The Said Symphony: moves 6-9
[ by Charles Cameron – extended analytic game on Israeli-Palestinian conflict — continuing ]
Move 6: Glenn Gould
Glenn Gould was a great pianist whose two recordings of Bach‘s Goldeberg Variations alone would prove both the brilliance of his skill, which could draw forth the individual lines in Bach’s counterpoint in a way no earlier pianist had the technique to pull off, and the depth of his musical understanding.
Late in life, Gould began “composing” radio works for the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation — he calls them “contrapuntal radio” — which revealed his interest in listening not just to Bach and other music but to life in general with an ear for counterpoint:
Gould set himself up to hear the world in a new way. In diners he ate his lunch alone, eaves dropping closely on the voices around him. He learned to hear conversation as music, the lilting lines, the rhythms everywhere up, down, and around, what Bach does to our sense of talk. There are two part inventions in words, themes and variations in the quarrels of couples and the tales told by friends. Gould met the world on his own terms, and he was fascinated by this way of listening to human voices as if they were a musical interplay, not participating in a conversation but taking it all in, as an audience.
It is that manner of listening which I am attempting in this game…
To Bach, because Gould is Bach’s great interpreter, taking his interpretation of Bach’s counterpoint not just into the deep riches of Bach’s music for keyboards, but also out into the depth and riches of the world…
I see this move as concluding the first, quiet introductory section of the game, setting forth the mode of understanding in which it is played, and honoring those those work has preceded, comforted and confirmed my own.
We shall return to this theme of counterpoint no doubt — the whole work falls under the aegis of Bach, as all of Bach’s work falls under his familiar motto: Soli Deo Gloria.
Move 7: Daniel Barenboim
Daniel Barenboim is another celebrated musician, a brilliant Argentinian-Israeli pianist and conductor, in whose biography we read:
In the early 1990s, a chance meeting between Mr. Barenboim and the late Palestinian-born writer and Columbia University professor Edward Said in a London hotel lobby led to an intensive friendship that has had both political and musical repercussions. These two men, who should have been poles apart politically, discovered in that first meeting, which lasted for hours, that they had similar visions of Israeli/Palestinian possible future cooperation. They decided to continue their dialogue and to collaborate on musical events to further their shared vision of peaceful co-existence in the Middle East. This led to Mr. Barenboim’s first concert on the West Bank, a piano recital at the Palestinian Birzeit University in February 1999, and to a workshop for young musicians from the Middle East that took place in Weimar, Germany, in August 1999.
The West-Eastern Divan Workshop took two years to organize and involved talented young musicians between the ages of 14 and 25 from Egypt, Syria, Lebanon, Jordan, Tunisia and Israel. The idea was that they would come together to make music on neutral ground with the guidance of some of the world’s best musicians. … There were some tense moments among the young players at first but, coached by members of the Berlin Philharmonic, the Chicago Symphony and the Staatskapelle Berlin, and following master classes with the cellist Yo-Yo Ma and nightly cultural discussions with Mr. Said and Mr. Barenboim, the young musicians worked and played in increasing harmony.
From the orchestra’s current news page:
In 2005, the orchestra realized the impossible: a concert with Israelis, Palestinians, and other Arab musicians in the Palestinian territory of Ramallah.
To Edward Said: because they were friends, because the West-Eastern Divan is a a human analog to Said’s view of a symphonic understanding of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, and because he stands as an Israeli Jew in counterpoint to Said, the Palestinian. Indeed, it is Barenboim, not Said, who is quoted here:
Drawing on the fundamentality of counterpoint in music, Barenboim describes how ‘in the act of challenging each other, the two voices fit together’ and that ‘music is always contrapuntal, in the philosophical sense of the word’ – indeed, ‘joy and sorrow can exist simultaneously in music’. He further argues that ‘acceptance of the freedom and individuality of the other is one of music’s most important lessons’. And this is the philosophy that underpins the phenomenon of the Divan orchestra: ‘You can’t make peace with an orchestra’, but one can ‘create the conditions for understanding’ and ‘awaken the curiosity of each individual to listen to the narrative of the other’.
