, which included the image of a shepherd boy being frightened by the fury of a thunderstorm. Vivaldi evokes, in the music, the fearsome effect of that storm. Additionally, he wrote at the top of this score—the piece you are about to hear—this musical instruction: Tempo Impetuoso. What does that tell you? Let’s listen to it, and perhaps  we will comprehend just what the composer was indicating by the use of that descriptor, Impetuoso. I do believe, Mr. Scher, that you will agree with me after hearing it, that, in some ways, Antonio Vivaldi was a forerunner of the rock music genre, which is driven, in its 20-th century heart, by that”—the professor raised his hands, indicating quotation marks with his fingers—’electric guitar you mention.’

“Of course, there were no electric guitars in Vivaldi’s day. However, in this case—the piece you are about to hear—I believe that same impetuous spirit of a present-day  lead guitarist was resident in a virtuoso  solo violinist of that day, whoever he might have been at the time.

“The violin concerto—commonly  called  Le Quattro Stagioni, or the Four Seasons—was originally named by Vivaldi, in 1725, as Il Cimento dell’ Armonia e dell’ Invenzione , or translated, The Contest of Harmony and Invention. Perhaps, as you listen to this selection from it, you can surmise why the composer considered this work to represent a contest—or a sort of dual—between conventional notions of what music should be, as opposed to what music is as it is created and performed by the impetuous innovator—in this case, the soloist. Such  is the perennial contest, from age to age, between art that is generally acknowledged as appropriate and new art that is thought to be too disruptive.

“Now listen, and hear if you can, , the composer’s prescient gleaning of what music might become two and a half centuries later.  Arnold, please roll the tape. . .”

You will find one demonstration of this phenomenon here:

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

 

King of Soul

Bare Bach, Vivid Vivaldi

November 14, 2015

BareBrnchs

Summer’s done and leaves are gone:

branches bare, and death’s begun

to take its toll on the living one

whose active hands are not yet done.

 

Sound, summoned from somewhere deep inside,

strikes from string an imaginary ride

upon vibrations far and wide.

Here is life, and death must hide.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5bVRTtcWmXI

While bare branches inspire a sparse domain

‘twixt Bach and Perlman’s music without name,

some strenuous feat is being strewn upon a stringy frame

as spider spins his precious game.

WebCedr

Bare-branched strains give way to woven strands

so, through ages, some vivid virtuoso stands

to spin a web of Stradivarius demands;

Vivaldi’s winter surrounds Samuelsen’s hands.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9KxzuY0fJ-s

 

Smoke

A World in Harmony, or Not

January 29, 2015

AcropVwTheatre

This morning I am watching the sky over Athens, Greece, as a new day brightens this fascinating city.

Yesterday, Pat and I toured the Acropolis, a mountaintop collection of ancient Greek temples. Greeks of 2500 years ago believed in a multiplicity of gods who were contending with each other for power.

I woke up thinking about their pantheon of many gods, and how different that belief is from my Christian faith in One God.

Believing in one God means the world is in divine harmony, because God made the world the way it is supposed to be. This belief enables me to reconcile the obvious contradictions of good and evil in this world.

The pagan religion, it seems to me, does not enable a believer to adequately find true harmony in this world, because all the “gods” or forces of nature or spiritual forces, are contending with each other. Therefore there is no ultimate reconciliation of good vs. evil.

Is the universe in harmony with itself, or not?

So this morning I am considering this idea of harmony, or not-harmony. Is the world humming along in a harmony that was coded into it by a Creator? Or is it just a bunch of god-wannabe forces working against each other?

Just looking around in the world as it presently exists, it seems more like the latter.

Being a musician, I began to consider musical harmony. Think about the perfection that Mozart manifested in his symphonies and sonatas. Lots of harmony and perfect precision there. It’s nice to listen to, and very impressive. But I prefer the dynamic, existential dissonance of Beethoven’s music. Why is that?

Is there something about the dis-harmony, or dissonance, that is more appropriate, or more true, than appreciating a harmony that doesn’t really exist?

But let me go back a little further in musical time that Mozart and Beethoven.

Harmony and dissonance in music go back further than those two geniuses.

A half a century or so before them were Bach and Vivaldi.

Johann Sebastian Bach and Antonio Vivaldi were able to appropriate old modes and melodies that had been floating around since ancient (Greek, Indo-European, etc) times, and weave them into intricately constructed masterpieces of musical construction.

Bach was a pioneer in this; he was a genius. He experimented with the ancient Greek modes, blending them with tuneful elements of his own Germanic heritage to produce new inventions of musical expression that had never been heard, or even dreamed of, before. In fact, a series of his compositions are called “inventions.” They are carefully constructed, in almost the same sense that the later sound-generating machines of Edison, Bell, or Marconi came to be known, in the late 1800s, as “inventions.”

