Tag Archives: Richard Wagner

On the Celebration of Thanksgiving and a Few Other Observations

“Monday Musings” for Monday November 26, 2013

Volume III, No 46/140

thanksgiving-day

THANKSGIVING  2013

by Assad Meymandi, MD, PhD, DLFAPA*

To My Dear Family, Friends, Colleagues and Readers:

Thanks for being

Thanks for becoming

Thanks for all the good inside of us, intellect, trillions of neuronic connections

Thanks for our ability to feel love, compassion, and presence of God in us

Thanks for the arts, the humanities, flowers, music, and trees

Thanks for poetry, dance, ballet, ballads and symphony and

Thanks for science and the universe

Thanks for Socrates’ elenchus

Thanks for Aristotle’s enteleche

Thanks for Zarathustra, Buddha, Rumi, Mohammad, Ferdowsi, Avicenna, Goethe,

Jesus, Gandhi, Mozart, Moses and Abraham. Thanks for Hanukah, Easter, Purim and Bishvat

Thanks for my own mother, for Mother Teresa, Joan of Arc, Catherine of Siena, Virgin Mary, Sappho, Matilda Maud, Susan B. Anthony and Queen Melisende of Jerusalem.

Thanks for family and connectedness

Thanks for the World

Thanks for eternity

Thanks for transcendence

Thanks for America

Thanks for life, and oh, yes

Thanks for timely death

But although humanity has come a long way, we have ways to go as reflected below:

Slavery in America

News media report practice of slavery in India, Africa, Pakistan, and other parts of the world. I submit that we practice slavery in America. I am referring to student- athletes who can barely read and write. They work like slaves to generate a product with sales in the billions of dollars, yet they get punished for accepting any gift from fans. The unfairness is accentuated by the practice of awarding coaches with less than a mediocre record, with contract extension and whopping raises sending their annual compensation into millions.

This is a repetition of 17th and 18th century slavery, and the epitome of hypocrisy and unfairness. The entire system is unethical. It should be illegal and ought to be banned. One reasonable solution is to pay the student athlete a salary and pay teachers to tutor them and bring up their academic standing not with phony non existing classes, but with real teaching, while they play their sport. Also, cut the exorbitant salaries of the coaches and give it to our school teachers who barely make ends meet.

Enjoying Chaos

Hype, hyperbole, and hysteria surround the congressional impasse partially shutting down the government. While everybody is fretting, complaining and climbing the walls, I find myself calmly and thoroughly enjoying what is happening. No, I am not a sadist enjoying suffering of others. No, I am not a masochist to enjoy suffering. No, this is not a shadenfreud to vicariously enjoy suffering of others. Then you might ask how could I enjoy the shutting down of government and suffering of the furloughed and idled?,,,

Well, what I am enjoying is the miracle of the Republic our founding fathers have created and graciously given to us: a government with three equal forces and importance who could pull their weight in debate, in polemic discussion and finally in action. It is the system of US government that blesses America that we enjoy. No dictator by issuing fiat is going to tell what Congress may do, and no supreme court may give the other branches of government its marching orders. Three branches of government are not only equal in theory and parlance, but in actuality. I am thankful for America and our Republic.

Enjoying Chess

Readers recall our discussion of forthcoming chess championship a few weeks ago. Well, we had the match last week and as predicted Magnus Carlson the 21 year old Norwegian chess player, a grand master at age 12, unseated the long-time champion Wiswanathan Anand who had reigned for seven years. Although not on camera, reporters have it that Anand wept.  Watching Carlsen play chess is like taking a tour of the inside of the brain of Mozart while he was composing the Jupiter Symphony in C major. It puts you little closer to God. A brief note from 1972 championship from a previous “MM”;

“Bobby Fischer died at age 64, on January 18, 2008. I was privileged to be in Reykjavick, in 1972, and see him in action playing chess with his Russian opponent Boris Spassky about whom I have written in the past. What impressed me about the young man, besides his bad behavior and total paranoia and mistrust for everyone, was his total mastery of the game, and his brilliance.  His kind of brilliance was unfortunately blinding and not illuminating. It was more damaging than benefiting. He is a good reminder of Richard Wagner (1813-1883), the most brilliant opera composer, writer and thinker of the 19th century. Wagner’s biological father was a Jew. Like Wagner, Fischer was also born to Jewish parents, yet like Wagner, in his life time, he piled an incredible amount of derogation and insult on Jews. Like Wagner, Fischer was an unrepentant and zealous anti-Semite.

