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Saturday morning quotes 8.26: Mignarda reading list

October 30, 2021

The pandemic appears to rage on, but what is visible to many of us is an ever increasing authoritarian presence that permeates our lives right down to when and where we are permitted to share our music. Since the entire world is now officially under watch by the finger-wagging thought police, it seems imprudent to comment directly on the status of current events. Instead, we offer a few thought-provoking quotations drawn from this week’s stack of (mostly) printed material on the Mignarda reading list.

We offer quotes gleaned from a variety of sources, offering a sample of the sort of conversational topics that arise in our house. For readers with 21st-century attention spans, each quote is given a heading and a smattering of contextual discussion.

Francesco da Milano’s lute intabulations

“The problem is separating Francesco the soloist from Francesco the transcriber. There may be significant differences in his improvisational style and the tablatures which have come down to us; Francesco’s knowledge of his instrument should not be based solely on written sources. A more accurate statement would be that the practical experiences of improvisational playing do not seem to be reflected in Francesco’s tablatures. In this sense the tablatures do represent a certain ideal; perhaps there was a more flexible approach towards performing these pieces than we normally expect when dealing with written works.”

Gary R. Boye, “The Lute Intabulations of Francesco Canova da Milano,” Masters thesis, University of Georgia, Athens, GA, 1988, p. 83.

Gary Boye‘s insightful 1988 thesis pointed out a fact that is readily understood by musicians who play the lute: Historical lute intabulations of vocal polyphony have always represented the intabulator’s best effort to arrange the maximum amount of the original vocal parts into a condensed form that is ideally playable, but sometimes may demand practical adjustments. The point is to include all the information in the score and allow the performer the opportunity to employ his or her musical understanding and abilities to render that information into sound as convincingly as possible.

Old music is new music

“My position in the War of Buffoons can be simply stated. I have suggested that the ancients and moderns ought to exchange labels. What is usually called ‘modern performance’ is in fact an ancient style, and what is usually called ‘historically authentic performance’ is in fact a modern style.”

“Regarding the [early music] movement itself I have always held that, as a symptomatically modern phenomenon, it is not historical but is authentic. It is a message I have had great difficulty in getting across to musicians, because so many have invested so heavily in the false belief that authenticity can derive only from historical correctness. To deny the latter necessarily implies to them a denial of the former. They simply do not hear me when I say what ‘historical’ performers have actually accomplished is far more important and valuable than what they claim to have done.”

Richard Taruskin, “Tradition and authority,” Early Music, Vol. XX, No. 2, May 1992, ppg. 311-312.

Richard Taruskin is a performer and musicologist who has offered brilliant insights into the early music revival and how it has, or has not, enriched our modern lives. Sadly, his point of view was immediately “cancelled” (in today’s parlance) by performers, record companies, and fellow musicologists as long ago as the 1990’s, mainly due to an editor’s inaccurate characterization of his words in an opinion piece, “The Spin Doctors of Early Music,” (New York Times, July 29, 1990). Apparently Taruskin’s original title of the essay was “It’s Not Historical—It’s Much Better Than That” but the NYT editorial staff decided to spice up the narrative with an alternative headline in hopes of selling more newspapers. The net result is that one of our more astute musicologists was immediately cancelled by the gatekeepers of early music, and his valuable observations were relegated by the in-crowd to the category of misanthropic graffiti. Thinking persons read with an open mind and form their own opinions.

Pope Francis speaks

“This system, with its relentless logic of profit, is escaping all human control. It is time to slow the locomotive down, an out-of-control locomotive hurtling towards the abyss. There is still time.”

“We need to use that sublime human faculty which is the imagination, that place where intelligence, intuition, experience and historical memory come together to create, compose, venture and risk. Let us dream together, because it was precisely the dreams of freedom and equality, of justice and dignity, the dreams of fraternity, that improved the world.”

Pope Francis, Text from the Vatican on October 16, 2021.

