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Category: Chopin

“The Story of Phaeton” (II) – Ovid

the-sun-1916.jpg!Large

   “The Sun (1911 – 1916) 

 

            Edvard Munch

 

                _______

 

 


                    The Sun’s bright palace, on high columns rais’d, 

 

The Sun, Helios / Phoebus / Apollo


                    With burnish’d gold and flaming jewels blaz’d;
                    The folding gates diffus’d a silver light,
                    And with a milder gleam refresh’d the sight; 

 

since the folding gates of the bright

palace shimmered with a silver light 

rather than with the glow of the gold 

and flaming jewels of the palace itself,

their milder gleam was easier on the 

eyes, refresh’d the sight


                    Of polish’d iv’ry was the cov’ring wrought: 

 

the palace was covered with polish’d

wrought ivory


                    The matter vied not with the sculptor’s thought, 

 

the execution of the palace was  

everything that its sculptor, its

architect, had had in mind to 

create


                    For in the portal was display’d on high
                    (The work of Vulcan) a fictitious sky

 

Vulcan, god of fire, metal, smiths, 

metalworkers

 

at the entrance to the palace, the

portal, Vulcan had painted the ceiling, 

he’d display’d on high … a fictitious 

sky, I suspect Dryden must’ve had 

Michelangelo and his ceiling of the  

Sistine Chapel in mind during his 

translation of this passage of Ovid

 

                    A waving sea th’ inferiour Earth embrac’d, 

 

inferiour, Earth, surging from under the 

greater masses of water dominating it, 

especially after the flood, is, therefore, 

beneath the waving sea, inferiour to it


                    And Gods and Goddesses the waters grac’d. 

 

remember that Ovid is describing a 

painting here, on the ceiling at the

entrance, the portal, to the palace 

of the god of the Sun


                    Aegeon here a mighty whale bestrode; 

 

Aegeon, marine god, god of storms,

note the similarity of the name with 

that of the Aegean Sea, but which 

came first, the chicken or the egg, 

the god or the expanse of water, 

remains, as far as I’ve been able 

to determine, undetermined

 

                    Triton, and Proteus (the deceiving God) 

 

Triton, another god of the Sea, you’ll 

remember him coming to the aid of 

Neptune, his father, in settling the

waters after the flood at the request 

of Jove / Jupiter / Zeus

 

Proteus, still another sea god, 

described as deceiving, for his 

ability to effortlessly, and 

spontaneously, change his shape, 

from which, incidentally, we get 

the adjective protean, for easily 

changeable, or versatile 

 

                    With Doris here were carv’d, and all her train, 

 

Doris, sea goddess, and all her train,

her following of nymphs, the Nereids,

her fifty daughters, if you’ll remember,

are carv’d, etched, given graphic 

representation

 

                    Some loosely swimming in the figur’d main, 

 

figur’d, painted, depicted, drawn

 

main, the open ocean, but, probably 

also here, the main, or central, part 

of the painting itself


                    While some on rocks their dropping hair divide, 

 

their hair divide, they loosen strands 

of their wet hair 


                    And some on fishes through the waters glide: 

 

sea gods and goddesses are often

shown riding sea creatures, dolphins, 

seahorses, even whales, see Aegeon

above

                    Tho’ various features did the sisters grace,
                    A sister’s likeness was in ev’ry face. 

 

the sisters, the Nereids, all have different

features, but a family resemblance, sister’s 

likeness, can always be detected in each

individual sibling’s rendering

 

                    On Earth a diff’rent landskip courts the eyes, 

 

Earth doesn’t look, court[ ] the eyes,

at all like what’s painted on the 

palace’s ceiling

 

landskip, landscape


                    Men, towns, and beasts in distant prospects rise, 

 

distant prospects, from a distance, one 

can see [m]en, towns, and beasts 

appear, rise, arise


                    And nymphs, and streams, and woods, and rural deities. 

 

nymphs, consigned, it appears, to 

earthly duties, streams, and woods, 

are not a feature of the Sun god’s 

palace


                    O’er all, the Heav’n’s refulgent image shines; 

 

the Heav’n’s refulgent, brightly shining,

image, expression, is manifest [o]’er all,

everywhere, the rays of the sun cast a

light on everything

 

                    On either gate were six engraven signs. 

