Wednesday, August 27, 2014

The Firebird

First performed in Paris in 1910 by the Ballet Russe company, The Firebird is as Russian as a Faberge egg or a Matryoshka doll. 

The theatrical director of the Ballet Russe, the aristocrat and impresario Sergei Diaghilev, exploited a craze for all things oriental during the French era of the Belle Epoch. Diaghilev’s vision was to introduce Russian music and art to western audiences, and to produce new works in a distinctly 20th century style, in which costume and decor, dance and music all combine into one harmonious whole (Gesamtkunstwerk - total artwork). In order to achieve this total effect Diaghilev recruited talents such as the choreographer Michel Fokine, the designer Léon Bakst and the dancer Vaslav Nijinsky to his Ballet Russe company. After hearing Igor Stravinsky’s orchestral work Fireworks in 1909 he took the bold step of commissioning the then unknown composer to write a ballet score based upon a combination of Russian fairy tales. 

With its mysterious opening bars of  double-basses conjuring up a magical fairytale world, and its extensive usage of chromatic scales borrowed from his teacher Rimsky-Korsakov, The Firebird is the only example in Stravinsky’s entire oeuvre of the colourful, neo-oriental school of Rimsky-Korsakov, one of  the 'mighty five' Russian Nationalist composers.  Following a brooding introduction, the music of the ballet follows in strict line by line to the action of the plot. Some of the most dazzling moments in the score describe the tussle, struggle and eventual peace between hero and Firebird. A lush, romantic apparition of the twelve princesses ensues, before the Infernal Dance in which Stravinsky provokes his audience's attention to sit up and pay attention to his genius. There follows a Lullaby with a jazz lilt to it. The ballet concludes with an apotheosis in which a stirring brass finale for a wedding occurs. Several versions of the orchestral score exist. In addition to the full 50 minute ballet score Stravinsky re-wrote a concise, concert-hall orchestral suite of  The Firebird  in 1911 and 1919 and once again in 1945. 

Loosely-based upon several plots and characters from Russian folk tales the curtain rises on the enchanted garden where the magician Kostchei holds a dozen princesses captive. The princesses and a tree of golden apples are protected by a high fence. The firebird enters, intent on stealing one of the golden apples, but she is seized by Ivan Tsarevich, who has been following her. Their struggle, and her eventual subduing, is expressed as a pas de deux, and Ivan refuses to release her until she gives him one of her feathers. Armed with this talisman he is assured of her help should he ever need it. In the gathering dark one of the princesses, the beautiful Tsarevna, tells Ivan of her plight. They dance, and part at dawn. Ivan, however, fails to heed her warning not to follow her, and enters Kostchei's castle. A crowd of grotesque creatures rush out,, followed by Kostchei himself. the grotesques grovel before Kostchei, who approaches Ivan, intending to turn him into stone. Remembering the feather, Ivan waves it in Kostchei's face. The firebird appears, and forces the grotesques to dance until they are exhausted. She then reveals to Ivan that Kostchei's soul is contained in a great egg. Ivan takes the egg and dashes it to the ground. The magician dies, and Ivan marries the Tsarevna. [1]

The complex nature of evil and the difficulties which the hero must face in order to defeat evil are expressed well in the original Russian fairytale about the magician Kostchei. The soul of Kostchei is hidden separate from his body inside a needle, which is in an egg, which is in a duck, which is in a hare, which is in an iron chest which is buried under a green oak tree, which is on an island  in the ocean. As long as his soul is safe, he cannot die. If the chest is dug up and opened, the hare will run away; if it is killed, the duck will emerge and try to fly off. Anyone possessing the egg has Kostchei in their power. He begins to weaken, becomes sick, and immediately loses the use of his magic. If the egg is tossed about, he likewise is flung around against his will. Only if the egg or needle is broken, will Kostchei die.

Ever since the success of its first performance in 1910 with the ballerina Tamara Karsavina dancing in the physically demanding role of the Firebird, Stravinsky’s ballet has been a perennial favourite with audiences around the world. Such was its success that it initiated a twenty year collaboration between Diaghilev and Stravinsky. Two more ballets, equally brilliant, swiftly followed; the puppet drama Petrushka (1911) and the seismic anticipation of the World War, set in pagan Russia, The Rite of Spring (1913) a revolutionary work in 20th century music.

Like Tchaikovsky’s innovative ballet Swan Lake (1877 revised 1895) Stravinsky’s ballet also has an avian theme. However, in many ways it is also a mirror opposite of Tchaikovsky’s Swan Lake in which the hero Siegfried resists an arranged marriage in favour of a passionate union with an enchanted swan. Both ballets feature the metaphor of young women imprisoned by an enchanter but are allowed a measure of freedom at night. There’s an erotic element in much ballet, not least in both Swan Lake and The Firebird. Wherever the erotic is encountered, in art as in life, there is invariably also a strong psychological element. 

In essence the enduring appeal of The Firebird lies almost as much in its archetypal nature as a magical fairytale as its music and dance. The Swiss psychologist C.G.Jung noted that fairytales -  'tell us how to proceed if we want to overcome the power of darkness: we must turn his own weapons against him, which naturally cannot be done if the magical underworld of the hunter remains unconscious'. [2] 

Jung argued that- 'If we wanted to explain the fairytale personalistically, the attempt would founder on the fact that archetypes are not whimsical inventions but autonomous elements of the unconscious psyche which were there before any invention was thought of. They represent the unalterable structure of a psychic world whose "reality" is attested by the determining effects it has on the conscious mind'. [3] 

In Jung’s view - 'Fairytales seem to be the myths of childhood and they therefore contain among other things the mythology which children weave for themselves concerning sexual processes. The poetry of fairytale, whose magic is felt even by the adult, rests not least upon the fact that some of the old theories are still alive in our unconscious. We experience a strange and mysterious feeling whenever a fragment of our remotest youth stirs into life again, not actually reaching consciousness, but merely shedding a reflection of its emotional intensity on the conscious mind'.  [4] 

'As in alchemy, the fairytale describes the unconscious processes that compensate the conscious, Christian situation. ..the fairytale makes it clear that it is possible for a man to attain totality, to become whole, only with the spirit of darkness, indeed that the latter is actually a causa instrumentalis of redemption and individuation'. [5] 

'Myths and fairytales give expression to unconscious processes, and their retelling causes these processes to come alive again and be recollected, thereby re-establishing the connection between conscious and unconscious'.  [6] 

Finally, Jung believed that - 'It is extremely important to tell children fairytales and legends, and to inculcate religious ideas into grown-ups, because these things are instrumental symbols with whose help unconscious contents can be canalized into consciousness, interpreted and integrated'. [7] 

Stravinsky's Firebird is one of several works of classical music including Berlioz’s Symphonie Fantastique, Debussy’s Prélude à l'après-midi d'un faune, Sibelius' Swan of Tuonela, Brahms Piano concerto no. 2, Beethoven's Eroica Symphony, Mussorgsky's Pictures at an Exhibition, Shostakovich's 5th symphony, Rimsky-Korsakov's Scheherazade and Cesar Franck’s Symphony in D minor, which I ‘discovered’ when a teenager through 12" vinyl discs during the 1970's. 

'A mass of riotous colour and swirling bodies, the Infernal Dance (Youtube clip above) which brings the entire company into Firebird could feel, occasionally like being caught up in the spin cycle of a washing machine. Garments everywhere, whirling fabric, blurred colours...' [8]


[1] The Faber Pocket Guide to Ballet - Deborah Bull and Luke Jennings - Faber 2004
[2] CW 9 i: 453 'The Phenomenology of the Spirit in Fairytales' (1945/48)
[3] CW 9 i: 451 Ibid.
[4] CW 17: 43
[5] CW 9 i: 453 'The Phenomenology of the Spirit in Fairytales (1945/48)
[6] CW 9 ii: 280
[7] CW 9 ii: 259
[8] The Faber Pocket Guide to Ballet - Deborah Bull and Luke Jennings - Faber 2004


The World of Diaghilev- Charles Spencer - Philip Dyer 1974
Stravinsky -Roman Vlad - OUP 1960

The essential book covering 19th and 20th century Russian culture -Natasha's Dance - Orlando Figes - Penguin 2002


Return of the Firebird - Ballet Russe Recreation - Decca 2002
The Royal Ballet - Margot Fonteyn 1960
Royal Ballet - Leanne Benjamin/ Jonathan Cope - BBC 2010

Royal Danish Ballet Company - Glen Tetley - Virgin 1982

Glen Tetley's choreography adds a new dimension to a perennial favourite.

