Christmas Calendar is a Telegram channel dedicated to celebration of Nativity of Jesus and other winter festivals in arts throughout history
This year I decided to venture to pastures new: to hold my (nearly) annual Christmas in Arts series in a private channel in Telegram, renamed as Christmas Calendar. And so as of December 1st, that is, for over 2 weeks now, I’ve narrating the story of Nativity and Christmas celebrations in arts. Best of all, I’m doing this in collaboration with my former student and a good friend, a musicologist Gleb Konkin.
We have gone over the pictorial story of Nativity, watched The Gospel of Matthew by P.P. Pasolini and the Russian and Italian versions of La Freccia Azzurra, and listened to W. Bird, B. Britten, J. Schutze, and J.S. Bach. We watched the stained glass of the Chartres Cathedral and that of some English churches, notably of Birmingham, where the glass was made by Sir Edward Burne-Jones. And recently, we have revisited the aristocratic traditions of celebrating Christmastide that started on December 25th and ended on January 5th with the Twelfth Night, commemorated by W. Shakespeare. Incidentally, the latest post was on the Russian screen adaptations of this fantastic Christmassy play.
If you know some Russian or can automatically translate the posts, you can join our online festival from wherever you are. There are two tariffs, the cheapest lasts a week, for the full one Christmas will become a “movable feast”, as you will be able to get back to it whenever you want.
Dilla da l’Acqua is a 16th c. song deploring the fate of a lover who has to overcome the tricks of an obnoxious guardian that protects his beloved. The guardian is not spared every imaginable epithet, including a “pig’s face”. I first heard it interpreted by the British chamber music orchestra, Orlando Consort.
The piece belongs to the 16th c. Italian composer Francesco Patavino (c. 1478-c.1556) from Santa Croce in Padua. He was a rather important figure in the realm of sacred music of the Italian Renaissance and introduced the principle of a “broken choir”, then widely used by the Venetian school of polyphonic composition. Dilla da l’acqua must be one of the seven “profane” pieces that Patavino composed in his lifetime. He died in Loreto (Ancona) around the year 1556.
La Bergamasca, as Britannica tells us, is a lusty 16th century Italian dance; given that it is mentioned in Shakespeare’s Midsummer Night’s Dream as bergomask, this can surely be seen as the example of the notorious Italianisation of the English culture in the second half of the 16th c.
Marco Uccellini composed his Bergamasca in 1642, and it has instantly gained popularity that sees the piece being performed to this day. The video below is a classical version that remained faithful to what was likely the original tempo. I dare say, however, that this Monday I heard an ever better version by the Moscow musical group Pfeyffer.
2004 saw the first exhibition of Raphael in England. In November I happened to be in London, and my first visit to the National Gallery naturally included a voyage to the Sainsbury Wing. I had mere half an hour to enjoy some 40 works of one of the Titans of Renaissance. To see them, I had to gently if politely wriggle past some visitors, or queue up where it was impossible to squeeze through. Everyone who knows the Sainsbury Wing will recall its catacomb-like interior: low ceilings, dim light, rather small rooms with dark walls – hardly a backdrop for the rich Italian masterpieces.
At exactly the same time they were exhibiting Edgar Degas upstairs. The works of French artist resided in two or three well lit halls with tall ceilings and light pastel-colour walls, there were not many visitors (it was one of the first days of exhibition, I should note). Most paintings were of medium size, in front of every second or third of which there stood a Far-Eastern girl with a pad and some crayons, copying the works of one of the greatest Impressionists. To this day I cannot fathom why these two exhibitions could not be swapped places.
I wrote a lengthy text about it in Russian in the same 2004, contemplating on how these two exhibitions manifested our attitude to art. I was probably a bit harsh to suggest that it was easy to admire the classical art because then no-one would find a fault in your taste, but on second thoughts this is hardly far from the truth. Indeed, one would rather be ridiculed if they admitted liking pop music than if they admitted liking Mozart. Same with Raphael. As Henry James put it, Raphael was a happy genius, and by looking and admiring his Madonnas we seek to find happiness, too. Raphael is also easier to comprehend, unlike his contemporaries. Leonardo is very intellectual, to which La Gioconda is a good proof. Michelangelo’s devotion to the physique is sometimes baffling, as can be seen, for instance, in the figures on the Medici monument. Raphael, on the contrary, is always pleasant, always radiant, always rich in colour, and even if his end may not be as happy as his paintings, we probably shall still forget about it when we observe his work.
It is different with Degas. Degas was known for his perfectionism, and many times in his life he turned to rework his own paintings, as the examination of certain works, e.g. Portrait of Elena Carafa, shows. The name of the exhibition – “Art in the Making” – further highlights Degas’s critical, intellectual approach to his work. The British art historian Kenneth Clark in his book “The Nude: A Study in the Ideal Form” (N.Y., 1956) says, in particular, that Degas excelled at what the Florentine artists of the 16th c. would call “disegno” (i.e. a drawing, a sketch). He focused on a human figure as his main theme, but aimed to capture the ideal image of the movement of this figure, and especially the energy of this movement. Degas’s painting is more vigorous than Raphael’s, and his Madonnas are not only nude, they are also depicted in the poses or at such activity that many of us would still deem inappropriate. Still, again in the words of Clark, had the figures painted by Michelangelo come to life, they would have scared us to a far bigger extent than Degas’s naked women.
