Dante journal entry 5 - complete

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MM project for MyDante, spring 2011

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Dante journal entry 5 - complete

  1. 1. Some reflections on the role of music in The Divine Comedy & Symphony #8 Dante & Mahler
  2. 2. Background <ul><li>First, it is important to understand the scope of this work. “Symphony #8” is an extremely ambitious piece of music. Its composer, Gustav Mahler, had the explicit aim of utilizing hundreds of singers and instruments to “encompass the entire universe in an aesthetic statement” (Feder, 151). </li></ul><ul><li> Like Dante’s vow that he would “compose concerning her what has never been written in rhyme of any woman ” (VN, XLII), Mahler also set out to do something the orchestral world had never seen. </li></ul><ul><ul><li>Typically, the performance of this work involves hundreds of musicians, dozens of chorus members. </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>The symphony also presents a synthesis of various elements of classical music that is rarely seen. It is an amalgam of many previous styles that manages to retain substance and subtlety (Feder, 172). </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>However, it is worth noting that Mahler’s symphony, unlike the Divine Comedy, does not proceed in a linear fashion… or, more accurately, it is not divided into three carefully-arranged parts. It rather has two movements of uneven length: the first is only slightly longer than 20 minutes, while the second takes nearly 56 minutes. </li></ul></ul>
  3. 3. Music in the Divine Comedy <ul><li>Music is a major trope in the Divine Comedy---but not in all places! </li></ul><ul><ul><li>Pleasing music begins in Purgatory, when the passengers on the Ship of Souls in Canto II sings joyfully of the Israelites’ exile as they arrive at the foot of the mountain. The sound is a relief to Dante, who has just emerged from the disharmony of Hell (which is full of screams and rough language). </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>In Paradise, the music becomes even more sonorous and magnificent. Music here becomes a kind of indicator of internal harmony, as well as a salve and encouraging presence in Dante’s journey. Almost as soon as he enters Heaven, Dante finds himself called onwards and upwards by “strains which Thou dost tune and modulate” (I.78). </li></ul></ul>[3]
  4. 4. Movement 1, Intro. <ul><li>The symphony wastes no time in grabbing the audience’s attention. </li></ul><ul><li>Hundreds of chorus members chant “ veni, creator spiritus ” (come, creator spirit) in tones that rapidly cycle back and forth from high to low. </li></ul><ul><li>This functions as a sort of invocation for the symphony: it importunes divine blessings and alerts the audience to what it should expect. It is not unlike inscriptions in the Comedy (Inferno III.1-9), or scenes involving entrance through a gate accompanied by music (Purgatorio IX.133-145). </li></ul> LISTEN (0:00-1:27) <ul><li>Click for music </li></ul>
  5. 5. The “Duel” <ul><li>About halfway through the first movement, the chants die down and instruments take over. </li></ul><ul><li>However, another dichotomy is presented: a ‘duel’ of sorts between the lofty, sunny flutes and somber trombones begins. Violins are cheerily plucked, then a languid tune is played on them. </li></ul><ul><li>After about three minutes, the entire chorus bursts out in Latin chant, giving the audience a foretaste of the unity to come. </li></ul> LISTEN (9:33-10:55)
  6. 6. Possible meaning… <ul><li>The flitting back and forth between grand, rousing melodies and particular instruments being played entirely on their own is calls attention to both the grandeur and intimacy of the universe created by God </li></ul><ul><li>For Mahler, as for Dante, the universal can be seen in the particular (and vice versa). Our experience cannot be segregated from an untouchable nature or “realm of pure thought”. </li></ul>[4]
  7. 7. The use of language (1) <ul><li>Usually, the use of language must be balanced with the background music so that it does not detract from it… in Mahler’s symphony, however, it becomes part of the music itself. </li></ul><ul><ul><li>There is an implication that singing is the supreme form of speech . It is more elegant and possibly meaningful than prose---or even poetry. </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>This is an idea with considerable support throughout the ages. St. Augustine remarked that “he who sings prays twice”, and Plato spends a fair amount of time discussing the proper role and function of music in Book III of The Republic. He recognized the role of music in the very formation of people’s souls. </li></ul></ul>
  8. 8. The use of language (2) <ul><li>Dante, too, tries to balance individual speech and a greater harmony. </li></ul><ul><li>In the sphere of Saturn, for instance, Dante ‘stops the music’ for dramatic effect. This prompts the startled pilgrim to ask the contemplatives: </li></ul><ul><li>“ And say why in the region of this wheel / </li></ul><ul><li>No strains of heavenly symphony arise / </li></ul><ul><li>As through the other spheres devoutly peal?” (XXI.58-60) </li></ul>
  9. 9. The use of language (3) <ul><li>A similar juxtaposition occurs in Mahler’s symphony between the first and second movements. Rousing shouts of “ gloria ” suddenly stop, are followed by a silence, then a very slow, non-threatening repetition of basic sounds. </li></ul> LISTEN (23:46-24:27) LISTEN (24:30-25:44) <ul><ul><li>This seems designed, like the musical interruption in the sphere of Saturn, to first grab the audience’s attention, then call them to the act of contemplation and perhaps even remind them of the goal of the work itself by forcing them to re-trace basic steps. The reminder is to not ignore things that seem consigned to previous cantos/movements. </li></ul></ul>
