Biologists are addressing one of humanity’s strangest attributes, its all-singing, all-dancing culture
“IF MUSIC be the food of love, play on, give me excess of it.” And if not? Well, what exactly is it for? The production and consumption of music is a big part of the economy. The first use to which commercial recording, in the form of Edison’s phonographs, was to bring music to the living rooms and picnic tables of those who could not afford to pay live musicians. Today, people are so surrounded by other people’s music that they take it for granted, but as little as 100 years ago singsongs at home, the choir in the church and fiddlers in the pub were all that most people heard.
Other appetites, too, have been sated even to excess by modern business. Food far beyond the simple needs of stomachs, and sex (or at least images of it) far beyond the needs of reproduction, bombard the modern man and woman, and are eagerly consumed. But these excesses are built on obvious appetites. What appetite drives the proliferation of music to the point where the average American teenager spends 1½-2½ hours a day—an eighth of his waking life—listening to it?
Well, that fact—that he, or she, is a teenager—supports one hypothesis about the function of music. Around 40% of the lyrics of popular songs speak of romance, sexual relationships and sexual behaviour. The Shakespearean theory, that music is at least one of the foods of love, has a strong claim to be true. The more mellifluous the singer, the more dexterous the harpist, the more mates he attracts.
A second idea that is widely touted is that music binds groups of people together. The resulting solidarity, its supporters suggest, might have helped bands of early humans to thrive at the expense of those that were less musical.
Both of these ideas argue that musical ability evolved specifically—that it is, if you like, a virtual organ as precisely crafted to its purpose as the heart or the spleen. The third hypothesis, however, is that music is a cross between an accident and an invention. It is an accident because it is the consequence of abilities that evolved for other purposes. And it is an invention because, having thus come into existence, people have bent it to their will and made something they like from it.
She loves you
Shakespeare’s famous quote was, of course, based on commonplace observation. Singing, done well, is certainly sexy. But is its sexiness the reason it exists? Charles Darwin thought so. Twelve years after he published “On the Origin of Species”, which described the idea of natural selection, a second book hit the presses. “The Descent of Man and Selection in Relation to Sex” suggested that the need to find a mate being the pressing requirement that it is, a lot of the features of any given animal have come about not to aid its survival, but to aid its courtship. The most famous example is the tail of the peacock. But Darwin suggested human features, too, might be sexually selected in this way—and one of those he lit on was music.
In this case, unlike that of natural selection, Darwin’s thinking did not set the world alight. But his ideas were revived recently by Geoffrey Miller, an evolutionary biologist who works at the University of New Mexico. Dr Miller starts with the observations that music is a human universal, that it is costly in terms of time and energy to produce, and that it is, at least in some sense, under genetic control. About 4% of the population has “amusia” of one sort or another, and at least some types of amusia are known to be heritable. Universality, costliness and genetic control all suggest that music has a clear function in survival or reproduction, and Dr Miller plumps for reproduction.
One reason for believing this is that musical productivity—at least among the recording artists who have exploited the phonograph and its successors over the past hundred years or so—seems to match the course of an individual’s reproductive life. In particular, Dr Miller studied jazz musicians. He found that their output rises rapidly after puberty, reaches its peak during young-adulthood, and then declines with age and the demands of parenthood.
As is often the case with this sort of observation, it sounds unremarkable; obvious, even. But uniquely human activities associated with survival—cooking, say—do not show this pattern. People continue to cook at about the same rate from the moment that they have mastered the art until the moment they die or are too decrepit to continue. Moreover, the anecdotal evidence linking music to sexual success is strong. Dr Miller often cites the example of Jimi Hendrix, who had sex with hundreds of groupies during his brief life and, though he was legally unmarried, maintained two long-term liaisons. The words of Robert Plant, the lead singer of Led Zeppelin, are also pertinent: “I was always on my way to love. Always. Whatever road I took, the car was heading for one of the greatest sexual encounters I’ve ever had.”
