Now we explore level one of development in our relations to the physical world. The first thing we must do is engage the world, at a basic level – get out of bed if that is the issue.
In the sweat of thy face shalt thou eat bread, till thou return unto the ground; for out of it wast thou taken: for dust thou art, and unto dust shalt thou return. [The Bible, Genesis 3:19.]
Last week, we explored the first steps in our development of interpersonal relationships. This week, we explore the first steps in our development of our engagement in the world.
In our quasi-liturgical calendar, the distinction of engaging the world follows naturally after the preceding weeks, which have set the framework for all that will come: the ideal is followed by the reality of suffering; then the pause of humility leads us naturally to the beginning of engagement. It is time to begin the journey again, in a new way. It is time to emerge from our cocoon and engage.
Technical and Analytical Readings
- Paul Holinger, M.D., What Babies Say Before They Can Talk: The Nine Signals Infants Use to Express Their Feelings (Fireside, 2003).
- Linda Acredola and Susan Goodwyn, Baby Signs: How To Talk With Your Baby Before Your Baby Can Talk (Hodder & Stoughton, Ltd., 1997).
- Sara Bingham, The Baby Signing Book (Robedrt Rose, 2007).
A committed ethicist with a single-minded devotion to service might protest that crafts are diversions from the work of the world. I reply that crafts are ways of calming and refreshing the self and more fundamentally, of engaging the world in some small way.
- Amy Sedaris, Simple Times: Crafts for Poor People (Grand Central, 2010).
- Susan Peterson, The Craft and Art of Clay: A Complete Potter's Handbook (Overlook, 2003).
Therapists use crafts to assist people with emotional pathologies.
- Umberto Boccioni, The City Rises (1910)
- Vincent van Gogh, First Steps (After Millet) (1890)
- Vincent van Gogh, The Sower (1888)
- Paul Gauguin, A Seashore (1887)
- Mary Cassatt, Children Playing on the Beach (1884)
- Pierre-Auguste Renoir, The First Step (1876)
- Ivan Aivazofsky, Seashore (1840)
- Salvador Dali, The Spectre of Sex Appeal (1934) (shadow side: Dali depicts himself as a child, expressing his fear and fascination)
Music: Composers, artists, and major works
In Hans Christian Andersen’s fairy tale “The Little Mermaid”, the title character wishes to live a fully human life. The story has been set to music:
- Antonín Dvořák, Rusalka, Op. 114, B 203 (1900) (approx. 144-154’) (libretto), renders the story as an opera. Performances feature Fleming, Fleming, Strid, Šubrtová, Nylund, Červinková and Benacková.
- Alexander von Zemlinsky, Die Seejungfrau (The Mermaid) (1903) (approx. 41-48’) presents it as an orchestral work.
François Couperin, Leçons de Ténèbres (Lessons of Darkness) (1714) (approx. 65 minutes), is “a setting of the Lamentations of Jeremiah . . .” Like much of Couperin’s music, and consistent with the work’s title, it conveys a feeling of beginning to emerge from darkness. That is what we do when we begin to engage the world. This is all the more true for people coming out of depression or other illness. “This is very expressive, exposed music; it takes superb musicians to make it work, for they must make the music sound like simplicity itself.” This is in keeping with the early stage of ethical/personal development the music suggests. “Couperin's three Tenebrae settings are all for Maundy Thursday . . .” Best recorded performances are by Lesne & Dugardin in 1991, Daneman & Petibon, with Christie, in 1996, Gens & Piau, with Rousset, in 1997, and Kirkby & Melon, with Charlston, in 2005.
Practically all of François Couperin’s chamber music (approx. 370’) is along the same lines:
- Concerts royaux (1722) (approx. 60-65’): Premier Concert in G major; Second Concert in D major (master class) ; Troisiéme Concert in A major; Quatriéme Concert in E minor
- Les Goûts-réünis ou Nouveaux Concerts (1724): Cinquiéme Concert in F major; Sixième Concert in B-flat major; Septième Concert in G minor; Huitiéme Concert dans le gout Théatral in G major; Neuviéme Concert Intitulé Ritratto dell’amore in E major; Dixiéme Concert A minor; Onze Concert in C minor; Douziéme Concert in A major; Treiziéme Concert in G major; Quatroziéme Concert et dernier de cét œuvre in D minor
- Les Nations: Sonades et Suites de Simphonies en Trio (1726) (approx. 110’): Premier Ordre –La Françoise; Deuxième Ordre – L’Espagnole; Troiséme Ordre – L'Impériale; Quatriéme Ordre – La Piémontoise
- Le Parnasse ou L’apothéose de Corelli Grande Sonade, en Trio (master class)
- Concert Instrumental sous le Titre D’apotheose: Composé à la mémoire immortelle de l’incomparable Monsieur de Lully
- Complete Sonatas (approx. 70’)
- Pieces de Violes (1728) (approx. 68’): Premiere Suite; Second Suite; Le Rossignol Vainqueur
Creation stories are best seen as metaphors for a child’s emerging awareness of and engagement with the world, and from chaos/nothingness into order. An excellent example is Haydn’s Die Schöpfung (The Creation) (1798) (approx. 100-110’). “Originally titled The Creation of the World, the text was primarily compiled from three sources: the Creation story from the book of Genesis in the King James Bible, the book of Psalms, and Milton’s Paradise Lost, which was an interpretation of the same Creation story.” “. . . Haydn intended this to be a work which would speak to people from any religious tradition or none. In blending the ideals of the Enlightenment with those of Romanticism, and in being able to speak to intellectuals and common people, The Creation from the very start was an enormous success and it remains one of the cornerstones of the choral repertoire.” Links are to live performances, with video, by Adam Fischer in 2009, Harnoncourt in 2013, and Bernstein. Top performances on disc are by Jochum in 1951, Karajan in 1968, Gardiner in 1995, McCreesh in 2008, Christophers in 2015, and Antonini in 2020.
