As you know I have been musing on Pythagoras of Samos recently (Ὁ Πυθαγόρας ὁ Σάμιος). I wrote about him in my blog and in other blogs.
P was a great mathematician. Now it turns almost all bloggers MoR has been discussing with (also on P) have some math capabilities. MoR has instead very little. So he asked his friend Extropian for help.
Extropian is laconic and doesn’t like blogs. So he first sent this movie and just said: “This stuff is Pythagorean.”
He also sent me this paper on Pythagoras & Eugene Wigner that requires a degree in physics to figure out what the hell it means.
Finally he linked to another movie and declared:
“You (more or less) are a pianist but you’ll always be longing for the strings of a guitar, of a violin or of a lute. Pythagoras started a new world-view with the strings of a lyre. You may like this.”
I hope this will not be the music of the future (only because it sounds too robotic). But the 3d animation intuitively shows better than any book on acoustics the relation between the string lengths and the sounds: ie by pressing the strings the robotic fingers change their lengths which produces a change in pitch.
And my friend is right. From the age of 12 I was a decent guitarist then I turned into a pianist at 18, a big mistake, one out of many.
A Crazy Night of Revel
In the spring of 1995 – I’m only apparently digressing – my wife and I came back home from a party. Oh we had had such fun! She though went straight to bed being tired from a hard day at her office. I remained alone in the living room, feeling weird and restless.
There I saw my electronic keyboard, a Korg 01 WFD – now prehistoric – connected to a Mac and two Protei (Proteus 1 and 2.) Before laying my hands on the glowing keys I knew what I needed that night: fat strings sounds more than just piano sounds.
The result was a dozen improvisations that lead to nowhere (l’improvvisazione non porta a nulla, in italiano) and sound now so badly because of analogical worn out tapes and especially when compared to the pro stuff you’ve heard above. They though retain a personal value to me and they ex-press (in the literal meaning of ‘squeeze out’) one of the most authentic musical revelry I ever experienced in my life.
I mean, if Dionysus-Bacchus ever exists I’m pretty sure I met him that night. Another mysterious Dionysian experience is described here. And, Pythagoras and the Dionysian cult are connected, so no digression as I said (in fact Pythagoras was a reformer of Orphism via science. Orpheus was a reformer via music of the religion of Dionysos, the god of wine and unrestrained madness).
3-4 pieces out of 12 I still like a bit. I’m waiting for my digital DAT recorder to be repaired so I can have better sources for my musical ramblings.
We have talked about a concept, classicism, that can embrace for example the works of Horace, Raphael, Racine, Mozart, Goethe, Jane Austen and elements of British and American Georgian culture.
Mozart’s works – according to Ferruccio Busoni (an Italian-German pianist, composer & writer) – faced a curious indifference in 1917. He wrote in that year:
To the Wagnerian generation Don Giovanni’s text and music seem like simpleton stuff. “The baroque splendour – he continued – has made the world insensitive to the pure lines of the ancients.”
Here’s a choice of Busoni’s earlier aphorisms on Mozart published in 1906 in Berlin’s Lokal Anzeiger. A good conclusion in our opinion to our series on ‘what is classical’.
“So denke Ich über Mozart”
So denke ich über Mozart:
Thus I think of Mozart:
Seine nie getrübte Schönheit irritiert.
His never-clouded beauty irritates.
Sein Formensinn ist fast außermenschlich.
His sense of form is nearly supernatural.
Einem Bildhauer-Meisterwerke gleich, ist seine Kunst – von jeder Seite gesehen – ein fertiges Bild.
Similar to a sculptor’s masterpiece, his art – seen from every side – is a finished picture.
Er hat den Instinkt des Tieres, sich seine Aufgabe – bis zur möglichsten Grenze, aber nicht darüber hinaus – seine Kräften entsprechend zu stellen.
He has the instinct of an animal, setting himself his tasks up to the utmost of his limits, but no further.
Er wagt nichts Tollkühnes.
He dares nothing venturous.
Er findet, ohne zu suchen, und sucht nicht, was unauffindbar wäre – vielleicht ihm unauffindbar wäre.
He finds without seeking and does not seek what would be unfindable–perhaps what would be unfindable to him.
Er besitzt außergewöhnlich reiche Mittel, aber er verausgabt sich nie.
He possess extraordinarily rich resources, but never uses them all.
Er kann sehr vieles sagen, aber er sagt nie zu viel.
He can say very much, but he never says too much.
Er ist leidenschaftlich, wahrt aber die ritterlichen Formen.
He is passionate, but preserves the chivalrous forms.
Seine Maße sind erstaunlich richtig, aber sie lassen sich messen und nachrechnen.
His measurements are surprisingly accurate, but they allow to be measured and calculated.
Er verfügt über Licht und Schatten; aber sein Licht schmerzt nicht, und seine Dunkelheit zeigt noch klare Umrisse.
He has light and darkness, but his light does not hurt, and his darkness still shows clear contours.
Er hat in der tragischen Situation noch einen Witz bereit – er vermag in der heitersten eine gelehrte Falte zu ziehen.
In a tragic situation he doesn’t lose his sense of humour – in the most cheerful he can insert an erudite word.
Er ist universell durch seine Behendigkeit.
He is universal through his spryness.
Er kann aus jeden Glase noch schöpfen, weil er eins nie bis zum Grunde ausgetrunken.
He can still drink something from every cup, since he never drank any to the bottom.
Sein Palast ist unermeßlich groß, aber er tritt niemals aus seinen Mauern. Durch dessen Fenster sieht er die Natur; der Fensterrahmen ist auch ihr Rahmen.
His palace is huge, but he never leaves its walls. Through its windows he sees nature; the windows frame is also nature’s frame.
Heiterkeit ist sein hervorstechender Zug: er überblümt selbst das Unangenehmste durch ein Lächeln.
Gaiety is his most distinct trait: even the most unpleasant he adorns with a smile.
Sein Lächeln ist nicht das eines Diplomaten oder Schauspielers, sondern das eines reinen Gemüts – und doch weltmännisch.
His smile is not that of a diplomat, or of an actor, but that of a pure heart – and yet worldly.
Sein Gemüt ist nicht rein aus Unkenntnis.
His soul is not pure out of ignorance.
Er ist nicht simpel geblieben und nicht raffiniert geworden.
He has not remained simple and has not become raffiné.