Another reason to believe the food-of-love hypothesis is that music fulfils the main criterion of a sexually selected feature: it is an honest signal of underlying fitness. Just as unfit peacocks cannot grow splendid tails, so unfit people cannot sing well, dance well (for singing and dancing go together, as it were, like a horse and carriage) or play music well. All of these activities require physical fitness and dexterity. Composing music requires creativity and mental agility. Put all of these things together and you have a desirable mate.
Improve your singing…
A third reason to believe it is that music, or something very like it, has evolved in other species, and seems to be sexually selected in those species, too. Just as the parallel evolution of mouse-like forms in marsupial and placental mammals speaks of similar ways of life, so the parallel evolution of song in birds, whales and gibbons, as well as humans, speaks of a similar underlying function. And females of these animals can be fussy listeners. It is known from several species of birds, for example, that females prefer more complex songs from their suitors, putting males under pressure to evolve the neurological apparatus to create and sing them.
And yet, and yet. Though Dr Miller’s arguments are convincing, they do not feel like the whole story. A man does not have to be gay to enjoy the music of an all-male orchestra, even if he particularly appreciates the soprano who comes on to sing the solos. A woman, meanwhile, can enjoy the soprano even while appreciating the orchestra on more than one level. Something else besides sex seems to be going on.
The second hypothesis for music’s emergence is that it had a role not just in helping humans assess their mates, but also in binding bands of people together in the evolutionary past. Certainly, it sometimes plays that role today. It may be unfashionable in Britain to stand for the national anthem, but two minutes watching the Last Night of the Proms, an annual music festival, on television will serve to dispel any doubts about the ability of certain sorts of music to instil collective purpose in a group of individuals. In this case the cost in time and energy is assumed to be repaid in some way by the advantages of being part of a successful group.
The problem with this hypothesis is that it relies on people not cheating and taking the benefits without paying the costs. One way out of that dilemma is to invoke a phenomenon known to biologists as group selection. Biologically, this is a radical idea. It requires the benefits of solidarity to be so great that groups lacking them are often extinguished en bloc. Though theoretically possible, this is likely to be rare in practice. However, some researchers have suggested that the invention of weapons such as spears and bows and arrows made intertribal warfare among early humans so lethal that group selection did take over. It has been invoked, for example, to explain the contradictory manifestations of morality displayed in battle: tenderness towards one’s own side; ruthlessness towards the enemy. In this context the martial appeal of some sorts of music might make sense.
Robin Dunbar of Oxford University does not go quite that far, but unlike Dr Miller he thinks that the origins of music need to be sought in social benefits of group living rather than the sexual benefits of seduction. He does not deny that music has gone on to be sexually selected (indeed, one of his students, Konstantinos Kaskatis, has shown that Dr Miller’s observation about jazz musicians also applies to 19th-century classical composers and contemporary pop singers). But he does not think it started that way.
…and your grooming
Much of Dr Dunbar’s career has been devoted to trying to explain the development of sociality in primates. He believes that one of the things that binds groups of monkeys and apes together is grooming. On the face of it, grooming another animal is functional. It keeps the pelt clean and removes parasites. But it is an investment in someone else’s well-being, not your own. Moreover, animals often seem to groom each other for far longer than is strictly necessary to keep their fur pristine. That time could, in principle, be used for something else. Social grooming, rather like sexual selection, is therefore a costly (and thus honest) signal. In this case though, that signal is of commitment to the group rather than reproductive prowess.
Dr Dunbar thinks language evolved to fill the role of grooming as human tribes grew too large for everyone to be able to groom everyone else. This is a controversial hypothesis, but it is certainly plausible. The evidence suggests, however, that the need for such “remote grooming” would arise when a group exceeds about 80 individuals, whereas human language really got going when group sizes had risen to around 140. His latest idea is that the gap was bridged by music, which may thus be seen as a precursor to language.
The costliness of music—and of the dancing associated with it—is not in doubt, so the idea has some merit. Moreover, the idea that language evolved from wordless singing is an old one. And, crucially, both singing and dancing tend to be group activities. That does not preclude their being sexual. Indeed, showing off to the opposite sex in groups is a strategy used by many animals (it is known as lekking). But it may also have the function of using up real physiological resources in a demonstration of group solidarity.
