Early on, we identified some basic preferences, which give shape and content to an ethical system: health, satisfaction of basic needs, pleasure, longevity, happiness and fulfillment. Many people group these under the single category of happiness.
This week, we approach this question again, this time with more informed eyes. How can we get the most out of life? We choose to give a spiritual answer to that question: an answer that considers the well-being of others, and our relationships with them, and an answer that takes into account questions of meaning and purpose, which are at the heart of spirituality and religion. For a person to whom happiness always meant these things, there may be no difference.
- Maurice Pendergast, May Day, Central Park (a/k/a Central Park, or Children in the Park) (c. 1900)
Music: songs and other short pieces
- Rascal Flats, My Wish
Some clichty folks / don't know the facts, / posin' and preenin' / ]and puttin' on acts, / stretchin' their backs.
They move into condos / up over the ranks, / pawn their souls / to the local banks. / Buying big cars / they can't afford, / ridin' around town / actin' bored.
If they want to learn how to live life right / they ought to study me on Saturday night.
My job at the plant / ain't the biggest bet, / but I pay my bills / and stay out of debt. / I get my hair done / for my own self's sake, / so I don't have to pick / and I don't have to rake.
Take the church money out / and head cross town / to my friend girl's house / where we plan our round. / We meet our men and go to a joint / where the music is blue / and to the point.
Folks write about me. / They just can't see / how I work all week / at the factory. / Then get spruced up / and laugh and dance / And turn away from worry / with sassy glance.
They accuse me of livin' / from day to day, / but who are they kiddin'? / So are they.
My life ain't heaven / but it sure ain't hell. / I'm not on top / but I call it swell / if I'm able to work / and get paid right / and have the luck to be Black / on a Saturday night.
[Maya Angelou, “Weekend Glory”]
Film and Stage
- The Sessions: A dramatization of Mark O’Brien’s life. Severely disabled by polio since childhood, he overcame many of his demons, and learned to live more fully, by developing relationships and his sexuality.
Music: Composers, artists, and major works
Franz Schubert, Symphony No. 9 in C major, D. 944, “Great” (1828): Fellow composer Robert Schumann wrote of this symphony: “Here, beside sheer musical mastery of the technique of composition is life in every fiber, color in the finest shadings, meaning everywhere, the acutest etching of detail, and all flooded with a Romanticism which we have encountered elsewhere in Franz Schubert. And this heavenly length, like a fat novel in four volumes by Jean Paul—never-ending, and if only that the reader may go on creating in the same vein afterwards . . .” Great recordings were conducted by Furtwängler in 1951, Szell in 1970, Abbado in 1988, Harnoncourt in 1992, Wand in 1995, Végh in 1996, Nott in 2007, Abbado in 2011, Norrington in 2018, Blomstedt in 2022, and Savall in 2022.
- The first movement (Andante – allegro ma non troppo) is a big, grand affirmation of life and everything in it.
- The second movement (Andante con moto) makes short work of life’s challenges.
- The third movement (Scherzo: Allegro vivace; Trio): the scherzo here is an extended and joyous laugh, in fast waltz tempo, and a dance with life. Midway through the movement, the dance turns into a slower, more tender waltz. The opening mood and themes return, then alternate with the second tempo to close the movement in tandem.
- The fourth movement (Allegro vivace) opens with an announcement that we are off to the races! Soon we are traveling at a more sustainable pace, our optimism and joy unabated. Justifiably pleased with this state of affairs, Schubert continues in it – returning to the initial theme several times – until the end of the symphony, adding just enough spice to make it interesting.
Beethoven, Symphony No. 4 in B Flat major, Op. 60 (1808), is playful, positive and rich, as life should be. “. . . the work brims with athletic vigor and admits both contemplative rumination and puckish humor”. “Instead of an epic journey from darkness to light, Beethoven’s Fourth is a beguiling work full of comedy and enchantment.” “Although many fans of Beethoven’s symphonies may still think this symphony is a kind of regression towards musical styles of the past, Schumann and Berlioz recognized that it holds a unique and independent position between the Third and Fifth Symphonies, standing on its own as a masterpiece worthy of the master symphonist.” Top performances are conducted by Toscanini in 1939, Karajan in 1962, Furtwängler in 1943, Toscanini in 1951, Karajan in 1953, Vänskä in 2003, Fischer in 2010 (mvt 1; mvt 2; mvt 3; mvt 4), Haitink in 2019 and Savall in 2021.
Georges Bizet, Symphony No. 1 in C Major, WD 33 (1855) (approx. 25-35 minutes), “was composed when Bizet was only seventeen years old, as part of an assignment given to him by his teacher Charles Gounod at the Paris Conservatory.” “Youthful works are usually, and appropriately, heard as just that – apprentice pieces that hint of greater things to come. Not so here. Bizet hit the ground running at the callow age of seventeen, and, with a total absence of youthful pretentiousness, nevertheless gave us work of mastery, charm, and grace.” “The spirited opening movement Allegro vivo, which is full of energy, stands out, as does the second movement Adagio for its lovely, extended melodic line for oboe in writing that evokes for me the onset of dusk after a long summer evening.” Top recorded performances are conducted by Beecham in 1959, Bernstein in 1968, Martinon in 1972, Marriner in 1973, Plasson in 1994, Prêtre in 1999, and Leleux in 2020.
- Joviality and good feeling, in community, characterize Hurlstone’s Piano Trio in G Major (1905).
- Lamond, Symphony in A Major, Op. 3
- Glazunov, Lyrisches Poeme (Lyrical Poem) in D flat major, 12 (1887)
- Schmidt, Symphony No. 1 in E Major (1899)
Allegra Levy is a young female jazz singer whose art evokes a young urban woman, doing well, and thoroughly in touch with herself. Her albums include:
- “Cities Between Us”
- “Looking at the Moon”
- “Lonely City”
- “Lose My Number: Allegra Levy Sings John McNeil”
- Kenny Barron, “Live at Maybeck Hall, Volume Ten”