Sunday’s Symposium

Richard Fader Lazar

Left to Right: Richard Cocks (philosopher and writer); Richard Fader (ex-city worker and philosopher); Lazar Sokolovski (Russian expatriate resident of Oswego; poet and philosopher). The scene is Old City Hall (cornerstone laid 1832; building completed in 1836) in Oswego, on Water Street. Old City Hall is the cultural heart of Oswego, which was in the Eighteenth Century America’s first frontier. The City of Oswego perches itself on the southern shore of Lake Ontario, at the mouth of the Oswego River.  I tell my visitors, if your feet are wet, you have gone too far to the north!

The Occasion: The usual Sunday-afternoon symposium at Old City Hall; and I am learning to use my new digital camera. Topics of conversation: Nicolas Berdyaev (Russian philosopher); Vassily Kallinikov (Russian composer); Dmitri Shostakovich (Russian composer); Boris Pasternak (Russian novelist); James Fennimore Cooper (American historian and novelist); Edgar Allan Poe (American poet and philosopher); Konstantin Balmont (Russian translator of Poe).

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The Sorts of Liberalism Are Attempted Implementations of Nominalism

If as nominalism supposes there are no objective universals, then there are no objective truths. Then there is no objective reality. There being no objective reality, there can then be no way that one man might understand or speak of reality more truthfully than another. So there can be no such thing as authority. Authority then is ipso facto null, and wherever asserted, is false and unjust. If authority is unjust per se, then justice might be possible only under conditions of anarchy, wherein each man rules his own life absolutely, and is free to make up his mind and shape his acts in whatever way he pleases.

Nominalism carried into practice then is liberalism: the thoroughgoing rejection of authority.

There are many sorts of liberalism: political, economic, grammatical, theological, liturgical, legal, sexual, aesthetic, gastronomical, cultural, architectural, academic, and so forth. All of them are subjects of discussion here, and at other orthospherean sites. All of them have in common the rejection of all authority other than the authority that imposes upon all men the requirement that they reject authority.

The project of authoritatively imposing the rejection of authority is of course incoherent. That doesn’t stop liberals from propagating liberalism. But it does stop liberalism from ever working.

Gottschalk’s Banjo Fantasy & Other Items of Americana

Louis Moreau Gottschalk (1829 – 1869) was the American musical superstar of the mid-Nineteenth Century.  The issue of a German-Jewish father and a Creole mother, he early demonstrated executive prodigality at the keyboard and his knack for effective composition. During the Civil War, Gottschalk proclaimed his loyalty to the Union and toured the North playing his patriotic fantasias to wildly receptive audiences.  A longtime resident of Oswego, New York, I feel compelled to report that Gottschalk visited that fair city no less than three times between 1858 and 1864, professing his belief that its young women were the fairest in all the States!  “The Banjo,” described in French as a “fantaisie grotesque,” takes inspiration from what in Gottschalk’s day went by the name of “Negro Music.”  It develops an original, largely rhythmic motif, and quotes Stephen Foster’s “Camptown Races” in its finale.  There is more by Gottschalk below, as well as songs by Henry Clay Work. A New Yorker, Work was Foster’s equal by any measure, but, because his fondness for “Slave Dialect” offends PC, he is today little known.

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The Tone Poems of Jean Sibelius

Sibelius 11 Gallen-Kallela Sibelius Portrait (1894)

Portrait of Sibelius with Landscape (1895) by Akseli Gallen-Kallela

In an increasingly ugly world the sources of beauty constantly increase in value but at the same time they become increasingly difficult for ordinary people to discover and explore.  The garbage of pseudo-art so crowds the scene that the chance-encounter with beauty – by which in the past young people especially found themselves bowled over by aesthetic experience that altered their lives – occurs with ever greater infrequency.  The fewer the number of people who already know of something nourishingly beautiful, the fewer docents there are to discover those things to others.  Beauty often occasions an analog of conversion.  Beauty suggests transcendence.  The modern world, however, takes a stance of rigorous opposition to transcendence, which it categorizes among the falsehoods that have, in their pestiferous way, survived the cleansing power of rationality to confuse and delude those who might otherwise devote their services to the enlightened order.  The modern world hates the beautiful, which is why it has made a cult of ugliness.  Ugliness never gets in the way of utility, but beauty does.  Beauty distracts the attention from the petty concerns of a totally immanent world.  Beauty fosters non-conformity.  It nourishes the soul, which, like transcendence, is not supposed to exist.  The present essay addresses one particular, musical source of beauty knowledge of which the author wishes to disseminate among as many others as possible.  The present essay also explores the important philosophical question whether the non-verbal arts can carry a semantic content – that is whether plastic and music can generate meaning.  The artist under discussion in the following paragraphs is one dear to the author of those paragraphs.  His encounter many decades ago with that artist’s work constituted, and powerfully so, a conversion to beauty.  The author wishes to repay his debt. The first order of business is to answer a question.