 

again I’m reminded of a Renaissance

wonder, Lorenzo Ghiberti‘s gilded bronze 

doors for the Florence Baptistery, which 

Michelangelo himself called the Gates of

Paradise, a work nearly as famous, then 

and now, as his own Sistine Chapel ceiling   

 

Ovid would never have known of these 

masterworks, of course, having lived 

over a millenium earlier, but I suspect 

John Dryden, a cultured man, a couple 

of hundred years later than these 

cultural icons, would no doubt have 

been fully aware of them, much as we, 

however disinterested we might be, 

can’t help but have heard of, say, 

RembrandtChopinCharles Dickens,

for instance, though they be, similarly, 

centuries separated from us 

 

my point is that, without knowledge of 

the original Latin, Dryden‘s cultural

heritage must’ve slipped, I think, 

consciously or not, into his 

translation, for better, or for worse

 

it should be remembered, however,

that Dryden was writing for an early 

18th Century audience, much as I 

am presently doing myself with 

Dryden for a 21st, and maybe also

similarly skewing his idiom to better 

adapt it to our own time, for better, 

also, or for worse 

 

                    Here Phaeton still gaining on th’ ascent, 

 

gaining on th’ ascent, going faster 

and faster, climbing higher and 

higher

 

                    To his suspected father’s palace went

 

suspected father, Phaeton doesn’t

yet know if Helios / Phoebus / Apollo

is indeed his father


                    ‘Till pressing forward through the bright abode,
                    He saw at distance the illustrious God:
                    He saw at distance, or the dazling light
                    Had flash’d too strongly on his aking sight. 

 

had Phaeton not been as far, at

distance, from what he was seeing,

the illustrious God, the dazling, or 

dazzling, light would’ve hurt his 

eyes, hurt his aking, or aching, 

sight

 

                     The God sits high, exalted on a throne
                    Of blazing gems, with purple garments on; 

 

Tyrian, surely, purple, a hue we’ve 

seen here before, indicative of 

stature, of imperial, if not even

divine, as in this instance, 

pedigree


                     The Hours, in order rang’d on either hand,
                    And Days, and Months, and Years, and Ages stand.
                    Here Spring appears with flow’ry chaplets bound;
                    Here Summer in her wheaten garland crown’d;
                    Here Autumn the rich trodden grapes besmear;
                    And hoary Winter shivers in the reer. 

 

this is no longer a picture, but the 

real thing, Phoebus / Apollo / Helios

sits high, exalted on a throne /  Of 

blazing gems, with purple garments 

on, while Time and all of the Seasons 

hold court around him


                     Phoebus beheld the youth from off his throne;
                    That eye, which looks on all, was fix’d in one. 

 

Phoebus, who sees everything, who 

looks on all, beholds, fixes his eye on, 

his son


                     He saw the boy’s confusion in his face,
                    Surpriz’d at all the wonders of the place;
                    And cries aloud, “What wants my son? for know
                    My son thou art, and I must call thee so.” 

 

Phaeton, according to Phoebus / 

Apollo / Helios‘ forthright admission,

is truly his son


                     “Light of the world,” the trembling youth replies,
                    “Illustrious parent! since you don’t despise
                    The parent’s name, 

 

despise, refute

 

                                                some certain token give,
                    That I may Clymene’s proud boast believe,
                    Nor longer under false reproaches grieve.” 

 

your word is good, Phaeton allows,

but incontrovertibly, now, prove it, 

some certain token give, he 

challenges 


                     The tender sire was touch’d with what he said,
                    And flung the blaze of glories from his head, 

 

flung the blaze of glories from his head, 

reduced the intensity of his presence,

the impact of his charisma, took off 

his dazling crown, if only, maybe,

metaphorically, to be father to his son


                    And bid the youth advance: “My son,” said he,
                    “Come to thy father’s arms! for Clymene
                    Has told thee true; a parent’s name I own,
                    And deem thee worthy to be called my son.
                    As a sure proof, make some request, and I,
                    Whate’er it be, with that request comply;
                    By Styx I swear, whose waves are hid in night,
                    And roul impervious to my piercing sight.” 

 

an oath upon Styx is incontrovertible, 

like swearing on a Bible, as earlier 

noted


                     The youth transported, asks, without delay,
                    To guide the sun’s bright chariot for a day. 

