Saturday, 21 April 2018

BBC Young Musicians at the Proms Launch



Here, in the pink thanks partly to the lighting, are two pianists from among past winners: Lara Melda (2010's victor, then known as Lara Ömeroğlu) and Martin James Bartlett, 17 when he took first prize along with saxophonist Alexander Bone in 2014. Perhaps the one significant step forward for the BBC Proms this summer is to bring together 21 Young Musicians of the Year (as they were formerly called) in a single concert, marking the event's 40th anniversary. Lara and Martin will be repeating their tour de force, featured first time round with the Aurora Orchestra, as specimens in the 'grand zoological fantasy' of Saint-Saëns' Carnival of the Animals, always a delight. Who'll play the Swan? Sheku Kanneh-Mason or one of the other three cellists represented, including Sheku's mentor Guy Johnston?


The reception had a special setting this year, after many sweltering gatherings in the Amaryllis Fleming Concert Hall of the Royal College of Music - the Imperial War Museum, looking less grim and Bedlamish than usual on a day of summer-in-spring. My photos of the gathering were taken before and after the great throng, from which you'll gather I lasted the duration.


The reason for the location was the Proms' commemorating the centenary of the last year of the First World War. The theme reminded me that my paternal grandfather's reconnaissance mission at the Front took place on 7 April 1918 in Fampoux Field to the east of Athies, 100 years ago this month. As related in the History of the 5th Dragoon Guards published by Blackwood in 1924 in my first entry on Captain George Nice - and it seems apt to repeat it here -

Second Lieutenant Nice of A Squadron was afterwards awarded the Croix de Guerre for his gallantry in reconnoitring under heavy rifle and machine gun fire to try and find a route for the regiment to make a further advance in the direction of Greenland Hill.

1918 was also the year in which Parry completed his richest choral music, the Songs of Farewell. At the launch the BBC Singers gave a very nuanced performance, stilling the party crowd, of 'My soul, there is a country,' the only one of the set I know, from All Saints Banstead days*; I came to marvel at the rest when working on a talk for Tim Reader and his Epiphoni Consort, who sang a selection. Sakari Oramo will conduct the entire set - and I think they do need to be heard in one concert, if not necessarily all together at once - in a Cadogan Hall Prom on 20 August.


Looking through the Proms prospectus - our usual pleasure in revelation at the pre-event gathering with David Pickard and Alan Davey was pre-empted by the untimely morning announcement of the whole lot - the Cadogan events strike me as much the most enticing in terms of repertoire. There aren't many great surprises in the rest, though DP made the very good point that what looks ordinary on paper can be transfigured by the unpredictable magic of the Albert Hall (conversely, it can let some pieces down). And there will be thousands who've never heard Shostakovich 4 before - it has to be worth it from Nelsons and the Boston Symphony.

To my surprise Bernstein's MASS isn't on the cards, a Proms piece if ever there was one - though I've had my vision to last the next five years. West Side Story (complete in concert for the first time) and On the Town are, under the peerless-in-that-rep baton of John Wilson.

Cue my chat with Martin and Lara (I knew the former a bit from his Southrepps recital and trio performance). MJB's quirky imagination revealed itself when we were chatting about Bernstein, I told him how, courtesy of my then editor at The Guardian Ted Greenfield, I shook the great man's hand at a recording session for Candide before he (MJB) was born, and he said that Lenny was the person he'd most like to have met. But then he thought about it and commented that probably you'd have the man's entire attention for five minutes and he would be charming, and then switch it off. Like Ripley.



I did a double-take. Yes, Patricia Highsmith's Talented Mr Ripley as immortalised cinematically in Plein Soleil, which MJB hadn't seen, and Minghella's beautifully filmed, scary and poignant masterpiece, which he had (Matt Damon's Ripley pictured above), and we talked about it, and told Lara she had to see it.

Well, it was a grand evening, and though I sometimes dread the thought of chit-chat, there were so many welcome faces, some of whom I asked along to the Europe Day Concert. Several key folk will be involved in that whom I met at the fabulous Pärnu Music Festival, which is a roundabout way for me to close in saying that the orchestra I'm most looking forward to seeing at the Proms, following the usual heavenly (we hope) week, will be the Estonian Festival Orchestra under Paavo Järvi (a chat with David Pickard at the Multi-Story Orchestra Prom last year encouraged that set-up, I'm told). Here the 2016 vintage is on the beach at Pärnu, a typically wonderful shot by the great Kaupo Kikkas.


