Tag Archives: James Thomson The Seasons

Beethoven; nature

 

I was listening to the fifth movement of Beethoven’s Symphony No. 6 (Pastorale) conducted by Simon Rattle:

 

 

“Hirtengesänge – Frohe und dankbare Gefühle nach dem Sturm” (Shepherds’ song. Happy and thankful feelings after the storm).

Great rendition.

It made me think of music celebrating the countryside. Earlier writers and composers knew it, knew nature, in a way we no longer do.

Springtime.

 

 

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Beethoven was a student of Haydn’s and was influenced by him. Below is a movement from the first part (Spring) of Haydn’s oratorio Die Jahreszeiten (The Seasons).

 

 

 

Nr. 2 – Chor des Landvolks

 

LANDVOLK

Komm, holder Lenz,
Des Himmels Gabe, komm!
Aus ihrem Todesschlaf
Erwecke die Natur!

WEIBER UND MÄDCHEN

Er nahet sich, der holde Lenz;
Schon fühlen wir den linden Hauch, Bald lebet alles wieder auf.

MÄNNER

Frohlocket ja nicht allzufrüh!
Oft schleicht, in Nebel eingehüllt,
Der Winter wohl zurück und streut Auf Blüt’ und Keim sein starres Gift.

ALLE

Komm, holder Lenz,
Des Himmels Gabe komm!
Auf unsere Fluren senke dich, Komm, holder Lenz, o komm!
Und weile länger nicht!

 

2. Chorus

Come, gentle Spring, ethereal mildness come!
Out of her wintry grave bid drowsy nature rise.
At last the pleasing Spring is near; the softening air is full of balm.
A boundless song bursts from the groves.
As yet the year is unconfirmed, and Winter oft at eve resumes the breeze,
and bids his driving sleets deform the day and chill the morn.
Come, gentle Spring, ethereal mildness come!
and smiling on our plains descend, while music wakes around.

 

On January 24 of this year, I saw a performance of Die Jahreszeiten by the Cleveland Orchestra, conducted by Franz Wesler-Möst, at Carnegie Hall. It was an incredible experience for me and a revelation to see the work performed live, with me holding the libretto in my hands and following the words.

 

 

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book cover - Thomson, 'The Seasons'.jpg

 

 

The libretto is based on a long poem by the English poet and playwright James Thomson (1700-1748): The Seasons. With some difficultly, I was able to find and purchase a copy of this book length poem, which I am reading by fits and starts. It’s quite good. It conveys a sense, with Miltonic scope (Thomson’s work has echoes of the cadences of Paradise Lost), of the essence of the countryside in all its various guises and in its plenitude — the rhythms of work and daily life as the seasons change — and how they were experienced by people at the time, which is to say before the Industrial Revolution. Haydn captured this brilliantly. The libretto of Haydn’s oratorio was written by Gottfried van Swieten, who adapted Thomson’s poem for the oratorio. (van Swieten was closely associated with Mozart. He introduced both Mozart and Haydn to Handel.)

 

COME, gentle Spring, ethereal mildness, come;
And from the bosom of yon dropping cloud,
While music wakes around, veiled in a shower
Of shadowing roses, on our plains descend. …

And see where surly Winter passes off
Far to the north, and calls his ruffian blasts:
His blasts obey, and quit the howling hill,
The shattered forest, and the ravaged vale;
While softer gales succeed, at whose kind touch,
Dissolving snows in livid torrents lost,
The mountains lift their green heads to the sky. …

White through the neighbouring fields the sower stalks
With measured step, and liberal throws the grain
Into the faithful bosom of the ground:
The harrow follows harsh, and shuts the scene.

— James Thomson, The Seasons, “Spring”

 

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A few days after the concert, I wrote in an email to a relative of mine:

In “The Creation,” you feel you are experiencing nature and the countryside as people did in 1800. You’re right there: a farmer plowing a field, dawn, a loaded cart with produce from the harvest, lovers under a tree (and the male throwing a chestnut when climbing it at the unsuspecting girl he admires as a joke), a thunderstorm, a hunt for hares, etc. Haydn is totally unpretentious, he can be funny, and the music perfectly fits the text.

Haydn is the consummate composer. He never overreaches. The music is unpretentious, yet he is a master of form.

The program notes for the performance note: “fresh feeling of innovation” … “[we] are never overpowered by the orchestrations” … “balances expression with refinement.” All of this is very true.

 

 

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page from score of Haydn's 'The Seasons'.jpg

 

 

Here is a page from Haydn’s score for the appropriate part of Die Jahreszeiten. The score, which I purchased in book form after the concert, is 309 pages long. It kind of shows graphically — for the uninitiated such as myself — what effort must be involved in composing a musical work of this magnitude.

