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Posts Tagged ‘Baroque

“Apparently I lack some particular perversion which today’s employer is seeking”*…

A century ago, the economist John Maynard Keynes predicted that by 2030, our workweek would be only 15 hours long. What happened? We’ve crossed all the technological thresholds Keynes identified, so why aren’t we living in the economic promised land? Well, if Keynes were here today, he’d probably blame our unshakeable instinct to work. He believed that human beings are cursed, that we have infinite desires, but there aren’t enough resources to satisfy them. As a result, everything is, by definition, scarce. Today, economists refer to this paradox as the “fundamental economic problem,” and they believe it explains our constant will to work. We make and trade resources as a way to bridge the gap between our infinite desires and our limited means.

That may sound like a reasonable theory, but there’s a problem: It doesn’t square with what we now understand about our hunter-gatherer ancestors. Until the 1960s, anthropologists believed hunter-gatherers led short, difficult lives. Only through incremental advancements in technology, the thinking went, were our ancestors able to secure greater wealth, tranquility, and free time. But when anthropologists began studying the world’s remaining hunter-gatherer societies, they came to a striking conclusion: Hunter-gatherer life wasn’t nearly as bad as everybody thought. One anthropologist, for instance, found a tribe that only spent 30 hours a week hunting and doing chores. The rest of the time, they made music, socialized, gossiped, and relaxed. They didn’t spend all their time working to satisfy their infinite desires. In fact, their desires weren’t infinite at all; they were limited, and easy to satisfy. This revelation suggests that the “fundamental economic problem” is not, as Keynes believed, the eternal struggle of the human race. It’s just an unfortunate recent development…

One of five take-aways from Work: A Deep History, from the Stone Age to the Age of Robots, by James Suzman (@anthrowittering), a social anthropologist based in Cambridge, England, where he directs a think tank called Anthropos that uses anthropological tools to solve economic problems. His first book, Affluence Without Abundance: The Disappearing World of the Bushmen, draws on the three decades he’s spent living with the Ju/’hoansi, one of the oldest hunter-gatherer societies in the world.

More at Next Big Idea Club (@NextBigIdeaClub): “Work: A Deep History, from the Stone Age to the Age of Robots.”

* John Kennedy Toole, A Confederacy of Dunces

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As we rethink the rat race, we might send exquisitely-constructed birthday greetings to a man whose work continues to inspire and amaze, Johann Sebastian Bach; he was born on this date in 1685. Known both for instrumental compositions such as the Brandenburg Concertos and the Goldberg Variations, and for vocal music such as the St Matthew Passion and the Mass in B minor, he sits at the apex of the Baroque period, and is widely regarded as one of the greatest composers of all time.

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Written by LW

March 21, 2021 at 1:01 am

“Different musical instruments provide for different music”*…

The German polymath and Jesuit priest Athanasius Kircher [see here] had a lifelong fascination with sound and devoted two books to the subject: Musurgia Universalis (1650), on the theoretical (and theological) aspects, and Phonurgia Nova (1673), on the science of acoustics and its practical applications. It’s no surprise then to learn that his famed museum at Rome’s Collegio Romano boasted— in addition to “vomiting statues”, ghost-conjuring mirrors, and other curious wonders — a vast and diverse collection of musical instruments.

Much of what we know of Kircher’s museum today is thanks to his student and fellow Jesuit priest Filippo Buonanni (1638-1725), who succeeded Kircher as both Professor of Mathematics and, upon Kircher’s death, as chief custodian of the museum for which he produced an epic and exhaustive, near-800-page catalogue in 1709. Following in his master’s footsteps, Buonanni too held a dizzying array of interests and specialisms including numismatics, microscopy, spontaneous generation, Chinese laquer, seashells (on which he produced the first monograph), and also, like Kircher, music.

Inspired by the collection of instruments in Kircher’s wunderkammer, and intrigued by the stories behind them, in 1722 Buonanni published his Gabinetto Armonico pieno d’istromenti sonori (or Harmonic cabinet full of sonorous instruments), an attempt to catalogue, for the first time, the musical instruments of the world. While there’s a short and often illuminating text for each instrument it is the 152 engraved plates — executed by Flemish artist and publisher Arnold van Westerhout — which really steal the show. The featured instruments are divided into three sections — wind, string, and percussion — and preceded by thirteen brief discussions of other musical categories, including: military, funeral, used in sacrifices, and, intriguingly, as used at sea: not sirens, but chantying sailors. While some of the instruments gathered in Buonanni’s book are as simple as the bee-keeper banging his tub, or the clacking of shoes against the floor, some are highly crafted, technical machines; the great organ at Palazzo Verospi requires a fold-out page to show it all. We are also treated to what might be considered more incidental instruments, for example, the bell about a bound criminal’s neck and the sound of a soldier’s sword being struck…

Engravings from an ambitious and beautiful attempt to catalogue, for the first time, the musical instruments of the world: “Filippo Buonanni’s Harmonic Cabinet (1722)

Browse the volume on the Internet Archive; see the full collection of drawings on Flickr.

