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Category: William Shakespeare

Piano Concerto no 2, opus 83 – Brahms

1024px-Notre_Dame_de_Chartres.jpg

      Chartres Cathedral

          _____________

if Brahms’ 2nd Piano Concerto is, to my 
mind, the last one of the Romantic Period,  
Beethoven’s First is, accordingly, the first
 
I thought it, therefore, instructive to pair 
them 

Beethoven, impelled by ideological 
speculations, built not only a variation
on what had come before, music as 
entertainment, a reason to dance, but
gave it a greater, which is to say, 
philosophical, dimension

by extending the reach of the cadence
beyond the usual metered rhythm, 
sending the melodic statement 
beyond an otherwise constricting bar 
line, Beethoven turned a lilt into a 
sentence, a ditty into a paragraph   

Shakespeare does the same thing to
poetry, for instance, with iambic 
pentameter devoid of rhyme

         “But, soft! what light through yonder window breaks?
          It is the east, and Juliet is the sun.
          Arise, fair sun, and kill the envious moon,
          Who is already sick and pale with grief,
          That thou her maid art far more fair than she”

                                  “Romeo and Juliet”, 2, 2, 2-6

and with this newfound oratory, 
peremptory, insistent, imbued, 
however, with utterly convincing 
honesty, unfettered emotion, 
which is to say, humanity, 
Beethoven establishes the 
sensibility of a very era, listen

that era, up to, eventually, Brahms
elaborates on that ethos, adding 
texture and enhanced authority 
to the original concept, setting 
the moral agenda for that, and 
other generations, to follow 

Brahms is more ponderous, mighty,
a cathedral instead of a church, a
commandment instead of an 
aspirational, merely, thrust, he 
adds even a fourth movement to 
an already magnificent structure, 
an extra steeple to towering 
edifice, a subliminally received 
reference to Beethoven‘s already 
inspiredbut tripartite only,  
architecture   

see Chartres for a comparable
ecclesiastical counterpart


R ! chard

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“The Kingdom of Scotland vs the Weird Sisters”

macbeth-act-i-scene-3-the-weird-sisters-1783(1).jpg!Large

    “‘Macbeth’, Act I, Scene 3, the Weird Sisters (1783) 

           Henry Fuseli

               _______

if you thought The Kingdom of Denmark 
vs Hamlet was fun, you’ll love The 
Kingdom of Scotland vs the Weird 
Sisters“, U.S. Supreme Court Justice
Ruth Bader Ginsburg presides, with
the assistance of four other eminent
American judges, over the case in 
which the defendants, the witches 
who encounter Macbeth, are accused 
of concocting the murder of Duncan, 
King of Scotland, by that unsuspecting 
Thane of Glamis, soon to be Thane of 
Cawdor, not only predicting itbut 
verily perpetrating it

double, double, toil, indeed, and 
trouble, topical allusions flypithy, 
witty, pungent, delightful late night 
comedy fare, but of a more esoteric,
effete order 

watch, utterly enjoy


R ! chard

Shakespeare = Beethoven, or the reverse

john-philip-kemble-as-hamlet-1801.jpg!Large.jpg

    “John Philip Kemble as Hamlet (1801)

           Thomas Lawrence

                ___________

if I’m to compare Beethoven’s 32nd
Piano Sonata, his opus 111, with 
anything else you might be familiar
with, it would be Shakespeare’s 
epochal contemplation, To be, or
not to be“, both are, first, and 
briefly, soliloquies, one performer
alone is on stage, both are 
implicitly meditations, that will 
augur, inspire, note, a new age 

let me propound, for a moment, on 
the Shakespeare, an introspective 
piece set on resolving an existential 
dilemma, To be, or not to be, that is 
the question, it is pungent, forceful, 
arresting, if only even rhythmically,
so much so that many still 
pronounce the first line of that 
trenchant aria with verily stentorian  
conviction, without realizing that the
several concluding movements are 
abysmally dire, indeed they 
investigate, with improbably literate 
fervour, a life and death situation  

    Whether ’tis nobler in the mind to suffer 
    The slings and arrows of outrageous fortune, 
    Or to take arms against a sea of troubles
    And by opposing end them

should one, after contemplation, 
bear the onslaught of life’s most 
unacceptable tribulations, or, 
most efficiently, cut all of it off