There are plenty of reasons to bury the memories of Bobby Fischer and let him fade in dustbin of oblivion. But his brilliance in chess may be selectively used as a role model for teaching focus, determination and devotion to learning to our young people. He provides a good example of how to train the brains of our children and grand children. Let us celebrate him, and his contributions to the honored and honorable game of chess.”

Carlsen, on the other hand, is a wholesome young man unafflicted by any neurotic encumbrance and anti-Semitic fervor.

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*The writer is Adjunct Professor of Psychiatry, University of North Carolina School of Medicine at Chapel Hill, Distinguished Life fellow American Psychiatric Association, and Founding Editor and Editor-in-Chief, Wake County Physician Magazine (1995-2012). He serves as a Visiting Scholar and lecturer on Medicine, the Arts and Humanities at his alma mater the George Washington University School of Medicine and Health.

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On Opera’s Relation to Buddhism and Sufism

Monday Musing”, for Monday October 7, 2013

Volume III. No. 38/132

E9 Bayreuth  Margravial Opera Stage

Bayreuth Margravial Opera House

A Few Words About The Opera

and

How it Relates to Buddhism and Sufism

By Assad Meymandi, MD, PhD, DLFAPA*

Yesterday, October 6, 2013 was the 413th anniversary of western opera (see below). The first opera, Orpheus (Orpheo) and Eurydice was composed by Jacobo Peri and performed at Piti Palace in Florence on October 6, 1600. This date marks the beginning of Western Opera. Before that earlier in late 1590’s there was an experimental composition named Daphne, and of course before all that there was Greek opera some 2000 years earlier. In 1607 Montverde re-wrote the same opera, Orpheo and Eurydice which remains in the repertoire after 406 years.  To observe the holy birth of the opera, here are some thoughts:

Why Opera?

There are four powerful instruments used for introspection and research on self.  One can learn more about one’s self through psychoanalysis which is usually very expensive and time consuming. The other tools are studying history, theater and poetry. The last but certainly not the least is understanding and studying opera. Opera, a combination of words and music, offers us the most comprehensive and potent introspectoscope. Opera gives the participant an opportunity to become aware of one’s unconscious in dynamic gradation. Do we as viewers possess at least some of the evil and sexual identity confusion that eclipses Iago and Othello (in opera Otello)? Are we endowed with passion that made Don Jose kill Carmen? Are we capable of transcendence that come with the Zoroastrian parables in Wagner’s Ring Cycles? In order to get to know ourselves better, I believe opera should be an integral part every citizen’s cultural and intellectual diet. It is much less expensive that psychoanalysis, and while being intellectually stimulating, it is more enjoyable and entertaining.

History of Opera:

Opera is an Italian word. It means work. In the late 16th Century a group of Florentine scholars decided to get together every week and study the music and writings of the ancient Greek.  They called themselves the Florentine Camarata. It was very much like our modern day book clubs, except that these people were very serious about their work. The culmination of these studies and discussions was Jacobo Peri’s composition of Orpheo which was performed at 8:00 PM, October 6, 1600, at Piti Palace in Florence.  Of course in 1607 Claudio Monteverdi gave us his version of Orpheo. It marks the beginning of Opera. We have enjoyed 400 years of opera as result of the intense work of this group.

Types of Opera:

Italian opera dominated Europe throughout the 16th and early 17th centuries.  Around 1670’s, French opera, with its founder and inventor Jean Baptist Lully (1632-1687), emerged. Lully was an Italian orphan who immigrated to Paris at age 14. He rose to become the court composer for the Sun King, Louis 14th, who rained for 73 years. Lully gave us the French Overture and its dotted rhythm brings on grandeur, pomposity and majesty meant for Louis 14th. Other French composers followed: Jean-Philip Rameau, Jean Jacques Rousseau, Christoph Willibald Von Gluck, Giacomo Meyerbeer, Bizet etc. There are German, Russian, Chinese, and now many third world country operas. Also, there are lyric opera, grand opera, opera buffa and opera seria, just to name a few. I have chosen Carmen as an example of illustrating the power of the opera.

