Sunday, December 09, 2007



It warms the cockles of my heart to hear about people who reject modern ways of doing things in favor of older, traditional techniques. Poet and essayist Wendell Berry's manifesto Why I Am Not Going To Buy A Computer strikes a sympathetic chord in me. I was delighted to learn that Guy Davenport never had a driver's license. I admire the farmer who plows with draft horses instead of a tractor, the carpenter who builds with hand tools rather than power tools, the college student who studies Old Icelandic instead of business administration, the musician who plays an acoustic guitar instead of an electric one, the family that reads books aloud to each other instead of watching television, the woman who drives about in a donkey cart instead of an automobile, and the man who brews beer instead of buying it.

(Of course I don't reject all modern improvements indiscriminately, provided that they really are improvements. If my tooth needs pulling, I want a dentist to extract it as gently as possible, using the most up-to-date techniques and painkillers.)

In art as well as in everyday life I appreciate anachronists.

The harpsichordist of the St. Paul Chamber Orchestra (SPCO) is Layton James. It is a pleasure to watch and listen to him improvise, like an inspired jazz musician, over a figured bass. James is also a composer. I heard an interview with him a few weeks ago on Minnesota Public Radio in which he claimed to be the only living composer of Baroque music. His cantata Sine Nomine recently received its premiere with the SPCO. Another composer who often writes in a traditional musical idiom is Thomas G. McFaul. Known to most people as the composer of the Meow Mix commercial tune, McFaul has also written a fine Mass in C minor (with Latin words, of course) in homage to J.S. Bach, as well as preludes and fugues that show an deep mastery of traditional contrapuntal techniques.

An anachronist movement in painting is Classical Realism, whose founder Richard Lack taught for a long time in Minnesota. On Classical Realism see:Anachronists in the arts humbly acknowledge that they stand on the shoulders of their predecessors. This image was apparently first used by Bernard of Chartres, quoted by John of Salisbury (Metalogicon 3.4, tr. Henry Osborn Taylor):
Bernard of Chartres used to say that we were like dwarfs seated on the shoulders of giants. If we see more and further than they, it is not due to our own clear eyes or tall bodies, but because we are raised on high and upborne by their gigantic bigness.

Dicebat Bernardus Carnotensis nos esse quasi nanos gigantium humeris insidentes, ut possimus plura eis et remotiora videre, non utique proprii visus acumine aut eminentia corporis, sed quia in altum subvehimur et extollimur magnitudine gigantea.
Ivor Gurney, in his poem Apprentices, recognized the debt owed by artists to "the capable and the mighty dead":
We who praise poets with our labouring pen
And justify ourselves with laud of men
Have not the right to call our own our own,
Being but the ground-sprouts from those great trees grown.
The crafted art, the smooth curve, and surety
Come not of nature till the apprentice free
Of trouble with his tools, and cobwebbed cuts,
Spies out a path his own and casts his plots.
Then looking back on four-square edifices
And wind-and-weather standing tall houses
He stakes a court and tries his unpaid hand;
Begins a life who salt is arid sand;
Of cactus whose bread comes, whose wine is clear,
Being bitter water from fount all too near.
Happy if after toil he grow to worth
And prise of complete men of earlier birth
Of happier pen and more steel-propertied
Nerves of the capable and the mighty dead.
Related posts:

<< Home
Newer›  ‹Older

This page is powered by Blogger. Isn't yours?