Sunday, October 26, 2014

The Trouble with Beethoven

From The New Yorker:
Beethoven is a singularity in the history of art—a phenomenon of dazzling and disconcerting force. He not only left his mark on all subsequent composers but also molded entire institutions. The professional orchestra arose, in large measure, as a vehicle for the incessant performance of Beethoven’s symphonies. The art of conducting emerged in his wake. The modern piano bears the imprint of his demand for a more resonant and flexible instrument. Recording technology evolved with Beethoven in mind: the first commercial 33⅓ r.p.m. LP, in 1931, contained the Fifth Symphony, and the duration of first-generation compact disks was fixed at seventy-five minutes so that the Ninth Symphony could unfurl without interruption. After Beethoven, the concert hall came to be seen not as a venue for diverse, meandering entertainments but as an austere memorial to artistic majesty. Listening underwent a fundamental change. To follow Beethoven’s dense, driving narratives, one had to lean forward and pay close attention. The musicians’ platform became the stage of an invisible drama, the temple of a sonic revelation.

Above all, Beethoven shaped the identity of what came to be known as classical music. In the course of the nineteenth century, dead composers began to crowd out the living on concert programs, and a canon of masterpieces materialized, with Beethoven front and center. As the scholar William Weber has established, this fetishizing of the past can be tracked with mathematical precision, as a rising line on a graph: in Leipzig, the percentage of works by deceased composers went from eleven per cent in 1782 to seventy-six per cent in 1870. Weber sees an 1807 Leipzig performance of Beethoven’s Third Symphony, the titanic, turbulent “Eroica,” as a turning point: the work was brought back a week later, “by demand,” taking a place of honor at the end of the program. Likewise, a critic wrote of the Second Symphony, “It demands to be played again, and yet again, by even the most accomplished orchestra.” More than anything, it was the mesmerizing intricacy of Beethoven’s constructions—his way of building large structures from the obsessive development of curt motifs—that made the repertory culture of classical music possible. This is not to say that Beethoven’s predecessors, giants on the order of Bach, Haydn, and Mozart, fail to reward repeated listening with their cerebral games of variation. In the case of Beethoven, though, the process becomes addictive, irresistible. No composer labors so hard to stave off boredom, to occupy the mind of one who might be hearing or playing a particular piece for the tenth or the hundredth time.

And so Beethoven assumed the problematic status of a secular god, his shadow falling on those who came after him, and even on those who came before him. (Read more.)
Share

Saturday, October 25, 2014

The Holly Bears the Crown

From The Cloisters:
The gardens are abuzz with activity as autumn settles upon us, and sporadic blazes of fall color across the Hudson River herald the season. To some, the onset of cooler temperatures is cause for despair. Others welcome the respite from hot summer days. What many of us share in common, though, is a renewed awareness of the natural world. It is a poignant time.

As a shower of cherry blossoms marks the ephemeral nature of spring, so does the senescing foliage signal the end of an active gardening season. Every day, we head out to the gardens to sweep and rake the fallen leaves and cut back fading perennials. While such tasks are often associated with the season, autumn is also a great time for planting trees. We just planted a small grove of holly trees on either side of a main entrance that during the holiday season is adorned with holly boughs. (Read more.)
Share

Wedding Day at the Guillotine

From Meghan Ferrara of Regina Magazine:
On 17 July 1794, the Carmelite sisters, attired in their religious habits because they had been washing their plain clothes the morning of their arrest, renewed their vows of baptism and religious profession. They then mounted a tumbrel and were led through the streets of Paris to the Place du Trône Renversé (now the Place de la Nation).

