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Sunday, August 3, 2014

Musical Interlude

(If you must have politics, please scroll down)

A short portion of The Tempest, incidental music by Jean Sibelius:

[about Jean Sibelius (December 8, 1865 – September 20, 1957)]

The blurb from YouTube:
"Now my charms are all o'erthrown,
And what strength I have's mine own,
Which is most faint.
... Let me not ... dwell
In this bare island by your spell;
But release me from my bands
With the help of your good hands.
Gentle breath of yours my sails
Must fill, or else my project fails,
Which was to please. Now I want
Spirits to enforce, art to enchant;
And my ending is despair,
Unless I be relieved by prayer,
Which pierces so, that it assaults
Mercy itself, and frees all faults.
As you from crimes would pardoned be,
Let your indulgence set me free.

- "Prospero's Epilogue," The Tempest.

A legendary work shrouded in mystery and awe, Sibelius' Eighth Symphony occupied him during the 1930s to the mid-1940s. Increasingly pressured by conductors, supporters, musicians and most of all, his own self-criticism, Sibelius apparently suffered long to bring this work to the only conclusion he could accept: perfection.

But sadly, around 1945, Sibelius' wife Aino saw her octogenarian husband feeding a laundry basket full of manuscripts to the fire. "[A]fter this my husband became calmer and gradually lighter in mood. It was a happy time."

Sibelius released no more music of the calibre of his last masterpieces, the Seventh Symphony (1924) and the tone poem Tapiola (1926). This period until his death in 1957, is known as the Silence of Järvenpää.

In Shakespeare's final play,
The Tempest, the great magician Prospero appears at the end, after the tale has ended, to deliver his famous epilogue. He pleads with the audience to set him free from his obligations, allow him to give up his powers. If he keeps the "art to enchant", his ending would only be despair.

Written between the Seventh Symphony and Tapiola, Sibelius' incidental music for the Royal Theatre of Copenhagen's staging of The Tempest, is a somewhat lesser-known collection of little masterpieces, which ends with the melancholy Ossia, accompanying Prospero's "Epilogue."

Breathtakingly brief, the Ossia is a powerful, poignant and perfectly fitting epilogue from one of the greatest symphonists of the 20th century, at the end of his symphonic journey - the farewell of Jean Sibelius.
The Tempest (complete piece, not recorded in its entirety until 1992, when the Lahti Symphony Orchestra recorded the version below):


  1. A solemn prayer uttered in a spirit of resignation. Melancholy, yet infinitely serene.

    Sibelius, whose musical personalty, like that of all the composers of significant music, was unique. One can always tell who is speaking after hearing just a few bars -- the sign of true creative genius. He found magic and transcendent beauty in the challenge and awe-inspiring solemnity of northern climes.

    What-to-many-may-appear-grim at first glance evokes awe, wonder, mystery and enduring enchantment. He produces a heightened awareness in sensitive listeners that Life is a precious Gift to be treated with great care and reverence.

    To my ears the defining feature of Sibelius appears in his discovery of an inexhaustible supply of great beauty-- and solace -- in Austerity -- a gift I am most grateful he imparted to us.

  2. Shakespeare is known for writing his plays in Blank Verse, where each line with very few exceptions is set down in IAMBIC PENTAMETER. That simply means that each line is comprised of five metrical "feet" called IAMBS. An IAMB may be represented with this symbol: ^/ –– a short beat followed by a longer one as in words such as conceive, believe, bereave, relieve, object, induce, evoke, display, array, dismay, expand, etc.


    ”But soft! What light through yonder window breaks? ..”. (^/ ^/ ^/ ^/ ^/)

    ”Shall I compare thee to a summer day ...” (^/ ^/ ^/ ^/ ^/)

    ”How do I love thee? Let me count the ways ..”. (^/ ^/ ^/ ^/ ^/).

    Both Shakespeare and Elizabeth Barrett Browning -- and many other writers -- were great masters of this elegant time honored literary device.

    At any rate, I find it interesting that Shakespeare chose to have Prospero deliver his Farewell in lines consisting only of four TROCHAIC metrical feet -- with one exception "Spirits to enforce, art to enchant. [NOTE: a TROCHEE (^/) is the exact opposite of an IAMB] Whether he was fully aware of it or not, this turned out to be Willl Shakespeare's "Farewell" too.

    Prospero here gladly relinquishes his magic powers with characteristic nobility. Is it possible that Shakespeare -- sensing the end of his own career -- abandoned iambic pentameter as a subtle signal that he was in fact relinquishing his own astonishing, near-magical powers in preparation for the end of his life?

  3. Oh I love that picture of the sunset. It's SO pretty. You are SO good to share it with us. Thank you SO much.

    Maybelle Migraine

  4. I realize that many political bloggers do not appreciate much of the music that I post. Their loss, IMO.

    I do thank those few who do appreciate fine music and take the time to comment affirmatively.

