Reactionary Composer of the Week: George Enescu

This week’s reactionary composer, the Romanian George Enescu (1881-1955), was suggested by a reader. Said reader, a musicologist with an interest in Enescu, sent me an extremely informative e-mail on the subject, so I’ll let him take it from here:

If anything I say about Enescu seems like the exaggerations of an enthusiast, I invite you to consult Noel Malcolm’s excellent biography (1990), which is my main source for anecdotes. I may also occasionally be thinking of the chapter in Janos Starker’s recent autobiography (2005, I believe) in which he encountered Enescu in Bucharest around 1946-47.

As a man, Enescu was not very political. He came from the peasantry, but his father was a well-to-do land manager, so he had the best education and upbringing available in rural Romania. (The unification of Moldova and Wallachia took place about 20 years before he was born; Transylvania followed, of course, after Trianon.) As a young boy, he attended conservatory first in Vienna, then in Paris.

It quickly became evident that even among great musical talents, Enescu’s was unusual. Among other things, he memorized essentially the entire corpus of piano, orchestral, and chamber literature, and could reproduce it spontaneously at the piano at will. His student Menuhin tells us that Enescu memorized the freshly-written Ravel violin sonata as he was reading it, so that by the second read-through, he set the score aside. Likewise, Norbert Brainin (Amadeus Quartet) said that Enescu could play any of the Beethoven string quartets at the piano without music, Menuhin said that he’d seen Enescu play entire acts of Wagner without music, etc. Enescu was a first-rate pianist, violinist, and conductor — he routinely performed with the leading orchestras (Berlin Phil, Vienna, NY Phil, etc) as a violinist and as a conductor, and he was shortlisted to replace Toscanini in New York in 1936, though the job ultimately went to Barbirolli instead.

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Credo: in vitam venturi saeculi

Our faithful dog of 14 years died two nights ago. Rosie was a good dog. As my wife put it, she was of all the members of our household morally the best, and most blameless. Certainly Rosie tried harder and more diligently than any of the rest of us to be good. And so she was, God bless her. She was an excellent instance of goodness, and of the general creaturely will toward the good. This made her a thing of beauty. Her humble obedience sanctified our house, albeit sometimes in quite a stinky, filthy way. I smile now to think of the horrible smells she used to carry home from her jaunts in the forest, the trophies of some deliciously rotten mélange. How odd, to miss those disgusting odors; to wish them back, with her.

It is indeed deeply, deeply odd that the world now proceeds without her; so much so, that the oddity is almost a violence, her absence a positive factor in the composition of each moment. It is not as if a bunch of rocks had moved from one arrangement to another on the beach, as the materialists would say has happened. It is as if a fairly sizable and remarkable rock had winked out of concrete existence altogether – a sheer impossibility, when you think about it, at least in a coherent, orderly world, where momenta are conserved. Rosie was a concrete fact, discrete from and supervenient to her constituent material facts, that expressed the substance of her life. Those constituents are still around, and rearranging, their momenta perfectly conserved; meanwhile the fact of Rosie is gone. She is now absent – literally, “away from being.” Where she was, there is now an ontological hole. It’s spooky.

After Rosie died, my children turned and asked me, being as patriarch also the priest of the family, whether she was going to heaven. St. Thomas argued that heaven is only for rational animals, and that while dogs have souls, they have not rationality. And this makes sense, so far as it goes. But it does not, it seems to me, go far enough.  Continue reading

Gratitude and culture, and why America has no culture

It’s said that the difference between liberals and conservatives is that liberals don’t feel gratitude for what they’ve inherited, but that’s not true.  Liberals do express admiration and gratitude, but of a particular kind.  They are grateful for those daring individuals who “challenged injustice” or “made the world a better place”.  Establishing and maintaining a social order doesn’t earn much recognition from them, because “mere” social continuity is supposed to happen automatically.  Being a conservative, and–even more–being a parent, I find myself having more and more appreciation for all our humble, forgotten ancestors who just did the arduous job of keeping civilization going.  There were times when just keeping a new generation alive until adulthood was an extremely difficult task.  Passing on our moral and cultural inheritance is still extremely difficult.  It doesn’t happen automatically–just look at what happened when one (post-WWII) generation decided not to bother.

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A week for challenging stereotypes

Like everybody, I maintain stereotypes about various groups of people.  None of us could do without them, but it’s in our interests for our stereotypes to be as accurate as possible.  Of course, no one is such a fool as to imagine that general rules like “Frenchmen hate Americans” have no exceptions, but the rule is still usefully accurate if most Frenchmen hate Americans, or even if Frenchmen are just much more likely to hate Americans than the world average.  Since none of my stereotypes are integral to my worldview, I’m happy to refine them when the opportunity arises.

