Monday, July 13, 2009

Firsts in Death, Music, Art, and Poetry

TLS July 10, 2009

from Alex Burghat's review of Danielle Westerhof's "Death and the Noble Body in Medieval England":

The tight-knit relationship of body and soul was thought to continue even after death. The Church preached a connection between putrefaction and sin--whereas run-of-the-mill cadavers decayed, the bodies of the saints remained as incorrupt on Earth as their souls would be in Heaven. . . . Medieval nobles, Westerhof shows, extended this idea by seeking to conserve the form of their bodies, even in death. The crucial factor in this was the developing mindset of a new knightly caste which strongly valued and guarded its own physical prowess. So it was that the bodies which were preserved in life by ornate armour were, after death, preserved through embalming or (by the early thirteenth century) in stone effigy.

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from Guy Dammann's review of the Aldeburgh Festival 2009:

Readers of Paul Griffiths's invaluable book Modern Music learn on the first page that modernity begins with Debussy's L'Apres-midi. Those who go on to study the subject at university will be reliably informed otherwise . . . , but they will be misinformed. There are of course lots of different ways to understand what constitutes musical modernity. The Second Viennese School's atonal sublimation of the Austro-German symphonic technique of developing vairations is one conception of it. But it is one whose musicological sway and influence have done some damage. Composers have often looked at the problem in other ways. For example, the sense of significant inevitability we think of as musical "logic" can, in non-tonal music, have sources other than thematic development; it may reside in the exploration of the implications of (non-tonal) harmony and timbre. In this respect, Debussy's L'Apres-midi and the lugubrious passions unearthed in the passage of the its arabesque are as good a starting point for considerations of the modern as any other.

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from Christopher Stace's review of Samuel Y. Edgerton's The Mirror, he Window and the Telescope:

In or around 1425, Brunelleschi sat in the entrance to the Duomo in Florence and drew a picture of the eastern aspect of the Baptistery. This little panel is now lost, but its importance is inestimable, because it was the first time that the rules of linear perspective had been applied to painting. The principles had been known since Euclid, and there is abundant evidence of "empirical perspective" in earlier art (those diapered pavements and coffered ceilings sloping away to create an idea of depth): but these early works contained no true perspective, only an instinctive, unscientific impression of it.

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from Jonathan Bate's Commentary piece on Algernon Charles Swinburne:

It could quite reasonably be argued that Swinburne was not merely the prophet of twentieth-century sexual revolution but the person who first gave open voice in the English language to the joys of lesbianism. . . . It is hard to imagine that the work of the lesbian poet "Michael Field" (Katherine Bradley and Edith Cooper) would have been possible without Swinburne's role in shaping what his most dazzling modern interpreter, Yopie Prins, has called "Victorian Sappho".

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. . . Yopie Prins wonders whether there is a suggestive connection between the beat of the birch and that of the verse. if Swinburne's two abiding memories of Eton were Greek prosody and the flogging block, is it surprising that he should have become both a masochist and a master-metrician?

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"He does not, like another poet, have to think in his metre: his mastery compels the metre to think for him . . . . In each poem the rhythm and the arrangement of rhymes give the form a richness, a clear tangibility, which must be enjoyed for its own sake if a full half of the poem is not to be lost." Thus Edward Thomas on Poems and Ballads, in the astute critical book on Swinburne (Algernon Charles Swinburne: A critical study). . .

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. . . on the centenary of his deth anyone with a taste for the high lyric tradition owes him at the very least the "Ave Atque Vale" in which he tendered to Baudelaire:

For thee, O now, a silent soul, my brother,
Take at my hands this garland, and farewell.
This is the leaf, and chill the wintry smell,
And chill the solemn earth, a fatal mother,
With sadder than the Niobean womb,
And in the hollow of her breasts a tomb.
Content thee, howso'er, whose days are done;
There lies not any troublous thing before,
Nor sight nor sound to war against thee more,
For whom all winds are quiet as the sun,
All waters as the shore.


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