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Sunday surprise: Bach BWV 998

Sunday, July 17th, 2016

[ by Charles Cameron — with a ramble via his peerless peer, Shakespeare ]
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What’s a piece of music worth, on paper?

BWV 998 MS image

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I had the good fortune some decades ago to be invited to attent Dr Homer Swander‘s seminar at the Oregon Shakespeare Festival in Ashland. Dr Swander is notable among Shakespearean scholars for his insistence that the texts we have of the plays are not themselves works of art, but serve the same function with respect to actual performances that an anrchitect’s blueprints serve with respect to a house, or a musical score to the performance of a work of music. Dr Swander dedicated much of his life to Shakespeare‘s plays, so we should not imagine that he thought little of the First Folio — or indeed of the First Quarto of Hamlet with its truncated soliloqy beginning:

To be or not to be, ay there’s the point,
To die, to sleep, is that all? Ay all:

[for the original spelling, see this facsimile ©The British Library]

— it’s simply that he saw them as prelimiaries, not the thing itself. This in turn allowed him to “see” aspects of the plays from a director’s standpoint, with intriguing results:

Swander Caesar
Hugh Macrae Richmond, Shakespeare’s Theatre: A Dictionary of His Stage Context

You should have seen Dr Swander stab that point home!

But to return to Johann Sebastian Bach.. Similarly, we may ask ourselves, what’s the manuscript score of a great work of music worth?

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Christie’s auction house in London has one answer for us in ther case of Bach’s Prelude, Fugue, and Allegro in E-flat major, BWV 998 — $3.3 million:

Valuable Bach manuscript goes under the hammer

The manuscript’s value was originally estimated at between 1.5 and 2.5 million pounds (between 2 and 3.3 million dollars). At the auction on Wednesday (13.07.2016) in London, the final bid came in at the high end of expectations.

Likely written between 1740 and 1745, the Prelude, Fugue and Allegro in E-flat Major (BWV 998) is a favorite among both harpsichords and lutenists. Like many works by Johann Sebastian Bach (1685-1750), it can be played on different instruments, which is expressly indicated on this score in the composer’s handwriting: “Prelude pour la Luth ò Cembal” (for lute or keyboard).

That’s its current cash value as judged by the market.

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But what’s it worth — to you, to me, to life?

Nicholas Harnoncourt
explains:

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I am grateful as always to my friend Michael Robinson of Ornamental Peasant for pointing me to the sale at Christie’s — and to this remarkable piece.

Sunday surprise the third & last — BlakeQuake

Monday, July 4th, 2016

[ by Charles Cameron — Blake, Britain, and Blake again — among the angels ]
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The irrepressible William Blake can’t keep himself from coloring outside the words:

Milton a Poem Huntington Library

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Okay, here’s the poem as poem — a very curious poem celebrating “arrows of desire” to have made its way into the hymnary of England, its royalty, and the Proms:

And did those feet in ancient time.
Walk upon Englands mountains green:
And was the holy Lamb of God,
On Englands pleasant pastures seen!

And did the Countenance Divine,
Shine forth upon our clouded hills?
And was Jerusalem builded here,
Among these dark Satanic Mills?

Bring me my Bow of burning gold;
Bring me my Arrows of desire:
Bring me my Spear: O clouds unfold!
Bring me my Chariot of fire!

I will not cease from Mental Fight,
Nor shall my Sword sleep in my hand:
Till we have built Jerusalem,
In Englands green & pleasant Land

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I posted the patriotic hymn-version of Blake’s Jerusalem earlier today in It’s not one pole of polarization that’s the problem, as part of a comment on Brexit, very very British.

Happily the United States — whose birthday is tomorrow — didn’t exactly lose ye olde English tradition, as is readily apparent in this rendition — this one by the West Point Cadet Glee Club:

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Oops, but England, my England — see what has become of it!

Like every generation since Ahab begat Behab right in the beginning, I fear for our young, even those now middle-aged, I fear for their young.. I fear for the future so fast spiraling out of our past.

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Blake himself had a high esteem of his work and purpose. He wrote:

I am more famed in Heaven for my works than I could well conceive. In my Brain are studies & Chambers filled with books & pictures of old, which I wrote & painted in ages of Eternity before my mortal life; & those works are the delight & Study of Archangels.

And he could paint the archangels’ likenesses by memory, too, with angelic felicity:

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A tip-of-the-hat here to David Auerbach.

And a shout-out to Michael Horovitz, who published my first poems in book form in his richly Blake-influenced 1969 Penguin anthology, Children of Albion.

