The genocidal wars that followed the dissolution of the Soviet Union reflect ethnic discrimination in Eastern Europe. Such discrimination is probably rooted in the very last Crusades, the fall of Constantinople.
On 29 May 1453, the Byzantine Empire fell to the Ottoman Empire. Greek scholars fled to Italy initiating or buttressing the Renaissance. Moreover, Ottoman Turks invaded neighbouring countries, creating Muslim communities. In 1529, they nearly reached Vienna.
By the 15th century, the expanding Ottoman Empire overpowered the Balkan Peninsula, but faced successful rebellion and resistance led by Gjergj Kastrioti Skanderbeg. By the 17th and 18th centuries, a substantial number of Albanians converted to Islam, which offered them equal opportunities and advancement within the Ottoman Empire. Thereafter, Albanians attained significant positions and culturally contributed to the broader Muslim world.
The fall of Constantinople and the conquest by Ottoman Turks of several European countries, the future Balkans mainly, led to battles and bloodshed. So, it is less surprising that 15th-century composers set the Ordinary of the Mass, the Mass’ permanent elements, to L’Homme armé, its cantus firmus, or fixed melody. “Some have suggested that the ‘armed man’ represents St Michael the Archangel.” (See L’Homme armé, Wikipedia.)
As for compositions of L’Homme armé that followed the breakdown of the Soviet Union, they reflect distant conflicts. Karl Jenkins’ Armed Man: a Mass for Peace, composed in 1999, is a commemoration. One is also reminded of Benjamin Britten‘s War Requiem, an anti-war piece.
In the 15th century, musical compositions, both liturgical and secular, often blended several independent voices. Such compositions are labelled polyphonic. Polyphony is a musical texture blending independent voices as do Barbershop quartets.
Secular madrigals, songs in the mother (madre, Spanish) tongue, had been monophonic (one voice), but they were a form used in the development of polyphonic music. So was the Motet, liturgical music. Polyphony could at times blend more than the soprano, alto, tenor and bass (SATB), the four voices we are most familiar with. But more importantly, a Mass by Guillaume Du Fay combined the sacred and the secular. The Ordinary of the Mass was set to L’Homme armé (the armed man) a secular theme. A Mass’ permanent components constitute the Ordinary of the Mass.
Composers still write sacred music. Examples are Benjamin Britten (22 November 1913 – 4 December 1976) and John Rutter (b. 1945). Earlier, Hector Berlioz (11 December 1803 – 8 March 1869) wrote his Grande Messe des morts or Requiem.
La belle s’est endormie sur un beau lit de roses The beauty fell asleep on a beautiful bed of roses La belle s’est endormie sur un beau lit de roses The beauty fell asleep on a beautiful bed of roses Blanche comme la neige belle comme le jour White as snow, beautiful as [the] day Ils sont trois capitaines qui vont lui faire l’amour There are three captains who will make love with her
Le plus jeune des trois la prend par sa main blanche The youngest of the three takes her by her white hand Le plus jeune des trois la prend par sa main blanche The youngest of the three takes her by her white hand Montez, montez princesse dessus mon cheval gris Climb, climb Princess on top of my gray horse A Paris j’vous mène dans un fort beau logis To Paris, I’m taking you, to a beautiful home
Finissant ce discours le capitaine rentre As he stopped speaking, the captain comes in Finissant ce discours le capitaine rentre As he stopped speaking, the captain comes in Mangez buvez la belle selon votre appétit Eat and drink Beauty to your appetite Avec un capitaine vous passerez la nuit With a captain you will spend the night
Au milieu du repas la belle a [sic] tombé morte In the middle of the meal, the beauty dropped dead Au milieu du repas la belle a tombé morte In the middle of the meal, the beauty dropped dead Sonnez, sonnez les cloches, tambour au régiment Ring, ring the bells, beat the drums regiment Ma maîtresse elle est morte à l’âge de quinze ans My mistress she has died at the age of fifteen
Mais au bout de trois jours son père s’y promène But at the end of three days her father walks by Mais au bout de trois jours son père s’y promène But at the end of three days her father walks by Ouvrez, ouvrez ma tombe mon père si vous m’aimez Open, open my coffin my father if you love me Trois jours j’ai fait la morte pour mon honneur garder For three days I’ve played dead, for my honor to keep
The translation above is mine. It is mostly word for word, so one can understand the original French. It is a folk song and folk legend, from French Canada or France. It is only remotely related to Christmas, because Beauty is as white as snow.
