Sunday, March 29, 2015

Omnia Vanitas....

Saw Emma Kirkby and Jacob Lindberg at the Concertgebouw last Sunday with R and K. Despite having a leg in plaster she was stoically wheeled on stage in an office chair and went on to sing an  animated and expressive selection of 16th cen. English songs and aires accompanied by the lute, explaining the classical references in what was a scholarly and spirited performance. The lady seated on my right explained in the interval that she had heard Emma Kirby 30 years ago and although the voice was different now it still retained that clear pure quality for which she is so well renowned. Many of the songs had a philosophical quality and some, like 'Dido's Lament', were directly concerned with mortality. 

The MA festival  of Early Music in Bruges has a series of concerts planned for the summer with a focus on the vanity and transience of life. This was a theme throughout the 16th and 17th century in both music and painting, like in the self-portrait/still-life painting below by David Bailly, a Dutch artist from Leyden whose father was a Flemish calligrapher. 
David Bailly Self -Portrait with Vanitas Symbols 1651

Among the several portraits within this portrait the young artist holds one especially for our contemplation on the table laden with roses, wine glasses, pearls, pocket watches, coins, a pipe, books and sculpture. This is a portrait of the artist at the date that the painting was actually made in 1651 when he was in fact 67 years old. Thus the young man he imagines he used to be holds the image of the old man that he has become, which along with the bubbles, candle, hour glass and skull remind us of life's fleeting nature despite art's apparent capacity to capture and conflate time past and future in the enduring present moment. 

I heard Vox Luminis at the Concertgebrouw in February singing this captivating polyphony. 

         Man that is born of a woman hath but a short time to live, and is full of misery. He cometh up and is cut down like a flower; he flieth as it were a shadow, and never continueth in one stay. In the midst of life we be in death:   

 Book of Common Prayer 1559

Ars Longa Vita Brevis

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