Tuesday, 23 February 2016


The Ugly Renaissance at Amazon
One of the books I am currently reading is Alexander Lee's "The Ugly Renaissance: Sex, Greed, Violence & Depravity in an Age of Beauty," a modern scholar's unabashed and unapologetic foray into the demi-monde of Renaissance icons Botticelli, da Vinci and Michelangelo, the "Ugly's" preface featured a dialogue that, for me, leapt right off of the pages. Below I quote from the book a paragraph that I found especially poignant:

“…precisely because it is so very easy to be seduced by the beauty and elegance of the art and literature of the Renaissance, the uglier side of the period is all too easily forgotten and overlooked. Perhaps by virtue of the Romantic aura that surrounds its cultural achievements, the titillating private lives of its artists, the sordid concerns of its patrons, and the superabundance of intolerant hatred in its streets are regularly swept under the carpet and glossed over with the illusion of unblemished perfection. At the level of historical accuracy, this tendency is unfortunate merely because it introduces a somewhat artificial separation between high culture and social realities. But at a much more human level, it is also unfortunate because it robs the period of its excitement, its vividness, and its true sense of wonder. For it is only by appreciating the seamier, grittier side of the Renaissance that the extent of its cultural achievements really becomes clear.”

Although Lee is speaking of a thesis shared[1] by 15th century philosopher Giovanni Pico della Mirandola in his magnum opus Oration on the Dignity of Man and Michelangelo's David, I think the sentiment applies wholeheartedly to the genre of Classical Music and Opera and of its practitioners as well as it's patrons (and critics). It is exactly the premise that unravelingmusicalmyths.blogspot.ca seeks to convey. 

While there is something to be said about an aura of mystique, the notion that true creative genius is best appreciated when viewing the picture as a whole, in my opinion, cannot be overstated when it comes to the lives and works of our great composers. In every triumph there lurks the shade of failures past - in every beauty, the blemish of matter defiled - it is through attuning one self to the shaky first steps of our icons, walking with them through their fumbles and forays into the field of excellence that we can appreciate the full extent of their efforts and the choice of material found within their oeuvres. Furthermore, if we take into context the social, political and economic factors of the state in which each of our favorite composers' lived - in times of revolution, in times of war - and almost never in détente, we can further understand precisely why certain decisions were made: in regards to libretto, style and genre, and critical acclaim or public outrage.

It is only in this vein that we may begin to view our musical heroes not as demi-gods with unearthly talents, but rather as very much - very uniquely -

It is when we choose not to deify our beloved composers that their respective talents become that much more impressive.

Listen below to Italian Renaissance composer Giovanni Gabrieli's (c. 1554-1612) exquisite setting of "O Magnum Mysterium"

[1]that of man’s placement amongst the arts (and his supposed innate genius) as being identified by the amalgamation of free will and sociological influence.


No comments:

Post a Comment