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Tuesday, October 30, 2012

Vivaldi, parts 793 - 796

793. The first two movements went off without any difficulty, but in the third section, the section involving the quartet of the mothers, Simona and Netochka began to sing slightly out of tune. Simmona sang slightly sharp, and Netochka sang a little flat. They did this very skilfully so that at first it seemed accidental, but in the slower sections it became more pronounced.

794. It is very easy to describe what Simmona and Netochka sounded like in the quartet. Have you ever been awakened in the middle of the night by cats confronting each other and preparing for a fight. If you have heard that sound then you know exactly what the girls sounded like. And just like with cats out in the yard at night, it just wouldn't stop, but went on an on getting louder and louder.

795. Poor Vivaldi. He knew he was being made a fool of by the girls, but what could he do? He was used to sitting back and letting the girls direct themselves because they had been doing the piece with such inspiration, so when the caterwauling began he was not even paying attention to what was going on.

796. But things were even worse that that. The orphanage fathers believed that it was all intentional, and that what they had heard is what Vivaldi had intended for them to hear, and they were livid. 

Monday, October 29, 2012

Vivaldi, parts 789 - 792

789. The  ideas Vivaldi implanted in their heads took root, bore fruit, and they sang the piece with interest. He asked  them to go through it again and they sang it with passion, then a third time in anger and desperation. Vivaldi was able to stop conducting, the work took over, and the girls sang it on their own. In the performance there was not a hint of mockery. When they were done in some girls eyes tears glistened, but in others he saw that angry proud look of injured innocence.

790. Vivaldi realized he had stumbled on to a masterpiece, it was a combination of perfect material, circumstance, and ability. He was so impressed with what he heard that he thought he should give a presentation of the work to a larger audience. It was not his habit to involve his work at the orphanage in his larger work in his professional career, but this was an exception. But before he could proceed he needed to get to get permission of the Father Superior and the elders of the orphanage. 

791. But the girls, and especially Netochka and Simmona did not realize how important the performance was to Vivaldi. They continued to make fun of him and the oratorio, even though at the same time, they were moved by the work when they were singing it. There is only one word to describe the feelings of the girls in the choir, and that word was ambivalent.

792. Simmona now came up with another trick to further torment Vivaldi and they tried it out in their evening mock performances and it worked perfectly. Meanwhile Vivaldi arranged for the orphanage elders to be present at his next rehearsal. He wanted to surprise them. He was sure they would be as impressed as he was. He did not want to inhibit  the girls or make them nervous so he had his audience file into the choir room at the back entrance, and take seats where the girls would not see them.

Vivaldi, parts 785 - 788

785. Antonio had to restrict himself to simple passages, and he had to stay within the narrow vocal range of the girls.  The work he produced is in many ways very similar to that prelude Marie Antoinette was trying to learn by Bach in that even though it was basically simple, it was relentless in its pathos. It was, as you know, baroque music, and so its pathos was logical, it was the logical pathos of the baroque period.

786. My father told me that he copied this work out in parts for the girls but Vivaldi said it would not be necessary to prepare it for the engravers. He did not consider it a thing of any importance. For this reason no copy of the work exists, and if my father had not told me about what happened concerning this work, this entire episode in Vivaldi's life would be unknown.

787. Vivaldi presented the work for the first time to his girl students and  they sang it in their usual way, with no interest or emotion, mumbling the words, looking at the floor, fidgeting, anxious for the lesson to end so they could leave to do something else. It was a typical choir lesson.

788. The ideas in Vivaldi's oratorio acted on the girls in the choir exactly the same way as yeast in bread dough, but it was an unconscious sort of fermentation, they were not really aware of it. In their usual way, late at night they preformed parts of the work again for each other. Since they were alone they sang with gusto, subjecting the various lines to their usual ridicule.

Saturday, October 27, 2012

Vivaldi, parts 781 - 784

781. But search as he might, he could find not a single page of this piece by Monteverdi, and even today Music scholars only know of it because it was mentioned in a letter that Pope Clement XI sent to Cardinal Riveria in Spain asking about a certain sort of grapes.

