Howard Hanson: The Music of God in Nature

hanson-01-ca-1930

Howard Hanson (1896 – 1981) circa 1930

Nebraska-born of Swedish ancestry, Howard Harold Hanson (1896 ─ 1981) became by his mid-thirties what he had determined to become from an early age, the most popular American composer of serious music in the European concert tradition.  He had also become a sought-after teacher, orchestra leader, and musical administrator.  Hanson poured his seemingly inexhaustible vitality not only into the promotion of his own creativity, but, generously, into the promotion of his fellow composers, many of them, as time went on, his students at the Eastman School where he presided.  A radio documentary about the composer from the late 1980s revealed another side of the man.  Several of those interviewed by the producer complained – one of them indeed rather bitterly – about Hanson’s alleged egocentrism and insistence on getting his own way.  No doubt but that Hanson, believing himself a force, often stormed over those who, as he saw it, put themselves in the way of his schemes, his magnanimity in other circumstances notwithstanding.  The man being dead, however, and his personal entanglements being buried with him, the impressive practical and artistic achievements remain.  Paramount among these stands Hanson’s compositional legacy: Seven substantial symphonies, at least as many symphonic poems, a handful of concerted scores, numerous choral works, and an opera, which should have a more active place in the repertory, and not only by way of recordings.

With his contemporaries Roy Harris (1898 ─ 1979) and Aaron Copland (1900 ─ 1990), and with the slightly younger Samuel Barber (1910 ─ 1981), Hanson created a recognizably American sound in concert music, and demonstrated that American composers could adapt European musical forms to the conditions of a new society seeking to set its own mark on an inherited culture.  It is useful to compare Hanson’s legacy with the legacies of his countrymen-composers in the first half of the Twentieth Century.  Harris certainly matched Hanson in egocentrism, maybe exceeding him; but Harris lacked Hanson’s talent, peaking with his Symphony No. 3 (1937), really an extended passacaglia for orchestra, and repeating himself, at ever lower levels, for the remainder of his career.  Copland began as an avant-garde composer in the 1920s, assimilating influences from Arnold Schoenberg and Igor Stravinsky; he found his marketable voice in the “cowboy” ballets of the 1930s and the populist, large-scale Symphony No. 3 (1946), for whose finale he adapted his own earlier Fanfare for the Common Man.  Copland wrote a surprisingly small number of works and ceased to compose altogether after 1964.

Continue reading

In the Fen Country: Landscape and Music in the Work of Gustav Holst and Ralph Vaughan Williams

english-landscape-01-gallon-waters-edge

Robert Gallon (1845 – 1925): The Water’s Edge (1870s)

A strong sympathy for the landscape often entwines itself with a type of religious sensibility, particularly the pantheistic one.  In the decorative murals with which the wealthy classes of Rome during the Imperial centuries adorned their domestic lives, the idyllic scene, with its groves and grazing sheep, invariably contains a rustic temple.  In Hellenistic poetry, too, the writer – it might be Theocritus or at a later date Ovid – in describing the sylvan setting of Sicily or Arcadia emphasizes the presence everywhere of the nature-spirits.  Ovid’s Metamorphoses seem in part to be an explanation of why everywhere in the ancient world one encountered innumerable altars and shrines.  To the pagan mentality, everything, every tree and stream and mountain, shared in the quality of the sacred, and offered a home to the spirits and demigods.  So too in Romantic painting and verse, the artist’s response to the natural scene records his sense of the ubiquity of spirit.  Thus in William Wordsworth’s famous sonnet “The world is too much with us” (1802), the calamity of the emergent industrial and commercial order manifests itself most poignantly in the terrible loneliness of being cut off from participation in the aura of the elements –

The world is too much with us; late and soon,
Getting and spending, we lay waste our powers;
Little we see in Nature that is ours;
We have given our hearts away, a sordid boon!

The lyric subject of the poem, concluding that the modern dispensation has left men “for everything… out of tune,” wishes that he were (although he is not) “a Pagan suckled in a creed outworn,” that is, someone who might “have glimpses that would make me less forlorn” of “Proteus rising from the sea.”  That men should have become acutely aware of nature in the early nineteenth century is hardly surprising.  The social and economic developments of the period, the hypertrophy of cities and the dissolution of ancient arrangements in the countryside, wrought changes in the very appearance of the rural landscape.  A generation later than Wordsworth, in the “Wessex” stories and novels of Thomas Hardy, the situation has grown even more acute.  In the short story “The Fiddler of the Reels,” the great fact of existence is the Crystal Palace, in the year of whose construction much of the action takes place.  The countryside is emptying into the great cities; railroads have appeared in the provinces to draw away the young people, and the expansion of a new order of industry and finance has begun to alter the familiar aspects of field and forest, river valley and hill.

