(Roughly) Daily

Posts Tagged ‘music

“Romanticism is precisely situated neither in choice of subject, nor exact truth, but in the way of feeling”*…

Beethoven at 30 (1800)

The estimable Ted Gioia is exploring the possibility that we are at the cusp of a major change in the zeitgeist– the beginning of a new age of Romanticism…

I made a flippant remark a few months ago. It was almost a joke.

But then I started taking it seriously.

I said that technocracy had grown so oppressive and manipulative it would spur a backlash. And that our rebellion might resemble the Romanticist movement of the early 1800s.

We need a new Romanticism, I quipped. And we will probably get one.

A new Romanticism? Could that really happen? That seems so unlikely.

Even I didn’t take this seriously (at first). I was just joking. But during the subsequent weeks and months, I kept thinking about my half-serious claim.

I realized that, the more I looked at what happened circa 1800, the more it reminded me of our current malaise.

  • Rationalist and algorithmic models were dominating every sphere of life at that midpoint in the Industrial Revolution—and people started resisting the forces of progress.
  • Companies grew more powerful, promising productivity and prosperity. But Blake called them “dark Satanic mills” and Luddites started burning down factories—a drastic and futile step, almost the equivalent of throwing away your smartphone.
  • Even as science and technology produced amazing results, dysfunctional behaviors sprang up everywhere. The pathbreaking literary works from the late 1700s reveal the dark side of the pervasive techno-optimism—Goethe’s novel about Werther’s suicide, the Marquis de Sade’s nasty stories, and all those gloomy Gothic novels. What happened to the Enlightenment?
  • As the new century dawned, the creative class (as we would call it today) increasingly attacked rationalist currents that had somehow morphed into violent, intrusive forces in their lives—an 180 degree shift in the culture. For Blake and others, the name Newton became a term of abuse.
  • Artists, especially poets and musicians, took the lead in this revolt. They celebrated human feeling and emotional attachments—embracing them as more trustworthy, more flexible, more desirable than technology, profits, and cold calculation.

That’s the world, circa 1800.

The new paradigm shocked Europe when it started to spread. Cultural elites had just assumed that science and reason would control everything in the future. But that wasn’t how it played out.

Resemblances with the current moment are not hard to see.

These considerations led me, about nine months ago, to conduct a deep dive into the history of the Romanticist movement. I wanted to see what the historical evidence told me.

I’m now structuring my research in chronological order—that’s a method I often use in addressing big topics.

I make no great promises for what I share below. These are just notes on what happened in Western culture from 1800 to 1804—listed year-by-year.

Sharing these is part of my process. I expect this will generate useful feedback, and guide me on the next phase of this project…

Because music is always my entry point into cultural changes, it plays a key role here in how I analyze past (and present) events. I firmly believe that music is an early indicator of social change. The notes below are offered as evidence in support of that view…

[There follows a fascinating– and compelling– account of those five years, featuring Napoleon, Haydn, Beethoven, Woodsworth, Coleridge, Herder, Schelling, the Marquis de Sade, Novalis, Ann Radcliffe, and others]

… Beethoven turns against Napoleon—and this is emblematic of the aesthetic reversal sweeping through Europe. Not long ago, Beethoven and other artists looked to French rationalism as a harbinger of a new age of freedom and individual flourishing. But this entire progress-obsessed ideology is unraveling.

It’s somehow fitting that music takes the lead role in deconstructing a tyrannical rationalism, and proposing a more human alternative.

Could that happen again?

  • Imagine a growing sense that algorithmic and mechanistic thinking has become too oppressive.
  • Imagine if people started resisting technology as a malicious form of control, and not a pathway to liberation, empowerment, and human flourishing—soul-nurturing riches that must come from someplace deeper.
  • Imagine a revolt against STEM’s dominance and dictatorship over all other fields?
  • Imagine people deciding that the good life starts with NOT learning how to code.

If that happened now, wouldn’t music stand out as the pathway? What could possibly be more opposed to brutal rationalism running out of control than a song?

But what does that kind of music sound like? In 1800, it was Beethoven. And today?…

Why it may be 1800 all over again: “Notes Toward a New Romanticism,” from @tedgioia in his terrific newsletter, The Honest Broker.

* Charles Baudelaire


As we review vibes on the verge, we might send rational birthday greetings to an avatar of the Enlightenment against which the Romantics rebelled, Francois-Marie Arouet, better known as Voltaire; he was born on this date in 1694.  The Father of the Age of Reason, he produced works in almost every literary form: plays, poems, novels, essays, and historical and scientific works– more than 2,000 books and pamphlets (and more than 20,000 letters).  He popularized Isaac Newton’s work in France by arranging a translation of Principia Mathematica to which he added his own commentary.

