Archive for the ‘Music’ Category


Song to the Moon – Renée Fleming

April 16, 2014

The incomparable Renée Fleming sings Antonín Dvořák’s Měsíčku no nebi hlubokém (Song to the Moon) from the Opera Rusalka.

Silver moon upon the deep dark sky,
Through the vast night pierce your rays.
This sleeping world you wonder by,
Smiling on men’s homes and ways.
Oh moon ere past you glide, tell me,
Tell me, oh where does my loved one bide?
Tell him, oh tell him, my silver moon,
Mine are the arms that shall hold him,
That between waking and sleeping
Think of the love that enfolds him.
May between waking and sleeping
Think of the love that enfolds him.
Light his path far away, light his path,
Tell him, oh tell him who does for him stay!
Human soul, should it dream of me,
Let my memory wakened be.
Moon, oh moon, oh do not wane, do not wane,
Moon, oh moon, do not wane…

The Czech words you are hearing:

Měsíčku no nebi hlubokém,
světlo tvé daleko vidí,
po světě bloudíš širokém,
díváš se v příbytky lidí.
Měsíčku, postůj chvíli,
řekni mi, kde je můj milý!
Řekni mu, stříbrný měsíčku,
mé že jej objímá rámě,
aby si alespoň chviličku
vzpomenul ve snění no mne.
Zasvit mu do daleka,
řekni mu, kdo tu naň čeká!
O mně-li duše lidská sní,
af se tou vzpomínkou vzbudí!
Měsíčku, nezhasni, nezhasni!


The Four Seasons of J. S. Bach 2 – Jaroslav Pelikan

February 19, 2014
The composition of these cantatas for the church year represented what Christoph Wolff has called "a musical enterprise without parallel in Leipzig's musical history: in a relatively short time Bach composed five complete cycles of cantatas for the church year, with about 60 cantatas in each, making a repertory of roughly 300 sacred cantatas." Of these, about one-third have been lost. Those that remain stand as evidence, above all of course for Bach's individual genius but also for his vocation as a church musician and for the decisive function of the church year in providing the basic framework within which the vocation of this genius was to express itself.

The composition of these cantatas for the church year represented what Christoph Wolff has called “a musical enterprise without parallel in Leipzig’s musical history: in a relatively short time Bach composed five complete cycles of cantatas for the church year, with about 60 cantatas in each, making a repertory of roughly 300 sacred cantatas.” Of these, about one-third have been lost. Those that remain stand as evidence, above all of course for Bach’s individual genius but also for his vocation as a church musician and for the decisive function of the church year in providing the basic framework within which the vocation of this genius was to express itself.

2. Because of the central importance of the Passions in the corpus of Bach’s sacred music, the significance of the second of the “four seasons,” the season of Lent and Easter, will concern us at great length in chapters 6 to 8. [The book is Bach Among the Theologians by Jaroslav Pelikan].

3. For our purposes, we may take the Feast of the Ascension and the Feast of Pentecost together as one “season.” In fact, as recent studies have shown, the two were celebrated together on the fiftieth day after Easter, as late as the end of the fourth century. Therefore the very name “Pentecost” in Greek (and in Tertullian’s Latin) before that time refers not to the fiftieth day but to all fifty days. Thus the church historian Eusebius, describing the death of the emperor Constantine (which had been immediately preceded by his baptism), recounts:

All these events occurred during a most important festival, I mean the august and holy solemnity of Pentecost, which is distinguished by a period of seven weeks, and sealed with that one day on which the holy Scriptures attest the ascension of Our common Savior into heaven, and the descent of the Holy Spirit among men. In the course of this feast the emperor received the privileges I have described [above all, baptism]; and on this last day of all, which one might justly call the feast of feasts, he was removed about mid-day to the presence of his God?”

Pentecost, then, was not only “the feast of feasts,” as Eusebius here calls it but an entire “season” of the church year as this was developing in the early church. The somewhat ambiguous place of the Pentecost season in the Church year and of the festival of Pentecost in the liturgy became an important factor when the doctrine of the Holy Spirit finally received the attention it deserved, in the final quarter of the fourth century. The primitive Christian practice of addressing hymns and prayers to the person of Jesus as divine, Christo quasi Deo (as the earliest pagan description of the Christian community says), had provided the defenders of the orthodox dogma of the Council of Nicea, that Christ the Son of God was “one in being with the Father,” with an all but irrefutable argument; for their opponents, too, continued to use such hymns and prayers for Christ (as would the anti-Trinitarians of the Reformation era), despite their rejection of the dogma) 

But when it came to clarifying the relation between the Holy Spirit and the Father rather than the Son and the Father, the opponents were able to ask, “Who in ancient or modern times ever worshipped the Spirit? Whoever prayed to Him? Where is it written that we ought to worship Him, or to pray to Him, and whence have you derived this tenet of yours?’ The best the orthodox could do in response was, first, to cite the baptismal formula, “in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit,” and, second, to lay claim to an “unwritten tradition” in support of such worship?

Whatever the validity of such claims and arguments may have been, the Western church, once the doctrine of the full deity of the Holy Spirit was promulgated, went on to repair the inadequacy by providing hymns and prayers addressed to the Third Person of the Trinity, Spiritui quasi Deo. The most important of these were the several Latin hymns that opened with the word “Veni;’ in particular the Veni, Creator Spiritus (often attributed to Rabanus Maurus) and the Veni, Sancte Spiritus (usually attributed now to Stephen Langton).

