O Rosa Bella--Ciconia

O Rosa Bella, ballata


Johannes Ciconia of Liège, though not an Italian, fluidly adapted to the musical climate of Italy. Apparently this Northern composer was first attached to the household of Cardinal Phillip d'Alençon and quickly moved into the musical life of papal Rome as well as the courtly circles of Visconti Milan and Pavia. Once in Italian-speaking lands, the composer apparently merged his career with burgeoning local traditions, including the poetic effluence of Venetian writer Leonardo Giustinian, whose influence was strong enough to place his name on an entire genre of poetry, the Giustiniani. It may have been a poem (in the form of an Italian ballata) by the great Giustinian that Ciconia set as his O rosa bella. Other composers, even native Italians, would essay compositions on the Giustinian text for years to come, but Ciconia the oltremontane foreigner offers us an extremely powerful reading of the text before them.

Despite the waves of 
fashion that were ebbing away from the form of the Italian ballata, Ciconia championed it for much of his life. He devoted a good deal of his musical talent to the composition of ballatas such as O rosa bella. This happens to be one of the longest, and one of the most exquisite in the entire repertory. The text borrows some conventional images -- the lover who dies of love again and again for the same woman, and he begs this beautiful rose of a woman (either an erotic symbol, or a Marian one) to have mercy and not allow him to die; Giustinian's facile poetry, however, rises above mere conventions. Ciconia responds with a phenomenonally passionate melody. He sets the poem for a melodic span wider than usual, and moves with powerful gestures across it. His most frequent gambit is the melodic sequence (somewhat unusual for his time). Right after the passionate opening "O" and the first phrase, he takes the singer through a sweeping upwards sequence, three times on "Oh, sweet soul of mine!" Immediately, he again uses a triple sequence striving upwards on "Do not let me die!" carefully balancing three downward motives "for courtesy's sake." Yet he reserves the high point of the entire wide melody for a fourfold sequence to the highest note yet in the second part of the form; the music happens twice, to the words "Oh, poor me" and then again on the lover's desperate plea, socorimi, "Help and relieve me!" Fourteenth century ears should melt. ~ Timothy Dickey, Rovi

Italian text

O rosa bella, o dolce anima mia,
non mi lassar morire in cortesia.
Ai lasso mi dolente dezo finire
per ben servire e lealmente amare.

O dio d'amore, che pena e questa amare,
Vedi che io moro tut' hora per ‘sta giudea,
Socorremi, ormai del mio languire,
Cor del corpo mio, non me lassar morire.

 Rough Translation by JV
O beautiful rose, o sweet soul of mine,
Do not let me die in courtesy (for courtesy= please, so a play on words)
Ah, I am sad, I must die
through serving well and loyally loving her.

O God of love, how full is this bitterness. (play on love/bitter amore/amare)
You see that I die this hour through (her guidance, this idea, this Jewess because iudea is Jewess)
Help me at last in my languishing,
Heart of my body, do not leave me to die.

Ellen Handler Spitz Reviews "The Grimm Reader: The Classic Tales Of The Brothers Grimm" | The New Republic

The Storytellers

Anne Anderson's "Snow White and the Seven Dwarves"

The Grimm Reader: The Classic Tales of the Brothers Grimm

translated and edited by Maria Tatar

W.W. Norton & Company, 368 pp., $16.95

Year after year, we print and re-print fairy tales. What is it that makes them valuable? Should we keep telling them, and if so, why? What about their detractors, the self-appointed child protectors who complain about their violence and cruelty, not to mention a different set of worriers who protest their “false” happy endings? And surely the tales do not teach morality. Remember the egregious brutality of that spoiled princess in The Frog King who, after hurling the little animal who helped her against the wall, gets rewarded. And we quail at even a mention of The Jew in the Brambles, an outrageous portrayal of barbarism and prejudice, which, in Maria Tatar’s new selection of the Grimm fairy tales, wisely appears only in a separate section marked for adults. 

via tnr.com

See link for the rest.

Matters of life and death – Prospect Magazine

Matters of life and death

  7th October 2010  —  Issue 175 Free entry
Interest in “trolleyology”—a way of studying moral quandaries—has taken off in recent years. Some philosophers say it sheds useful light on human behaviour, others see it as a pointless pursuit of the unknowable

The “trolley problem” thought experiment is designed to test our moral intuitions

A shocking memo leaked to Prospect, drafted by civil servants from the treasury and the department of health, exposes the stark reality of future cutbacks. Harsh decisions are inevitable, says the memo; in one NHS trust people on life-support systems are to be “finished off” on 1st November—either by smothering, or by having the plugs pulled out. Their organs are then to be used to save the lives of others on transplant-waiting lists, who have themselves become a considerable burden to the taxpayer. The total saving to the trust is estimated at £2.3m a year.

Hogwash, of course. But the government will make some tough choices in its spending review on 20th October, and these will cost lives. Whether “efficiencies” are made in the department of transport, the military or the NHS, there will be victims, even if they are unidentifiable. Governments always have to prioritise—choosing, for example, between a cheap medicine which benefits few people a little, and an expensive one which benefits many people a lot. But in hard financial times, such predicaments become more acute.

Moral philosophers have long debated under what circumstances it is acceptable to kill and why, for example, we object to killing a patient for their organs, but not to a distribution of resources that funds some drugs rather than others. To understand the debate you need to understand the trolley problem. It was conceived decades ago by two grande dames of philosophy: Philippa Foot of Oxford University (click here to read more about Foot) and Judith Jarvis Thomson of MIT. The core problem involves two thought experiments—call the first “Spur” and the second “Fat Man.”