A social reformer, Voltaire used satire to criticize the intolerance, religious dogma, and oligopolistic privilege of his day, perhaps nowhere more sardonically than in Candide.


Written by (Roughly) Daily

November 21, 2023 at 1:00 am

“The world is a globe — the farther you sail, the closer to home you are”*…

A good globe is a thing of beauty and a source of wonder, perhaps none more than those made by Peter Bellerby, founder of artisan globemakers Bellerby & Co. Globemakers, one of only two handmade globemaking companies in the world. In an excerpt from his book, The Globemakers: The Curious Story of an Ancient Craft, he explains how it’s done…

The simplest way to make a globe is to construct a sphere and paint it. The earliest globes would have been made of wood or metal, with the celestial or terrestrial map painted directly on by hand. Later, in the sixteenth century, hollow globes were made of thin sheets of metal which were then hand-painted. Mapping doesn’t lend itself to painting and lettering by hand, and cartography was in its infancy, so early painted globes were necessarily very inaccurate.

Later makers pasted blank gores onto the sphere to create a more forgiving canvas for the hand-painted map and lettering. These are called manuscript globes. The invention of the printing press meant that maps could be printed as gores. A silversmith or skilled engraver would etch a reverse map on copper plates before printing using a process known as intaglio, from the Italian word for ‘carving.’ In intaglio printing the etched plate is coated with ink, then wiped to leave ink only in the incised depressions, before being run through an etching press, in which dampened paper picks up the ink to create the printed image. Copper is a soft metal, so the plates lose their clarity relatively quickly; smaller print runs were therefore common. The effect, though, is very satisfying, with an intense character to the image. The globemaker then pasted the printed gores onto the globe and finally the painter would add color.

It was at this point that the globemaking craft became assimilated with the printing and publishing industry. Globes were after all now printed just like books, and since this time each edition has been referred to as a ‘publication.’ And as in book publishing, copying the map from a rival’s globe is plagiarism.

The golden age of the printed and then hand-painted globe coincided with the age of European expansion, reaching its peak at the beginning of the seventeenth century. In this period, as astronomical, geographical and cartographical knowledge developed apace, globemakers too were inspired to experiment and refine their art. In turn, the proliferation of printing presses made it possible over time to produce more globes at a less than exorbitant cost so they became more affordable to a greater number of people.

Nevertheless, the acquisition or commission of a globe was still the preserve of the aristocracy and the affluent merchant class. Because of the delicate and time-consuming nature of the work, a budding globemaker probably would have required considerable financial backing. Globes therefore were prized symbols of status and prestige.

Studying these venerable antique globes, it was striking to see how little the methods of manufacture had changed from the mid-sixteenth century until the twentieth century, albeit there is always a mystery about the exact construction and methods because so much is hidden under the surface – it was only in the last century that the rot set in. I knew that I had high aspirations but did not want to simply reproduce some sort of cheap faux-antique facsimile. Instead, my ambition was to produce a handmade globe that felt classic yet at the same time unusual, relevant and contemporary…

Read on for a fascinating unpacking of the ingenuity and skill involved: “On the Artisanal Craft of Making a Globe,” from @globemakers in @lithub.

* Terry Pratchett


As we spin the sphere, we might send cartographical birthday greetings to Dimitrie Cantemir; he was born on this date in 1673. A Moldavian prince, statesman, and man of letters, he led a storied life as a statesman (twice serving as voivode of Moldavia), but also distinguished himself as a philosopher, historian, composer, musicologist, linguist, ethnographer, and geographer.

To that lattermost distinction, Cantemir’s c. 1714 manuscript map of Moldova (as the region which Moldavia centered was also known) was the first real map of the country, containing geographical detail as well as administrative information. Printed in 1737 in the Netherlands, it formed the basis of most European maps of the country for decades.


Written by (Roughly) Daily

October 26, 2023 at 1:00 am

“He who can pay every day for a dinner fit for a hundred persons, is often satisfied after having eaten the thigh of a chicken”*…

Jacques Pépin: Cherry Pear Chicken, 2020

In a review of Jacques Pépin’s recent book, Jacques Pépin Art of the Chicken, a collection of stories, recipes and the authors own paintings (like the one above), Daniel M. Lavery considers both its subject and its author…

If you are a bird, odds are that you are a chicken. Since the sixteenth century the global bird population has steadily decreased, in both the number of species and the number of individuals, and each year more of them are chickens. Today there are some 33 billion chickens in the world, although this number can fluctuate substantially according to slaughtering trends.

