TBT^2: Beethoven’s Sixth Symphony

One of the many benefits of teaching music is (re)discovering beloved favorite works.  During last week’s round of distance learning, I had to pull out some of the classics.  If we’re going to sit on a Google Meet call, let’s listen to some music, not just talk about it.

I really love programmatic music—instrumental music that tells a story, often accompanied by program notes explaining (usually very briefly) what the listener is supposed to hear in the musical “story.”  Students often like to imagine their own stories when listening to instrumental music, which is great, but I find that programmatic works give students (and myself!) some guideposts to follow.

Fortunately, Ludwig von Beethoven provided some handy ones for us in his Sixth Symphony, quite possibly my favorite symphony, and certainly my favorite of Beethoven’s.  It’s the so-called “Pastoral” symphony, as it depicts a pleasant trip to the country (besides the roiling thunderstorm in the fourth movement).

It’s also unusual in two respects:  instead of the standard four movements of the classical symphony (a fast opening movement, a slow second movement, a dancelike third movement, and a fast fourth movement), Beethoven includes five; and the third, fourth, and fifth movements all flow seamlessly into one another, without the customary pause between each.

It is also long, especially by the standards of the classical symphony (the Romantics, however, would have easily matched Beethoven for runtime), clocking in at nearly forty-five minutes (the typical classical symphony averages around twenty-five-to-thirty minutes, but forty-five would have been the upper limit for the time).  But that length is in service to Beethoven’s vision, and he fully explores every theme in this symphony.

Here is a particularly excellent performance—the one I showed, in part, to my classes last week—by the Berlin Philharmonic, under the direction of Bernard Haitnik:

With that, here is 4 February 2021’s “TBT: Beethoven’s Sixth Symphony“:

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Memorable Monday: MLK Day 202[2]

In lieu of the usual movie review this week, I’m taking advantage of the Martin Luther King, Jr. Day to lighten my blogging load slightly.  I’ll have another Midweek Mad Scientist Movie Madness post for $3 and up subscribers on Wednesday, so if you want your weekly fix of filmic schlock, check back then.  An aunt of mine has requested a movie review, and as soon as I figure out how to watch the flick, I’ll be reviewing it one Monday (I’m looking out for you, Aunt Marilyn).

After a week of virtual learning and lots of time alone (well, with Murphy, at least), I’m eager to get out of the house, but I will likely spend today prepping for the abbreviated school week and getting the house in order.  I’m thankful for the day off, but I’d probably appreciate it more—as I did in January 2020—if I were utterly exhausted—as I was in January 2020.  I think slightly less appreciation is a worthwhile trade-off, though!

This post from 2020 delves into some of the complexity of the Reverend Dr. King’s legacy, and warns against excessive idolization of historical figures—even martyrs.  Much of the inspiration from the stories of Christian Saints, for example, derives from their human frailty.  Even the great Saint Augustine, when praying to God for control over his lustful nature, prayed, “Grant me chastity and self-control, but please not yet.”

From the evidence, it appears that King participated in some really debauched, even evil, sexual practices.  The FBI’s suspicions that he may have been are Marxist were probably justified to some extent, even if the FBI treated him shabbily and is a despicable tool of oppression.  If King were alive today, I’d wager he’d be knee-deep in the CRT foolishness that his famous “I Have a Dream” speech explicitly rejects.

Yet from this extremely imperfect vessel came ringing declarations of spiritual equality.  Regardless of our race, we are endowed by our Creator with certain inalienable rights.  That is the part of King’s legacy we should celebrate, while remembering he was a deeply flawed individual.

In other words, let us put our faith and trust in Christ, not in men.

With that, here is January 2020’s “MLK Day 2020“:

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Flashback Friday^2: Christmas and its Symbols

Okay, okay—it’s not Christmas.  But, hey, close enough, right?

There will be an actual Christmas post tomorrow morning, though it’s going to be very short.  But I couldn’t pass up the opportunity to turn “Flashback Friday” into “Flashback Friday^2,” angering mathematicians and calendar enthusiasts everywhere.

The original post in this “series,” “Christmas and its Symbols,” contains some excellent Christmas wisdom.  So often we hear Christmas denounced as a secretly “pagan” holiday because we hang wreaths, put up trees, and dangle mistletoe.  But as one meme I’ve seen recently put it (to paraphrase), “Yes, I love to display the trophies of my vanquished foes.”