782. Vivaldi gave up the search but he did not give up on the idea of a work for young girls in which the girls plead for the life of one of their own. For some reason he felt that such a subject would appeal emotionally to the girls. What he hoped to do was to mine their deep feeling of resentment since they were orphans, added to the fact they were all aware of the social standing of their unknown parents.

783. Vivaldi was a very prolific composer, and after many hours in the music library trying to find the composition by Monteverdi, it struck him that he could compose a work himself on the same theme, and it would take him less time than his search for the manuscript had taken.

784. Vivaldi composed an oratorio rather than on opera. An oratorio was more appropriate to his resources than an opera. It was a short work consisting of a solo by Iphigenia, Agamemnon's daughter in which she pleads for her life. The solo was followed by a chorus of the girls of the town singing in unison.  After that came a quartet of mothers, reproaching Agamemnon for his plan to sacrifice his daughter in order to make possible his war on Troy.

Friday, October 26, 2012

Vivaldi, parts 777 - 780

777. When the lesson was over Vivaldi asked the two girls who had started the commotion to remain after class. Since what they had done was intended as a prank, and to them amounted to ridicule of Vivaldi's music and of opera in general, what they were expecting was some sort of punishment.  Vivaldi was not one to inflict punishment but they expected to be reported to the head mistress, who would then confine them to their dorm room for a week or two.

778. The girls stood at his desk, he looked at them with his baton in his hand, "Thank you girls, thank you for this glorious day, do the same tomorrow, and the day after", he said to them. The girls left the music room, suffering from a confusion of mixed emotions.

779. Vivaldi went immediately to the music library to find a piece of music that now stirred in his head, something he had heard years ago, a work by Monteverdi with a title  like "Agamemnon". He was all day in the music library but he could find no trace of it. He remembered  a solo by Iphigenia, the daughter of Agamemnon, in which she pleads for her life, and begs not to be sacrificed. This solo was followed by a chorus of young girls of the town reproaching the king for his plan to sacrifice his daughter to the gods.

780. After the chorus of young girls reproaching Agamemnon,  Agamemnon's wife in a solo, calls all the women of Argos to witness the crime Agamemnon is about to commit with the words, "We mothers of Argos, we recoil in horror, your plan we abhor, your war should not destroy the child we adore."

Thursday, October 25, 2012

Vivaldi, parts 773 - 776

773. Meanwhile, back in the music classroom with Vivaldi, none of this was in evidence. All the girls would do was look down at the floor, mumble instead of sing, and watch out for opportunities to irritate their teacher. 

774. Netochka said to Simona, "Since he is always complaining that we won't sing at all, lets shock him tomorrow and sing the stonmitz out of whatever he gives us to sing. Apparently Netochka was from Austria originally, hence the use of the word 'stonmitz'. 

775. The music Vivaldi picked out for the days lesson was one of his own works, it began with a solo by one of the girls, and was followed by a chorus in unison. About half way through the chorus Netochka and Simona began to sing with more intensity, and toward the end of the piece the girls were singing with as much passion as they could muster.

776. The effect of the girls singing like that was contagious and all the other girls joined in. The music room echoed with the intensity of their singing, Vivaldi thought they were going to  blow his powered  wig right off his head.

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Vivaldi, parts 769 - 772

769. But then fate took an hand in the affairs of Vivaldi. As I said before, the orphan girls were all the offspring of aristocratic parents, and so it often happened that expensive gifts were received anonymously at the orphanage, one of those gifts included tickets to the opera for all of the girls.

770. The girls went to the opera, and they were not impressed. The opera that night was not good, and the singing was not up to par, but what impressed the girls the most was the forced ridiculousness of the entire production. The garish badly painted sets, the dramatic gestures, the overuse of stage make-up all combined to create a comic impression, and when everyone died at the end do to innumerable stabbings it was all they could do to keep from dying of laughter.

771. In the days that followed two of the orphanage girls began to entertain the other girls with mock presentations of the opera they had seen. These two girls named  Netochka and Simmona procured the music for the opera from the music library, memorized several of the duets, and then, late at night preformed these works for the other girls in their dormitory. The purpose of these performances was to reduce all the other girls to hysterical fits of laughter. 