     … To die – he says – to sleep,
     No more; and by a sleep to say we end 
     The heart-ache and the thousand natural shocks
     That flesh is heir to: ’tis a consummation
     Devoutly to be wished 

I’ve often been there

      ... To die, to sleep;
      To sleep, perchance to dream – ay, there’s the rub:

the rub, which is to say, the problem,
what’s up once you’ve done yourself 
in  

      For in that sleep of death what dreams may come
      When we have shuffled off this mortal coil,
      Must give us pause

indeed, there’s the respect, the angle, 
the conundrum one must consider

      that makes calamity of so long life 

one ‘s stuck between the devil and the 
deep blue sea

       For who would bear the whips and scorns of time, 
       Th’ oppressor’s wrong, the proud man’s contumely
       
the demeaning disrespect a proud man ‘s 
made to suffer

       The pangs of dispriz’d love, the law’s delay,
       The insolence of office, and the spurns 
       That patient merit of the unworthy takes

which is to say, life’s multifarious, and
beleaguering struggles

        When he himself might his quietus make 
        With a bare bodkin?

quietus, silence, extermination 
bodkin, a knife

        … Who would fardels bear, 

fardels, hardships

       To grunt and sweat under a weary life,
       But that the dread of something after death,
       The undiscover’d country, from whose bourn
       No traveller returns, puzzles the will,
       And makes us rather bear those ills we have 
       Than fly to others we know not of?

we keep on grunting, in fear that 
what comes after could be worse

a man considering his own demise,
his quietus, at the time of Shakespeare 
would’ve been, only a generation earlier,
an heretic, one deserving of unforgiving,
and gruesome, censure, Hamlet was,
not incidentally, however
prince, a  
role model, though evidently controversial

but the Reformation had occurred, 
a loosening of categorical strictures

in France, Descartes had, in his quest 
for the true God, concluded, Cogito,
ergo sum, I think, therefore I am,
eclipsing the Catholic God as the 
final arbiter, personal metaphysical
options were up for grabs, out in 
the open, though yet not entirely 
secular

which would happen, out loud,  in 
the Age of Reason, when God, as 
we knew Him, lost His, by now 
scattered, authority, among 
Lutherans, for instance, Calvinists, 
Anglicans, and proliferation of 
sprouting others, not to mention, 
still, the stalwart, ever, Roman 
Catholics 

the Romantic Period needed a new 
ethic, a personal evaluation of one’s
metaphysical position, Beethoven, 
in a word, or in his 32nd Piano
Sonata rather, delivers, a piece no 
less intense than Shakespeare’s 
profound interrogation

briefly, there are two movements
heremerely, which demand your 
attention, it isn’t music that one 
listens to with just one ear, this 
is Jesus on the Mount of Olives
Gethsemane, not much different 
from Shakespeare’s existential 
soliloquy

war, peace, rebellion, resignation,
black, white, fast, slow, explosive,
extended, man, woman, yin, 
indeed, yang, short, long, 
irascible, submissive, all 
paradoxical dichotomies, all 
eventuallymanifestly, 
transcendent, all a subjugation, 
private prayer, eventually, 
however fraught, however 
nevertheless archetypal,
two movements that still 
haven’t exhausted their 
philosophical potential for 
being assuaging, inspirational 


R ! chard

Partita no 2, BWV 1004 – J.S. Bach

Leopold_von_Anhalt-Köthen_(1694_-_1728).jpg

         Leopold von Anhalt-Köthen

                      __________

if I haven’t spoken much about Bach
until now it’s that, although he is at 
the very start of our modern music,
having in fact set up its very alphabet,
the scale we’ve been using since, he 
is nevertheless as different from our 
own era in music as Shakespeare is 
to us in literature, both are stalwarts,
but we no longer say, for instance, 
thee or thou, nor write in iambic 
pentameter, nor do we dance 
gavottes at court, nor congregate 
at church to hear cantatas

the turning point is the Enlightenment,
also called the Age of Reason, when 
the concept of God was being 
questioned, if not even debunked, and
the mysteries of nature were being 
rationally resolved, handing authority
to knowledgeable individuals instead
of to popes

by the time of Mozart and Haydn, a
secular tone was gradually pervading 
all of the arts, devoid of any religious 
intentions, sponsors were private 
rather than clerical  

