Some of my favorite Good Friday-appropriate art.
Have a happy, holy and blessed day.
The Price is Right
Some of my favorite Good Friday-appropriate art.
Have a happy, holy and blessed day.
This week, in the art history/art appreciation class I’m teaching, we were going over cave art and the materials and techniques they might have used. I threw this picture up:
And then this picture:
And had the students discuss them side by side using the elements of art and the principles of design. We all had a blast.
A while ago, Caroline Furlong posted and linked about the Pylos Combat Agate from the Griffin Warrior’s Grave at Nestor’s Palace in Pylos, Greece. Mind blown:
To recap: 15,000+ years ago, somebody could paint that buffalo on a wall in a dark cave using such things as powdered rock mixed with grease and pieces of moss. Then, 3,500 years ago, somebody could carve a detailed battle scene into a pebble, displaying a da Vinci level appreciation of human anatomy and with details too small to really see with the naked eye. Nothing approaching this level of artistry is found anywhere else before about 500 BC.
The Griffin Warrior’s Grave was discovered and excavated in 2015. Alta Mira cave first became widely known in 1880. Hegel was long dead before either of these masterpieces were discovered.
I really don’t want to get into the details and caveats in Hegel’s history of art, but any idea of a more or less linear awakening of artistic expression as the Spirit came to know Itself in History is patent nonsense in light of these two works, without enough caveats and retconning to choke a horse.
Prepping for the last lecture class before we start reviews and head into finals. Looking at the stuff I prepared last year, I can barely remember doing it. Probably something to do with the physical and emotional exhaustion from moving, and the continued attention demanded by the endless steps needed to get our house finally on the market. (target date: 5/26.)
Here’s a brief snippet.
This, from Britannica, a source I use cautiously if at all. Here, the writer, describes the triumphal revisionism of the Renaissance writers, who so badly wanted to tout themselves as the best and the brightest that they ignored reality when needed. I’ve long wondered how scholars writing sometimes literally in the shadows of the great medieval churches, could not see how preposterous their claims of *obvious* superiority were. Example:
Reports of the death of the Middle Ages have been somewhat exaggerated. What’s really been overblown are the achievements of the Renaissance:
The next (and, as it proved, final), steps taken in this direction (physics of motion – ed) were the accomplishments of the last and greatest of the medieval scientists, Nicole Oresme (1325 – 1382). …devoted much of his effort to science and mathematics. He invented graphs, one of the few mathematical discoveries since antiquity which are familiar to every reader of the newspapers. He was the first to perform calculations involving probability. He had a good grasp of the relativity of motion, and argued correctly that there was no way to distinguish by observation between the theory then held that the heavens revolve around the earth once a day, and the theory that the heavens are at rest and the earth spins once a day.
Then everything came to a stop. Given the scientific and mathematical works of Descartes and Galileo, but no chronological information, one might suppose the authors were students of Oresme. Galileo’s work on moving bodies is the next step after Oresme’s physics; Cartesian geometry follows immediately on Oresme’s work on graphs. But we know that the actual chronological gap was 250 years, during which nothing whatever happened in these fields. Nor did any thing of importance occur in any other branches of science in the two centuries between Oresme and Copernicus.James Franklin, Honorary Professor, School of Mathematics and Statistics, University of New South Wales
Then, yea, there’s that.
There’s a bunch more, but now I’ve gotta go do class. Yes, I inflict this stuff on 15 year olds. Toughens them up.
(Update: I tried WordPress’s ‘verse’ format option, then mucked with the excerpts below until it looked right, only to discover it looks right only some fraction of the time, and runs off the page and is otherwise unreadable the rest of the time. Sigh.)
The neurons are finally coming back on line, as much as they ever were, after the physically, mentally, and emotionally exhausting clean-out of the old house. Almost ready to start worrying about the next phase: finding a new place, and all that that entails.
In the meantime: found some more stuff I’d packed away and all but forgotten. Part of which is:
These files contain writings going back to about 1990. Among other things:
But I should share a little. Why should I suffer alone? Here are snippets of lyrics and poetry from way back, starting with something really old:
(Circa Reagan. To the beat of marching soldiers. Call and response)
I don't like no Gorbachev! (I don't like no Gorbachev! - and so on) Give me Ruskies like Molotov! This Cold War thaw thing do us in I'd rather wear those leopard skins
(In a Jack Nicholson type voice over some distant apocalyptic explosions and Fred Flintstone sound affects – yabadabado, etc.)
