Music and Identity

https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Chopin_concert.jpg

What is Chopin’s B Minor Sonata? What constitutes its identity? Not the fact that it’s part of Chopin’s conscious experience, because it continues to exist after his death. And not the fact that it’s part of any listener’s experience, because it continues to exist when those experiences have ended. It can’t be identified with any particular performance, and it’s different from its score, since the sonata is a sounding work and the score is an arrangement of graphic signs.

If the sonata is not material, and if it’s different from the experience of both the composer and the listener (in fact, it continues to exist if no one takes any conscious interest in it at all), how can it exist? How do we discern the same “original” work in a hundred different performances?

Is the sonata an ideal object, immutable and atemporal, like a mathematical concept? Well, no, because Chopin created it at a particular time. Perhaps there is no sonata, only individual performances? But then there’d be no sense in distinguishing a performance from the work itself, or in talking about the identity of a work (“Chopin’s B Minor Sonata”), or in arguing over whether a given performance was faithful to the original.

“For what is the point of saying that one performance rather than another gives a more nearly accurate account of the B Minor Sonata when the sonata does not in fact exist and when there is nothing real with which these performances may be compared?” asks philosopher Roman Ingarden. “Are we really going to agree that such judgments concerning the sonata itself and its performances are all false and stupid?”

(Roman Ingarden, The Work of Music and the Problem of Its Identity, 1986.)

Inspiration

https://www.nrc.nl/nieuws/2014/11/16/eschers-impossible-stairs-inspired-by-high-school-a1420996

M.C. Escher hated the Dutch high school he attended between 1912 and 1918. He failed his exam and enjoyed only the drawing lessons. But now it appears that the school’s architecture informs some of his later prints.

“It recently became clear that the staircase in Escher’s secondary school was a crucial factor in several of his works,” writes Micky Piller, curator of the The Hague Escher Museum, in The Amazing World of M.C. Escher (2015). “This discovery was confirmed by analysis of this work and photographs taken in the school.

“Escher was an unhappy boy when he was going up and down this staircase. Thirty years on, he still described his school years as ‘the hell that was Arnhem.’ Here he would have seen pupils walking in every direction. Imagine this in your mind’s eye and you will understand the rotating perspective in the print.”

“It was not all imagination, we must conclude now.”

Duet

In 1924 cellist Beatrice Harrison was playing to the birds in her Oxted garden when “I suddenly stopped and thought, ‘Why should I be the only being to have the joy of hearing the nightingale and the cello sing together? If only it were possible for people, even at the other end of the world, to hear him, those who have never heard the most exquisite bird sing.'”

The BBC resisted her idea at first — no wild bird had ever been broadcast before — but on May 19 they arranged a live performance in the garden, and “the nightingale burst into song as I continued to play. … I shall never forget his voice that night, or his trills, nor the way he followed the cello so blissfully. It was a miracle to have caught his song and to know that it was going, with the cello, to the ends of the earth.”

The broadcast was heard by about a million people; those who had radios relayed it by telephone to friends who didn’t. She played again the following week, and again the following year, and received thousands of letters, some addressed to “The Lady of the Nightingales” or “The Garden of the Nightingales, England.”

The only listener who remained unimpressed was her gardener. “I loves your music, Miss,” he told her, “but I do wish it didn’t attract them birds the way it do. They eats up all the fruit, something cruel.”

(From her 1985 autobiography, The Cello and the Nightingales.)

“Map of the Road to Hell!!”

https://www.loc.gov/item/2013585074/

This is literally the first thing you find if you search the Library of Congress for “map of the road”. I.N. Barrillon drew it in 1858. “Reader! how far have you travelled on this dreadful road? Examine thyself! Turn ye turn ye for why will you die!!”

You can’t make out all the details here (the library has some beautiful larger scans), but it’s amazing what will land you in trouble. The major rivers in Hell are Gambling River, Drunkenness River, and Perdition River, but the tributaries include Chess Creek, Backgammon Branch, Lottery Creek, Egg Nog Creek, Cider Branch, and Lemonade Branch.

In his 1973 Atlas of Fantasy, J.B. Post writes, “The quickest way to the Great Lake of Fire and Brimstone is by the Suicide Rail Road and the Duelist’s Rail Road. One can meander along the road but shortcuts are provided for liars, drunkards, gamblers, and perjurors. All, however, finally go ‘blip’ into the Great Lake.”

“Not shown is the road to Heaven called ‘the Path of Ennui.'”

Room of the Giants

https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Ceiling_of_the_Room_of_the_giants_in_Palazzo_Te,_Mantua.jpg
Image: Wikimedia Commons

Painter Giulio Romano decorated the Palazzo del Te outside Mantua with a series of illusionistic spaces and special effects, culminating in a bewildering room in which giants that have rebelled against Zeus are crushed for their transgression — Giulio “paints the walls away,” leaving the viewer in a crumbling city into which Zeus flings lightning from the heavens. Poet Gregorio Comanini praised Giulio’s fantastic imagination:

In Mantua, in a room in the Palazzo del Te, Giulio Romano has painted giants struck by lightning at Flegra. They are crushed under the rubble of rock and mountain, in positions so strange and horrible that anyone who saw such a spectacle in reality would surely be horrified and feel great distress. None the less, since this is an imitation and a painting, anyone would welcome a chance to see it and would be highly pleased with it, as can be attested to by the frequency with which visitors flock to view it.

Giorgio Vasari wrote, “Let no one think ever to see any work of the brush more horrifying, or more realistic, than this.”

https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Gigants1.jpg

In a Word

https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:August_Friedrich_Albrecht_Schenck_-_Anguish_-_Google_Art_Project.jpg

orbity
n. a bereavement by loss of parents or children

reme
v. to cry out in grief or pain; to lament

philostorgy
n. parental love

asperous
adj. harsh to the feelings; bitter, cruel, severe

Of August Friedrich Schenck’s 1878 painting Anguish, one critic wrote in Figaro, “All the world today regards Schenk as one of our first animal-painters. He is one of those originals, of a species not yet extinct, who prefer dogs to men, and find more sweetness in sheep than in women.”

“It is a little drama, this picture, and as poignant as if it had men for actors and victims.”