The first of these, as John Julian says, “has taken deeper hold of the Western Church than any other mediaeval hymn, the Te Deum alone excepted “25 Of the more than fifty vernacular translations that Julian lists (and there are many others, in several languages), the first is Komm, Gott Schopfer heiliger Geist … a full and faithful version by M. Luther, 1st pub. in Eyn Enchiridion, Erfurt, 1524

In addition, Luther adapted two other medieval hymns for Pentecost, producing “Nun bitten wir den heiligen Geist [To God the Holy Spirit let us pray]” (LBW 317) and Komm Heiliger Geist, Herre Gott [Come, Holy Ghost, God and Lord]” (LBW 163)?6 Luther accused some of his left-wing opponents of claiming that they had “devoured the Holy Spirit feathers and all”; at the same time, he charged others with being “fine Easter preachers, but very poor Pentecost preachers;’ because they preached “solely about the redemption of Jesus Christ;’ but not about the “sanctification by the Holy Spirit”27 His three Pentecost hymns, which are among his finest, were part of his effort, long overlooked by Reformation scholars, to accord to the Holy Spirit the proper place of honor in Christian theology, preaching, and worship

These hymns were to play a prominent part in Bach’s music for the Pentecost season. Komm, Gott Schopfer, Heiliger Geist Luther’s version of Veni, Creator Spiritus, is the basis of BWV 370 and again of BWV 631 and BWV 667; Nun bitten wir den Heiligen Geist of BWV 385; and Komm, Heiliger Geist, Herre Gott” of what Albert Schweitzer calls “brilliant and animated;’ a “mystical chorale,” the organ fantasia BWV 651 and BWV 652. In addition, BWV 671 and BWV 674 in part 3 of the Clavier-Llbung are chorale preludes on Kyrie, Gott Heiliger Geist, and BWV 295 on Des heil’gen Geistes reiche Gnad’.

On Thursday, 19 May 1735, the Feast of the Ascension, Bach conducted the first performance of what has come to be called his Ascension Oratorio, Lobet Gott in semen Reichen” (BWV 11), by an unknown librettist, parts of which were recycled from a secular cantata, Froher Tag, verlangte Stunden (BWV Anhang 18), composed for the reopening of the renovated Thomasschule in Leipzig on 5 June 1732. The Ascension Oratorio was, in turn, to provide grist for the mill of the Mass in B Minor (BWV 232). The Agnus Dei of the Mass, adapted in 1747-49, near the end of Bach’s life, comes from the alto aria of the Ascension Oratorio, Ach bleibe doch, mein liebstes Leben; but, as has been noted, “only one long phrase of it is used, and the remainder is quite a new composition.”

4.  The fourth, and by far the longest, of “the four seasons of J. S. Bach” was the period beginning with Trinity Sunday and running until the last Sunday before Advent, thus for approximately half of the church year. As the old doggerel couplet has it,

The sermons go on into infinity,
To the twenty-sixth Sunday after Trinity.

In the medieval church calendar, the monotony of these six months had been broken up by a series of special feasts and festivals, beginning with the Feast of Corpus Christi, commemorated on the Thursday after Trinity Sunday, through the Feast of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary on 15 August, to the feasts of All Saints’ Day and All Souls’ Day on 1-2 November.

There were also, of course, many individual saints’ days in this season, including — by statistical average, as likely as not to fall into this period — the feast day of the patron saint of the village or parish. The Lutheran Reformation did not abolish all of these everywhere and at once. As we shall be noting at greater length in the next chapter, moreover, the Lutheran Church also provided some of its own replacements for these lost festivals: 25 June, the anniversary of the presentation of the Augsburg Confession in 1530; 31 October, for the day on which, in 1517, Luther had posted the Ninety-five Theses, which set off the Reformation; 10 November, Luther’s birthday in 1483 (replacing St. Martin’s Day, 11 November, on which Luther was baptized and from which he derived his Christian name); and often the anniversary of the introduction of the Reformation into a particular territory. Nevertheless, the non-festive cycle of the church year could become quite dreary and didactic.

Whatever problems that may have posed for preacher and people, it presented a genuine challenge to the church musician, as Bach discovered when he moved to Leipzig on 22 May 1723 (although he had performed there earlier). Philipp Spitta has well summarized the situation:

Bach had entered on his post in the ferial portion of the ecclesiastical year. Remarkable as was the activity displayed by him as a church composer during this period, yet he had no opportunity of showing himself in his full greatness until the beginning of the ecclesiastical year 1723-1724.

We should perhaps add that there were also individual occasions, beginning almost immediately after his inauguration at Leipzig, for which Bach prepared special compositions. It is probably to one of these, a funeral service for Johanna Maria Kesse, widow of the postmaster of Leipzig, that we owe the motet Jesu meine Freude (BWV 227). But on the First Sunday after Trinity, 30 May 1723, Bach conducted the first of his Leipzig cantatas (BWV 75), Die Elenden sollen essen [The hungering shall be nourished) (Ambrose, Cantatas 191-94).

The composition of these cantatas for the church year represented what Christoph Wolff has called "a musical enterprise without parallel in Leipzig's musical history: in a relatively short time he composed five complete cycles of cantatas for the church year, with about 60 cantatas in each, making a repertory of roughly 300 sacred cantatas." Of these, about one-third have been lost. Those that remain stand as evidence, above all of course for Bach's individual genius but also for his vocation as a church musician and for the decisive function of the church year in providing the basic framework within which the vocation of this genius was to express itself.

The significance of that vocation deserves consideration in its own right, as we shall have frequent occasion to note throughout this book and especially once again in its conclusion. For the interpretation of the cantatas and church music of Bach, such a definition of his vocation means that the context of his compositional activity was the liturgical year, as this usually indicated and frequently prescribed both the texts he was to use and the chorales upon which he was to draw.