  10. 10. <ul><li>Oftentimes, however, it is not practical to simply halt the music. Indeed, it is easy to imagine this effect wearing down the reader or listener if overused. Therefore, both Mahler and Dante attempt to make the words themselves musical. </li></ul>[5]
  11. 11. Words as music <ul><li>In this clip (one of several examples), a single male singer bellows lyrics that complement, even complete, the background music. The voice itself becomes an instrument. Note also the way the instruments seem to mirror the shifts in the singer’s tone. </li></ul><ul><li>Dante strives for a similar goal in the use of tirza rima : “the sweet new style” in which the poet’s words, when read in their original language, form a melody in and of themselves that captures the mood of the scene (Ambrosio). </li></ul> LISTEN (49:47-51:02)
  12. 12. Similar motifs <ul><li>Mahler’s symphony is ultimately about “salvation through the power of love” and the necessity of uniting eros (erotic, self-centered love) with caritas (charitable, universal love)… a theme which obviously resonates in Dante’s work </li></ul>[1]
  13. 13. Unity <ul><li>This clip, part of the run-up to the symphony’s conclusion, seems well matched to the overall milieu of Heaven. There is a recognition that human words and tensions have been reconciled, transformed into something greater (“long was extinct the language which I spoke” [XXVI.124] says Adam in Paradise with obvious joy). </li></ul><ul><li>This clip almost sounds like a lullaby, with its warm, reassuring strains backed up by a twinkling sound that calls to mind images of the vast universe without seeming daunting. </li></ul><ul><li>This clip, part of the run-up to the symphony’s conclusion, seems well matched to the overall milieu of Heaven. There is a recognition that human words and tensions have been reconciled, transformed into something greater (“long was extinct the language which I spoke” [XXVI.124] says Adam in Paradise with obvious joy). </li></ul><ul><li>This clip almost sounds like a lullaby, with its warm, reassuring strains backed up by a twinkling sound that calls to mind images of the vast universe without seeming daunting. </li></ul> LISTEN (68:30-69:40) [2]
  14. 14. Why this work? - Reflection <ul><li>I am not a classical music aficionado. However, I had the pleasure of seeing this work performed at the Kennedy Center in October, and found myself greatly moved by it. </li></ul><ul><li>As with reading the Divine Comedy, I was pleasantly surprised to discover how inaccurate my initial perceptions about Mahler were. Having never been to a classical music concert before, I was not sure what to expect. Yet I felt utterly drawn into the music---as if I were being rushed past sweeping landscapes or epic battles. </li></ul><ul><li>The power of Mahler’s imagination is evident… he envisioned an entire universe for his symphony, and I found myself trying to envision something analogous as I listened to the piece. I found this process strikingly similar to reading the Comedy, which demands active participation and vision on the part of the reader. Although Dante provides ample imagery, he also invites the reader make the text their own. </li></ul><ul><li>Both classical music and literature are somewhat shunned by my own generation---and, I must admit, I too sometimes have a hard time appreciating them. But both demand patience and effort . They cannot be passively consumed like much of contemporary pop culture. As I read Dante and listened to Mahler, I realized that complaints about these forms of culture are often predicated on the belief that they are simply not ‘relevant’ or ‘accessible’ to the average person today. Happily, I am discovering that the opposite is the case, and that they can be richly rewarding if given a chance and a commitment. </li></ul>
  15. 15. WORKS CITED <ul><li>Alighieri, Dante. Comp. Francis Ambrosio. La Vita Nuova . MyDante . Georgetown University. Web. 6 Dec. 2010. </li></ul><ul><li>Alighieri, Dante. Comp. Francis Ambrosio. The Divine Comedy . MyDante . Georgetown University. Web. 6 Dec. 2010. </li></ul><ul><li>Ambrosio, Francis. &quot;The Divine Comedy: Canto I.&quot; Car Barn, Washington, DC. 20 Sept. 2010. Lecture. </li></ul><ul><li>Feder, Stuart. Gustav Mahler: a Life in Crisis . New Haven: Yale UP, 2004. Print. </li></ul><ul><li>Mahler, Gustav. Symphony No. 8 in E Flat . Cond. Sir Simon Rattle. City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra. 2005. CD. </li></ul>
  16. 16. PICTURE CREDITS <ul><li>[1] http://www.prnd.ca/Dante%20-%20Paradiso.jpg </li></ul><ul><li>[2] http://www.spacetelescope.org/static/archives/images/screen/heic0607b.jpg </li></ul><ul><li>(Image from the Hubble Space Telescope) </li></ul><ul><li>[3] http://www.williambennettgallery.com/artists/dali/pictures/large%20v2/DALI1051.jpg </li></ul><ul><li>(Salvador Dali, Purgatory Canto II ) </li></ul><ul><li>[4] Personal photograph, taken Oct. 2010 in countryside around Warrenton, VA. </li></ul><ul><li>[5] http://www.freedigitalphotos.net/images/photos/San_Pietro_in_Vatican_013.JPG </li></ul><ul><li>(Light falling into St. Peter’s Basilica, public domain stock photo) </li></ul>
  17. 17. External Links: <ul><li>Watch the entire symphony on YouTube </li></ul><ul><ul><li>(Same conductor as the audio recording referenced in this presentation) </li></ul></ul>

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