- Greed is a bottomless pit which exhausts the person in an endless effort to satisfy the need without ever reaching satisfaction. [Erich Fromm]
- The strictest law sometimes becomes the severest injustice. [Widely attributed to Benjamin Franklin.]
Not just in politics but in life, proportion is an important value, which is related to judgment.
Opposites include extremism.
True narratives about economic justice for workers:
- Sanora Babb, On the Dirty Plate Trail: Remembering the Dust Bowl Refugee Camps (University of Texas Press, 2007).
- Laura Hapke, Sweatshop: The History of an America Idea (Rutgers University Press, 2004).
- Janet Zandy, Liberating Memory: Our Work and Our Working Class Consciousness (Rutgers University Press, 1994).
With China's emergence as an economic power, the United States is newly concerned about the balance of economic and military power.
- Robert D. Kaplan, Monsoon: The Indian Ocean and the Future of American Power (Random House, 2010).
- Toshi Yoshihara and James R. Holmes, Red Star Over the Pacific: China's Rise and the Challenge to U.S. Maritime Strategy (Naval Institute Press, 2010).
- Bernard D. Cole, Great Wall at Sea: China's Navy Enters the Twenty-First Century (Naval Institute Press, 2010).
- Richard D. Fraser, Jr., China's Military Modernization: Building for Regional and Global Reach (Praeger, 2008).
Some people's idea of balance may be other people's idea of the ridiculous. Commonly, propagandists promote an ideal in direct contravention to its expression.
- Joseph Minton Amann and Tom Breuer, Fair and Balanced, My Ass!: An Unbridled Look at the Bizarre Reality of Fox News (Nation Books, 2007).
- Peter Hart, The Oh Really Factor: Unspinning Fox News Channel's Bill O'Reilly (Seven Stories Press, 2003).
- Al Franken, Lies and the Lying Liars Who Tell Them: A Fair and Balanced Look at the Right (Dutton/Penguin, 2003).
- John Dean, Conservatives without Conscience (Viking Adult, 2006).
- Will Bunch, Tear Down This Myth: How the Reagan Legacy Has Distorted Our Politics and Haunts Our Future (Free Press, 2010).
- Deborah R. Jaramillo, Ugly War, Pretty Package: How CNN and Fox News Made the Invastion of Iraq High Concept (Indiana University Press, 2009).
- Eric Boehlert, Lapdogs: How the Press Lay Down for the Bush White House (Free Press, 2006).
Artificial economic bubbles are notorious for leading to calamity:
- Christopher Knowlton, Bubble in the Sun: The Florida Boom of the 1920s and How It Brought On the Great Depression (Simon & Schuster, 2020): “Many paid for their sins, largely through crippling alcoholism, personal bankruptcy and extreme public humiliation.”
- Andrew Marantz, Anti-Social: Online Extremists, Techno-Utopians, and the Hijacking of the American Conversation (Viking, 2019): “‘Antisocial’ is about ‘web-savvy bigots,’ ‘soft-brained conspiracists’ and ‘mere grifters or opportunists,’ but it’s also about Marantz’s searching attempt to understand people he describes as truly deplorable without letting his moral compass get wrecked.”
In the 1920s the United States lived under a Constitutional Amendment that banned alcoholic beverages. Spurred by "temperance societies," this episode in history, ironically, exemplifies intemperance.
- Daniel Okrent, Last Call: The Rise and Fall of Prohibition (Scribner, 2010).
- Garrett Peck, The Prohibition Hangover: Alcohol in America from Demon Rum to Cult Cabernet (Rutgers University Press, 2009).