I. What is a Tone Poem? The genre of the symphonic poem or tone poem traces its origin to the free-standing concert overtures of Ludwig van Beethoven, Felix Mendelssohn, Robert Schumann, and Hector Berlioz, but also to the picturesque sequences in the actual symphonies of the same composers. Beethoven’s characteristic overtures, such as the three Leonore Overtures for the opera Fidelio (1805) and his Coriolan (1804) and Egmont (1810) Overtures, undertake to represent by purely musical means the essential personal qualities or virtues of a dramatic or literary character. Beethoven obviously assumes the possibility of such an endeavor although musicological spoilsports, especially in the Twentieth Century, have asserted the opposite.  They argue that music can express nothing but itself and that it can convey no semantic content in the way that verbal expression conveys such content.  According to this assertion, the auditor who buys into the assumption and believes that he has indeed apprehended the musical representation of a character, or anything else, has in fact deluded himself.  Igor Stravinsky argued as much in his stern-faced Poetics of Music (1942), originally delivered as a series of lectures at Harvard.  Roger Scruton upholds the thesis in his massive, intimidating Aesthetics of Music (1997), a type of musicological Critique of Pure Reason.  The program, both men argue, remains extrinsic to the work, and might even get in the way of the listener’s proper apprehension of the work.  One doubts, however, that Beethoven or Mendelssohn or Schumann or Berlioz suffered from delusion.  The confidence of their assumption that music might articulate something other than itself, along with itself invites respect.  One could counter Stravinsky and Scruton with the proposition that if hearing characters, stories, and landscapes in music were a delusion, the delusion would have long since so deeply ensconced itself in the composer’s intention and the audience’s expectation that it might as well be real.

Not only personality and character, but also landscape and event constitute the subject-matter, so to speak, of the Beethoven type of concert overture and of the Early-Romantic picturesque in music.  Mendelssohn’s Hebrides Overture (1832) offers a case in point, as does the slow movement of Berlioz’s Symphonie fantastique (1830), the former with its conjuration of emotions associated with a vision of the Western Isles and the North Atlantic and the latter with its onomatopoeias of two distantly heard shepherd’s pipes answering one another and the approach and recession of a thunderstorm – all in the countryside.  The Swedish composer Franz Berwald offered his overtures Elfenspiel  (1841) and Erinnerungen an den Norwegischen Alpen (1842), the one purporting to give a glimpse into the mischief of the gnomes and leprechauns and the other to articulate the memory, no doubt tinged with the proper awe, of the Norwegian mountains.  Skeptics like Stravinsky and Scruton aside, the plausibility of a musical semantics has never lacked in philosophical advocacy.  Oswald Spengler, who regarded music as the highest expression of the Western spiritual and artistic impulse, broaches the topic in his Decline of the West, Volume I (1919).  In his chapter on “Music and Plastic – The Arts of Form,” Spengler writes that “the formative impulse that is at work in the wordless arts can never be understood until we come to regard the distinction between the optical and acoustic means as only a superficial one.”  According to Spengler, “A ‘singing’ picture of Claude Lorrain or of Watteau does not really address itself to the bodily eye any more than the space-straining music since Bach addresses itself to the bodily ear.”

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The Arms Race to the Degenerate Bottom

The race to the degenerate bottom is not steady. On the contrary, it always accelerates; for, it is an arms race.

You can see this with any medium that depends for its survival on the attention of many minds: advertising, entertainment, journalism. All outlets of such media compete with each other for attention. The one that is the most extraordinary wins the competition. So the competition is to discover which outlet is the most abnormal, thus attractive of notice. Whatever was the most abnormal during the last round must be surpassed in the current round in order to gain notice: the most abnormal recent instance resets the bound of normality.