Just bomb 'em back to the Stone Age Just bomb 'em back to the Stone Age. Just bomb 'em back to the Stone Age. Just bomb 'em back to the Stone Age.
And so on. Dated, yes, but maybe funny if you’re old enough to remember…
Face down in some laundry stenchy Bullets flew past the change machine The bastards just put a bullet in Frenchy bleeding like crimson red cotton sateen! Shootout at the Whirly Wash God, somebody just winged Michael Cover me, Shorty, I'm going in Like a red sock in a hot cycle She dropped her basket, looked over me Her trigger finger was twitching So what if I got some Shout on her T? I don't need to listen to her bitching Shootout at the Whirly Wash Doc's covering the detergent dispenser Lay down some fire! I'll head for a dryer! Ol' Bessie's lead will convince her! Fabric was flying and tempers ran hot We had 'em pinned down by the phone When the manager lady fired a round of buckshot I guess we'll just fold 'em at home Shootout at the Whirly Wash Long may its infamy reign! A tip if you ever get into that spot: Use COLD water on a blood stain.
I used to be a Western boy with microscope and gun But since I've gotten older, it's just not as much fun Instead I want to take a tour of the Nothing that's my mind For peace and love and happiness - what cool stuff I might find! Careful! Careful! Easy now! All my desires die Which is good, because I don't want to come back as a fly Which brings us to a tricky point, a poser through and through: what if that cockroach I just crushed was someone that I knew? I can sit with my legs crossed until both legs fall asleep I can become Nothingness, and nothing want or keep I can bank good karma by the pound with effortless aplomb But I just can't stop worrying: that bug might be your mom.
Yep. That was me what wrote that stuff, some thirty+ years ago. And I’m not sorry! Careful, or I’ll publish some more.
As part of ongoing attempts to remain sane, was doing a little woodworking, using the walnut from the old tree in front yard that we’d had cut down years age. As some long term readers may recall, a local urban lumber guy made it into planks, 11 of which I got. These have been drying in the garage for something like 7 or 8 years.
Maybe a year ago, I brought out several of these boards to see what I could do with them. They had not dried well. Heavily figured and beautiful, but all kinds of warped and twisted, despite being stickered and weighted. I had to chop them up to get straight and flat enough pieces to plane them. So, no large dressers or anything like that is coming from this wood, unless the 6 or 7 pieces on the bottom of the stack I haven’t looked at yet are much better.
Silver lining? I ended up with a collection of little pieces I’d trimmed off in order to get to the flatter, straighter parts. These small pieces tended to be highly figured and knotty. So – I said to myself, I did – what if I were to glue them up into a little board? Call it a cheese board?
Five scraps glued together, planed, cut to size, sanded, edged, and oiled. Full of cracks and knots, and places where the glue spread in ways I couldn’t sand out.
But kind of pretty.
Listen to this Mass here. Utterly beautiful music that plumbs the emotional depths of the Requiem Mass, this masterpiece deserves to become as much a part of the repertoire as Faure’s Requiem.
Background: The Benedict XVI Institute is part of Archbishop Salvatore Cordileone’s efforts to return a sense of the sacred to the Church and the world. We have reached a point where, of the holy triumvirate of the Good, the True, and the Beautiful, only the Beautiful can get a hearing, so to speak, in the modern world. The Beautiful can get around the defenses set up under the dictatorship of relativism to keep the Good and the True at bay, can catch people off guard, and surprise them.
So the Archbishop created an Institute to provide resources to parishes to help in the beautiful celebration of the Mass, and to promote sacred art. The Benedict XVI Choir, a sixteen member professional choir under the the direction of Richard Sparks, is among the very best choirs I’ve ever heard. Sparks has one of those impressive musical resumes, having directed choirs and orchestras and founded ensembles and taught and written for decades now.
Frank la Rocca is the Composer in Residence. I am reminded of reading about how, under one of his patrons, 16th century composer Orlando de Lasso had a top notch choir (plus copyists and assistant directors) at his disposal. He would roll out of bed, compose all morning, ring for a servant to take the draft to the copyists with orders that it be rehearsed by the choir that afternoon, and he’d be down to give it a listen later that day. Composer heaven, in other words.