If you are an American, odds are that you eat meat. In this country roughly 4 percent of the population identifies as vegetarian. Americans who do eat meat most frequently choose chicken, the consumption of which overtook beef sometime in the late 1990s. Pork has maintained a steady position in third place for decades. Pigs become pork when they are processed and eaten; cattle become veal or beef. But chicken is chicken everywhere, and chicken is everywhere.

If you are a home cook preparing a whole carcass for dinner, you are almost certainly roasting a chicken. Only the very adventurous or committed will roast an entire pig or goat, and usually only as part of a special celebration. The home cook can still with relative ease purchase a whole chicken (albeit usually with the feet and head already removed) almost anywhere meat is sold. She can address the carcass herself: whether to split the breast or separate the drumstick from the thigh; to section the wing into flat, drumette, and tip or leave it intact; to toss the neck and innards or keep them for stock.

It is through the chicken that most American cooks acquaint themselves with the techniques of butchery, if they butcher at all, and often it is through the work of Jacques Pépin that the introduction is made…

It is difficult to become an excellent chef. Once you are an excellent chef, it gets easier to become a beloved chef, since people already love food. Pépin has the Chrysler Building of culinary reputations, prestigious but not daunting, popular but not inane, an amalgamation of influences and opportunities only possible in the midcentury United States. He has unimpeachable old-world credentials, having left home for his first kitchen apprenticeship at thirteen, only earning the right to turn on the stove after a year of scrubbing pans, hauling coal, and plucking chickens. He has served as official chef to two French prime ministers. In 1961 he turned down an invitation to cook for the Kennedy White House in order to become the head of research and development at the central commissary for the Howard Johnson hotel and restaurant chain.

Writing came as a relatively late-in-life reinvention for Pépin, who was unable to continue working restaurant hours after a 1974 car accident. At the time he had written only one book, The Other Half of the Egg, with two co-authors, the McCall’s editor Helen McCully and William North Jayme. Since then, he has written over thirty. He has been cooking on American television since 1982, usually on PBS and its San Francisco affiliate, KQED, and often appeared with his friend and collaborator Julia Child during her lifetime. There is a loose biographical framing to Art of the Chicken, but Pépin gave a fuller account of his career in The Apprentice: My Life in the Kitchen (2003). In the newest book, his life story is only drawn out insofar as it informs his relationship to chicken…

If it sounds pat to suggest that people enjoyed watching how easily French and American cooking traditions could come together when Jacques and Julia did it, we must remember that in the 1980s and 1990s, cooking shows were still in the business of generating ease. There remains excellent cooking on-screen today, but it is almost never permitted to be exhibited calmly. Pépin is one of the few remaining on-camera chefs who seems to have relaxed for longer than five minutes at a time. His quietly competent air, his teeth-sucking ease, and his gentle, affirming style all played beautifully with Child’s patrician heartiness (her maternal grandfather was lieutenant governor of Massachusetts). She was outdoorsy, unselfconscious, cheerful, unaffected, practical, uninterested in euphemism but given to nicknaming; she naturally complemented Pépin’s tidy, dynamic, unpretentious Gallic enthusiasm.

How unpretentious? Here Pépin recalls with equal parts alarm and delight the transition from Henri Soulé’s restaurant Le Pavillonon Park Avenue and 57th Street to the short-order grills at Howard Johnson’s:

Quitting one of the very finest kitchens in the country, I found myself standing over a grill flipping burgers and hot dogs at a Howard Johnson’s in the nether reaches of Queens…. Nothing in my career…had taught me the finer points of preparing food on a flat-topped griddle. I scrambled eggs, cooked them sunny-side up, and flipped them over hard. Piles of hash browns sizzled beside the eggs, along with hot dogs, hamburgers, cheeseburgers, and pancakes.

This was cooking at a superhuman scale. The job of a chef in most restaurants, no matter how exclusive, is usually to make dinner for customers who order it, but at Howard Johnson’s Pépin was tasked with the general improvement of the menus for “more than a thousand outlets.” He describes being introduced for the first time to pressure cookers and the food-safety protocols necessary to cooking for an entire chain. More than almost any other public culinary figure, in his career Pépin has followed the trajectory of twentieth-century scientific development, as if he had been planned ahead of time as a shorthand for modernism. He went from learning to slaughter chickens efficiently and humanely as a child in his mother’s backyard, holding the head down carefully over a bowl after severing the jugular vein to ensure the bird bled out quickly, to mastering oeufs à la neige at the Hôtel Plaza Athénée as part of a forty-eight-chef brigade (a loose method is provided in Art of the Chicken), to poaching a thousand chickens simultaneously in an enormous commissary kitchen.