Witnesses reported that the sisters radiated joy, as if anticipating their wedding day. Juxtaposed against the ethereal silence of the usually raucous crowds were the voices of the sisters, singing their way to heaven. En route, they chanted the Salve Regina, the Te Deum, and Veni, Sancte Spiritus, and then intoned the psalm Laudate Dominum, omnes gentes. Before each sister mounted the scaffold, she knelt before the Mother Superior to receive a blessing, kissed a small statue of the Madonna and Child, and placed herself beneath the blade without allowing the executioner to touch her. The Mother Prioress was the last sacrificed. All throughout, the silence was complete. Not even a single drum-roll sounded. (Read more.)
Share

Learning Self-Control

From The New York Times:
Mr. Mischel — who is spry, bald and compact — faced his own childhood trials of willpower. He was born to well-off Jewish intellectuals in Vienna. But Germany annexed Austria when he was 8, and he “moved quickly from sitting in the front row in my schoolroom, to the back row, to standing in the back, to no more school.” He watched as his father, a businessman who spoke Esperanto and liked to read in cafes, was dragged from bed and forced to march outside in his pajamas.

His family escaped to Brooklyn, but his parents never regained their former social status. They opened a struggling five-and-dime, and as a teenager Walter got a hernia from carrying stacks of sleeves at a garment factory. One solace was visiting his grandmother, who hummed Yiddish songs and talked about sitzfleisch: the importance of continuing to work, regardless of the obstacles (today we call this “grit”). (Read more.)
Share

Friday, October 24, 2014

Every Inch a Princess

Her Royal Highness, Madame the Duchesse d’Angoulême. (Via Tiny-Librarian.)

Ernest Daudet's biography of Madame Royale quotes a description of the princess by her uncle, Louis XVIII:
The portraits you have seen of our daughter...cannot give you an accurate idea of her; they are not in the least like her. She so closely resembles both her father and her mother that she recalls them absolutely, together or separately, according to the point of view from which one looks at her. She is not pretty at first sight; but she becomes so as one looks at her, and especially as one talks to her, for there is not a movement of her face that is not pleasing. She is a little shorter than her mother, and a little taller than our poor sister. She is well made, holds herself well, carries her head perfectly, and walks with ease and grace. When she speaks of her misfortunes her tears do not flow readily, owing to her habit of restraining them, lest her gaolers should have the barbarous pleasure of seeing her shed them. It is no easy task, however, for her listeners to restrain theirs. But her natural gaiety is not quenched; draw her mind away from this tragic chapter of her life, and she laughs heartily and is quite charming. She is gentle, good-humoured, and affectionate; and there is no doubt that she has the mind of a mature woman. In private with me she behaves as our poor Elisabeth might have behaved with my father; in public she has the bearing of a princess accustomed to holding a Court. She not only says courteous things to everyone, but she says to each individual the most suitable thing that could be said. She is modest without being shy, at her ease without being familiar....(Read more.)
Read more about the daughter of Louis XVI and Marie-Antoinette in Madame Royale. Share

Socialism in Venezuela

From TFP:
Resource rich Venezuela, which boasts of having some of largest oil reserves in the world, has now reached an all time low in petroleum production. The exportation of crude oil used to account for 95 percent of Venezuela’s export earnings until, the late socialist savior, Hugo Chávez began to re-distribute the country’s wealth in the form of cash subsidies. Now Venezuela's petroleum minister, Rafael Ramirez, is considering importing Algerian oil in a desperate attempt to shore up their devastated economy to thwart bankruptcy.

Venezuela has always had to deal with the problem of extra heavy crude oil from the Orinoco Basin. This region produces a crude oil that is too dense to be transported through pipelines to local ports and then exported abroad. To deal with this problem, the heavy crude oil is usually diluted with super light sweet crude oils. However, this issue is insignificant when compared to the poor management of the state owned oil giant Petróleos de Venezuela Sociedad Anónima (PDVSA).

Venezuela can produce light oils needed to dilute Venezuela’s heavy crude. However, production has been curtailed by a lack of investment, abandoning the exploration of light crude and the nationalization of companies that formerly produced light crudes. This is the result of the government-run oil giant that is now being controlled by inexperienced bureaucrats who are obsessed with taking disproportional amounts of money out of the coffers. In modern parlance, it is called killing the goose that lays the golden egg.