Documentary and Educational Films
- Jasper Johns, Target with Four Faces (1955)
- M.C. Escher, Symmetry Watercolor, 55 Fish
- M.C. Escher, Symmetry Watercolor 70 Butterfly
- Wassily Kandinsky, Balancement (1925)
- Giotto, Temperance (1302-05)
- Paul Klee, Portrait of Mrs. P in the South (1924) (notice the hat size)
- Nicolas Poussin, Helios and Phaeton with Saturn and the Four Seasons (ca. 1635) (Phaeton’s aspirations were beyond his reach)
- Nicolas Poussin, Midas and Bacchus (1629-30) (Bacchus grants Midas’ wish that all he touches turns to gold – which is inedible)
Music: Composers, artists, and major works
George Frideric Händel, L’Allegro, il Penseroso ed il Moderato (The Cheerful, the Thoughtful, and the Moderate Man) (1740) (100-140’), is a pastoral ode studying two alternating moods, or tempers. “The texts of Parts I and II are based on the two delightful companion poems L'Allegro and Il Penseroso written in the previous century by the 22-year-old John Milton. The first of these poems depicts the joys of the active or extroverted life, the second the joys of the contemplative or introverted life.” “. . . the piece honors an Enlightenment aesthetic of balance and self-control that still resonates today.” Live recorded performances are by William Christie & Les Arts Florissants; Paul McCreesh & Gabrieli Consort; and Nicholas McGegan at Harvard in 2016. Excellent performances on disc are by John Eliot Gardiner, Monteverdi Choir & English Baroque Soloists; John Nelson, Bach Choir & Ensemble Orchestral de Paris in 2000; Paul McCreesh & Gabrieli Players in 2015; and Rudolf Lutz & Orchester der J.S. Bach-Stiftung in 2017.
Two minimalists have highlighted the idea of symmetry:
- Morton Feldman, Crippled Symmetry
- John Adams, Fearful Symmetries
To my ears, twentieth century piano trios outside the lingering tradition of French romanticism do not convey as clear a sense of attentive listening as do their nineteenth century counterparts; they seem distracted by the concerns of their era. Still, they strike a scrupulous balance between the three instruments.
- Suk, Piano Trio in C minor, Op. 2 (1891)
- Novák, Piano Trio quasi una balata in D minor, Op. 27 (1902)
- Arensky, Piano Trio No. 1 in D Minor, Op. 32 (1894)
- Arensky, Piano Trio No. 2 in E Minor, Op. 67 (1905)
- Shostakovich, Piano Trio No. 1 in C Minor, Op. 8, “Poème” (1923)
Though they were written early in the Romantic era, Robert Schumann’s piano trios are more nearly like those of the twentieth century than they are like their contemporaneous works. In addition, because of Schumann’s inner turbulence, they are on the gray-dark side of temperance and balance. Listen to the works also for the balance among the instrumentalists, which Schumann preserved. “Schumann’s trios, like his symphonies, gravitate toward the middle in sound and substance. Neither the piano nor the violin use much of their higher registers, and Schumann being Schumann, there is no superficial brilliance in any of the parts.”
- Schumann, Piano Trio No. 1 in D Minor, Op. 63 (1847) (approx. 29-33’), is the most highly regarded of the three. “From the opening bars of Robert Schumann’s Piano Trio No. 1, we are swept into a drama filled with soaring passion and turbulence. . . . Schumann composed the D minor Piano Trio in a single burst of creative energy during the summer of 1847.” “In spite of (or precisely because of) the erstwhile angst, the music steadily builds to a glorious ending that, like other Schumann conclusions, may propel you to your feet with an energetic shout of glory. The composite work is a definitive study in bi-polarity, perhaps a personal reflection of Schumann's own soul.” Top recorded performances are by Cortot, Thibaud & Casals in 1928, Gilels, Kogan & Rostropovich in 1958, Previn, Chung & Tortelier in 1978, Borodin Trio in 1989, Florestan Trio in 1998, Nicholas Argerich, Capuçon & Capuçon in 2006, Andsnes, Tetzlaff & Tetzlaff in 2009, Vienna Piano Trio in 2010, Melnikov, Faust & Queyras in 2014 (mvt 1; mvt 2; mvt 3; mvt 4), and Trio Karénine in 2015.
