Sunday, March 29, 2015

Notes from the Pluriverse {14–16} (A mythology for music theory today)



In just seven years we will celebrate the tercentenary of Jean-Philippe Rameau's Traité de l'harmonie réduit à ses principes naturels (1722).
Three years later, we will celebrate the tercentenary of Johann-Joseph Fux' Gradus ad Parnassum (1725).

Juxtaposition of Fux and Rameau offers a mid-stream snapshot of a fundamental bifurcation plaguing/driving (take your pick) the Common Practice Period. The Roman Janus keeps reappearing in countless guises in unexpected places. Janus was slain by Clio, the muse of history. (This is my mythology; I can write it however I want.) Today the Greek Hydra has been reborn from Janus' honored remains. She now lurks among us, both plaguing and driving contemporary composition and theory.


Frontispiece from the 1725 edition of Fux' Gradus ad Parnasum

Josephus has completed his climb up the steps to the top of Mount Parnassus.
Surrounded by the Nine Muses, he receives the laurel wreath from Apollo.
In the background Pegasus charges over Mount Helicon
where his hoof strikes a rock, creating the Hippocrene spring,
fount of poetic inspiration.
As he bows to receive the wreath,
is Josephus holding his first musical work
or his completed counterpoint exercises?
– or –
Can you reach Helicon from Parnassus?

[added Apr 5 2015]

 "A Klee painting named Angelus Novus shows an angel looking as though he is about to move away from something he is fixedly contemplating. His eyes are staring, his mouth is open, his wings are spread. This is how one pictures the angel of history. His face is turned toward the past. Where we perceive a chain of events, he sees one single catastrophe which keeps piling wreckage upon wreckage and hurls it in front of his feet. The angel would like to stay, awaken the dead, and make whole what has been smashed. But a storm is blowing from Paradise; it has got caught in his wings with such violence that the angel can no longer close them. The storm irresistibly propels him into the future to which his back is turned, while the pile of debris before him grows skyward. This storm is what we call progress." (Walter Benjamin)

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