Weekend!

Last week I went to see a new movie about the Beatles on tour, directed by Ron Howard, who was just the right age to become a Beatlemaniac (10 when they first came to the US). It was pretty much what you expect from that kind of film: film and TV clips, concert footage, interviews with people who were there at the time1, interviews with celebrities2 that were kids at the time, and so on. And while it was lots of fun to visit the early 60s again (as the guy who usually writes in this spot would say “We were so young!”), it wasn’t earthshaking. The gold standard for this kind of thing remains The Kids Are Alright, which in less than two hours tells you everything you need to know about why The Who were the best hard rock band there ever was or will be (and why, if you previously didn’t care about that, you should.)

What was earthshaking was that after the film was over and all the credits had rolled came a film of a Beatles concert at Shea Stadium3. With no advance notice, by the way. Some of the audience left before that; I might have, if a friend hadn’t told me it was coming. And it was awesome. They were one amazing live band: tight and focused, with amazing stage presence. It was literally worth the price of admission all by itself. As I understand it, while the film is going to be on Hulu, the concert is not, so you should all go see the combination while it’s still in theaters.

This weekend, I have tickets to see Bach’s St. Matthew’s Passion, put on by a local Bach society. This, as the Wiki link advises us,

sets chapters 26 and 27 of the Gospel of Matthew (in the German translation of Martin Luther) to music with interspersed chorales and arias. It is widely regarded as one of the masterpieces of classical sacred music.

Which lends an interesting perspective. Bach’s goal in writing this piece was to express his religious convictions and glorify Christ. Meaning that I’m not in sympathy with:

  • Bach’s intention
  • The choice of text
  • The version of the text.4

But it’s an extraordinary and lovely piece of music. Which is enough, even if JSB might be disappointed in that being all of it for some of his listeners.

So, what are you up to?

Image by kmardahl Notes:

  1. notably Paul and Ringo []
  2. Sigourney Weaver, Whoopi Goldberg, Elvis Costello []
  3. In Queens, where the Mets used to play. []
  4. Martin Luther is very much not one of my favorite people, for reasons that should be obvious. []

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Mike has been a software engineer far longer than he would like to admit. He has strong opinions on baseball, software, science fiction, comedy, contract bridge, and European history, any of which he's willing to share with almost no prompting whatsoever. ...more →

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17 thoughts on “Weekend!

  1. This week’s “weekend” post being on a Thursday, does that mean Friday is a holiday for most US Americans?

    Up here the holiday is Monday. As my dad declared after moving here, it’s a great country, always having a long weekend in honour of his birthday.

    We’re going camping with Mr T’s extended family, as is their Thanksgiving tradition. This year we’re going to dinosaur provincial park. I haven’t visited there since i was a kid, and remember being blown away by the landscape. I hope kiddo feels the same way.

    My dad’s birthday party is the weekend after rather than before the actual date, so we get to do both.

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    • Not that I know of, but Monday is Columbus Day, which is a holiday for banks and Federal workers and some public K-12 schools (most of the rest of us have to work). So maybe people are taking Friday off early to make a four-day weekend? I guess some people live in that world?

      (My world, these days, is more often the world of the one-day weekend, and that’s only because I refuse to give up having a Sabbath day)

      Yeah, it’s another “workend” with grading and research work and I also have to file the monthly grade reports on our athletes and scholarship students. And I really need to get to the next biggest town to me to grocery shop for better-quality food than what the local wal-mart sells, except it’s an hour-and-a-half round trip now with road construction. And no, there isn’t anything good closer: I spent about an hour on Google Maps searching one night, figuring there HAD to be some kind of secret grocery store somewhere I didn’t know about.

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  2. I fly back home on Saturday and will spend Sunday doing laundry, resocializing the cats, and recuperating from my trip in general. (But the good news is that we’ve been averaging 9-10 hours of sleep a night and that is very, very good for us.)

    Last night, we ate dinner here.

    I had the roast bone marrow (with foie gras!) and Maribou had the roast lamb mac and cheese (with pepper jelly) after we both started with the meat/cheese tray.

    The menu had an entry for “buy the kitchen a round of beer: $15” and I thought “man, that’s a Hail Mary pass if ever I saw one” and, after the meal, I thought “what the heck” and bought the kitchen a round.

    The presentation was magnificent at this place, lemme tell ya. The food was good, but the presentation was *GREAT*.

    And I’m pretty much vacationed out. I want to go home.

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  3. We are now knee deep in packing, getting quotes from movers over the next few work days and generally feeling that we have too much stuff. Trying to convince each other that its there misc. that we can do with out as we get ready to move.

    Oh, our 11 year anniversary is Sat. It looks like our present to each other is a new house.

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  4. Martin Luther is very much not one of my favorite people, for reasons that should be obvious.

    Yeah, that wasn’t his shining moment. Neither was his response to the Peasants’ War.