Thanks to his colour palette, techniques, and themes, Degas appears more disturbing, almost revolutionary, compared to Raphael.I noted in my text that in the three centuries, from Raphael to Degas, the very attitude to art had changed. As far as Madonnas are concerned, after the European revolutions of the 19th c. and on the eve of the First World War they became more emancipated, they drank absinthe and spent evenings in the Parisian cafes. Their blurred faces, loose hair and outrageous nudity were the symbols of their time, the sign of the fear of changes and of the vulnerability in the face of the outer world. Their movement and individuality were more prominently expressed in comparison to their Renaissance predecessors. Like many other Impressionists, Degas is much more “relevant” to our time, but as it happens we prefer to turn to what gives us hope and faith, and Raphael seemed to be a perfect saviour. Apparently, I concluded, when people turn to the classical art, they seek peace; and when they find peace, they’ll think of a revolution.
Nevertheless, I bought a wonderful CD at the Raphael’s exhibition, The Music of the Courtier, which contained several beautifully performed pieces by the late 15th – 16th cc. composers. One of this, Dilla da l’acqua, by Francesco Patavino (1497?-1556?), performed by I Fagiolini, has become an instant favourite, and I hope you enjoy it too.
The paintings used (from top, left to right, clockwise):
Raphael, La Donna Velata (c. 1514-1516) Edgar Degas, Portrait of Elena Carafa (c. 1875) Raphael, Madonna of the Pinks (c. 1506-1507) Michelangelo, The Tomb of Giuliano de’ Medici (1526-1531) Leonardo da Vinci, La Gioconda (c. 1503-1506) Raphael, Madonna Connestabile (c. 1502) Edgar Degas, La Coiffure (Combing Her Hair) (c. 1896) Edgar Degas, Russian Dancers (c. 1899) Raphael, Ansidei Madonna (1505) Raphael, Lady with a Unicorn (c. 1505-1506) Edgar Degas, Miss La La at the Cirque Fernando (c. 1879) Edgar Degas, Young Spartans Exercising (c. 1860) Edgar Degas, After the Bath (c. 1890-1895) Raphael, St Catherine (c. 1507)
The sheet music to a popular madrigal O Felici Occhi Miei by Diego Ortiz and Jacob Arcadelt can be seen in The Musicians by Caravaggio
Our fascination with Renaissance Italy never ceases. This time we have unambiguous evidence of what music the contemporaries of Caravaggio preferred. One piece that was quite popular was a madrigal by Jacques Arcadelt O Felici Occhi Miei.
(As a matter of fact, last year the Victoria and Albert Museum hosted two exhibitions that were linked together thematically, as geographically, and were of immense importance to all “Italianised Englishmen”, if we are to use the 16th c. slang. One was on Leonardo da Vinci; another on Italian Renaissance household; and I wrote about both on my blog in early November).
Now, I got somewhat interested in the piece of music that I recommended in the mentioned post purely because it was composed in the 16th c., which I studied in great depth. The piece is called Divisions of Arcadelt’s O felici occhi miei, and was composed by Diego Ortiz.
The piece in question is a madrigal by Jacob Arcadelt, a Flemish composer born between 1504 and 1505, who spent a lot of his time in Rome and then in Paris, where he died in 1568. Immensely popular for his madrigals and chansons, he also composed masses and motets. The very first printed madrigals appeared in 1537, and the year 1539 saw the publication of four out of six volumes of Arcadelt’s madrigals.
The madrigal in question is called O felici occhi miei (Oh, my happy eyes), and this is the text:
O felic’ occhi miei, felici voi,
che sete car’ al mio sol
perche sembianz’ havete
de gliocchi che gli fu si dolc’e rei.
voi ben voi sete voi, voi, voi felici et io,
io no, che per quetar vostro desio,
corr’ amirar l’onde mi struggo poi.
(My word-for-word translation:
Oh my happy eyes, happy you are
That you can dearly behold my sun,
For [this is what] the face
To the eyes, to which it was so sweet and regal.
You are beautiful, glowing,
You are happy, and I,
And I am not, for to quieten my longing desire for you,
I look up at you whereby I then suffer).
The comparisons we find in this madrigal are typical of the Renaissance poetry. The most prominent poet who comes to my mind is certainly Petrarch (Canzoniere); but similar motives we can find in Shakespeare’s Sonnet 24. Face is the Sun (the term can be extended to include God); a lover cannot stop looking at the face of his beloved, like a man cannot stop looking at the sun; but the beauty of both bedazzles the viewer, bringing him to tears (strictly, as figuratively, speaking). Such motive, I am sure, goes well back in the dawn of history of literary figures.
You can follow the links below to see the score sheets for this madrigal. What is interesting, however, is that a few years ago art historians have identified the Arcadelt’s manuscripts as being included in Caravaggio’s paintings. O felici occhi miei apparently features in painting above, The Musicians (1595, Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York). Which only proves how popular was the madrigal O Felici Occhi Miei by Arcadelt even quarter of a century after his death.