772. But Netochka and Simona were playing with fire. The better they got at doing mock presentations of the opera they gradually began to develop real singing voices. All of the girls were affected, and little by little this prank evolved into complete childish productions of operas, with costumes contrived from bed sheets, carried out in the middle of the night.

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Vivaldi, parts 765 - 768

765. The reason I know all the things you have been doing to me is because they are the exact same things I did to my music teacher when I was young, and the same as my father did to his teacher. You girls think you have made all of this naughty behavior up yourselves, but the truth is all of these things have been going on for years and years. And if you have the misfortune to have to teach music when you are older it will happen to you also.

766. The persecution of the music teacher is a grand tradition that goes back thousands of years, and you may wonder why it is that the bad children engaged in these pranks are not caught and punished. The answer is very simple. The music teacher looks on with a blind eye  because he is kind, because an unkind person can not master the discipline of music, and secondly, because when one sees children playing the same pranks we played as children it gives one great pleasure.

767. But now back to my story of Vivaldi. Since it was a choir he had to compose and conduct for, it was when the girls were singing that they gave him the most trouble. I say,'singing', but the word really should be mumbling. No matter how he encouraged the girls, they were too shy and awkward to try to really sing.

768. If Vivaldi resorted to having them sing the common tunes of the street which they were familiar with he had better luck, and those tunes, since the girls sang in unison, went very well. But as soon as he tried to get them to sing more complicated works, works involving part singing, they resorted to near silence. Just like myself, he resorted to threats and reproaches and it sometimes happened that all the girls would manage to sing some work of his with adequate feeling.

Monday, October 22, 2012

Vivaldi, parts, 761 - 764

761. Vivaldi was priest, but a priest of a very unusual sort.  In Venice at that time there were ambitious artists, composers and musicians who knew that their only possible patron was the Roman Catholic Church, so they took their vows and became priests in clothing and name only. These priests often became wealthy and successful, lived like lords and enjoyed the best food and wine. When it came to the fair sex they indulged themselves to the full. One such priest was Antonio Vivaldi.

762. Since he was an employee of the church he was given the assignment of composing music for a girls choir, a choir consisting of the occupants of the Conservatorio dell'Ospedale della Pieta orphanage. If you listen to the compositions Vivaldi wrote for this girl's choir you realized that he must have composed  them with a feeling of frustration because he was already a famous composer. 

763. But here he was, since he was also a priest, condemned to compose simple scale and arpeggio exercises for young girls, music of no consequence to anyone. Added to that, since they were all young girls, and Vivaldi was very similar to myself, (here the music tutor tapped himself on the chest), those girls started to torment Antonio in that special way music teachers are always tormented.

764. "They put oil into his flute, they put lard on the pegs of his violin, they touched the strings of the harpsichord when he tried to tune it, in short they did all the things you girls have been doing to me all these weeks." Now the music tutor stopped speaking and gave his students a look. It was certainly a shock and a surprise to discover he knew all along what they had been doing, but then he continued.

Sunday, October 21, 2012

Vivaldi, parts 757 - 760

757. The tutor's story: When I was a child my father worked for the great composer and violinist Antonio Vivaldi in Venice. It was his job to copy out manuscripts and prepare them for the engravers. He was an adequate violinist, and sometimes he had the pleasure of preforming in Vivaldi's works if one of the regular musicians was absent.  

758. In Venice at that time there was an institution called the Conservatorio dell'Ospedale della Pieta. It was an orphanage, but unlike its usual counterparts for the destitute, it was opulent and extravagant. It was an orphanage for the female offspring of the aristocracy.

759. Who the parents of these girls were was not known; they were delivered to the institution in secret, in the dead of night. In a darkened street, in a wall there was an opening large enough for an infant, the child was placed in the niche, the door was closed, and a turntable rotated bringing the child inside. 

760. Even though the parents of these children never saw or acknowledged them, they nevertheless provided than with an institution suitable to their origin. But it was an orphanage run by nuns and priests and their manner when it comes to the bringing up of children was repressive to say the least. 

