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Sunday Surprise: Beethoven’s trousers, stockings & Missa Solemnis

Sunday, October 19th, 2014

[ by Charles Cameron -- a DoubleQuote in words from the NYRB with one of the last and greatest Beethoven works -- while I polish up the rest of my posts for the day ]
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beet-cover-mk
Beethoven’s britches imagined by Mark Kitaoka for Dallas Symphony Orchestra Beethoven Festival Marketing Dept

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In The Beethoven Mystery Case, Leo Carey writes:

Nine hundred and thirty pages into Jan Swafford’s new biography of Beethoven, there is an interesting juxtaposition. After the composer died, in March 1827, his funeral was “one of the grandest Vienna ever put on for a commoner.” Schools were closed. Some 10,000 people crowded into the courtyard of the building where he had lived, then followed the coffin to the local parish church—not, as Swafford has it, to St. Stephen’s Cathedral. (Among the torchbearers was Franz Schubert.) Franz Grillparzer, the leading Viennese writer of the day, wrote a funeral oration. But later that year, when Beethoven’s effects were auctioned off, a lifetime’s worth of manuscripts and sketchbooks fetched prices that Swafford calls “pathetic.” Beethoven’s late masterpiece the Missa Solemnis went for just seven florins. By comparison, his old trousers and stockings sold for six florins.

The “wild” DoubleQuote implicit in those last two sentences:

  • Trousers and stockings, six florins
  • Manuscript of the Missa Solemnis, seven florins
  • One underlying theme here is the familiar one of quantitative vs qualitative evaluations. Another has to do with the slow arrival of great thought among those unprepared for it.

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    For free, courtesy of YouTube, something I believe is worth just a little more than a suit of clothes .. Sir John Eliot Gardiner brings you the Missa Solemnis.

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    Ebola: life appears to be imitating art again

    Saturday, October 18th, 2014

    [ by Charles Cameron -- first as farce and then as tragedy? ]
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    From 2001:

    I imagine this ad is going viral about now…

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    The ghost at all our feasts: three lectures by Adam Tooze

    Wednesday, September 10th, 2014

    [linked by Lynn C. Rees]

    One of Mark’s most influential book recommendations for me was The Wages of Destruction: The Making and Breaking of the Nazi Economy by Adam ToozeWages of Destruction made most other books on the Nazi complicated run German economy of 1920-1945 look infantile. I read Tooze’s newest book The Deluge: The Great War and the Remaking of Global Order 1916-1931 over July. A review is in the works. While you stay up nights waiting for that, Tooze gave three lectures at Stanford University’s Europe Center worth absorbing based on The Deluge:

    1. Making Peace in Europe 1917-1919: Brest-Litovsk and Versailles
    2. Hegemony: Europe, America and the problem of financial reconstruction, 1916-1933
    3. Unsettled Lands: the interwar crisis of agrarian Europe

    The rise of the American empire 1849-1922 is the great question of our time.

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    Gaza: the video, Lex’s comment, my response

    Wednesday, August 13th, 2014

    [ by Charles Cameron -- a powerful video with strong implications for Israel and keen insight into Gaza -- thus far the best I've seen ]
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    The video:

    I found this video extremely powerful. Lexington Green pointed us to it via a link in a comment on a recent post of mine, and I responded to Lex’s comment — but links, comments and counter-comments easily escape notice, and I wanted to bring the video itself — and our conversation thus far — into a post of its own, in the hope that it will receive closer attention, and that the discussion will progress from here…

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    Lex’s comment, which he posted with a link to the video:

    This video shows what Israel is up against, and why images of grief are not an argument for letting Hamas survive to continue to attack Israel.

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    My response:

    Thanks for your comment — I found the video remarkable indeed.

    I see very easily how it can be read as proof that this particular woman and Hamas more generally are dedicated to the destruction of Israel. .. That’s there, in her words — and in the Hamas charter, which I’ve written about many times — but it’s far from all that I see there.

    Perhaps the most interesting part of the video for me is the part where, speaking of her two daughters who died, she says “Allah gave them to me, and Allah took them away from me.” That’s of a piece with what she means when she says that life (according to her worldview) is not precious — and it’s also an exact counterpart to a central Jewish tenet: 

    Naked came I out of my mother’s womb, and naked shall I return thither: the Lord gave, and the Lord hath taken away; blessed be the name of the Lord

    As I read such sayings, that’s a lofty teaching — and she reaches for it as she thinks of her two daughters, telling us that her grief was difficult for her, but that she found comfort in this perspective — which is also Job’s perspective: Baruch haShem.

    The second point of interest to me was that the conversation turned to Tisha b’Av, and thus to the Temple, the Temple Mount and Jerusalem as a whole — which is claimed in toto by both parties, even though the physician floats the suggestion of a 50/50 split. She’s unwilling to become “a heretic” — even if it costs her the life of her son.

    Martin Luther King is alleged to have said, “If a man has not found something worth dying for, he is not fit to live.” I don’t know if he actually said that, and I’m not sure that I’d agree with him even if he did, but I do believe there may be things worth dying for — and as I understand her, she’s claiming that life is not precious when weighed in the balance against such things.