    I see his treatise on the Jews as part old-fashioned antisemitism and part sociological naivete. The early Reformers were, in retrospect, collectively naive. They had concluded that the Catholic church had severe problems, and had identified as the source of these problems the church’s drift away from sound scriptural doctrine. As a good Lutheran boy, I actually agree with both of these propositions. (How this applies to the church today is a separate discussion.) Where they ran into trouble was that they believed that once they agreed to turn back to scripture, everything else would naturally follow. It is to laugh. The Reformation soon split into three distinct traditions: the rather confusingly named Lutheran (or Evangelical) tradition, the Reformed (which is not quite the same thing as Calvinist, but often treated that way) tradition, and the Anabaptist tradition, which is really something of a grab-bag “everything else” category.

    The treatise on the Jews comes into this as being an extension of the same naivete. This was late in Luther’s life, and while I wouldn’t go so far as to say he had lost it, he was past his prime. The essential logic was that sure, the Roman church was obviously a mess, so it was perfectly reasonable for the Jews to want nothing to do with it. But he had fixed that, so what was their problem now? Why had they not understood what he had done, and become good Lutheran Christians?

    I have sometimes seen this treatise used as an argument against modern Lutheranism. This is very weird. Luther was brilliant in some contexts, but his writings (which are quite literally voluminous) are not regarded by Lutherans as inspired canon. Our response to that treatise is Yep: He sure screwed the pooch on that one!

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  5. I attended a performance of Bach’s Mass in B minor a few years ago. Definitely the religious aspect enhanced it for me, but man, that guy could write music.

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  6. You’re not in sympathy even with the general intention of expressing religious conviction through art? Or just not when that’s glorifying Christ? Or not when it’s any religious creed with which you don’t have sympathy?

    Personally when I think about Bach’s intentions in sacred music (but I don’t really know), I consider them to be 1), as in all his music, to create a musical work of sublime structure and construction (the point of which was surely to glorify God, but in the most general sense of that reflecting that Christians in that time considered that to be the ultimate point nearly all of what they considered worthwhile human endeavor); and, 2), in sacred works like this, to fulfill his role in his religious community (and frankly simply to do his job for which he was well-paid for a musician in that age).

    That is to say, without claiming that Bach was not himself devout and motivated by personal religious inspiration (though I also don’t particularly know that he was), my choice is to view him primarily as a hired craftsman at work, meeting the demands for artwork expressing the religious convictions of the religious community that was paying him to do that. I realize that taking on board the religious message is necessary to understand the full intended artistic meaning of his works, but ultimately when we consider Bach’s extraordinariness as a composer, it’s not his inclusion of those religious ideas that we consider at all – that’s exactly what is ordinary for his age. Rather, what is extraordinary is the craftsmanship of the musical ideas – which I would contend (though Bach himself might object in the sense of the intention labeled (1) above) are not related to religious ideas, but instead rank among the most remarkable humanist achievements in European if not world culture.

    This would likewise go for the “choice of text” or “version of text” (or, “choice of version of text”(?)). Almost certainly he was responding to a request from his religious community to set this part of the Gospel to music. Plausibly not – perhaps Bach independently determined that Luther’s translation was particularly suitable for this purpose, which purpose – the setting of the Passion according to Matthew – he also independently chose. But regardless, working in the Lutheran church, it would be natural to the point of being almost a given that Luther’s translation would have been the one expected to be set, given that it was available, and that it was the work of the founder of the church himself. (I also don’t know what other German translations would have even been available in Bach’s time.) For that matter, the text may have been chosen by the community specifically to honor Martin Luther (though I think that’s less likely.) In any case, the point is that in the choice of text as well, I think what makes the most sense, or at least is an obvious option, is to see Bach’s “choice of text” as meeting the demands of his religious particular community, which was chosen by him as much for commercial reasons as religious ones – though, again, that is not to say he was not a committed member of that community of belief. Essentially, the choice of text, in other words, was that of the religious community he served (as a salaried worker in the church) as it was of Bach himself.

    My point here is to say that, for me, when a piece of music speaks to me, the power of that experience lies in what I experience as a truly personal connection between myself and the creator of the work – a kind of moment of shared humanity that can transcend culture and historical context precisely because of the ability of music to communicate human emotion and experience in abstract, potentially universal terms. I tend to see ultimate musical intention in that light, even though most music has a more immediate, culturally-bounded subject as well. I think, then, we can see that as at some level Bach’s intent (and hopefully therefore be quite easily sympathetic to it), even in sacred music like this. Or in any case we can seek that kind of personal connection with the artist through his creation in abstract musical terms – regardless of his culturally-bounded intent. When I listen to sacred music by Bach I am aware of both intents – to speak to his religious community in his time in religious terms, glorifying God through the craft of the musical expression, and – to speak (across time) to the shared experience (as conceived by Bach them an and the artist, not by his religious community) of being human in quasi-universal, abstract musical terms. But personally my main focus is on the latter intent.