Tuesday, July 22, 2014

The Quaternity of the Homo Maximus

The symbols of the Tetramorph, the Lion, Bull, Eagle and Angel, the collective four symbols originating from Greek astrology which are associated with the New Testament gospel authors, sometimes with Christ at their centre, are an ancient, potent and complex, religious symbol. 

Depictions of the  tetramorph (from Greek tetra four, morph shape) can be found in Christian art such as illuminated manuscripts, engravings and stained glass in churches from the Middle Ages to the present-day. The significance of their being four in number occurs quite early in Christianity. The early church Father and bishop of Lyons, Saint Irenaeus  (end of 2nd century CE - c. 202 CE ) declaring -

'It is not possible that the Gospels can be either more or fewer in number than they are. For, since there are four zones of the world in which we live, and four principal winds, while the… “pillar and ground” of the Church is the Gospel and the spirit of life; it is fitting that she should have four pillars, breathing out immortality on every side…. He who was manifested to men, has given us the Gospel under four aspects, but bound together by one Spirit.'

However, it was Saint Jerome (370 -420 CE) who's credited as the first to designate the  Greek zodiac symbols of the Bull, Eagle, Lion and Angel, as emblematic of the four Gospel authors. Jerome’s designated the three animals and one human form with their associated virtues as exemplary of specific attributes of Christ. 

In modern times, the Swiss psychologist C.G. Jung noted of the Tetramorph in which Christ is sometimes depicted at its centre, 

'He (Christ) holds an important position midway between the two extremes, man and God, which are so difficult to unite. ..He is lacking in neither humanity nor in divinity, and for this reason he was long ago characterized by totality symbols, because he was understood to be all-embracing and to unite all opposites. The quaternity of the Son of Man, indicating a more differentiated consciousness, was also ascribed to him (via Cross and tetramorph)'.  [1] 

C.G. Jung recognised that a four-fold pattern dating from prehistory was of near universal occurrence in world art and religion. In ancient Egyptian mythology the god Horus is accompanied by his four sons, while the three animals and human form of the tetramorph, first mentioned by the prophet Ezekiel's vision (Ez.1:10) is now recognised as alluding to the Sumerian zodiac. The universal occurrence of  a four-fold design representing a totality, is commented upon by C.G.Jung thus-

'The quaternity is an organizing schema par excellence, something like the crossed threads in a telescope. It is a system of coordinates that is used almost instinctively for dividing up the visible surface of the earth, the course of the year, or the collection of individuals into groups, the phases of the moon, the temperaments, elements, alchemical colours, and so on.' Elsewhere Jung states, 'the four quarters of heaven, the four elements are a quaternary system of orientation which always expresses a totality...the orientating system of consciousness has four aspects, which correspond to four empirical functions: thinking, feeling, sensation (sense-perception), intuition. This quaternity is an archetypal arrangement...' [2] 

Remarkably,  a quaternity comprising of four quite distinct entities, namely body and mind, spirit and soul, can be found in Christ’s commandment in the Gospels of Luke and Mark. [3]

'And thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind, and with all thy strength; this is the first commandment'.

In Christ's commandment, adapted from the Jewish Shema, two of the four entities in the totality of human life, mind and soul are named. Of the heart it’s worth considering the crucial role which the anatomical organ has symbolically to kingship, the lion and the Spirit. One thinks of the Crusader King Richard the Lionheart for example, while in astrological symbolism the zodiac sign of Leo rules the heart and is associated with fire. In Judaic and Christian symbolism fire is frequently associated with encounters with the Divine and with the Holy Spirit.  In the non canonical gospel of Thomas (340 CE) has Christ declare, 'He who is near unto me is close to the Fire', while in the Gospel of Luke, Christ says, 'I am come to send fire on the earth; and what will I, if it be already kindled?' 

Religious symbolism involving fire in the final analysis originates from the fire-worshipping Zoroastrian religion of Persia. The qualities of Courage, kindness and love in its various guises, are also associated with the heart, all of which are also related to Spirit.

Strength can confidently be identified as comparative to the physical world. The exemplary animal associated with strength, the Bull or Ox, has a legendary enduring strength which serves it to even commit an act of self-sacrifice. Strength is predominantly associated with muscular activity and the physical realm, and above all in element has an earthy quality to it. 

The mental faculty of thought, along with the imagination is associated with the element of Air in various symbolic schemata. Ideas are sometimes described as being plucked out of air, while the phrase to have one's head in the clouds also suggests a relationship between the mind and Air.

The Soul is often described as passive, receptive,  feminine and as 'The Other', usually by male theological commentators. Dissolution and hidden depths are also related to both the soul and the element of Water. Thus a quaternity involving a totality of body and mind, spirit and soul occurs within Christ’s commandment. 

There's also the extraordinary idea that the 'clock number' of the four 'fixed' zodiac signs Taurus (2), Leo (5), Scorpio (8) and Aquarius (11) when added up total 26, the very same number in Hebrew Gematria for the Tetragrammaton  JHVH in which Yod (10), Hey (5), Vav (6) and Hey (5) also equal 26.

In a tetramorph dating from 1482 (picture below) Christ is depicted as the ruler of the four elements. 


Ultimately however, the symbolism of the tetramorph originates from the Babylonian zodiac, specifically the so-called 'Fixed Cross’ of astrological signs in opposition and right-angles to each other, Taurus representing Earth and its associations, Leo and the element of Fire, Scorpio for Water [4] and Aquarius as representative of Air. 

The Christian tetramorph is a superb example of syncretism, that is, how religions and beliefs sometimes overlap each other, and how old symbols are adopted for newer beliefs, sometimes quite different from their origins. 

One of the 20th century's greatest scholars of religious symbolism, C.G. Jung, held a great regard for his fellow compatriot, the Renaissance alchemist-physician Paracelsus. Besides being an early pioneering advocate for the use of chemical remedies in medicine and a theologian as radical and original as his contemporary, Martin Luther, Paracelsus (1493-1541) was also a proto-psychologist. In an essay entitled Paracelsus as a Spiritual Phenomenon (1942) C.G. Jung delved into the questing and confused world of Paracelsus’s four mysterious Scaiolae. Jung first consults the Dictionary of Alchemy (1612) by Martin Ruland (1569-1611), a Paracelsian scholar and lexicographer who was resident at the Prague court of the alchemy-loving Holy Roman Emperor, Rudolph II (1552 - 1612).

Ruland defines the Paracelsian Scaiolae as - 'Spiritual Powers of the Mind, its properties and virtues, which are fourfold, according to the number of the elements, and the four wheels of fire which were part of the Chariot in which Elias was taken up to Heaven. They emanate from the soul in man. Fancy, imagination, speculative faculty, etc., are included under the term. It also embraces, in a special sense, the Articles of our Christian Faith in Jesus Christ, Baptism, partaking of the Eucharist, Charity towards our neighbour, manifesting the perfect Fruits of Faith, whereby we attain not merely prolonged but eternal life.' [5]

Jung continues, 'Ruland interprets the four first psychologically, as phantasia, imaginato, speculatio, and agnata fides (inborn faith).. Since every archetype is psychologically a fascinosum, i.e., exerts an influence that excites and grips the imagination, it is liable to clothe itself in religious ideas.... it would not be overbold to conclude that the four Scaiolae correspond to the traditional quadripartite man and his all-encompassing wholeness. The quadripartite nature of the homo maximus is the basis and cause of all division into four: four elements, seasons, directions etc... [ibid]

Jung also consulted the writings of Gerard Dorn (1530-84), a Belgian philosophical alchemist, who like Ruland, was an advocate of Paracelsian ideas. Dorn emphasized the psychic nature of the Scaiolae (“mental powers and virtues, properties of the arts of the mind”)...these external principles, of the invisibilis homo maximus. The four Scaiolae appear to be interpreted by Dorn as mental powers and psychological functions. [6] 

Finally, connecting the function of the four Christian Gospels to the proto-psychology of Paracelsus, Jung declares - 'The Scaiolae, as the four parts, limbs or emanations of the Anthropos are the organs with which he actively intervenes in the world of appearances or by which he is connected with it, just as the invisible quinta essentia, or aether, appears in this world as the four elements or conversely, is composed out of them.  Since the Scaiolae, as we have seen, are also psychic functions, these must be understood as manifestations or effluences of the One, the invisible Anthropos. As functions of consciousness, and particularly as imaginato, speculatio, phantasia, and fides, they “intervene”. [7] 

C.G. Jung devoted the last thirty years of his life to the study of alchemy and its symbolism. His belief in man as essentially a religious animal who quests for meaning and purpose in their own unique, individual life, has lost no relevance today. Jung's profound study of comparative religion, in conjunction with his consultation and analysis of his many patients, along with the events of two World Wars, led him to the conclusion that all too few experience the living Christ within their own lives, a lack often hindered by fossilized Christian dogma. 