Er ist ein Freund der Ordnung: Wunder und Teufeleien wahren ihre 16 und 32 Takten.
He is a friend of order: miracles and devilries keep their 16 and 32 bars.
Er ist religiös, soweit Religion identisch ist mit Harmonie.
He is religious as long as religion is identical to harmony.
Das Architektonische ist seiner Kunst nächstverwandt.
Architecture is the art closest to his.
After aperitivo at the bar the conversation continues to unwind at our home while we consume a simple dinner made of spaghettoni al ragù, cheese with a side dish of boiled vegetables, all washed down with Chianti and some Grappa as digestivo.
Classicus and King Servius Tullius
Extropian: “In my Calonghi Latin dictionary classis means both ‘fleet’ and ‘social class’; classicus is both a ‘sailor’ and ‘a member of the first Servian class of citizens’, out of the five tax classes set up by the Roman King Servius Tullius.
Giorgio: “It implies some timeless worth, it is known. Less known perhaps the origin of the notion. In the 2nd century CE Aulus Gellius, a Roman grammarian, [see image below] in his Noctes Atticae (Attic nights) – I just found out – was the first to mean by classicus ‘a writer of the first Servian class’ (classicus scriptor). He was the first to connect via a metaphor 1) literary and 2) social excellence. Classicus to him was a first-class & exemplary writer.
Extropian: “Well, it somewhat reflected the elitism of antiquity.”
Flavia: “Yes, but I’d say excellence is excellence. Horace and Virgil were of humble background (Horace – read a reply to Sledpress on him – was even the son of a freed slave,) but were revered as excellent (and timeless) as soon as their works came out.”
Giorgio: “Horace himself refers to his Odes as timeless. But people didn’t call them classici. The new meaning didn’t immediately spread. In the 5th and 6th centuries CE authors such as Martianus Capella, Fulgentius and Boethius began to reconsider earlier pagan authors as models of style and thought, although again no use was made of the term classicus in the sense Gellius did.”
Extropian: “I see.”
Classicus to Renaissance People
Giorgio: “And throughout the Middle Ages too we have the concept but not the word for it. Until we get to the Renaissance men, in 1400s-1500s CE.
In their Latin classicus refers again to something seen as timeless and as a standard of excellence: to the people of the Renaissance [see a Palladian villa above] the Greek and Roman past was THE classicus exemplary model in all fields.”
Mario: “In fact we still say ‘Classical Antiquity’. Of course the Renaissance is neoclassical ante litteram since it found inspiration in Antiquity and looked down upon the Middle Ages.
By the way, wasn’t the second half of the 18th century labelled as neoclassical?”
At the end of the War of the Austrian Succession (1748) a long period of peace ensued in Europe. Winckelmann arrived in Rome in 1755. He there conceived his master-work History of Ancient Art(1764) which influenced the entire neoclassical attitude from that year onwards and basically blew the minds (to mention the Germans only) of people like Hölderlin, Goethe, Lessing, Herder, Heine, Nietzsche etc. The marriage and the tyranny of Greece over Germany started with him.”
Giorgio: Those were the days of the Grand Tour. People flocked to Italy and especially to Rome to study classical culture. Rome with all her statues etc. also became a huge workshop of copies purchased worldwide. Bartolomeo Cavaceppi was the best sculptor to make casts, copies and fakes.
Cavaceppi’s studio was in via del Babbuino, close to Caffè Greco (opened in 1760, see above,) to via del Corso (where Goethe lived at num 18 between 1786 & 1788,) to Piazza di Spagna: all popular places among the expatriates of the time. Cavaceppi’s shop was a must-see. Goethe was there and Canova himself was greatly impressed by Cavaceppi’s atelier. Goethe bought a cast of the Juno Ludovisi [see the last big picture below] but I forgot from whom though.
Anton Raphael Mengs, Jacques-Louis David, the Scottish architect Robert Adam, Canova, Piranesi with his efforts to build a map of Ancient Rome: surely a great period for our city.”
[The exhibition catalog is now on the living room table. Grappa is unfortunately served. Art and Bacchus are a perfect match since Homer, what did you think …]
Giorgio: “Last (but least) Italians played the guitar quite a lot during the 18th c. before the Spanish took over. I am studying Mauro Giuliani and Ferdinando Carulli who composed delightful classical pieces for this instrument, mixing sober taste (Giuliani) or brilliant grace (Carulli) with rationality.”
Extropian (reading the catalog): “New archaeological discoveries fuelled the Roman and Greek frenzy. A great number of statues and mosaics were unearthed and reproduced. Décor and clothes were created in the neoclassical style in Europe and in the New World. Also Nero’s Domus Aurea wall paintings – at that time thought to belong to Titus’ thermae – were reproduced on mansions, on decorative furniture etc.
[Hope you can reach this great 3d reconstruction of Roman Emperor Nero’s Domus Aurea (see another movie below too:) you’ll think you are in a 18th century rich palace!]
The spirit of the Ancients and of the Enlightenment (Age of reason) splendidly matched. Classical triumphed and influenced the French and American Revolutions.”
Classicism as a Concept. Mere Chance?
Extropian: “Classic, more generic for valuable, is related to classical … Wait a minute. Such fundamental concept going back to this Aulus Gellius, an almost unknown, second-rate Roman writer? Something is wrong here.”
What would modern aesthetics have done for a single general concept that could embrace Raphael, Racine, Mozart, and Goethe, if Gellius never lived?
Extropian: “Or if Servius Tullius didn’t divide Rome into 5 classes! I wonder whether we know the exact connection Gellius-Renaissance, but certainly goddess Fortune plays her tricks when making ideas successful or not, as Curtius also suggests.”
Grappa is making all blurred at this point.
That is, we have traced some origins but couldn’t define that general concept that can embrace Horace, Mozart, Mauro Giuliani, Haydn, Raphael, Schubert, Pindar, Canova, Racine, Goethe, Jane Austen and many elements of British and American Georgian culture.
Late evening in a cozy bar of our rione where we wash down Spanish tapas with Cartizze Prosecco.
Our before-dinner aperitivo, once in a while.
Mario: “You recently wondered how come far eastern little girls, hence culturally ‘alien’ in some way, can perfectly play European ‘classical music’ (in the narrow sense.) You also added that such music (from 1750 to 1830 roughly) originated in that crossroads between Germania and Italia, once the ancient frontier or limes of the Roman Empire which separated the Roman from the non Roman.”
