Monday, November 23, 2009

Poem of the day

Wallace Stevens
"Sunday Morning"

Complacencies of the peignoir, and late
Coffee and oranges in a sunny chair,
And the green freedom of a cockatoo
Upon a rug mingle to dissipate
The holy hush of ancient sacrifice.
She dreams a little, and she feels the dark
Encroachment of that old catastrophe,
As a calm darkens among water-lights.
The pungent oranges and bright, green wings
Seem things in some procession of the dead,
Winding across wide water, without sound.
The day is like wide water, without sound,
Stilled for the passing of her dreaming feet
Over the seas, to silent Palestine,
Dominion of the blood and sepulchre.


Why should she give her bounty to the dead?
What is divinity if it can come
Only in silent shadows and in dreams?
Shall she not find in comforts of the sun,
In pungent fruit and bright green wings, or else
In any balm or beauty of the earth,
Things to be cherished like the thought of heaven?
Divinity must live within herself:
Passions of rain, or moods in falling snow;
Grievings in loneliness, or unsubdued
Elations when the forest blooms; gusty
Emotions on wet roads on autumn nights;
All pleasures and all pains, remembering
The bough of summer and the winter branch.
These are the measure destined for her soul.


Jove in the clouds had his inhuman birth.
No mother suckled him, no sweet land gave
Large-mannered motions to his mythy mind.
He moved among us, as a muttering king,
Magnificent, would move among his hinds,
Until our blood, commingling, virginal,
With heaven, brought such requital to desire
The very hinds discerned it, in a star.
Shall our blood fail? Or shall it come to be
The blood of paradise? And shall the earth
Seem all of paradise that we shall know?
The sky will be much friendlier then than now,
A part of labor and a part of pain,
And next in glory to enduring love,
Not this dividing and indifferent blue.


She says, 'I am content when wakened birds,
Before they fly, test the reality
Of misty fields, by their sweet questionings;
But when the birds are gone, and their warm fields
Return no more, where, then, is paradise?'
There is not any haunt of prophecy,
Nor any old chimera of the grave,
Neither the golden underground, nor isle
Melodious, where spirits gat them home,
Nor visionary south, nor cloudy palm
Remote on heaven's hill, that has endured
As April's green endures; or will endure
Like her remembrance of awakened birds,
Or her desire for June and evening, tipped
By the consummation of the swallow's wings.


She says, 'But in contentment I still feel
The need of some imperishable bliss.'
Death is the mother of beauty; hence from her,
Alone, shall come fulfillment to our dreams
And our desires. Although she strews the leaves
Of sure obliteration on our paths,
The path sick sorrow took, the many paths
Where triumph rang its brassy phrase, or love
Whispered a little out of tenderness,
She makes the willow shiver in the sun
For maidens who were wont to sit and gaze
Upon the grass, relinquished to their feet.
She causes boys to pile new plums and pears
On disregarded plate. The maidens taste
And stray impassioned in the littering leaves.


Is there no change of death in paradise?
Does ripe fruit never fall? Or do the boughs
Hang always heavy in that perfect sky,
Unchanging, yet so like our perishing earth,
With rivers like our own that seek for seas
They never find, the same receding shores
That never touch with inarticulate pang?
Why set pear upon those river-banks
Or spice the shores with odors of the plum?
Alas, that they should wear our colors there,
The silken weavings of our afternoons,
And pick the strings of our insipid lutes!
Death is the mother of beauty, mystical,
Within whose burning bosom we devise
Our earthly mothers waiting, sleeplessly.


Supple and turbulent, a ring of men
Shall chant in orgy on a summer morn
Their boisterous devotion to the sun,
Not as a god, but as a god might be,
Naked among them, like a savage source.
Their chant shall be a chant of paradise,
Out of their blood, returning to the sky;
And in their chant shall enter, voice by voice,
The windy lake wherein their lord delights,
The trees, like serafin, and echoing hills,
That choir among themselves long afterward.
They shall know well the heavenly fellowship
Of men that perish and of summer morn.
And whence they came and whither they shall go
The dew upon their feel shall manifest.


She hears, upon that water without sound,
A voice that cries, 'The tomb in Palestine
Is not the porch of spirits lingering.
It is the grave of Jesus, where he lay.'
We live in an old chaos of the sun,
Or old dependency of day and night,
Or island solitude, unsponsored, free,
Of that wide water, inescapable.
Deer walk upon our mountains, and the quail
Whistle about us their spontaneous cries;
Sweet berries ripen in the wilderness;
And, in the isolation of the sky,
At evening, casual flocks of pigeons make
Ambiguous undulations as they sink,
Downward to darkness, on extended wings.