Carmen is an opera comic in four acts. It was written by Georges Bizet. He was a genius. Bizet died penniless at age 38, exactly three months after Carmen was staged. Had he lived three more years, he would have reaped immense wealth because of Carmen’s success all over Europe. Perhaps Bizet and Van Goch were soul brothers. They lived in poverty, yet after death, their work’s value increased immensely. Bizet knew music and composition. His musical compositions at age 17 easily compare to the music of Mendelssohn and Mozart. His one act opera in 1857, Le Docteur Miracle, shows his mastery of operatic idiom at an early age.  In Act II of Carmen, the accelerating gypsy dance is an orchestral tour de force in which dissonance and sliding harmonies paint the scene of Lilla Pastia’s underworld tavern. Bizet knew human nature.  He was as keen as Shakespeare when it came to assessing human nature. The famed German philosopher Fredrick Nietzsche, in an essay on Carmen, wrote that he saw the opera 21 times.  “Every time I see Carmen, I sit still for five hours, I become more patient which is the first step of true holiness…”

Carmen is a story about love, not of higher order, but as futility, cynical, cruel and at best deadly hatred of two sexes. Love translated in the horror proclaimed in Don Jose’s last cry “yes, I have killed her…I have killed my adored…” Carmen, the epitome of carnal desire, temptation and primal raw sexuality, is the Eve and the serpent rolled in one. In act III she sees her mortality in the cards that she and her gypsy friends were reading. She gave into her fate and led a reckless life. Don Jose, a decent and simple soldier when he first met Carmen, turns into a love crazed killer. He is Adam. He is Kane. He would not have been transformed into a killer if the violence and killing were not in him to start. There is a bit of Adam, though deeply hidden, in all of us. Don Jose is Adam. Jose’s unrestrained male sexuality and machismo ultimately caused his destruction.

Perhaps like Nietzsche who claimed to become a better philosopher every time he sat through a performance of Carmen, we can see this very deeply moving and instructive work as the beginning.

Opera, Sufism and Buddhism:

One must read the 19th century German Philosopher, Arthur Schopenhauer (1788-1860) ,whose writings are very much imbued in Sufism and Buddhism to understand, “To be, one must first not be…” Richard Wagner (1813-1883), the genius anti-Semitic German musician and composer of opera (he hated the word opera because it is an Italian word and he hated Italians(!) and who called his work “Music Drama”), was a disciple of Schopenhauer. His operas, especially Tristan and Isolde, and the Ring Cycle consisting of four operas, 18 hours, are full of Zoroastrian parables and Buddhist reference to “nothingness” before becoming “something.” This ruthless, racist and megalomaniacal genius not only composed his own operas, but wrote the libretto and conducted the work. His compositions are not just opera but an all encompassing Gesamtkunstwerk, like a super bowl half time show! The writings of Rumi, Shams Tabrizi and Baba Taher Oryan, all Persian Sufi Poets, assert the Buddhist notion of the issue of “being”, the western concept of which is called ontology. I am inserting an essay on opera from years ago to whet your appetite.

In my mind, opera continues to be the most complete art form. It has the greatest capacity for communication and impact per second of any other art form including my most favorite art form, classical music. What I wonder is when and where in NC we will see some modern operas the list of which is approaching 90. I have noticed and admired the Met’ s willingness to add some of the modern operas such as Cyrano de Bergerac with Placido Domingo as Cyrano, Sondra Radvanovsky (Roxanne), and librettist Henry Cain, this season. I yet to see any opera by Michael Tippett, Hans Verner Henze and Olivier Messiaen (I saw his Saint Francois D’Assie in Paris several months ago), and other composers. As a psychiatrist we try to help people with addiction. Addiction to opera is one addiction that I recommend.

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*The writer is Adjunct Professor of Psychiatry, University of North Carolina School of Medicine at Chapel Hill, Distinguished Life fellow American Psychiatric Association, and Founding Editor and Editor-in-Chief, Wake County Physician Magazine (1995-2012). He serves as a Visiting Scholar and lecturer on Medicine, the Arts and Humanities at his alma mater the George Washington University School of Medicine and Health.

 

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On Wagner and Opera

Monday Musings” for Monday May 20, 2013

Volume III, No. 19/122

Wagner

Happy Birthday to Richard Wagner: A Few Thoughts about Opera

By: Assad Meymandi, MD, PhD, DLFAPA

Day after tomorrow is Richard Wagner’s 200th birthday (May 22, 1813- February 13,1883). We celebrate his bicentennial natal anniversary with joy and some added reflections: Wagner was a German musician, opera composer, and a disciple of the German  philosopher Arthur Schopenhauer, (Feb 22, 1788- September 12, 1860) with whom he split over the issue of “toleration”. Wagner was truly a genius. But he hated the Jews and the Italians, all of whom he called barbarians. He also hated the word opera because it is an Italian word and he thought Italians are of a lower race. Instead, he called his work “Music Drama“. Wagner was a contemporary of Verdi (October 10, 1813-Jan 27, 1901), the world famous and renowned Italian Opera Composer. Toward the end of his life, Wagner had a change of heart about Italians and had some good things to say about Verdi. But he remained a staunch anti-Semite.