Revealingly, in regard to the four-fold design of the quaternity and the central figure of the Tetramorph, Jung concluded that - 'The Gnostic quadripartite original man as well as Christ Pantokrator is an imago lapidis. [8] Its also enlightening to visit the church of Saint John the Baptist's, Maddermarket, Norwich, with Jung's thoughts upon the quaternity as an image of the Philosopher's stone, held in mind. Sir Thomas Browne's exhortation at the apotheosis of his hermetic phantasmagoria, the discourse The Garden of Cyrus (1658) in which the physician-philosopher encourages his reader, 'to search out the Quaternio's and figured draughts of this order'  also seems apt. 

No less than three examples of the tetramorph can be viewed within the church; in its East window, accompanied by respective Evangelist, high up in the bell-tower of its West window, and also carved upon its Nave processional gates. The church houses a fourth example of a quaternity, a highly original and sophisticated variant upon the theme of the quaternity of the homo maximus. Encased within the two pilasters of the early seventeenth century marble funerary monument the Layer monument are four figurines exemplary of Paracelsian scaiolae. The upper pair represent the two eternal rewards for the Christian, Pax and Gloria (Peace and Glory). Its lower pair of figurines represent mortal psychic entities, one of which is positive and one of which is negative, Vanitas and Labor (Vanity and Labour). At the centre of the monument there is a large skull.

C.G. Jung identified Christ as none other than a symbol of the self. Another symbol which predates the Christian era, but which is equally potent as a symbol of the Self, is the skull. Besides being universally recognised as a momento mori symbol, the skull is also associated in alchemy with the Vas Philosophorum, the philosophical vessel and the place where the opposites reside, clash and are reconciled. The skull in alchemical symbolism is also where the incubation of the Philosopher’s Stone occurs and where the homo maximus or greater man within, more often than not either slumbering or invisible, dwells.

In the final analysis discussion upon the quaternity of the Tetramorph can never be or exhausted or its significance in religious and psychological terms explained; for like all living symbols, it will always transcend interpretative attempts. However, the original Greek definition of a symbolon as a tally-stick, coin or object broken into  two halves used for identification, recognition or completeness when united, greatly assists our understanding; for Man only ever holds one half of the broken coin, tally stick, or object, the other, 'invisible’ or missing half' of the symbolon, is firmly held by God.


[1] Collected Works vol 10 paragraph 692
[2] CW 9 ii paragraph 381
[3] Luke 10 v. 27 and Mark 12 v. 30
[4] Just how and why the astrological sign of Scorpio, the 'King' of the Insects is replaced by the regal and heaven-inhabiting King of the birds, the Eagle, goes beyond the confines of this short essay !
[5] Martin Ruland Lexicon Alchemia (1612) is in Sir Thomas Browne's library p. 22 no. 119
as is Paracelsus Opera (1603) p. 22 no.118 as well as Gerard Dorn in Theatrum Chemicum 
(5 vols. 1613) page 25 no. 124
[6] 'Paracelsus as a Spiritual Phenomenon' (1942)
subsection C. The Quaternity of the Homo Maximus CW 13: paragraphs 206-208
[7] CW vol. 13 paragraph 215
[8] CW vol. 12 paragraph 173

Top - Medieval illuminated manuscript example from Bode Museum Germany
Next -  Glanville - Le Proprietaire des choses (1482)
Next -  Leonhard Thurneysser (1531-96) the Hermaphrodite from Quinta Essentia 1574
Bottom - Realization of the Layer monument as a Quaternity and with skull as a Quincunx, Norwich, circa 1600.

Collected works of Carl Gustav Jung - volumes 9 i, 12 and 13. pub. RKP
Catalogue of the libraries of Sir Thomas Browne and his son Edward. pub. E.J. Brill 1986
Faulkner, Kevin - The Layer Monument- An Introduction and Interpretation as an Alchemical Mandala. Pride Press 2013

Wiki-link Tetramorph

Monday, June 16, 2014

Albert Cooper

“I am a Norwich Man born and bred who has tried his best.”- A.C.

Throughout its long history the city of Norwich has produced a breed of hard-working, highly skilled and independent artisan craftsmen, the 'old master' artists, John Crome, John Cotman and Joseph Stannard for example. One must add to these illustrious names, the jazz and blues vocalist Albert Cooper, who's been performing in Norwich for sixty years now.

One evening, when visiting Albert at home, sharing a bottle of wine, we catch a recently made film portrait about him on Mustard TV recollecting his long life of music making. The short documentary includes Cooper's reminiscing on his first stage appearance aged 12 singing Christmas carols at the long-gone Hippodrome Theatre, his epiphanal moment when first hearing 'Black Anna’ and his memories of singing with her at The Jolly Butchers pub in the 1950's. 

Albert Cooper shares his birthday not only with the great Anglo-American comedian Stan Laurel (1890 -1965) but also International Bloomsday. And in fact he's a great admirer of James Joyce’s masterpiece Ulysses (1922) ; there’s even a touch of the Leopold Bloom in Albert in Chris Bailey's film as he walks the streets of the city he loves while remembering the pubs, shops and smells of a Norwich long gone. 

Albert Cooper’s two great lamentations are the madness of Norwich City Planners in their wanton vandalism masquerading as ‘development’ throughout the 1960's to the present-day, and the outcome of the Second Vatican Council in 1962. Nevertheless, hailing from one of Norwich's oldest Catholic families, the Roman Catholic faith remains the bedrock foundation of Cooper’s belief. Nurtured since a boy chorister upon the music composed for Mass by Gounod, Schubert and Mozart, he's been a committed Catholic his entire life, regularly attending Mass at the Roman Catholic cathedral of Saint John the Baptist’s at Norwich.

As the wine flows and the evening progresses, Albert, I discover, is an extremely engaging raconteur. Talking on Norwich in the 1950's in the days before TV and video when the Capitol, Odeon, Electric, Regent, Haymarket, Carlton and Noverre cinemas thrived, young Albert would sometimes visit the cinema three or four times in a week. These days he's a bit of a film buff and swiftly names Jean de Florette and Manon des Sources, Dr. Zhivago, Sabrina, the Ealing comedies of the 50's and, keeping abreast with modern trends The Lives of Others as favourite viewing. But above all, its David Lean's Brief Encounters (1946) with its soundtrack of the passionate and romantic music of Rachmaninov's 2nd piano concerto which is Albert's all-time favourite film.

Albert Cooper has performed at numerous venues throughout Norwich over the decades. He even co-managed his own music venue The Jacquard during the 60's and 70's where artists of the calibre of Paul Simon, Sandy Denny, George Melly and Ralph Mctell, among many others, once performed

There’s a certain laid-back vigor to Cooper's own performing these days. His lifelong suffering from 'stage-nerves’ is testimony to his conscientious nature, wanting to give the audience his very best, which as a consummate artist, he invariably does. At present Cooper can be heard on a monthly basis at the Rumsey Wells. Visiting the pub on a night billed as a Blues evening, I catch his excellent interpretation of Bob Dylan’s Stuck in Mobile Blues, which I and others consider he performs as good, if not better than Dylan. I also realise he's older than Dylan himself ! Brilliantly accompanied by a driving Hammond Organ, by Albert's son Chris Cooper who is an accomplished musician and a distinguished, prize-winning Cambridge scholar in Jazz studies whose keyboard playing is an integral part of the Albert Cooper sound. Loyal band members bassist Owen Morgan and drummer Robert Masters also make no small contribution to the Cooper sound. 