 Only connect: they'll be opening with Arvo Pärt's Third Symphony, the UK premiere of which father Neeme conducted with the Gothenburg Symphony Orchestra at the Proms in 1989 - an event which led to my first ever visit to Estonia a few weeks later. Terviseks (Estonian for Cheers!) to all those Järvis!

*RIP Choirmaster DAH/David Harding. I can't say much more except that he was the most inspirational figure in my musical education.

Sunday, 15 April 2018

Elegy for Paula



To the world that knows her - and it's not nearly large enough - she is Paula Modersohn-Becker, born in 1876, died untimely in 1907 shortly after the difficult birth of her second daughter. In February of the previous year she did what, thanks to Ibsen, we call 'a Nora' and left her husband, Otto Modersohn, also an artist but a much more conventional one, for a far from secure life in the Paris she already knew and loved. She wrote to him from there on 9 April 1906:

How much I have loved you...I cannot come to you now, I can't do it. I don't want to meet you anywhere else, either. There is much that was yours, that was a part of me that has now left me. I have to wait and see whether it returns, or something else takes its place.


According to Marie Darrieussecq in one of the most simply poetic and elusive biographies I know, she didn't know how to sign off to the old friend whose help she needed, Rainer Maria Rilke:

I'm not Modersohn and I'm not Paula Becker anymore either.
I am
Me,
And I hope to become Me more and more.

How much of that 'more' we should have known, had she not slept with her husband while he came on a mission to Paris to win her back; he seems to have succeeded, for she wrote to her best friend Clara Westhoff, briefly Rilke's wife, as she was leaving, 'The main thing now is peace and quiet for my work, and I have that most of the time when I am at Otto Modersohn's side'. She conceived a second time, with fatal consequences - as Darrieussecq notes with horror, 'to die at thirty-one with her work still ahead, and an eighteen-day-old baby'. Darrieussecq tells us she was led to PMB by this image, the first totally 'real' one she'd seen of a breastfeeding mother.


The artist's last word as she fell to the ground, apparently, was 'Schade' - 'a pity'. 'I have written this little biography,' writes Darrieussecq

because of this final word. Because it was a pity. Because I miss this woman I never knew. Because I would have liked her to live. I want to show her paintings, speak about her life. I want to bring her being-there [the motto taken from the seventh of Rilke's Duino Elegies, 'Hiersein ist herrlich', 'Being here is marvellous'], splendour.

Nevertheless we have an amazing output from 1900 to 1907, mostly self-portraits and scenes from the lives PMB knew. She painted birch trees and locals in the artistic community of Worpswede where she lived with her husband


and some consummate still lifes.



Her place in history as well as art (more important, of course) is assured by the fact that she was the first woman, that we know of at least, to paint herself naked and pregnant (at a time, curiously, when she was not in fact expectant). Fortunately that groundbreaker also happens to be a remarkable work of art, illustrated on the cover of Darrieussecq's book, and having pride of place in the splendid museum where I picked up Penny Hueston's English translation to read on the plane back from Bremen. The context was a magical trip with the 150th anniversary performance of Brahms's Ein Deutsches Requiem from Paavo Järvi, the Deutsche Kammerphilharmonie Bremen and the Latvian State Choir as centrepiece. More about that on The Arts Desk tomorrow.


The Museum is part of an amazing complex assembled by Ludwig Roselius, pioneer of decaffeinated coffee (Kaffee HAG is still a name, of course). Having purchased a fine old Dutch-style renaissance house in  Böttcherstraße, a narrow street leading south just off the overwhelmingly beautiful main square in Bremen,


between 1922 and 1931 he enlisted Bernard Hoetger as artistic supervisor to restore the decaying 'street of coopers', nearly derelict since the relocation of Bremen's harbour (to Bremerhaven at the mouth of the River Weser, also to fall out of use in time). The right side of the street as you walk down from the Marktplatz towards the Weser remains in traditional style; the left uses the same brick, but in an independent version of Expressionism. What most guides don't tell you is that Hoetger's bold relief above the entrance, showing St Michael slaying the dragon,


was supposed to celebrate 'the victory of our Führer over the powers of darkness'. Both Hoetger and Roselius were ardent would-be Nazis, kept outside the party because of their support of 'Degenerate Art'. Modersohn-Becker never lived to experience the horror, but she had the highest compliment paid to her work by Hitler's rabble when two of her works were displayed in the Entartete Kunst exhibition and described in terms of which she would have been proud, or which she would have laughed to scorn:

Her vision is so lacking in femininity and so vulgar...Her work is an insult to German women and to our farming culture...Where is the sensitivity, the essence of the feminine-maternal spirit?...A revolting mixture of colours, of idiotic figures signifying farmers, of sick children, degenerates, the dregs of humanity.