Johann Sebastian Bach, 6 Sonatas for Two Keyboards and Pedal, BWV 525-530 BWV 525-530 (Trio Sonatas) (1727-32) (approx. 100-120’): “Bach is the go-to composer for understanding the fundamentals of music. His Trio Sonatas have been important pedagogical tools from Bach’s time to today in teaching performance, improvisation and composition.” “These pieces were perhaps conceived, and are certainly used, to build technique on an instrument that is played with both hands and feet. Written for the organ or pedal clavichord (a practice instrument for organists), these sonatas require the right and left hands to play independently melodic lines on separate keyboards, while the feet play the basso continuo.” Excellent recorded performances on organ are by Marie-Claire Alain in 1959, Ton Koopman in 1982, Christopher Herrick in 1989, Simon Preston in 1993, Benjamin Alard in 2009, and Robert Costin in 2014. Excellent recorded ensemble performances (transcribed) are by The Purcell Quartet in 2000, London Baroque in 2002, The Brook Street Band in 2010, and Holliger, Jaccottet & Zimmermann.
A prelude is a predicate piece, as fundamental engagement is a predicate to development.
- Galina Ustvolskaya, 12 Preludes for piano (1953) (approx. 20’) are minimalist pieces composed before the advent of minimalism.
- Mieczysław Weinberg, 24 Preludes for solo cello, Op. 100 (1969) (approx. 43-46’)
- Felix Blumenfeld, 24 Preludes for Piano, Op. 17 (1892) (approx. 62-64’)
The following works evoke engagement, in typical baroque fashion:
- Jan Dismas Zelenka, Ouverture à 7 Concertanti in F Major, ZWV 188 (1723) (approx. 21-23’), begin with a sweeping motif, which evokes the theme of emergence. The composition plays out in typical open-hearted baroque fashion.
- Pierre Danican Philidor, Suites for Flute and Basso Continuo (1717, 1718) (approx. 110’)
- Carl Friedrich Abel, Cello Concerto in B-flat Major, WK. 52 (1759) (approx. 14’)
- Minimalist music is especially suited to this subject of rudimentary engagement. Simeon ten Holt’s Piano Duo, “Canto Ostinato” (1979), linked here in a 249-minute performance, a 204-minute performance, a 180-minute performance, a 145-minute performance, and a 99-minute performance. “The first work of his final compositional period, it advocates indeterminacy in performance, leaving performers to decide on dynamics, articulation, pedalling, instrumentation, and the number of repetitions of most of its 106 sections.” In this work, “. . . repetition as a musical tool becomes a way to turn time into space.”
- Antonio Bibalo, Sonatina 2A: Astrale for Wind Quintet (1972) (approx. 23’), is a typically disjointed contemporary work, which nevertheless evokes the theme of emergence.
- Pierre Jalbert, Air in Motion, for flute and string Quartet (2019) (approx. 18'): “. . . the title refers to the flute’s ability to generate beauty from the simple aspect of air moving through the instrument.”
Performances and albums:
- Australian Art Orchestra, “Umi No Uzu” (Stirring the Oceans) (2020) (43’), inspired by a Japanese Creation myth
- Chen Ming-Chang, “Maborosi” (1995) (41’), is the soundtrack to the Taiwanese film by that name, about a woman who re-emerges from depression after her husband commits suicide.
Film and Stage
- Apur Sansar (The World of Apu): having lived through a series of disasters, the protagonist in Satyajit Ray’s premiere trilogy has soured to the point that he abandons his son; after becoming thoroughly unsympathetic, finally he returns to be engaged in the world and his responsibilities
- Hope and Glory, about wartime London under siege, seen through a child’s eyes: I file the film under engaging because the child protagonist does not yet appreciate the significance of the events taking place around him
- Kings of the Road: the road serves as a metaphor for life, as the filmmaker-protagonists struggle with withdrawal versus engagement.