While Bach was the master inventor of the new (what we call baroque) music, Antonio Vivaldi was, during that same period, the grand master of musical passion. His universally popular “Four Seasons” (my all-time favorite) violin concertos express a level of instrumental virtuosity that surpass, by their emotional intensity, Bach’s work, which is more cerebral or scientific.

Of course Bach had his emotions going hard-at-it too, but in a very different–what we might call a “German”–way. While Vivaldi was. . . from Venice.  And. . . well, you know how Italians are, very expressive. (This all goes back, metaphorically, to the Greeks and Romans.)

Bach and Vivaldi were analogous to the Bill Gates and  Steve Jobs of their age.

Just as Bach had propelled the world into totally new forms of music in the 1700s, Bill Gates, working in the late 1900s, wove computer software into a whole new world of innovative technology.

Just as Vivaldi had propelled the violin, oboe and other instruments into unprecedented explorations of emotional catharsis, so did Steve Jobs, by his unpredictable innovations make computers “sing.”

While Bach was carefully constructing, on his keyboards, inventions of technical music wonder, Vivaldi was making the world ring, and sing, with creative passion.

There were others, of course, of that age: Telemann, Corelli, Pachelbel. Many great musicians during the baroque.

Then along came a prodigy: Mozart. He cranked out one masterpiece after another, and made it seem as simple as breathing. In Amadeus, music found its highest possible level of precise perfection.

Even so, listening to a meticulously perfect Mozart symphony or sonata does not pack the dynamic crescendo that would soon arrive under the masterful musical poetry of Ludwig von Beethoven.

What Bach did with the keyboard was raw creative genius, honed into exquisite constructions of sound. It is similar to what Gates did with software.

What Vivaldi did with instruments–violin, oboe–was pure passionate profundity, similar to what Jobs did with (what used to be called the computer) Apple.

Now, how did I, watching the day dawn in Athens,  arrive at all this rumination about Bach, Vivaldi, Mozart, Beethoven, Gates and Jobs?

I don’t know. How irresponsible of me.

I began this inharmonic quest about two hours ago with intentions that were totally different from what this essay has become. While watching a new day brighten the sky over Athens, I had an idea about the difference between paganism–belief in multiple gods or forces of nature that are contending with each other–and Christianity, which eventually dominated Greek (and European) culture. Having toured the Acropolis yesterday, I was considering all the huge architectural structures that the ancients had constructed here in Athens.

Those Greeks, and later the Romans, of ancient times seem to have been highly motivated with memorializing their devotion to a pantheon of many gods, mostly Athena and Zeus. They did so by building very large structures of architectural precision and grandiosity. I’m quite amazed, but there’s something missing here.

Then a Hebrew teacher named Paul came to Athens. He saw all their temples and memorials devoted to the gods, and promptly proclaimed to them otherwise:

This pantheon, or multiplicity, of forces you are  worshipping– I have to break it to ya– are not

truly gods. Rather, those entities are merely elemental forces in nature, and all of them subservient in power to One God:

YWHW, who sent his son to show us how to live and die.

What an innovator that Paul was. What followed is history, as Christian Europe would attest for the next 1900 years or so.

However, methinks some consequence, yet hanging in the world, shall bitterly begin with this year’s contentions.

Glass Chimera

Order minus Chaos = Passion

October 31, 2012

As I was listening to WDAV today, an airy figment of Telemann music  traveled through the radio and struck  my ears. As it happened, the music plucked upon my very soul and, there I was, unexpectedly in the middle of the day,  transported for a few minutes, back into the 18th century.

Not literally, of course, but in my mind. My thoughts escaped this present  world of  work and woe, and took refuge in an age long gone, a era of reason and order, long before the rude disruptions of  world wars, global warmings and worldwide economic warnings.

Although there has always been an element of disarray and chaos in human activity, our hindsight view of the 1700s  encompasses a world where composers like Telemann or Bach or Handel or Antonio Vivaldi could be seated at a musical instrument and, through intense toil and otherworldly inspiration, impose cryptic inked symbols onto a paper manuscript and thereby draw some amazingly expressive order out of the vast cosmos, by constructing a great work of music.

My all-time favorite is Vivaldi’s Four Seasons. Here’s the winter movement of it:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=uC-USAB530A&feature=related

Now, a few hours beyond that midday moment, the workday is over; the radio-induced flight of fancy has passed, and I sit at home sharing with you that time-travel moment–a sudden glimpse into 18th-century passion.

And I hope to remind us all that, out there in the midst of human noise and haste and confusion, someone somewhere has expressed passionate order by drawing it out of troublesome chaos. That happened three hundred years ago, and somewhere on earth, even now, some person or persons are deriving creative sense from the hopeless nonsense of our present world.

It’s a little bit like touching that moment when  Logos  spoke electromagnetic light into existence from the dark void.

 

CR, with new novel, Smoke, in progress