Christianity sure did kick—and continues to kick—some butt.  We could probably do with some more warrior-monks running around with maces and clubs.

For this weekend and beyond, though, Jesus—as He always does—will do.

With that, here is “Flashback Friday: Christmas and its Symbols“:

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TBT^2: Christmas Eve

Well, it’s not exactly Christmas Eve—more like Christmas Eve Eve, which probably has some liturgical significance that my Southern-fried Protestantism doesn’t know or appreciate—but given the way Christmas is falling this year, as well as my own laziness, I thought it’d be worth looking back at this classic Christmas Eve post, with my timeless “Christmas and Its Symbols” post for Flashback Friday tomorrow.

That scheduling also lets me do my beloved “^2” addendum with the titles, adding another layer of Talmudic-esque commentary onto my past scribblings:  the ultimate in authorial self-indulgence.

Of course, the season isn’t about my half-baked musings about Christmas, Christmas Eve, or the rest.  It’s about the Birth of Our Savior, Jesus Christ.  As I wrote last year, Christmas Eve seems to perfectly capture the spirit of mystery of that night, “a night full of magic, mysticism, and wonder.”  Christmas Day is a flurry of activity:  opening presents, yelling at parents to wake up, cleaning up piles of wrapping paper.  Christmas Eve, especially Christmas Eve night, has always seemed more mystical, more reflective—the true celebration of Christ’s Birth.

It was also the night my Aunt Cheryl—the best one-eyed piano player in Aiken County—used to throw her big, bodacious Christmas Eve bash, featuring her incredible lasagna.  So maybe that’s why it fills my heart with a warm, fuzzy feeling (these days, it’d be a welcome dose of heartburn—totally worth it for a thick section of her lasagna).

This year, I think I’ll be spending Christmas Eve with my niece and nephews, waking up at their house Christmas morning for the second year in a row.  That’s always a fun way to spend the season.  Here’s hoping there’s some Christmas Eve Chinese food thrown into the mix.  God Bless General Tso—he was a bloodthirsty dictator, but his chicken is delectable.

With that, here is “TBT: Christmas Eve“:

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TBT: Veterans’ Day 2018, Commemoration of the Great War, and Poppies

Today is Veterans’ Day, formerly known as Armistice Day, marking the end of the First World War.

Seeing as it falls on a Thursday this year, it seemed overly appropriate to feature this 2018 Veterans’ Day post.

I don’t have anymore to add that I didn’t say better in 2018, so with that, here is 13 November 2018’s “Veterans’ Day 2018, Commemoration of the Great War, and Poppies“:

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The War on Halloween

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It has long been the position of this blog that Halloween gets a bad rap, especially from the Christian Right. The holiday’s association with deviltry, witchcraft, and the occult is, of course, difficult to deny, but the holiday’s name is an abbreviation of “All Hallow’s Eve”; that is, the evening before All Saints’ Day on 1 November.

Granted, the Internet atheists will claim the roots of Halloween in Samhain, the Gaelic festival of the harvest. They are not wrong, per se—the influx of Irish immigrants into the United States in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries brought a peculiarly Celtic flavor to the holiday. But the holiday is a Christian, specifically a Catholic, one—the Irishmen bringing tales of Jack O’Lantern and his carved turnip (it would only later become a pumpkin) were not ancient pagans, but among the most devout believers in Europe.

Certainly the medieval Catholic Church had a habit of taking pagan holidays and replacing them with Christian observances. For some reason, Internet atheists always use these replacements as examples of Christianity’s secretly pagan roots. The argument is ludicrous.

When Hernan Cortez destroyed the Aztec temple at Tenochtitlan and built a cathedral in its place, was he honoring the bloodthirsty Aztec gods? Or was he symbolically noting that The Holy Trinity had displaced the false gods and idols of the Aztecs? It is almost certainly the latter. Similarly, when Christians took existing pagan observances and replaced them with Christian ones, they were symbolically and practically demonstrating the victory of Christ and His Church over pagan gods.