Pope Francis has been the head of the Roman Catholic Church since 2013 when Pope Benedict XVI resigned. While some may disagree with aspects of his tenure, Pope Francis has a distinctly populist presence, and he appears to be unafraid to confront the root causes of our many modern problems. The text of his October 16, 2021 speech linked above is not easily found (for obvious reasons) but should be widely read.

Testing and quantification

“The idealized market was supposed to deliver ‘friction free’ exchanges, in which the desires of consumers would be met directly, without the need for intervention or mediation by regulatory agencies. Yet the drive to assess the performance of workers and to measure forms of labor which, by their nature, are resistant to quantification, has inevitably required additional layers of management and bureaucracy. What we have is not a direct comparison of workers’ performance or output, but a comparison between the audited representation of that performance and output. Inevitably, a short-circuiting occurs, and work becomes geared towards the generation and massaging of representations rather than to the official goals of the work itself. Indeed, an anthropological study of local government in Britain argues that ‘More effort goes into ensuring that a local authority’s services are represented correctly than goes into actually improving those services.’”

Mark Fisher, Capitalist Realism: Is there no alternative?, Zero Books, Alresford, 2009, p. 42.

There is an utterly illogical and unrelenting drive to quantify every aspect of our lives so they may be converted to data points. Anyone involved in education sees this and recognizes the damage that is being done to students whose instruction is completely and inappropriately centered upon test results. Anyone with open eyes sees this obsession with quantification is the path to cementing a new class structure that is defined by technology. If technology demands that our lives be quantified, then we need less technology, for the sacrifice is too great.

Recycling tradition

“The artistic heritage of paganism had been comprehensively smashed by dint of Christian zeal. Starting in the late fourth century, statues of the gods were toppled from their pedestals, great temples demolished, others converted into churches after being stripped of their decoration. Of course, not everything could be destroyed without going to a great deal of trouble. In the Parthenon of Athens Christians defaced the carved metopes of three sides of the temple, then gave up.”

“The gap left by paganism was filled by the cult of saints on both a practical and an imaginative level. That is not to say that there was a simple substitution, that, for example, the sun god with his chariot (Helios) was replaced by the Prophet Elijah (Elias) who went up to heaven in a chariot, or that the Virgin Mary usurped the place of Athena or Cybele or Isis. What we observe is that certain practices were maintained under changed auspices…”

– Cyril Mango, “New Religion, Old Culture,” The Oxford History of Byzantium, Edited by Cyril Mango, Oxford University Press, Oxford, 2002, ppg. 111-113.

No comment.


“Animals must have suffered much from the Christian doctrine that man is made in the image of God and is endowed with an immortal soul. Although man has an animal body and instincts, he has been taught to set himself apart from the rest of creation. The average Christian believes the animal world exists only for his own benefit. Countless animals would have been spared much torture and suffering if only the Gospels had recorded that Jesus showed compassion towards all living creatures and not merely towards mankind.”

– John Walters, The Essence of Buddhism, Crowell Publisher, New York, 1962, p. 9.

If you have managed to avoid the recent news item regarding the foibles of a certain bureaucrat, you should at least take the time to reflect on the maxim that a person’s character may be judged by his treatment of animals. This particular individual was responsible for a great deal of suffering and death during the 1980s AIDS crisis and continues to somehow be insulated from consequences of his direct conflict of interest in public health policy. The linked sources report objective facts that are not from a particular political perspective.

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  1. Christopher Barker permalink

    Re: Puppies… There are stuffed shirt theologians who declare that our domestic pets are souless, and cannot enjoy an afterlife. I (in my glorious pompousness) hereby declare that domestic pets are not burdened with original sin, and are not required to be baptised. St. Peter will no doubt allow them to pass through the Pearly Gates ahead of any of us. St. Francis has a huge job ministering to and preaching to all of those holy dogs, cats, birds, turtles, etc., etc. Our wonderful companions in our worldly lives can share eternity with us. AMEN.

  2. I especially love the links in your last paragraph. 😎

  3. Thanks for your comment, and for noticing the links. We put quite a bit of effort into presenting objective facts and we’re heartened to know others appreciate the work.

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