week47: berlioz

Beethoven died, to come to life again in Berlioz.“” violinist Nicolo Paganini

Symphony Fantastique -- Hector Berlioz - Deutsche Grammophone -- Berliner Philharmoniker 

Symphony Fantastique -- Hector Berlioz - Deutsche Grammophone -- Berliner Philharmoniker 

this would have been perfect timing for the umbilical hernia repairment that i was scheduled for this week, had the surgeon not canceled last minute—the hope being what’s left of the anesthetic loopiness could be repurposed for the enhancement of this fantastic symphony and its ‘programme’ upon my return from the hospital.  who knew surgeons could just cancel on the spur, 15 minutes to the fact?——

[Berlioz’s] belief in the exclusiveness of good music, a belief which arose from his pursuit of refined feeling and disciplined expressiveness, underlines his general distaste for the mob in all things, a distaste he shared with the philosophes of the preceding century as well as with many of the finer Romantic spirits of his own and which is revealed in his somewhat equivocal attitude to the revolutions and political upheavals which shook the contemporary world. “” Brian Primmer, The Berlioz Style

(berlioz, a french beethoven?)———

Beethoven’s music is powerful and masculine, but always bears witness to self-control and inner discipline. On the other hand the tonal language of Berlioz is bizarre and frequently ecstatic. “” Heinz Becker, concert notes for the recording

 well that settles that, moving on—

(absolute music vs programme music)———

With the Symphonie fantastique which Berlioz wrote in 1828, a year after Beethoven’s death, he carried the symphony into the realm of programme music [...] Although he drafted a specific programme in which he detailed the course of the events underlying the music, he considered the titles of the movements sufficient for an understanding of the work. The listener should be able to enjoy it as absolute music without having to stick closely to the following programme… “” Heinz Becker, concert notes for the recording  

i was concerned very briefly last week with the possible distinctions between metaphors and analogies and why metaphors are the more suitable description of musical experiences——the same shades of nuance can be drawn in the distinctions heinz becker describes above, and is generally known as, programme music and absolute music.

programme music is the sort with explicitly extra-musical components. a story, theme, event or reknowned character has been imported into the musical composition thereby giving it a frame of reference to which the music elaborates: perhaps the most famous programme music arranged around a story is Swan Lake; saint-saëns’ Le Carnaval des Animaux is structured by the thematic use of animals; shostakovich's second and twelfth symphonies have as an eventful backdrop the october revolution of 1917, and perhaps my favourite programme music: sibelius’ Swan of Tuonela—an invocation of folkloric finnish characters.

absolute music, is the music in itself, without reference nor reliance to an extra-musical subject matter. beethoven’s symphony no.6 is an example of absolute music for it sets and star on its own stage, thereby standing in very little need of analogies—beethoven himself had a little to say on the topic as it relates to his pastoral symphony: “[this] whole work can be perceived without description – it is more an expression of feelings rather than tone-painting.”

the gist is that, of course, programme music has a significant absolute component as much  as absolute music utilizes some kind of a programme—that is, a prerequisite body of knowledge, either provided or presupposed, on the part of the audience. but for those compositions that fall more into one category than the other, something can be said about the degree to which immersion in its musical landscape and the possibility of a cathartic musical experience, is more attributable to one kind of music over the other.

a quick word on the spectrum abridging both kinds of music: the rap and operatic spectacle are on the far end of programme music—perhaps an unusual combination, but both rely to a significant degree on some kind of a program: with rap and it’s lyric we are incessantly programmed by what is a very egoistic catalogue of just how many bitches can fit on all of my many yachts (indubitably pertinent information, to say the least); with opera and it’s libretto, the programme is whatever concoction of enlightenment sentiments and old world order has passed for a p.o.v. perspective of a heroic pseudo-hellenic epic——in both cases, the music is in the back seat of a locomotive steered by the talkative wit of a programme all too eager to talk over the music…on the far end of absolute music is orchestral music, or any kind of quietude in response of the power and throng of the instrument—

The “program” opens with a general “argument”: A young musician of abnormal sensitivity and ardent imagination poisons himself with opium in a paroxysm of amorous despair. The narcotic dose, too feeble to cause death, plunges him into a heaving sleep accompanied by the weirdest visions. “” Alfred Frankenstein, notes for the RCA Victrolla recording

perhaps i’ve not hitherto insufficiently articulated what i mean by being in the landscape of a composition as wide as it is deep—to enter into such an experience is the shortest pathway into the closest proximity with the phenomena of someone else’s being. the lacuna which everyday divides us into individuals unable to bear witness to the raw material of each other’s existence—for whose sake wordsworth laments “Thou, whose exterior semblance doth belie/ Thy soul’s immensity”—is abridged occasionally by artistic experiences that form for us a vector into the immense complex of the psychological underworld known to impudence as the soul. of all the infinitude of such vectors, the musical experience that utilizes the greatest number of raw materials—that is, the most of the least—is thereby the shortest pathway into the very experience of being. this was at least, at first glance, what arthur schopenhauer meant by music as the language of the will:

 “Therefore music is by no means like the other arts, namely a copy of the Ideas, but a copy of the will itself, the objectivity of which are the Ideas. For this reason the effect of music is so very much more powerful and penetrating than is that of the other arts, for these others speak only of the shadow, but music of the essence.”  arthur schopenhauer, The World as Will and Representation

in light of this, of utilizing the most of the least:  absolute music penetrates the will of being deeper than programme music. for one cannot step too lightly, practise too lithe and feathery a dexterity in the exploration of the experience and concept, through the use of art and music especially, of what is essential to being. take for example, schubert’s Impromptu No.4 (D.899), so much springs into life in that first unraveling of notes that it becomes  overwhelming in its rapidity—and yet such a monumental sculpture of notes is composed of the thinnest layers, of the least and rawest material of instrumentation: without a premise or referential program. with absolute music, or music as a thing in itself, there is less psychological activity by way of analysis and interpretation, one is thereby more susceptible to the hypnotic state of mind that makes possible the experience of the will in itself, or at least at the closest possible proximity to the will in itself.

it is within this proximity that the cathartic element of music is possible. what we refer to as the transcendent musical experience might be nothing more than the otherwise excited talkativeness of our ‘will’ descending into a realm beyond analysis and the language of analysis…

(music for our dear Nietzsche?)———

The range of this music extends from delicate lyricism to impassioned pathos, from the pleasant burlesque to the grotesque and hideous. “” Heinz Becker, concert notes for the recording  

that is music for precisely the man who describes himself in his Gay Science as:

Sharp and mild, dull and keen,
well known and strange, dirty and clean,
where both the fool and wise are seen:
All this am I, have ever been, -
in me dove, snake and swine convene!”

Friedrich Nietzsche, La Gaya Scienza

Nietzsche’s aesthetic was in every way french, only his philosophy was german, and even that was by the obligation of birth. culturally, he considered himself polish, and indeed his lineage was polish (Nietzsche is apparently a germanized version of Nietzky)—to that extent he considered himself a polish expat. not unlike his most famous polish expat contemporary, frederic chopin, he too would have made an excellent honorary frenchman. france then would have been an altogether not only a more amiable atmosphere for his eccentricities but also—and this of paramount importance—his musical sensibilities. (there has so far been no sufficient evidence to dispel the rumor that his plan had been, before his health took a turn for its worst and final stages, to elope with lou salome and paul ree to paris and start a new life in an intellectual commune/menage a trois).

As an artist one has no home in Europe, except Paris: the delicatesse in all five artistic senses that is presupposed by Wagner’s art, the fingers for nuances, the psychological morbidity are found only in Paris. Nowhere else does on have this passion in questions of form, this seriousness in mise en scene—which is Parisian seriousness par excellence. In Germany people simply lack any notion of the tremendous ambition that lives in the soul of a Parisian artist. Germans are good-natured—Wagner was anything but good-natured. “” Friedrich Nietzsche, Ecce Homo

though they were briefly contemporaries, he seldom wrote of berlioz but when he did it was with high praise of him and the french style:

But I have long said adequately [...] where Wagner belongs and who are his closest relatives: the late French romantics, that high-flying and yet rousing manner of artists like Delacroix, like Berlioz, with a characteristic fond [core] of sickness, of incurability—all of them fanatics of expression, virtuosos through and through. “” Friedrich Nietzsche, Ecce Homo

the question of seriousness is the first i ask of a philosopher’s work, i’m unable to take them seriously until there’s sufficient proof that they’ve got skin in the game, that their ideas have been paid for with an exhausting volley of trial and error—and i’m not satisfied till i see an impressive catalog of error. with Nietzsche, the question of seriousness was answered decisively with the utmost seriousness he accorded to music amongst the arts, and to art amongst his philosophy. whenever i see a thinker of any kind still praising art as a tool to be used or for the ‘purpose it serves in human life’, i can’t help but think: now here’s someone still on their way. for those whose philosophy of life is a result of unreserved experimentation with every aspect of their life, art is not a tool, or a fancy of leisure, but a balm, a poultice, the last railing to latch unto amidst a roiling storm——or what else could Nietzsche have meant when he said ‘Without music, life would be unbearable’....

The best of French music has always been bathed in wit and intimately concerned with mood, colour and gesture, fruits of its constant concern with lyric stage and its perennial interest in what can best be described as a spectacle.“” Brian Primmer, The Berlioz Style

i’m still too early in my musical education to be decisively convinced of what is characteristically french in music; but in the meantime there are reliable examples: chopin of course (despite his being polish!), erik satie (his gnossiennes are the de facto french anthem)—and after this week, i’ll add berlioz to that burgeoning list, though he is more on the eccentric and exotic end of the spectrum than those other two…)

For the French tradition to become Romantic, therefore, it needed not the ideal of total freedom beyond the bounds of all restraint, but the much more demanding call of an appropriately ordered and deeply felt liberty. In the music of Berlioz it achieved just this, a revolution without a rebellion. “” Brian Primmer, The Berlioz Style

earlier in Nietzsche's catalogue—when he was still riding wagner’s dick—he even attributed exceptionally german things as merely an offshoot from a french origin; wagner’s wife, for example, was franz liszt's daughter:

It is a small number of old Frenchmen to whom I return again and again: I believe only in French culture and consider everything else in Europe today that calls itself  “culture” a misunderstanding—not to speak of German culture. The few cases of high culture that I have encountered in Germany have all been of French origin, especially Frau Cosima Wagner, by far the first voice in matters of taste that I have ever heard. “” Friedrich Nietzsche, Ecce Homo

‘when he was still riding wagner’s dick’?——with that i can be doubtlessly sure i’ve said something new---(perhaps i rely too much on the possibility that no one is reading any of this--) .