The Venezuelan government is now asking foreign companies to invest in upgrading facilities that help make heavy crude oil exportable from the Orinoco Basin. No foreign companies want to take that risk because they fear expropriation or minority ownership under Chávez’ socialist rules. Even though oil prices have risen from $9 to $100 per barrel in the last few decades, past president Chávez and current president Maduro have managed to destroy their cash cow.

When Chávez took office in 1999, PDVSA was still in private hands, employed 51,000 people and was able to produce 63 barrels of crude a day per employee. After 15 years of socialism, PDVSA was nationalized by the state, now has 140,000 employees and produces 20 barrels of crude a day per employee according to an August 14 report by the France Press news agency. This equals a stunning 69 percent loss of efficiency in 15 short years. (Read more.)
Share

Thursday, October 23, 2014

The Duchess Flees Bordeaux

The daughter Louis XVI exhorts the troops at Bordeaux before having to escape Napoleon.

As readers of Trianon and Madame Royale well know, Marie-Thérèse of France, the Duchesse d'Angoulême, daughter of Louis XVI and Marie-Antoinette, was at times forced to flee from wars and revolts. Above is a picture of the princess during her flight from Napoleon Bonaparte in March 1815. Bonaparte, hearing of her attempt to raise an army against him, hailed Marie-Thérèse as "the only man in her family," which was a bit unfair to the Duc d'Angoulême, who had hastened to rally his forces to cut off Bonaparte's march on Paris. The Duc and Duchesse d'Angoulême had been in Bordeaux celebrating the restoration of the Bourbons when news came of Bonaparte's escape from Elba. Although Napoleon admired the daughter of Louis XVI, he would like to have made a prisoner of her. Marie-Thérèse left for England only because to stay behind would have endangered the citizens of Bordeaux. Below is an excerpt from Chapter Sixteen of Madame Royale, describing the scene:
Thérèse and her entourage left Bordeaux in a swirling rain shower, darkness, and mud. Yet the voices of the saints seemed to pierce the curtain of rain. There was always hope. If only she knew if her husband was safe. They travelled all night, their coaches slipping and bumping along in the blackness. By morning they reached Pauillac, with its port and ship which would take them away from France. Thérèse hardly thought about where they were going. She heard Mass in the parish church, then went to board an English ship called The Wanderer. Her military escort assembled on the peer to bid her farewell, as the rain continued to pour. Where were the vast crowds? Where were those who had flung themselves weeping at her feet? Never again would she lavish a single, splintering thought on human honor and praise. It was all less than nothing. The faithful few begged for some tokens; she gave them the feathers from her bonnet, and the green and white ribbons which bound her hair. "Bring them back to me in better days!" she cried, the wind and rain blowing around her. "And Marie-Thérèse will show you that she has a good memory, and that she has not forgotten her friends at Bordeaux!"

The vessel carried
Thérèse over rough waters to Spain, and then across the channel to England. It was a tumultuous crossing; most of her ladies were morbidly seasick, besides being distressed over their belongings left behind at the Tuileries for the Buonaparte clan. When Thérèse and her party finally arrived at the royal French embassy in London, she was greeted with the news that her husband had been captured, and was a prisoner of Napoleon Buonaparte.

~from Madame Royale by Elena Maria Vidal, Ch. 16, "The Heroine," copyright 2000 by E.M. Vidal

Share

Peacocks and Swans

From author Katherine Ashe:
While the cottagers and townsmen were celebrating Christmas with roast goose, the lord of the manor, if he was wealthy enough, was feasting upon peacock pie or roasted swan. When it wasn’t holiday feasting time, the grandeur of the seigniorial manse was secured by these ornamental birds floating in the moat or preening upon a balustrade.

[...]


Swans figure in the mythologies of northern countries, particularly Russia and Germany. There is the swan of Lohengrin, the knight of Hohenschwangau. And there is the Russian tale of the prince ravished with love for the enchanted Odette who has been turned into a swan. When the wicked sorcerer magically replaces Odette with his own daughter, Odile, at the prince’s presentation of his betrothed to his parent, the prince discovers the deception and in grief drowns himself in the Swan Lake. (Read more.)
Share