Saturday, November 21, 2009

Conversing with the Snout

Loren Eiseley was a philosopher, writer and naturalist who questioned often our views on nature and reality. In his essay "the Snout" he paints a picture of man's evolutionary ancestor, a bog-dwelling fish in the sludge and grime who in a desperate need for oxygen, took to land. The main focal points of the essay are man's fear of change, our assumption that we will be here for eternity looking like this, thinking like this. His last line is "We are one of the many appearances of the thing called Life; we are not its perfect image, for it has no image of life except Life and life is multitudinous and emergent in the stream of time." I do a disservice trying to summarize his work, for it must be read, and read with attention and an open-minded heart.

“The Snout” is frightening at first, as it itself so rightly points out. There is something unnerving about the idea that life as we see it, is not how it is. We as humans wish to keep the world as it is, for it is all we know; and thus Eiseley's essay on life unsettles us. The idea that life as a force, constantly changing and growing, is startling when one realizes that humanity and any likeness to it has existed for a very small period of time. For me, the realization that things are still coming ashore, that creatures very much like what man's ancient evolutionary ancestor looked like is no concern or threat to me. That only one creature's brain has evolved in the way that man's has is evidence enough of God's guiding hand for me, and that man's current form may not be his final is no hindrance either. Eiseley briefly references a man's accusation that to say that man is not the pinnacle of creation is to deny God, or rather, the Christian tradition of God. Indeed, to deny this is heresy, but is this what Eisely is doing? The Catholic Church says that man is made in the image and likeness of God, but what does this mean? Does it mean physical likeness? Of course not, for God has no physical form. As Augustine says, we were made in the spiritual likeness of God, which is to say that we were created with an immortal soul. Our dignity as humans, and our place as the pinnacle of creation has nothing to do with our evolutionary prowess or state along the evolutionary path, but rely solely on something which no creature can attain through physical means, but is given them, the likeness of their creator. Of course man has only been around for a very short period of time, and mayhaps he will not continue in the life stream of this planet, but I am constantly curious as to what happens to consciousness. Philosophers have made no significant ground recently in regards to consciousness, and until they do, I am convinced that personhood survives whatever evolutionary tangles the physical form may go through. Where the debate and question comes into my mind is “when along the evolutionary road did man gain a soul?”. What does it mean for man to be completely a body and completely a soul, if his current form is not the pinnacle? Or is man's body, like the rest of nature, meant to continually change? The poet Wallace Stevens penned "Sunday morning" condemning our view of nature and eternity as a forever unchanging equilibrium. For him, the death of all change is a death of all that is human, all that is beautiful. How could we enjoy the seasons? What on earth (or off it) would a paradise look like in a constant heat-death of change or newness? Thomas Aquinas, Copelston, Augustine, and all Aristotelian theologians have no trouble saying that the universe is infinite, and neither do I. I for one could not imagine an eternity without change, without the Mandelbrot set, which continues to spiral on and on, ever changing, and yet ever patterned, or without chaos theory. There is beauty and splendor in this view of life, and a tribute evermore so to He who came up with it in the first place.

Thursday, November 12, 2009

Fathers of Music

Name: Georg Philipp Telemann
Dates: March 14th, 1681-June 17th, 1767
Era: Baroque
Contemporaries: Bach, Vivaldi, Handel
Known for: Telemann is probably most noted for his prolific carer, in which he is credited over 800 works and is regarded as having written 3,000 or more compositions, most of which have been lost over the centuries.

Born in born in Magdeburg, in 1681,Telemann was raised in an upper-middle-class family that was not particularly musical. In fact, his mother attempted many times to discourage him from this profession. The death of Telemann’s father in 1685 left his mother to raise and oversee the education of their children, and she did so with diligence. Little Telemann, surrounded as he was by family members who worked in a liturgical setting, began to discover music at age 10, and quickly showed talent, composing his first opera by age 12. But musicians have never been great money makers, and so this talent was not approved of by his family. Fearing that her son would pursue a career in music, Telemann’s mother confiscated all of his musical instruments and in 1693 packed him off to a new school in Zellerfeldt, hoping that this change would put the boy on a more lucrative career path. However, the superintendent of this school approved of his talents, and Telemann continued to compose and expand his knowledge of music on his own. By the time he completed his studies at the Gymnasium Andreanum, Telemann was a multi-instrumentalist who had learned to play the recorder, organ, violin, viola, flute, oboe, chalumeau, double bass and bass trombone, almost entirely by himself. His travels had also exposed him to newer musical styles and influences, namely the music of Johann Rosenmüller and Arcangelo Corelli, both masters.