I have been trying to post an article on 19th-century Quebec. As workers tried to organize, many priests sided with the boss. Some threatened excommunication, if workers got together. A few workers were killed. In short, it’s heartbreaking.
Yet, I will write the shortest of posts. We are living and dying in the age of Covid-19. There are new outbreaks. So I want to tell you to wear a mask. It’s your only defense.
Social distancing does not work very well unless one also wears a mask. Nature has made us gregarious, so we automatically approach others.
The Barber of Seville (1773; 1775)
The Marriage of Figaro (written in 1778, performed in 1784, published in 1785)
The Guilty Mother (1791; 1966[opera])
The Marriage of Figaro as the center-piece of Beaumarchais’ “Figaro trilogy”
Mozart’s Marriage of Figaro (K. 492, 1786)
the second installment in the Figaro trilogy
Accepted for production in 1778 (Comédie-Française)
Vilification of French aristocracy: condemned by Louis XVI
Revised: change of location
Performed in France in 1784
Published in France in 1785
The Marriage of Figaro is the second installment in Beaumarchais’ Figaro trilogy, but constitutes the centerpiece of Beaumarchais’ trilogy. It was written in 1778 and accepted for production by the Comédie-Française in 1781. However, as first written, it vilified French aristocracy and so shocked Louis XVI that he banned the production of the play.
The play was problematical because Count Almaviva, who marries Rosina in The Barber of Seville, or the Futile Precaution (1778), wants to consummate Figaro’s marriage to Susanna, Figaro’s bride. Beaumarchais revised the play and moved the action to Spain. Ironically, Count Almaviva wanted to avail himself of a right he had abolished: “the feudal droit du seigneur, the right of the lord of the manor to sleep with his servant’s bride on her wedding night.”[I]
The Marriage of Figaro is a comedy inspired by the commedia dell’arte. Given the conventions of comedy, the Count’s plans will therefore be foiled. The innmorati will be helped not only by clever zanni and other servants, but also by Rosina, Almaviva’s wife, whose marriage to the Count, a philanderer, did not end altogether “well.”The play also features a redeemingdiscovery. The Count wants Figaro to marry Marcellina, Bartolo’s housekeeper, but it turns out that Figaro is the love child of Marcellina and Bartolo. One does not marry one’s mother. Bartolo therefore proposes marriage to Marcellina. There will be two weddings, which is not uncommon in comedy.
The Marriage of Figaro’s Cherubino,[II] a character reminiscent of Cupid, the mythological god of desire, could be called a zanni. He is forever in love and gets into trouble. However, he also provides comic relief as do zanni in the commedia dell’arte. Zanni are stand-up comics.In Passion Plays, comic interludes were inserted between the acts. The same stratagem can also be used inside comedy. Some “comic” is always at the ready not only to “fill in,” but also to support zanni (servants, one of whom is clever, but the second, clumsy).
As part of the props, we have incriminating letters and, in the case of the Barber of Seville, the Count, disguised as Lindoro, a name borrowed from the commedia dell’arte, we have musicians serenading Rosina. Guitars are inextricably linked with the commedia dell’arte. They are a prop that Watteau and Picasso, Picasso especially, depicted abundantly.
Moreover, to fool the Count, the Countess dresses as Susanna, Figaro’s bride-to-be, while Susanna dresses as the Countess. Therefore, when the Count court Susanna, he is in fact courting his wife. He reveals his plans to seduce Susanna, but find Rosina attractive. It is quite normal in comedies for the Alazṓn , the Count, to undo himself, except that comedy is kind. Cross-dressing is also a frequent device in the comic text and it is rooted in the topsy-turvy world of the Roman Saturnalia, not to mention the last days of l’ancien régime.
Beaumarchais and the Revolution
After Beaumarchais relocated The Marriage of Figaro, “[t]he feudal droit du seigneur” became a distant right and wrong. Louis XVI lifted the ban on the production of The Marriage of Figaro and the play was performed by the Comédiens français ordinaires du Roi, on Tuesday, 27 April 1784, and the text was published in 1785. Yet the play remained problematical. Although The Marriage of Figaro is a Shakespearean “all’s well that ends well,” the conventional ending, or dénouement, of comedies, in the Marriage of Figaro, this ending seems a little theatrical.