Conventional Otto didn't think much more of her work in the early 1900s: 'The expression! Hands like spoons, noses like cobs, mouths like wounds, faces like cretins. She lays it on too thick...A great gift for colour - but unpainterly and harsh'. Hoetger dishonoured her after death in Worpswede with what Darrieussecq calls a 'horrible' monument, the overwrought, pious opposite of what she herself had imagined (a black wooden tablet with her name, no dates, around it a trellis of roses, in front of it two juniper trees). Rilke, whose lover she (uniquely) never was, yet who clearly loved her, and whom she painted,


memorialised her in his 'Requiem', but does not name her for posterity. Yet there is the Paula Modersohn-Becker Museum, the first ever dedicated to a woman artist, a house of irregular shapes and fascination without and within



abutting the Roselius Museum


which by contrast is a shrine to Medieval and Renaissance art,


not without modernist touches in its skylights


but otherwise a world apart. Its finest nook is perhaps the Gothic quasi-chapel


at the other end of which is a superb Pietà by Tilman Riemenschneider.



The Nazis destroyed 70 of Modersohn-Becker's paintings; but still the street was listed as an architectural monument on 7 May 1937, albeit as an 'example of the degenerate art of the Weimar Period'. Bombed in 1944 - 60 per cent of Dresden was destroyed in raids - its buildings were restored to something like their original appearance by 1954, thanks to the ongoing fortunes of Kaffee HAG. Sparkasse Bremen bought the street in 1989 and undertook another major restoration, completed a decade later.


There are fine new adornments, like Jenny Holzer's LED-installation homage For Paula Modersohn-Becker in the splendid staircase.


And, whatever its vicissitudes, I can't think of a more beautiful gallery for 20th century art. There was also an impressive temporary exhibition rediscovering the works of Josef Scharl (1896-1954), Between Two Worlds - Munich and New York, Expressionism and Neue Sachlichkeit.


Historically the most fascinating of his large-scale works is Blind Beggar in a Cafe. Among the cafe habitues are Lenin and Stresemann; the beggars include the faces of Scharl himself, Van Gogh and Gauguin, being sent out by a waiter who's clearly intended to be Hitler himself, well known in Munich at the time the picture was painted.


Scharl represented his disgust at the events of 1933 obliquely with an apocalyptic painting of Burning Stars, the battered body of Pietà,


 Three Mourning Women and  Slaughtered Lamb.


Having refused to join the Nazi Party, he left Germany for America in 1938. The works of the later years have integrity, but not the same urgency. At least in this exhibition partial amends are made for Roselius's complicity; but the great survivor remains 'Paula'.

Saturday, 14 April 2018

Haitink tops the BBC Music Magazine Awards



Semyon Bychkov's Vienna Philharmonic recording of Franz Schmidt's Second Symphony was the one I hoped the public would choose from our choice of three orchestral discs, if only to encourage record companies to take risks in big orchestral repertoire; and then either that or Sean Shibe's English guitar music CD, most persuasive playing I've ever heard on that instrument, as CD of the Year. But I'm still very pleased that Haitink's fourth Mahler Three on disc with the gorgeous-toned Bavarian Radio Symphony Orchestra was the ultimate choice - especially since news about it just preceded my visit to Lucerne to hear the 89-year-old BH - nb not 'Sir Bernard' nor 'Maestro Haitink', he rejects both - giving his eighth year of conducting masterclasses.


I was only able to attend the last of three six-hour days, but I still count it as one of the key experiences of my life to set alongside Abbado's Mahler in Lucerne, and I try to get to grips with it on The Arts Desk. Above: Haitink with perhaps the most assured of the eight young conductors on the course, Vitali Alekseenok, photographed (like Jansons below) by Peter Fischli.


That has enriched the piece I've written on Haitink to coincide with the Awards issue of BBCMM due out shortly. So, too, did the fact that I also caught the Bavarians in Lucerne with Mariss  Jansons, and talked to the young Swiss co-principal cellist of the orchestra, Lionel Cottet, about the Haitink Mahler 3 just before the performance (there he is among the players on the left in the ensuing Beethoven Mass in C, a first for me in concert, and it flowed beautifully with a fine choir and four excellent soloists). I also spent 15 engaging minutes on the phone with leader/concertmaster Radoslaw Szulc, and wasn't able to use as much of what he told me in the short final piece as I'd have liked - his eulogy, for instance, to Martin Engerer, superlative soloist in the Hummel Trumpet Concerto at the first of the two Lucerne concerts - pictured with Jansons below - and the one-of-a-kind posthorn he used (not a flugelhorn) in the Mahler.