In Spur, (see diagram one, below), an out-of-control trolley—or train—is hurtling towards five people on the track, who face certain death. You are nearby and, by turning a switch, could send the trolley onto a spur and save their lives. But one man is chained to the spur and would be killed if the trolley is diverted. Should you flick the switch?

In Fat Man (see diagram two), the same trolley is about to kill five people. This time, you are on a footbridge overlooking the track, next to a fat man. (The Fat Man is now sometimes described as a large gentleman. But fat or large, the fact of his corpulence is essential.) If you were to push him off the bridge onto the track his bulk would stop the trolley and save the lives of those five people—but kill him. Do you push him?

Study after study has shown that people will sacrifice the spur man but not the fat man. Yet in both cases, one person is killed to save five others. What, then, is the relevant ethical distinction between them? This question has spawned a thriving academic mini-industry, called trolleyology.

See link for the rest,,,,

C. S. Lewis: Of all tyrannies

Of all tyrannies, a tyranny sincerely exercised for the good of its victims may be the most oppressive. It would be better to live under robber barons than under omnipotent moral busybodies. The robber baron's cruelty may sometimes sleep, his cupidity may at some point be satiated; but those who torment us for our own good will torment us without end for they do so with the approval of their own conscience.
C. S. Lewis


What Rough Beast?

The news is gloomy.  Our national debt is greater than we think. Our populations are regressing to fatalism and dependency . Some of us have lost those exceptional qualities and virtues that made America such a success.  But now we are in decline. We are losing our will to play a leading part in the world. Unemployment and a distorted market seem to be our fate.

The decline will mean a weakened dollar, higher taxes, less innovation, but more social welfare programs. The free and independent citizen morphs into a cllient of the state. Housing, food, education, healthcare, elder care--all the needs once nurtured by the family are to be managed by the state. And as our domestic need grows ever, our ability to spend abroad declines and with that our influence in the world.  Mark Stein points to the cases of England and France.  Each was the center of an empire and defined civilization, yet within eighty to a hundred years each was an empty shell living off its former strength--and, not incidentally, each protected in its decline by the Americans.

Now it is America's turn to decline, some say. Even the President of the United States thinks American exceptionalism is mostly myth.  We are all the same, under the skin.It's time for us to get off our high horses and join the community of nations. Such thinking, say the doomsters, is itself a sign of the decline.

But what follows if the doomsday scenario comes to pass?  Will the new world order post-
America preserve anything of what made America exceptional? Or will that exceptionalism prove ephemeral or even illusory, as some seem to believe?  Will we end up like Athens and Rome--glorious for a time but utterly vanished (except for cultural influenes) and in utter ruin?

Connecting the Dots: Back to Literature

There's not much a person can do to make grammar exciting to a student so I am also excited about lit also.

This from a teacher. Not, "It is hard to convey how fascinating grammar is to some students' but "it is hard to make the subject of grammar, which bores me, into something of interest to my students." If he would stop pandering--wasting time with silly movies for example--maybe there would be a chance. He could use the wonderful O Brother Where Art Thou? instead of Troy. 

But I am being too harsh. The poor guy is rowing against the tide. And he is no different than the men who taught me in high school so long ago.  So few of them seemed to really enjoy what he taught.

MLA's Open Letter to Arizona Governor

There is no rational basis for making language ability an indicator of an individual’s citizenship or residency status.
via mla.org

That sentence appears in an open letter issued by the Moderrn Language Association (MLA)  to the Governor of Arizona in protest of the law passed by its legislature requiring law enforcement officers to check the residency status of anyone they lawfully stop for other reasons whose residency status the officer has reason to doubt.  The Supreme Court has already held that an officer who stopped a car full of people in the early morning and found that none could speak English and none had legal ID was within his rights in taking them to the Federal Immigration Center, where they were found to be "undocumented" (some say, "illegal aliens.')

"There is no rational basis" is a huge claim to defend. Why not claim instead that there is merely insufficient reational basis?  That while there may be SOME reason to think that people who cannot speak English may be foreigners and therefore may be undocumented, the preponderance of reason is on the other side, Surely, a skillful reasoner will defend the easier to defend proposition. But not the MLA. Instead, they make a demonstrably false claim. The reason for the blunder is that they want to influence a court: "no rational basis" is a legal term from Constitutional law. The Constitution of the United States holds that states may not discriminate against particular groups or individuals when there is no rational basis for doing so. Conversely, a rational basis will allow some laws to stand. States can and do discriminate against prostitutes, since it is rational to want to limit the spread of sexually transmitted diseases.  The MLA wants to go on record as supporting the claim that Arizona had no rational basis "for making language ability an indicator of ... residency status." We could all agree that it would not make sense for language to be the sole indicator. But that is not what the MLA claims. They claim it cannot be an indicator at all. Contra Arizona, the MLA contends that one ought not to think a question of legal status is raised because of language and accent--even when taken together with other evidence.

Would a rational being doubt the proposition that if we wish to pressure illegal immigrants to return to their country of origin--nothing stops them from applying for citizenship--we must first find them? And while the ideal of the MLA is lovely--the law cannot even SUSPECT me just because I can't speak English and have no means of identifying myself--it remains true that we ALL get inconvenienced by the law from time to time. Arizona believes taht the rational basis test is well met when one considers the problems Arizona is trying to solve.

Is the MLA a scholarly organization or a political activist group? Nowadays the question may not even make sense to some.