It suggests as well that the notion of patronage, which has proved to be so fruitful for research in art history, applies no less forcefully in the history of music. Michelangelo and Bach created what they did because they were commissioned to do so by popes and church councils, or by noblemen and town councils. As we shall see repeatedly, he likewise shared with other great figures of past and present an exasperating tendency to contradict himself and to change his mind, as experience -- or, for that matter, expediency -- suggested.

The recognition of the four seasons of the liturgical year as the context for Bach's work has at least one other methodological implication for the interpretation of his compositions: the role of historical research in the interpretation of his sacred music. One of the most distinguished leaders in such historical research and in the twentieth-century recovery of the music of the Baroque period on the basis of that research, the late Ralph Kirkpatrick, observed that "it has now become all too easy to regard certain perennial unanswered and unanswerable questions as already answered by the documents of history." "One cannot," he concluded with his characteristic dry wit, "sidestep artistic and interpretive problems by relegating them to the dictates of historical authority."

Precisely for that reason, however, so clear (and, in a majority of instances, "answerable") a question as the Sunday of the church year for which a particular piece of music was composed does constitute an important historical datum for addressing the "artistic and interpretive problems" associated with its full realization today. Thus Spitta speaks of "Bach's way of giving force and point to a tedious or digressive cantata text by seizing upon the emotional character of the Sunday or festival:'

Even when audiences cannot be expected to understand the German, therefore, there is good reason to pay attention to the season in scheduling the music -- particularly in a church but also in a concert hall or on the air. As we shall have frequent occasion to note, Bach did move melodies and texts from one season of the church year to another, but he did not do so inattentively, indiscriminately, or arbitrarily.

Rather, the four seasons were parts of a single entity, the church year, each part of which was pertinent to the other parts. Echoes and reminders of one season, therefore, were appropriate to the music of another. Above all, the centrality of the story of the crucifixion and resurrection of Christ implied that "Lenten music" was always pertinent.

Modern audiences may find the Lenten portions of Messiah disturbing to their thoughts about the birth of the baby Jesus, and modern conductors may feel justified in pandering to that sentimentality by excising those portions and thus transforming the oratorio into a Christmas cantata -- and "Hallelujah" into a Christmas carol, when it is in fact a celebration of the victory of the resurrection of Christ  But, as his texts seemed to require, Bach was not embarrassed to introduce the chorales of Lent into the music for all four seasons.

Not only were the four seasons of the church year the fundamental structure for most of Bach's work as a composer but time itself repeatedly provided the topic for it. The organ chorale Das alte Jahr vergangen ist (BWV 614) appears to come from Bach's Weimar period and has been dated by scholars at 1713/14. At Cothen, where the established church was Reformed rather than Lutheran  Bach was apparently expected to compose secular cantatas for New Year's Day. From one of these, for 1720, Dich loben die lieblichen Strahlen (BWV A6), we have only the text; but for the cantata from the preceding year (BWV 134a), Die Zeit, die Tag and Jahre macht [The time that makes both days and years],” there are both words and music.

But, symbolically if not also substantively, the most appropriate cantata to summarize the meaning of the “four seasons for Bach was written early in 1708: the funeral cantata (BWV 106), Gottes Zeit ist die allerbeste Zeit [God's own time is the very best of times] (Ambrose, Cantatas 266-67), whose prelude is often performed as a separate piece;A. Spitta has devoted a careful and detailed, if sometimes a bit overwrought, analysis to this cantata, which in his judgment “has a depth and intensity of expression which reach the extreme limits of possibility of representation by music” Schweitzer speaks of “the dramatic life and the intimate union of words and music” in this funeral cantata and says of it that “the text is as perfect as the music,” suggesting that “Bach probably compiled the text of this cantata himself” from various sources.

We shall be returning to Gottes Zeit later, but for our present purposes it stands, in both text and music, as a reminder not only of the preoccupation with death (to be discussed in chapter 5) that was to produce “Komm, susser Tod, komm, sel’ge Ruh” (BWV 478), for which Bach himself wrote the melody, but of the preoccupation with time and transiency, as this had been sacralized by the four seasons of the Christian year.


The Four Seasons of J. S. Bach 1 – Jaroslav Pelikan

February 18, 2014
J.S. Bach was born in Eisenach, Germany, in 1685 and died in 1750 (he was 65 when he died). He came from a long family history of professional muscicians including church organists and composers. Like his father, Johann Ambrosius Bach, J.S. (Johann Sebastian) would learn and surpass him in this art of classical music composing. Bach's childhood wasn't that great as his father passed away when he was 9 and his mother also died when he was a young boy. Although he spent much time with his musically inclined uncles, he also spent time studying and learning from his older brother, Johann Christoph Bach.

J.S. Bach was born in Eisenach, Germany, in 1685 and died in 1750 (he was 65 when he died). He came from a long family history of professional muscicians including church organists and composers. Like his father, Johann Ambrosius Bach, J.S. (Johann Sebastian) would learn and surpass him in this art of classical music composing. Bach’s childhood wasn’t that great as his father passed away when he was 9 and his mother also died when he was a young boy. Although he spent much time with his musically inclined uncles, he also spent time studying and learning from his older brother, Johann Christoph Bach.

In 1725, Bach’s Venetian contemporary Antonio Vivaldi — who was born seven years earlier than Bach, in 1678, and died nine years earlier than Bach, in 1741 — published, in Amsterdam, a concerto bearing the title The Test of Harmony and Invention [Il cimeuto dell'arinonia e ilell'invenzione], numbered as opus 8 in the standard catalogue of Vivaldi’s works.