Flavia: “Your associations are bizarre.”
Giorgio: “Allow me to be bizarre at least in my blog amore.”
Extropian: “I remember you saying at the end of a post on music that Mozart who came from that area perfectly combined Italian taste with German knowledge.”
Giorgio: “Yes, a perfect fruit of that cross-way region, although Schubert shouldn’t be ignored either.”
In the previous post we have shown two little Japanese girls capable of perfectly playing some music of the classical period.
Which surprised me in many respects and made me reflect.
Germany, Vienna and Italy
First of all by ‘classical style’ we mean the music created from the mid 1700’s until the first decades of 1800 thanks to contributions from Germany (Southern Germany – Mannheim etc. – but not only), Vienna and Italy, which changed the spirit & the technique of music into something inspired by the ideals of ancient classical art.
In other posts we’d mused about this magical region where many centuries earlier Roma and Germania met (and clashed,) ie the Roman provinces (Germania Superior, Raetia, Noricum and Pannonia) along the axis of what was once the limes germanicus or frontier of the ancient Roman Empire (look at this map!) that separated the world of Rome from the un-romanized Germanic (and non Germanic) tribes (read more: 1, 2, 3.)
It may be a simplification (and an obsession,) but that ‘classical music’ in its narrow sense (in the broad sense it refers to all Western art music since its beginnings) was much later to be born in such cultural crossroads – well, it didn’t happen in our opinion by mere chance.
[Roman & non Roman. Where are hence the traces of this duality in today’s societies? – we had asked ourselves]
Now this ‘classical music’, that followed Baroque and developed before the spread of Romanticism, is characterized by formal balance, a certain restraint and a terse simplicity attained with extreme economy of means together with a very refined taste: which makes the performance of such art daunting despite its apparent easiness. Its model is in fact that of Hellenic art, although adapted to modern times (and to modern music, since we know so little of ancient music.)
This may be a reason why playing Mozart, Haydn or Boccherini and Clementi ‘well’, that is, with the necessary purity, is often more difficult than rendering subsequent and technically harder pieces of the Romantic and contemporary repertoire. I saw pianists who could easily play Brahms and Scriabin but sweated their way through the end of a Mozart adagio.
The Japanese and the Russians
Now, that these Japanese children, coming from a different planet, are able to do this extremely well – isn’t it amazing?
Classical balance and taste is nothing one can improvise. One needs to have breathed such air.
Take the Russians, such formidable musicians. Not completely European ok but closer to us than the Japanese for sure, they have traditionally always hesitated before the classical repertoire (and when they didn’t … the result was often not among the best.)
So, the Russians fail where the Japanese don’t – there must be something in those Eastern cultures I am not aware of.
Some readers have got any ideas?
In the meanwhile, as an Italian, I know the Japanese – a few I’ve met who study bel canto in Rome – love Italian opera quite a lot whose style always resisted the complexity of the romantic and late-romantic German harmonies and voicing (Verdi Bellini and Donizetti etc. on one hand, Wagner or Richard Strauss on the other hand: two different universes altogether! Roman & non Roman?)
Once more. What these oriental people may find in the Western ‘classical’ style of music?
Mario: “By the way, I heard that classical music makes hogs as fat as whales.”
MoR: “What?? Are you kidding me?”
Mario: “It is true! This Vietnamese pig farmer, Nguyen Chi Cong, found a new way to make his 3,000 hogs eat more quickly and happily by having them listen daily to the music of Beethoven, Mozart and Schubert. It seems the soothing effect is also working for other domestic animals!”
What can possibly the concepts of colour in music and colour in words have in common? (It’s a sort of reply to our latest post)
[I know, it’s Christmas time, how boring a few scattered thoughts on such stuff today. Merry Christmas in any case to all of you!]
Tone Colour in Music
Colour in music may refer to timbre, which is what allows us to distinguish a clarinet from an oboe, a sax from a trumpet and so on.
Usually even just a single instrument (the horn, the trumpet or the piano for example) can change its sound according to how it is played and to who is playing it, so we somewhat have different colours within the same timbre.
A piano played by different artists can produce very different results. I find the piano amazing since it can greatly vary its timbre especially considering that piano tones are directly produced by a mechanism and the only thing a performer can do is just a variation in velocity, ie in the speed and strength in which a key is pressed.
The classical guitar is even richer in colours than the piano [but unfortunately very few great musicians wrote music for this delightful instrument.]
Not only for the very sensitive human fingers (especially with no nails!) touching the strings directly without any mechanical intervention, but also for the right hand (the plucking one) that can move above, over, or below the sound hole thus greatly modifying the sound. Additionally the same string on a guitar sounds differently when plucked by the index, medium or ring-finger fingertips (again, with no nails). Last and not least, the same note can (pitch) be played on different strings, which varies the colour even more.
[As a break listen to Filomena Moretti from Sardinia (Italy) playing a prelude and fugue by Bach on the guitar. I wonder what her playing would be like without nails. Notice how the sound changes as she moves her hand from and to the guitar sound hole.]
In some languages the connection between the concepts of colour and of timbre is more evident: Klangfarbe is musical timbre in German (Farbe = colour), and in English we have timbre but also tone colour, an exact equivalent of Klangfarbe.
Do We See ‘la Vie en Rose’?
Paul Costopoulos: “Someone feeling sad has the “blues”; we are “green” with envy or we are “green behind the ears” when we are new to something. One may be “red” with confusion and we see “la vie en rose”. Tying colors and feelings is nothing new and music is feelings.”
MoR: “Colours and feelings. Interesting. I never heard “green behind the ears”, but numerous are the English phrases I don’t know.”
Sledpress: “Color is vibration — the wavelengths of light — so sound full of vibrations and harmonics, created as one vibration overlaps another, could be called sound full of color. I remember reading a saying of Goethe about the world being composed of the “deeds and sufferings of light.”
MoR: “Goethe’s theory of colours is a splendid nightmare. And I wonder how these waves being so different can interact. Unknown territory.”
Sledpress: “I have a special fondness for splendid nightmares, like phlogiston (…) I do think there has to be some intrinsic connection between the measurable effects of certain types of vibrations on the human system and the subjective experience of those colors, sounds and so on.”
MoR: “Various are the effects of sound and colour vibrations on people and I ignore the progress of psychology and neuropsychology of colour and music in order to escape subjectiveness. I know there’s a lot of music and colour therapy based on some research being made.”
