Monday, June 29, 2020

Constantine and Christendom

Why is historically illiterate iconoclastic idiocy like this taken seriously at all? Because weak-willed lily-livered establishment nincompoops like that idiot Justin Welby ("some will have to come down"), who almost makes me ashamed to be an Anglican, give the radicals credibility they do not deserve. Not one monument of any church of the Church of England should come down. Not one. Certainly not this one, which I was thrilled to see in June 2015. Britain is not the USA and should not have allowed American insanity to gain ground there. Anyone who has a problem with traditional British heritage needs to not live in Britain, and make room for immigrants like me who would appreciate it. Decent patriotic British people whose heritage is under attack must not give one inch.

Update: apparently the Constantine statue is not actually under threat.

In general, classical Greek and Roman history is not my specialty. I respect it and those who are knowledgeable about it, but my passion is for the period between Charlemagne's coronation as (Holy) Roman Emperor (800) and the end of World War I (1918), which I like to call "Charles to Charles" (in the latter case referring to the last Emperor of Austria). Spanning 1118 years, that's quite a bit of history.

But Emperor Constantine the Great (272-337), who was proclaimed Emperor in 306 near the present site of York Minster and who is considered a Saint in the Orthodox Church (I bought an icon of him and his mother St. Helena at the Greek Festival a few years ago), is important to me, because if I'm honest I'd have to admit that without him, Christianity might not have ever become the sort of thing that a person like me would be interested in. I was drawn to Christianity more via the cultural patrimony of Christendom that his conversion made possible than via the Bible directly. So York's bronze statue, with its haunting echoes of the links between the old Roman Empire and the England that I love, is a particularly significant monument.

My June 2015 photo of the statue of Emperor Constantine at York Minster

Icon of Sts. Constantine & Helen purchased at the Dallas Greek Festival, Holy Trinity Greek Orthodox Church

Beethoven and the Future

As I prepare to record some Beethoven chamber music, I'm honestly even more terrified of the long-term impact on my profession of the current ideological climate than of that of the pandemic, as bad as the latter is. I became a professional musician because I love music that happens to have been written primarily by European men prior to about 1945, with a few later exceptions. That's what speaks to me. And I refuse to apologize for that. My brother tells me that he saw an alleged musician say online somewhere that everything from before 1945 should be "cancelled." I'm not capable of responding to such malignant idiocy in a calm and reasonable way and do not believe that statements like that even deserve a serious response.

It is commendable for living composers to try to create tonal music that people will like. But I believe there is a reason, though not necessarily an insurmountable one, why most fans of classical music connect more with music by long-dead composers. The European society of the 18th and 19th centuries (despite the sinister interruption of the French Revolution) when most of what we now call the standard repertoire was written was basically a healthier society than ours. I see the modern world as a fundamentally sick society so am not surprised that it doesn’t produce much new of value. The circumstances conducive to the creation of “Great” secular instrumental music didn’t really exist before c. 1600 either, so there’s no guarantee that they always will. All I ask at this point is that we be allowed to hang on to as much of the past as we can, rather like tending the remnants of what used to be a roaring fire 🔥 so that it doesn’t entirely burn out.
Even when liberals (often under attack from those even further to their Left) defend the legacies of pre-20th-century European culture that they personally like, they tend to so in an apologetic way that implicitly concedes something like, "yes, of course they were wrong about a bunch of stuff back then and our modern secular democratic egalitarian values are totally superior, but there were still some worthwhile achievements we can benefit from." But that's not what I believe. I believe that the values of the European past, when most of the music I love was composed, were in many ways superior, and that's why the music, art, literature, and architecture were better. And for those problems that did exist, the proper solution was always reform, never revolution.

Sunday, June 28, 2020

Saint Louis Under Attack

The Apotheosis of Saint Louis (1906), St. Louis, Missouri

I'm going to have to be careful what I say about this, as it makes me very angry. I think it will suffice for now to say that while I am an Episcopalian, if I lived in St. Louis I would have been there in solidarity with the Catholic defenders of the statue yesterday. Monarchists in the USA don't exactly have a lot of public monuments we can relate to, and this one is probably the best, and closest to my heart since my 2015 visit. Saint Louis, pray for us!

Here is another article. I left the following comment on the St. Louis Post-Dispatch Facebook page: "This diabolical campaign does not deserve any respect. King Saint Louis IX was a good man and a hero. I am an Episcopalian, but if I lived in St. Louis I would have been with the Catholics defending the statue. American monarchists like me have very few public monuments we can relate to and this one is the best and closest to my heart. This should not even be presented as a legitimate controversy. The statue's radical enemies seek only destruction and have nothing positive to contribute to society. How can anyone in St. Louis even contemplate the eradication of their city's French Catholic heritage and name? St. Louis had nothing to do with American racial problems and should not be associated with them. This movement displays gross historical ignorance and attempts to judge a 13th-century French king by modern politically correct standards. Virtually any medieval European Catholic would be considered "anti-Semitic" and "Islamophobic" by contemporary standards. That doesn't mean they can't or shouldn't be honored for the good things they did within the framework of the only society they knew. Shame on the St. Louis authorities for not making sure the statue was protected before yesterday."

Statement from the Archdiocese of St. Louis.

I just signed this petition and urge others to do the same. I've also ordered a miniature copy of the statue from the St. Louis Art Museum.

Saturday, June 27, 2020

Facebook censorship

This morning on Facebook I was suspended (no posting, commenting, or Liking/Reacting) for 24 hours simply for commenting on this photo of Prince Constantine in a Greek Royal Family group, "Greeks are idiots for rejecting their Royal Family. I don't understand it." Honestly, compared to everything that gets said on Facebook, including by me, I think that's pretty mild. I suppose I might have been OK if I'd said, more precisely, "those Greeks who reject their Royal Family are idiots." Still, this seems pretty heavy-handed to me. Be careful out there!