Continue reading

Nations are Spiritual Entities First

It is routine for Reactionaries to decry the notion that nations subsist in virtue of some congeries of abstract propositions. The “proposition nation” reduces nationality to a few – a very few, a tiny sample – of its formal causes. It’s an improper reduction.

But many on the Right turn and reduce nations to blood and soil. There is more, obviously, to nations than assemblages of similar human bodies in particular vicinities. That suggestion improperly reduces nationality to a few of its material causes.

We will do no better if we reduce nations only to either of the other two sorts of Aristotelian causes: the final and the efficient.

Continue reading

Who is the Angel of America? Who is His Vicar on Earth?

A culture does not subsist in virtue of its members, or of their mere vicinity. Nor does it subsist in any formal specification of its systematic relations – laws, customs, language, technics, rites, and so forth – or of the propositions about reality upon which those formalities are founded, and from which they derive. Nor even does it subsist in the agglomeration of its people and the body of formal specifications of their systematic coordination thrown somehow together.

This, in just the way that I do not subsist in virtue of my cells, or of the formal specification of their systematic coordination. Rather, my cells and their formal coordination subsist qua mine in virtue of me.

The regnant occasion of my body, and of my life, is just me. I am the angel of my body’s life. I am the concrete real in whom the formal specification of its systematic coordination first subsists so as to be strangely attractive to my otherwise wayward cells and organs and subsidiary control systems. The relations constituting the system of me are very like those of feudal vassalage. My subsidiaries are loyal to me for the sake of their love for me, and mine for them.

So likewise a nation subsists, not in its people or in its laws or in the system of propositions in virtue of which those laws make any sense, but rather in the concrete angel who is its regnant occasion, to whom its components are all strangely attracted, and by whom they are all domesticated to his house, ordered and coordinated.

Continue reading

Consciousness, Culture, and Art: Informal Comments on an Imagist Poem by William Carlos Williams

flowers-in-pot-01

Ou Li Da

The poem to which this essay’s subtitle refers is one of the much-excerpted and much anthologized verse-interpolations in the Menippean combination of verse and prose, Spring and All (1921), that the New Jersey poet William Carlos Williams (1883 – 1963) produced at the acme of his self-consciously Imagist phase in the years after the First World War.  The poem carries no title, but, according to the tenets of Imagism, presents itself to the reader as an instance of res ipso loquitur or “the thing speaks for itself.”  In a later phase of his insistent creativity, Williams would adopt as his poetic motto the formula, “no ideas but in things,” the implication of which is that experience is not solipsistic, nor consciousness hermetic, but that any self-aware navigation of the world presupposes an intentional relation between the navigator and the world that he navigates, which he records as images, ideas, or concepts.  Williams’ poetry in all its phases possesses the charm that its author maintains equal interest in the reality and workings of the external world and in the mystery and joy of the mind that represents and cognizes that reality and those workings.

Williams’ oeuvre offers itself seriously in two other ways: Its author knew that consciousness, language, and culture intertwine with one another aboriginally, so that any investigation of one necessarily entails an investigation of the two others; and he knew that consciousness is historical, that it has traceable origins that suggest the mechanism of its making.

Continue reading

S. T. Coleridge on Imagination & Politics

Coleridge

Samuel Taylor Coleridge (1772 – 1834)

Part I: Coleridge’s Theory of the Imagination. Poetry is, of itself, often a theory of poetry.  Consider, under this thesis, Samuel Taylor Coleridge’s poem “Kubla Khan or: A Vision in a Dream” (1816).  In the opening lines, Coleridge plays with the etymological definition of poetry as making.  The Khan decrees that the pleasure-dome should rise whereupon his servants presumably conjure it forth:

In Xanadu did Kubla Khan

A stately pleasure-dome decree:

Where Alph, the sacred river, ran

Through caverns measureless to man

Down to a sunless sea.

So twice five miles of fertile ground

With walls and towers were girdled round;

And there were gardens bright with sinuous rills,

Where blossomed many an incense-bearing tree;

And here were forests ancient as the hills,

Enfolding sunny spots of greenery.