- My Neighbor Totoro: two young girls learn to confront life as it is.
- Maborosi “follows the spiritual odyssey of Yumiko (Makiko Esumi), a young Japanese woman recovering from her husband's inexplicable suicide.”
I hear the workman singing and the farmer's wife singing,
I hear in the distance the sounds of children and of animals early in the day,
I hear emulous shouts of Australians pursuing the wild horse,
I hear the Spanish dance with castanets in the chestnut shade, to the rebeck and guitar,
I hear continual echoes from the Thames,
I hear fierce French liberty songs,
I hear of the Italian boat-sculler the musical recitative of old poems,
I hear the locusts in Syria as they strike the grain and grass with the showers of their terrible clouds,
I hear the Coptic refrain toward sundown, pensively falling on the breast of the black venerable vast mother the Nile,
I hear the chirp of the Mexican muleteer, and the bells of the mule,
I hear the Arab muezzin calling from the top of the mosque,
I hear the Christian priests at the altars of their churches,
I hear the responsive base and soprano,
I hear the cry of the Cossack, and the sailor's voice putting to sea at Okotsk,
I hear the wheeze of the slave-coffle as the slaves march on, as the husky gangs pass on by twos and threes, fasten'd together with wrist-chains and ankle-chains,
I hear the Hebrew reading his records and psalms,
I hear the rhythmic myths of the Greeks, and the strong legends of the Romans,
I hear the tale of the divine life and bloody death of the beautiful God the Christ,
I hear the Hindoo teaching his favorite pupil the loves, wars, adages, transmitted safely to this day from poets who wrote three thousand years ago.
[Walt Whitman, Leaves of Grass (1891-92), Book VI, “Salut au Monde” (3).]
· Robert Frost, “Mowing” (analysis)
· James Joyce, “Lean Out of the Window”
Now, in 1482, Quasimodo had grown up. He had become a few years previously the bellringer of Notre-Dame, thanks to his father by adoption, Claude Frollo,—who had become archdeacon of Josas, thanks to his suzerain, Messire Louis de Beaumont,—who had become Bishop of Paris, at the death of Guillaume Chartier in 1472, thanks to his patron, Olivier Le Daim, barber to Louis XI., king by the grace of God.
So Quasimodo was the ringer of the chimes of Notre-Dame.
In the course of time there had been formed a certain peculiarly intimate bond which united the ringer to the church. Separated forever from the world, by the double fatality of his unknown birth and his natural deformity, imprisoned from his infancy in that impassable double circle, the poor wretch had grown used to seeing nothing in this world beyond the religious walls which had received him under their shadow. Notre-Dame had been to him successively, as he grew up and developed, the egg, the nest, the house, the country, the universe.
There was certainly a sort of mysterious and pre-existing harmony between this creature and this church. When, still a little fellow, he had dragged himself tortuously and by jerks beneath the shadows of its vaults, he seemed, with his human face and his bestial limbs, the natural reptile of that humid and sombre pavement, upon which the shadow of the Romanesque capitals cast so many strange forms. Later on, the first time that he caught hold, mechanically, of the ropes to the towers, and hung suspended from them, and set the bell to clanging, it produced upon his adopted father, Claude, the effect of a child whose tongue is unloosed and who begins to speak. . . .
It was the only speech which he understood, the only sound which broke for him the universal silence. He swelled out in it as a bird does in the sun. All of a sudden, the frenzy of the bell seized upon him; his look became extraordinary; he lay in wait for the great bell as it passed, as a spider lies in wait for a fly, and flung himself abruptly upon it, with might and main. Then, suspended above the abyss, borne to and fro by the formidable swinging of the bell, he seized the brazen monster by the ear-laps, pressed it between both knees, spurred it on with his heels, and redoubled the fury of the peal with the whole shock and weight of his body. Meanwhile, the tower trembled; he shrieked and gnashed his teeth, his red hair rose erect, his breast heaving like a bellows, his eye flashed flames, the monstrous bell neighed, panting, beneath him; and then it was no longer the great bell of Notre-Dame nor Quasimodo: it was a dream, a whirlwind, a tempest, dizziness mounted astride of noise; a spirit clinging to a flying crupper, a strange centaur, half man, half bell; a sort of horrible Astolphus, borne away upon a prodigious hippogriff of living bronze.
[Victor Hugo, Notre-Dame de Paris, or, The Hunchback of Notre Dame (1831), Volume I, Book Fourth, Chapter III, “Immanis Pecoris Custos, Immanior Ipse”.]
Music: songs and other short pieces
- Matthews Southern Comfort Band, “Woodstock”
- Blaise Siwula, Nicolas Letman-Burtinovic & Jon Panikkar, “Engagement”