Must say that though only one of my personal favourites won its chosen category - Bram van Sambeek's Aho and Fagerlund works for bassoon and orchestra (van Sambeek's little film with phrases of the Fagerlund was a delight, while legendary Robert von Bahr of BIS was on hand to praise the Lahti Symphony Orchestra) - I was delighted with very nearly all the choices. Of the trophy-receivers below, Bertrand Chamayou, pictured in the front below (all Awards ceremony photos by Johnny Millar),


gave a live performance of Debussy's 'Clair de Lune, Fenella Humphreys chose an odd pair of pieces and most promising newcomer Julien Brocal played some of Mompou's variations on Chopin's A major Prelude. Can't say they sounded to me like much more than slightly ungainly improvisations on a piece whose charm is its simplicity, but I do love the disc, pushing for it wholeheartedly at the jury session, and I had a fascinating conversation with Julien after the ceremony.


Like the best of his generation (he's just turned 30), he is supportive of his colleagues, speaking very enthusiastically about Roman Rabinovich when I told him of hearing RR play three historic keyboards at Hatchlands, and a very thoughtful as well as friendly fellow. His brand new disc of Ravel and rather more enigmatic Mompou offers a rainbow of pianistic colours and subtleties.

The ceremony at my favourite London venue, Kings Place, was a model of its kind, just the right length. BBCMM Editor Olly Condy set it up engagingly, and regular James Naughtie emanated wry naturalness as usual. There were essential speeches from Lionel Meunier of Vox Luminis, winning the Best Choral award for the beautifully-presented Luther tribute, and the witty-in-English manager of the Bavarian RSO Nikolaus Pont. Nicholas Daniel and Harriet Harman - pictured up top with Olly and BR Klassik co-founder Stefan Piendl - made a special plea for music education in the UK (watch this space). Non-irritant good humour came from Anneke Rice and Vikki Stone, pictured below with Olly and Chamayou.


It become apparent that we seemed to favour Frenchmen, something we certainly weren't aware of at the time of the judging, but they all deserved their success, and if the whole thing has the intended effect of encouraging the classical recording industry to carry on its chosen path of the rich and rare, of doing what seems artistically worthwhile at whatever cost rather than simply trying to make money (nice if that happens too), then it's done its bit.

Thursday, 5 April 2018

Bach and Dante over Easter



The Bach cantata pilgrimage with Rilling and company came to a halt over Lent, for obvious reasons. And since the only Palm Sunday cantata, BWV 182, was among the last I reached in my 2013 attempt to make a whole year of cantatas, Easter weekend marked the pick-up point. First, though, an essential Passion for Good Friday, since this year I didn't get to hear one live (the nearest I came was the unforgettable Lucerne staging of Schumann's Scenes from Faust). I have the Britten set of the St John on LP, unheard until now, with its bold reproduction of Graham Sutherland's Northampton Crucifixion on the cover, and it proved a very moving listening experience.

Having started with another boxed set I picked up recently in a quest to try and take unfashionable large-scale Bach seriously, Karajan's St Matthew Passion, and given up when faced with the sludge and the dim sound - back that goes to another charity shop - Britten's is a whole new world of biting passion and inscaped sadness. It's sung in English, with Peter Pears having worked on the recitatives and Imogen Holst collaborating on the rest; Colin Matthews writes briefly but eloquently on the changes in an essential booklet note. And I've been reading Imogen H on Britten and Byrd recently; what a superb clarifier she was (pictured below with Britten and Pears in the Red House garden).


Pears's burning delivery - the famous setting of Peter's weeping is as searing as any - makes it work. And there's plenty of thrust in the meaning from the Wandsworth School Boys' Choir - really, no extra voices? - and the superb soloists. John Shirley-Quirk helps realise Britten's special spirituality in the last bass aria with chorale, and Alfreda Hodgson is peerless in both Parts, much abetted by the English Chamber Orchestra oboes in No. 11. A great mezzo, easily the equal of Janet Baker and yet so overlooked by comparison.