[Have another break by listening to these amazing Japanese little girls. They are in my view almost perfect artists already at their age!]
Colour in Writing
Mario: “And colour in writing? Forgetful you are.”
MoR: “Right. To me colour in writing is given by the vivacity of images. Examples of very colourful writers are to me Homer, Tolstoy, Gramsci, Garcia Marquez or Garcia Lorca. Also in the real sense that I see colours when I read them. Here, as with music (although I left it unexpressed above,) we have what is called synaesthesia.”
MoR: “It’s when the sensory perceptions of taste, vision, hearing, etc.. mix. We receive them from our sensory organs, but they are processed, and sometimes mixed, by our brain.”
Mario: “So sounds can evoke colours, or the vision of an apple its taste, and so on.”
MoR: “Exactly. In literature the synaesthetic effect of colour could be triggered by the vivacity of images. The authors mentioned are full of glowing images. So if I say that a writer’s text is colourful I refer to his / her vigour, vitality, expressiveness as for the images he / she evokes. In music it is clear that tone colours – but also expressiveness of melodies etc. – can favour synaesthesia.”
Mario: “How do you know those girls are Japanese and not Chinese?”
MoR: “Because a Chinese friend of mine has told me.” 🙂
Toccare le corde della chitarra con i polpastrelli (see translation following), carezzandole e accostando l’orecchio alla bella morbida cassa intarsiata per coglierne le vibrazioni più intime. Ho passato così tra i momenti più belli della vita.
Non amo la chitarra suonata con le unghie. E’ bella solo nelle musiche andaluse, ma per altre musiche il suono, più potente, è però meno ricco e più meccanico.
In altre parole ha meno colore.
Divagando, cosa possono avere in comune il concetto di colore in musica e quello di colore nel pensiero / scrittura?
Touching the guitar strings with bare fingertips, caressing them while drawing our ear close to the beautiful, soft-wooden inlaid body to perceive its most intimate vibrations. I so spent some of the most beautiful moments in my life.
I do not like the guitar sound when strings are plucked with nails. It is beautiful only in Flamenco music, while for other music though more powerful the sound is not as rich and more mechanical.
In other words it is less colourful.
What can (I’m digressing) the concept of colour in music and that of colour in thought / writing possibly have in common?
See our next post and its discussion for answers to this question]
After coming back from our weekend trip we are leaving again for a few days.
Andrea Bocelli and his Teatro del Silenzio at Lajatico were not that bad after all (Bocelli is from this small Tuscan village in the province of Pisa,) but I especially liked a young violinist whose name I forgot and the Pisan hills area, where Lajatico is located and where Bocelli is considered a sort of local hero.
I totally agree with critics pointing at Bocelli’s “poor phrasing, uneven tone and lack of technique.” But at times his voice sounds pretty good and most of all his crossover singing has drawn many young people to Opera. Young tourists (Dutch, German and British) were flocking to the concert and seemed to like Bocelli quite a lot.
The hills around Pisa, Tuscany, are a great area we didn’t know yet. Hence we have decided to get back there.
I don’t feel much like writing these days and I prefer indulging in other hobbies such as reading and plucking my guitar. I don’t walk much because of the heat.
We found intact and extremely peaceful villages in these Pisan hills, with adorable people totally deprived of any commercial mentality. Shops for example open and close whenever the shopkeeper feels like, which can baffle tourists, and yet the place has so much to offer: green landscapes, exquisite food, lovely architecture and a bizarre character of the local population which I especially liked (I was btw surprised by their odd ‘open vowels’ pronunciation, not common in Tuscany.)
We also liked this part of Tuscany not being far from the sea so you get this evening breeze which Romans dig – we call it ponentino, but it is a Roman, not a local, word – not to mention the fish food cooked in delicious ways which was part of our daily diet.
We especially adored the isolation of the place since we live in a busy place. Inversely, when people knew we were from Rome the young especially stared and dreamed about big city life.
A silly story I wrote over at The Critical Line, where Richard, a witty lawyer from London, entertains his guests with his vast knowledge and adorable English humour.
Richard though has a problem.
He’s terribly profound in mathematics and so are many of his guests who seem to share the same horrible contagion.
But, it’d be fair to say, I amthe oneto have a big problem, and, what is this tale but a burst of frustration because of my mathematical ineptitude?
The Tale of Manius
Britannia, 526 CE, in a parallel (and almost identical) universe.
The Western Roman Empire has collapsed. Angles, Saxons and Jutes are invading the Roman province of Britannia from the East. All continental Roman soldiers have gone – but the Romano-Celtic in the West are resisting bravely. Only Manius Papirius Lentulus from Roma has stayed. He lives with the barbarians but risks nothing since he’s considered innocuous by the Angles (or Angli as he says in his language.)
The last Roman soldier has made friends with a few of them: Richard (whom Manius sometimes calls Britannia), Dafna (happened there from a far away land), Cheri, Mr. Crotchety and Phil. In their abstruse language – that Manius understands a bit – they sometimes call him MoR (or, in their weird but cute Latin, Roma.)
A goose has just died for occult reasons MoR isn’t willing to investigate.
A Melodious Sequence, 1,2,3…
Manius felt sorry for the poor goose but also curious about how Cheri might prepare it for lunch.
Approaching Mr. Crotchety he told him he had been so lentus and had forgotten he had something important to tell him.
Dafna was weirdly chanting a melodious sequence of numbers:
Getting closer in rapture MoR noticed Richard and Phil approaching her as well. Her song seemed the usual diatonic scale kids learn by just pressing the white keys of a keyboard, do-re-mi-fa-sol-la-si-do.
But MoR couldn’t figure out a kinda weirdness in that melody, so a stupid look froze in his face. Richard’s smile became sly instead. Phil was scribbling like crazy on a roll of papyrus.
Britannia finally lost his patience and shoved an elbow into Roma’s ribs.
“Ouch Richard!! Are you crazy??”
Then it finally hit Roma. That devil of a woman!! She was chanting her sequence according to an ancient tuning!
“Yes – said Richard triumphantly – it is the Pythagorean tuning based on a stack of perfect fifths, each tuned in the ratio 3:2. The Babylonian tuning, actually, more than 1 thousand years older than Pythagoras. Starting from D for example, the A is tuned such that the frequency ratio of A and D is 3:2, so if D is tuned to 288 Hz, then the A is tuned to 432 Hz, the E above A is also …..”