- Schumann, Piano Trio No. 2 in F Major, Op. 80 (1847) (approx. 27-32’): “The opening movement of the F-major Trio is athletic and optimistic, with a feeling of jovial bigness. The descending theme introduced just before the contrapuntally dense development is an allusion to one of Schumann’s songs, and the main theme of the slow movement is a cousin to that song-theme. The third movement is not a scherzo, but a sort of barcarolle in 'moderate tempo' . . .” Top recorded performances are by Beaux Arts Trio in 1966, Andsnes, Tetzlaff & Tetzlaff in 2009, Trio Karénine in 2016, Kungsbacka Piano Trio in 2020, and Trio Wanderer in 2021.
- Schumann, Piano Trio No. 3 in G Minor, Op. 110 (1851) (approx. 24-28’): “The G-minor Trio explores darker, more passionate territory.” “Schumann the reader, the writer and the storyteller was also the great composer of character pieces, little tableaux like illustrated pages in a book with narrative suggestions and recurring dramatis personae. . . . The trio is sometimes criticized for its haphazardness and repetition yet it is studded with jewels and suffused with a personality that is so recognizably and purely Schumann's.” Top recorded performances are by Beaux Arts Trio in 1972, Borodin Trio in 1990, Andsnes, Tetzlaff & Tetzlaff in 2009, Benvenue Fortepiano Trio in 2010, and Horszowski Trio in 2019.
“Counterpoint is the relationship between two or more melody lines that are played at the same time. These melodies are dependent on each other to create good-sounding harmonies, but also are independent in rhythm and contour.” “Counterpoint is a musical style of composition that employs more than one voice; however, rather than having a melody line and a harmony line, each voice is equally important in the composition and carries part of the melody. Counterpoint is a form of polyphony that creates a dialogue between the treble clef and the bass clef, and each contributes something meaningful to a joint conversation instead of one serving a supporting role to the other.” “Good counterpoint requires two qualities: (1) a meaningful or harmonious relationship between the lines (a ‘vertical’ consideration—i.e., dealing with harmony) and (2) some degree of independence or individuality within the lines themselves (a ‘horizontal’ consideration, dealing with melody).” Several Renaissance composers notably developed this style.
- Vicente Lusitano, Motets: “Vicente Lusitano’s name is familiar to specialists of the Renaissance as a key witness to the practice of improvised counterpoint . . .”
- Josquin des Prez, Motets and Chansons
- Giovanni Pierluigi da Palestrina, choral music
- Alexander Agricola, “A Secret Labyrinth” album
- Jacob Obrecht, Missa de Sancta Donatiano; Missa Sub Tuum Praesidium; Missa Maria Zart
- Heinrich Isaac, “Choralis Constantinus 1508” album
- Adrian Willaert, “Adriaan Willaert and Italy” album; Missa Christus resurgens
- Cipriano de Rore, Il quinto libro di Madrigali (1568)
- Orlando di Lasso (Orlande de Lassus), Psalmi Davidis Pœnitentiales; motets and chansons
- Carlo Gesualdo, Música sacra a 5 voces
- Weber, Der Freischütz: an allegory about putting things in perspective, and forgiving (performances conducted by Matacic, Keilberth and Räth)
- Béla Bartók, Piano Concerto No. 2, Sz 95, BB 101 (1931) (approx. 28’): “The overall architecture of the work is intricately planned and reveals the composer’s characteristic fascination with symmetrical patterns.” Top performances are by Anda & Fricsay in 1959, Rudolf Serkin & Szell, Pollini & Abbado in 1979, Bronfman & Salonen in 1993, Schiff & Iván Fischer in 1996, Andsnes & Boulez in 2004, Bavouzet & Noseda in 2010, Wang & Rattle in concert in 2017.
- Ferroud, Serenade
- Frankel, Symphony No. 8, Op. 53 (1971)
- Mozart, Il Sogno di Scipione (Scipio's Dream), K126 (1771): Scipio must choose between wealth and stability, personified by Fortuna and Costanza.
