Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Desert island music - the sacred music of the masters

Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Something called not time

"Time. Chopin's piano was made of time. What is time in Ojibwemowin?" asked Damien.

Nanapush misunderstood then, and did not give the word but deeply considered the nature of the thing he was asked to name. When he spoke his thoughts aloud, his voice was slow and contemplative.

"We see seasons pass, the moons fatten and go dark, infants grow to old men, but this is not time. We see the water strike against the shore and with each wave we say that a moment has passed, but this is not time. Inside, we feel our strength go from a baby's weakness to a youth's strength to a man's endurance to the weakness of a baby again, but this is not time, either, nor are your whiteman's clocks and bells, nor the sun rising and the sun going down. These things are not time."

"What is it then?" said Father Damien. "I want to know, myself."

"Time is a fish," said Nanapush slowly, "and all of us are living on the rib of its fin."

Damien stared at him in quizzical fascination and asked what type of fish.

"A moving fish that never stops. Sometimes in swimming through the weeds one or another of us will be shaken off time's fin."

"Into the water?" asked Damien.

"No," said Nanapush, "into something else called not time."

Father Damien waited for Nanapush to explain, but after he'd lighted his pipe and smoked it for awhile, he only said, "Let's find something to eat."

~ Louise Erdrich, The Last Report on the Miracles at Little No Horse

Saturday, March 27, 2010

Shakespeare, on why we can't hear, the music of the spheres

wadi rum stars Fine Art Prints
How sweet the moonlight sleeps upon this bank!
Here will we sit and let the sounds of music
Creep in our ears: soft stillness and the night
Become the touches of sweet harmony.
Sit, Jessica. Look how the floor of heaven
Is thick inlaid with patines of bright gold:
There's not the smallest orb which thou behold'st
But in his motion like an angel sings,
Still quiring to the young-eyed cherubins;
Such harmony is in immortal souls;
But whilst this muddy vesture of decay
Doth grossly close it in, we cannot hear it.

~ Shakespeare, The Merchant of Venice

Thursday, March 25, 2010

L'angelo della morte

Mikhail Vrubel, Six-Winged Seraph
These struggles with the natural character, the strong native bent of the heart, may seem futile and fruitless, but in the end they do good. They tend, however slightly, to give the actions, the conduct, that turn which Reason approves, and which Feeling, perhaps, too often opposes: they certainly make a difference in the general tenour of a life, and enable it to be better regulated, more equable, quieter on the surface; and it is on the surface only the common gaze will fall.
As to what lies below, leave that with God. Man, your equal, weak as you, and not fit to be your judge, may be shut out thence: take it to your Maker--show Him the secrets of the spirit He gave--ask Him how you are to bear the pains He has appointed--kneel in His presence, and pray with faith for light in darkness, for strength in piteous weakness, for patience in extreme need. Certainly, at some hour, though perhaps not your hour, the waiting waters will stir; in some shape, though perhaps not the shape you dreamed, which your heart loved, and for which it bled, the healing herald will descend, the cripple and the blind, and the dumb, and the possessed will be led to bathe. Herald, come quickly! Thousands lie round the pool, weeping and despairing, to see it, through slow years, stagnant. Long are the "times" of Heaven: the orbits of angel messengers seem wide to mortal vision; they may en-ring ages: the cycle of one departure and return may clasp unnumbered generations; and dust, kindling to brief suffering life, and through pain, passing back to dust, may meanwhile perish out of memory again, and yet again. To how many maimed and mourning millions is the first and sole angel visitant, him easterns call Azrael!

~ Charlotte Bronte, Villette

Sunday, March 21, 2010

Happy 325th Birthday, J. S. Bach! 21 March, 1685

The Prelude from Bach's English Suite No. 2

I remember this piece from one of the many disturbing scenes in Schindler's List. As German soldiers are storming a Jewish apartment building in the Warsaw ghetto, and with total chaos and terror reigning in the background, one soldier quietly and nonchalantly sits down at a piano (that belongs to someone being thrown out, obviously) and begins playing this beautiful piece. Such beauty amidst all the horror. Classic Spielberg, I suppose.

On listening to Bach, Hermann Hesse wrote:

And now it comes. With majestic free deportment Master Bach enters his temple, does grateful homage to God, rises from worship and, following the text of a hymn, happily falls into his reverent Sunday mood. But hardly has he made a start and cleared some space for himself than he begins to drive his harmonies deeper, interlace melody with melody, harmony with harmony in animated polyphony; he reinforces and lifts and rounds out his edifice of notes far above the church into a starry space full of nobly perfect systems as though God had gone to sleep and handed over to him His staff and mantle. He makes lightening play from towering clouds and throws open serene sunny spaces, he triumphantly guides forth planets and suns, he rests relaxed at high noon and at the proper hour elicits the cool showers of evening. And he ends in splendor and power like the setting sun and, as he falls silent, leaves the world full of glory and of soul.

~ Old Music (1913)

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