Albert's high reputation these days is such that when he hears of his lead guitarist Ronnie Dearing's illness (Get well soon Ronnie) his call for a stand-in guitarist is filled within hours. Of all the many songs he performs it is perhaps My Love will never Die which has become his signature song.

I was probably in an highly emotionally charged state when visiting the excellent Rumsey Wells pub on an evening billed as a Jazz night. On this particular evening Albert wears another hat from his diverse repertoire, that of the romantic crooner. He himself admits to having a strong romantic and even at times a melancholic and depressive streak. His highly developed ear for a good melody and meaningful lyric results in his continuing to expand his repertoire. This evening he sings for the first time,  I Read a Lot by Nick Lowe. Like healing balm to the soul, one senses that here is a man who sings lyrics with great insight and sensitivity.  Hopefully its a song which will be added to his already extensive repertoire. Other songs Albert sings that night include Lush Life, Sentimental Journey, Stella by Starlight and Jobim's Night of the quiet Stars. 

The diversity of Albert Cooper's music-making can be gleaned from the fact that during the 1970's he inadvertently became the star of the show at Norwich's Maddermarket Theatre in performances of Old-time Music Hall, singing songs which his hairdresser father taught him as a boy. He also contributed his talents to the Keswick Hall Choir and UEA choir over the years and deeply regrets, like myself, the University of East Anglia's closing of its School of Music, a decision based supposedly upon financial considerations.  A golden opportunity lost for the far from impoverished University to contribute and integrate with its host City.  

Cooper's musical likes are numerous, and an inventory of all his diverse tastes in music would be exhausting, however balladeers such as Dick Haymes his all-time favourite, along with Frank Sinatra, as well as the song-writing talents of Ray Davies, Justin Hayward and David Bowie deserve mention. In particular he admires the song-writing skills of Bowie, from his earliest song, the mysterious Man who sold the world (1969) to the Thin White Duke's latest song, Where are we now? (2013). Albert's bemused when I quote Bowie's lyrics which serendipitously allude to two of his favourite holiday destinations -

See the mice in their million hordes
From Ibiza to the Norfolk Broads. 

Working at managerial level in tailoring and carpets until his retirement, in the words of his brother Kenneth, its probably just as well fame and fortune didn’t beckon big-time for Albert as they may have drastically shortened his life-span. In a statement typical of his modesty and self-deprecation, Cooper once declared-

"I am a realist and the grand illusion of greatness is a mirage, unless of course you are great which I am not."

In an world increasing mobile and rootless it can be difficult for some to appreciate the deep love and devotion a born and bred Norvicensian such as Albert Cooper has for his home City. Few people, however brief their acquaintance with Norwich leave it without admiration for its vibrant cultural and civic life. The world’s loss and Norwich's gain is now being re-balanced with many clips available on Youtube of Albert Cooper performing, some of which reveal him to be a master of small talk banter with his audience.

Once, when asked if he had any unfulfilled ambitions, Albert replied, "Not really". On reflection however, Cooper, who is a great admirer of American popular culture, confessed he would like to visit the home of the blues, Chicago, USA. To his surprise and delight tickets to Chicago were provided for him by a fan. It was while at Chicago, visiting a nightclub owned by brothers Phil and Buddy Guy, that Albert Cooper received what he considers to be the greatest compliment ever given to him. Buddy Guy declared that Cooper’s singing The Thrill has Gone was simply the best of all interpretations. Today whenever the octogenarian jazz and blues vocalist performs B.B.King’s song one senses he has a close identification and poignancy with its sentiment. A plain-speaking and honest man, Cooper may be said to join the ranks of Norwich literary figures who indulged in physiognomical observations, namely Sir Thomas Browne, Amelia Opie and George Borrow, when making the perceptive statement -

“In most cases when you are old and wrinkled and white that’s exactly how you appear, but if Black you have the look and style of a true Bluesman”.

Cooper's deep understanding of the human condition is encapsulated in his saying -

'Who wants to be where they are in truth. Thank God for what you have, no matter how small, and in spite of how others seem to be more successful, more talented, more material goods, but still try, still do your best and reap rewards of being you, a total individual, no one else like you. We are all unique, its amazing!'

That evening when leaving Albert Cooper I notice that the view from his studio flat includes a impressive Cityscape in which both the Norman Castle and the Cathedral can be seen in direct alignment, believed by some to be an ancient lay-line of psychic energy, and that his door-number signifies none other than The Star in the Tarot cards. But even without such dubious and nebulous hints, one rock-solid fact I'm confident of, Albert Cooper is dearly loved far and wide by many today. Rightly named as the Godfather of the Blues in Norwich, his musical talents are quite simply one of the city's greatest treasures. Happy 81st birthday Albert !

Saturday, May 10, 2014

Sir Thomas Browne and China

Throughout his life the English physician-philosopher Sir Thomas Browne (1605-82) possessed an insatiable curiosity upon numerous subjects. Books upon ancient history, geography, philosophy, anatomy, theology, cartography, embryology, medicine, cosmography, ornithology, mineralogy, zoology, travel, law, mathematics, geometry, literature, both Continental and English, the latest advances in scientific thinking in astronomy and chemistry, as well as books on astrology, alchemy and the kabbalah, are all listed in the 1711 sales auction catalogue of his library. Browne was often attracted to subjects considered exotic, mysterious, or little-known of. It should come as no surprise therefore that the distant land of China would attract the curiosity of the learned doctor.

During Browne’s life-time a slow but gradual increase in trade and import of Chinese goods to Europe occurred. Ceramic earthenware was among the earliest and most popular of all Chinese imports, to such an extent that it's very name became synonymous to the country of its origin. However, the manufacture of Chinese porcelain remained unknown in the West. Browne determined to resolve this mystery in his vanguard work of the English scientific revolution, Pseudodoxia Epidemica (1646). Though quoting Portuguese travellers to China, Browne's observations upon Chinese porcelain are the earliest extant in English.   

We are not thoroughly resolved concerning Porcellane or China dishes, that according to common belief they are made of Earth, which lieth in preparation about an hundred years under ground;.........Gonzales de Mendoza, a man imployed into China from Philip the second King of Spain, upon enquiry and ocular experience......found they were made of a Chalky Earth; which beaten and steeped in water, affordeth a cream or fatness on the top, and a gross subsidence at the bottom; out of the cream of superfluitance, the finest dishes, saith he.....

Later confirmation may be had from Alvarez the Jesuit, who lived long in those parts, in his relations of China.The latest account hereof may be found in the voyage of the Dutch Embassadors sent from Batavia unto the Emperour of China, printed in French 1665 which plainly informeth, that the Earth whereof Porcellane dishes are made, is brought from the Mountains of Hoang, and being formed into square loaves, is brought by water, and marked with the Emperour's Seal: that the Earth itself is very lean, fine, and shining like Sand: and that it is prepared and fashioned after the same manner which the Italians observe in the fine Earthen Vessels of Faventia or Fuenca.. they are so reserved concerning that Artifice, that 'tis only revealed from Father unto Son.  [1]

Elsewhere in Pseudodoxia Epidemica Browne demonstrates his awareness of China’s vast population, stating -

So the City of Rome is magnified by the Latins to be the greatest of the earth; but time and Geography inform us, that Cairo is bigger, and Quinsay in China far exceedeth both. [2]  

Athanasius Kircher (1601-80) a near contemporary and favourite author of Browne's, was a Jesuit priest who had various missionary contacts to China through the Jesuit Order. Like the Norwich doctor, Kircher had an insatiable curiosity and fascination with obscure or esoteric learning, named in the introduction to his Oedipus Aegypticus (1656) as - ‘Egyptian wisdom, Phoenician theology, Hebrew kabbalah, Persian magic, Pythagorean mathematics, Greek theosophy, Mythology, Arabian alchemy, Latin philology’. [3]

When Athanasius Kircher published his China illustrata  in 1667 Browne was finally able to satisfy his curiosity about the distant Eastern civilization. Kircher’s China illustrata [4] was a work of encyclopedic breadth and the most informative book available on China for many years. It included accurate maps as well as mythical creatures, and drew heavily on reports by the Jesuits Michael Boym and Martino Martini who worked in China. Kircher emphasized the Christian elements of Chinese history, both real and imagined and highlighted the early presence of Nestorian Christians in China. However, he also claimed the Chinese were descended from the sons of Biblical Ham and that Chinese characters originated from Egyptian hieroglyphs! In the above illustration Chinese botany and horticulture, costume and customs, along with architecture, are each faithfully recorded from an eyewitness account of a social gathering, feasting upon the giant 'polomie' jackfruit.