Dafna interrupted Richard with an odd smile:
“What he means – she said – is that the Pythagorean love for proportions is evident in this scale’s construction, as all of its tones may be derived from interval frequency ratios based on the first three integers: 1, 2, 3. Isn’t that amazing?”
Roma felt trapped.
He was surrounded by the Angli and their allies. And they were ALL mathematicians!!
He began to panic. The last Roman soldier in Britannia, outnumbered, outsmarted, began to run wildly uphill and got lost among the sheep never to be seen again.
The Legend of Roma Continues
A legend says Roma took seven Anglia wives and mixed his blood with the natives.
“Why seven?” asked the Anglia kid to his Anglia grandfather.
The tribe was sitting before a big fire. The summer night was full of stars.
“Because seven is a magic number” replied the Anglia grandfather showily. “The seven hills of Rome, the seven wonders of the world, Jesus saying to Peter to forgive seventy times seven times.”
“But seven – added the Anglia cutie – is also the fourth prime number. It is not only a Mersenne prime (since 23 − 1 = 7) but also a double Mersenne prime since it is itself the exponent for another Mersenne prime, ie 127.”
The Anglia Grandfather paled.
It’s like he saw all his life fall apart in a second. His mind went back to the time when a Roman soldier had fled wildly uphill and had got lost among the sheep.
Even the Anglia kids!! Even THEM!!
His flight had been useless.
That same feeling of panic, of claustrophobia pervaded him.
I blabber with words, why shouldn’t I blabber with sounds. Here are two 1995 piano improvisations. My background is classical but the influence of American music is felt here, the US jazz icon Keith Jarret especially.
Some mushy hesitations, no style choice, are due to slowness of mind – I just didn’t know where the heck to go: improvising is damn hard.
The first piece is more complex and I was capable of re-playing it since I had written the score down. Today it would almost be impossible for me to play it but I have plans for the future plus my guitar is coming back. The second piece is shorter and simpler.
Truth is I like them both but I cannot judge them and certainly at times they sound weird. I just let myself go with the flow.
Musical improvisation and verbal digression are much discussed and related notions in this blog. See the posts at the foot of the page and The Catcher in the Rye book cover image below [J. D. Salinger was very digressive thus creating an overall effect of fresh improvisation.]
While listening to these 2 piano pieces a few days ago (for the first time after 15 years) Flavia declared with an odd smile:
“Your musical wanderings ….but the former I always found addictive and, most of all, it was the soundtrack of some of our best days!”
True. We lived for a while with this music as a background whatever its worth. And I am fortunate that Flavia’s humanity warms me up day by day.
No computer quantizing is utilized – too robotic – so the music is ‘as it was originally played’. As post-production I though added a bit of voice layering to the first piece but not much. In both musics the speed has been made 15% faster – I read from my notes.
The instrument, my beloved vintage synth Korg O1/W – which I stupidly sold – has decent piano sounds although the medium-pitch tones I dislike.
Why musical improvisation is utopian? Because it is a place of the spirit that does not lead to any place. Utopia is a Greek word made of ‘ou’(= no) and ‘τόπος’ (= place), so its meaning is actually ‘in no place’…
I today – 2012-4-19 – learn that Pauline Belviso-O’Connor, the subject of this post, is ‘in full health’ and teaching piano at the University of Western Australia (see this thread). Mine was a huge mistake. I do ask for pardon Pauline!
We were blabbering over at Zeus is watching – with the blog owner and with Paul Costopoulos – about music and a supposed relationship between its rationality and a rationality of the universe. Big deal theme, I know, but crystal-clear Domenico Scarlatti’s music proposed by Zeus was much to the point.
“Perhaps this is where the Pythagoreans went off the rails, but the Existentialists could help us a little. […]
I replied something and then Paul le Canadien observed:
“The video does enhance the complexity of the music. However the very slow motion of the tempo somewhat offsets the brisk musical tempo. A bit unsettling, I dare say.”
I agreed and said:
“You are very right Paul. And, Zeus, Paul, since in music I much prefer a real soul to any philology [I was about to propose a piano performance, but in Scarlatti’s time there were no pianos, or very few], this to me is the perfect Scarlatti:
“[Marta] Argerich, and a young Argerich at that, what a marvelous and sensitive pianist.”
At that moment, I don’t know, I made like a mistake, not sensingwhat was about to happen – mind, this post risks being pathetic, but let me go through with it.
“Paul, Zeus, yes, she was, and still is, one of the Latin goddesses of piano.
Her way of playing reminds me of another goddess, my beloved piano teacher, not at all inferior to her, oh no, though not as beautiful.
Pauline O’Connor was an Irish Australian, a bit graceless maybe especially when compared to very attractive Argerich – O’Connor was a giant by the way – but more powerful, more refined and definitely majestic, only less spontaneous at times due to Benedetti Michelangeli’s too premeditated art.”
[Argerich had instead Vincenzo Scaramuzza as a piano teacher, an Italian Argentine pianist who justly “stressed to her the importance of lyricism and feeling,” born in Calabrian Crotone – Κρότων, the city of Pythagoras, it’s like this ancient sage’s ghost is stalking me …]
She in any case ‘corrected’ Michelangeli’s extreme classicism with her Celtic passion (see this post on Michelangeli, on Italian classicism – and on her in a comment.) She lived close to Michelangeli for a long time, in Arezzo [where I met her], and, after ending up marrying a Sicilian, a certain Belviso, she went back to Perth.
Her leaving Italy for good depressed me quite a lot. I had lost a great mentor, a big treasure, and, at 18, I guess I was in love with her a bit too.
When I finally found a trace of her 1 month ago here, now that I’m pasting the link, much to my affliction I realise she’s no more.”
What a moron, I’m so absent-minded that I had saved the link to the Australian web page on her but hadn’t read it well. A bit of a blow to me, I will admit.
So, remembering that – in my effort to get back to the guitar a bit – and having found on Youtube a piece of music that in some way is her, or a part of her, I mumbled:
So this is a tribute to her. A totally different music, yes, but it strongly (and weirdly, music is weird) reminds me so much of this Celtic passion side of her, and, ok, not at all of her Michelangelian supreme refinement, but passion, isn’t it often better than refinement? Well, I’d say, the 2 things should be often well intermarried for most rich results, as they certainly were in wonderful, unique, fantastic Pauline.
[And these darn Australians, they make you pay for everything! I’ll get those paper clips … and put her picture at the head of this post, damn!]