By side-stepping the genocidal explanations that underlie the classical theory of group selection, Dr Dunbar thinks he has come up with an explanation that accounts for music’s socially binding qualities without stretching the limits of evolutionary theory. Whether it will pass the mathematical scrutiny which showed that classical group selection needs genocide remains to be seen. But if music is functional, it may be that sexual selection and social selection have actually given each other a helping hand.
The third hypothesis, though, is that music is not functional, and also that Dr Dunbar has got things backwards. Music did not lead to language, language led to music in what has turned out to be a glorious accident—what Stephen Jay Gould called a spandrel, by analogy with the functionless spaces between the arches of cathedrals that artists then fill with paintings. This is what Steven Pinker, a language theorist at Harvard, thinks. He once described music as auditory cheesecake and suggested that if it vanished from the species little else would change.
Dr Pinker’s point is that, like real cheesecake, music sates an appetite that nature cannot. Human appetites for food evolved at a time when the sugar and fat which are the main ingredients of cheesecake were scarce. In the past, no one would ever have found enough of either of these energy-rich foods to become obese, so a strong desire to eat them evolved, together with little limit beyond a full stomach to stop people eating too much. So it is with music. A brain devoted to turning sound into meaning is tickled by an oversupply of tone, melody and rhythm. Singing is auditory masturbation to satisfy this craving. Playing musical instruments is auditory pornography. Both sate an appetite that is there beyond its strict biological need.
Of course, it is a little more complicated than that. People do not have to be taught to like cheesecake or sexy pictures (which, in a telling use of the language, are sometimes also referred to as “cheesecake”). They do, however, have to be taught music in a way that they do not have to be taught language.
Words and music
Aniruddh Patel, of the Neurosciences Institute in San Diego, compares music to writing, another widespread cultural phenomenon connected with language. True language—the spoken languages used by most people and the gestural languages used by the deaf—does not have to be taught in special classes. The whole of a baby’s world is its classroom. It is true that parents make a special effort to talk to their children, but this is as instinctive as a young child’s ability (lost in his early teens) to absorb the stuff and work out its rules without ever being told them explicitly.
Learning to write, by contrast, is a long-winded struggle that many fail to master even if given the opportunity. Dyslexia, in other words, is common. Moreover, reading and writing must actively be taught, usually by specialists, and evidence for a youthful critical period when this is easier than otherwise is lacking. Both, however, transform an individual’s perception of the world, and for this reason Dr Patel refers to them as “transformative technologies”.
In difficulty of learning, music lies somewhere in between speaking and writing. Most people have some musical ability, but it varies far more than their ability to speak. Dr Patel sees this as evidence to support his idea that music is not an adaptation in the way that language is, but is, instead, a transformative technology. However, that observation also supports the idea that sexual selection is involved, since the whole point is that not everyone will be equally able to perform, or even to learn how to do so.
Do they know it’s Christmas?
What all of these hypotheses have in common is the ability of music to manipulate the emotions, and this is the most mysterious part of all. That some sounds lead to sadness and others to joy is the nub of all three hypotheses. The singing lover is not merely demonstrating his prowess; he also seeks to change his beloved’s emotions. Partly, that is done by the song’s words, but pure melody can also tug at the heart-strings. The chords of martial music stir different sentiments. A recital of the Monteverdi Vespers or a Vivaldi concerto in St Mark’s cathedral in Venice, the building that inspired Gould to think of the non-role of spandrels, generates emotion pure and simple, disconnected from human striving.
This is an area that is only beginning to be investigated. Among the pioneers are Patrik Juslin, of Uppsala University, and Daniel Vastfjall, of Gothenburg University, both in Sweden. They believe they have identified six ways that music affects emotion, from triggering reflexes in the brain stem to triggering visual images in the cerebral cortex.