The decree itself already functions as a kind of making or articulation; it is imperious, magical, even a bit demonic or demiurgic.  The calling-forth of the artificial paradise entails, moreover, the transformation of nature through her re-creation under an idea: Thus the girdling walls enclose the “twice five miles of fertile ground” in a gesture of delimitation.  That the ground is “fertile,” as Coleridge (1772 – 1834) writes, suggests that the labor of elevating structures on it has a generative relation to the fecund matter on which the labor operates; the two elements of the event have an a priori and complementary relation to one another.  The matter has no features in the description, but presents only a blank aspect, like a mass of clay unformed; even the “gardens bright and sinuous rills,” seemingly natural, result artificially from the determination of a shaping will.  The act itself and that which is acted upon thus match one another, forming dual aspects of a concluded whole in which pregnant formlessness has acquired a pleasing form, as in the endeavor of the Demiurge in Plato’s Timaeus.

Continue reading

Society is Companionship

The modern notion that monarchy is inherently tyrannical and exploitative is an artifact of a fundamentally deficient concept of human society. That concept – the modern concept – treats society as basically loveless, a collation of antagonists engaged in a zero sum game; so it eventually finds, as we have lately seen it do, that all human relations are more or less exploitative – the wife and husband of each other, the mother and father of the child, and so forth. Such is the conclusion of the latter day apotheosis of modernist dialectical materialism in postmodernism: all human relations are about power, and nothing else.

Notice that this doctrine is self-fulfilling. If on the basis of the conviction that human relations are all essentially exploitative you then proceed to exploit your fellows, you are likely sooner or later to discover that they have all reciprocated.

Postmodern social theory boils down then to an assertion that, as composed of mutually inimical agents bound only to exploit each other as much as possible, society is essentially sociopathic. And behaving as if this were so leads to actual sociopathy.

Continue reading

A Basic Guide to Liberalism and Conservatism, Part I

We could use a catechism of liberalism and conservatism (i.e., anti-liberalism.) Young people won’t know about reality unless someone teaches them. They may sense it, but they won’t know it unless someone teaches them.

Update 12/13/16: In response to useful criticism, I have added text to clarify my position. For the time being, additions are highlighted in bold.

 Part I:  Introduction

Liberalism begins with the deliberate violation of the laws of God, the laws of nature, and human tradition. If this blasphemy excites you, you’re prone to become a liberal. If you’re a normal person, it disgusts you, and you will not become a liberal unless it disguises itself as something good.

Everybody knows something’s wrong with the world. This series is written from the standpoint of traditional Christianity, and as Christians, we know that the ultimate malady is sin. But sin manifests itself in countless ways. We need a more tangible and organized explanation.

A big part of the current problem is liberalism. It’s everywhere, it’s dominant, and it’s perverted. So we all need to defend ourselves against it.

That word “liberalism” is the usual name for the way of thinking that now rules Western civilization, America included. It’s more than just fashionable opinion; liberalism is an organized system. Its ideas are mostly consistent with one another, so they work together like a well-trained sports team. And there are countless organizations which teach liberalism and enforce its morality. Liberalism rules the West, so the people mostly believe it. And even if they don’t believe it, they usually go along with it. Continue reading

Social Order is Prior to Liberty

Liberty is a subsidiary factor of social life; it is a derivative feature of social order, but not its source; for, social order by definition consists in constraints upon individual acts, whether through custom, or taboo, or scapegoating, or law. Social order then is the source and basis of such liberty as may be, and not vice versa.

Where there is no social order, there is no freedom to do anything but fight. This is that hypothetical State of Nature cherished analytically by Hobbes, Locke, Rousseau, either to disparage or valorize it. But notice that it never really happened, nor could it: man has always been a social animal, and cannot be otherwise. The most basic jot of society – i.e., sex – consists in constraints upon individual liberty; for, sex is either a mutual agreement to accept the constraints of duty to a lover, or else by rape an utter and complete constraint upon some other. Whether these constraints arise from within the social agent as the voice of his conscience, or from without as the voices of others urging him to this or that, is neither here nor there.

The zero of social order then is the zero of sex, ergo of man.

The true state of nature for man is a state of highly evolved and definite social order. His freedom of action, then, has always been constrained by social order; and that social order is in fact the basis of his freedom to opt for anything other than combat.

Continue reading