From Howard Johnson’s he went on to found La Potagerie in Manhattan in 1970; from there, television, Julia Child, and the world. Each reference to a new career highlight comes without either arrogance or false modesty and is almost always framed as a gentle request: “I was asked” to consult for the Russian Tea Room’s remodeling of its menu in the mid-1980s or to start teaching at Boston University—a casual, unanxious relationship to excellence…

Fascinating and delightful: “Coq au Pépin,” from @daniel_m_lavery in @nybooks.

* Jean Anthelme Brillat-Savarin, The Physiology of Taste


As we reach for the deep fryer, we might recall that it was on this date in 1966 that Simon & Garfunkel released their paean to a suite of herbs often used as seasoning in the cooking of chicken, Parsley, Sage, Rosemary and Thyme.


“I was obliged to be industrious”*…

There’s an old joke that goes something like this: Mozart, on dying too young, finds himself in Heaven. He’s approached by God, who suggests that Mozart might become the conductor of Heaven’s orchestra. Mozart, taken aback, exclaims, “I’m flattered Lord, but surely Kapellmeister Bach is here and would be a more appropriate choice.” to which God responds, “I am Bach.”

Tyler Cowan with an argument that the joke isn’t so far off…

I’ve been reading and rereading biographies of Bach lately (for some podcast prep), and it strikes me he might count as the greatest achiever of all time.  That is distinct from say regarding him as your favorite composer or artist of all time.  I would include the following metrics as relevant for that designation:

1. Quality of work.

2. How much better he was than his contemporaries.

3. How much he stayed the very best in subsequent centuries.

4. Quantity of work.

5. Peaks.

6. Consistency of work and achievement.

I see Bach as ranking very, very high in all these categories.  Who else might even be a contender for greatest achiever of all time?  Shakespeare?  Maybe, but Bach seems to beat him for relentlessness and quantity (at a very high quality level).  Beethoven would be high on the list, but he doesn’t seem to quite match up to Bach in all of these categories.  Homer seems relevant, but we are not even sure who or what he was.  Archimedes?  Plato or Aristotle?  Who else?…

In any case, a reminder that we should all be listening to more Bach: “Is Bach the greatest achiever of all time?“, from @tylercowen.

* Johann Sebastian Bach


As we muse on magnificence, we might send melodic birthday greetings to Girolamo Frescobaldi; he was born on this date in 1583. A composer and keyboard virtuoso, he created some of the most influential music of the 17th century. His work influenced Bach, Johann PachelbelHenry Purcell, and other major composers.

Indeed, Bach is known to have owned a number of Frescobaldi’s works, including a manuscript copy of Frescobaldi’s Fiori musicali (Venice, 1635), which Bach signed and dated 1714 and performed in Weimar the same year.


Written by (Roughly) Daily

September 13, 2023 at 1:00 am

“Who, who, who, who”*…

From 99% Invisible, the remarkable– and revealing– story of an all-time champion earwig…

All kinds of songs get stuck in your head. Famous pop tunes from when you were a kid, album cuts you’ve listened to over and over again. And then there’s a category of memorable songs—the ones that we all just kind of know. Songs that somehow, without anyone’s permission, sneak their way into the collective unconscious and are now just lingering there for eternity. There’s one song that best exemplifies this phenomenon— “Who Let The Dogs Out” by the Baha Men.

The story of how that song ended up stuck in all of our brains goes back decades and spans continents. It tells us something about inspiration, and how creativity spreads, and about whether an idea can ever really belong to just one person. About ten years ago, Ben Sisto was reading the Wikipedia entry for the song when he noticed something strange. A hairdresser in England named “Keith” was credited with giving the song to the Baha Men, but Keith had no last name and the fact had no citation. This mystery sent Ben down a rabbit hole to uncover the true story and eventually lead to a documentary about his decade-long quest called Who Let the Dogs Out

Whomst Among Us Let Out The Dogs (Again),” from @99piorg.

Anslem Douglas, “Who Let the Dogs Out?


As we contemplate catchiness, we might recall that on this date in 1995 the #1 song in America was “Gangsta’s Paradise” by Coolio.

Interpolating Stevie Wonder’s 1976 song “Pastime Paradise,” “Gangsta’s Paradise” features vocals from American singer L.V. who served as a co-composer and co-lyricist with Coolio and Doug Rasheed. (Wonder was also being credited for the composition and lyrics.) The single was certified Platinum in October of 1995 and ultimately sold over 5 million copies.

Written by (Roughly) Daily

September 9, 2023 at 1:00 am

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