[I was wronging the Aussies, registration to the National Library of Australia is free, but you got to be Australian to do it 😦 ]
I once wrote that good food will not be missing in our discussions, together with good music and plenty of delicious wine.
Ok, wine, I have in my hand, a good Primitivo di Puglia.
Good pasta, I’ve just had, Spaghetti al pomodoro con pecorino.
Watch and listen to THIS.
[Felt like paying a little tribute to the German culture and to the British humour – delightful but irreverent sketch, Paul notes below in his comment. Pretty nice contrast the Germans and the British, I’d add, so many little neuroses dividing this petty though adorable Europe…
When I started this blog I partly drew on some ideas from a diary I had kept for no specific purpose. I had been writing leisurely on it while listening to lovely music and had cherished every moment I was able to get back to it, editing sentences and musing on my pages.
Those mysterious yellow characters on a black background! And the music! What a delightful experience, my imagination flying without any obligation and only for the sake of it!
After starting the Man of Roma blog, most of this diary ideas having been used up after a few months, I began writing and thinking directly for my web log. I though gradually realised that the two experiences – my totally purposeless diary and this blog, a man-of-the-street research on all that is Roman – were very different.
My blogging activity in fact implied compulsion and purpose, readers had started to appear with their feedback, I felt I had to be up to their expectations (real or imaginary,) up to my expectations, and so on.
On the contrary my diary had been the realm of playful freedom.
I wish I could get back to that state of mind, but I don’t know if I can.
It could be I am at my best in totally purposeless activities – something my family is in the mood to remind me, now and then (and probably the reason I couldn’t make a steady profession out of my writing or musical inclinations.)
Let me play with giants a bit. Cicero [see image above,] even in his letters to his family, wrote in order to acquire fame. Montaigne instead wrote just for the hell of it. An interesting comparison – fame, or any other purpose, such as money; and mere pleasure, art for art’s sake – which can correspond to two categories of writers, bloggers etc. Although one cannot say Montaigne had absolutely no purpose.
Magister would certainly exclaim: “Playful freedom? Yours is the typical attitude of the spineless bohemian. Discipline is all, and any creative activity is a careful, painful, purposeful construction.”
I remember once Maryann (together with the Commentator, recently) pushed me in this way:
“Back to work Man of Roma!
Cloppete cloppete cloppete …”
Reema has tagged me for a post that should present a few melodious and soulful songs in Italian and in another language of my choice. So I chose some Italian songs from Rome and Naples (sung often in their respective dialects) and some Italy-related American songs sung in English by Dean Martin, the great charmer of Italian descent. I’m sure Reema, this nice and spunky Indian lady, will vigorously protest saying some of these songs are not soulful or melodious enough. Well they are, but in their own way.
I wonder if you noticed Anna’s joyful laughter. In the video next to the one below you might better perceive how mocking, tragic and a bit crass it can also be. It’s the typical (and complex) Roman laughter from a town both noble and vulgar, I know I’m blunt about it. This – please allow me – is possibly due to remnants of ancient mores and to a peculiar history: the base ways in which the Roman populace was entertained (with gladiators etc.) to be kept quiet might have left traces, for example. Sounds a bit like the world of today, with vile Tv and movies ruling, doesn’t it.
Born in the Roman slums in 1908, Anna displays this weird mixture of nobility and crudity, of impudence and extreme moral strength. She is the perfect symbol of Rome. Here she sings Scapricciatiello, a Neapolitan song by Ferdinando Albano (1894 – 1968). The film is The Secret of Santa Vittoria (1969) and the guy playing the guitar is Anthony Queen, her husband in the plot.
Now a stornello romano from Mamma Roma (1962), with French subtitles, starring Anna Magnani and Franco Citti. A stornello is a Roman folk song where each strophe often begins with ‘fiore di’ (flower of…), the rest being improvised, which allows the man and the two women in the video to mock one another in ways, well, typical from here.
Anna plays the role of a prostitute during the post-war period, when Italians were struggling for survival. In this scene she is very upset because her pimp (Citti, with a moustache) has married the other woman. Directed by Pier Paolo Pasolini the film was judged immoral by critics and the public due to swearing.
Sweet Feelings of a City
Getting closer to the sweetness of the city, the Roman folk singer Gabriella Ferri sings Roma forestiera, (Stranger Rome), 1947, a song lamenting the post-war social transformation of Rome. The original Youtube movie inserted showed scenes from the films Mamma Roma and Roma città aperta, directed by Roberto Rossellini, probably one of the best Italian films ever produced. The movie is no longer available on Youtube for copyright infringement. Here another one with the same song Roma forestiera sung by Gabriella Ferri.
Now Arrivederci Roma, a song composed by Renato Rascel and sung by Claudio Villa, my favourite Roman folk singer. Born in Trastevere Villa has a wonderful voice but languages are not his forte (he pronounces ‘goobye’ instead of ‘goodbye’). Very beautiful pictures of Rome (but much betterones in the video next to this).
Another song by Renato Rascel, Roma nun fa’ la stupida stasera (Rome please behave tonight), sung by a bunch of artists – see credits at the end – and with a set of pictures among the most beautiful I’ve ever seen.
Here the core meaning of the song: (the man) “oh Roma, be as romantic as possible and help me to make her say yes to me;” (the woman) “oh Roma, be as unromantic as possible and help me to say NO to him!”
Italy in America. Dean Martin
And now our great Dean Martin (Dino Paul Crocetti) who sings a Neapolitan song Torna a Surriento (English titleTake Me In Your Arms.) This man and ALL the songs in this post really remind me of my first youth, I’ve got to thank Reema for it. Enjoy also some nice pictures of the Sorrento area, where – allow me again – the Romans first mixed up with the Greeks.
Listen now to On an Evening in Roma (Sott’er Cielo de Roma), one of Dino’s great Italian love songs (1961). The video is full of Rome’s great pictures.
Naples and the Three Tenors
We’ll finish with two beautiful Neapolitan songs. Here is Parlami d’amore Mariu’ (Talk me of Love Mariu’) by the Neapolitan composer Bixio. It is performed by the three tenors Luciano Pavarotti, José Carreras and Placido Domingo in Paris (1998).
Finally, as the cherry on the pie, Non ti scordar di me (Don’t forget me) by the Neapolitan composer Ernesto De Curtis. It is sung by Luciano Pavarotti in Budapest.