Saturday, October 20, 2012

Vivaldi, parts 753 - 756

753. "It becomes clear as the story unfolds", the Duck replied, " I will tell you this much, each person who has ever lived has often longed to be something other than what they are. A princess wishes she could be a milkmaid, the dentist wishes he had been a sculptor. The housewife wonders what life could be like as a high paid escort, and the accountant wished he was a heavy-weigh contender. That is the meaning of the French Easel, the longing to be something other than what you are.

754. This desire we experience to have a life other than the one we have been given strikes at a moment when we are most vulnerable, when we are far from home, divorced from all the mundane predictability of our everyday life.

755. It strikes the traveler on a plane crossing the ocean, as they awake from a fitful slumber and see out the window for the first time the coasts of Europe far below in the early morning light. It strikes the tourist in the islands looking at coral in the depths of blue water. Even children are not immune to the sensation, hiding in the bushes close to a train track as a freight train passes by.  

756. And coming back to Marie Antoinette, from a very early age she was aware that her entire life had been planned out by others even before she was born, she had been put on board a train by those who loved her the most, and its destination was the worst possible disaster. She was on Anna Karenina's train even though the train had not been invented yet.

Friday, October 19, 2012

Marie Antoinette Eats Cake, parts 749 - 752

749. From that day on the relationship of the girls to their tutor changed fundamentally. They longed to be good students and to prove to him that they liked him, because they were certain he thought they despised him.  Marie began to work feverishly on the prelude she had been given as an assignment, and Angela began to search for something she could do to please him.

750. The tutor was a bachelor and  it was natural for him to feel towards Angela and Marie Antoinette as he would to his own children if he had had any. That being the situation sometimes the music sessions were devoted to storytelling. He would  tell them some anecdote from his past in Italy. After the incident with his viola he was extremely tempted to punish them, but that impulse combined with  his affection for them resulted in his telling them a story from his childhood. 

751. It was a very curious story and I do not know if it is true. What was remarkable about it was that the music tutor managed to combine the fact that he was a bachelor, that he was devoted to his two students and yet he wanted to punish them.  All of this was combined in an anecdote, not about himself but about Antonio Vivaldi whom his father had worked for in Venice when he as a boy.  What follows is that story.

752. Before the Duck launched into his telling of the music tutors story, I felt that we were getting so far off of the subject of the original conversation that I interrupted him to ask a question. "Duck", I said, "This is very interesting but I don't see what it has to do with those 'French Landscape Painters Easels' with which we began this discussion.

Thursday, October 18, 2012

Marie Antoinette Eats Cake, parts 745 - 748

745. While the music tutor had his head in the harpsichord, concentrating on getting it in tune Angela opened his viola case and Marie took out the instrument. Very quickly and deftly they loosened a peg, put a tiny bit of lard on it, pressed the peg back in its hole and put the instrument back in its case.

746. They expected the music tutor, after he gave up on the harpsichord, would take out his viola and proceed to tune it up as he did every morning. They expected to delight in his frustration since the greased pin would not be able to hold the tension of the string.

747. What happened next utterly amazed the girls. The tutor opened the viola case and took one look at his instrument, in an instant he understood exactly what had happened. He said nothing at all but turned to Marie Antoinette and gave her a penetrating look. In that look was his awareness that all his frustration with the instruments was her fault. 

748. Marie knew that musicians were great masters of their instruments, she knew that they could do with effortless ease things that others could never do in a lifetime, but she never realized that a musician would know his instrument with such intimacy that they would be aware in an instant if it had been tampered with. 

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

Marie Antoinette Eats Cake, parts 741 - 744

741. They say that if a person who plays the lute lives to be a 100 years old he will spent 99 years tuning his lute. For a harpsichord player it is more like 98 years. Even though a harpsichord must be tuned as many as three times in a day, it does not take too long for a person as expert as the music tutor, he could complete the task in about ten minutes. But while he concentrated on the task the girls would reach into the instrument and touch various strings with a fingernail, thereby throwing everything off. 

742. The tutor would begin over  again, and finally give up in desperation. He said to the girls, "This old instrument was one of the best when it was made fifty years ago, but now the soundboard in old and cracked, the pins will no longer hold their tension, and you must talk the Empress into getting something new."

743. The tutor would decide to teach using the flute, but some olive oil would have accidentally gotten into the bore. He would be puzzled to find that the guitar was strung up with only G strings. As a result the piano lesson would turn into a voice lesson. 

