- I have walked myself into my best thoughts, and I know of no thought so burdensome that one cannot walk away from it. [Søren Kierkegaard, Letter 150 (1847).]
To retreat is to remove ourselves physically, intellectually and emotionally from our cares, usually for an extended time. We could call it a vacation for the soul and spirit.
The cartoon as a vehicle for light-hearted escape:
- Cullen Murphy, Cartoon County: My Father and His Friends in the Golden Age of Make-Believe (Farrar, Straus & Giroux, 2017): “In Murphy’s reckoning, cartoonists are no more or less indispensable to society than the dentists and adjusters they evidently resemble. They simply play their part.”
- Hillary L. Chute, Why Comics? From Underground to Everywhere (Harper, 2017): “Chute sees comics as a sequential medium, which at its heart ‘is about distillation and condensation.’”
- Jon Morris, The League of Regrettable Superheroes: Half-Baked Heroes from Comic Book History (Quirk Books, 2015).
- Jon Morris, The League of Regrettable Sidekicks: Heroic Helpers and Malicious Minions from Comic Book History! (Quirk Books, 2018).
- Jon Morris, The Legion of Regrettable Supervillains: Oddball Criminals from Comic Book History! (Quirk Books, 2017).
- Hope Nicholson, The Spectacular Sisterhood of Superwomen: Awesome Female Characters from Comic Book History (Quirk Books, 2017).
- Dan Mazur and Alexander Danner, Comics: A Global History, 1968 to the Present (Thames & Hudson, 2014).
- Shirrel Rhoades, A Complete History of American Comic Books (Peter Lang, Inc., 2008).
- Jeremy Dauber, American Comics: A History (W.W. Norton and Company, 2021): “A Sweeping History of American Comics”.
- Douglas Wolk, All of the Marvels: A Journey to the Ends of the Biggest Story Ever Told (Penguin Press, 2021): “He Read All 27,000 Marvel Comic Books and Lived to Tell the Tale”.
- Norman Rockwell, Vacation Boy Riding a Goose (1943)
- Boris Kustodiev, Summer (1922)
- Frederic Edwin Church, Mount Katahdin from Millinocket Camp (1895)
- Konstantin Korovin, In a Summer Cottage (1895)
- Ivan Shishkin, Summer Day (1891)
- Pierre-Auguste Renoir, Summer Landscape (1875)
- David Burliuk, Summer Gardens near the House
- John Constable, Helmingham Dell
Music: songs and other short pieces
- Paul Simon, Take Me to the Mardi Gras
- Franz Schubert (composer), Nachtgesang (Night Song), D. 314 (1815) (lyrics)
- Franz Schubert (composer), Die Einsiedelei (The Hermitage), D. 393 (1816) (lyrics)
- Franz Schubert (composer), Das Einsiedelei (The Hermitage), D. 563 (lyrics): a man wishes he could take refuge.
Music: Composers, artists, and major works
Medieval and some traditional music from the Near East, in the region of Armenia, gives a sense of visiting a long-forgotten place. A melancholy undertone in this music adds a sense of mystery. Leading exponents of this music include Jordi Savall with his Hespèrion ensembles, Anouar Braham, Djivan Gasparyan, Emre Gültekin, and Ardan Hovanassian.
- Jordi Savall, “Armenian Spirit”
- Jordi Savall, Jerusalén: La Cuidad de los Paces (The City of the Fish)
- Jordi Savall, Estembul: El libro de la cienca de la música
- Anouar Brahem, “Liqua”
- Anouar Brahem, “Blue Maqams”
- Jivan Gasparyan, Armenian Suite
- Jivan Gasparyan, “Apricots from Eden”
- Jivan Gasparyan, “Heavenly Duduk”
- Jivan Gasparyan and Ergan Okur, “Fuad”
- Hossein Alizedeh and Gasparyan, “Endless Vision”
- Ardan Hovanassian & Emre Gültekin, “Adana” (2015)
- Ardan Hovanassian & Emre Gültekin, “Karin” (2018): the album title “refers to the birthplace of Vardan Hovanissian’s grandfather, who was one of 200 survivors following the deportation of around 40,000 people during the Armenian genocide. The album is dedicated to the cosmopolitan period in Karin, which was a meeting place for the different cultures that existed along the Silk Road.”