Later I turned to another LP box I picked up recently, Britten's 'new concert version' of Purcell's music for The Fairy Queen, in which Hodgson sings Mopsa to Pears's Corydon (no all-male bad camp here, then, but plenty of esprit). Again, the stylishness and engagement leap out over a distance of 45 years, and I like what Britten does with the messy hybrid better than any other version. I've now ordered up his Schumann Faust-Szenen with Fischer-Dieskau as a third LP set to make a handsome trilogy.


Easter Day, Monday and Tuesday brought with them new cantatas to hear, so finally it was back to Rilling. 'Der Himmel lacht! Die Erde jubilieret,' BWV 31, was composed by the 30-year old Bach for Weimar - the size of it suggests the original venue as not the court chapel but the main parish church known as the Herderkirche where we were lucky to attend an Easter Sunday service back in 2015, looking on the splendid Cranach altarpiece -


and probably reused in Leipzig. Gardiner suggests a parallel between the five-part chorus and the Gloria of the B minor Mass, down to the slowing of tempo and rest for the brass in the middle. It's exactly what one would expect for a 'Christ is risen' Cantata, though the ensuing recits are perhaps more striking in their word-painting than the bravura arias. There's a sublime trumpet descant to the final chorale.

Our Easter Sunday anthem this year, by the way, was Hadley's 'My beloved spake,' which we all used to love in the choir of All Saints Banstead - I realise it also enable me to recite this bit of the Song of Solomon - and which was sung on Sunday by the choir of St Paul's Cathedral. So we went there through the drear and heard the music only from a great distance, among masses of tourists. Still, Hadley's juicy harmonic shifts and two big blazes made their mark. I'm hoping close friends Juliette and Rory will choose it for their wedding this summer.


Most fascinating on the Bach front is the extreme contrast between the Easter Day jubilation and the inwardness of 'Bleib bei uns, denn es will Abend werden,' BWV 6, composed for 1725's Easter Monday in Leipzig. The comparison here in the opening chorus is even more marked, with the bittersweet genius of 'Ruht wohl' at the end of the St John Passion, C minor key and sarabande movement included.


How wonderful the harmonies of the two oboes and oboe da caccia and the power of the chorus in Rilling's superlative performance; likewise the oboe da caccia's solo in counterpoint with mezzo Carolyn Watkinson, a singer I always liked and who appears in the Rilling Bach cantatas for the first time, and the piccolo cello against Edith Wiens (another unexpected name in the set) singing the central chorale. Profound music throughout in a great performance.


Gardiner is a thoughtful commentator again; he compares the contrast between the absence of Christ in a light-diminished world and a holding on to Word and sacrament, a contrast between dark and bright, with Caravaggio's first representation of the Supper at Emmaus, pictured above; it made me look up the second, where Christ has a beard.


Still, although it's less pertinent here (daylight is preferred to the night setting), Titian's representation, often overlooked in the Louvre because it hangs opposite Leonardo's Mona Lisa and currently in the stunning Charles I exhibition at the Royal Academy, is the one closest to my heart. Such gorgeous coloured silks, such an amazing composition.


Easter Tuesday's cantata is a little satyr-play by comparison with the Big Ones; it seems that a Telemann opening chorus was added, probably in performances after Bach's death. 'Ich lebe, mein Herze, zu deinem Ergötzen,' BWV 145, putatively reworks secular numbers lost to us. It dances its nine-minute way in a delicious opening duet with solo violin and a tenor aria with trumpet solo. A concert of all three cantatas would be as good a demonstration as any of Bach's phenomenal emotional range.

Dante's encyclopaedic frame of reference, in the meantime, continues to stun. Frail follower that I am, I missed the climactic Warburg class on Purgatorio, in which I'm told Dr Alessandro Scafi read Dante's meeting with Beatrice in the Garden of Eden with special tenderness; I'd only just back from Lucerne last Monday, and the extra half hour I'd promised the Opera in Depth students so that we could see the second and third acts of From the House of the Dead in Chéreau's production ran over; a furious pedal from Paddington to Bloomsbury would still have made me miss at least ten minutes of the class.


Anyway I shall reach the top of Purgatory Mountain under my own steam, and meanwhile I've had time to reflect on what my dual-language Dante edition calls 'the great expositions of doctrine at the centre of the Purgatorio'. That therefore means at the centre of the entire Divina Commedia. They appear in Cantos 15-18, and in our first class on the second instalment of the mighty work, Dr. Scafi and Professor Took chose three key passges from two of these Cantos. I'm going to gloze superficially in order, starting most skimmingly with the sharing of heavenly goods, which Dante adapts from Gregory the Great. Earthly ones, according to Dante's Virgil, cannot be shared without a lessening for each sharer; our democratic societies with their libraries, museums and hospitals, albeit under threat, would deny that, as translator Robert Durling points out.


