Lament for the sins of the world
Perhaps this blog’s title should drop the Frivolous (however ironical), and go just for the Fragments.
Fragments there will always be.
Fragments of history? Such as: exactly 100 years ago Germany invaded Belgium and Europe went to war. Over the past year I’ve been diligently ploughing through authoritative books on WWI. (5 books out of a corpus of 25.000+)
And what did I learn about the causes of WWI: nations feeling threatened and afraid of being encircled by enemy states, lust for vengeance of perceived historical wrongs, declining empires and the scramble for their remains, idle youth rallying to a “pan - this or that” cause, national honour, inflexible military plans with their own logic, etc.
Fragments of current world affairs? Such as war in Gaza, civil war in Syria, barbarous ISIS marching on in Iraq, unrest in the Ukraine,etc.
Europe’s 1914 decision makers have been called sleepwalkers. I wonder whether “we” are wider awake now?
Ah, but a contemplative flâneur is ill-suited to comment on turbulent world affairs.
In fact, I increasingly feel like one of those medieval monks fully occupied with “pleurer les péchés du monde en attendant le jugement dernier”.
As if there are two worlds
The setting was serene enough – a terrace near a pond on a summer day. Insouciance in the air, but not in her words. She sighed “even now, at 75, I don’t get used to it. It’s as if there are two worlds. One where people care for each other and strive for beauty and knowledge and one where they can only kill and destroy”.
I myself often wonder how people in past ages did it – concentrate on science and art amidst wars and other calamities.
So it’s with great interest I read Gardiner’s account of German 17th Century composers – caught up in a bloody age, yet composing relentlessly. And I learn with satisfaction how, in the midst of Protestant-Catholic strife, these Lutheran composers eagerly incorporated musical advances made by “the enemy” , the catholic Italian composers.
" […] The spiralling violence of the Thirty Years War.[…] Fear of death was matched by fear of life itself, which had become tainted through the sustained distress of warfare, malnutrition and disease. […] Much of the music to emerge from the war years […] now gave a similar topical emphasis to the vanity of human existence. […] The clearest evidence of this malaise comes from the foremost German musician of his day, Heinrich Schütz, who […] spent his thirty-third to sixty-third years in the eye of the war’s storm as Capellmeister to the Dresden Court. His letters convey a picture of widespread depredation and demoralisation, but also the immense courage required to keep alive one’s personal faith – or any artistic outlet for it – in such straitened circumstances."
"The influence of Catholic Church music, […], acted as a blood transfusion to the music of the Lutheran Church. […] It inspired a whole generation of exceptionally talented composers, all born around the middle years of the seventeenth century. […]
These composers gave a new creative impetus to the process of grafting Italian styles of church music on the native rootstock, fusing the vigour of vernacular declamation with the colour and passion of Italian sonorities. Given the bitter feeling between Catholic and Protestant, and the traces which remained of a deep-seated Germanic fear of the corruptive forces of Italian culture […] this is remarkable. But it is typical of the inquisitive yet easy-going pragmatism of creative musicians in all ages that they should wish to source and acquire new techniques regardless of their provenance. […] Such an exchange of ideas across political and administrative frontiers, and across religious divisions, suggests a parallel with what George Steiner calls the ‘communitas of the sciences …. The ideal of a commonwealth of positive, beneficial truths, transcending the bloody, infantile conflicts of religious, dynastic and ethnic hatreds …. As Kepler reportedly said, amid the massacres of religious wars, the laws of elliptical motion belong to no man or principality.’
The same could be said of music.”
(from : Music in the Castle of Heaven; John Eliot Gardiner)