I know, I have dedicated so much space to music on Rome, but this is the Man of Roma’s blog, after all.
I’ll though say here aloud what it is already well known: the tradition of the Neapolitan song is much greater than that of Rome.
I habitually post once a week. Last week I spent all my available time in a short trip and in replying to comments here or in posting comments on other blogs. All I can do now is reporting some of these conversations by splitting them in a sequence of posts, this being the first one.
It’s not a vile expedient. A dialogue or conversation to me is important, my method post being evidence of it.
The people involved in the conversation(s) are Ashish, an Indian young man from Maharastra; Poonam Sharma, an Indian young woman from New Delhi; the Commentator, a Canadian of Italian origin from Quebec; Paul Costopoulos, a Canadian of French and Greek descent, from Quebec as well.
Texts in square brackets are notes by MoR. For the original conversation see the previous post’s comment section.
Saving a Friend From Metal Rock?
Poonam Sharma. Yes, Ashish must indeed be saved from rock music… All songs [proposed in MoR’s previous post] are new for me, so my unaccustomed ear will have a try at them.
MoR. So far the effect on him of my music preaching has been negligible.
A person like Ashish cannot be caged by Black Sabbath forever! Maybe the works by Bach proposed though are too complicated. Bach is severe but being mystical he might appeal to Indian minds like yours and Ashish’s.
Ashish. Thank you! [referring to my last post meant to redeem him] I also just begun on Indian Classical music with Pandit Hari Prasad Chaurasia’s Call of the Valley. Can’t wait to start on this … yes, Ashish must indeed be saved from rock music. I think it’s too late for that! You don’t know the beauty of listening to Heaven and Hell, then Stargazer and jumping to Ahir Bhairav just yet!!
MoR. It’s not that I don’t like rock, I’m still listening to it now and then. It’s just that a mind needs all types of nourishment. I’m sure you’ll find depths in Indian classical music unknown to Sabbath. Ahir bhairav? I checked, it seems to be a Hindustani classical raga. I wish I had some knowledge of Indian ragas. Why then don’t you flood me with links? Why don’t you become just a bit (or a lot) a Man of India – instead of repeating of yourself: ‘The British left, but left him’ …? 🙂
The Power of Sabbath
(Sabbath. Heaven and Hell – Neon Knights. Live. From this post by Ashish)
Ashish. Alright, this needs some explaining.
You see, I am NOT a music person. All this passion for music started when we started the cyber cafe as background music when I worked. The problem was that the hindi (Indian) songs were too much intrusive and I couldn’t concentrate so I loaded up my playlist with English ones. Slowly I listened to the music, started liking it and when I bought a new MP3 player I started listening a week.
Currently, on my holiday’s I usually go out for long walks early in the morning for I dislike meeting people. So what to do during the day when for the most part of 12 hours there is no electricity? How to relieve myself from the world? Thats where rock saves me. 😉
It’s not like I “hate” Indian music. It just seems more vocal focused. Whoever has the best voice wins. Heck, I even dislike modern rock as you know and prefer the 70’s or 80’s act meself. It’s the music.. so much different, myriad filled with epics, dragons (Ronnie Dio happens to be my favourite vocalist) or drugs!
As for becoming Man of India well there are too many Men of India preaching this and that. I prefer not being tied to a region or place. The world is free I think to live wherever I want, like whatever I want, eat whatever I want. (This is a rant not for you but for everyone who advises in regionalism..)…
Paul. Ashish, try to get «Beatles go baroque», Naxos 8.990050F, original Beatles’s songs by John Lennon and Paul McCartney arranged by Peter Breiner in the styles of Handel, Vivaldi or J.S. Bach. A real treat. It was recorded in 1992, in Bratislava by the Slovak Philarmonic. The beat and the music is there with a special flavor.
Ashish. Paul, thanks for that! Thats seems like some Beatles I can stomach! (I have their greatest hits package but don’t listen to it that much.) Will try to find this! Thanks very much! 🙂
The Commentator. (…) I’m starting to like Ashish. He pulls out the Sabbath. I like to listen to hard stuff every once in a while. Why, just today I was blasting The Ramones. But what a long walk from the beautiful masterpieces of Western classical music to rock.
Let’s see Western musical heritage: classical, ragtime, jazz, blues, country, bluegrass, rock, hard rock, motown, disco, punk, techno, grunge – interesting evolution. I know. An incomplete list and definitions. But you get the picture.
Ashish. LOL thank you Commentator. I’m just getting into the stuff actually. There is so much music and so little time!
MoR. Ashish, you say: “It’s not like I hate Indian music. It just seems more vocal focused.”
Voice, ok. But as far as I know there are lots of instruments as well, complex and exciting. Percussions are very rich, plus we have bow string instruments like Sarinda (see above) and Sarangi, stringed instruments like the Sitar (a great myth of my generation because of the Beatles and Ravi Shankar) and many others I don’t know the names of.
Probably Indian music is monodic, so melody plays a great role, and of course voice can be central, though not only I think. What I like very much is the way the Indians treat the melody (vocal or instrumental), fascinating for its sensual ornaments and especially quarter tones (!!), so exotic to Western ears!
Ashish.Nay, you’re talking Indian Classical music. I was talking about the regular – which is mostly film music and most all of which is vocal focused. But like I said above, the bug of classical music has bitten me now and I’m ready to dive in that ocean.
Bolly Songs and Classical Ragas
MoR. Great. I loved the music you presented in your post: the songs reminded me of my stay in India but the classical Ahir Bhairav type of music you present [which can be listened here] is much more profound, there is a total difference in depth. Depth is to be experienced especially at your age, since it’ll get deeper into your blood. [What I am not at all able to figure out is how, according to these Hindustani ragas, the music is slowly building up in more and more complex variations, I mean in which ways, according to which rules.]
Ashish. That is what I liked about it, depth. You could just lay back and watch as the music danced in front of your eye with varied textures.
Oriental Quarter tones
(We can finish with the Man of Roma talking about things he knows nothing about)
MoR. Oriental and Indian music has quarter tones, I can dare say. In the first notes of the song Hur Hura Asathe you have embedded in your post – I might be wrong – one experiences quarter tones.
On a keyboard, the distance in pitch between for example a C note and a D note (two white keys) is called a whole tone and this tone is cut into two halves (2 semitones) by classical Western music (C-C#; C#-D).
So between a C and a D we have only one possible note in between: C#.