“Rosine (known as Rosina in the opera), the ward of Dr. Bartholo, is kept locked in her room by Bartholo because he plans to marry her, though she despises him. Young Count Almaviva loves her from afar and uses various disguises, including one as Alonzo, a substitute music teacher, in his attempts to win her. Bartholo’s roguish barber Figaro is part of the plot against him. Indeed, it is Figaro who steals the key to Rosine’s room for Almaviva. Unfortunately, Almaviva is in his disguise as Alonzo when he meets Rosine. Though in love with “Alonzo,” Rosine is convinced by the suspicious Bartholo that Alonzo intends to steal her away and sell her to a wicked count. Disappointed, she agrees to wed Bartholo that very night. All of Figaro’s ingenuity is required to substitute Count Almaviva for Bartholo at the wedding ceremony.”[IV]
Portrait of Gioachino Rossini in 1820, International Museum and Library of Music, Bologna (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
Figaro is heir to the commedia dell’arte‘s Brighella, a zanni. He joins Pedrolino-Pierrot, Harlequin, Scapino, and other zanni. In fact, Figaro himself joins the rank of the zanni. As portrayed above, he looks like Harlequin, but he may disguised as Harlequin. Figaro is an iconic figure in France. To be precise, Figaro is an institution: a newspaper, founded in 1826 and published in Paris. Le Figaro is the second-largest paper in France. It takes its motto from Beaumarchais’ Figaro trilogy:
“Sans la liberté de blâmer, il n’est point d’éloge flatteur.”
(“Without the freedom to criticise, there is no true praise.”)
The Commedia dell’arte
Bartolo is a dottore
Lindoro is one of the names innamorati used in the commedia dell’arte
Figaro is a Brighella,azanniin the commedia dell’arte, who helps the innamorati overcome obstacles to their marriage)
The guitar is an essential prop
Letters are used all the time: false, anonymous, incriminating…
Sources and Resources
Molière’sDom Juan does not seem a comedy. It lacks a young couple trying to marry despite a heavy father’s objections. However, it borrows elements from the Italian commedia dell’arte. Molière’s Dom Juan has in fact been labelled a dramma giocoso, a playful or comic drama, blending tragic and comical elements, which violates the rules of 17th-century French drama.
For instance, Sganarelle is a descendant of Brighella, a zanni in the Italian commedia dell’arte. He and Dom Juan are nearly always together, which makes for an incongruous relationship: Dom Juan is the master and Sganarelle, the valet. Molière’s play is aSaturnalia.
The Characters and other Elements
Our main characters are Dom Juan and his valet,Sganarelle(Mozart’s Leporello), played by Molière when the play premièred on 15 February 1665.
Dom Juan is Done Elvire’s husband. She has left a convent to marry him, but he no longer wishes to be her husband. He wants to be “free.” Done Elvire’s brothers, Dom Carlos and Dom Alonse, must avenge Done Elvire: (point d’honneur, point of honour), but fail to do so. When Dom Carlos speaks to Done Juan (V. iii), the latter has become a faux dévot, a man who feigns devotion to serve earthly needs. It appears Molière is meditating his Tartuffe (1664).
The play also features two peasant girls, Charlotte and Mathurine, whom Dom Juan tries to “seduce.” He’s told Charlotte that he will marry her, but her fiancé, Pierrot, puts up a fight. Dom Juan has also told Mathurine that he will marry her. However, there is no successful seduction in Molière’s play, not even a kiss, except on Charlotte’s hand, that she describes as black. This scene is the “La ci darem la mano,” of Mozart’s Don Giovanni (see video below).
Molière’s play on Don Juán is singularly devoid of eroticism. His Dom Juan is compiling conquests, as does Leporello in Mozart’s Don Giovanni. However, the catalogo Dom Juan keeps is a metaphorical rather than literal catalogo. Yet, at the beginning of the play (I. i) Sganarelle tells Gusman, Done Elvire’s escort and servant, that Dom Juan is the very devil. He is a grand seigneur [lord] méchant homme, an aristocrat, but an evil man.