744. The more the girls came to love their music tutor the more they tormented him, but it was not long before they went too far.  Not all the instruments the tutor used belonged to the court, he always brought  his own viola, an old Italian instrument of unknown origin that had belonged to his father.

Tuesday, October 16, 2012

Marie Antoinette Eats Cake, parts 737 - 740

737. They looked upon these peasant children in the same way that a pampered and coddled pedigree poodle who has his own diamond necklace would look at a wild wolf somewhere in the distance.

738. This then was the situation when the music tutor began to teach the two girls each afternoon in a large room devoted to music. This room was actually a music hall complete with a stage suitable for the giving of music concerts and also the performance of plays. 

739. A child of ten was no different in 1750 as at any other time in human history. They had an easygoing indulgent music teacher as so, just like today, they set to work to torment, abuse and ridicule him without him knowing it, all the while acting the part of complete innocents.

740. The first thing the music tutor had to do when the music lesson began was to tune the music room harpsichord. This was a very fine instrument but the temperature it the huge room varied so much that every day the instrument was completely out of tune.

Sunday, October 14, 2012

Marie Antoinette Eats Cake, parts 733 - 736

733. Since Marie Antoinette and Angela were both ten years old they engaged in all the activities you would expect of children that age, they created tea parties for their dolls, had long conversations about what boys could be like, read each other passages out of romantic French novellas stolen from their parents libraries.

734. Their favorite occupation however was spying from a distance on the common children outside of the kitchens where all of the service population and their children spent the day waiting for access to to the palace functionaries who's job it was to sign all the receipts, pay all accounts, and inventory all goods purchased. These transactions could take many hours so the bulk of the time was spent in idleness.

735. It was a palace in Austria circa 1750,  there was no such thing as security, common people, servants, even beggars as well as farm animals wandered the grand halls of the palace undisturbed. You might think  the royal inhabitants would be annoyed by this but they were not because all of those people were invisible to them, nonexistent. They did not notice them in the same way they did not notice the foul odors of inadequate sanitation.

736. But Marie and Angela noticed the children of the peasants. They spent more than two hours each morning getting dressed in their elaborate dresses and having their hair done, imagine what they thought of children their own age, covered with dirt and dressed in only a flour sack tied at the waste with a rope, their feet and hands black as coal. Both Marie and Angela had procured flower sacks and rope for themselves to be used for secret play acting.  

Marie Antoinette Eats Cake, parts 729 - 732

729. When they were nine they had another argument about a dress, it was Marie's dress, and Angela criticized it. On that occasion they did not speak for two days and Marie thought she would die of grief. Marie Antoinette was an 'archdutchess' so it was an impossibility for her to be the one to apologize first.

730. Marie held out for two full days but finally she decided that she would rather sign a document renouncing her royal prerogatives rather than go even one more hour without her friend, but she did not have to give in because Angela rushed up to her in tears at the last instant, and they became friends again. This day was ever after referred to as that 'day of the dress' also never to be repeated.

731. One of the reasons the two girls had such a perfect friendship had to do with some accidents of their situations. Marie Antoinette was the superior child in that she was the daughter of the Emperor and Empress of Austria, an archduchess already being considered for the position of Queen of France, whereas Angela was a nobody.

 732. Angela was the more beautiful child and also more intelligent.  Her character sparkled with charm, and at a young age she was capable of spontaneous wit and droll humor.  Angela, was really the one suited to be a future queen, and not Marie; they both knew this and so, in their hearts each was intensely jealous of the other, this flaw was the cement of their attachment to each other. Actually they were rivals

Saturday, October 13, 2012

Marie Antoinette Eats Cake, parts 725 - 728

725. Angela began to attend the music lessons, and so it is necessary to say something about this child, playmate and close friend to one who would  someday be the most famous queen in history. Angela was also a child of a noble family although her line of the family had long fallen into near destitution. Her father was a Count or a Duke, I am not sure what, but the connection was distant and unimportant.

726. Angela's father because of his poverty was reduced to teaching the children of other noble families, his speciality was diction, deportment, and part acting. The only reason his wife was a lady in waiting at the court of the Empress was because of her exceptional beauty. Her daughter Angela was also blessed with the same beautiful face, and perfect deportment, learned from her father's instruction.