    Given the degree of difficulty you have with the historical context of the culturally-bounded part of the intent, and the way you talk about your reaction to the music, to me you imply you share this way of seeking to experience Bach with me. But then I’m not sure why you feel that you are not in sympathy with the intent of the composer, or his choices about the particular cultural material to which the music is attached (which was really not his choice as an artist, but that of his religious community). You don’t feel, when listening to the St. Matthew Passion, that Bach’s intent was to communicate with you in abstract human, emotional terms as much as, or at least alongside, communicating with the people in his religious community who had very particular, historically-bounded expectations and understandings of his work and why he had created it?

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      • I believe he was a devout Lutheran, and that in general in all his music he was inspired by his religious faith and desire to glorify God. But there is little doubt, is there?, that much of the specifics about the nature of the religious works he composed beyond the musical content – i.e. the liturgical content – was not only inspired, but in fact determined, by those entities, i.e. the churches that employed him to provide such works, who were paying him to set that content to music. Do you dispute that?

        What exactly is the relevance of the fact that the Lutheran congregation which employed Bach to set its religious texts to music chose (A) a passage from the New Testament (B) translated by the founder of the Church for Bach to set, to your appreciation today of his musical craft in creating that setting? I mean, there is no way, however much we might wish, to historically remove Bach from the cultural context in which he lived, but there is absolutely a way to decide for ourselves how much that context defines the meaning of his musical craft to us today. I mean, it’s not like we would equally appreciate any work from that era that set that translation of that religious story to music. We appreciate the extraordinary musical craft, which could, but for historical contingency, have been applied to a text more agreeable to us, and thus is perfectly able to be separated from the religious context in which it was plied. By holding this music up for special appreciation beyond that we’d give to settings of similar texts from the same era by composers of lesser note (which I assume is little), that is exactly what we are doing.

        I would also ask this question again: is it really the case that you are not in sympathy with expressing religious conviction as a general artistic motivation/intention?

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      • I have had, and continue having, a similar discussion with my partner. He grew up Protestant in Northern Ireland during the Troubles, and has a visceral antipathy to anything Catholic (*). We both enjoy classical painting, but he has a very difficult time with any painting religious in nature. He can’t abstract the artistic merit, from the Catholicism of the painting (a Madonna, or Saints, or a Crucifixion) no matter the artist. In his brain he understands the artistic merit of a Raphael Madonna. In his heart he sees only Popish superstition (he actually says “Popish superstition”)

        (*) It took me years to get him to walk into a Catholic Church, just to look at the paintings, but thankfully that bridge was crossed. My inlaws don’t know he has actually been inside Catholic churches with me. They would be in shock if they knew, and I would be in so much trouble with them.

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  7. I’m playing “The electricians are here” game.

    I think I’m losing.

    I have a house build just before ground wires became required nation-wide. SOME of my house has ground wires. Some does not. Some have two prong plugs with ground wires, some do not. Of the three problematic outlets, one just needed replacement. Two needed conversion from two to three prongs, one of which had a ground wire which was in no way connected to ground. I currently have electricians swarming my attic, complaining that whoever semi-rewired the house before we bought it didn’t yank old lines with no power, and trying vainly to find a ground wire they can get to that’s vaguely near the two outlets necessary so they can put in ground.

    Since those two outlets will connect to my “TV + PS4 + Sounds System” and the other will be a laptop and phone charging station, I really am forced to update to full ground there.

    I keep expecting more bad news. Like “It shows a ground but it’s lying because the people that updated your wiring before you bought the house just tied it to a metal pole they shoved into a rafter” or something like that.

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    • I sympathize with the whole “people who did the wiring screwed things up” problem. Last year, after an outlet in the finished part of our basement got erratic, I ended up going through all of the outlets and light fixtures down there, finding and fixing the small number of them where hot and neutral were reversed.

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      • I think they found some wires, but the ground was “weak” and finally located one kind of off the side. I have a few small holes in my wall I’m not thrilled with, and I expect I will not be thrilled with the bill.

        OTOH, kind of unavoidable expense. Also, they now have a good ground wire available in the attic for that half of the house if I have to do more outlets.

        All the “good” ground wires — kitchen, bathroom, etc that were refitted to code before we bought the house — are stuck on the other side of the AC unit, or UNDER the AC unit (and the flooring for it) which made it difficult to get to, and they apparently didn’t want to run a wire across the length of the attic if they could avoid it.

        It seems to be resolving now — they’re wiring the outlets, but it seems like every step was accompanied by a “CRAP” moment (header in the way, box in the way, not enough room to work, etc. If nothing else, these guys having been working pretty hard for the last two and a half hours.

        I kind of feel for them. They offered to ground the new outlets at a discount because they’d already put in the outlets, and obviously did NOT expect two hours of constant problems.

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