Indeed, much of the American Protestant objection to Halloween must have been due to its associations with the Papists, rather than the Devil. The mischievousness of the holiday in the twentieth century, especially the concept of trick-or-treating, probably has more to do with its more sinister modern associations.

But the latest assault on Halloween is coming from a different quarter.  No longer are conservative Christians alone in hedging their bets on the holiday.

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The Joy of Renaissance Music: Palestrina’s “Pope Marcellus” Mass

It’s another school year, which means another year going through the history of Western music in Pre-AP Music Appreciation.  This week we’re diving into Renaissance music, after spending last week covering the music of the Middle Ages.

Contrary to popular belief, the Middle Ages were not a period of depressing darkness, but rather a lively age.  I certainly wouldn’t want to be a peasant pushing an ox cart full of dung, but that peasant knew his place in the universe, in the sense that he knew he was part of an ordered cosmos with God at both its head and its center.

More on that another time, but I mention it to note that the Renaissance would not have been possible without that long age of faith in the Middle Ages.  Still, the Renaissance Period—variably dated, but starting roughly sometime in the fifteenth century, and extending to the seventeenth century—was a period of increased interest in the art and literature of ancient Greece and Rome, especially the human realism depicted in the art of those great civilizations, both a continuation of and a departure from the Middle Ages.

It also saw the declining influence of the Catholic Church in Europe, especially in the wake of the Protestant Reformation of the sixteenth century.  As Protestantism and other social forces broke the Church’s monopoly on education and its dominance over art and music, Catholicism mounted a Counter-Reformation, aimed at both reducing the influence of Protestantism and reforming real abuses within the Roman Church.

That effort, naturally, involved revisions to music.  Catholic priests denounced the increasingly theatrical nature of church music, decrying it as distracting from the simple message of the Gospel and the sacred Latin text, instead serving as gaudy entertainment for Mass goers.  Much like the megachurch arena rock concerts of today, services had become garish and maudlin, a reflection of the corruption within the Church.

It was in this context that Giovanni Pieluigi da Palestrina composed his greatest works.  According to Roger Kamien in Music: An Appreciation (the eighth brief edition, which I use with my students), Palestrina composed some 104 masses and 450 other sacred works, and his music became, essentially, the gold standard of church music until modern times (“masses” in the musical context are works built around five sung prayers, the Kyrie, Gloria, Credo, Sanctus, and Agnus Dei, not to be confused with the Catholic service).

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Supporting Friends Friday: Nebraska Energy Observer

Well, it was inevitable—after dedicating an extremely popular edition of Supporting Friends Friday to the irreplaceable Audre Myers, I had to dedicate one to the man and the website that gave her an outlet:  Neo and Nebraska Energy Observer.

I’m not sure how I discovered Nebraska Energy Observer, but I suspect it involved Neo leaving a comment on one of my posts a couple of years ago.  I’m generally suspicious of unknown commenters, as the Internet is full of trolls interested in harassing right-wing bloggers, but I quickly figured out that Neo was one of the good guys.

My initial perception was that Neo was obsessed with English history, and I figured his blog was largely dedicated to the “special relationship” between the United States and our erstwhile mother country.  That relationship is, indeed, an important focus of Nebraska Energy Observer (though you’d never guess it from the title), but the blog covers a wide range of topics (including, of course, reflections on the life of an electrical lineman in Nebraska).

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Let’s Get Biblical: Elijah and the 7000

It’s easy to get discouraged in the face of all the insanity and absurdity of the wokesters, who aren’t just unwashed Antifa thugs picking fights in the streets.  Woke-ism, Cultural Marxism, CRT, progressivism, etc.—whatever name we give it, the ideology dominates our institutions, our ruling class, and our popular culture.

In the face of such totality, it’s little wonder that conservatives and traditionalists grow pessimistic about the future.  Despair is seductive, and misery loves company.

As Christians, however, despair is profoundly sinful.  When we give into despair—into hopelessness—we are denying God’s Sovereignty, His Power and His Plan to guide us through the present storm.

During my pastor’s sermon this past Sunday, he mentioned in passing the passages from 1 Kings 19 in which Elijah curls up under a broom tree and prays for death.  Despite defeating the prophets of Baal at Mount Carmel in the previous chapter, Elijah despairs, for he knows that Jezebel has put a price on his head—and he feels utterly alone.

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