727. The attachment of Angela for Marie Antoinette, and Marie Antoinette for Angela was  very intense and had existed undisturbed since they met when they were five years old. Now they were ten and had spent some time together every day with almost no exceptions.

728. Once when they were seven they had an argument about a doll, and did not speak to each other for an entire day. On the following day they made up and then spent a long time each trying to force the other to take the doll. This argument left a scar, and ever after the two of them referred to it as that 'day of the Doll'. A thing it was hoped would never be repeated.

Friday, October 12, 2012

Marie Antoinette Eats Cake, parts 721 - 724

721. "Alright then", said the tutor, "Angela can come to the music lesson, but in return you must promise me that you will learn a Bach prelude to perfection, that way you can make your mother happy, and keep me from getting fired from my job.

722. The tutor picked out the perfect piece for Marie to learn, perhaps you are familiar with it, it is the very first prelude of the first book of the Well-Tempered Clavier. It is an unusual work, although it is very simple to play, and almost anyone could master it in a week or two, still it is profound and moving.

723. After the first prelude things get more and more complicated in the Well-Tempered Clavier, until you get to works so intricate and involved that the playing of them belongs only to those who are willing to give their life to the task. But as great as those works may be, they are not as moving or as perfect as that first prelude. The first prelude is like a perfectly formed child who will later grow up to be a Venus De Milo.

724. He played the first prelude slowly so that she could see that there was hardly a place where it is necessary to play two notes at the same time. At the end, where there are all those repeated low notes in the left hand he slowed down the tempo, and at the last chord that ends the little piece he looked Marie right in the eye.  Marie nodded her head to indicate she understood what was being asked of her, it was a royal gesture, just like her mother.

Thursday, October 11, 2012

Marie Antoinette Eats Cake, parts 717 -720

717. The wait for the farmers, fishmongers, and butchers was so long that tents were set up for their use, they brought their children with them who spent the day creating havoc not only in the kitchens but sometimes even  sneaking up into the formal rooms of the palace.

718. This was the only time that Marie and Angela were able to see with their own eyes the real world, the world of farmers, servants, cooks and every other sort of commoner. This complex world was a source of continual fascination for the two royal girls, who nevertheless would never venture to cross the barrier that separated then from the outside world.

719. Marie's music lesson was right after this hour Marie spent with her friend Angela in the palace kitchens. The music tutor noticed right away that he was tearing his young charge away from a favorite activity, and he turned over in his mind how he could utilize Marie Antoinette's attachment to Angela to his advantage.

720. "Look Marie" the music tutor said, "Why don't we have Angela come with you for your music lesson, we could have the two of you learn to sing some duets." Marie was all in favor of this idea.

Wednesday, October 10, 2012

Marie Antoinette Eats Cake, parts 713 - 716

713. After Latin and Greek came reading and writing class with her tutor Martin Schoingowen. Poor Martin had to resort to imitating Marie's crabbed hand writing and forging all the essays she was supposed to have written of ancient history, because Marie hardly was able to write even her own name correctly. 

714. Marie had an hour after lunch when she was free to do what ever she wanted. This time was spent with her best and only friend, a girl named Angela. Angela was the same age as Marie Antoinette, and the daughter of one of her ladies in waiting.

715. After eating lunch Marie and Angela would race down the long hallways of the palace, down several flights of stairs and into the kitchens where every day food was prepared for thousand of people by a staff of hundreds of cooks and attendants.

716. It is impossible to imagine or describe a royal kitchen at the time of Marie Antoinette's childhood in Austria. It was a room the size of a football field, alive with activity. At the far end its huge doors were open to the outside world all year round, and outside long lines of carts were lined up waiting to deliver their goods.

Tuesday, October 9, 2012

Marie Antoinette Eats Cake, parts 709 - 712

709. The court artists could have substituted a generic pretty face for Marie's ordinary face but this was very 'verboten' (verboten is a German word, and everyone knows what it means.) When a family has half a dozen princesses to palm off on to foreign courts one did not want to get a reputation for pictorial fraud. The portrait had to be idealized, but at the same time had to possess those oddities that make a painting both charming and yet idiosyncratic. 

