week6: mendelsohnn, wordsworth, bunyan


For nearly 80 years, Bach’s music lay at rest, until Mendelssohn, realising its immense worth, rescued it, and revived the St. Matthew Passion in Berlin in 1829. “” r.j. dearling, notes for the recording

it’s been an absolutely, joyously, incalculably, excruciatingly, brilliant week—not a bit less than unforgettable. except of course for that little bit that i’m in no hurry to remember.

 earlier this week i was in the grips of what was—and without exaggeration—a cathartic amount of constipation: having received a bit of bad news on monday, my brain’s usual tactic of exporting the excess stress it can’t manage to the nether-regions of my nervous stomach, was in full effect. unexpectedly, that same night i was gifted a litre of cream ale poured straight from the keg, with all the attendant mass of air bubbles needed to make plump balloon animals out of my intestines. of course i would down the whole bottle in one sitting. of course—and with a bit of help from an undercooked blueberry pie—i would wake up to an ordeal that made me swear out loud to never drink another lousy drop of ale again as long as i have a pulse (that oath lasted till friday evening btw).

at any rate what is relevant here is how perfectly appropo, how brilliantly coincidental, mendelssohn’s ‘Italian’ symphony was for my brief and catastrophic epic of bloatedness. for the sake of my dear roommates i was in need of a blanket of noise to coat the rumblings of my innards—in need of a boon for the booms and bangs of a suffocating dyspepsia that gripped my midsection just below my sternum. i couldn’t sit, nor stand—lying down was an act of self-flagellation.

 it’s hard to hear anything when you’re quite sure of a small disc of bilious air quickly expanding in your gut, testing the limits of that elasticity that you otherwise take for granted.

 that i managed to make anything out from this symphony is my credit to mendelssohn—not the kind of appraisal he had in mind throughout his laborious tour of italy and the even longer more laborious period before he finished composing the symphony in berlin, though he’d be happy to know his music is still very relevant. and in this case, a godsend…



London ffrr Recording. Printed in Canada // Felix Mendelssohn (1809-1847) Symphony No.3 ‘Scotch’; Symphony No.4 ‘Italian’//

London Symphony Orchestra // Conducted by Claudio Abbado

  • Symphony No.3: Andante con monto (slow motion); Vivace non troppo (brisk, lively); Adagio; Allegro Vivacissimo (fast, lively)

  • Symphony No.4: Allegro Vivace; Andante con moto; Con moto moderato; Salterello: Presto (traditional Italian dance: Fast)

By then his vision of Scotland had faded,  while his musicianship had increased and at the same time changed from youthful intensity and ebullience into a deeper and more cautious expressiveness. “” notes for the recording

 (Hebridean Sun — vashti bunyan)———what is native to the scenery of the hebrides—that loose brow of islands in northwest scotland—that inspires music that is at once domestic and adventurously farsighted?  

 Few of my Switzerland reminisces can compare to this; everything looks so stern and robust, half-enveloped in haze or smoke or fog.” mendelsohnn on his 1829 trip to scotland

 ‘stern and robust’—i’ve never been, but if i ever go, those would be the words i’d burrow to describe what ever actual scene of the hebrides overlaps preconceived visions prescribed by the poetry of wordsworth—

Behold her, single in the field, / Yon solitary Highland Lass!

Reaping and singing by herself; / Stop here, or gently pass!


No sweeter voice was ever heard / In spring-time from the Cuckoo-bird

Breaking the silence of the seas / Among the farthest Hebrides.


And, as I mounted up the hill, / the music in my heart I bore,

Long after it was heard no more.

“” william wordsworth, The Solitary Reaper

 that too was the species of music cultivated in mendelssohn’s mind and carried with him long after his adolescent excursion to the hebrides. and this species of music—of the stern, sombre and robust—is the kind that populates the supreme example of domestic sentiments in english folk music—vashti bunyan’s Just Another Diamond Day. the tenth song in the album, Hebridean Sun, is a one minute and thirty second slow and soft hoorah for the coming of spring—or perhaps the journey to a spring found only in the hebrides:

17/06/2018– the good fountain flows, continually. Gratitude, to, pours forth, continually.

(religious architecture)———

The chapel close to it is now roofless; grass and ivy grow there, and at the broken altar Mary was crowned Queen of Scotland. Everything around is broken and mouldering, and the bright sky shines in. I believe I found today in that old chapel the beginning of my ‘Scotch symphony. “” mendelsohnn, july 1829, on the palace of holyrood house

altogether and in manifold ways: my godlessness improves. proof?—my automatic reaction when i see an image of a cathedral or some bedazzled Hagia Sofia: i can’t help but imagine a redesignation of utility. that is, some future usage for these architectural marvels that has nothing to do with a religious function. almost always my daydream goes by way of these houses of worship being converted into concert halls and music venues. i almost start drooling at the fantasy, at the potential for the roofs of these musty, netherworldly, cavernous churches to be reimagined for the sake of a little light, so that a little bright sky shines in’. much of our music today has its ancestry in the halls of old chapels and mouldy apses. but this fact is merely a harbinger for the most potent incantation of optimism: that we too are merely the beginning of a new ancestry. yes, modern music too is merely the beginning of a new tradition—so what does it matter that we still have to mutter such rubbish as mendelssohn did when he said he found his ‘Scotch Symphony’ in an old chapel...

 Who today is more godless than I am? so that I may learn from him?” is yet another one of those incantations of optimism—from the mouth, of course, of our dear Nietzsche. (that is at least his one indisputable title: in the olympic arena of godlessness, he is the supreme athlete par excellence). perhaps for that reason he might dismiss, as a lack of seriousness, that i still entertain such daydreams. for him, as far as the church is concerned, there can be no redesignation:

 The time is past when the church possessed a monopoly on reflection, when the vita contemplativa always had to be first of all a vita religiosa; and everything built by the church gives expression to that idea. I do not see how we could remain content with such buildings even in they were stripped of their churchly purposes. The language spoken by these buildings is far too rhetorical and unfree, reminding us that they are houses of God and ostentatious monuments of some supermundane intercourse; we who are godless could not think our thoughts in such surroundings. “” Friedrich Nietzsche,  The Gay Science—Section 280

no yes, brilliant.