- Wouter Vandenabeele, Joris Vanvinckenroye, Ertan Tekin and Emre Gültekin, “Chansons pour le fin d’un jour” (Songs for the End of the Day)
In his Symphony No. 1 in D Major, Op. 25, “Classical” (1917) (approx. 14-19 minutes), Sergey Prokofiev embraces the techniques of the “Classical Symphony”, which is the title he gave to this work. In this series of four short movements, in the highly resolved key of D major, he expresses a relaxed openness. “At a young age, Sergei Prokofiev was condemned as avant-garde and his music was perceived as difficult to understand. It is intriguing, then, that one of his most famous works Symphony No. 1 looks back to the older style of Haydn and is known by the nickname 'Classical.'” “Prokofiev was twenty-six when he composed his First Symphony, chiefly on holiday in the countryside.” “Shortly after his 26th birthday in April, he determined to find ‘some green spot where I could both work and walk’ during the summer months. He settled on an idyllic farm just outside the capital. ‘The main advantage,’ he explained, ‘was that the farm would provide delicious and wholesome food, whereas most dacha-dwellers [a dacha is a kind of small summer house in the countryside] from Petrograd were finding it literally hard to find anything at all to eat.’ It was in this island of tranquility that he would compose one of his best-loved works, his ‘Classical’ Symphony.” “The joke . . . was that the young iconoclast, who had earlier created an uproar with his Second Piano Concerto . . . should suddenly exchange revolutionary helmet and battle fatigues for periwig and knee-breeches to evoke the elegance of the Classical era.” Top recorded performances are conducted by Fricsay in 1954, Monteux in 1958, Rozhdestvensky in the 1960s, Ormandy in 1971, Ashkenazy in 1975, Celibidache in 1988, Neeme Järvi in 2005 ***, Gergiev in 2006, Silvestri in 2010, and Jordan in 2017.
Wilhelm Furtwängler, Symphony No. 2 in E Minor (1947) (approx. 80-83 minutes), offers a rougher-edged view of spiritual retreat. He composed this, his most famous symphony, as a response to World War II and its many accompanying atrocities. “Wilhelm Furtwängler was always a stranger in this world. He was someone who went his own way and stood apart from the others: he could not be pigeonholed in any one category . . .” “Furtwängler was Hitler’s favorite conductor, and the Philharmonic’s wartime concerts were taped, according to minutes from a meeting with Joseph Goebbels, 'in accordance with the Führer’s wish.'” “Completed partly in exile, and partly under the cloud of a war crimes tribunal, which subsequently exonerated Furtwängler of complicity with the Nazis, the work does little to suggest the torment of a composer living through one of the most difficult periods of his life. True, there are moments of defiance – such as the closing pages of both the assai moderato and the adagio – but these are isolated moments in a work which is largely a personal spiritual testimony.” Generally not a peaceful, calm or restful work, this symphony illustrates a spiritual retreat for a troubled soul trying to create inner peace. Best recorded performances are conducted by Furtwängler in 1953, Jochum in 1954, and Barenboim in 2001.
- Narvaéz, “Los seys libros del Delphin de musica” (music for vihuela, 16th century)
- Benjamin Britten, Holiday Diary, Op. 5 (1934), “evokes the experience of an English seaside holiday: funfairs, still nights, and bracing dips into the sea.”
- George Winston, “Summer” and “Autumn” albums
- Brian Eno, “Thursday Afternoon” album
- Paul Jones, “Let’s Get Tropical”
- Lars Danielsson Libretto, “Cloudland”
- Harris Eisenstadt, “September Trio”
- Kim Myhr, Australian Art Orchestra, “Vesper”
- Daniel Mark Epstein, ed., Rapture and Melancholy: The Diaries of Edna St. Vincent Millay (Yale University Press, 2022): “Perhaps her many diary entries about flowers, weeding, pets, the weather and difficult servants are an elaborate deflection — or a respite from being Edna St. Vincent Millay.”
A little while, a little while,
The weary task is put away,
And I can sing and I can smile,
Alike, while I have holiday.
Where wilt thou go, my harassed heart—
What thought, what scene invites thee now
What spot, or near or far apart,
Has rest for thee, my weary brow?
There is a spot, ’mid barren hills,
Where winter howls, and driving rain;
But, if the dreary tempest chills,
There is a light that warms again.
The house is old, the trees are bare,
Moonless above bends twilight’s dome;
But what on earth is half so dear—
So longed for—as the hearth of home?
The mute bird sitting on the stone,
The dank moss dripping from the wall,
The thorn-trees gaunt, the walks o’ergrown,
I love them—how I love them all!
Still, as I mused, the naked room,
The alien firelight died away;
And from the midst of cheerless gloom,
I passed to bright, unclouded day.
A little and a lone green lane
That opened on a common wide;
A distant, dreamy, dim blue chain
Of mountains circling every side.
A heaven so clear, an earth so calm,
So sweet, so soft, so hushed an air;
And, deepening still the dream-like charm,
Wild moor-sheep feeding everywhere.
That was the scene, I knew it well;
I knew the turfy pathway’s sweep,
That, winding o’er each billowy swell,
Marked out the tracks of wandering sheep.
Could I have lingered but an hour,
It well had paid a week of toil;
But Truth has banished Fancy’s power:
Restraint and heavy task recoil.
Even as I stood with raptured eye,
Absorbed in bliss so deep and dear,
My hour of rest had fleeted by,
And back came labour, bondage, care.
[Emily Brontë, “A little while, a little while”]