 

Phaeton wants to drive his father’s 

car, the sun’s bright chariot, how 

contemporary, how immediate, 

how timeless 

 

stay tuned

 

 

R ! chard

 

 

 

“Années de pèlerinage”, 3rd Year – Liszt

1024px-Villa_d'Este_01.jpg

      Villa d’Este 

 

         ______

 

                      

                                   for my friend, Elizabeth, who just

                                       recently passed away, may her

                                            own pilgrimage be blessed

 

 

 

  here’s Liszt’s “Années de pèlerinage”, 3rd Year 

 

        1. Angélus! Prière aux anges gardiens

        2. Aux cyprès de la Villa D’Este, Threnody (l)

        3. Aux cyprès de la Villa D’Este, Threnody (ll) ((ll)

        4. Les jeux de la Villa D’Este

        5. Sunt Lacrymae rerum (en mode Hongrois)

                        These are tears for things (in Hungarian mode)

        6. Marche funèbre (en mémoire de

                    Maximilien. Empereur de Mexique, 19 juin, 1867)

        7. Sursum corda (Erhebet eure Herzen)  


compare Liszt’s Marche funèbre“, click

here or above, with Beethoven’s own

Marcia funebre sulla morte d’un eroe 

from his 12th Sonata, you’ll hear the 

stirrings of Impressionism peeping out 

from the roots of Romanticism, 

Beethoven, in 1801, is firm, solid, direct,

poignant, while Liszt, 1877, is more 

diffuse, improvisational, evocative, his 

is an idiosyncratic marche funèbre 


compare either two with Chopin’s 

“Marche funèbre” from his Piano

Sonata no 2, 1840, as Romantic as 

Beethoven’s still, and as implanted

in our collective consciousness,

where Liszt’s more esoteric 

interpretation of such a march has

essentially been forgotten

 

should it be, what do you think, you

tell me

 

 

R ! chard

 

on a personal note

roses.jpg!Large

    Roses (c.1886)

 

          John Singer Sargent


                     ____________

 


on a personal note, since I prefer longer 

pieces, something I can sink my teeth 

into – I like them when they’re long, I 

always say – which led me into spending 

33 years with Proustfor instance, page 

by page, so that I could breathe it in, him, 

tend to veer towards music with several 

movements, be they serial, as in sonatas, 

symphonies, concertos, Classically 

speaking, of course, or haphazard, as 

in the more loosely associated suites

 

rather than smelling merely the rose,

as in a simple waltz, nocturne, étude,

I want to revel in the aroma of an

entire garden

 

therefore the three hours of Liszt‘s

Années de pèlerinage“, for example, 

even Wagner‘s daunting five hour 

operas, individual portions of his 

towering, indeed epic, four-part 

“Ring” cycle, enthral me 


these are high masses, and if you 

subscribe to the faith, the experience 

they allow can be transformational,

however such may still be, 

nevertheless, a mere rose, a mere, 

but epiphanic, rose, as is, for 

instance, the exquisite Opus 10, no 3

of Chopin, “Tristesse”, or Sadness, 

inveterately, for me 

 

a rose, a creation as unique as we 

are, in our shared, however unevenly

apportioned, mortality, proud, sturdy,

protected by thorns, even, meanwhile, 

as we are, in our own manner, against 

our own existential vicissitudes 

 

but vibrant, also, ever, drenched in 

any of its several arresting colours, 

fragrant, poised, full of perfect grace, 

as we should be ourselves, I’ve told 

myself, not only with regard to their 

beauty, but to their inspiration, 

whether a deity exists that we 

might be beholden toincidentally, 

or not

 

Shostakovich has something poignant

to say about that, also Beethoven, but 

that’s another story, for later, maybe, 

however, either, powerfully 

consequential

 

until then, l’important, as we sing in

French, c’est la rose

 

or heed, it says, in other, but 

nevertheless ever instructive words,

the wisdom of very nature

 

I live by it

 


R ! chard

“Années de pèlerinage”, 2nd Year – Liszt

petrarch.jpg!Large

     “Petrarch (c.1450) 

 

           Andrea del Castagno


                     ___________

 

 