While I don’t imagine la Rocca has it quite that good, he’s got the best part: a fine choir and orchestra to perform his works in appropriate and often beautiful settings with appreciative audiences.
On November 6, in St. Mary’s of the Assumption Cathedral in San Francisco, la Rocca’s Requiem Mass for the Homeless was premiered as part of a requiem mass celebrated by Archbishop Cordileone for the repose of the souls of the homeless who died over the last year. My family attended.
The mass was very beautiful. First and foremost, I was there to pray, so my attention to the music was not what it would have been at a concert. I wasn’t taking any notes. I have yet to give the recently posted YouTube videos the listen they deserve. So, mostly, I’m merely recording general impressions here.
That said, the music was wonderful, beautiful, sublime. I was hearing echoes of Faure, Barber, and a little Britten in there, on top of his obvious roots in chant and the polyphonic giants of the 16th, and, especially, the early 17th centuries – more of the expressive emotionalism of Victoria and Byrd, less the jewel-like but comparatively cool perfection of Palestrina.
Faure and la Rocca do things with dissonance I need to study more. Their voice leading results in what might be expected to sound like harsh passages (and definitely would have gotten them in trouble with the sacred musicians in the 16th century!) but is instead supremely beautiful and expressive. The Barber comparison comes from some of the sonorities la Rocca loves (and I love, too!), closely-spaced, luminous, and moving. Every once in a while, a hint of the sort of repetition and sequences Britten uses so well seemed to be peaking through as well.
Yet the overall texture of the melodies remain very chantlike for the most part – there are exceptions. And he shies not away from the grand chorale cadences of the 16th century masters, even if he’s getting there via the 20th century masters.
None of this detracts at all from the originality and vigor of the music. La Rocca can remind one of many things without ever sounding like anything other than himself. That’s the beauty of real creativity: you find yourself by forgetting yourself in trying to do the most beautiful job you can.
The only other la Rocca work I’m at all familiar with is his Mass for the Americas, which is also very beautiful and profound. This is a very preliminary judgement, but having just listened to that earlier mass and comparing it to the Requiem heard Saturday, the Requiem is the more profound work. There’s a depth to it, a plumbing of human sadness and redemption, that takes this newer work to a higher level – and that’s saying something, because the Mass of the Americas is a very wonderful piece. I hope a recording of this Requiem finds its way onto a CD, so that I can listen to it with more focus.
Of the various Mass commons and propers, the ones which stand out in my memory are the Sanctus, the Agnus, and the Meditation after communion. Typically, one thinks of the angels surrounding the heavenly throne singing in glory at the Sanctus. La Rocca makes even that glorious cry into a journey through pain to redemption. The Lamb of God being sung about in the Agnus is a sacrificial lamb, the supreme Sacrificial Lamb dying to take away the sins of the world. This setting managed to capture something of that, a recurring theme throughout this Mass setting. Finally, the Mediation on Lamentation 1:12 summed up, if possible, the emotional content of the mass. We were praying for the souls of the least of the least of our brethren, those who had nowhere to lay their heads, who it is difficult to even acknowledge or tolerate – yet, they are given to us to love.
I must mention the excellent performance of the Benedict XVI Choir under Richard Sparks. They gave this work the inspired, beautiful realization it deserved.
Ten years ago, I had not heard of Morten Lauridsen, Avro Part, or Frank la Rocca. These are by any measure among the greatest composers of our age. But they write religious music. Film scores get you noticed; religious music ignored. If by any chance you get the opportunity to hear this piece performed, do it. I will post here if I find any recordings.
40 years ago, in my callow youth, I wanted to be a composer. Now, in my dotage, I’m writing some more. Why not?
As in so many areas of my life, I got really good at some aspects of this, while totally neglecting most of it. Thus, my ear wouldn’t get me out of a sophomore level ear training class, my sight-reading chops are pathetic, my knowledge of music theory is very spotty – but my music script is very nice. Observe:
I wrote this out, so the date on the cover page says, in August, 1983 – 38 years ago. The Santa Fe Women’s Ensemble was willing to perform this at an actual people-pay-to-get-in concert, so I thought it my duty to write it up nicely for them.