- Munn, piano music: Munn “was a mathematician (with a Ph.D. from Cambridge University) by profession, but also an accomplished pianist, and judging by the evidence on this CD, a composer with a good ear and a keen sense of balance and structure.” (David DeBoor Canfield, Fanfare magazine, January-February 2022 issue)
- Alban Berg, String Quartet, Op. 3 (1910), “was probably the first extended composition consistently based on symmetrical pitch relations.”
Alvin Ayler presented simple melodies, interspersed with wild creative improvisational jazz riffs.
- “Spirits Rejoice” album (1965)
- “Spiritual Unity” album
- “Goin’ Home” album
- “Slugs’ Saloon” album
- “The Copenhagen Tapes” album
- “Holy Ghost: Rare and Unissued Recordings” set
- “Nuits de la Fondation Maeght 1970”
LPT is a ten-piece Afro-Cuban salsa band whose style could best be described as one of controlled energy. Though their rhythms drive forward consistently, they always remain controlled and balanced. Their albums include:
- Liquid Mind III, “Balance”
- Third Coast Percussion, “Unknown Symmetry”
From the opposite side:
- Ivo Perelman, Matthew Shipp & Joe Hertenstein, “Scalene”
- Alarm Will Sound, “A/Rhythmia”
- Binker & Moses, “Feeding the Machine”: images of a dystopian, out-of-balance world
In the meantime, while some sang, the rest talked together tumultuously all at once; it was no longer anything but noise. Tholomyès intervened. "Let us not talk at random nor too fast," he exclaimed. "Let us reflect, if we wish to be brilliant. Too much improvisation empties the mind in a stupid way. Running beer gathers no froth. No haste, gentlemen. Let us mingle majesty with the feast. Let us eat with meditation; let us make haste slowly. Let us not hurry. Consider the springtime; if it makes haste, it is done for; that is to say, it gets frozen. Excess of zeal ruins peach-trees and apricot-trees. Excess of zeal kills the grace and the mirth of good dinners. No zeal, gentlemen! [Victor Hugo, Les Misérables (1862), Volume I – Fantine; Book Third – In the Year 1817, Chapter VII, The Wisdom of Tholomyés.]
Tempering medieval justice:
Every city during the Middle Ages, and every city in France down to the time of Louis XII. had its places of asylum. These sanctuaries, in the midst of the deluge of penal and barbarous jurisdictions which inundated the city, were a species of islands which rose above the level of human justice. Every criminal who landed there was safe. There were in every suburb almost as many places of asylum as gallows. It was the abuse of impunity by the side of the abuse of punishment; two bad things which strove to correct each other. The palaces of the king, the hôtels of the princes, and especially churches, possessed the right of asylum. Sometimes a whole city which stood in need of being repeopled was temporarily created a place of refuge. Louis XI. made all Paris a refuge in 1467. [Victor Hugo, Notre-Dame de Paris, or, The Hunchback of Notre Dame (1831), Volume II, Book Ninth, Chapter II, “Hunchbacked, One Eyed, Lame”.]
Film and Stage
- Chocolat, about the importance of keeping things on an even keel
- What’s Eating Gilbert Grape: a story of a young man whose sense of family responsibilities leaves him no room for himself
- The Pillow Book, this offbeat film that goes out of its way to challenge the viewer “is best watched as a richly sensual stylistic exercise filled with audaciously beautiful imagery, captivating symmetries and brilliantly facile tricks.”
- Coco: the underlying message here is about the balance between personal ambition and family obligation.
Loved a little, Worked a little…
Those were very fortunate people,
Who considered Love an obligation,
Or they just loved their task,
I remained busy all my life,
Loved a little, worked a little,
Sometimes love was a snag in the way of my work,
While sometimes duty didn’t allow me to love with passion,
Ultimately I got upset of the situation,
And left both my love and my work incomplete.
[Faiz Ahmed Faiz, “Loved a little, Worked a little”]
Two poems by John Milton express the value of balance:
From the dark side:
- Edgar Lee Masters, “Cooney Potter”
- Michael Rosen, “Chocolate Cake”
Music: songs and other short pieces
- Franz Schubert (composer), Genügsamkeit (A Feeling of Sufficiency), D. 143 (1815) (lyrics)