Bach had indeed been hired by a prince,
Leopold of Anhalt-Köthen, but was 
appointed court musician at his ducal 
chapel, Nikolaus l, Prince Esterházy 
wanted Haydn’s music, rather, for his 
court entertainment, and for himself 
as well, incidentally, as a fellow baryton 
player

Mozart was also employed by a prince,
but left when he wasn’t being payed 
well 

times haven’t changed much, see 
Trump, for instance

after the French Revolution, there was
not much call for religious music, 
human rights took the place of God, 
liberté, égalité, fraternité, and all that, 
not to mention the American Bill of 
Rights, and that’s the route we’ve 
been following ever since, for better 
or for worse 

but hey, we’re still reading Shakespeare,
and still listening to Bach, and loving 
both of them, some of us

here’s some more Bach for old times’
sake, his Partita no 2 for solo violin

a partita is just a series of dance suites 
– an allemande, a courante, a sarabande, 
a gigue, and a chaconne, in this case – I 
don’t think anyone other than Bach ever 
wrote some, but his are sublime

it’s kind of like my calling my own 
stuff prosetry, for whatever infinity 
that word might ever deliver, though
no one else might ever use that term
again

listen also to a transposition of its
celebrated last movement, the 
Chaconnefor left-hand piano, in 
this instance, as transposed by 
Brahms, a precursor to Ravel’s 
Concerto in G major for the Left
Hand, written for Paul  
Wittgensteinan already 
accomplished pianist – the much 
more famous philosopher, 
Ludwig‘s, brother – who’d lost his 
right hand during the First World 
War, and who’hopefully be 
inspired, by such positive 
reinforcement

art, music, poetry thrives on such 
heartfelt expressions of sympathy,
compassion, communion

art is the faith that we rely on now 
that God/dess is gone 


R ! chard

“King John” – Shakespeare‏

"The King" - Max Beckmann

The King ( 1934 – 1937)

Max Beckmann

_________

King John, 1166 to 1216, was the brother
of Richard the First, “the Lionheart”, and
of Geoffrey, both sons, as well as John,
of Eleanor of Aquitaine and Henry the
Second

you might remember them all from the
classic The Lion in Winter from the
Sixties

in Shakespeare’s story, John has become
king, both Geoffrey and Richard have
already perished, but Geoffrey has left an
heir, Arthur, Constance’s son, and since
Geoffrey had been the eldest, his own son,
it is contested, should be the rightful heir
to the English throne

John is not in agreement, nor is Eleanor,
his mom, but Constance is backed by the
Duke of Austria and the King of France,
who will go to war to unseat John

meanwhile Arthur is too young to be
anything but ineffectual, innocent

they all meet before Angiers, a town
now in France, but ruled then by
England, where a delightful
confrontation occurs at its gates,
the town representative will let in
the King of England but only when
he knows who, of either, He is

war is however averted when a
marriage is suggested between the
two courts, a niece of John, Blanche
of Castille, will marry the Dauphin,
Louis, son of Philip of France,
joining, however improbably, the
two sparring factions

but thereby Arthur’s claim is lost,
and Constance is fully aware of
the inevitable, and treacherous,
consequences

a legate from the Pope, Cardinal
Pandolf, also steps into the fray,
to stir the political pot, pompously,
predictably, punctiliously and
perniciously, not to mention,
perfidiously, in the end, of course

the language is Shakespeare’s, to
be sure, therefore unavoidably
wrought, but with garlands of
irrepressible poetry that is ever
utterly, and irresistibly, enchanting

“I am not mad:”, says Constance to
Pandolf, who’s accused her of being
in such a state

“Lady, you utter madness, and not sorrow.”

Constance replies

“I am not mad: this hair I pull is mine
My name is Constance; I was Geoffrey’s wife;
Young Arthur is my son, and he is lost:
I am not mad: I would to heaven I were!
For then, ’tis like I should forget myself:
O, if I could, what grief should I forget!
Preach some philosophy to make me mad,
And thou shalt be canonized, cardinal;
For being not mad but sensible of grief,
My reasonable part produces reason
How I may be deliver’d of these woes,
And teaches me to kill or hang myself:
If I were mad, I should forget my son,
Or madly think a babe of clouts were he:
I am not mad; too well, too well I feel
The different plague of each calamity.”