Below is a video with the madrigal recorded by Ernst Stolz and Trond Bengston, featuring the piece of art by Andrea Previtali. It is followed by Pro Musica Antiqua ensemble from Milan singing O Felic’ Occhi Miei a-capella.
Previously on this post there was a link to O felici occhi miei music score in a .pdf file. I discovered recently that the link was no longer working, but the file is still available on the original site. Flauto Dolce has been created by Andrea Bornstein and has already amassed a marvellous collection of music score sheets and ‘is dedicated to the publication of original music and arrangements for recorder made available in various formats‘. Students of both Renaissance and Baroque music will be pleased to find a wide selection of compositions from these periods, some available in MP3. Mr Bornstein also indicated on his website that he was interested in collaborating with musicians who would consider to ‘realise the continuo of pieces from the XVII and XVIII centuries‘. No money offered, but the work will be licensed under the Creative Commons Licence. If you are such musician reading this post, don’t hesitate to contact Flauto Dolce.
You can go to Jacob Arcadelt’s page on Flauto Dolce, where you will find not one, but five of his compositions. Please note that you will need to register on the site to access any content.
No, I’m not leaving anywhere, but I will be very very busy throughout the first half of November, whereby I might not have time or chance to write anything here. So, I decided I’d post some news and musings, as I may have to disappear until after the 13th.
It’s finally getting cold in Manchester. As I wrote previously, I’m not the most energy-efficient person in the world, thanks to my cold blood. At the moment I feel very very cold, despite the fact that I’m fairly well dressed. The problem, I should note, is that the room where I’m sitting is on the northern side of the building, hence there’s no sunlight. Does cold weather make me feel like I’m at home in winter? Positively so, especially because, as I’m told, it’s been snowing in Moscow already.
I’ll be working non-stop in the next two weeks, doing a lot of research and writing. I actually enjoy such hectic times, especially if a lot of information is coming my way, and I can learn new things. Then it’ll be the time for me to find a day to visit London. Unfortunately, it is unlikely to happen during the Atlantic Waves festival. It is definitely unlikely to happen on the 25th, when Thomas Koener, Victor Gama, Max Eastley, Asmus Tietchens, Z’Ev, David Maranha and Robert Rutman are performing at St Giles Cripplegate in Barbican. You can read more about this night of musical improvisation, on the festival’s website, or in November’s issue of The Wire (on sale now). I’m hoping, though, that either big channels, like the BBC, may feature it, OR it may appear on YouTube, providing the organisers and artists grant their permission. From what I know and read about the line-up for the night, it’s worth being recorded and transmitted.
However, whenever I go to London, I’ll have time to visit these two exhibitions at the Victoria and Albert Museum. Both are dedicated to Renaissance Italy, one to the Italian household of the time, and another – to one the Titans of Renaissance, Leonardo il Magnifico, commonly known as Leonardo da Vinci. The exhibition features an aircraft model after his drawings.
The online features of At Home in Renaissance Italy include a section on music, where you may find some delightful pieces, played on the lyra di braccio, lute, harp, and harpsicord. I cannot help recommending two pieces from the mid-16th c. in which I am a specialist, Canone by Francesco da Milano (1548) and Divisions of Arcadelt’s O felici occhi miei by Diego Ortiz (1553). I had a post on The LOOK group about Renaissance music, which you may wish to check out, it contains some interesting links and an extract from a song called Dilla da l’aqua.
Another small disappointment is that the Russian TV series of Quiet Flows the Don is now complete and the first episode will be screened on November 7. They say, you can’t have it all. I cannot have Rupert Everett and the night of musical improvisation, but I can have Leonardo at home in Renaissance Italy. Quid pro quo, eh? 😉
And, of course, November 5th is coming up this weekend. I have to say, where I live, we had a very calm Halloween, with no trick-or-treaters knocking on the door. But there were fireworks, and I expect something window-breaking on the 5th. A story goes with that. Four years ago I was coming to Manchester, and across the isle on the plane sat three people who took the same flight with me from Moscow. Because the airport authorities were afraid that some rascals might try and target the planes with the fireworks, they ordered an abrupt landing. So instead of landing gradually, the aircraft literally dropped down. Immediately as the engines had stopped, one of my compatriots was on the phone to his family. Last thing I heard him saying before I left the salon, was:
‘Oh, yes, we’re OK. Yes, we’ve just fallen. No, of course, we landed, but it was like we’ve fallen down’.
Finally, one of my favourite photos by Brassai and one of my favourtie photos, in general. I adore his plan and perspective on this nocturnal shoot. Hopefully, you’ll like it, too.
Update: thanks to another Russian aficionado of Quiet Flows the Don, we’ve now got the date of release of the film on DVD. It’s 9 November, exactly one month before my birthday. The cover apparently looks like this:
And I can’t help it, I’ve got to put up this photo from the film, which has got two of the leading actors, Andrei Rudensky and Rupert Everett.