It’s not one pole of polarization that’s the problem

Sunday, July 3rd, 2016

[ by Charles Cameron — polarization itself has a dehumanizing effect, eg Brexit — follow the music! ]
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I can sympathize with Matt Griff‘s frustration at the Brexit vote —

— however, a polarization of youth against the elderly is hardly an improvement. There’s something intangible the Leavers are loving, and perhaps Blake‘s Jerusalem, sung at the wedding of Kate Middleton and Prince William, captures that love without the hateful rhetoric that has accompanied Farrage‘s side of the exit campaign:

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Speaking of which, I’m no great admirer of Bill Maher, who is too snide to be considered much of a wit in my book — but this little jewel of an aphorism may be the best haiku-like summation of Remainer’s regret I’ve seen.

Civilization requires civility — and polarization seems to encourage incivility on both sides of many, many issues. Sorry, folks.

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My friend Michael Robinson posted this elegaic comment the other day:

Flabbergasted | “The fearmongering and outright lies of Boris Johnson, Michael Gove, Nigel Farage, The Sun and the Daily Mail have won. The UK, Europe, the west and the world are damaged. The UK is diminished and seems likely soon to be divided. Europe has lost its second-biggest and most outward-looking power. The hinge between the EU and the English-speaking powers has been snapped. This is probably the most disastrous single event in British history since the second world war. …

The UK’s decision to join the EU was taken for sound reasons. Its decision to leave was not. It is a choice to turn its back on the great effort to heal Europe’s historical divisions. This is, for me, among the saddest of hours. ” (Martin Wolf FT)

Follow the music.

Destructive Witnesses: JW, IS, Saudis, Brits, Byzantines

Thursday, June 30th, 2016

[ by Charles Cameron — religions taking other religions apart, stone by stone, image by image, song by song ]
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Some recently converted Jehovah’s Witnesses appear to have destroyed the altars of indigenous Otomi people in Mexico, an anthopologist has stated:

Assailants have damaged an ancient Otomi Indian religious site in Mexico, toppling stone structures used as altars, breaking carved stones and scattering offerings of flowers, fruit and paintings at the remote mountain shrine known as Mayonihka or Mexico Chiquito. [ .. ]

“I don’t know what religion they belong to, but they destroyed several images that were there,” said Daniel Garcia, the municipal secretary of the nearby township of San Bartolo Tutotepec. “The thing is, there are some religions that don’t believe in using idols.”

Luis Perez Lugo, a professor at the University of Chapingo, visited the site in May and talked to residents of a nearby hamlet, El Pinal, whose residents said they had carried out the attack.

“I was there, and the Jehovah’s Witnesses said they had done it,” Perez Lugo said, noting some were recent converts to the religion who used to go to the site for Otomi ceremonies.

See upper panel, below:

JWs and IS destroy sacred sites

In the lower panel, above, we see a detail from a National Geographic listing of sites attacked by the Islamic State. Three quick notes:

  • the JWs, if they were JWs, were recent converts; converts often have a zeal all their own
  • the IS, like the Taliban at Bamiyan, destroys ancient religious sites even if no longer in use
  • see Saudi Arabia Bulldozes Over Its Heritage for threats to Muhammad‘s birthplace & tomb
  • **

    Why?

    You already know this, but for the record — because Scripture:

    DQ 600 Graven Images

    In the upper panel, Jewish and Christian scriptures — from the Jewish Ten Commandments in Exodus, and St Paul‘s address to the Athenians, as recounted in the Acts of the Apostles.

    In the lower panel — a hard-line contemporary Islamic commentary, citing two ahadith.

    **

    So it’s Jehovah’s Witnesses and hard-line Muslim literalists who approve of the destruction of monuments to false gods, is that what this means?

    They are not alone. In the upper panel, below, recent news of the Chinese — avowed atheists — continuing their attacks on Tibetan Buddhism, this time by mandating the dismantling of Buddhism’s largest monastic university at Larung Gar:

    DQ 600 Larung Gar Glastonbury

    In the lower panel, above, we see some of what remains of the great Abbey of Glastonbury, torn down during the Dissolution of the Monasteries under King Henry VIII.

    Glastonbury has strong associations with Arthurian and Christian traditions:

    William Blake’s dramatic poem ‘Jerusalem’ familiar nowadays as an inspirational hymn, draws on the myth that Christ himself may have visited Glastonbury with Joseph of Arimathea and ‘walked on England’s mountains green’.

    The Gospels record that Joseph of Arimathea was a wealthy follower of Christ who buried Christ’s body in his own tomb after the Crucifixion.