In fact, other than the above-mentioned events the plot of Molière’s Dom Juan consists in a series of fruitless attempts to save Dom Juan from eternal damnation. The individuals begging Dom Juan to convert are Sganarelle (1), Dom Juan’s valet, Done Elvire (2), Dom Juan’s abandoned wife, and Dom Louis (3), Dom Juan’s father.
When Sganarelle warns his master, whom he calls a pèlerin, a pilgrim, that he may be punished, he is silenced immediately, not by an angry, but verbose or quiet Dom Juan. Sganarelle falls short of words and when his master will not speak, he collapses (III. i).
Similarly, when Dom Louis, Dom Juan’s father, bemoans the fact that aristocracy is no longer as it was, Dom Juan listens, but does not hear. When Dom Louis is finished, Dom Juan simply invites him to sit down so he can speak more comfortably (IV. iv). In 1665, the noblesse oblige of earlier years has been replaced by self-interest.
Later (IV. vi), Done Elvire implores Dom Juan to mend his ways as God is about to strike. He lets her speak, but as she is leaving, he invites her to stay overnight. It is late. Done Elvire leaves. It is as though she had not spoken a word.
Dom Juan as faux dévot
At the beginning of act V, Dom Louis returns and praises his son who now feigns devotion. Dom Louis does not notice that Dom Juan is putting on an act. Moreover, it is as a faux dévot that Dom Juan dismisses Dom Carlos. He will not live with Done Elvire as man and wife, because it is God’s will (V. iii).
However, Dom Juan has killed a Commandeur. There is a statue of the Commandeur with whom Dom Juan is to have dinner. At the appointed hour, the statue of the Commandeur takes him by the hand which causes the earth to move and engulf Dom Juan.
The above is an incomplete introduction to Molière’s Dom Juan, not to say ledonjuanisme. I have left out the encounter with Francisque, a poor man, and uneven fight, &c. But this is a beginning.
Don Juan, trans. by Brett B. Dodemer, Digital Commons (pdf)
Don Juan, ou le Festin de pierre is Gutenberg’s [Ebook #5130] FR
Tartuffe; or, the Hypocrite is Gutenberg’s [Ebook #2027]
Baryton Dmitri Hvorostovsky has been diagnosed with a malignant brain tumour. He’s being treated in the best facilities, in London, England, but these are shattering news. He has a very rich voice. I hope he soon recovers.
Dmitri Hvorostovsky died on 22 November 2017. May he rest in peace.
It is so difficult to accept the death of Russian baritone Dmitri Hvorostovsky. He was a powerful male singer with a “silver mane” (this description is not mine). Hvorostosky had brown hair, but it turned white in his early thirties. He passed away on 22 November 2017, at the age of 55.
Baritone Dmitri Hvorostovsky was in good health when he sang Di Provenza, il mar, il suol, an aria from Giuseppi Verdi‘s La Traviata(1852), an opera derived from a novel by Alexandre Dumas, fils‘ (27 July 1824 – 27 November 1895) La Dame aux camélias (The Lady with/of the Camellias) (1848), or Camille, to an English-speaking audience. Dmitri Hvrostovsky is Giorgio Germont, trying to persuade his son, Alfredo, who loves Violetta, to return to Provence, the family home (Scene 2 of La Traviata).
The protagonist of Giuseppi Verdi‘s La Traviata (the fallen woman) is Violetta Valéry. Alexandre Dumas named his protagonist Marguerite Gautier. She had been Marie Duplessis (1824 – 1847) who wore a red camellia when she was menstruating, a message to her lovers. She was born Alphonsine Rose Plessis, in Normandy, to an abusive father who sold her when she was 15.
At the age of 16, the beautiful Marie Duplessis conquered Paris. She bore a child to Charles Morny, duc de Morny, but the baby died a month after birth. The duc de Morny, Charles Maurice de Talleyrand‘s illegitimate grandson and a half-brother to Napoleon III, looked after Marie Duplessis, providing her with an apartment and transforming her into a refined courtesan and salonnière, the most famous in her days. She was Alexandre Dumas, fils’ lover and a lover to various aristocrats as well as composer Franz Liszt. Alexandre Dumas, fils, born in 1824, could not afford to marry her.
The lovely Marie Duplessis died of tuberculosis on 3 February 1847, at the age of 23. At her bedside were her husband, a brief marriage, the comte de Perregaux, and her former lover, the Baltic-German count Gustav Ernst von Stackelberg.