Nevertheless the sharing in Purgatory which began in Canto 2 with the communal hymn in the boat bearing Dante's beloved composer Casella and others is one of the loveliest things about this second book after the total solipsism of the characters in hell. The language strikes me as especially beautiful in these central Cantos, so I'm going to quote at well with Durling's literal translation to follow.

     ...per quanti si dice più li 'nostro',
tanto possiede più di ben ciascuno,
e più di caritate arde in quel chiostro.

For the more say 'our' up there, the more good each one possesses, and the more charity burns in that cloister (15,  55-7).

    Quello infinito e ineffabil Bene
che la su è, così corre ad amore
com' a lucido corpo raggio vène.

That infinite and ineffable Good which is up there runs to love just as a ray comes to a shining body. (15, 67-9).

     E quanta gente più s'intende.
piu v'è da bene amare, e piu si v'ama,
e come specchio l'uno a l'altra rende. 

And the more people bend toward each other up there, the more there is to love well and the more love there is, and, like a mirror, each reflects it to the other. (15, 73-5)

Well, we can at least aspire to that down here, can't we? 'We must love one another and die'.


By the way, I'm typing out the Italian in the hope that I can memorise more here, as I have of three-line segments of the Inferno. I don't really know where to start or end in Marco Lombardo's explanation of the relationship between fate/the stars and free will in Canto 16 (the soul trying to cleanse himself in the murk is illustrated by Doré above). But I'll try to keep it down. This is the beginning of Marco's exposition to Dante.

     Alto sospir, che duolo strinse in 'uhi!'
mise fuor prima; e poi cominciò: 'Frate,
lo mondo è cieco, e tu vien ben da lui.
     Voi che vivete ogne cagion recate
pur suso al cielo, pur come se tutto
movesse seco di necessitate.
     Se così fosse, in voi fura distutto
libero arbitrio, e non fora giustizia
per ben letizia, e per male aver lutto.

A deep sigh, which sorrow dragged out into 'uhi!', he uttered first, and then began: 'Brother, the world is blind, and you surely come from there. You who are alive still refer every cause up to the heavens, just as if they moved everything with them by necessity. If that were so, free choice would be destroyed in you, and it would not be just to have joy for good and mourning for evil. (16, 64-72)

'Lume v'è dato a bene e a malizia,' 'a light is given you to know good and evil,' Marco continues, tracing the origins with a lovely image which follows the feminine gender of 'anima',

     Esce di mano a lui che la vagheggia
prima che sia, a guisa di fanciulla
che piangendo e ridendo pargoleggia,
     l'anima semplicetta, che sa nulla,
salvo che, mosso da lieto fattore,
volontier torna a ciò che la trastulla.
     Di picciol bene in pria sente sapore;
quivi s'inganna, e dietro ad esso corre
se guida o fren non torce suo amore.

From the hand of him who desires it before it exists, like a little girl who weeps and laughs childishly, the simple little soul comes forth, knowing nothing except that, set in motion by a happy Maker, it gladly turns to what amuses it. Of some lesser good it first tastes the flavour; there it is deceived and runs after it, if a guide or rein does not turn away its love. (16, 85-93)


This is a fine amendment of Augustine's concept of original sin: Dante is telling us that human nature as such is not corrupt, but simply makes bad choices (by the way, God, please send me a Virgil who looks like Hippolyte Flandrin's above). No wonder Dante wanted to reinforce and expand on Marco's words with Virgil's in Cantos 17 and 18. Although the language is drier, more theoretical, I love these lines:

     'Né creator né creatura mai,'
comincio el, 'figliuol, fu sanza amore,
o naturale o d'animo, e tu 'l sai. 
     Lo natural è sempre sanza errore,
ma l'altro puote errar per male obietto
o per troppo o per poco di vigore.

'Neither Creator nor creature ever,' he began, 'son, has been without love, whether natural or of the mind, and this you know. Natural love is always unerring, but the other can err with an evil object or with too much or too little vigour.  (17, 91-6).

More on love natural and elective, with further subdivisions, is to be found in the continuation of Virgil's observations in Canto 19, but this is probably more than enough to try and digest for now. Mighty Dante - intellect and poetry perfectly conjoined to make independent thought that is anything but simplistically moralising.