710. It just so happened at the time when Marie was a child, the court did not have an artist up to the task of painting a portrait that idealized Marie, and yet was also true to life. This would not have mattered so much except that the repeated attempts to both improve her appearance, and paint her picture were making her life a series of painful humiliating experiences.

711. All day long her life was a series of meetings with professionals who's job it was to perfect her intellect and improve her appearance. As it was she had to start her day at half past five in the morning because it took two and a half hours just to get her dressed and do her hair, fourteen court ladies had this task as their permanent occupation.

712. Once she was dressed and her hair and make-up finished she attended her classes of Latin and Greek with professor Gotischalk, who so far had only taught her a few Latin words such as Rex for king, and vox for voice. As for Greek, that had to be put off indefinitely.

Monday, October 8, 2012

Marie Antoinette Eats Cake, parts 705 - 708

705. How did these terrible matches come about, it was just that photography had not been invented yet, and so the introduction of the future husbands was done with portraits painted by hacks, accompanied with love letters written according to strict court formulas. So it was that these young future queens were fed romantic nonsense constructed by court matchmaking professionals.

706. It often happened that a young girl of ten would fall in love with an imaginary prince, a person existing only in her imagination and nowhere in the real world. She would be in love with a fictional construction based on idealized oil paintings of young men in military uniforms covered with sashes and decorations. Looking at these pictures they would read love letters actually written by old men who were court scribes well versed in the love sonnets of Shakespeare.

707. Then would come the day of reckoning when the princess would be delivered to the actual reality, a cadaverous young man with flesh like tapioca pudding, a person raised in a hot house who had never had a real experience in his life and whose cheeks made one think of raw clams.

708. Marie Antoinette at that time was being considered as the match for the French Dauphin, the future King Louis the Sixteenth; she had to have her portrait painted and it had to look really good, this was a big problem for the court painters employed by the Empress and, like with the music tutors, had led to some terrible scenes and arguments. For over a year pictures had been painted of her and none had been satisfactory. 

Sunday, October 7, 2012

Marie Antoinette Eats Cake, parts 701 - 704

701. His success with his students was not so much that he was a good teacher but rather because in the company of children he because a child himself, often forgetting all about music and spending the entire music session playing jacks, knuckle-bones, of even hopscotch.  He often managed to make these activities circle back to the subject of music, but not always.

702. You may think it is just great to be born a princess, or in the case of Marie Antoinette an 'Archdutchess' but you would be entirely wrong about that. As Marie said herself, "I am just an ordinary child with ordinary looks and this business of having to be a princess is like being forced into a little gilded footlocker to be sent off to a foreign land to be the wife of a 'smockmordermonten'. 

703. A 'smockmordermonten' was not a peasant word, it was a very rare word used only by young female aristocratic girls to describe their future royal husbands. Roughly translated it meant a young man who is fat, smelly, talks with a fake lisp, is awkward and incapable of any sort of sexual activity.

704. You will remember that Marie was one of fifteen children so she had often seen how one of her sisters had been packaged up and set to another country to be a queen, only months later to write home pathetic letters full of euphemisms hinting at a wretched court life full of desperation, and husbands who were worse than smockmordermonten.

Saturday, October 6, 2012

Marie Antoinette Eats Cake, parts 697 - 700

697. Why did he say that a child never makes a mistake?  Because every supposed mistake is simply the correct answer to some other question the child understands. 

698. So then, if a child is playing a piece on the keyboard and they make a mistake, one can ask this question, does that mistake sound good? If the mistake sounds good, scratch out the original notes, and write in the mistakes, and give the child a guilder. Reward all mistakes and encourage accidents, give your blessing to struggling incompetence. Remember this, a branch from a tree grows down to the ground, even so, is only seeks the light.

699. A four year old says ba-blan-as instead of bananas. The parents laugh and get the child to repeat the mistake because it is so sweet, but in some dark hovel another child is beaten for the same mistake. And in conclusion the old teacher  said, what he always said, "A child can no more make a mistake, than a rose bush can make a mistake, they have been born to bloom, and bloom they will if only they possibly can.