Throughout his life Browne took a keen interest in botany, especially for its medicinal properties. In correspondence to his son Edward, and presuming him to also have access to an edition of Kircher's China illustrata, Browne made one of the earliest recorded references to Ginseng. Widely cultivated in China for centuries, Ginseng is now scientifically recognised for its anticarcinogenic and antioxidant properties.

Deare Sonne, - You did well to observe Ginseng. All exotick rarities, especially of the east, the East India trade having encreased, are brought in England, and the profit made thereof. Of this plant Kircherus writeth in his China illustrata, pag. 178, cap. "De Exoticis China plantis". [5]

Less reliable than his reports on Chinese botany, Kircher’s at times wildly misguided theories in comparative religion are described by Joscelyn Godwin for the illustration below as - ‘A confused memory of Buddhist iconography may have led to this weird image, which Kircher regards as the equivalent of the Great Mother of Western religions. To the Egyptians she is Isis, to the Greeks Cybele. The lotus upon which she is seated represents the ‘Humid principle' which nourishes all things.' [6]

Sir Thomas Browne retained an interest in China until late in his life. His extraordinary, and at times surreal, list of books, pictures and objects rumoured to exist, lost, or imagined, Bibliotheca Abscondita (circa 1675) includes the 'wish-list' entry - The Works of Confucius the famous Philosopher of China, translated into Spanish. [7] 

Inspired by the popularity of the cryptic verse of Nostradamus, first translated into English in the 1670's, Browne’s A Prophecy concerning the future State of Several Nations (circa 1675) predicts the end of the Slave-trade, a full one and a half centuries before its eventual abolition-

When Africa shall no longer sell out its Blacks
to be slaves and Drudges in the American Tracts

Browne continues with the 'prophecy' of  - 

When Batavia the Old shall be contemn’d by the New, 
and a new Drove of Tartars shall China subdue.

- with the following explanation -

Which is no strange thing if we consult the Histories of China, and successive Inundations made by Tartarian Nations.... And this hath happened from time beyond our Histories: for, according to their account, the famous Wall of China, built against the irruptions of the Tartars, was begun above a hundred years before the Incarnation. 

Browne also speculated upon a quicker trading route to Cathay (China’s ancient name) for European traders via circumnavigating the Arctic Circle -

When Nova Zembla shall be no stay
Unto those who pass to or from Cathay.

- once more accompanied by explanation.

That is, Whenever that often sought for Northeast passage unto China and Japan shall be discovered, the hindrance whereof was imputed to Nova Zembla;  ......the main Sea doth not freeze upon the North of Zembla except near unto Shores; so that if the Moscovites were skilfull Navigatours they might, with less difficulties, discover this passage unto China: but however the English, Dutch and Danes are now like to attempt it again. [8]

Finally, its a neat coincidence that Norwich, the city where Sir Thomas Browne lived for the greater part of his life, has a cultural heritage associated with an archetypal mythic creature of China. Ever since the days of the Medieval Guilds Norwich civic processions have been led in parade by the half playful, half fearsome creature 'Snap’ the Dragon; Browne in his day may have witnessed this civic event and the Dragon, emblematic of China, continues to be celebrated as part of Norwich’s cultural heritage to the present-day.

Part 2

Time hath endless rarities, and shows of all varieties; which reveals old things in heaven, makes new discoveries in earth, and even earth it self a discovery. -Urn-Burial 

With their highly polarized themes, Browne’s two philosophical discourses Urn-Burial and The Garden of Cyrus of 1658 may be interpreted as mirroring the concept of Yin and Yang from classical Chinese Taoist philosophy. However, in order to apprehend this association, its useful to first consult the foremost scholar of comparative religion and esoteric learning in the 20th century, the seminal psychologist, Carl Gustav Jung (1875-1961). 

In 1929 Jung received a copy of the Chinese Taoist text The Secret of the Golden Flower from the Sinologist and Missionary Richard Wilhelm who discussed the possibility that his translated text - a blend of Buddhism and 'inner elixir' Taoism, may have originated in the Tang Dynasty (618-907 CE)  at the beginning of Nestorian Christianity. For Jung, Wilhelm's translated text proved to be revelatory. In his 1931 commentary to The Secret of the Golden Flower Jung reminded his reader that-

Science is the tool of the Western is part and parcel of our knowledge and obscures our insight only when it holds that the understanding given by it is the only kind there is. The East has taught us another, wider, more profound, and higher understanding, that is understanding through life. [9] 

Writing before the establishment of the People's Republic of China in 1949, Jung stated -

'Western consciousness is by no means the only kind of consciousness there is; it is historically conditioned and geographically limited, and representative of only one part of mankind. The widening of our consciousness ought not to proceed at the expense of other kinds of consciousness; .... The European invasion of the East was an act of violence on a grand scale, and has left us with the duty - noblesse oblige (privilege entails responsibility) - of understanding the mind of the East. This is perhaps more necessary than we realize at present.'  [10]

The Taoist text The Secret of the Golden Flower confirmed Jung's hypothesis - that globally the substratum of the human psyche has no fundamental differentiation. Within both Western and Eastern psyche, Jung detected, are deeply embedded symbols drawn from a shared collective unconscious. The patterns drawn by Jung's patients in therapy, he realized, share distinct similarities with Mandala art of both Eastern and Western religions as well as in alchemical symbolism. The concepts of medieval western alchemical art, Jung detected, just like Chinese Taoist philosophy, utilize similar symbols which describe psychological processes entirely independent of cultural references or contact with other sources.

The word Tao itself Jung noted, has no satisfactory translation and is variously translated as ‘The Way’ ‘Meaning’ or even ‘God’. Jung comments-

'The undiscovered vein within us is a living part of the psyche; classical Chinese philosophy names this interior way  "Tao”, and likens it to a flow of water that moves irresistibly towards its goal. To rest in Tao means fulfillment, wholeness, one’s destination reached; the beginning, end, and perfect realization of the meaning of existence innate in all things. Personality is Tao.'[11] 

Classical Chinese philosophy in Jung’s view was the natural counterpart to medieval alchemy, stating-

the alchemical mysterium coniunctionis is the Western equivalent of the fundamental principle of classical Chinese philosophy, namely the union of yang and yin in Tao.[12] 

Polarity and the union of the opposites is central to Taoist thought. In Chinese philosophy they are characterized by Yin and its associations of the feminine, soft, yielding, diffuse, cold, passive, water, earth, the moon, slowness, and nighttime. Yang, by contrast, is characterized by associations of masculine, solid, focused, hardness hot, dry, aggressive, fire, sky, the sun, and daytime. Jung explains further that-

'Opposed to the guiding principle of life that strives towards superhuman, shining heights,  the yang principle, is the dark, feminine, earthbound yin, whose emotionality and instinctuality reach back into the depths of time and down into the labyrinth of the physiological continuum. No doubt these are purely intuitive ideas, but one can hardly dispense with them if one is trying to understand the nature of the human psyche. The Chinese could not do without them because, as the history of Chinese philosophy shows, they never strayed so far from the central psychic facts as to lose themselves in a one-sided over-development and over-evaluation of a single psychic function. They never failed to acknowledge the paradoxicality and polarity of all life. The opposites always balanced one another - a sign of high culture'. [13] 

Although little recognised until modern times, Browne’s diptych discourses of 1658 utilize the basic space-time continuum of alchemical mandala art in their respective framework. Urn-Burial thematically concerning itself with Earth and Time, while its counterpart The Garden of Cyrus ranges throughout Space and Heaven for evidence of the Quincunx pattern. Both Discourses are saturated with one of the most common forms of spiritual symbolism, found in Chinese classical literature and western medieval alchemical texts, that of Darkness and Light. Together the synergy of Browne's twin Discourses works on a profound associative level, often unconsciously to their reader, as they engage in the fundamental goal of alchemy, the uniting of the opposites. 