  5. Full fathom five thy father lies;
    Of his bones are coral made;
    Those are pearls that were his eyes:
    Nothing of him that doth fade
    But doth suffer a sea-change
    Into something rich and strange.
    Sea-nymphs hourly ring his knell:
    Hark! now I hear them,--ding-dong, bell.

    - William Shakespeare, "The Tempest"

    1. Aha! More trochaic tetrameter followed by irregularity as before.

      Perhaps I need to read the play again
      To see if Prospero, did so declaim?
      For, it 'twere someone else, I'd know great pain
      To see my modest theory proven lame.

  6. A Paean to Prospero's legacy.


  7. My gosh, I've never really listened to Sibelius (Sorry - he wrote in this century and that pretty much eliminates a composer in my book, especially if he's still living.) Mr B. (and I) loved hearing this. He commented Sibelius always makes me mellow. I have to look into more.

    1. If you have a genuine taste and feel for serious music, Baysider, you have many wonderful listening and learning experiences ahead of you. Richard Strauss, Claude Debussy, Maurice Ravel, Francis Poulenc, Olivier Messaien, Maurice Diruflé, Gustave Mahler, Serge Rachmaninoff, Giacomo Puccini, Alexander Scriabin, Edward Elgar, Ralph Vaughan Williams, William Walton, Arnold Bax, Gustav Holst, Benjamin Britten, Samuel Barber, Gian Carlo Mennotti, Ned Rorem, Douglas Moore, Randall Thompson -- and the “lighter” composers of musical comedy Victor Herbert, Jerome Kern, Richard Rodgers, Stephen Sondheim and many others all have a great deal to offer.

      If the likes of Igor Stravinsky, Arnold Schoenberg, Alban Berg Anton Webern, Paul Hindemith, Bela Bartok, Ernst Krenek, Elliott Carter, Luciano Berio, Milton Babbitt, Pierre Boulez, George Crumb, Heinz Werner Henze, et al, seem too daunting, by all means get to know at least some of those listed above. If you love music, I believe you will find whole new worlds of enchantment to explore.

    2. FT, that's very sweet. Once I got my driver's license, I spent my last summers in high school going to the county library in the next town, and availing myself of the listening rooms and liberal checkout policies (10 cents a record). I have been immersed in music from Gregorian to Richard Strauss (ah, those beautiful recordings of his favorite, Elisabeth Schwarzkopf singing the 4 last songs). Just not a fan of more recent offerings (except movies - those are the best composers going today). When the composer to an especially awful piece took his bow at Royce Hall, I made a point to sit on my hands. I will reconsider investigating some of these at your recommendation. They may look different 40 years later. :-)

    3. Hello again,

      I'm glad you'd be willing to try, Baysider. I've spent (or misspent ;-) my life involved with classical music, and have to tell you there was a lot of it for which I felt no natural affinity, but because it was my field, I believed I had a duty to learn about the many things others who knew much more than I highly recommended. I can only tell you the effort was well worth making.

      I can say with complete honesty that today, I am able to go to the opera and experience a dissonant, unmelodious, largely atonal score of perplexing complexity I've never heard before, and thoroughly enjoy the evening.

      It took me a long time to reach that point, but I'm so glad I did.

      The musics I do my best to exclude from my consciousness are the dreadful "pop" things that suddenly emerged c. 1955 and quickly took over our once-vibrant culture, because of ruthlessly efficient, exploitative promotional techniques on the part of agenda-driven leftists who had taken it upon themselves "to change the culture."

      Not everyone agrees with me on that, but having taken great pains to acquire intimate knowledge of the field I believe I am qualified to say I can tell the difference between honest, heartfelt, exquisitely-crafted musical expression and lazy-mnded, agenda-driven, soul-shriveling claptrap that panders shamelessly to the lowest common denominator.

      Your love for Schwarzkopf's recording of the Four Last Songs of Strauss tells me your musical horizons should be unlimited.

      Richard Strauss was a composer of many parts. His one-act opera Salome reveals his more "modern" side. Contrast it with the sweet, decorous refinement and nobility of Der Rosenkavalier, and you will soon develop a more comprehensive appreciation of Strauss's true identity. And then there are his tone poems all of which you could grow to love. And he too wrote man lieder before those four songs that came to us just before he died right after the the end of World War Two.

      St. Paul advised to dwell on things lovely, true, and of good report. I can't think of a better way to take his advice than to become more and more deeply immersed in the best music Civilization has produced so far.

      As Goethe said, "Die Musik ist der rein geistigste aller Kuenste." -- i.e. "Music is the most spiritual of all the arts."

  8. By the way, Sibelius' VIOLIN CONCERTO, given its world premiere in the United States by Maude Powell at Carnegie Hall, later made famous by Jascha Heifetz's historic recording, and later recorded wonderfully by David Oistrakh, Schomo Minsk, Nadia Salerno-Snnenberg, and most recently by Sara Chang is a musical experience no one who has even the tiniest inkling of what music is really about should miss.


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