In Oriental music instead a whole tone is cut into 4 different notes, 4 quarter tones.
It is one reason why the first notes of the said song (see the movie below) sound vague to a Western ear, which increases their fascination. I don’t think it is by chance by the way that the Italian word vago (= vague) means both vague and beautiful.
This whole inter-cultural thing is of course fascinating.
Ashish, the Geek Wrestler, once asked me for a sort of introduction to Western music. The reason I’m writing this is to save him from metal rock. But the topic is immense and greater than my knowledge, so I guess I can write brief notes on specific aspects, like this one.
One of the characteristics of Western music is polyphony, e.g. music made of melodies that travel independently throughout the composition though harmoniously combined with one another. This whole thing, of combining different melodies together, began in the Middle Ages, possibly by chance, and progressed in the subsequent centuries.
Western music can also be monodic, the opposite of polyphonic, whenever there is either just one melody (monophony) or when a melody prevails over other sounds that serve as mere accompaniment to the main star, the melody itself.
In this nocturne for piano solo by Frédéric Chopin (op. 27 no. 2) we have a cantabile melody, sometimes doubled and with ornaments, accompanied by arpeggios and bass sounds. It is evident here that the melody is the main protagonist, despite the surrounding notes and some voice layering here and there.
Let us first listen to the real thing (we chose Maurizio Pollini for his unromantic interpretation of this romantic work) and we’ll then listen to and view a computer graphical representation of the same work, which favours analysis.
In the computerized version below (by Stephen Malinowski) we notice that the double notes of the melody are not always parallel, which creates like a secondary voice. At the end of the piece there is some slight hint of polyphony. But on the whole this is not a polyphonic piece. Chopin is mainly monodic. Only at the end of his life he inserted some polyphony in his most mature works.
Let us now plunge into the great polyphony of Johann Sebastian Bach (Brandenburg Concerto No.4, iii, Presto.) This music – whose clockwork complexity I hope will not hopelessly bore an unaccustomed ear – is such hard stuff I prefer to propose a computerized version first (also by Stephen Malinowski.)
Different colours and timbers help to mentally separate the different voices. The exercise of following the voices separately is highly educating and can result in great pleasure. No easy thing at first though. I should have chosen a music with less voices (2 or 3 maximum,) but I couldn’t find a Midi music as satisfying as this one, although being able to identify 3 voices (hard already) or just 2 can be all right at first. The representation is what one usually gets on a Midi sequencer, i.e. a computer software, such as Steinberg Cubase.
Now a version with real players (the performers being unknown to me).
The music of Bach here presented is a fugue (or fugato). In a fugue voices (parts) are not all equal. There is a subject or theme (like a main melody) that is repeated many times at different levels of pitch. It is good exercise as well trying to identify, among the bunch of voices, the subject of a fugue whenever it pops up here and there, which is pretty often.
The study and practice of “the relationship between two or more voices that are independent in contour and rhythm” is called counterpoint. It was highly developed during the Renaissance and was common practice later, during the Baroque period (Wikipedia).
Independent in contour and rhythm. Very important in polyphony. If played or sung separately, voices or melodies still make sense!
One last music by this great German composer: the Brandenburg Concerto No.3 – iii, Allegro, rich with tremendous energy and beauty.
The Italian pianist Arturo Benedetti Michelangeli (1920–1995) is considered one of the greatest virtuosos of the 20th century. His style is classical in the sense of classicism and in a way that is more than emblematic. Why?
Italy never totally absorbed romanticism with its emphasis on excessive emotions, irrationality, free form etc. A sense of grace, elegant beauty and formal perfection together with a preference for simplicity over complexity have often been among the components of the Italian attitude in Arts.
Michelangeli’s style though (together with Maurizio Pollini’s) personifies all this even too much. He not only provides further evidence of this anti-romanticism present in the Italian culture – due to the Italian classical heritage (not many doubts about it.) Michelangeli’s peculiar (and sacred) approach to music crosses in our view a line by breaking the balance between form and emotion, between the rational and the lyrical side of a work – a balance which is typical of the best classicism. He reaches such a controlled perfection that his performances are prodigious, true, and proverbial, ok, but they are often very chilly as well (not many doubts either.)
In other words, Italian musical classicism is brought by Michelangeli to a limit where passion and musical spontaneity seem to disappear. He never lets himself go and every single note is under his control.
In fact “Michelangeli was known for his note-perfect performances” (Wikipedia). “His fingers can no more hit a wrong note – writes Harold Schonberg, a famous New York Times music critic- or smudge a passage than a bullet can be veered off course once it has been fired.”
Michelangeli’s performances of Romantic authors are therefore generally baffling. His interpretation of Frédéric Chopin‘s Ballade in G minor, one of the great works of Romantic music, can very well bring out this point, we believe:
As Squishym (a Youtube user) well observes “it sounds detached for the most part and the timing has a lot of strange hesitations for no apparent reason (perhaps an attempt to simulate emotion?)” Yes, very well said indeed.
An opinion confirmed by the above said Harold Schonberg, who wrote: “The puzzling part about Michelangeli is that in many pieces of the romantic repertoire he seems unsure of himself emotionally, and his otherwise direct playing is then laden with expressive devices that disturb the musical flow.”
In Domenico Scarlatti‘s sparkling and rationally crystal clear baroque Michelangeli seems instead much more at ease. This beautifully and very fast played sonata shows all his supreme coolness.
Michelangeli was sometimes considered at his best with the impressionistic French repertoire (Debussy and Ravel). Here follows Chopin’s Berceuse, where the flaws shown in the Balladein G minor are in our view not present because of the pre-impressionistic genre of this marvelous piece.
Benedetti Michelangeli’s playing here radiates its exquisite magic.
Finally Ferruccio Busoni’s piano transcription of Bach’s Chaconne in d-moll BWV 1004 for violin solo. The art of Bach, Busoni and Michelangeli combine to bring to life an awesome, unparalled musical experience. As the teacher and commentator David Dubal observed, Michelangeli “was best in the earlier works of Beethoven and seemed insecure in Chopin, but he was demonic in such works as the Bach–BusoniChaconne and the BrahmsPaganini Variations.”
Let us listen to this demonic Michelangeli (the performance here being unfortunately – and horribly – cut into two separate videos):
[May 2014 update : a different, possibly better, performance of Bach-Busoni’s Chaconne by A.B. Michelangeli – all in one piece]