    The problem, for me, is that she thinks the physical space of Temple Mount / the Noble Sanctuary is worth dying for. Her claim that Jerusalem is sacred to her and her companions because the Mount / al-Aqsa is where the Prophet ascended to heaven from on the night of the Miraj is as sacred in the Muslim calendar as the destruction of the two Temples is in the Jewish calendar on Tisha b’Av. The claim on Netanyahu’s side, “Jerusalem is the heart of the nation. It will never be divided,” is no less inflexible, and likewise driven by scripture, tradition and faith.

    That’s the level on which the battle of scriptures, traditions and faiths is fought..

    Gershom Gorenberg has called the Temple Mount / Noble Sanctuary “the most contested piece of real-estate on earth” — and Naomi Wolf just the other day ended her “open letter to Rabbi Boteach” with the suggestion:

    What if “the holy land” is not a place on the globe but a way of behaving to one’s fellow man and woman? I choose that place.

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    And now…

    What say you all?

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    Yezidis / Yazidis: first gleanings

    Friday, August 8th, 2014

    [ by Charles Cameron -- piecing together some background on a remarkable and requently misunderstood faith ]
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    Philip Kreyenbroek opens his book, Yezidism: its background, observances & textual tradition, with the words:

    There is probably no factor that has influenced the perception of Yezidism, both in the Middle East and in the West, as much as the erroneous epithet “devil-worshipper”. In the past, when there was open hostility between the Muslim community and the Yezidis, the epithet probably did more than any theological debate to make it clear to all that the Yezidis were non-Muslims who were not entitled to any protection under Islamic Law. Moreover, it seemed to justify the severe ill-treatment to which they were regularly subjected.

    Today, they are under threat of extinction by IS caliphate troops:

    See also the final words of the Conflict Antiquities post, The Islamic State has not been able to destroy the Yezidi Shrine of Sherfedin.

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    Kreyenbroek continues:

    For Western scholars, a genuine academic curiosity about the phenomenon of devil-worship may have been blended with a romantic interest in this secretive but cleanly and friendly group of Oriental ‘pagans’, whose strange cult might contain traces of one or more of the great ancient religions of the Middle East.

    This is most unfortunate, since the first emanation from God and leader of the archangels, known to the Yezidis as the Peacock Angel, Melek Taus, (see illustration at the head of this post) resembles Iblis, the fallen archangel who refused to bow before Adam and was banished for his pride in Islamic teachings, but is entirely different from Iblis in that in Yezidi tradition his refusal to bow before Adam follows a divine command and carries no negative connotation. Evil, in Yezidi culture, comes not from the Peacock Angel but from choices made in the hearts of humankind.

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    My own special interest is in the varieties of end times theology.

    Yezidi eschatology features both a Mehdi, or end times savior identified with the angel Sherfedin, and a Tercal, his “evil opponent” — compare the Dajjal in Islam — described in the Yezidi Qewle Tercal or Hymn of the False Saviour on p. 364 of Philip Kreyenbroek & Khalil J. Rashow, God and Sheikh Adi are perfect: sacred poems and religious narratives from the Yezidi tradition.

    Other striking features of Yezidi end times belief include a forty year Sultanate of Jesus in Egypt followed by his death with the Mehdi Sherfedin at Mount Qaf (the earth’s farthest point, beyond which is the realm of the imaginal in Henry Corbin‘s exposition of Iranian sufism), subsequent reigns of Hajuj and Majuj (better known to Bible readers as Gog and Magog), and the purification of the earth by al-Hallaj (the renowned Sufi martyr and subject of Louis Massignon‘s great 3-volume opus) — after which the world will be “smooth as an egg” (Kreyenbroek and Rashow, p 365).

    FWIW< the YezidiTruth site contains this much simpler preduction:

    Yezidi prophecy maintains that Tawsi Melek will come back to Earth as a peacock or rainbow during a time of intense conflict, poverty, famine and distress on the Earth. He will then transmit some prayers to a holy man, probably a Faqir, who will then take them around the Earth and give them to representatives of all religions

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    I’d have run across the Yezidis in Idries Shah‘s book, The Sufis, which I first read in the early 60s, but it was a 2003 article, Ancient religion is on the side of the angels, that made me curious about them, and only the tragic events of the last few days that have finally sent me searching for in-depth materials on this, one of the ealiest known religious traditions, influenced by Sufism yet predating Zoroastrianism, Christianity and Islam alike…

    Kreyenbroek’s two books and Christine Allison‘s The Yezidi Oral Tradition in Iraqi Kurdistan — all hideously expensive — are now on my reading list, and for updates on the situation, I’m following Kreyenbroek @Philipgerrit and Chicago’s Matthew Barber, @Matthew__Barber, reporting from near Mosul, on Twitter.

    Perhaps the most striking thing about Yezidism is that it is an essentially oral religion, and thus lacks the central doctrinal authority of a scripture and allows for wide individual divergences in interpretation — fascinating, from the POV of scholars accustomed to scripture-based religions — but I need to dig deeper into Kreyenbroek before saying much more.

    I’d welcome additional pointers — historical, theological, and contemporary.

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