                                    for John, who would’ve 

                                                       been 60 today

 


though the suite might’ve started with

Bach’s string of dance pieces in the 

early 18th Centuryit becomes evident 

during the 19th Century, after a lapse 

of nearly 100 years, while it fell into 

disfavour, that its resurrection as a 

valid musical form might’ve kept the 

original structure, which is to say its 

several separate parts to make up a 

whole, its movements, but that it 

now was serving different purpose 

 

where music had, through to the early

Romantic Period, followed dance 

rhythms, or variations of tempo,

adagio, andante, allegro, and the like,

it now presented itself as a background

for settings, be it ballets, as in

Tchaikovsky’s, plays, as in Edvard

Grieg’s celebrated , Peer Gynt Suite“,

after Ibsen‘s eponymous play,

specific locations, as in Debussy’s

Children’s Corner“, or more  

expansively, both geographically

and in its compositional length,

these very “Années de pèlerinage” 

of Liszt

 

this is in keeping with the exploration

of consciousness of that era, which 

would lead to not only Impressionism, 

but to Freud, and the others, and the 

development of psychoanalysis

 

you’ll note that music seems much 

more improvisational in Liszt than in

Chopin, or Beethoven, prefiguring

already even jazz, more evocative,

less emotional, more personal, not

generalized, idiosyncratic, a direct

development of the newly acquired

concept of democracy, one man, at

the time, one vote, one, indeed, 

voice, however individual, however 

even controversial 

 

listen, for instance, to Liszt’s “Années

de pèlerinage”, 2nd Year, Italy 

 

   1. Sposalizio

   2. Il penseroso

   3. Canzonetta del Salvator Rosa 

   4. Sonetto 47 del Petrarca 

   5. Sonetto 104 del Petrarca 

   6. Sonetto 123 del Petrarca 

   7. Après une lecture de Dante: Fantasia Quasi Sonata 

 

 

today you can listen to suites 

from famous films, for instance 

Blade Runner“, the beat, in 

other words, goes on

 

but note the renovations, find them, 

dare you, you’ll be surprised at 

your unsuspected perspicacity

 

listen

 

 

R ! chard  

two suites – Debussy

clair-de-lune.jpg

     “Clair de lune” 

 

      Jean Cocteau

 

        __________

 

 

two suites 

 

      Debussy’s Suite bergamasque

 

      his “Children’s Corner

 

how are they similar

how are they different

 

you tell me

 

a couple o’ clues

 

      “Suite bergamasque

 

             Prélude

             Menuet

             Clair de lune

             Passepied

 

      Children’s Corner

 

             Doctor Gradus ad Parnassum

             Jimbo’s Lullaby

             Serenade for the Doll

             The Snow is Dancing

             The Little Shepherd

             Golliwog’s Cakewalk

 

 

R ! chard

 

psst: if you said, there are no dance

          pieces in Children’s Corner“,

          and only three of the four 

          movements in “Suite

          bergamasque” are dances, 

          you’d be right, the others all

          have evocative titles, nothing 

          to do with the cadence, the 

          step

 

          but that begs the question, 

          what happened to the traditional

          suite, a string of dances preceded

          by a prelude

 

          well, time, and the vagaries of

          language, intentions, essentially, 

          Debussy did to the suite what

          Chopin had done to the prelude

      changed its meaning, took away

          its original purpose, for better or

          for worse, a suite is now, in a

          similar transformation, a piece

          of music, merely, any kind of music,

          with several segments, without

          even, necessarily, gasp, a

          prelude

 

          you can never step into the same

          river twice, in other words, the

          current just keeps on inexorably

           moving, even immutable,

           apparently, concepts fall by the

           wayside, see democracy, at

           present, for  instance

Preludes – Debussy / Gershwin

rhythm-2008.jpg!large

    “Rhythm (2008) 

 

             Romul Nutiu

 

                         ______

 

 

here’s Book 2 of Debussy’s “Préludes”,

for a total of 24, as many as in Chopin’s 

undivided set, his Opus 28but with 

different motivations, different musical 

imperatives, which I won’t get into here 

for being, for the present, too abstruse

 

here are three, meanwhile, by George 

Gershwin, just for kicks, his only three 

 

what are the differences

 

you tell me

 

 

R ! chard

 

psst: Gershwin, to my mind, adds, 

          indeed stresses, rhythm, 

          fascinatin’, as it were, rhythm,

          he’s no longer as unrelentingly

          meditative, serious, as was

          Debussy, a distinguishing

          characteristic of the

          increasingly American 20th

          Century

       

        