To Bach, because as he writes:
I was reared on Bach. My father was virtually my only teacher, and he attached great importance to my growing up with Bach’s keyboard music. He considered it to be very important, not only for its musical and pianistic aspects, but also for everything else that is played on the piano. For him polyphonic music-making was simply one of the most important issues concerning everything relating to piano-playing. … The music can only be of interest if the different strands of the polyphonic texture are played so distinctly that they can all be heard and create a three-dimensional effect – just as in painting, where something is moved into the foreground and something else into the background, making one appear closer to the viewer than the other, although the painting is flat and one-dimensional.
And to Glenn Gould because —
well, you may consider it a duel or a duet (a decision which shadows all differences, no?) but the two men are both celebrated for their renditions of the Bach Goldberg Variations, which are compared in excerpts back to back here on YouTube for our delight.
I have only a couple of things to note here — the name West-Eastern Divan hearkens back to Goethe‘s poetry, and thus to the western world’s discovery of the sufic poetry of Hafez and Rumi — we find here a brief allusion to Yo-Yo Ma — and in the friendship of Said and Barenboim we see personified both the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and its transcending — in which a potential duel becomes a realized duet..
[ My thanks to Howard Rheingold for a pointer ]
Move 8: Richard Wagner and antisemitism
With Richard Wagner, the ugly shadow of antisemitism falls across our play:
The idea of racial decline, and of German mentality being inherently superior, is integral to everything Wagner stood for. He saw himself as a redeemer, a notion his wife Cosima and her acolytes adopted as their creed. He gave the Aryan saviour-hero a dominant role in his operas. Siegfried is the incarnation of the sun-hero who would set Germany back on the true path – an idea that had existed in German mythology since the Middle Ages. Parsifal has characteristics of an Aryan Jesus.
European high culture had long had a disdain for the Jews, the merchants, the lenders — in Wagner’s writings, in his essay Judaism in Music and arguably in his operas too, he argues for the purity of the German race and the inability of the Jew, talented though he may be, to do more than ape that culture:
Our whole European art and civihisation, however, have remained to the Jew a foreign tongue; for, just as he has taken no part in the evolution of the one, so has he taken none in that of the other; but at most the homeless wight has been a cold, nay more, a hostile looker-on. In this Speech, this Art, the Jew can only afterspeak and after-patch — not truly make a poem of his words, an artwork of his doings.
It is a shadow that will touch, a virus that will infect Hitler — who will visit the Wagner family long after the Master’s death, attend and protect the Master’s playhouse in Bayreuth, cause the Master’s music to be played at the Nuremberg Rallies — and in so doing, teach European high culture itself that it is not immune to genocidal fantasies nor their execution in fact — enthrall and revolt and disgust and be deafeated — thus leading to the foundation in 1948 of the State of Israel, the Yom Ha’atzmaut of the Israelis, the Yawm an-Nakbah of the Palestinians…
Consider this press report, from which I have already quoted above:
Until the final scene, the Hamburg State Opera’s November 2002 production of Die Meistersinger von Nurnberg had proceeded without comment. Everyone was primed to applaud the hymn to “holy German art” that brings Richard Wagner’s four-hour pageant to a climax. Then came the bombshell. Midway through Hans Sachs’s monologue about honouring German masters over “foreign vanities”, the music came to an abrupt halt. Suddenly one of the mastersingers started speaking: “Have you actually thought about what you are singing?” he asked.
The virulence of antisemitism, and the shadow side of our common humanity, are not to be excluded from our game.
To Daniel Barenboim, because he, a Jew and a musician, had the temerity to conduct the Berlin Staatskapelle orchestra in the Overture to Wagner’s Tristan und Isolde, in Jerusalem, in July 2001.
And to Glenn Gould, because…
his piano transcription and performance of the Prelude to Die Meistersinger is a revelation: you might like to purchase it.