This was all before music transcription software, of course, so the only way to get it this nice was to do it all by by hand. Music paper didn’t come (as far as I could find) in systems of four staves, but just in pages of 10, 12, 16, 20 or whatever staves, and you just had to work around it. This would not do – spacing was all wrong, the space left for text and dynamic marking too small.
I hunted around and found these:
These – they came in sets of, I think, 5 nibs – are for inking staves. With these, and a nice cork-backed metal ruler, one can make one’s own music paper with whatever groupings and spacing one desires! For example:
What I did: made a single page laid out exactly as I liked, then took it down to the copy shop and had them print up a bunch. I even had them create tablets out of them, to keep the sheets together. Then, wrote the piece up, took the finished good copy back to the copy shop and had them print out copies on nicer paper, enough for the singers and director (and a few extras for me).
Time-consuming as all heck, but strangely satisfying.
For the lettering and dynamic markings, one needs another set of special pens. I used architectural pens (CAD was not a thing yet, in 1983, so architects had to learn how to letter, and so there were pens for that). They still sell them:
Mine – I have 2 – have been drying out for over 30 years in the cigar boxes I kept them in. In a departure from my normal practice, discovered that I’d saved the folded piece of paper that came with the pens describing how to disassemble and clean them. Their state went beyond anything mere cleaning was going to fix, so I took them completely apart, and soaked them and scrubbed them with a toothbrush, then soaked them some more over night in vinegar water.
Somehow, I had not lost the cigar boxes I kept all my inking supplies in. Various nibs and pens, nice pencils and erasers, little rulers, and two bottles of ink, one of which was still good! The other, nicer bottle with the dropper cap, was dried solid. Nonetheless, I was able, after a bit of cleaning up, to use at least the stave nibs. They were – not so good. Only after cleaning and fiddling with them for some time was I able to get them more-or-less working. As you can see in the example from 1983, it is possible to ink very nice staves with these things, and from the examples from yesterday, not so much now. But, with continued use, the results kept getting better. So – I will keep trying until I get good enough results or frustrated enough to throw them away.
Might look into getting some new stave nibs, if they still make them. They were cheap, back then. Hope I can salvage at least one of the architectural pens. Don’t even want to go there with the other fountain pens, which have also been drying out for almost 40 years. I have fancier calligraphy nibs and pens as well, but find them not so useful for music.
How things stand: as I near completion of the Gloria I felt compelled to write, I also felt compelled to drag out my tools for making fair copies. Before anybody tells me: yes, I know they make software for all this now, I even have some and have even used it a little. But: the software is very frustrating! Sure, once I master it, it will be much faster than writing it out by hand, and I can go right from the screen to fair copies. I get it. Maybe I’ll even do it, some day.
I learned how to write out music competently just in time for that skill set to become obsolete. Perhaps buggy whip making will be my next hobby.
An ancient chant, taken from Psalm 118:24. In the modern usage, this text is used in the Divine Office and for the Gospel Alleluia verse for all 8 days of the Easter octave, today through Divine Mercy Sunday. In Catholic tradition, Easter is too big a deal to fit into just one day, so the celebration of the day of Resurrections is extended over 8 days, and then a season of 40 days until the Ascension to celebrate the Risen Christ with us.
This is the day which the Lord hath made:
let us be glad and rejoice therein.
verse for Easter Sunday:
Give praise to the Lord, for he is good:
for his mercy endureth for ever. (Psalm 118:1)
[Christ our Passover was sacrificed for us.]
verse for Easter Monday:
Let Israel now say, that he is good:
that his mercy endureth for ever. (Psalm 118:2)
verse for Easter Tuesday:
Let them say so that have been redeemed by the Lord,
whom he hath redeemed from the hand of the enemy:
and gathered out of the countries.
Every great composer in the West set this to music for centuries, so, in addition to the epic and wonderful chant setting above, we have any number of other glorious versions:
Bach set this, because of course he did:
Happy, Holy, and Blessed Easter! He is truly risen!
A Happy, Holy, and Blessed Good Friday. I will be staying off the internet (mostly) through Easter Sunday. Here are some Bouguereau works appropriate to the Triduum:
He didn’t do a Resurrection that I could find, so here’s Piero della Francesca for a strong finish:
May God remember His promise of mercy!