Chopin / Debussy – Preludes

prelude.jpg!large

       “Prelude (1909) 

 

               Willard Metcalf

 

                         _________

 

 

what’s a prelude

 

something that, by definition, 

precedes something else

 

which it had been, formally, 

before Chopin made it stand 

alone as musical form, 

much, incidentally, as he 

later did the scherzo 

 

a prelude, earlier, had preceded

several other dance pieces in

suites, Bach’s Cello Suites, for 

example, all start with a

prelude

 

or fronted fugues, in, again,

notably, Bach’s celebrated 

Preludes and Fugues sets, 

more of which, for their 

complexity, later

 

here’s Chopin, however, with 

his array of 24, his Opus 28

one for each key, incidentally, 

much in the manner of Bach’s 

template pieces, the Preludes

and Fugues

 

here’s Debussy’s Book 1

picking it up for the 20th 

Century, with his tonally

indiscriminate 12 

 

what’s the difference

 

you tell me

 

R ! chard

 

psst: apples and oranges, I think,

          depends on my mood that 

          particular night, whether

          meditative or melancholy

Études – Chopin /Debussy

edgar-degas-the-ballet-class.jpg!Large.jpg

   “The Ballet Class (1871 – 1874) 

 

          Edgar Degas

 

             ________

 

 

ballet dancers will attach weights 

to their ankles during exercises 

to add lift to their legs when they 

are on stage, such is the point of 

études for a piano player, a 

workout for the fingers before 

public performance 

 

Chopin, however, made them, by

themselves, works of great art,

followed by, among others,

Debussy

 

here’s Chopin, his Opus 25

 

here’s Debussy, his own Études

pour piano, Livre 1“, or Book 1

 

how are they different

 

you tell me

 

listen

 

 

R ! chard

 

psst: this is an easy one, Chopin is

          Romantic, Debussy, manifestly,

          is not, Debussy is Impressionistic,

          it is a new perspective, you can 

          hear it, it’s textural rather than 

          emotional, indeed, it’s even

          abstract

 

          but nearly a century has gone by,   

          and Impressionism is the new  

          aesthetic, the new preoccupation

  

          which belongs to not only the  

          painters, let me point out, but to  

          all the arts, for better, once again, 

          or for worse

Études, Opus 10 – Chopin

studies-for-the-apotheosis-of-homer-1827.jpg

Études pour l’Apothéose d’Homère” /

             

                “Studies for The Apotheosis of Homer (1826 – 1827) 

 

      Jean Auguste Dominique Ingres

 

             ____________________

 

 

what’s an étude

 

 you tell me

 

 here are 12, all by Chopin, his first

 set of two, his Opus 10

 

in English, étude is a study

 

enjoy

 

 

R ! chard

 

 psst: if you said they’re technical 

          pieces, warm-up exercises, 

          in preparation for more 

          substantial stuff, you’re on

 

          it should be noted that Chopin,

          after the more rudimentary

          undertakings of the earlier 

          Czernyfor instance, or Clementi

          say, added the required substance,
          the missing transcendental
          element, turning his otherwise
          mere digital pyrotechnics into
          utter poetry, into prestidigitatorial
          magic

          listen

       

andante / polonaise, Chopin

Kwiatkowski-chopin

   “Chopin’s Polonaise – a Ball in Hôtel Lambert in Paris (1859) 

 

          Teofil Kwiatkowski

 

                ___________

 

what’s the difference between 

 

       one, an andante spianato

 

       two, a polonaise

 

you tell me

 

both, of course, by Chopin

 

 

“andante” is a pace, a tempo, a little faster 

than adagio, slower than allegro, spianato” 

is an Italian word for “smooth”, “even”

 

“et” is “and” in French

 

“polonaise” is a French adjective for 

“Polish”, as a noun it means a Polish 

dance

 

 

R ! chard

 

psst: if you said intention, you’re again

          right, everything else is, of course,

          Chopin, two different perspectives

          on a related issue

 

           think of two distinct elements 

           coming together, formally 

           conjoined, as in a mariage, 

           for better, ever, or for worse   

         

           or as in this Andante Spianato et

           Grande Polonaise Brillante, a

           conjunction which has lasted,  

           indeed brilliantly, for nearly two 

           hundred years, despite individual, 

           sometimes divergent, even

           conflicting, outlooks

 

           enjoy