What’s Wrong with the World

The men signed of the cross of Christ go gaily in the dark.


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Speaking of Grünewald...

The famous central panel of his "Isenheim Altarpiece" forms the capstone for my latest YouTube video - the greatest four minutes of music ever composed, performed, & recorded:

Well, obviously that's far too strong a claim to make for any composition, performance, or recording.

But still...

I had known Bruckner's Fourth Symphony for about twenty years when I heard The Munich Philharmonic perform it under the direction of Sergiu Celibidache, on one of their rare foreign tours, during my student days in Ann Arbor. And suddenly I realized that I had never known it at all. Here was a perfect union of composer & performer the like of which I have never encountered before or since.

The distinguished English symphonist & Bruckner scholar Robert Simpson seems to have had a similar experience - he rewrote his profoundly insightful book The Essence of Bruckner after hearing Celibidache conduct the Fourth, and withdrew many of his earlier criticisms of that symphony's finale.

But never mind all that. I hope that this snippet will inspire somebody or other to check out the whole piece, in one or another of the many fine recordings out there.

Bruckner, by the way, was a devout Roman Catholic, of the rural Austrian variety - and his religious faith inspired every note he ever wrote. Hence the prominence of some of Caspar David Friedrich's religious paintings (not to mention the Eisenheim Altarpiece) in my video.Yet he idolized the arch-heretic Wagner. He was, perhaps, the strangest of all the great composers: deeply naive - almost a simpleton - in day-to-day life. Yet the harmonic sophistication of his last two symphonies (the 8th & 9th) surpassed anything written before them.

Go figure.

Comments (13)

I wonder what you would make of the little disagreement between David B. Hart and David P. Goldman over at First Things concerning Bruckner. I find these sorts of discussions fascinating, especially between folks I respect.

The music and the paintings are amazing. Thank you.

The Bruckner is beautiful, but my philistinism is sufficiently strong that I wd. probably have to hear it in the context of the whole symphony to appreciate it really fully.

What is absolutely new to me, and I don't mind admitting it, is Friedrich. I'd never heard of him until reading this post and am much struck. The paintings are amazing.

Albert: it figures that the pretentious fraud David P. Goldman (a.k.a. "Spengler") would be an enthusiast for the equally pretentious & equally fraudulent Heinrich Schenker - surely the silliest commenter on music ever born whose first name wasn't "Theodor" and whose last name wasn't "Adorno."

Thanks for the pointer, though. I'm always up for a bit of cabaret.

I've got 4 recordings of Bruckner's 9th, but not Celibidache's -- I may have to remedy that!

Rob G - unfortunately, Celibidache's Munich performance of the Bruckner 9th (which is the one to have) spreads over 2 cd's and is kind of ridiculously expensive.

If I were you, I'd wait for a budget reissue.

Lydia - Caspar David Friedrich was the greatest German painter of the 19th century. His "Abbey in the Oakwood" and "Arctic Shipwreck" are just breath-taking.

I've been looking up a lot of his images on-line now, Steve, and I'm just blown away. The one of the man and woman looking at the moon is poignant. They look like they're worried about something.

I LOVE Friedrich's paintings. His landscapes are haunting, especially the trees . . .

I have also been searching for Friedrich paintings online since reading this post, and am enamored of all that I have seen, but especially Seashore with Shipwreck by Moonlight.

Lydia, Beth, Zach - you might also want to check out Arnold Böcklin.

Thanks, Steve, will do!

Stunning. Simply amazing. The Crucifix is nearly identical to the one chosen by Pope John Paul II. (I wear one that is a replica of his). I recall many soi disant traditionalists castigating him for choosing such a Crucifix but it is certainly in keeping with reality.

Thanks for such a beautiful start to my day

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