Such a multiplicity of effects suggests music may be an emergent property of the brain, cobbled together from bits of pre-existing machinery and then, as it were, fine-tuned. So, ironically, everyone may be right—or, at least partly right. Dr Pinker may be right that music was originally an accident and Dr Patel may be right that it transforms people’s perceptions of the world without necessarily being a proper biological phenomenon. But Dr Miller and Dr Dunbar may be right that even if it originally was an accident, it has subsequently been exploited by evolution and made functional.
Part of that accident may be the fact that many natural sounds evoke emotion for perfectly good reasons (fear at the howl of a wolf, pleasure at the sound of gently running water, irritation and mother-love at the crying of a child). Sexually selected features commonly rely on such pre-existing perceptual biases. It is probably no coincidence, for instance, that peacocks’ tails have eyespots; animal brains are good at recognising eyes because eyes are found only on other animals. It is pure speculation, but music may be built on emotions originally evolved to respond to important natural sounds, but which have blossomed a hundred-fold.
The truth, of course, is that nobody yet knows why people respond to music. But, when the carol singers come calling, whether the emotion they induce is joy or pain, you may rest assured that science is trying to work out why.
Swastika banners unfurl over the stage, Nazi SS officers goose step in formation. It has been awhile since Bayreuth looked like this. Scattered boos from the audience augment the score of Richard Wagner’s “Parsifal.”
A new era is dawning at Bayreuth’s annual Wagner festival. And parts of it look unnervingly like the old one. That is Stefan Herheim’s whole idea. The Norwegian stage director tells “Parsifal” as an image-laden trip through German history.
The opera becomes a narrative of Wagner’s reception, from the composer’s troubled youth to the political wrangles of the German republic in Bonn and Berlin. Most of the action plays out in Bayreuth itself, the living room of Villa Wahnfried, Wagner’s house, mutating with the passage of time. In the end, Herheim holds up a mirror to the audience itself. Literally.
The booers numbered only a handful amid an enthusiastic public. The July 26 opening of the Bayreuth Festival drew a glittering crowd. Chancellor Angela Merkel; former Foreign Minister Hans-Dietrich Genscher; Guido Westerwelle, the head of Germany’s Free Democrats; and an elite selection of television and stage personalities drew gaping onlookers in the afternoon bustle before the six-and-a-half-hour performance began.
Tottering on the arm of his statuesque daughter Katharina, 30, who is tipped to take over the festival together with half- sister Eva Wagner-Pasquier, 63, in August, 88-year-old Wolfgang Wagner welcomed the big-name visitors.
The Bayreuth public, exhausted by years of family dramas and power struggles, is ready for a change. That was evident in the warm response to Herheim’s frenetically didactic “Parsifal.”
Not all of Herheim’s gestures are new. Indeed, many have become almost obligatory for provincial German houses dutifully working through a post-1968 approach to the Nazi’s legacy of dubious Wagner interpretation. But the richness and psychological depth of Herheim’s images and the seamless musicality with which he and his team have knitted them together add up to an evening of breathtaking impact.
Wagner’s tale — the ignorant Parsifal meets the knights of the Holy Grail, sets out on a quest, resists temptation, vanquishes the evil Klingsor, wins wisdom, redeems and replaces the ailing King Amfortas — is layered with complex reflection. The course of history, the nature of death and birth, the role of sexuality and eroticism in society, and the question of individual identity are all explored. It could be tedious if it were not so exquisitely wrought.
At the center of the stage is a bed, deathbed of Parsifal’s mother, place of his birth, scene of seduction. The prompt box is Wagner’s grave, or the home of the Holy Grail, a place of mysterious magnetism. Herheim’s handiwork is dazzling, Heike Scheele’s sets are a work of genius. Hours of stage magic unfold with dazzling skill.
Italian conductor Daniele Gatti makes his Bayreuth debut memorable for what may be the slowest “Parsifal” on record (4 hours and 40 minutes, not counting the intervals). To his credit, it seldom drags, and the high points burn with focused intensity. The Bayreuth orchestra does not play its best for Gatti, and neither transparency nor sharp edges feature prominently. Instead, he opts for organic development, lush curves and whispered pianissimi. Gatti listens attentively to his singers, and makes sure that we hear their every word.