I will confine myself to saying that Wagner’s concept of the gesamtkunstwerk or “work of total art” with its combination of poetry, drama, dance, song and even architecture is, in its own way, a precursor to many modern cross-disciplinary endeavors — the experimental works of Scriabin, whose “unrealized magnum opus Mysterium was to have been a grand week-long performance including music, scent, dance, and light in the foothills of the Himalayas” (Wikipedia), the Orphic poetry-in-film of Jean Cocteau, the crossover between poetry and the visual arts in Guillaume Apollinaire‘s Calligrammes — and not least, in Hermann Hesse‘s great Glasperlenspiel…
Move 9: Golgotha
Specifically, Golgotha refers to the small hill outside the Jerusalem city walls where Christ was crucified — our word “Calvary” is derived from the name:
And when they were come unto a place called Golgotha, that is to say, a place of a skull, They gave him vinegar to drink mingled with gall: and when he had tasted thereof, he would not drink. And they crucified him, and parted his garments, casting lots: that it might be fulfilled which was spoken by the prophet, They parted my garments among them, and upon my vesture did they cast lots. And sitting down they watched him there…
Matthew 27: 33-36
Figuratively, Golgotha is the nadir, the lowest point — as in this powerful observation by the soldier-poet Capt. Wilfred Owen, describing the carnage of trench warfare in World War I in a letter to Osbert Sitwell, dated 4 July 1918.
For 14 hours yesterday, I was at work-teaching Christ to lift his cross by the numbers, and how to adjust his crown; and not to imagine he thirst until after the last halt. I attended his Supper to see that there were no complaints; and inspected his feet that they should be worthy of the nails. I see to it that he is dumb, and stands mute before his accusers. With a piece of silver I buy him every day, and with maps I make him familiar with the topography of Golgotha.
To Wagner, in a manner that continues the motif of his antisemitism: Rudolf Steiner, founder of the Waldorf schools and anthroposophist, gave a lecture on the mythic underpinnings of Wagner’s Parsifal in 1906, which he said:
How was it that Wagner was able to find the right mood for his Parsifal? It is most important for us to recognize that Wagner was able to do this because he knew that what happened on Golgotha had especially to do with the blood, he knew that we had to see there not only the death of the Saviour but we had to see what took place there with the blood, how the blood was purified on Golgotha and became something quite different from ordinary blood. Wagner has spoken of the connection of the Saviour’s blood with the whole of mankind. In his book “Paganism and Christianity” we read these words: “Having found that the capacity for conscious suffering is a capacity peculiar to the blood of the so-called white race, we must now go on to recognize in the blood of the Saviour the very epitome, as it were, of voluntary conscious suffering that pours itself out as divine compassion for the whole human race.”
To Glenn Gould — introducing a contemporary instance of the nadir of human consciousness — because Hannibal Lecter, the insane psychiatrist of Thomas Harris‘ novel The Silence of the Lambs, has a copy he made from memory (“Memory, Officer Starling, is what I have for a view”) of Duccio‘s painting Golgotha after the Deposition on the walls of his cell, and listens to the Bach Goldberg Variations on his tape recorder — Glenn Gould is specified as the performer.
To the Glass Bead Game, because Hermann Hesse in what can only be an autobiographical passage in Demian writes:
The teacher had spoken of Golgotha. The Biblical account of the suffering and death of the savior had made the deepest impression upon me from my earliest childhood. Often as a small boy I had, after my father had read the story of the passion on Good Friday, lived in this painfully beautiful, pale, ghostly and still powerfully living world of Gethsemane and on Golgotha. I had experienced it listening to Bach’s St. Matthew Passion, it had flooded me with the somber, powerful tones of this mysterious world, with its mystical drama. Even today I find in this music, and in Actus Tragicus the essence of all that is poetical and of all artistic expression.
and there is no less surely an echo of that in a comment made by Joseph Knecht — the Magister Ludi of Hesse’s novel —
Nowadays, for example, we do not think much of the theology and the ecclesiastical culture of the eighteenth century, or the philosophy of the Enlightenment; but we consider the cantatas, passions, and preludes of Bach the ultimate quintessence of Christian culture.
For Hesse at least, and Knecht himself by implication, the Golgotha of Bach’s St Matthew Passion is “the essence … of all artistic expression”.
And to Bach, finally, for those sections (58-9 in Part II of the Passion) which deal with Golgotha and the crucifixion:
58a. Rezitativ (Evangelist): “Und da sie an die Stätte kamen”
58b. Chor: “Der du den Tempel Gottes zerbrichst”
58c. Rezitativ (Evangelist): “Desgleichen auch die Hohenpriester”
58d. Chor: “Andern hat er geholfen”
58e. Rezitativ (Evangelist):”Desgleichen schmäheten ihn auch die Mörder”
59. Rezitativ: “Ach Golgatha”
all of which can be heard in John Eliot Gardiner‘s performance here on YouTube, although I’d highly recommend Gardiner’s Bach: Sacred Vocal Works: the Christmas Oratorio, St. Matthew Passion, St. John Passion and Mass in B Minor as a boxed set — a stunning treasure.