act lll, scene lV

has there ever been such a telling
evocation of agony

Stratford’s version is superb, extraordinary,
unforgettable, don’t miss it, just click

Richard

“King Lear” – William Shakespeare

 "Study for King Lear" - Joshua Reynolds

Study for King Lear (1760)

Joshua Reynolds

________

though it has its weaknesses, I have
never seen a better version of “King
Lear”
than this one, also, to my mind,
Shakespeare’s best play

watch

Lear has always been a difficult
character to portray, a King becomes a
vagrant, a Jesus figure, “a man / more
sinned against than sinning”,
and the
most difficult part an actor must render,
I’ve found, is that of social status

and here we have both extremes, a not
easy transition, nor have I seen but once
a Lear I could believe in

James Earl Jones in New York’s Central
Park
is Lear from the word go, but the
rest of the cast betrays him, they all
mostly merely phone in their roles

in this alternate production, the reverse
is true, Lear, though in many moments
mighty, is never really a King, nor truly,
I think, a Jesus, though his final breaths
are nothing short of holy

Cordelia speaks her lines well, but
doesn’t breathe them

every other performer is magnificent,
with a special mention for the truly
human Fool, not merely a caricature
here, but a wise man

also Kent, the vitriolic sisters, Edgar
and his ignominious brother Edmund,
even the several messengers, all of
whom intently and forcefully to a one
live out their roles

the direction is thrillingly manifest in
the solid and detailed work of the cast,
note, for instance, Regan’s laugh, an
inspired directorial touch, when Lear
declares his intention to bequeath
his land according to which of the
daughter’s “doth love Us most”,
relaying in an instant, and at the very
start, her fundamental, and thereafter,
of course, unswerving, unfilial scorn

I’ve never seen that note played
elsewhere so incisively

mostly, however, it’s the poetry of
Shakespeare, which bristles throughout,
like buds in spring in a garden, which ‘ll
especially delight, and have you marvel

watch

Richard

 

“Death and the Maiden” – Franz Schubert‏

 "Ophelia" -  John William Waterhouse

Ophelia (1889)

John William Waterhouse

___________

though death is not an especially
appealing topic for many, it was
nevertheless of fundamental
consideration during the
Romantic Period

Goethe, the German poet, had
already created a sensation
with his The Sorrows of Young
Werther
, a young man,
disappointed in love, takes his
own life, a potent seed for the
new era, secularism was
overtaking theocracy, the
autocracy of the Christian
Church was giving way to the
prevalence of human rights,
a private opinion, well disputed,
was holding sway against the
rigidities of religious orthodoxies,
science and reason had been
chipping away at the very idea
of God

but with human rights there was
the question of personal
responsibility, if not an imposed
authority, then each man, woman
was in charge of his, her own

the fundamental question,
therefore, was Shakespeare’s
To be or not to be, or, for that
matter, Burt Bacharach’s and
Hal David’s What’s it all about

this is not me, this is Albert Camus
talking, who formalized the situation
in the 1940s

“There is but one truly serious
philosophical problem, and that
is suicide. Judging whether life
is or is not worth living amounts
to answering the fundamental
question of philosophy. All the
rest — whether or not the world
has three dimensions, whether
the mind has nine or twelve
categories — comes afterwards.”

after Werther, Madame Bovary followed,
Anna Karenina, suicide had become an
option, the penalty was no longer
opprobrium, castigation, as it had been
under unforgiving religious constraints

death itself, fatefully rather than
personally determined, was, of course,
no less considered when the era of
heartfelt declarations dominated,
Mendelssohn had written his
Quartet no 6 in F minor, opus 80
for his deceased sister, Beethoven
and Chopin, each his Funeral March,
either, incidentally, still iconic, and
perhaps the most poignant work
of all in this manner, Schubert’s
Death and the Maiden, a precursor
of his own much too premature
demise

this is music as if your life depended
on it

watch, listen

Richard

psst:

the Alban Berg Quartet, a group who
set the standard for several significant
string quartets in the ’80s, do no less
with this one

you’re not likely to see a better
performance of it ever, nor, for that
matter, of anything, pace even Glenn
Gould, a statement I think nearly
against my religion

you be the judge

“Julius Caesar”, a foretaste

"The Dead Caesar" -  Jean-Léon Gérôme

The Dead Caesar (c.1859)