These singers are worth hearing. In the title role, Christopher Ventris offers no-holds-barred heroism and seductively effortless sounds delivered with charisma and command. Detlef Roth’s Amfortas is worldly wise and rich in detail, Kwangchul Youn’s Gurnemanz makes every word of his marathon monologues grippingly emotional, and if Mihoko Fujimura occasionally screeches a top note or slurs her diction, her performance as Kundry has such animal power and psychotic diversity that it’s worth a small vocal trade-off.
For Katharina Wagner, who is plowing ahead with the business of marketing her own image to the universe as Bayreuth’s blonde savior, this is a promising start to an era that is already her own in all but official terms. Whether one successful staging is enough to baptize herself a world-class festival director is open to debate. Half-sister Eva was conspicuously absent from the opening-night celebrations, and the degree to which she will play a role in Katharina’s festival is equally open to speculation.
Plenty is wrong in Wagnerian Bayreuth, but after Friday it is clear that some things can still be entirely right. (Rating: ****)
“Parsifal” plays again on Aug. 6, 16 and 28. All performances are sold out. For more information, go to http://www.bayreuther-festspiele.de. The festival is sponsored by Goldman Sachs Group Inc. and Benecke Interior Design.
by Shirley Apthorp in Bloomberg
For a certain kind of listener (i.e., me), the arrival of a new Indiana Jones movie is a chance to hear another retro score that evokes not only the traditions of Hollywood writing but also the work of full-color late Romantic composers such as Gustav Holst and Ottorino Respighi.
John Williams is one of the most successful Hollywood composers in cinematic history if his work is judged simply by sheer memorability. The huge marches that dominate the Star Wars and Indiana Jones movies do exactly what good marches are supposed to do: Set up a triumphant (even when evil) tone, get a strong marching rhythm going, and most of all, implant a powerful tune in listeners’ heads.
This is not that easy to do. John Philip Sousa wrote more than 100 concert marches, but only about a couple dozen have the kind of great melodies that enable them to be heard frequently. In his work for the Lucas-Spielberg team, Williams has written at least two that many millions of people recognize instantly, and at the same time remember what they’re designed to evoke.
The same goes for Hedwig’s Theme, the central music of the Harry Potter films. Although two other composers have picked up scoring duties for the movies in the meantime, they still use Williams’ theme to remind viewers that they’re watching a Harry Potter adventure.
Indiana Jones and the Crystal Skull has a modest score that is reminiscent of past work more than it is one that breaks new ground, which isn’t really a criticism — the film composer doesn’t have a lot of control over how much of the music he or she writes gets used in the final product. I liked a couple of Williams’ fresh inventions in Crystal Skull: a vigorous Russian dance that would make effective concert music, and — spoiler alert! — a blizzard of Janacek-style brasses that accompany the flying saucer as it ascends out of the Amazon basin.
But what I missed here was what I missed in the movie, though I enjoyed it a good deal and had a hard time resisting its manic energy. What was absent in the film was about 10 minutes of exposition and character development that would give the plot a hint of additional plausibility, even though it was totally implausible.
For instance, I wanted to enter just a bit more into the history of the conquistador-native conflict and the search for El Dorado, learn a little more about the Mayan world view, perhaps get some flashbacks from Professor Oxley and the Ray Winstone character, to make the picture rounder and richer. That way my suspended disbelief can coexist along the actual pages of history, and viewing the movie becomes more of an exercise of the imagination than a workout for my car-chase gland.
A case in point involves my favorite of the four Indiana Jones movies, The Last Crusade. This movie is able to draw on centuries of Christian tradition bred in the bone of Western civilization, but we learn a lot about Indiana and his father through the suggestions of the opening scene: the young Indiana has to speak ancient Greek to tell his father about his escape from the grave robbers.