The dark, earthy, sublunary doubts, gloom and uncertain speculations upon the after-life in Urn-Burial  - lost in the uncomfortable night of nothing  and the alchemical Nigredo of the opus - are intrinsically compatible to the Chinese Taoist concept of Yin.  In perfect harmony and equilibrium The Garden of Cyrus concerns itself with Light, includes solar symbolism, the discernment of scientific certainties through occular observation, while its tone is playful, delighting in  the beauty of art and nature. The Garden of Cyrus is saturated with symbolism involving Light, Optics and the heavens and harmoniously represents the Yang half of the literary diptych. Even in terms of the respective music of their prose, the slow, solemn, stately yin rhythms of Urn-Burial are answered by the fast, hasty, Yang prose of Cyrus. Incidentally, it was Browne who coined the very word 'polarity’ into the English language.

Because the psyche at its deepest and most archaic level shares the same symbols which pre-date particular civilizations or cultures, the Chinese Taoist philosophy of Yin and Yang can equally be discerned in the alchemical mandala known as the Layer monument. Located in the church of Saint John the Baptist at Maddermarket, Norwich, the right-hand pilaster of Christopher Layer's marble monument depicts sub-lunar suffering, the earth and the feminine, corresponding to the principle of Yin while its left-hand pilaster with its depiction of masculine genitals, vigour, playfulness and victoriousness corresponds perfectly to the principle of Yang.  

Richard Wilhelm's translation of The Golden Flower includes an image of a Chinese adept in contemplation of 'inner heaven'. It may well have appealed to Browne's predilection for the number five and its variants (image below). One can't help also wondering that had Browne ever viewed the modern-day national flag of China with its 4+1 symbolism of 5 stars, each of which is five-pointed, he may have included mention of it in his discourse as yet more visible evidence of the archetypal pattern of five. 

Jung simultaneously reminds his reader that Chinese alchemy is structured upon five elements, identifies the alchemical theme of Browne's discourse The Garden of Cyrus and obliquely links his hermetic phantasmagoria to Chinese alchemy when stating -

'the quinarius or Quinio (in the form of 4 + 1 i.e. Quincunx) does occur as a symbol of wholeness ( in China and occasionally in alchemy) but relatively rarely’.  [14] 

Astoundingly Jung declared of the Quincunx pattern itself- 

This is a symbol of the quinta essentia, which is identical with the Philosopher’s Stone. It is the circle divided into four with the centre, or the divinity expressed in four directions, or the four functions of consciousness with their unitary substrate, the self. [15]  

In modern times Edward W. Said's seminal study Orientalism (1978) explores Western perceptions of the East in the arts. The development of stereotypes and the reinforcing of Western cultural and intellectual prejudices are examined in Said's ground-breaking foundation work of Oriental studies. Crucial to Oriental studies since William Said's publication, is the understanding, for example, that the philosopher Zhuang Zhou (circa 325 BCE), a contemporary of Plato, is not inferior, less profound or  a weaker philosopher than the 'father of Western philosophy'. It is simply that the two philosophers fundamentally differ in their focus, rather than concern himself with metaphysical and cosmological speculations like Plato, Zhuang-Zhou is more concerned with individual ethics and personal morality.

Although Sir Thomas Browne is the very earliest English philosopher to be interested in China, he is only one of many writers, painters and composers who have shaped Western perceptions of the Near and Far East, for good and bad over centuries. Incidentally, another very early Norwich-Chinese cultural connection exists through the figure of the founding father of ballet, the dancing-master Jean-Georges Noverre (1727-1810) who occasionally resided in Norwich. Recognising the English and French craze for Chinoiserie he choreographed his very first ballet  Les Fetes Chinoise (1754) with music by Rameau, with a Chinese theme.

                                                      *  *  *

It was the German polymath Johann Wolfgang von Goethe (1749-1832) a sympathetic ambassador of East-West relations, who declared in his secular verse. [17]

East and West
Can no longer be kept apart.  

Its now imperative with China's advance in role upon the world-stage, of a greater understanding between Western and Eastern minds.


[1]  P.E. Bk. 2 chapter 5: 7
[2]  P.E. Bk. 6 chapter 8
Quinsay now Hang-chou was visited by Marco Polo.
[3]  Oedipus Egypticus Rome 1652-56 Catalogue p. 8 no. 90
[4] China illustrata Amsterdam 1667  Catalogue p.8 no. 92
[5]  Letter dated April 2nd 1679
[6]  Athanasius Kircher - A Renaissance Man and the Quest for Lost Knowledge
Joscelyn Godwin  London 1979 Thames and Hudson
[7] Miscellaneous Tract 13
[8]  Miscellaneous Tract 12
[9]  CW 13: 2
[10]  CW 13: 84
[11] CW 17: 232
[12] CW 14: 660
[13] CW 13: 7
[14] CW 18: 1602
[15] CW 10:  737
[16] Matthew 8. v. 11
[17] In Original- Orient und Occident/Sind nicht mehr zu trennen 

See Also

Wikipedia - Library of Sir Thomas Browne

Wikipedia - Athanasius Kircher


* Athanasius Kircher - A Renaissance Man and the Quest for Lost Knowledge
Joscelyn Godwin  London 1979 Thames and Hudson

* Athanasius Kircher - The Last Man Who Knew Everything
   ed. Paula Findlen RKP 2004

* Richard Wilhelm/C.G.Jung - The Secret of the Golden Flower RKP 1931

* 1711 Sales Catalogue of Thomas Browne and his son Edward's libraries ed. J.S.Finch pub. E.J.Brill 1986

* E.J. Holmyard - Alchemy  pp. 31-41 Chinese alchemy pub. Penguin 1957

with thanks to Y. for the inspiration.

Monday, April 21, 2014

Youth without Youth

'What do we do with time?...time, the supreme ambiguity of the human condition.'

Set in Europe on the brink of World War II, Mircea Eliade's novella Youth without Youth (1976) tells the story of Dominic Matei, an elderly polymath, linguist and expert in comparative religion who, when struck by lightning, not only miraculously recovers, but is rejuvenated and gains extraordinary powers. Youth without Youth also explores the myth of the eternal return, that is, the cyclic repetition of time, as well as the consequences of being granted the wish to fall in love one last time. 

In essence Eliade's novella debates upon the supreme ambiguity of the human condition, that of Time. As the narrator, Professor Matei declares - 'All men want to live long, to exceed, if possible, a hundred years; but in the vast majority of cases, once they reach the age of sixty or sixty-five and retire, i.e.become free to do what they want, they become bored. They discover they have nothing to do with their free time. And on the other hand, the older a man becomes the more the rhythm of interior time accelerates, so that those persons -those very few - who would know what to do with free time, do not succeed in doing much of importance'.

The symbolism of being struck by lightning is discussed in Mircea Eliade's Myths, Dreams and Mysteries (1957) in terms of a shamanistic experience thus - 'The man who has survived being struck by lightning acquires a "sensibility" not attainable at the level of ordinary experience; the revelation of the divine "choice" is manifested by the destruction of all the anterior structures: the "elect" becomes "another"; he feels himself to be not only dead and re-born, but born into existence which, while it is lived to all appearances in this world of ours, is framed in other existential dimensions. In terms of traditional shamanistic ideology, this experience is expressed as the combustion of the flesh and the breaking-up of the skeleton.....Now, this modification of the sensibility, acquired spontaneously by the shock of an extraordinary event, is what is laboriously sought for during the apprenticeship of those who are working to obtain the shamanistic gift'. 

