Day 25: Friday
Good morning Zak,
At the moment, I’m working on several musical compositions that set various poems from the dolce stil novo, a movement in Renaissance Italian poetry. Despite their antiquity, the poems are surprisingly resonant with contemporary sensibilities, and paradoxically I feel they are some of the most apropos texts I could have found to set at the present moment.
La dolce vista e ‘l bel guardo soave
In these compositions I am fixated on the expression of light and the universality of light and of the juxtaposition between darkness and light. I am structuring the texts in a metaphorical “tonal space” in a way that reflects my symbolist reading.
Ciò ch’i veggio di qua m’è mortal duolo
These illustrations are what I call “concept scores.” They are similar in function to graphical scores, except that they attempt to capture the overall poetic vision of the piece and not the music itself. The actual scores are written in conventional notation.
Although I don’t really know what I’m doing when it comes to visual art, I’ve found concept scores to be useful to me in several ways. In the case of these compositions, the main benefit of incorporating a visual medium is that it allows me to articulate my vision of light and spacial symbolism more concretely.
Li occhi dolenti per pietà del core
It’s hard to really capture the lyricism of the Italian poetry in translation. But just to give you a rough sense, I’ll try to translate a small passage from this last poem, which is by Dante Alighieri.
Beatrice has betaken herself to heaven,
on high in that dominion where angels are at peace,
and you, O ladies, are left bereft of her.
'Twas not the quality of chill nor fever
that brought her there, as many others falter,
but her benignity alone deprived us so;
for Light of her humility and lowliness
has pierced the very heavens with such virtue
that the Immortal Master is made to marvel—
such that sweet desire
obliges him to bid untimely salvation.
Dante’s Italian is an example of a kunstsprache, or “art language.” It is a purely literary language that cherry picks elements from different spoken dialects. It would have been very awkward and impractical to use in everyday speech, and I feel this justifies a stylized use of English when translating.
Maybe once some of these are performed I’ll share the recordings as well. We’ll see how the singers and instrumentalists feel.