The first four parts of that concerto bear the subtitle The Four Seasons [Le quatro stagioni] and are certainly the best known of Vivaldi’s works, having been recorded literally dozens of times. The idea of a musical composition inspired by Spring, Summer, Autumn, and Winter is not unique to Vivaldi (though he may have been the first to treat it in purely instrumental fashion); for example, Jean Baptiste Lully had composed a ballet on the same subject as early as 1661, and other composers, including both Haydn and Tchaikovsky, wrote works under this title as well. But Vivaldi has come to be so closely identified with it that upon hearing the simple title The Four Seasons without a specified composer most listeners will automatically think of him.

Vivali was one of the few “composers of his own generation . . to whom [Bach] was deeply indebted.” Indeed, it has been said that “his confrontation with Vivaldi’s music in 1713-14 provoked what was certainly the strongest single development towards Bach’s personal style,” whose “unmistakable identity came about through his coupling of Italianisms with complex counterpoint, marked by busy interweavings of the inner voices as well as harmonic refinement “

As Hans-Gunter Klein has shown, Vivaldi’s significance for Bach’s compositional style extends far beyond his transcriptions of the Venetian master’s string works for keyboard instruments? But these transcriptions do not include The Four Seasons, and there is no known work of Bach bearing that title.

In speaking here of “the four seasons of J. S. Bach,” therefore, it is not the four seasons of the climate but the four seasons of the church year — as set by the four major festivals of Christmas and Epiphany (including Advent), Easter (including Lent), Pentecost (including Ascension Day), and Trinity Sunday (including the “ferial” or “non-festive” cycle of the Sundays after Trinity) — that are decisive.

For these seasons determined the rhythm of Bach’s musical activity and set the program for his works as both composer and performer. What has recently been said of the medieval Corpus Christi Plays would apply no less to Bach’s music: “The liturgical year is the context in which the church commemorates, day by day, all history.”

The structure of the church year as Bach inherited it had been evolving since the beginnings of Christianity. Indeed, controversy over its observance, and particularly over the proper date for the celebration of Easter (whether it should always be on the fourteenth day of Nisan according to the Jewish calendar or always on a Sunday), had broken out already in the second century. At the first ecumenical council of the church, the Council of Nicea in 325, the date of Easter was, alongside the question of the relation between the Father and the Son in the Trinity, a major item on the agenda. And until the Synod of Whitby in 664 the difference between the Roman and the Celtic system for Easter dominated the debates within the English church.

There were no similar conflicts in the early centuries over the dates of the other two major festivals: Pentecost always came fifty days after Easter, whatever the date of Easter might be; and Christmas was a relatively late addition to the Christian year” An even later addition was Trinity Sunday, which was a medieval invention. Trinity Sunday was unusual among the festivals of the church year also because it did not observe an event but a doctrine`’

Except for the abolition of such festivals as Corpus Christi as well as of some saints’ days and Marian festivals, the Lutheran and Anglican Reformations (by contrast with Calvinism and especially Puritanism) had left the fundamental outline of the church year intact, and in Bach’s time the churches he served continued to observe it. That becomes evident, for example, in the call he received to Halle on 14 December 1713 (which in the end he did not accept); it specified his duties for “all high holidays and feast days, and any others as they occur.”°

1. Commemoration of Advent and Christmas, as the opening of the liturgical year, provided an opportunity for a consideration of the church year as a whole. Erdmann Neumeister (1671-1756), Lutheran pastor in Hamburg, who wrote the texts for several of Bach’s cantatas, was the author of a book entitled Christian Instruction on the God-pleasing Observance of Advent, Christmas, and New Year’s.

The opening of a new church year, he admonished, should be the occasion for gratitude “that a merciful God has once again, for an entire year, preserved his holy word and holy sacraments for us, pure and unalloyed.” It should, furthermore, provide an opportunity for reflection on the question, “How have we made use of this grace?” and, if the answer to the question was an admission of negligence (as it ought to be), for a repentant plea that God would forgive such negligence.

Finally, the opening of the new church year was the appropriate time “to pray devoutly that [God] would continue to grant us this grace and to preserve his precious word and sacraments for us and for our posterity.” Citing the precedent of church councils from the early Middle Ages, Neumeister explained that Advent, like Lent, was a penitential season, during which, for example, there were to be no weddings.12 The threefold advent of Christ — in the flesh at his birth, in the means of grace through word and sacrament, and in judgment at the end of time — provided the topics for the Scripture readings and sermons on three Sundays of the Advent season13

None of this was particularly original with Neumeister, of course; and, for that matter, as an orthodox theologian he would not have wanted to lay claim to originality. But he did formulate it in a way that helps us to understand Bach’s music for Advent and Christmas. Thus Neumeister’s comments on traditional church practice explain why it was that in 1723, Bach’s first year at Leipzig, “from the second Sunday in Advent to the fourth, came his first break in the weekly routine of composing and performing cantatas”; for “in Leipzig, unlike Weimar, this period was a ‘tempus clausum; as was Lent up to and including Palm Sunday.”

Likewise, Neumeister’s enumeration of the several comings of Christ had already been outlined, for example, in the Hussite hymn Gottes Sohn ist kommen, by Luther’s contemporary, Jan Roh, bishop of the Unity of Bohemian Brethren:

Once he came in blessing,
All our ills redressing …

Still he comes within us;
Still his voice would win us … .

Come, then, O Lord Jesus,
From our sins release us;
Let us here confess you,
Till in heav’n we bless you.