Its interesting to note in the medieval Tarrochi divination cards arcana XVI depicts a tower being struck by lightning. It may allude to the destruction of fixed and inflexible thinking, and enlightenment through renewal and regeneration. 

Dominic Matei's new superhuman gifts of memory and comprehension attract the attention not only of journalists and the media, but also the Nazi Party. Obliged to assume a new identity and facial features, Matei begins to exercise his new powers and fulfill his lifelong quest, to understand the origins of human language and speech. He also encounters an alter-ego Doppelganger who conjures two roses from nowhere and asks him the question, 'Where do you want me to place the third rose?' A youthful in appearance Dominic Matei begins an odyssey which takes him from Bucharest to Monte Carlo, Switzerland, India, Malta and Dublin. During his travels he has the wish-fulfillment to fall deeply in love one last time granted to him with devastating consequences.

It's no coincidence that Dominic Matei's story begins at Easter and ends at Christmas, ending where it began, visiting friends at the Café Select in Bucharest, Romania; however, Dominic discovers he is now wearing hospital pajamas and no-one has heard of the historical events he mentions. In desperation he cites the Chinese philosopher Zhuang Zhou's story of the butterfly as an example of his fate. The full tale of Zhuang Zhou's dream within a dream goes as follows-

"Once upon a time, Zhuang Zhou dreamed he was a butterfly, a butterfly flitting about happily enjoying himself. He did not know that he was Zhou. Suddenly he awoke, and was palpably Zhou. He did not now know whether he was Zhou, who had dreamed of being a butterfly, or a butterfly who had dreamt that he was Zhou. Now, there must be a difference between Zhou and the butterfly. This is called the transformation of things."

Dominic Matei's story concludes with his body discovered laying frozen in the snow, no longer young but once more aged, clutching a rose.

The Romanian scholar Eliade Mircea (1907-86) emigrated to America in 1956 where he became a professor at Chicago University a year later. His novella Youth without Youth attracted the attention of American film director Francis Ford Coppola (b. 1938) (The Godfather, Apocalypse Now) to return to film after a ten year hiatus.

Coppola's adaptation of Youth without Youth (2007) focuses less on Dominic Matei's time spent in convalescence and transformation in hospital and far more time at the locations of Matei's extensive peregrinations. In an interview, Coppola said that he made the film as a meditation on time and consciousness, which he considers a "changing tapestry of illusion" but also admitted that his film may be appreciated as a beautiful love story, or as a mystery. He also stated-

"I was excited to discover in this tale.....the key themes that I most hope to understand better; time, consciousness, and the dream-like basis of reality. for me it is indeed a return to the ambitions I had for my work in cinema as a student".

Coppola's film adaptation of Youth without Youth also features a superb soundtrack by Osvaldo Golijov (b. 1961). Evoking the mysterious and melancholic, including music performed on the cembalon, as well as 1930's tango, it makes a strong contribution to the narrating of Dominic Matei's strange story. The composer Golijov said of his work on the film-

'Collaborating with Francis was an amazing dream. I never lost my sense of wonder. Working with a great hero of mine, of my late father and of my friends in Argentina. On each occasion I spent time with him, I felt it was possible to fulfill every dream in life'.

Not unlike P. D. Ouspensky's novella The Strange life of Ivan Osokin (1915) which also uses fiction as a vehicle to explore the esoteric concept of eternal recurrence, both the novella and film adaptation of Youth without Youth are ultimately flawed, as all attempts to popularize esoteric concepts result either in universal comprehension, in which case they are no longer esoteric but exoteric concepts, or worse, become trivialized. Mircea Eliade's genius as a scholar of comparative religion, like the Russian theosophist P.D. Ouspensky's, is best expressed in his non-fiction writings, complete with academic references and a fuller, developed exploration of esoteric concepts, without resorting to the short-hand restrictions of entertainment values. Nevertheless, both Eliade's novella and Coppola's film adaptation of Youth without Youth stimulates the mental faculty most seriously undernourished in modern society, namely, the imagination.

Wiki-link Mircea Eliade

Recommended reading

Mircea Eliade - The Myth of the Eternal Return (1945)
Mircea Eliade -  Myths, Dreams and Mysteries (1957)
Mircea Eliade -  The Sacred and the Profane (1959) 

Saturday, March 08, 2014

C.P.E. Bach - Ambassador of the Enlightenment and Sensitive Music

Centenary anniversaries invite not only celebrations of an artist’s work but also re-assessments of their creativity. There are few 18th century composers more in need of a radical re-assessment than Carl Philipp Emanuel Bach (1714-1788). Although often defined as a transitional or bridge figure in classical music, CPE Bach was in fact a composer of unique talents, and an equal to two of the most famous composers of the 18th century, Haydn and Mozart, both of whom were in no small measure indebted to his ground-breaking achievements in music.

There are however several factors which have not helped CPE Bach’s cause, simply having a triple initial forename has not assisted first encounters, while a much-needed re-cataloguing of his works has in some ways added to the confusion when referencing his music. But above all else its the enormous shadow cast over him as the second eldest son of the much venerated, ‘father of western classical music’ J.S.Bach (1685-1750) which has hindered an objective appreciation of CPE Bach’s music in its own right.

The basic facts of CPE Bach’s biography consist of his graduating in Law from Leipzig University in 1731. He subsequently served as a musician at the Court of Frederick the Great of Prussia at Berlin. Following his godfather George Telemann’s death in 1767 he became Director of Music in Hamburg, a position he held for twenty years until his death in 1788.

CPE Bach’s life-time witnessed the dawn of the modern, secular age including the Independence of America in 1776. He himself was in the vanguard of the philosophical movement known as the Enlightenment, a cultural movement of intellectuals who emphasized reason, secularism and individualism rather than tradition. He engaged in correspondence with one one of the leading figures of the Enlightenment, the French encyclopedist Denis Diderot (1713–1784) who felt compelled to stop in Hamburg on his way back to France from St. Petersburg to visit the composer. CPE Bach's music with its aesthetic emphasis upon Empfindsamkeit or 'Sensitivity’, epitomizes the aspirations of the Enlightenment and he himself lived in an era of great social and political upheaval to eventually witness the goals of the Enlightenment realized in the French Revolution of 1788-89.

In 1753 CPE Bach placed himself centre-stage in European music with his treatise, Versuch über die wahre Art das Clavier zu spielen (An Essay on the True Art of Playing Keyboard Instruments) which was swiftly recognised as a definitive work on keyboard technique. In this treatise he declares - ‘’A musician cannot move others if he himself is not moved,'’ and “let the fingers speak from the soul or sentience to transfer that passion onto the audience that the composer intended to stir.” In his advocacy of Empfindsamkeit or 'Sensitive style’ as expressed in his treatise and in his music, CPE Bach represents a fundamental shift in musical consciousness - departing from polite, background social music composed in service of the aristocrat and his Court or sacred music for the church, music which occasionally expresses a ‘cosmic awe’ at the Creation, as in the baroque polyphony of his father J.S.Bach’s music - in favour of the secular, reflecting the artist’s own subjective, inner world involving feeling and emotion.

C.P.E. Bach's music was first catalogued by Alfred Wotquenne in 1906 using "WQ" numbers, however in recent times his music has also been referenced by "H" numbers from a catalogue compiled by Eugene Helm (1989) which arranges the composer’s music not in chronological order, but according to genre. The advantage of the new catalogue is that immediately one gains an idea of the sheer volume of music  CPE Bach composed, and also how much in each specific genre. Helm’s catalogue which is numbered from H1-H845 reveals that compositions for solo keyboard comprise almost half of CPE Bach's entire oeuvre, works for either harpsichord or fortepiano are listed from H1 -H420. The "H" catalogue also lists over 50 concertos composed for various instruments and 19 symphonies. It is in his works for solo keyboard, symphonies, concertos for various instruments that CPE Bach’s greatest legacy survives.