And in another scene, Williams helps us all get into the figurative if not the literal depth of the events when Indiana is looking at the drawing of the knight suspended in air and he says something about the powerful pull of the quest for the Holy Grail. At this moment, we hear a distant low-brass chorale of semi-modal music — this is the Grail theme, and while it’s more 19th than 11th century, it’s beautiful and supremely effective.
That music returns when we encounter the 700-year-old knight guarding the Grail in the anterooms of the Canyon of the Crescent Moon, and for me it makes a most effective link, and adds a subtle richness to the film that makes its absurdities believable.
I would have liked to hear something like this in Crystal Skull: Ancient Mayan music, maybe; perhaps the music of 16th century Spain — something else to take us into the sonic world its deceased characters inhabited, something that would make the movie more of a journey into the legendary part of history that was there in The Last Crusade.
Music often acts as another character in a drama, and when it can draw on the traditions of the past to fill in the gaps of the script, it adds another layer of meaning and reference for the viewer. The music is more of an afterthought in Crystal Skull, but in Last Crusade, it’s essential. And that’s one of the crucial things that makes it a much better film, too.
by Greg Stepanich
Three 18th century musical scores discovered in a collection at Poland’s Jasna Gora monastery may be the work of Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, experts say.
The musical scores identified as 18th century manuscript copies “correspond to the style” of the period and “their character allows us to suppose Mozart was their author,” musicologist Remigiusz Pospiech told Poland’s Polska daily.
The three scores are among 18 musical manuscripts attributed to the Austrian genius in the Jasna Gora monastery’s vast archive at Czestochowa, but do not figure in the Koechel catalogue of Mozart’s complete works.
A special commission has already started analysing the authenticity of 18 scores which are signed with the name of the Austrian composer, Polskie Radio says. The notes under examination were put on paper by 18th century copyists.
Polish specialists have already contacted experts in Vienna and Salzburg, Mozart’s birthplace in Austria, focused on music in the period between 1756 and 1791, according to Pospiech.
“If we are indeed dealing with a work of Mozart, it is rather his later period in Vienna,” he says, adding that “more study is required to confirm this hypothesis.”
Archives at the Jasna Gora monastery hold some 3,000 manuscripts of musical scores, collected over the centuries for the needs of its orchestra.
The Monastery of Jasna Góra in Czestochowa, Poland, is the third largest Catholic pilgrimage site in the world. Home to the beloved miraculous icon of Our Lady of Czestochowa, the monastery is also the national shrine of Poland and the centre of Polish Catholicism.
Naxos Records has pioneered the new frontier of media by using an old format – the compact disc. The label founded in 1987 by Klaus Heymann redefined the recording and marketing of classical music by providing the standard repertoire at a budget price. The label accomplishes this by using very fine but little known artists and orchestras avoiding the costly use of the named brands. This approach has the added advantage of enabling the label to also record the less-than-standard repertoire and thus offering a broader and more complete product.
In the past 20 years, the label has released an impressive repertoire on an equally impressive number of CDs. Naxos has further branched out into an internet subscription service, audio books, and educational products. While these offerings are notable, Naxos’ true genius is no better manifested than when blurring the lines between these products. The label’s release of the boxed set Time of the Templars is a case in point.
Ever since the publication and overwhelming reception of Dan Brown’s The Da Vinci Code the reading public cannot get enough of all things Templar; Note the flood of Templar related fiction that followed The Da Vinci Code: Steve Berry’s The Templar Legacy, Raymond Khoury’s The Last Templar, and Jorge Molist’s The Ring: The Last Knight Templar’s Inheritance only to mention a few. Add those books dealing with the period of the 12th through the 14th Centuries and a detailed picture in words of medieval life emerges.
Naxos, with its extensive catalog of alte Musik or early music, is uniquely positioned to provide a soundtrack to this picture of words with Time of the Templars. This three-CD boxed set is divided into three areas of focus: “Music for a Knight,” highlighting both the secular and extra-ecclesiastic sacred music of the period, “Music of the Church,” concentrating on plainchant as practiced in monasteries, and “Music of the Mediterranean,” encompassing low country music and the music of Israel and Islam.