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Jodeln ist Cool (I Get a Kick out of Yodeling)

Ja, Jodeln ist cool und Melanie Oesch von Oesch die Dritten ist die coolste. Jodeln ist ja wirklich cool. Cooler, sage Ich, als Hip-Hop oder weibliche-männliche Stimme “Coffee House” Musik. Oesch die Dritten ist drei Generationen einer einzigen Familie von traditionellen Schweizer Instrumentalisten und Sängern.

More below —

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I Get a Kick out of Fugue, Part 2

Fugue Image 02

Abstract Image of the Fugal Phenomenon

In the first part of this essay, we traced the origin of the musical form known as fugue to the period of the religious wars in Europe, advancing the anthropological explanation of fugue as being representative in a purely abstract way of the patterns of social breakdown characteristic of the time and place.  Fugue in its classical form, as perfected by Johann Sebastian Bach (1685 – 1759), has prototypes in the Late-Renaissance caccia and ricercar, but it comes into prominence, as a musical form of forms, only in the decades of the sectarian conflicts that followed in the wake of the Reformation.  Fugue, we recall, is a musical procedure in which successive voices imitate an initial voice, the theme assuming the role of an object of contention among the voices, subjected by them to development through breaking it down into its constituent motifs, and at last resolving the strife by its resumptive unison restatement, typically as a chorale.  The great exemplar is the second half of Bach’s Toccata and Fugue in D-Minor, the whole of which was made famous, in Leopold Stokowski’s orchestral arrangement, by its inclusion in Walt Disney’s animated feature Fantasia, just before World War II.  Incidentally, in a work such as Bach’s “D-Minor,” there is no real reason to separate the initial toccata or prelude – or whatever it might be called – from the fugue proper.  The introductory matter serves to expose the basic material out of which the fugue (as it were) will compose itself.

Previously we traced the itinerary of fugue from the Seventeenth to the Late Nineteenth Century, ending with Franz Liszt’s homage to Bach, his Prelude and Fugue on B.A.C.H. (1855; revised 1870).  Liszt’s score, in versions for piano or organ, would seem to be something of a non plus ultra in the development of the fugal art, but this is not, in fact, so.  We also speculated on the anthropological meaning of fugue, suggesting that it corresponded to a ritual pattern of crisis, pursuit, and salvation; and we remarked that fugue had its beginnings in the era of the religious wars in Northern Europe, when indeed many people found themselves overwhelmed by crisis, fleeing under pursuit, and seeking although not always finding asylum or refuge.  Fugue has a rich history in the period from Liszt’s death (1886) through the middle of the Twentieth Century, another historical period marked by the breakdown of societies and war.  In this second part of our two-part essay, we will explore fugue’s new lease on life from the Victorian Era to 1950.

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Louis Moreau Gottschalk: Creole Composer

Louis Moreau Gottschalk (1829 – 1869) was at least a double-threat: Half-Jewish, half-Creole (which means half-black and half-white, on his mother’s side).  A fiercely proud son of New Orleans, he nevertheless proclaimed his loyalty to the Union on Secession and spent the years of the Civil War touring the Federal States, including New York State, where he played three times on the third floor of Old City Hall in Oswego, on Lake Ontario. In an interview with the Palladium Times (Oswego) in 1863, he declared that the young women of Oswego were the most beautiful in the entire geography north of the Mason-Dixon Line.  Gottschalk was related by two or three removes to General Beauregard, and so, on the word of my grandmother, am I.

Russians Wickedly Affirm their Russianness while Plotting Our Destruction

It is sometimes not only advisable, but necessary, to avert one’s attention from the ugly violation of forms in the political arena — from the frowning formlessness of doctrinaire fanaticism — so as to take in things actually beautiful and therefore supremely real.  “Smuglyanka Moldavanka” (“Smiling Moldavian Girl”) is a soldier-song from World War Two that has become something like a folksong because it is actually beautiful and therefore supremely real.  Now “flash mobs” are a consequence of our burgeoning communications technology and can manifest themselves obnoxiously in crowds of what in journalese are invariably called “youths.”  They can also approximate to the spontaneity of art, which happens to be the result in the video-clip above.

Below, also purely for enjoyment, is another Russian “flash-mob,” this one singing the well-known song “Kalinka” (“Little Red Berry” — not a reference to Barack Hussein Obama), originally composed for a Russian Vaudeville in the 1860s.  Watch what happens when store security shows up – and be prepared to smile, like the Moldavian brunette.  Notice that little red berries are conspicuously on sale in the middle of the produce section.

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