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Beauty in art

February 15, 2009 Leave a comment Go to comments

Came down last night and caught the end of a movie called Copying Beethoven. (2006)  Understand it is a fictional account about the last year of Beethoven’s life when he was deaf and needed someone to assist him in conducting and in recording music.  A couple of quotes I heard made me think of an article I read this week in which the author laments about the loss of the “spiritual” in art today.

Theodore Dalrymple wrote in “Beauty and the Best,” how the loss of the spiritual in Western art has led to a “terrible impoverishment of our art.”  He is referring to an article by Roger Scruton.

Professor Scruton’s suggestion that western art had become impoverished as a result of its radical repudiation of anything transcendent in human existence in favour of the fleeting present moment.

Dalrymple’s quote about beauty is worth quoting in full.

Beauty is a fragile and vulnerable quality, and moreover one that is difficult to achieve; ugliness, by contrast, is unbreakable and invulnerable, and very easy to achieve. (How easy it is to look bad, how difficult to look good!) By espousing the ugly, we make ourselves invulnerable too; for when we espouse the ugly, we are telling others that ‘You can’t shock, depress, intimidate, blackmail, or browbeat me.’

We use the ugly as a kind of armour-plating, to establish our complete autonomy in the world; for he who says that ‘I find this beautiful,’ or ‘This moves me deeply,’ reveals something very important about himself that makes him vulnerable to others. Do we ever feel more contempt than for someone who finds something beautiful, or is deeply moved by, what we find banal, trivial or in bad taste? Best, then, to keep silent about beauty: then no one can mock or deride us for our weakness, and our ego remains unbruised. And in the modern world, ego is all.

What a contrast with Beethoven and his sense that his music came from the hand of God.   Found the following quotes from Copying Beethoven at IMDB

The vibrations on the air are the breath of God speaking to man’s soul. Music is the language of God. We musicians are as close to God as man can be. We hear his voice, we read his lips, we give birth to the children of God, who sing his praise. That’s what musicians are.

God whispers into the ears of some men, but he shouts into mine!

[conclusion–Beethoven is describing his “Song of Thanks to the Deity”] No key. It’s common time, molto adagio, sotto voce. First violin, quarter notes. Middle C up to A. Measure. G up to C, tied, F. Second violin, bar two. Middle C up to A. Double note E, G, C. Viola clef, 2B pressed. It’s a hymn of thanksgiving to God, for sparing me to finish my work. After the pianissimo, the canon resumes. First violin takes the theme. Viola, C to A. It’s growing, gaining strength. Second violin, C to A, an octave higher. Then the struggle. First violin, C, up an octave, and then up to G. And the cello, down. Pulled down. Half notes, F, E, D. Pulled constantly down. And then, a voice, a single frail voice emerges, soaring above the sound. The striving continues, moving below the surface. Crescendo. First violin longing, pleading to God. And then, God answers. The clouds open. Loving hands reach down. We’re raised up into heaven. Cello remains earthbound, but the other voices soar suspended, for an instant in which you can live forever. Earth does not exist. Time is timeless. And the hands that lifted you caress your face, mold them to the face of God. And you are at one. You are at peace. You’re finally free

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