|The Critic Happy|
|Truly, an elephant!|
All of which brings me to music.
Specifically, the music of Jacob Handl (1550-1591) and Thomas Tallis (1505-1585) and other searching composers brought into bright, vivid, spellbinding life by my wondrous friend David Stein who knows this music so intimately and chose it for the program of an unforgettable concert at the church of St-Gilles at Malestroit, and directed the choir that made it shine. I remember being stunned when Kant proclaimed music the perfect art (grad school, I think, or when I used to teach art criticism; it's hazy but the temporality of visual art and the transcendence of music were suddenly opposed), but I'm not stunned to think on it when I hear the music that David wills forth. That's Handl in the clip above, the "Duo Seraphim" which splits the choir into two and took the audience's breath away as a second set of voices floated up from we knew not where in the way that medieval architecture has of confusing sound. And by confusing I mean intertwining and enveloping and making the known (the sure contours of architecture you can perceptually trace) the unknown (the fluid trajectory of sound that always eludes stillness and capture). It's hearing early modern music in medieval space that makes me realize the weight (heft, force) of music, the love and effort of the choral director lifting the music and sustaining it in the space as it starts to fill with sound and mercy, wonder, love and loss.
I've always been fascinated with where music exists as art: in the composer's head, in the score, in the voices of the singers, in the director's guidance, in the audience's emotions. In this, I can think on both music and medieval oral tradition (especially meeting in troubadours and secular poetry). In this, I marvel at how spatial music is, how spatially involved it is. In this, I perceive how a space can amplify sound (how David can somehow lift music from the page and into his choir's voices and offer it up to the space all around that receives it and embraces it and nourishes it), and how it can be amplified (how it can shimmer into something so much bigger than what I can see). How the elephant is transformed in its complicity with the wonder of this music. And doesn't Tallis and his "Lamentations of Jeremiah" above somehow make this happen?
Because what is this music, what was this wondrous afternoon, save the resonant oscillation of a most common element (our human voice, modulating sound unceasingly for millennia) with one most rare (the ephemeral alignment of voice, space, sound and all the love and survival that that alignment entails)? I felt this most when David led "Shir Hama'alot" by Salamone Rossi (1570-1630). Was this the first time the elephant had been enveloped by voices tracing Hebrew sounds into the air to be held by the vault in which it was painted? It was, when Salomone Rossi wrote the music, the first time that Jewish liturgical music had been set to the Baroque idiom. It creates, every time, a marvelous commonality between early modern synagogal space and wherever it is heard forever after. It reveals mysteries in their joy.