 

 

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And, while we are talking about nature (as experienced in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries), the following is a favorite Keats poem of mine. It came alive for me when I heard it out loud. I wish I could find a good recording to share.

 

 

To Autumn

By John Keats

 

Season of mists and mellow fruitfulness,
Close bosom-friend of the maturing sun;
Conspiring with him how to load and bless
With fruit the vines that round the thatch-eves run;
To bend with apples the moss’d cottage-trees,
And fill all fruit with ripeness to the core;
To swell the gourd, and plump the hazel shells
With a sweet kernel; to set budding more,
And still more, later flowers for the bees,
Until they think warm days will never cease,
For summer has o’er-brimm’d their clammy cells.

Who hath not seen thee oft amid thy store?
Sometimes whoever seeks abroad may find
Thee sitting careless on a granary floor,
Thy hair soft-lifted by the winnowing wind;
Or on a half-reap’d furrow sound asleep,
Drows’d with the fume of poppies, while thy hook
Spares the next swath and all its twined flowers:
And sometimes like a gleaner thou dost keep
Steady thy laden head across a brook;
Or by a cyder-press, with patient look,
Thou watchest the last oozings hours by hours.

Where are the songs of spring? Ay, Where are they?
Think not of them, thou hast thy music too,—
While barred clouds bloom the soft-dying day,
And touch the stubble-plains with rosy hue;
Then in a wailful choir the small gnats mourn
Among the river sallows, borne aloft
Or sinking as the light wind lives or dies;
And full-grown lambs loud bleat from hilly bourn;
Hedge-crickets sing; and now with treble soft
The red-breast whistles from a garden-croft;
And gathering swallows twitter in the skies.

 

 

— Roger W. Smith

   June 2018

 

 

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Addendum:

 

 

 

 

I found a great recorded reading of Keats’s poem “To Autumn.” The reading is by Frederick Davidson. I know of no better audiobook reader.

The reading is on a CD and I can’t post it individually. The CD track is about ten minutes long. The poem “To Autumn” starts at a point 3:42 minutes into the track.

 

a valuable lesson

 

 

I have had occasion because of an unpleasant experience with someone close to me to think of something I learned once.

In the interests of confidentiality, let’s just say that the situation was from my past. The “lesson” (with a different person than the one mentioned in the above paragraph) involved me and a “significant other.” It was a long time ago. It involved a relationship which began auspiciously and which endured.

I had previously had a horrible relationship with someone else which caused me great pain. It took me a long time to get over it; caused lasting damage to me emotionally; and prevented me for quite a while from being able to trust someone and get involved in a new relationship.

But then I met Miss Right. I learned from this newfound relationship something that I had hitherto not been able to see or recognize for myself, even dimly: namely, a sixth sense which she had about how to avoid emotional damage to oneself and how to protect oneself from it; an awareness of when it is advisable to step aside, get out of the way, and extricate oneself; an ability to know when conditions warrant this.

I learned, quickly, from my new partner that one doesn’t have to submit to being dumped on and abused.

 

 

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Prior to this, my habitual way of dealing with emotional abuse — abuse of any kind — was to stand there, so to speak, and submit to it.

From my new significant other, I learned that there was another way.

If she felt (this was, as I said, early in our relationship) that our relationship was starting, in the least, to become abusive emotionally, or “trending” in that direction, if she got a hint that I was going to be mean to her, she was quite prepared to leave, to exit, right then and there. With no further discussion. Without having to plead with me to change my behavior. She had apparently done this in the past.

Her approach and instincts were that no relationship was worth the trouble of being disrespected and abused. Better to have no relationship than to have an abusive one.

I quickly picked up on this, and it cured me of any misogynist instincts or tendencies I may have had. I knew that if I mistreated her, froze her out emotionally, it would be sayonara. She would be gone fast.

A valuable lesson she taught me. It was a lesson that worked both ways. I learned not only the strategy of beating a fast exit whenever I got an inkling that someone was having fun being nasty at my expense. I learned that it works both ways, and that no one should have to put up with abusive behavior from me.

 

 

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Please note: I don’t intend to imply that at the slightest hint of a disagreement, it is advisable to terminate a relationship. People in intimate relationships (e.g., married couples) or in close quarters quarrel all the time.

What I am thinking about in this post are situations where there is an ongoing pattern of hatred or emotional cruelty, or perhaps an intermittent pattern, but where, when it rears its head, one knows instinctively that it’s more than just a disagreement. It could be a situation where what seemed at first like a mere disagreement has led to festering anger, causing the other person to wish to hurt and degrade you. When you can sense hatred or vindictiveness, chronic surliness, and the like, then, it seems, it’s time to exit, so to speak, in order to protect oneself. This can happen with friends, lovers, and close relatives. I have experienced it.