Jean-Léon Gérôme

__________

a friend and I are undertaking our
umpteenth reading of a Shakespeare
play, “Julius Caesar” this time, which
I hadn’t read in an age

in this version, still unparalleled,
Brutus, James Mason, presents his
argument for the assassination of
Caesar
, “Hear me for my cause, and
be silent that you may hear…not that
I loved Caesar less but that I loved
Rome more”,
he proclaims

Mark Antony, in the incarnation of
Marlon Brando, responds, for the
ages

and therein lies the glory, incidentally,
of Shakespeare

just saying

Richard

“Primavera” – Sandro Botticelli‏

Sandro Botticelli - "Primavera"

Primavera (1478)

Sandro Botticelli

_________

on the right, Zephyrus, god of the west
wind, and messenger of spring, having
prised Chloris from his brother, Boreas,
the icy north wind, ravishes her, the
naked nymph, who is being transformed
into Flora, goddess of flowers, note
Chloris‘ hand dissolving into Flora‘s
arm

but listen to Ovid tell it

“‘I, called Flora now, was Chloris: the first letter in Greek
Of my name, became corrupted in the Latin language.
I was Chloris, a nymph of those happy fields,
Where, as you’ve heard, fortunate men once lived.
It would be difficult to speak of my form, with modesty,
But it brought my mother a god as a son-in-law.
It was spring, I wandered: Zephyrus saw me: I left.
He followed me: I fled: he was the stronger,
And Boreas had given his brother authority for rape
By daring to steal a prize from Erechteus‘ house.
Yet he made amends for his violence, by granting me
The name of bride, and I’ve nothing to complain in bed.
I enjoy perpetual spring: the season’s always bright,
The trees have leaves: the ground is always green.
I’ve a fruitful garden in the fields that were my dower,
Fanned by the breeze, and watered by a flowing spring.
My husband stocked it with flowers, richly,
And said: “Goddess, be mistress of the flowers.”
I often wished to tally the colours set there,
But I couldn’t, there were too many to count.””

Fasti, Book V, May 2 – Ovid

________________

I love “It would be difficult to speak of my
form, with modesty”

go, girl, indeed goddess

on the left of the painting the three Graces,
Aglaea, Euphrosyne, and Thalia dance

on the far left, Mars, whence, incidentally,
our name for the month of March, is god
not only of war, but of also agriculture

Venus, who needs no introduction,
presides at the centre, accompanied
by her prankish son, Cupid, fluttering
above

“Love looks not with the eyes, but
with the mind”, Shakespeare says,
“And therefore is winged Cupid
painted blind” *

as he is in the painting above

no painting has yet replaced Botticelli‘s
Primavera as a universal symbol of
spring

may yours be equally timeless,
enchanted

Richard

* A Midsummer Night’s Dream
Act 1, scene 1, lines 234 – 235

– William Shakespeare

“Macbeth” – Guiseppe Verdi‏

  "Macbeth" / Welser-Most, Zürich Opera

Macbeth / Welser-Most, Zürich Opera

______________

Giuseppe Verdi’s “Macbeth” has everything
you’d ever want out of even the very best of
Shakespeare’s, but with also music, rich,
passionate, searing

in this production, Thomas Hampson is
every inch Macbeth, warrior, murderer,
king, to date my very favourite incarnation

his wife, Paoletta Marrocu, unknown till
now to me, is a sinuous virago, seductive,
maleficent, deadly, “all the perfumes of
Arabia will not sweeten”
indeed “this
little hand”,
Lady Macbeth usually steals
the show if she’s able, here she does it,
incontrovertibly, again

the witches, dependably weird, malicious,
are mesmerizing, wait for the ghoulish
“Unknown Powers” telling of Birnam
Wood, and prophesying that “none of
woman born / Shall”
neither “harm
Macbeth”

chilling

brilliant

do not not watch

Richard

psst: “Tomorrow, and tomorrow, and tomorrow,
Creeps in this petty pace from day to day
To the last syllable of recorded time,
And all our yesterdays have lighted fools
The way to dusty death. Out, out, brief candle!
Life’s but a walking shadow, a poor player
That struts and frets his hour upon the stage
And then is heard no more. It is a tale
Told by an idiot, full of sound and fury,
Signifying nothing.”

“Macbeth”, act 5, scene 5