Let's celebrate Spring...

Simon, 1799

....with that floral wallpaper I found on Gallica.
They have an interesting collection from the years 1799 to 1802



The Shock of the Elements....

"Between the noise of the hell and the celestial music, between the primitive instinct and the soul, the beating of the drum reveals the life's first attempt to free itself from the blind matter" (***)

When I read the phrase, Jean-Philippe Rameau's overture to Zaïs (1757) and his use of a muffled drum in his depiction of the Creation immediately came to my mind.
I checked my dictionnaries of symbols, which confirmed that the sound of the drum is associated with the emission of the primordial sound, but in the Indian, Chinese or African traditions. So, where did Rameau find the idea of drums in the depiction of life freeing itself from the matter ?
In the French tradition, the most famous example of a piece of music on the same theme is Les Éléments by Rebel, composed in 1748. It's very impressive piece of music using dissonances, and several instruments and musical lines to symbolize the emerging elements, but no drum was involved.

The drum used by Rameau is an illustration of his deep understanding of the musical language, or/and an evidence of his incredibly wide knowledge of the various musical traditions. His interest in all kind of musics, from the ancient Greek traditions to the contemporary oriental music is documented. Rameau owned a javanese gambang.

If you have never heard the overture of Zaïs, it's time now : here it is on YouTube .
(***) Entre le bruit de l'enfer et la musique céleste, entre l'instinctualité primitive et l'âme, la batterie de tambour témoigne du premier effort de la vie pour se dégager de la matière aveugle.
(entry "Tambour", Georges Romey, Encyclopédie de la Symbolique des rêves).

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Louis XIV - YSL Sale (1)

The big event which took place in the Grand Palais (Paris) last week was the Yves Saint Laurent-Pierre Berge Sale.
They called it the auction of the century because it broke many records - among others it realized €373, 935, 500, a world record auction for a private collection.

There are many reasons to talk about it, but I have two, notably the one you can see above : a small portrait box (7,2 cm) of Louis XIV (ca. 1680), with a portrait by Jean I Petitot, adorned with 78 diamonds set by Pierre or Laurent Le Tessier de Montarsy.

Sold for €481,000, and the Louvre Museum used their right to pre-empt it, so it's where you'll see it in the future.

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Tenducci -YSL Sale (2)

Thomas Gainsborough, Portrait of Giusto Ferdinando Tenducci reading a score
oil on canvas, ca. 1773-75
Sold for €2,193,000

This beautiful portrait of the sopranist castrato Tenducci is my second reason.
More about the painting and the castrato on Christie's

That's the auction ! You finally know where a painting was at the very moment it's about to disappear again for years !

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Cavalli - Ercole Amante

Ercole... (sigh...)

Ercole Amante staged by David Alden,
or how to turn a drama into a buffoonery
Amsterdam, January 2009

It's obvious the contemporary stage directors feel ill at ease when it comes to staging ancient operas. If they can read the libretto and have a brain, it's the only way I can explain their insistence in turning all the dramas into lousy comedies. As Bergson theorised it, laughter is most of the time a sign of embarrassment rather than of fun.

Ercole Amante was commissionned by Mazarin to celebrate the mariage of Louis XIV and Maria Teresa of Austria, and was first performed on February 7, 1662, in the new salle des Machines built in the Tuileries. The ballet, Hercule amoureux, performed between the acts to please the French public, was Lully's first great success.

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On a Schizophrenic Production

A post inspired by two critics of the performances of Monteverdi's Vespro della Beata Vergine (January 2009) performed by Jean-Christophe Spinosi & Ensemble Mattheus, and staged by Oleg Kulik, a contemporary artist .

On the one hand, Art Actuel, a magazine dedicated to contemporary art :
We are honoured to have attended, at the Châtelet theatre, the performance of the Vespro della Beata Virgine (sic !), by Claudio Monteverdi, with visual concept, staging, lightshow and costumes designed by our friend Oleg Kulik who managed to turn the musical and choral work of the Italian master into a wonderful "experience on the space liturgy".

On the other hand, Classica Répertoire, a magazine dedicated to classical music :
The Châtelet had turned into a 80's nightclub... The stellar liturgy Oleg Kulik wanted for the Vespro aimed at being scandalous, it was only old fashioned with its raelian costumes and its laser ray. Total show of ridiculing Spinosi & ali.

The art critic went to the Châtelet to enjoy Kulik's show, probably not knowing who Monteverdi is and not caring about him, and the musical critic went there to enjoy Monteverdi's music, surely ignoring who Kulik is and not giving a damn about conceptual art experiments.

On an artistical point of view, the description of the staging sounded appealing. It included the use of huge mirrors reflecting the public on the stage and the orchestra in the theatre, and the projection of pictures and colours on the ceiling and walls to build up a cathedral of sounds and colours.
On a musical point of view, the mention that the conducter would face the public, and the orchestra would stay on stage behind him, didn't seem very clever, even if the conductor was supposed to see the orchestra in a mirror placed behind the public. Still on the musical side, there was the killing detail : Kulik had decided to add extra sounds, like alarms, horns and various noises, in order to create the illusion of being in an open space in the middle of the city. "A stroke of genius !", exclaimed the contemporary art fan. "A pain in the neck", sighted the Monteverdi fan. Horns in the Vespro, that's great only when you don't care about Monteverdi's music.

Kulik did what most of the stage directors do nowadays : he used the concert to promote his own work and ideas.
After reading the excellent critic (in French) here. It seems to me clear that Kulik commited a double sacrilege : a musical one, for ruining Monteverdi's music with with the extra noises, and a religious one, by turning that very high and sacred moment of the christian liturgy into a dionysian ritual.

I see the ancient music as a peaceful and preserved continent, and I'm always sorry when the hords of contemporary art fighters bring to it their violence and destruction. Kulik staging Monteverdi, it's Alaric and the Goths invading Rome.

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