To me, a good yardstick might be: are you and the other person inclined to bicker? Well, so what? It may or may not be serious; perhaps one or both of you are crotchety. But, be alert for cases when a person whom you were once close to and on good terms with (and more) — so you thought — suddenly seems to be looking constantly for ways to undermine you. That’s a bad sign. You seemed to be in their good graces. Now they are constantly finding fault and won’t cut you any slack. Their face is set in a continual glower; their demeanor towards you is one of outright anger, or barely concealed anger — chronic anger, that is — which consumes them. They are constantly looking for things about you to take offense at.

You can see this in people who are constantly looking for opportunities to attack. You make what seems to be an innocuous remark; they pounce on it. They enjoy finding fault with you in matters and using standards of measure large and small. (For example, they may say they find you obnoxious, a “big” measure; or, they noticed that your tie isn’t knotted properly or your shoelaces have come undone, a “small bore” measure.)

These are the kinds of situations I’m talking about.

 

 

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In my opinion, such situations can occur with persons with whom one has been intimate or had a long time relationship. Things change, and suddenly they are inimical to you. Or, present you with something you can’t endure.

In such cases, no matter who it is, it may be advisable to completely cease communications. You may find that you feel better despite the pain of separation, and despite the thought: I can’t believe it’s come to this. Having no relationship is better than having an abusive relationship, than having one in which one finds oneself being attacked and degraded, no matter who the other party is. Perhaps a rule of thumb might be — I have found it helpful — is to ask oneself: Is damage control or damage repair possible? Is the other person willing to be reasonable and listen to you? When you realize that discussion will only lead to more attacks upon you or degradation, and continual “hostilities,” with no possibility of agreement, meeting of minds, or resolution foreseeable, then it’s time to get out with as much of you is still intact.

 

 

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Addendum:

 

I have been doing some more thinking about emotional abuse. When and how does it occur? And why do people submit to it?

Based on my own experience, it seems that it is often the case that one person — or sometimes a group of persons — feels superior to someone. In the case of the latter, a group, it occurs when the group treats one person as an outcast or pariah, or not as good as the others, and gangs up on the target of their abuse. By so doing, they have a collective sense of being better than the lowly reject: more refined, knowledgeable, and sophisticated; and, on the right side when it comes to contentious issues or matters or dispute — they love to be in the majority.

It often seems to be the case that the feelings of superiority are not necessarily based on anything definitive, but that the supposedly inferior person plays along with the other’s (or others’) treatment of them as an inferior. The supposedly superior person, the dominant one, is used to telling the supposedly inferior person what to do and how to act, pointing out his or her faults, and so on. Often, there is some sphere of activity in which the “superior” person enjoys contemplating his or her supposed superiority to their “inferior,” or perhaps it is some mark of distinction or achievement. It seems to both parties that things have always been this way, and the “inferior” person doesn’t want to “rock the boat.” Perhaps he or she dimly senses that being “uppity” (contentious when it comes to submitting to authority) or questioning authority will cause the dominant person or group to come down hard on them.

Then something happens. The “inferior” person forms a relationship with someone new who appreciates them, doesn’t look down on them, or admires them, and helps to free them from “bondage.” Or the “inferior” party makes strides forward in life and begins to feel less inferior. Or the “inferior” person — usually by incremental steps at first not noticeable — begins to surpass the “superior” person in some field of endeavor in which the latter took for granted that he or she was superior or more knowledgeable. It shouldn’t make a difference, but it does, because the “superior” person wants to prevail, or be dominant, in all respects.

What seems to often happen is that the “superior” person becomes jealous or can’t accept the “inferior” person’s newfound assertiveness. If the “inferior” person begins to question the authority of and things said by his “superior” — the latter’s edicts — the latter can become very angry. The “superior” person has been used to deference on the part of his or her “inferior” and has always secretly taken pleasure in having his or her pronouncements accepted and adhered to. He or she also enjoys giving advice and playing the role of mentor or boss.

The hardest thing to deal with is jealousy. Or, as the poet James Thomson wrote:

“Base Envy withers at another’s joy,
And hates that excellence it cannot reach.”

The Seasons (1746)

I have observed this with former friends and relatives of mine and with friends of my wife. If they observe you moving ahead in areas they always thought were their domain, or perhaps just getting ahead in life — or forming new relationships which they are not a party to and in which your new partner doesn’t acknowledge their authority — they often become sullen and resentful. And lash out. Using a pretext to criticize you. Or dropping you altogether.

It usually behooves you, at this juncture, to cease relations with them.

 

 

— Roger W. Smith

   August 2017; updated February 2018