All of the music assembled here was previously released from several recordings by early music performers. What the Time of the Templars offers both music and listener is a fixed context in which to listen to this music. This writer listened to these selections while reading Ken Follett’s Pillars of the Earth (1989) and its recent published sequel, World Without End (2007). For Follett’s expansive survey of 13th and 14th Century England, Time of the Templars provided the perfect aural picture of the period, enhancing the stories.
“Music for a Knight” is a bit of a sampler of the music a Knight would have heard, whether he be at church, in the court, or on the road toward Palestine. Thus, the music is divided approximately equally between the sacred, the profane, and the entertaining. Presented here are several selections from the text “Carmina Burana” (made famous 800 years later by composer Carl Orff for his secular cantata of the same name). Hildegard von Bingen provides settings for several sacred texts, among them her beautiful “Kyrie Eleison” and “Alleluia, O Virga Mediatrix.”
Hildegard von Bingen’s music is not of the pedestrian church variety of the period. This is music of mystic ecstasy. If Heaven exists, Hildegard caught a glimpse before composing. Richard I “Coer de Lion” (Richard the Lionhearted) provides his “Ja nulls homs pris,” his only poem to survive with his music, written while he was imprisoned in Durnstein between 1192 and 1194. Polyphony is represented by the Notre Dame School composers Leonin and Perotin in the 4-part organum: “Notum fecit” and the 4-part conductus: “Vetus abit littera.”
“Music of the Church” is what even the novice historian would expect: Gregorian chant. This is a complete disc of a cappella monophony, elements of which can still be heard during the Responsorial Psalm of the Mass today. This is peaceful music well performed. No sounds can more quickly evoke the sights, scenes, smells, and sounds of the Middle Ages. “Music of the Mediterranean” exposes the listener to music from the Christian, Jewish, and Muslim traditions. It is interesting to note how music equalizes cultures with an art that is truly universal.
Walther von der Vogelweide: Palastinalied; Coeur de Lion Richard I: Ja nuls homs pris; Blondel de Nesle: A l’entrant d’este que li tens s’agence; Alfonso X (El Sabio): Cantiga No. 60, “Entre Av’e Eva;” Anonymous: Chominciamento di gioia: Saltarello No. 1; Anponymous: Carmina Burana: Clauso Cronos; Alfonso X (El Sabio): Cantiga No. 213, “Quen serve Santa Maria;” Anonymous: Carmina Burana: Axe Phebus aureo, Katerine collaudemus; Hildegard of Bingen: O pastor animarum;
Anonymous: Kyrie eleison, In Dulci Jubilo; Perotin: Viderunt omnes: Notum fecit; Hildegard of Bingen: Kyrie eleison; Vetus abit littera; Hildegard of Bingen: Alleluia, O virga mediatrix; Anonymous: Lamento di Tristano: La Rotta, A la nana, Guardame las vacas.
Anonymous: Introitus: Adorate Deum, Introitus: Da pacem, Introitus: Dominus illuminatio mea Introitus: Laetetur cor; Gradualia: Dirigatur Gradualia: Dirigatur; Gradualia: Domine, Dominus noster; Gradualia: Iacta cogitatum tuum Gradualia: Iacta cogitatum tuum; Gradualia: Laetatus; Versus Alleluiatici: Versus Alleluiatici: Deus, iudex iustus; Versus Alleluiatici: Deus, iudex iustus; Versus Alleluiatici: Laudate Deum; Versus Alleluiatici: Laudate Deum; Offertoria: De profundis; Offertoria: Domine, convertere; Offertoria: Iubilate Deo universa terra; Offertoria: Iustitiae Domini; Communiones: Circuibo; Communiones: Dicit Dominus: Implete hydrias; Communiones: Dominus firmamentum meum; Communiones: Qui manducat; Communiones: Psalm 33, “Gustate et videte.”