Dating from the year of Mozart's birth 1756, CPE Bach’s E minor symphony (Wq. 178 or H. 653) ) is in all probability, the first ever Sturm und Drang (storm and stress) symphony composed. Perhaps inspired from frustration serving in the music-loving, but conservative-minded Court of Frederick the Great, the E minor symphony is wild and unpredictable,  its whole intent seems to be to disorientate and surprise the listener. It as suddenly turns calm in its middle movement before concluding in a lopsided and asymmetrical melody.

Joseph Haydn studied in depth the work of Carl Philipp Emanuel Bach and he later acknowledged him as an important influence upon his own music. It’s extremely interesting to compare this CPE Bach E minor symphony with Haydn’s own E minor Trauermusicke symphony (No. 44) dating from 1768. If Haydn can be said to be 'the father of the symphony’, then C.P.E.Bach is surely the grandfather of the symphony. Although only nineteen in number, each of CPE Bach’s symphonies holds a special place in musical history, in particular the set of six for string orchestra, which includes no. 5 in B minor (H 661) with characteristic abruptness and complex emotions, and the set of four symphonies scored for full orchestra (WQ 183) written during CPE Bach’s Hamburg years, of which the musicologist Adelaide de Place writes-

’The continuous flow of striking ideas, harmonic coups, wide dynamic range and sudden pauses to engineer distant key changes, create the impression of orchestral fantasias, yet there is an underlying unity within these symphonies that make them both challenging and satisfying.

The development of the symphony was considerably advanced in 1788, the year of CPE Bach's death with Mozart's highly-original triptych of symphonies  in E flat major, g minor and C major (nos. 39-41) but its debatable whether these symphonies were ever performed, even less likely, known of  by CPE Bach.  A closer affinity can be discerned between CPE Bach’s Fantasia in C major (Wq 61.6 or H. 291) for fortepiano dating from 1786 to that of Mozart’s own fantasias for piano ( K. 396 in c minor, K. 397 in d minor and K. 475 in c minor).  A casual hearing and juxtaposition between CPE Bach's fantasias and those of Mozart's swiftly reveals that there's little difference in either sophistication or improvisation skills between the two composers. Mozart’s high opinion of CPE Bach is reflected in his declaration, ‘He’s the father, we’re the boys. Everybody who has accomplished something has learned from him.’.

CPE Bach’s influence upon Mozart can most clearly be discerned in his concertos. In the set of six Hamburg concerto’s (WQ 43 ) for harpsichord there’s one which has been favoured in performance upon the piano. The pianist Helen Schnabel first recorded the D major (H. 472) concerto as early as 1952.  In its fluid lyricism and dynamic interplay between soloist and orchestral forces, a clear anticipation of the full range of emotional expression as achieved by Mozart in his piano concertos can clearly be heard. More recently this Concerto has also been recorded by Anastasia Injushina and the Hamburger Camerata (2013) to great effect.

In 1772 the English music historian Charles Burney (1726 –1814) visited C.P.E. Bach in Hamburg, publishing his The Present State of Music in Germany, the Netherlands, and United Provinces in the following year. Burney observed, "Hamburg is not, at present, possessed of any musical professor of great eminence, except M. Carl Philip Emanuel Bach; but he is a legion!" Charles Burney cautioned that the works of CPE Bach were ‘so uncommon, that a little habit is necessary for the enjoyment of [them]’. Burney also noted that many critics faulted CPE Bach for writing works that were ‘fantastical’ and ‘far-fetched’.

CPE Bach's genius was for Burney most evident in - "his productions for his own instruments, the clavichord, and piano forte, in which he stands unrivalled". Visiting Bach at his home, Burney noted,

 “The instant I entered [his house], M. Bach conducted me up stairs, into a large and elegant music room, furnished with pictures, drawings, and prints of more than a hundred and fifty eminent musicians: among whom, there are many Englishmen, and original portraits, in oil, of his father and grandfather".

C.P.E. Bach's collection was the first of its kind in Germany and included almost 400 portraits.  It included images of the Bach family and contemporary composers and singers, as well as scientists, poets, historical musicians, mythological figures and philosophers, including a portrait of Sir Thomas Browne.

Burney continues - “After I had looked at these, M. Bach was so obliging as to sit down to his Silbermann clavichord, and favourite instrument, upon which he played three or four of his choicest and most difficult compositions, with the delicacy, precision, and spirit, for which he is so justly celebrated among his countrymen.......Bach played, with little intermission, till near eleven o'clock at night. During this time, he grew so animated and possessed, that he not only played, but looked like one inspired, His eyes were fixed, his under lip fell, and drops of effervescence distilled from his countenance. He said, if he were to be set to work frequently, in this manner, he should grow young again."

"In the pathetic and slow movements, whenever he had a long note to express, he absolutely contrived to produce, from his instrument, a cry of sorrow and complaint, such as can only be effected upon the clavichord, and perhaps by himself". The experience for Burney - confirmed that Bach was, "one of the greatest composers that ever existed, for keyed instruments".

Today it is repeatedly asked - How did we, in the 20th century, lose CPE Bach as the link between the Baroque and the Romantic musical mind ?  Charles Burney was among the earliest music critics to recognise CPE Bach's genius declaring-

‘His flights are not the wild ravings of ignorance or madness, but the effusions of cultivated genius. His pieces … will be found, upon a close examination, to be so rich in invention, taste, and learning, that … each line of them, if wire-drawn, would furnish more new ideas than can be discovered in a whole page of many other compositions.

It was not however until the 1980's that serious attention, performance and recording of CPE Bach's music occurred. With a revival of interest in authentic music-making on instruments of the period, CPE Bach's music has gathered a growing interest and in the best of his music, often in a minor key, there is a turbulence and joy, a veritas true to life itself with its fusion of some uncertainty but also with some structure. According to the musicologist Leta Miler writing in 2010-

‘CPE Bach’s approach to musical expressiveness found voice in frequent mood changes, wide melodic leaps, abundant rests and ‘sighing’ motifs, irregular phrase structures, the juxtaposition of contrasting rhythmic figures, deceptive cadences, and dramatic, rhetorical harmonic interjections. Bach became particularly renowned for his ability to improvise fantasias—seemingly free-form, stream-of-consciousness flights of fancy characterized by unmeasured rhythm and distant harmonic excursions.... His compositions mark one of the first—and among the most inspired—repudiations of the Baroque aesthetic, in which a single unified mood dominates each movement’.

Far more than a mere transitional of bridge figure in the history of music, CPE Bach was a gifted and highly original composer in his own right. Without his pioneering aesthetic, in particular in the genres of the symphony and the concerto, neither Haydn’s development of the symphony, nor the fluid lyricism and passion of Mozart’s piano concertos would have been achievable. Hopefully in 2014, the tercentenary of CPE Bach’s birth, a greater awareness and appreciation of this much neglected composer's music will grow and blossom.


* C.P.E. Bach Edition - Deutsche Harmonia Mundi (10 Disc Box-set) (Jan 27 2014)
* C.P.E. Bach - String Symphonies Wq.182 - English Consort/Pinnock -Archive 1980
* 4 Symphonies Wq.183 + 3 Cello concertos (2 Discs)  Age of Enlightenment/Leonhardt-Virgin 1990
* Symphonies & Concertos -Akademie for Alte Musik Berlin -Deutsche Harmonia Mundi 2001
* Bach family Piano concertos Anastasia Injushina/ Hamburger Camerata - Virgin 2013
* Piano concerto D minor Wq.22  Michael Rische Rainer Maria Klass  Leipzig Chamber Orchestra 2011
* C. P. E. Bach: The Keyboard Concertos (2 discs) Andreas Staier, Freiburger Barockorchester / Müllejans  Deutsche Harmonia Mundi 2011
* C.P.E. Bach - Harpsichord Concertos  (2 Discs)  Asperen/Melante Amsterdam - EMI 1983
* C.P.E. Bach -Keyboard sonatas Francois Chaplin Pf. Naxos 1996
* C.P.E.Bach - Orgel Konzert - Kammerorchester CPE Bach Roland Munch -Capriccio 1987
* C.P.E.Bach - Die Orgel Sonaten -Roland Munch - Christophorus 1983
* C.P.E. Bach Cantatas -Rheinische Kantorei/Max   Brilliant (Jan 27 2014)