5 January 2011

"Where were you when ...?"

Charles Ryder remarks
"Since the days when, as a schoolboy, I used to bicycle round the neighbouring parishes, rubbing brasses and photographing fonts, I had nursed a love of architecture, but ... my sentiments at heart were insular and medieval. [Brideshead] was my conversion to the Baroque. Here, under that high and insolent dome, under those coffered ceilings; here, as I passed through those arches and broken pediments to the pillared shade beyond and sat [drawing], hour by hour, before the fountain, probing its shadows, tracing its lingering echoes, rejoicing in all its clustered feats of daring and invention, I felt a whole new system of nerves alive within me, as though the water that spurted and bubbled among its stones, was indeed a life-giving spring."

Where were you when you first were struck dumb and breathless at the wonder of the baroque? In my case, it was walking along the riverside at Greenwich, when we got to the water-steps and I turned to look through the gates and up the hill between the Hall and Chapel to the Queen's House. Mind you, I had met the rococo before I even entered my teens, in Bavaria and the Tyrol, where, to my childish eyes, every little village church was a magical wonderland.

Paradoxically, it was among the Gothic perfections of Lancing that I first really understood the baroque. A little of this was the everyday experience of handling it: saying a Latin Mass (OF in those days, I'm afraid) before a crucifix, Bavarian, 1620s, ebony and silver, using an early baroque portuguese chalice crawling with putti. But mostly, it was reading Ovid's Metamorphoses with the VI form. That is how I first plunged into the spirit of the baroque; its never-failing inventiveness, its exuberant fun, its intriguing intertextualities, its antitheses and syntheses, the way it offers you a permanent ticket to the country of exquisite delight. Above all, the baroque makes it easier, indeed very easy, to be an orthodox and Catholic Christian. Nobody who is formed by the baroque delight in paradox will have any difficulty believing that a Bethehem Bambino is God; or that the round white disk winking at us among the sunbeams of the monstrance is the Power that made the galaxies.

I shall probably delete killjoy comments from poor folk who have never had the Baroque Experience.

14 comments:

GCdS said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
GCdS said...

Church of the Gesù

robertotankerly said...

I suppose I'm lucky that my first experience of the baroque in person was THE baroque church--Il Gesú.

Maureen Lash said...

I suspect that Baroque is something that Protestantism does better than Catholicism.

Bach v. Vivaldi?
Dresden Frauenkirche v. Il Gesu?

Francois said...

Baroque is good in missions and in the world, for missionary purpose.But as an abiding expression of the Catholic, i doubt it is appropriate and for those who have taken monastic vows,even less so. Hence, while Melk and Sankt Gallen are perfect examples of this artistic movement, i can but wonder, precisely, at the paradox of its juxtaposition with monastic communities. Can we attribute to the promotion and implementation of Baroque the widespread disappearance of chancel screens?

Recusant said...

Maureen

Possibly, but unlikely, as the Baroque developed as a direct consequence of the Counter-Reformation. I'm also not sure that you could strictly call Bach baroque.

Sue Sims said...

Well, musicians have been calling Bach and contemporaries 'baroque' for quite a long time!

My first experience - I was 14, staying with German friends who lived in a village near Ulm and took me to a concert of baroque (!) music in the pilgrimage church at Ottobeuren. I'm not sure I heard any of the music: I was too enchanted by the glories of the interior, and by the votive offerings left by pilgrims over the centuries - rather weird, many of them, especially to the eyes of a girl brought up by Jewish atheist Communist parents!

Fr John Hunwicke said...

Hello Sue. I wondered what had become of you. Hope you are all well.

1569 Rising said...

Father,

My daughter has the immense privilege of being the organist at the outstandingly beautiful Pilgrimage Church of Maria Kirchental, at St Martin bei Lofer, Austria.

Check it out:

www.maria-kirchental.at

Albertus said...

Having grown up in Roma, I prefer Vivaldi any day to Bach. I really don't remember my first memory of Baroque. I seem always to have known it. But of Rococo i do remember very well my firsts encoutner. It was the Basilica of Ottobeuren. I was eighteen years old, i believe, and was taken their by a distant relative who was a priest in Germany. My feeling upon entering the church was, that this is how Heaven must look! I was similarly impressed by Bavarian King Ludwig's Schloss Neuschwanstein, which i first saw a short while after Ottobeuren. Last year I visited for the first time Catherine the Great's own Rococo imitation of Versaille at Tsarskoje Selo and was likewise struck by its grandeur and beauty. Of course, Ottobeuren, being God's Palace, made the greatest impression upon me. :)

Священник села said...

To me, Baroque is liking eating rather too much marzipan.

Christopher said...

La Cartuja, Granada. The evening sun was streaming through the west window, and if the Carthusians hadn't left long ago I would have made my vows there and then.

CPKS said...

Recusant and Sue Sims are both right about "baroque" as applied to music. The baroque musical aesthetic (certainly in the case of JSB and his influences) had more in common perhaps with the architectural (neo-)Gothic. To my mind, the architectural and visual-artistic baroque aesthetic is more in tune with that of the early classical (Mannheim) period in music.

Nebuly said...

Lecce