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The Catholic civil war: strategies

Why hasn’t there been a schism yet?  I mean, it’s a pretty remarkable historical fact, isn’t it, that orthodox and openly modernist Catholicism have remained in communion with each other for a full half-century?  The two sides share basically no beliefs.  Our differences with the Nestorians, Monothelitists, Hussites, and Jansenists were insignificant by comparison, and all of those groups got the boot in about a generation.  Nor are there any ties of affection holding the two sides of the Catholic civil war together–we hate each other’s guts.  It wouldn’t be too hard for either side to pull the trigger and put an end to this unhappy union.  (We Catholics don’t like the word “divorce”; let’s say I would like an “annulment” from the modernists.)  From the orthodox side, this would be straightforward:  the pope could excommunicate all the open heretics readminister the anti-modernist oath.  The modernists don’t have a centralized command, but it wouldn’t be too hard for, say, the Catholic Theological Society, the Society of Jesus, Notre Dame, and the editors of Concilium to get together and declare an end to the Vatican’s undemocratic rule and the inauguration of a “reformed” Catholic Church under their leadership.  Yet neither side does it.  Why?

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“My Blushes, Watson!”: Of Blood, Blushing, Whistling, & Holding Hands

Here is another guest post by frequent commenter and friend of the Orthosphere, Dale James Nelson.


Sherlock Holmes: “You have heard me speak of Professor Moriarty?”

Watson: “The famous scientific criminal, as famous among crooks as–”

“My blushes, Watson!” Holmes murmured in a deprecating voice.

Watson: “I was about to say, as he is unknown to the public.”

Doyle, The Valley of Fear (1915)

Holmes’s vanity tripped him up that time. Probably he did blush then. If literature is a reliable guide, people used to blush, or even flush, quite often.

Her blood shrank back to her heart at the very thought [of marrying for wealth], and then rushed to her neck and bosom in a flood of shame.

Haggard, Stella Fregelius (1903)

Examples could be multiplied. It seems there was a Victorian-Edwardian cult of blushing as a sign of lively sensibility – so that the hero of Trollope’s Dr. Thorne (1858), Frank Gresham, blushes when an older woman suggests that a young lady might like to settle at Greshamsbury for life, i.e. marry him, and we readers certainly are meant to approve of the young man’s modesty. Such blushing reassured readers of the persistence of wholesome human feeling in a society increasingly materialistic, hurried, and impersonal.

Those who read more current fiction than I do can inform me if people still blush in novels today. My sense is that they don’t, except perhaps to get “red with anger.”

Blushing is as much a matter of the soul as of physiology. “Man is the only animal that blushes – or needs to” (Mark Twain). Incidentally, I think writers used to make a distinction: someone’s face might be flushed with exertion or anger, but someone blushed with love, shame or embarrassment. Authors frequently noted the rushing of blood to the face as the sign that someone was much moved.

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Reactionary Composer of the Week: Roger Scruton

Yes, that Roger Scruton. I assume he needs no introduction around these parts. Scruton has written extensively on music (I recommend his book The Aesthetics of Music, a difficult but rewarding read), as well as doing some occasional composing. Recordings of his two operas, Violet and The Minister, are unfortunately not available, but he has posted a lovely trio of Lorca songs on his blog.

Questioning evolution

I hope all of you saw Bruce’s brilliant post on this topic.  Excerpt:

There are two prominent kinds of anti-evolutionist in public life – and by which I mean people who deny the applicability of evolution by natural selection to some aspect of humans

…it turns out that the much demonised and despised religious anti-evolutionists who are skeptical about macro-evolution of humans are in plain fact much more scientific and empirical than are those numerous and influential secular Leftists who challenge the solid, and indeed observable, reality of human adaptation or micro-evolution.

The religious anti-macro-evolutionists who acknowledge within-form adaption are indeed within the historical mainstream of biology in their focus upon form as primary; the secular Leftist anti-adaptationists are chucking-out biology altogether in favour of a political ideology which ignores the most basic level of reality-testing.

Since it is secular Leftists who control public discourse we find public discourse in the extraordinary, and scientifically indefensible, position of asserting that on the one hand macro-evolution is necessarily real and the essential form of the human species certainly arose by natural selection – which is an incremental accumulation of adaptive changes; yet on the other hand denying that micro-evolution, adaptation, has occurred within the human species.

In other words, the speculative and uncertain aspect of Darwinian natural selection is accepted as necessary, as dogma (to reject which is to move outwith the bounds of legitimate public discourse); while the empirically and experientially verifiable aspect of Darwinism is at the same time rejected.

Secular Leftists thus believe in speciation but not adaptation; they believe that humans arose by natural selection, but also that – once humans had arisen – natural selection does not apply to humans!

Before reading this article, I hadn’t quite realized just how ridiculous the Leftist line on human evolution actually is.  Of course, this says nothing about what our position should be.  I believe that speciation by natural selection is compatible with a realist position on forms (because essentialism just requires the existence of sharp boundaries, not that they can’t be crossed between generations), but greater philosophical minds of the Thomist school are known to disagree (because supposedly an effect can’t have something lacking in its cause–see here for an explanation of this disputed principle).  Unlike the Leftists, we have no reason to deny the obvious differences between the human races.