Hesse recommends the practice of meditation between moves in the Glass Bead Game, and rather than comment on this move briefly here, I shall next write a more extended meditation on the game thus far, and on this move in particular.
Here we approach the very walls of Jerusalem.
June 18th, 2011 at 2:47 pm
June 18th, 2011 at 3:06 pm
Charles, If you keep this up, you’ll force me to reread Hofstadter! I’ve been stuck on Bach’s Musical Offering, and now listening to a Gould recording of Goldberg Variations…it had been too long. Many thanks for an insightful and intriguing post.
June 22nd, 2011 at 12:27 am
Charles, excellent work. I am grateful to you for showing me this symphonic perspective on Edward Said and his work.
June 22nd, 2011 at 2:16 pm
Our conversation yesterday was very helpful to me, Guillermo, and I hope you’ll continue to comment on the work as it develops…
February 13th, 2012 at 5:13 am
Re Move 8
I am surprise you have made no reference to Felix Mendelssohn, 1809-1847, the subject of Wagner’s ‘Das Judenthum in der Musik ‘ (1850). Mendelssohn was responsible for and conducted to great acclaim the legendary performances of the Matthew Passion on 11th & 21st March 1829 in Berlin, the first since Bach’s death in 1750. These lead directly to the great revival of interest in Bach. For more details see this note about the Bärenreiter edition of Mendelssohn’s performing version.
Felix Mendelssohn was the grandson of the great German Jewish Enlightenment philosopher, Moses Mendelssohn, 1729-1788, the main leader and inspirer of the Haskalah admired throughout Germany as a ‘wise man’, a ‘sage’, and a humanist. “He was referred to as ‘the German Socrates . . . and praised to the skies by his followers for ‘having inaugurated an era of light after one of darkness’, and for having ‘brought the Jewish people from folly to wisdom, fostered the Hebrew language, fought Talmudic casuistry and acted as a messenger of ‘Providence.’”
Felix Mendelssohn’s father Abraham, converted to Lutheranism and added the hyphenation of Bartholdy, the name of a piece of land purchased by his brother-in-law to buffer his Jewish surname. He angrily rebuked his son for calling himself “Felix Mendelssohn” in concert programs in the 1820s:
Felix Mendelssohn, who had been baptized a Christian in 1816, did not cease to call himself such, because he admired the legacy of his grandfather, but out of respect to his father had his calling cards printed with the Bartholdy hyphenation. (Journeys from Judaism and Persecution in Mendelssohn and Mahler)
February 19th, 2012 at 9:27 pm
Thanks, Michael, and my apologies for the time it has taken me to respond to you.
I did indeed have Mendelssohn in mind as I wrote move 8, and implicitly referenced him in linking to the translation of Das Judenthum in der Musik. But my available links in move 8 were to from Wagner to Gould in 6 and Barenboim in 7, not to Bach — and I had in fact played Bach in 3 and would be quoting his Matthew Passion in my next move, 9, Golgotha. So the Mendelssohn performance of the Passion, and the renewed interest in Bach that it generated, were not far from my thoughts, yet not suited to the move structure of the game as I envisioned it.
Having said that, I very much appreciate your contribution in drawing out these further connections between moves, and particularly for pointing me to the existence of an edition of Mendelssohn’s Passion scores.
The Matthew Passion was my mother’s favorite work (she sang in the London Bach Choir), and I heard it on ’78s as a child — at the time, I preferred the B Minor Mass, though I now find it quite impossible to prefer one to the other — and sacred music was my first love, even before I encountered poetry. If I am now attempting a work in the polyphony of ideas, at some level is is because as a child I failed to make of myself a true musician, and have had to find my counterpoint, my passion and my eucharist elsewhere…
My mother’s musical gifts seem to have descended elsewhere in the family — notably in person of my nephew, the conductor Daniel Harding. I know that he has performed the Matthew Passion on occasion, and trust that one of these days he will record it — I would love few things more than to have the chance to attend a performance or rehearsal.