9 The Pursuit of Happiness


By 1700 the visual arts were little more than a shadow and poetry was almost dead there were two shining achievements in Europe one in architecture and one in music. Music is the more important of the two as it expressed the most serious thoughts and intuitions of the time.

The formative element in German art and German music was in the multiplicity of regions and towns and abbeys -all competing for their architects and their choirmasters; and also relying of the talents of their local organist and plasterers. The creators of German Baroque were families of craftsmen. The finest building are not palaces, but local pilgrimage churches. And the Bachs were a family of local musical craftsmen out of which there suddenly emerged one of the great geniuses of Western Europe, Johann Sebastian. Although the Lutheran reform limited many of the arts it encouraged church music. In small Dutch and German towns the choir and the organ became the only means men could enter the world of spiritualized emotion. This provincial society was the background of Bach. His genius rose out of the high plateau of competitive musical life of the Protestant cities of northern Germany. It rose out of a family of professional musicians, in certain districts the word 'bach' meant a musician. A music critic said of him ' He is the spectator of all musical  time and existence, to whom it not of the smallest importance whether a thing be new or old, so long as it true'.

Joshua Bell  performs Bach's Chaconne, the final movement from Violin Partita 2 in D minor.

Beauty, joy, sadness, resignation, and finally triumph - Bell and Bach pull our strings. Today, February 15, I heard this on the radio, so it seems right to include it.

 Glenn Gould performs Bach's - Partitas 1-6.  For me Glenn Gould playing Bach is one of the  high water marks of civilization.

Next to the German Baroque composer Bach, Clark offers a German Baroque architect of the same time period, Balthasar Neumann. The selected building is the Bishop's Palace of Wurzburg and the decorator is Giovanni Battista Tiepolo. Tiepolo ceiling  'Allegory of the Planets and Continents' is below - instead of above where it is hard to see without getting a crick in the neck.

bishop's palace

In the center of it all is Apollo, the sun god, directing traffic.

alagory of the planets

garden side
Garden façade of the Palace, leading into the Court Gardens. As a result of an air raid in March, 1945, the residence was almost completely burnt out and only the central building with the Vestibule, Garden Hall, Staircase, White Hall and Imperial Hall survived. It was rebuilt after the war.

"Baroque, however modified in Germany and Austria, was an Italian invention. Baroque first came into being as religious architecture, and expressed the emotional aspirations of the Catholic church. Rococo was to some extent a Parisian  invention, and provocatively secular. It was, superficially at any rate, a reaction against the heavy Classicism of Versailles.  Instead of the static orders of antiquity, it drew inspiration from natural objects in which the line wandered  freely  -shells, flowers, seaweed - especially if it wandered in a double curve." p 231

Jean-Antoine Watteau expressed the transitoriness, and thus, the seriousness of pleasure. His masterpiece, the Pilgrimage to Cythera, painted in 1712 in the Rococo style,  has the lightness, sharpness, and drama of a Mozart opera. The delicate relationship between these men and women who have spent a few hours on the Island of Venus and now must return shows a new sensibility: sentiment; which was at the time a civilizing  word.

Pilgrimage to Cythera
Cythera is an island in southern Greece, known as the birthplace of Venus, the goddess of love, portrayed in the statue on the right.  We see couples in a dreamy landscape with a number of putti (cupids), assisting in the seductions.

"Opera, next to Gothic architecture, is one of the strangest inventions of western man. It could not have been foreseen by any logical process. It came to the north from Catholic Italy and flourished in Catholic capitals -Vienna, Munich and Prague. Indignant Protestants used to say the Rococo churches were like opera house - true, but the other way round. Opera houses came in when churches went out and they expressed so completely the view of the new profane religion, that for one hundred years they continued to be built in Rococo style, long after that style had gone out of fashion."   p 242


prague opera house
State Opera House, Prague

 Zubin Mehta in an interview said, "After the world is gone and the last cockroach is dead, somewhere out there will be Don Giovanni."  I don't doubt it at all, if Mozart's Don can survive the Peter Seller's production where Giovanni sits on a stoop outside a slum building in Spanish Harlem, enjoying his last supper, a Big Mac and fries, as a big-box radio pumps out those great 18th-century dance tunes. That leads up to the famous ''Stoned Guest'' scene in which the dissolute Don is pulled down into a sewer by a small girl, playing Lolita to his Humbert Humbert, it can survive cosmic nothingness.

10 The Smile of Reason         Contents