15 feb. 2011

Beethoven and Unamuno, Basho and Me

Between us and Unamuno, we might count 100 years. Unamuno was active 100 years ago (and before and after too, of course). Between Beethoven and Unamuno, there are another 100 years. Here's the thing, though. For me, Beethoven occupies a different world from my own, whereas Unamuno is more or less modern. On the older side of modern, yes, but still modern. The 100 years between Unamuno and me (he was born about 94 years before me, and Beethoven 90 + years before that) is much shorter than the 100 years between him and the composer of the Eroica.

My own lifespan of 50 years is about 25% of the time span I am talking about. So in my lifetime, we have travelled half the distance between Beethoven and Unamuno or between Unamuno and me. Those fifty years seem shorter to me than the fifty years right before i was born. The perception of time, then, is influenced by one's own position within time. There is a telescoping effect. Time speeds up as it goes along.

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Let's see who would be 100 years before Beethoven? We're looking for someone born around 1660. Nobody's coming to mind, so in this case the distance is so great that I don't even have easy points of reference. Someone between Calderón de la Barca and Alexander Pope? Basho? I might be interested in figures from this period, but I wouldn't see them as close to me in time or sensibility in the least. So from this perspective Beethoven is starting to look pretty modern again. His way of taking one musical idea and beating it to death in some movements of the late string quartets starts to look similar to a minimalist composer of the 1960s.

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From an "orientalist" perspective I know that Basho lived many centuries after Li Po and Tu Fu. Yet I perceive them as strangely equidistant from me. We are talking about the difference between the Chinese T'ang dynasty (8th century) and seventeenth century Japan. Perhaps language creates even more distance, or a Westernizing orientalist viewpoint does not recognize the modernity of Basho.

5 comentarios:

Vance Maverick dijo...

Alessandro Scarlatti. Even Bach is more recent -- so the horizon between the standard classical repertory and "early music" is right about that date.

Jonathan dijo...

Yes, but I don't know the difference between the various Scarliattis. Domenico is better known right?

Vance Maverick dijo...

Domenico is certainly more interesting to me. (Kind of an alternate path down which post-Baroque music might have gone, quirkier than the Viennese school.)

All I meant by this was that people born in 1660 made music that sounds really old. (Just to be clear, I like some older music too, but as with e.g. Dante I'm conscious of an enormous gap.)

Another reference for 1660 would be Defoe (b. 1659). Or Rochester.

Jonathan dijo...

Yes, early music (pre-baroque, early baroque) sounds very different. I don't know the music of any of the Scarlatti family with any great depth, but it is interesting how little time comes between Bach and Beethoven. Bach lived until 1750 and overlapped with Haydn.

Vance Maverick dijo...

Check out one of Andreas Staier's discs of Domenico Scarlatti sometime -- pretty addictive, with a cumulative diversity. (Here's a sampling.)

The early Haydn is a decent minor Baroque composer -- it's impressive how far he came.