Roh’s hymn had been included (though usually under the name Horn, which is the German translation of the Czech name Roh) in various German Lutheran hymnals during the period between his own time and Bach’s. “Gottes Sohn Ist Kommen” became, in turn, the basis for one of the chorale preludes (BWV 703) in Bach’s ClavierUbung, a fughetta ascribed to the years 1739-42.

Neumeister defined Weihnachten, Christmas, as “a holy night, because on [this night] the all-holy Son of God was born into this world as a human child”; for, he explained, the word weihen in Weihnachten, “to consecrate;’ meant “the same as ‘to make holy,’ and ‘to be consecrated’ as ‘to be holy.’  

He took his explanation of Christmas as an occasion to denounce secular celebrations of Christmas Eve “by the children of darkness” as “abominable, superstitious, and ungodly.” The authentic celebration of the festival, by contrast, had the following components: attending divine worship; reflecting at home on the meaning of the word of God; pondering the grace of God; “rejoicing over thy birth and grace [Gehurt and Gnade]“; thanking and praising God; and doing good to one’s neighbor.’

All those ways of celebrating Christmas resound throughout the six cantatas that comprise Bach’s Christmas Oratorio (BWV 248). Instead of the simple alliteration “Geburt and Gnade [birth and grace],” the soprano arioso in Cantata IV of the Christmas Oratorio has the much more complex alliterative pattern (from W to H to Sch, and then back again):

Jesu, meine Freud’ and Wonne,
Meine Hoffnung, Schatz and Teil,
Mein Erloser, Schutz and Heil,
Hirt and Konig, Licht and Sonne!

Ach, wie soil ich w6rdiglich,
Mein Herr Jesu, preisen dich?

[Jesu, my joy and delight,
My hope, my treasure and my portion,
My redeemer, refuge and salvation,
My shepherd and king, my light and sun!
Oh, how shall I worthily
Praise thee, my Lord Jesus?]

But Neurneister’s admonitions of reflection, joy, thanks, and responsibility to the neighbor are recurring ideas, here as well as in many other considerations of the proper way to observe “Weihnachten” as a “consecrated night.”


Kreisleriana — Vladimir Horowitz

December 13, 2013
Kreisleriana, Op. 16, is a composition in eight movements by Robert Schumann for solo piano, subtitled Phantasien für das Pianoforte, written in April 1838. Dedicated to Frédéric Chopin, it is a very dramatic work and is considered to be one of Schumann's finest compositions.

Kreisleriana, Op. 16, is a composition in eight movements by Robert Schumann for solo piano, subtitled Phantasien für das Pianoforte, written in April 1838. Dedicated to Frédéric Chopin, it is a very dramatic work and is considered to be one of Schumann’s finest compositions.

The work’s programme, or at any rate the basis for a depiction of psychological music-drama, is based on the character Johannes Kreisler from works of E. T. A. Hoffmann. Like the kaleidoscopic Kreisler, each number has multiple contrasting sections, resembling the imaginary musician’s manic-depression, and recalling Florestan and Eusebius, the two imaginary characters of Schumann’s inner vision (representing his impulsive and dreamy sides, respectively). Johannes Kreisler appeared in three books by E. T. A. Hoffmann, most notably in Kreisleriana (a section of “Fantasiestücke in Callots Manier” published in 1814).

Schumann used material from the eighth movement, “Schnell und spielend”, for the fourth movement of his first symphony.


  1. Äußerst bewegt (Extremely animated), D minor

    Sehr innig und nicht zu rasch (Very inwardly and not too quickly), B-flat major

  3. Sehr aufgeregt (Very agitated), G minor

  4. Sehr langsam (Very slowly), B-flat major/D minor

  5. Sehr lebhaft (Very lively), G minor

  6. Sehr langsam (Very slowly), B-flat major

  7. Sehr rasch (Very fast), C minor/E-flat major

  8. Schnell und spielend (Fast and playful), G minor

All right, it’s 30 minutes out of your life but rather than use your monkey brain and mindlessly click about the internet, why not sit, relax and let the music wash over you. The eight separate audio files are from studio recordings made in 1985 by the master, Vladimir Horowitz. The slow pieces are just exquisite.


Soave Sia Il Vento – Così Fan Tutti

May 23, 2013
Detail of the face of Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart. Cropped version of the painting where Mozart is seen with Anna Maria (Mozart's sister) and father, Leopold, on the wall a portrait of his deceased mother, Anna Maria. Painted by Johann Nepomuk della Croce (1736-1819)

Detail of the face of Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart. Cropped version of the painting where Mozart is seen with Anna Maria (Mozart’s sister) and father, Leopold, on the wall a portrait of his deceased mother, Anna Maria. Painted by Johann Nepomuk della Croce (1736-1819)

Fair be the breeze
And calm the seas,
May earth, fire, water, air,
Kindly answer this our prayer.

Quite probably the most beautiful music written for a trio of voices. Five lines that convey longing, despair and heartbreak because a loved one has left. One of the voices here is the incomparable Renée Fleming.

The novelist McCall Smith writing in the WSJ revealed this about his writing habits:

Music may get in the way of words, but only if it is too loud, too strident, or creates the wrong mood. Music has the ability to affect how we feel: Its capacity to evoke emotions lies at the heart of what it is. For this reason I believe that music may help the novelist to write with the passion and feeling that fiction needs if it is to be convincing.