However, his mother was not yet done with him, and thus it was that in 1701, with a heavy heart, Telemann entered Leipzig University intending to study law. But it was not long before his musical talent was discovered and he was commissioned to write music for two of the city’s main churches. Soon thereafter, he founded a 40-member Collegium Musicum to give concerts of his music. The next year, Telemann became the director of Leipzig’s opera house and cantor of one of its churches. There he enjoyed immense success and the jealousy of many contemopraries.

After four years of good fortune, Telemann left Leipzig in 1705 to become Kapellmeister for the court of Count Erdmann II in Sorau. Here he acquainted himself with the French styles of Lully and Campra, composing many overtures and suits in his two years at the post. After an invasion of Germany by Sweden in 1707, which forced Count Erdmann's court to evacuate the castle, Telemann visited Paris and was later appointed as a leader of the singers at the court in Eisenach, where he met Johann Sebastian Bach. The most advantageous position of Telemann's life was his appointment in 1721 as musical director of the five main churches in Hamburg, a position he would hold for the rest of his life. Here Telemann#s prolific pen came in handy, for he wrote two cantatas for each Sunday, as well as other sacred music for special occasions, all while teaching singing and music theory and directing another collegium musicum, which gave weekly or bi-weekly performances.

Telemann was not above using his success as a leaver for a fatter wallet. When the position Kuhnau had once held in Leipzig became vacant, Telemann applied for the position. Of the six musicians who applied, he was the favored candidate, even winning the approval of the city’s council. Telemann declined the position, but only after using the offer as leverage to secure a pay raise for his position in Hamburg. Telemann even augmented this Hamburg pay with a few small positions in other courts and through publishing volumes of his own music.

Starting around 1740, Telemann’s output decreased as he began to focus more on writing theoretical treatises. During this time he corresponded with some younger composers, including Franz Benda and his godson, C.P.E Bach. In his later years, Telemann’s eyesight began to deteriorate, and this led to a decline in his output around 1762, but the composer continued to write until his death on June 25, 1767.


What touches me most about Telemann was the wonderful relationship he had with Bach, even becoming the god-father of this famous composer's son. It is interesting for me at least to note that Telemann was a far more accredited composer in his day then Bach, yet so few know his name now. You can speak the name of Bach with almost anyone you meet, but mention Telemann and all you get is a blank stare. This is a composer worth looking into. His Two Violin Sonata is my personal favorite, and I would love to hear my brother play this on his violin with a friend.

Saturday, November 7, 2009

Veni Creator

I never realized before reciting the English words of this prayer just how much we us this text in liturgical music. Think about the words as you read over them and try and remember singing them as some time in mass. Then see if you can name some of the tunes to which the text is set in those hymnals of ours.

Come O Creator Spirit blest!
And in our souls take up Thy rest;
Come with Thy grace and heavenly aid,
to fill the hearts which Thou hast made

Great Paraclete! To Thee we cry,
O highest gift of God most high!
O font of life! O fire of love!
And sweet anointing from above.

Thou in Thy Sevenfold gifts art known
The finger of God's hand we own;
The promise of the Father, Thou!
Who dost the tongue with power endow.

Kindle our senses from above
And make our hearts o'erflow with love;
With patience firm and virtue high
The weakness of our flesh supply.

Far from us drive the foe we dread,
And grant us Thy true peace instead;
So shall we not, with Thee for guide,
Turn from the path of life aside.

Oh, may Thy grace on us bestow
The Father and the Son to know,
And Thee through endless times confessed
of both the eternal Spirit blest.

All glory while the ages run
Be to the Father and the Son
Who rose from death; the same to Thee,
O Holy Spirit, eternally. Amen

Veni, creátor Spíritus,
mentes tuórum vísita,
imple supérna grátia,
quæ tu creásti péctora.

Qui díceris Paráclitus,
altíssimi donum Dei,
fons vivus, ignis, cáritas,
et spiritális únctio.

Tu septifórmis múnere,
dígitus patérnæ déxteræ,
tu rite promíssum Patris,
sermóne ditans gúttura.

Accénde lumen sénsibus,
infúnde amórem córdibus,
infírma nostri córporis
virtúte firmans pérpeti.

Hostem repéllas lóngius
pacémque dones prótinus;
ductóre sic te prǽvio
vitémus omne nóxium.

Per Te sciámus da Patrem
noscámus atque Fílium,
teque utriúsque Spíritum
credámus omni témpore.

Deo Patri sit glória,
et Fílio, qui a mórtuis
surréxit, ac Paráclito,
in sæculórum sǽcula. Amen.