* Amos Oz

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As we celebrate sound, we might send melodic birthday greetings to Giuseppe Domenico Scarlatti; he was born on this date in 1685. A composer (and keyboardist), he is regularly classified chronologically as part of the Baroque period (along with his famous father, Alessandro Scarlatti); but Domenico’s work– perhaps especially his 555 keyboard sonatas– were richly influential in the development of the Classical style.

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“Saint: A dead sinner revised and edited”*…

 

Johann Sebastian Bach

 

When eminent biologist and author Lewis Thomas was asked what message he would choose to send from Earth into outer space in the Voyager spacecraft, he answered, “I would send the complete works of Johann Sebastian Bach.”  After a pause, he added, “But that would be boasting.”

You can hardly find a more sanctioned and orthodox insider than Johann Sebastian Bach, at least as he is typically presented. He is commemorated as the sober bewigged Lutheran who labored for church authorities and nobility, offering up hundreds of cantatas, fugues, orchestral works, and other compositions for the glory of God. Yet the real-life Bach was very different from this cardboard figure. In fact, he provides a striking case study in how prickly dissidents in the history of classical music get transformed into conformist establishment figures by posterity…

Fighting, drinking, organ loft liaisons… and then there’s the music– the subversive practice of a canonical composer: “J.S. Bach the Rebel.”

* Ambrose Bierce

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As we interrogate our idols, we might send harmonic birthday greetings to John Birks “Dizzy” Gillespie; he was born (in Cheraw, S.C.) on this date in 1917.  A jazz pioneer– performer, bandleader, composer, and singer– he was a trumpet virtuoso and a style-setting improviser.  His combination of musicianship, showmanship, and wit made him (with Charlie Parker) a leading popularizer of (the emerging new music) bebop.  His beret and horn-rimmed spectacles, his scat singing, his bent horn, his pouched cheeks, and his light-hearted personality became emblematic of the form.

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Written by LW

October 21, 2019 at 1:01 am

“The difference between a violin and a viola is that a viola burns longer”*…

 

Dutch piano restorer Frank Bernouw has painstakingly restored a stunning Hupfeld Phonoliszt-Violina, a self-playing, multi-violin orchestrion that plays a variety of concertos quite beautifully, if not a bit mechanically. This unusual instrument was invented in 1907 by Ludwig Hupfeld AG and “dubbed the “8th wonder of the world”…

Three violins (each with only one active string) mounted vertically were played by a round rotating bow made of 1300 threads of horse hair, according to the program on the roll of perforated paper. The small bellows replaced the violin player’s fingers, pressing on the strings to obtain the necessary notes. The piano can be driven either unaccompanied or together with the violins. It controls 38 accompaniment keys with 12 high notes (one octave) in extension. The whole pneumatic systems are controlled by an electric engine of uninterrupted current.

More at “A Beautifully Restored Hupfeld Phonoliszt-Violina, A Self-Playing Mechanical Violin Orchestrion Player.”

* Victor Borge

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As we reach for the rosin, we might send intricately-melodic birthday greetings to Baroque composer and multi-instrumentalist Georg Philipp Telemann; he was born on this date in 1681. Telemann was and still is one of the most prolific composers in history (at least in terms of surviving oeuvre) and was considered by his contemporaries to be one of the leading German composers of the time—he was compared favorably both to his friend Johann Sebastian Bach, who made Telemann the godfather and namesake of his son Carl Philipp Emanuel, and to George Frideric Handel, whom Telemann also knew personally.  He remained at the forefront of all new musical tendencies and his music is an important link between the late Baroque and early Classical styles.

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Written by LW

March 14, 2017 at 1:01 am

“I dream my painting and I paint my dream”*…

 

What if the great painters had filled larger canvases?…

Yarin Gal, at Cambridge University’s Machine Learning Group, has set out to answer the question: “New techniques in machine learning and image processing allow us to extrapolate the scene of a painting to see what the full scenery might have looked like…”

“Enhanced” Monet, Picasso, O’Keefe, (more) van Gogh, and others– with more added regularly– at Extrapolated Art.

* Vincent van Gogh

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As we look beyond the frame, we might send broadly gestural birthday greetings to Ludovico Carracci; he was born on this date in 1555.  An early Baroque master, his paintings, etchings, prints– but especially his frescos– are credited with reinvigorating Italian art, rescuing it from the formal mannerism that had accrued in the mid-late 16th century.

Annunciation

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Portrait of Carracci, Emilian School

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Written by LW

April 21, 2015 at 1:01 am

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