[Sunday update: on a lighter note, here are Princes Constantine and Achileas on guitar and drums.]

Wednesday, June 24, 2020

Statues and Consistency

I am broadly opposed to the vandalism and removal of statues of most historical figures. However, those of us who are on the preservationist side have to do better than simply insisting that "you can't erase history." The obvious response to that is that Adolf Hitler is undeniably an important figure in German history, yet Germany properly does not have statues of Hitler. And one would have to have a cold tankie heart indeed to condemn the toppling of statues of Lenin and other Communists at the end of the Cold War. "No statue of anybody should ever be removed" is as absurd a position as "Any statue that offends anybody should be removed." 

Critics of existing statues are correct to point out that a statue of a historical figure in a public place inherently implies not only that this person existed and had an impact on history, but also that it was an impact admirable in some ways and worthy of being honoured. Therefore, we have to be able to make distinctions between individuals who, though flawed (as we all are) and holding some opinions widely frowned on today, nevertheless accomplished good things by the prevailing standards of the society in which they lived and had a positive impact on their own community and country, and individuals with few or no redeeming qualities whose evil actions clearly violated moral principles with which they were or reasonably should have been familiar.

with the eponymous statue of King St. Louis IX of France (1214-1270) in St. Louis, Missouri, March 2015

Thursday, June 18, 2020

Masked Brahms

My June 13 performance of the Quintet in G Major Op. 111 by Johannes Brahms (1833-1897) with Dallas Symphony colleagues is now available online. I wore my Union Jack mask in honour of HM The Queen's official birthday. The Brahms starts at about 45:30.

Summer Chamber Concert from Dallas Symphony Orchestra on Vimeo.

Saturday, June 6, 2020

Reflections on recent disturbances

Not without trepidation, I'm going to try to write something about current events that will be true to myself without being too incendiary. I doubt that ideologues of either the Left or the Americanist Right will much like what I have to say, but perhaps someone will.

The United States of America was founded on a falsehood: the idea that a "Nation" could be fabricated from scratch out of Enlightenment ideology which was mistakenly believed to be universal. That many of the founders were hypocrites who whined about their own "Liberty" while denying it to others was a fatal flaw, perhaps _the_ fatal flaw, that is proving insurmountable. For a long time, buoyed by the inheritance of European Christian patrimony despite the founding ideology being essentially at odds with that patrimony, it seemed to work--for many. But it never worked for everyone, as we're hearing loud and clear recently. For many years the USA appeared to function as a de facto "nation," mostly for Christians (especially Protestants) of European descent who accepted (as I vocally do not) the Americanist republican civic religion. But at the same time, its promises rang hollow for others. 

While I deplore and condemn the violence and vandalism, and am troubled by the obvious inconsistency between the protests and the social distancing we've all been urged to observe, I cannot in conscience be unsympathetic to those in this country who feel estranged when for very different (and--this is important--far less physically threatening) reasons I have felt estranged from it for years. One of the many things I love about Monarchism is the natural, unforced, unaffected, genuine diversity we enjoy in our community. My circle of monarchist friends and allies includes a wide variety of races, religions, and all other kinds of identities and I wouldn't have it any other way. I think it's helpful at this time to focus on what we may have in common with those who appear to differ from us.

It's distressing now to see essentially American grievances and ideologies being imported to other countries, like the United Kingdom, but that was perhaps inevitable given the monumental (and in my view negative) influence the American idea has had on the world. What we're witnessing now may be the beginning of the end of something that never should have been created, but that doesn't mean it won't be painful to live through. I have lots of thoughts about the past, but no answers for the future.

Thursday, June 4, 2020

Marian Column restored to Prague

A ray of hope in an otherwise dark time: Prague's Marian column, torn down by an angry mob in 1918 due to its association with the Habsburg monarchy, rises again.

In honour of the reconstruction of the column, originally erected in 1650 under Holy Roman Emperor Ferdinand III (1608-1657), here are pictures of two other Habsburg Ferdinands in Prague: the Coronation of Austrian Emperor Ferdinand I (1793-1875) as King of Bohemia in 1836, and his great-great-great-great-grandnephew Ferdinand Habsburg (b 1997) in the same St Vitus Cathedral in 2019.

Thoughts on Faith

In 2009 at the age of 30, after years of agnosticism, having become increasingly sympathetic to Christianity, I decided that despite not being a naturally religious person, I loved the music, art, and architecture it had inspired too much not to believe it is true. I know that being an Episcopalian and a member of Church of the Incarnation has blessed my life in many ways. But sometimes I still can't help wondering if I ever truly understood any of it. I suspect that's what some of my Christian friends and acquaintances must silently think about me sometimes. My Anglicanism is all so inextricably bound up with both the British Monarchy and classical sacred choral music, I honestly don't know what I would do if anything ever happened to either of those things, even though I know God never promised that either would last forever. I'm not always sure what my Christianity means at a time when most Christians are, to put it mildly, focused on other matters.
Even though my longstanding habit of listening to Saint Thomas Church webcasts and BBC Choral Evensong prepared me to an extent for the current norm of online services, the longer we go without being able to have church as we did (and I'm not enthusiastic about resuming but without full choral or congregational singing), the more distant I feel from it all, despite the 1662 Book of Common Prayer sitting right here on my desk. And I've never really overcome a misanthropic tendency, arguably antithetical to the Gospel, to value traditions, institutions, aesthetics, and buildings over Humanity. I suppose I'm not a very good Christian by either progressive or conservative standards. Yet I am still convinced it's better to be some sort of Christian, even a bad one, than nothing at all. And somehow we have to persevere.
Westminster Abbey