I choose the music according to the novel that I am writing, and that can vary a great deal. Sometimes I need to hear from Arvo Pärt, sometimes from Peter, Paul & Mary (my taste is eclectic). But there is one piece of music above all others that inspires me in my work and that I listen to a great deal when writing. This is the trio “Soave Sia Il Vento” from Mozart’s “Così Fan Tutte.”

It is a morally disturbing opera. Two young women are saying goodbye to lovers who are about to deceive them in a way that will reveal the women’s own weakness. Nasty and cynical things are about to happen, yet Mozart graces a grubby tale of deception and inconstancy with a score that soars effortlessly above the libretto’s limitations.

Not only is this one of the most beautiful pieces of music ever composed, but the words are extraordinarily peaceful, generous and resolved. “On your voyage, may the winds be gentle; may the waves be calm; may all the elements respond to your desires…”

What more can we wish anyone setting off on life’s journey? I listen to this several times a day; I never tire of it. It is music suffused with the greatest possible sympathy and humanity. It expresses what I want to feel about the world. It is the deepest truth.


Protected: Nobody Gets Too Much Heaven — Derek Jeter

February 18, 2013

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Psalm 8: The Greatness Of God, The Dignity Of Man

February 1, 2013

How great is your name, Lord, through all the earth.

How great is your name, O Lord our God,

through all the earth!

Your majesty is praised above the heavens;

on the lips of children and of babes

you have found praise to foil your enemy,

to silence the foe and the rebel.

When I see the heavens, the work of your hands,

the moon and the stars which you arranged,

what is man that you should keep him in mind,

mortal man that you care for him?

Yet you have made him little less than a god;

with glory and honour you crowned him,

gave him power over the works of your hand,

put all things under his feet.

All of them, sheep and cattle,

yes, even the savage beasts,

birds of the air, and fish

that make their way through the waters.

How great is your name, O Lord our God

through all the earth!

Glory be to the Father and to the Son and to the Holy Spirit,

as it was in the beginning, is now, and ever shall be,

world without end.


How great is your name, Lord, through all the earth.

The Impulse Of Art And The Uniqueness Of Man
Monkeys did not begin pictures and men finish them; Pithecanthropus did not draw a reindeer badly and Homo Sapiens draw it well. The higher animals did not draw better and better portraits; the dog did not paint better in his best period than in his early bad manner as a jackal; the wild horse was not an Impressionist and the race-horse a Post-Impressionist. All we can say of this notion of reproducing things in shadow or representative shape is that it exists nowhere in nature except in man; and that we cannot even talk about it without treating man as something separate from nature.

In other words, every sane sort of history must begin with man as man, a thing standing absolute and alone. How he came there, or indeed how anything else came there, is a thing for theologians and philosophers and scientists and not for historians. But an excellent test case of this isolation and mystery is the matter of the impulse of art. This creature was truly different from all other creatures; because he was a creator as well as a creature. Nothing in that sense could be made in any other image but the image of man.

But the truth is so true that, even in the absence of any religious belief, it must be assumed in the form of some moral or metaphysical principle….The simplest truth about man is that he is a very strange being; almost in the sense of being a stranger on the earth. In all sobriety, he has much more of the external appearance of one bringing alien habits from another land than of a mere growth of this one. He has an unfair advantage and an unfair disadvantage. He cannot sleep in his own skin; he cannot trust his own instincts.

He is at once a creator moving miraculous hands and fingers and a kind of cripple. He is wrapped in artificial bandages called clothes; he is propped on artificial crutches called furniture. His mind has the same doubtful liberties and the same wild limitations. Alone among the animals, he is shaken with the beautiful madness called laughter; as if he had caught sight of some secret in the very shape of the universe hidden from the universe itself.

Alone among the animals he feels the need of averting his thought from the root realities of his own bodily being; of hiding them as in the presence of some higher possibility which creates the mystery of shame. Whether we praise these things as natural to man or abuse them as artificial in nature, they remain in the same sense unique.
G.K. Chesterton, The Everlasting Man


True Love and the Wisdom of Cole Porter — Derek Jeter

December 27, 2012


I am a hopeless romantic and nowhere does it manifest itself more than in the movies and the old film stars. I gulp back tears for Grace Kelly, our American Princess of Hollywood who abandoned us all and went to her dismal end with her dark prince in Monaco. Oh, if she had only stayed on that yacht with Bing.

Suntanned, windblown
Honeymooners at last alone
Feeling far above par
Oh, how lucky we are

While I give to you and you give to me
True love, true love
So on and on it will always be
True love, true love

For you and I have a guardian angel
On high, with nothing to do
But to give to you and to give to me
Love forever true

For you and I have a guardian angel
On high, with nothing to do
But to give to you and to give to me

One of the wonderful things about Loving Luisa is that, as an atheist, she is almost an anti-romantic. She will have no knowledge of this song and I will tell her how lucky she is when I sing it to her. I can imagine her at 60, long after I am gone, poor and destitute. Will she ever be reminded of my promise of marriage, how my disability pension would have looked after her as surviving spouse? One day she will hear this song and remark to a friend:

Yes, I had a man sing that to me once. I cut him off at that guardian angel bullshit – should have seen the look on his face, poor deluded Catholic nitwit, couldn’t believe anyone would shit on his precious Grace Kelly. I think I broke his heart and he died a few years later. You can still read his blog though, Paying Attention to the Sky.

Ah, Life is so unfair, My Jesus. And thank God I don’t exaggerate when I write about these things. And I’m not given over to spasms of self-congratulatory regard. Not me. Never.