Carmina Burana: Bache, bene venies; Carmina Burana: Tempus transit gelidum; Carmina Burana: Tempus est iocundum; Dinaresade; Sei willekommen Herre Christ; Kod Bethlehema; Koleda na Bozic; Dudul; Kyrie eleison (Christian-Arabic Tradition, Lebanon) De la crudel morte de Cristo (Laudario di Cortona Ms. 91, Biblioteca Comunale di Cortona); Yunus Emre; Sallalahu ala Muhammed; Pesrev; Ey Derviccsler; Keh Moshe (Traditional Jewish, 12th century); Adam de la Halle; Le jeu de Robin et de Marion (The Play of Robin and Marion) (excerpts).
Review by: C. Michael Bailey
It’s a new Da Vinci code, but this time it could be for real.
An Italian musician and computer technician claims to have uncovered musical notes encoded in Leonardo Da Vinci’s “Last Supper,” raising the possibility that the Renaissance genius might have left behind a somber composition to accompany the scene depicted in the 15th-century wall painting.
“It sounds like a requiem,” Giovanni Maria Pala said. “It’s like a soundtrack that emphasizes the passion of Jesus.”
Painted from 1494 to 1498 in Milan’s Church of Santa Maria delle Grazie, the “Last Supper” captures a key moment in the Gospel narration of Jesus’ last meal with the 12 Apostles before his arrest and crucifixion, vividly depicting the shock of Christ’s followers as they learn that one of them is about to betray him.
Pala, a 45-year-old musician who lives near the southern Italian city of Lecce, began studying Leonardo’s painting in 2003, after hearing on a news program that researchers believed the artist and inventor had hidden a musical composition in the work.
“Afterward, I didn’t hear anything more about it,” he said in an interview with The Associated Press. “As a musician, I wanted to dig deeper.”
In a book released Friday in Italy, Pala explains how he interpreted elements of the painting that have symbolic value in Christian theology as musical clues.
Pala first saw that by drawing the five lines of a musical staff across the painting, the loaves of bread on the table as well as the hands of Jesus and the Apostles could each represent a musical note.
This fit the relation in Christian symbolism between the bread, representing the body of Christ, with the hands, which are used to bless the food, he said. But the notes made no sense musically until Pala realized that the score had to be read from right to left, following Leonardo’s particular writing style.
In his book — “La Musica Celata” (“The Hidden Music”) — Pala also describes how he found what he says are other clues in the painting that reveal the slow rhythm of the composition and the duration of each note.
The result is a 40-second “hymn to God” that Pala said plays best on a pipe organ, the instrument most commonly used in Leonardo’s time for spiritual music.
Alessandro Vezzosi, a Leonardo expert and the director of a museum dedicated to the artist in his hometown of Vinci, said that he had not seen Pala’s research but that the musician’s hypothesis “is plausible.”
Vezzosi said that previous research has indicated that the hands of the Apostles in the painting can be substituted with the notes of a Gregorian chant, though so far no one had tried to work in the bread loaves.
“There’s always a risk of seeing something that is not there, but it’s certain that the spaces (in the painting) are divided harmonically,” he told The AP. “Where you have harmonic proportions, you can find music.”
Vezzosi also noted that though Leonardo was more noted for his paintings, sculptures and visionary inventions, he was also learned in music. Da Vinci played the lyre, designed various instruments and his writings include some musical riddles, which must be read from right to left.
Reinterpretations of the “Last Supper” have popped up ever since “The Da Vinci Code” fascinated readers and movie-goers with suggestions that one of the apostles sitting on Jesus’ right is Mary Magdalene, that the two had a child and their bloodline continues.
Pala stressed that his discovery does not reveal any supposed dark secrets of the Catholic Church or of Leonardo, but instead shows the artist in a light far removed from the conspiratorial descriptions found in fiction.
“A new figure emerges: he wasn’t a heretic like some believe,” Pala said. “What emerges is a man who believes, a man who really believes in God.”
On the Net:
Pala’s site (in Italian): http://www.lamusicacelata.it
Official site for the “Last Supper”: http://www.cenacolovinciano.it
“There’s music in the sighing of a reed; There’s music in the gushing of a rill; There’s music in all things, if men had ears: Their earth is but an echo of the spheres.”, Lord Byron