Saturday, February 28, 2009

Mahler's Hammer

Leonard Bernstein once said that Mahler's music foretold many cataclysms of the XX century....

And Mahler's VI Symphony is the best illustration of Mahler's incredible prophecies.
The symphony that starts in quite a usual, almost romantic climate, but ends with chaotic, hard to understand, quickly changing themes. No triumphal finale, no climax - just chaos....

And that hammer....

I'm sure that in addition to pure strange sonority of that huge hammer - Mahler's offered us a symbol of something - something powerful and fearful, but the most important - something out-of-blue, out-of-scene, something you never expected to happen....

And if this symbol, both musical and figurative, can be interpreted by us who know what would happen in Europe just 40 years later - what the hell is that birch twig percussion also used there? A metaphorical broom ?

There is a bad quality YouTube movie with the finale. A better idea is to buy this...

Saturday, February 21, 2009

Song of the Soul

I had been reading that book for 6 months or more. I read it almost always only to my sleep, but almost every night, chapter by chapter. I read it in my mother tongue. This was eerie experience.I know, from my long discussions with Orthodox Jewish friend, that Kabbalah is out of reach to common people, is out of reach even to very religious people. And he was right. I must confess that I did not understand most of the book... But that was quite surprising experience, because this misunderstanding did not take me away from it. And I diligently was reading it, night by night. So what ? What is this strange experience?

I think that this book gives us some blurry view of the landscape of reality that is hidden from our eyes, until you spent life in Safed and study all these sacred books ...

But at no single sentence of this book I had impression of using Kabbalah to impress public, to try to use it the way people searching for superficial "religiosity" sometimes use it. No red strings, no "living kabbalah system", no celebrities, no DNA analogies ... All these deceitful things invented by people to get attention of naive people - are not in this book.

So - is it really true that I did not understand it at all ?
Well, there are some concepts that are very deep, but I feel I have far recognition of what they mean.

These concepts are related to the fundamental question: What is creation? How creation was possible? How infinite G-d, could create finite universe? These deep philosophical questions form a foundation of Kabbalistic thought. Kabbalah teaches that the Creation is revelation of G-d WILL to create the world. And to create the Universe G-d had to limit himself. The study of nature and the meaning of this "limitation" as something essential for infinity to create finite things is fundamental to Kabbalah.

Now, Kabbalah asks why the world was created imperfect? And, surprisingly, gives a simple answer - because it was created for us, people, so that we could use our free will to improve it, to complete what was lacking.

These simple thoughts have in fact very deep meaning, far deeper than we could expect....

I must admit, these few thoughts are almost all of concepts I could grasp....

Finally, I do not recommend to read this book.
But you can think of what I just said - as quite machiavellian suggestion....

The scanned book is available online at the author website.

"There's no way to play three bars of Mahler without giving your all" - Mahler's 3rd Symphony

Readers of my blog know my fascination with Mahler's music. It started long time ago, with Zubin Mehta and Israel Philharmonic Orchestra performance of Mahler's VII symphony during the first "Festival of Four Cultures" in Lodz, Poland. This time I return to Bernstein's recording of Mahler's Third with Wiener Philharmoniker. Mahler's 3rd is the longest of all his symphonies, and one of the most beautiful. Mahler tried to provide some interpretation for this symphony, and it has a form of "messages" that we might receive: from Mythological God Pan, From Summer, from flowers on the meadow, from animals, Man, Angels and Love....

However, the sung parts of the Symphony, IV and V have amazing texts (corresponding to the messages from Man and Angels). Message from Man uses famous part of Nietzsche, "Thus spoke Zaratustra" called Zarathustra'a Roundeley, while The Message from Angels uses anonymous folk song, part of "The Youth's Magic Horn". Seemingly primitive text about St. Peter's sin and his redemption is surprising after deep and dark Nietzsche strophe. But when you dig deeper you find that all this is about the yearning for etehrnity, about fundamental discord with death, with vanishing life ...

Musically, the best are first and last part (at least to me). You will find a lot of amazing and surprising moments there. But you must immerse yourself into the music to enjoy it.
For me the most amazing was the imitation of bell sounds, first by a boy choir in V part, singing literally Bim-Bam, Bim-Bom and later, the same imitation played by big drums (timpani) in the VI part - finale.

I also found fantastic article about Bernstein Mahler's fascinations.
The article cites Bernstein saying: "There's no way to play three bars of Mahler without giving your all. (...) Every pianissimo is as intense as every forte. . . . Everything has to be done at full intensity."

You can here this words in the bonus to 3rd Symphony in this recording (Leonard Bernstein: The Mahler Symphonies (DVD))

Sunday, February 08, 2009

Die Sonne scheidet hinter dem Gebirge

"The sun departs behind the mountains ..."

opens the last part of Gustav Mahler incredible symphony "The Song of the Earth". It is based on famous Chinese poetry of Li Tai-Po. The selection of particular poems made by Mahler reflects his message hidden in the music: the hidden farewell to life. It is quite amazing that he used Chinese poetry to express it - however - for a good reason - Chinese wisdom and its contemplation of earthly beauty along with expression of rootlessness and awareness of human fate is well known. See translations of the songs.

The music itself is almost mystical, the final movement "Der Abschied" can be listen again and again and again....

Last but not least - listening to Leonard Bernstein conducting this symphonic piece is worth waiting long into the night ....

See the song with translations. See the recording I listened to.

Thursday, February 05, 2009

We are the threads holding the world together ...

"Weaving the Web" by Tim Berners-Lee is a must-read not only for computer or Internet geeks but for all of us who explore the philosophical layers of modern culture.
The book has two distinctive, though formally indistinguishable parts. The first one describes the web history, since its inception in 1989 and 1990, through the establishment of W3C consortium, till 1997 - the birth of XML.
This is very deep, fascinating and personal account written by the real creator of the Web.

However, the second part is even more interesting - and this is the best part of the book.
It explores the most important, philosophical tenents of the web - ideas that are fundamental, yet not really well known.

Let me mention only few:

  • The principle of least power - the basic motivation behind the design of HTML and XML
  • Neutralization of the net - the principle of non-biased services on the net
  • Free choice and free speech right - realised by the unlimited right to link to everything
  • A Universal space - the web can, in principle, hold ANY data and ANY object

Tim Berners-Lee shows the deep social significance of the web when he writes:
"Link by link we build paths of understanding across the web of humanity".

One of the best part of the book is that about Semantic Web - where in simple words, and through simple examples, Tim, explains this amazing idea of "web of data" or "web of meaning".

Even though, we still do not have Semantic Web in action, and we still do not understand why - Tim Berners-Lee enthusiasm, expressed in these chapters, gives us the hope, for the (r)evolution to come soon, and change the landscape of the net ....