But didn’t Cole Porter create this song so utterly perfect? With the opening images of “Suntanned, windblown Honeymooners at last alone,” the two lovers alone on a beach on the outer Cape, accessible perhaps by a small sailboat, a beetlecat. Then the witless “Feeling far above par,” the combination of love as a feeling and the moronic sport of golf (pardon to all you golfers out there), the knuckle dragging ape with the club pursuing a small white ball. What more can one say?

But follow that up with the cry “Oh, how lucky we are!” Aren’t we just? Aren’t we just?

That’s the same cry of recognition we find in Dorothy Day’s autobiography when she looks at her infant child playing in the sunlight on her porch and recognizes a need so deep in herself of thankfulness. This is the happiness not of the hap of happenstance but as Peter Kreeft pointed out in yesterday’s post of eudaimonia, or makarios in Greek or beatitudo in Latin, meaning true, real blessedness. For blessedness creates in us a need to thank God. It just bubbles up in the human heart.

And such blessedness. “For you and I have a guardian angel On high, with nothing to do.” To have a guardian angel who has nothing but time on his hands because God is radiating within you the very love you feel for each other. Your love, true love, is the essence of His love, forever true, and the light of his face smiles on you. And just so you don’t miss it, Cole gives you the ten words that sum up the self-emptying kenosis of our loving God: “While I give to you and you give to me.” With all your heart, and all your soul and all your might, let me add.

It’s just a perfect song and a perfect screen moment. You need to draw someone close and say “Honey, shut up and watch this with me.”

Hopefully she is not an atheist and won’t crush your dreams with “Jesus, Guardian Angels, what will you come up with next?” Such snarkiness…

A Prayer In Time Of Trouble

Do not hide your face from me, for in you have I put my trust.

Lord, listen to my prayer:
turn your ear to my appeal.
You are faithful, you are just; give answer.

Do not call your servant to judgment
for no one is just in your sight.
The enemy pursues my soul;
he has crushed my life to the ground;
he has made me dwell in darkness
like the dead, long forgotten.

Therefore my spirit fails;
my heart is numb within me.
I remember the days that are past:
I ponder all your works.
I muse on what your hand has wrought
and to you I stretch out my hands.

Like a parched land my soul thirsts for you.
Lord, make haste and answer;
for my spirit fails within me.
Do not hide your face
lest I become like those in the grave.

In the morning let me know your love
for I put my trust in you.
Make me know the way I should walk:
to you I lift up my soul.

Rescue me, Lord, from my enemies;
I have fled to you for refuge.
Teach me to do your will
for you, O Lord, are my God.

Let your good spirit guide me
in ways that are level and smooth.
For your name’s sake, Lord, save my life;
in your justice save my soul from distress.

Glory be to the Father and to the Son and to the Holy Spirit,
as it was in the beginning, is now, and ever shall be,
world without end.


Do not hide your face from me, for in you have I put my trust.


Mozart as a Musician of Life’s Gracious Imbalance — Ralph C. Wood

October 28, 2010

Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart

Karl Barth wrote a small book about Mozart amidst all of his Theological tomes. Ralph Wood gives us some of the precious observations Barth held about the composer.


For the last twenty years of his life, Barth began and ended every day by listening to the work of Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart. Barth’s study contained a picture of Mozart that was hung — as Barth always pointed out — at a slightly higher level than Calvin’s. Barth’s aphorisms about Mozart are widely celebrated. Mozart, says Barth, is content to play while Bach is determined to preach.

The angels may perform Bach when they are before the throne of God, Barth speculates, but when gathered unto them-selves it’s always Mozart. “If I ever get to heaven,” Barth declares, “I shall first ask after Mozart, and only then after Augustine and Aquinas, Luther and Calvin and Schleiermacher.” “In relation to Mozart,” Barth observes wickedly, “Bach is merely John the Baptist and Beethoven is Origen, if not the Shepherd of Hermas.”

Barth is no mere lover of Mozart. He hears in Mozart’s work nothing less than a musical witness to. God’s redeemed creation. Mozart’s “singing and sounding,” as Barth calls it, echoes God’s own gracious ordering of the world. It constitutes for Barth a parabolic correspondence to the Gospel so original that it is not discernible in any other genius of culture. Mozart’s “childlike knowledge of the center of things” certainly did not derive from Goethe’s “wide-open eyes for nature, history and [the] arts.” Mozart perceived what the better-read and better-educated fail to see, what the “connoisseurs of the world and men” do not discern.

Not even the church Fathers and Reformers enable Barth to hear what sings forth from Mozart’s “golden sounds and melodies” — namely, “parables of the kingdom revealed in the gospel of God’s free grace.” Without this musical echo of God’s goodness, Barth adds in a remarkable tribute to Mozart, “I could not think of what moves me personally in theology, in politics.”

It is not the fabled “sunny-ness” of Mozart’s music that enabled Barth to understand afresh the motive force of all theological work. It is, instead, Mozart’s avoidance of that deadly balance and coincidence of opposites which characterize much of modem theology and nearly the whole of modern culture. To envision the cosmos as equipoise (vocab: Equipoise is the state of being balanced or in equilibrium, usually connoting something that is a product of counterbalancing) of contraries — light and dark, earth and sky, laughter and weeping, heaven and hell — is finally to discern how they cancel each other.

