30 October 2011

Symphony #1

Symphony #1 was begun in the Spring of 2005 as brief sketches that I composed and placed on my blog. I had developed Of Clay and Wattles Made as a forum where I might be able to think aloud, even publically, about items and issues that concerned me in the exercises of my daily life. Montaigne says about his book of essays, “Thus, reader, I am myself the matter of my book; you would be unreasonable to spend your leisure on so frivolous and vain a subject.” So is it with my blog. But despite his disclaimer, I am certain Montaigne hoped that others would read his work: he did, after all, publish his manuscript! And for me, the blog was a forum for my random thoughts; I never would know to what extent anyone read my work, but over the past six years I have developed and maintained the blog and believe that others occasionally discover my ruminations as they explore the world-wide web; Of Clay and Wattles Made continues to inform me. 
During those same years that I wrote Of Clay and Wattles Made, I published three scholarly books that were well received and little read. Though they were intended for a wider audience, they were actually written for a small, select one. Talmud, Curriculum and the Practical: Joseph Schwab and the Rabbis (2004) was awarded the Outstanding Book Award by Division B Curriculum Studies Special Interest Group in 2006 and Ethics and Teaching (2009) received a glowing review in Choice. Pedagogy, Religion and Practice (2007) remains dearest to my heart as a meditative reflection on what I did during a sabbatical leave. I learned a great many things. My royalty checks are steady, small and gratifying.
Over the years I began to recognize themes in my writing to which I kept returning. They were the same themes that I think drew me to the works of Bob Dylan, Henry David Thoreau, Philip Roth . . . and Ludwig van Beethoven. Maynard Solomon writes of Beethoven’s 3rd Symphony: “A unique characteristic of the Eroica symphonyand of its heroic successorsis the incorporation into musical form of death, destructiveness, anxiety, and aggression, as terrors to be transcended within the work of art itself.” Such were the themes that had long inhabited my consciousness and more recently my intellectual work. I have lived in troubled and troubling times. I have not always fared so well, though I have too much for which to give thanks. Sometimes I thought there was someone there; at other times there was only me. And if Dylan, Thoreau and Roth provided me insight into myself and my world through the medium of language in beautifully constructed and arranged forms, then Beethoven deepened my experience in the world through non-linguistic means. Solomon says: “Beethoven’s music does not merely express man’s capacity to endure or even to resist sufferinghis sonata cycles continue to projecton a vastly magnified scalethe essential features of high comedy: happy endings, joyful reconciliations, victories won and tragedy effaced.” This I believe is what drew me to Beethoven’s work, even as I think it had drawn me to literature; I thought I might want to write a symphony.
My present passion for the musicand particularly the symphoniesof Ludwig van Beethoven (I have learned that van denotes a common man whereas von denotes one from the nobility) followed a year of daily listening to Bob Dylan’s Modern Times, a work that portrayed a world breaking up and in despair, and yet a world one out of which joy may be ephemerally wrung. I return regularly to the novels of Philip Roth and find myself particularly drawn to The Human Stain, a work at the core of which lies the tragedy of the human condition. By writing a symphony, I hoped to express myself in words as might a musician in notes. I sought in the composition of Symphony #1 to use the forms of musical structures common to the classical symphony to expose those themes that have run through a good part of my life and in the work to offer variations on those themes. I wanted to explore the progress of my life through the issues that have come now to characterize it. 
Symphony #1 consists of four movements, modeled each after a different musical form: sonata allegro, marche funebre, scherzo, and theme and variations, linked by the emotion with which I address the experience of a life suffered and celebrated. Though each movement can be read separately, the entire symphony is thematically linked and stands as an extended (and extensive) whole. I am too far into my sixties and have lived, as they say, through interesting times.  Symphony #1 begins not with birth nor ends in death, though these subjects run through the work; the symphony nevertheless presents the experience of a life in which beginnings and endings figure importantly. This life takes place on the pond’s shores, but there are times when its bottom is sounded. Sometimes I think there is someone there, and other times it’s only me.


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