    In the Middle Ages Joseph became connected with the Arthurian romances of Britain. He first features in Robert de Boron’s Joseph d’Arimathie, written in the twelfth century, as the Keeper of the Holy Grail. He receives the Grail (the cup used by Christ at the Last Supper) from an apparition of Jesus and sends it with his followers to Britain.

    Later Arthurian legends elaborated this story and introduced the idea that Joseph himself travelled to Britain, bringing the Holy Grail with him and then burying it in a secret place, said to have been just below the Tor at the entrance to the underworld. The spring at what is known as Chalice Well is believed to flow from there. In their quests King Arthur and the Knights of the Round Table searched for the Grail.

    Glastonbury retains its place in English hearts to this day, albeit in contemporary guise — it is the Yasgur’s Farm of England’s ongoing Woodstock — mud, sex, drugs, rock and all — the yearly Glastonbury Festival

    It is also — in the form of Blake‘s hymn “And did those feet in ancient time” — a part of such ceremonial events as the Last Night of the Proms — and Royal Weddings:

    But more on Blake’s poem — known as Jerusalem, and taken from his preface to Milton a Poem — in an upcoming post, Creek willing.

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    Finally, what an exceptionally lovely early DoubleQUote is this, returning us to the topic of sacred places and images and their destruction:

    Clasm_Chludov

    What we have here is a page from the Chludov Psalter — ask Wikipedia for that what means, I only just ran across it in the course of writing this piece — but it’s a 9th century Byzantine prayer book, illuminated with illustrations attacking the iconoclasts — those Christians who wanted to destroy icons and other Christian images for reasons not dissimilar ton those of the Taliban.

    Wikipedia, Chludov Psalter:

    In the illustration to the right, the miniaturist illustrated the line “They gave me gall to eat; and when I was thirsty they gave me vinegar to drink” with a picture of a soldier offering Christ vinegar on a sponge attached to a pole. Below is a picture of the last Iconoclast Patriarch of Constantinople, John the Grammarian rubbing out a painting of Christ with a similar sponge attached to a pole.

    Let’s take a closer look:

    Clasm_Chludov_detail_9th_century

    Both verbally and visually, then, we have a direct comparison of the Roman soldier mocking the dying Christ, and the icon-hating Patriarch erasing Christ’s image from a wall.. And they call him the Grammarian!

    But let’s proceed:

    John is caricatured, here as on other pages, with untidy straight hair sticking out in all directions, which was considered ridiculous by the elegant Byzantines.

    No punks, apparently, these Byzantines!

    And the coup de grâce? House the sacred book in a state museum..

    Nikodim Kondakov hypothesized that the psalter was created in the famous monastery of St John the Studite in Constantinople. Other scholars believe that the liturgical responses it contains were only used in Hagia Sophia, and that it was therefore a product of the Imperial workshops in Constantinople, soon after the return of the Iconophiles to power in 843.

    It was kept at Mount Athos until 1847, when a Russian scholar brought it to Moscow. The psalter was then acquired by Aleksey Khludov, whose name it bears today. It passed as part of the Khludov bequest to the Nikolsky Old Believer Monastery and then to the State Historical Museum.

    No monks will sing from it there..

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    Sources:

  • The Guardian, Jehovah’s Witnesses accused of damaging Otomi religious site in Mexico
  • National Geographic, Here Are the Ancient Sites ISIS Has Damaged and Destroyed
  • The American Muslim, Saudi Destruction of Muslim Historical Sites
  • Islam Question and Answer, Obligation to destroy idols
  • Lion’s Roar, China to displace 5,000 Tibetan Buddhist monastics
  • The Battle of the Thames, 2016

    Thursday, June 16th, 2016

    [ by Charles Cameron — in homage to Admiral Lord Nelson turning a blind eye ]
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    Foolish persons, having no understanding of Britain’s long and cherished history of naval warfare, nor of the contemporary relevance of the Monty Python mode of doing battle, have had the temerity to mock today’s splendid outings or innings on the Thames:

    Brexit Battle on Thames

    Foolish persons may be satisfied with the visual splendor depicted in the upper panel, but Zenpundit‘s core strategic following will also appreciate the order of battle below.

    Sources:

  • Evening Standard, Thames flotilla ‘battle’
  • Pádraig Belton, #Flotilla order of battle…
  • **

    In game theoretic terms, as between Nigel Farrage of UKIP and Brussels bureaucracy, I perceive my British fellows to be facing a lose-lose choice.

    Here by way of a suitable corrective is the first suite of Handel’s Water Music:


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