This binary view of the world ends ultimately in neutrality and indifference, if not in madness and suicide. That the creation is full of great contrariety there is no doubt, but the Gospel is not such a coincidentia oppositorum. For Barth, on the contrary, God’s activity in history is bent on transforming the interplay of life’s light and shadow so as to make the former always take precedence over the latter. Mozart’s music is wondrously redemptive, in Barth’s hearing of it, because it reveals this gracious imbalance at the core of things:

[Mozart]. . . heard, and causes those who have ears to hear, even today, what we shall not see until the end of time — the whole context of providence. As though in the light of this end, he heard the harmony of creation to which the shadow also belongs but in which the shadow is not darkness, deficiency is not defeat, sadness cannot become despair, trouble cannot degenerate into tragedy and infinite melancholy is not ultimately forced to claim undisputed sway. Thus the cheerfulness in this harmony is not without its limits. But the light shines all the more brightly because it breaks forth from the shadow. The sweetness is also bitter and cannot therefore cloy. Life does not fear death but knows it well. . . . Mozart saw this light no more than we do, but he heard the whole world of creation enveloped by this light. Hence it was fundamentally in order that he should not hear a middle or neutral note but the positive far more strongly than the negative. He heard the negative only in and with the positive.
Karl Barth, Dogmatics in Outline

Even in the works of his most radiant keys — in the serenades and divertimenti, in Figaro and Cosi fan’ tutte — Mozart is no sanguine optimist. Yet neither do the darker pieces set in minor modes ever descend to self-pitying melancholy. In the overture and finale of Don Giovanni, in the large and small G Minor Symphonies, in the D Minor Piano Concerto, even in the “Dissonant” Quartet — in none of these, says Barth, is life perceived as a lugubrious dialectic of opposites. They are filled, instead, with a joyous sense of the world’s wondrous imbalance:

The sun shines but does not dazzle the eyes, nor demolish nor scorch. Heaven arches above the earth but does not press upon or crush or swallow it. And so earth remains earth, but without being forced to hold its own against heaven in titanic revolt. In the same way darkness, chaos, death and hell render themselves conspicuous but are not allowed to prevail even for a moment. Mozart makes music, knowing everything from a mysterious center.

What [happens] in this center is…a splendid annulment of balance, a turn in the strength of which the light rises and the shadow winks but does not disappear; happiness outdistances sor row without extinguishing it and the “Yes” rings louder than the still-existing “No.” Notice the reversal of the great dark and little bright experiences of Mozart’s life! “The rays of the sun disperse the night”—that’s what you hear at the end of The Magic Flute. The play may or must still proceed or start from the beginning. But it is a play in which some Height or Depth is winning or has already won. This directs and characterizes it. One will never perceive equilibrium, and for that reason uncertainty or doubt, in Mozart’s music. This is true of his operas as well as of his incidental music. Is not each Kyrie or Miserere, even if it begins at the lowest depth, carried by the trust that the prayer for grace has in fact been answered?
Karl Barth, Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart

Thomas Merton attributes Mozart’s musical mastery to a mystical innocence that instinctively intuited the cosmic harmony. He criticizes Barth for his cerebral denial of this supposed heart-knowledge: “Though you have grown up to become a theologian,” he exhorts Barth, “Christ remains a child in you. Your books (and mine) matter less than we think! There is in us a Mozart who will be our salvation.”

Merton has missed Barth’s point altogether. Barth finds Mozart’s music wondrously liberating precisely because it contains nothing inwardly mystical, nothing of that romantic Sehnsucht which mystics confuse with transcendent grace. Like Cardinal Newman, Barth believes that “mysticism begins in mist and ends in schism.” What moves Barth is the serene objectivity of Mozart’s music — its unexampled freedom from mere subjectivity.

Nothing in Mozart’s biography, Barth argues, can account for his unsurpassed musical ability to encircle life’s sadness with a deep and abiding joy. “Mozart often laughed,” Barth declares, “but certainly not because there was much for him to laugh about. Rather he laughed (and that is something absolutely different) because he was allowed and able to laugh in spite of all.

It was Mozart’s unsurpassed gift to have been what Barth calls an impersonal instrument of the “sounding universe”  Having listened to a redemptive harmony not of his own making, Mozart was intent on letting his music resound with it.  Hence the virtual absence of any subjective element in Mozart’s work, and hence also the stark divide between the unhappy events of Mozart’s private life and the proverbial gaiety incarnate in his music.

Barth cites Mozart’s own assertion that “the emotions, strong or not, never should be expressed ad nauseam and that music, even in the most horrible situation, never must offend the ears but must please them nevertheless. In other words, music must always remain music.” Nothing less than a deep theological humility can explain, in Barth’s view, Mozart’s splendid self-transcendence over his personal interests:

Mozart’s music, in contrast to that of Bach, has no message and, in contrast to that of Beethoven, involves no personal confession. His music does not give any rules, even less does it reveal the composer himself…Mozart does not wish to say anything at all; he just sings and sounds. So he does not intrude a thing upon the hearer, he does not ask decisions or comments of him, he just lets him alone. You start to enjoy him the moment you allow him to act like that…He does not want to proclaim the praise of God either. However, he does just that: in the very humbleness in which he is, so to speak, nothing more than an instrument himself. In this way he lets us hear what he clearly hears, namely, everything which from God’s creation presses upon him, rises in him, and wants to spring from him.
Karl Barth, Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart

Barth is untroubled by the objection that Mozart did not intend his music, at least not his secular work, to resound with the praise of God’s prevenient grace. That Mozart lived an often miserable life; that he accused Protestants of being unable to comprehend the meaning of Agnus Dei, qui tollis peccata mundi; that he was a Freemason of little moral and intellectual distinction — all of this is, for Barth, nothing to the theological point.

On the contrary, it establishes his thesis ever more strongly: Mozart was a man who, however great his personal bondage, became utterly free in his service to Dame Music. Against Ulrich Zwingli’s notion that certain people have a special direct access to God, Barth asserts that “God had a special access to this human being.”


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