Thursday, February 19, 2009

"New" Tolkien Book

From the New York Times:

"There will be much celebrating around the Party Tree in Hobbiton: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt said in an e-mail message that it planned to release a previously unpublished book by J. R. R. Tolkien that predates his novel “The Hobbit” and his fantasy epic “The Lord of the Rings.” The book, “The Legend of Sigurd and Gudrun,” was written during the 1920s and ’30s, while Tolkien held the Rawlinson and Bosworth professorship of Anglo-Saxon at Oxford University. It is his English-language narrative of the Norse hero Sigurd the Volsung, whose medieval adventures were — of course — populated by magic horses, dwarfs, dragons and gods with mischievous motives. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt said that it would publish the book, with commentary from Tolkien’s son Christopher Tolkien, on May 5."

Stravinsky Conducts the End of Firebird

Watch how much control he has over the orchestra--even with his facial expressions. What a gifted man!

Igor Stravinsky quotes:
"I was born out of due time in the sense that by temperament and talent I should have been more suited for the life of a small Bach, living in anonymity and composing regularly for an established service and for God."

"I haven't understood a bar of music in my life, but I have felt it."

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Musical Counterpoint

It is hard to write a beautiful song. It is harder to write several individually beautiful songs that, when sung simultaneously, sound as a more beautiful polyphonic whole. The internal structures that create each of the voices separately must contribute to the emergent structure of the polyphony, which in turn must reinforce and comment on the structures of the individual voices. The way that is accomplished in detail is...'counterpoint'. —John Ruhn

Thursday, February 12, 2009

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

The Power of Bach

Here's an interesting article sent to me by Evan Pyle. It's both encouraging and discouraging! This is even more evidence that music does shape who we are, how we think, and how we act.

Friday, February 6, 2009

Thoughts on Andersen’s Snow Queen

Considering Han Christian Andersen’s sexual identity confusion and his unrequited love affairs (including the singer Jenny Lind who thought of him only as a brother), several uneasy points arise from studying The Snow Queen:

There are many strong female characters but only four male characters: Kai who needs to be rescued, the prince who was raised from being a pauper by the princess, the crow who died, and the stag who acts as a beast of burden.

For all of the evil intent and Lilith-like qualities of the Snow Queen, she is never defeated, confronted, or banished. Gerda just steals Kai away after “innocence and love” break the spell. The Snow Queen’s power remains intact. Evil is not defeated by good.

The initial evil of the devil (or hobgoblin) with the splintered mirror in the first section is never confronted except in the innocence and love of Gerda. The exaltation of childhood and innocence is more in line with a belief in innate goodness rather than a Biblical understanding of being innocent as a dove.

There is no happy ending in the fairy tale sense. Gerda and Kai are older, wiser, childlike and platonic. The wedding that should end all comedies is absent.

The story is moralistic but without a moral (like in most fairy tales).

Tuesday, February 3, 2009

Elfin Coincidence

"In short, there is in life an element of elfin coincidence which people reckoning on the prosaic may perpetually miss."
—G.K. Chesterton, “The Blue Cross”

Monday, February 2, 2009

Dangers of Originality in Art

Craftsmanship, and not originality, was the emphasis in the arts prior to Romanticism and the Enlightenment. Certainly an artist was praised for imaginative ideas, but the value of those ideas rested in how the artist treated and developed those ideas and crafted them into something profound. The quality of the idea was dependent on its suitability for development.

An artist striving to be original by necessity ignores or rebels against the history and development of their art. This denial flies in the face of the Biblical ideas of learning from the past, passing along wisdom, and respecting the clouds of witnesses who have gone before.

An artist motivated to be original, by definition, is more interested in personal glory than the glory of God. The impulse to be different for the sake of being different has little or no place in a Biblical concept of the arts.

Scripture does not deny the opportunity to be creative, but the emphasis and purpose is far different than our concept of originality. Craftsmanship, as an artistic trait, is much more in line with the Biblical notion of the arts—and a far more difficult endeavor requiring the exercising of wisdom and ability. The idea of taking various materials, gathering them, remolding and blending them, and ultimately enlarging them is the bringing of order inherent in craftsmanship—an opportunity to act as a sub-creator.

One need only to evaluate the twentieth century art that used originality as its basis to see how far originality takes true art away from a Biblical standard and winds up destroying itself in the process.

Hymns: Texts and Tunes

One of my issues with the idea of setting old texts to new tunes is the suitability of the new melody with the lyrics. I've sung too many upbeat songs about the blood of Christ or repentance. Reverent theological issues should be sung reverently and appropriately. This does not mean in a stodgy or forced manner but with an appropriate weight and significance.

It is perhaps for this reason that many have trouble with rich theological texts sung to bebop style tunes that seem to undercut the permanence of the eternal truths expressed. Texts and tunes should appropriately reflect one another: joyful expressions of thanksgiving with joyous music; mournful repentance of sin with solemn and dark melodies; pardon received with thankful hopeful tunes; eternal truths with rooted and firm, timeless melodies.

Alice Parker addresses the suitability of this pairing in The Anatomy of Melody:

"Hymns suffer particularly from this failure to pair [text and tune] effectively. There seems to be a feeling that if the words are talking about something holy, that is enough. For the discriminating singer, that is certainly not true: a careless text can reduce even a wonderful melody to ruins. Choosing by syllable count (the meter of the hymns) is basic but much more important is the nature of the tune (its mood, function, voice, tone) and the comfort level of the combination…

"Hymnals are full of bad marriages, and our sensitivities get dulled by constant exposure to bad models…Try consulting the metrical index in the back of any hymnal and look up the text for the first example in any meter. Then try that text with each of the succeeding metrically matched melodies in turn. They should all fit, but you’ll find that few of them do…there’s a very real sense of belonging or not belonging. It’s amazing how few are really good combinations.

"When hymns are selected by text, the suitability of the tune is usually ignored…Both text and tune must have their own integrity and then graciously accommodate each other."