700. The only way the music tutor found to deal with the Empress was to stall and put her off from day to day; meanwhile he made no progress with little Marie. He accepted her insistence about not playing Bach, but was confused by her obvious antagonism to the lesson herself. The tutor always had great luck with his young charges.

Friday, October 5, 2012

Marie Antoinette Eats Cake, parts 693 - 696

693. Marie Antoinette, and her Mother the Empress were among those lesser mortals, whose teachers, purple in the face, and groaning in exasperation hammered the edge of the piano in tempo to the music screaming out one, two, three, four, while pounding the piano so hard with a baton that it looked like a cat had been exercising its claws on its surface.

694. This was why the Empress hated the music of Bach, and it is the self same reason she wanted little Marie to master his works, so that the child would succeed where she had failed. Her little girl was going to be perfect, a royal angel, a little Goddess, primed and perfected and polished to be sent off to rule the French with an enlightened mind and heart. But little Marie was just an ordinary child with no special skills, destined for tragedy, and this Bach fugue was just the beginning.

695. What was the poor music tutor to do. He could not bear the thought that his failure would lead to his being fired, and worse yet, that Marie would be severely punished. He thought about his own teacher of years ago, whose theories he had adopted as his own. His old teacher had this to say:

696. A child never makes a mistake, and should never be punished for anything. Every punishment of a child serves only one purpose, some perverse emotional gratification on the part of the punisher!

Marie Antoinette Eats Cake, parts 689 - 692

689. I have to digress and say something about the Empress. The Empress did not like Bach's music. She had distinct memories of her own music teacher from when she was a child, back in the days when Bach and his fugues were all the rage. "Look at this music", she said, "All of the voices are exactly equal, it is as if Bach had no respect for the aristocracy, to him a simple peasant is as important as a king, all the voices are exactly equal." she though Bach was a subversive.

690. Like so often happens with musical movements, when the Empress was a child court attitudes toward the formal intricately fugal music of Bach was becoming outdated. As a young woman she remembered distinctly the introduction of a new style of music in which light melodious pretty fare took the place of the older turgid works. 

691. But among those old music teachers, the mastery of Bach's music continued to be the bar all students had to measure up to. This expectation was rigid, and come to think about it, still exists today. How many modern cellists have given up in despair shipwrecked on the unaccompanied cello suites, how many pianists today have nervous breakdowns over the Well-tempered Clavier. But the great performers  could play those works effortlessly.

692. Everyone knows that Yo-yo Ma can play the hardest Bach cello suites while joking with friends and also balancing his check book, and we are told that Glenn Gould could play those Bach fugues, even the ones with six flats, while at the same time filing his fingernails and doing tricks with a yo-yo.  But when they did these things they were not only displaying their love of Bach but also their contempt for lesser mortals.

Wednesday, October 3, 2012

Marie Antoinette Eats Cake, parts 685 - 688

685. If you have been reading my story then you know that I am hardly a real writer, and the task of describing Marie Antoinette's new music tutor is beyond my humble abilities, so I have to resort to using a clip from a movie. In the movie Babette's Feast one can see a music teacher who looks and acts just like Marie's music tutor, and not only that, but you can see him singing a Mozart duet with his pupil. That is the sort of person the music tutor was.

686. He was a big hearted generous easygoing man without an angry bone in his body, and he had been given the job  which would lead inevitably to his young charge being punished. He would not have to inflict the punishment himself, but that did not matter to him, just the fact that he was going to be responsible for the child's punishment was unacceptable to him.

687. He set to work with all his skills to teach Marie to play a Bach fugue, but he ran into an insurmountable problem from the first moment.  Marie hated the music of Bach just like her mother the Empress. "I don't want to play any of this stonmitz", shouted little Marie when she saw the Bach fugue on her clavichord. "Take this away you katunz, I will not play it." she shouted, pounding her little fists on the keyboard.

688. "Now Marie," said the music tutor, "please watch your tongue, what would the Empress think if she heard you using dirty words like that, she would not be pleased" " My mother is just a stupid old 'flombat' shouted Marie in a fury. (Flombat was a peasant word meaning an old cow that no longer gives any milk.)