Richard Wagner, the ruthless, racist and megalomaniacal genius not only composed his own opera but wrote the libretto (pleural, libretti), designed the stage, and conducted the work. His compositions are not just opera but an all-encompassing Gesamtkunstwerk, like the Super Bowl halftime show! In addition to writing the libretto, composing the music, and designing his sets, he was a brilliant prose writer. I recommend getting a hold of some 12 volumes of his original work and read them for the sheer power of their syntax and thematic composition.

He also architecturally created the Bayreuth Opera House where his work was produced and staged.  After 200 years, almost all of his operas including Flying Dutchman, Ride of Valkyries, Tannhauser, and Die Meistersinger Von Numberg are a steady diet of most opera houses and symphonies throughout the world.  Exactly a year ago, North Carolina Symphony, played in the first half of the program Prelude to Act I, Lohengrin. The second half featured the memorable performance of virtuoso violinist, Itzhach Perlman playing Violin Concerto in D Major, Opus 35, by Peter Ilyich Tchaikovsky. As an aside, North Carolina Symphony had just played Carmina Burana on May 11 and 12. On May 17, there was a special program of classical music for the NCS patrons, and on May 18 and 19, the vocal music of Steve Lippia fed the souls of music connoisseurs. Raleigh has an extraordinarily rich cultural life.

Wagner’s writing and Teutonic operas tell us that he had a deep knowledge of history. His operas, especially Tristan and Isolde, and the “Ring Cycle” consisting of four operas, 18 hours, are full of Zoroastrian parables, Buddhist reference to “nothingness” before becoming “something” and the writings of Rumi, Shams Tabrizi, and Baba Taher Oryan. He loved Aryan Persians as much as he hated the Jews. He spoke of the Jews as inferior creatures preoccupied with usury, money changing, and nothing else. He made fun of Jewish cantorial music and ridiculed the religious tradition of the Jewish synagogue.

Delving into his personal life, one discovers that he was an illegitimate child of a Jew, Ludwig Geyer. He was born in the Jewish quarter of Leipzig, the ninth child of Carl Friedrich Wagner who died six months after Richard’s birth, following which Wagner’s mother began living with the actor and playwright Ludwig Geyer with whom she had a longstanding relationship. Ludwig was a friend of Richard’s late father. Richard almost certainly suspected that Geyer was his natural father. He and Ludwig whom he publicly called “Dad” shared a love of theater, opera and language. Around age 14, however, Richard changed his name from Richard Geyer back to Richard Wagner.

In his early life, Wagner was heavily influenced by Shakespeare and Goethe. He was determined to set the writings of these two illustrious authors into music. In 1826, at age 13, he started to take music lessons. By 1827, the family had moved back to Leipzig. Wagner’s first lessons in harmony were taken in 1828-1831. In January 1828 he first heard Beethoven’s 7th Symphony and then, in March, Beethoven’s 9th Symphony performed in the Gewandhaus. Beethoven became his inspiration, and Wagner wrote a piano transcription of the 9th Symphony. He was also greatly impressed by a performance of Mozart’s Requiem. From this period we have Wagner’s early piano sonatas and his first attempts at orchestral overtures. In 1829 he saw the dramatic soprano Wilhelmine Schröder-Devrient on stage, and she became his ideal of the fusion of drama and music in opera. In his autobiography, Wagner wrote, “If I look back on my life as a whole, I can find no event that produced and left so profound an impression upon me.” He had an unsuccessful marriage to Cosima, and had disastrous relationships with other women including Minna Wagner.

In Wagner lies an enigma. He was a truly brilliant artist with gifts in music composition, writing, poetry, and deep knowledge of history who was pathologically intolerant of others, especially Jews. Yet he was the son of a Jew and had Jewish DNA. His profound anti-Semitic rant has given to millions of words of psychobabble attempting to explain that his hatred of Jews was deeply rooted in self-hatred. As a person, he had no shred of decency and no touch of sublime humanity. He broke up with his idol and mentor, philosopher Schopenhauer, because of Wagner’s extreme hatred of the Jews. Schopenhauer could not take Wagner’s extreme intolerance of the Jews. Personally, I take and enjoy Wagner’s rich and lasting contributions to the arts and literature, and merely ignore the rest of him.

On the local scene in Raleigh, for the opera lovers, North Carolina Opera is growing. It produces two or three operas a year. I am looking forward to the day we will have an opera house built on the proposed Dix Park. Then we can not only do the more lavish and demanding Wagner operas, but stage some modern operas the list of which is approaching 90. I have noticed and admired the Met’s willingness to add some of the modern operas such as Cyrano de Bergerac with Placido Domingo as Cyrano, Sondra Radvanovsky (Roxanne), and librettist Henry Cain. I have yet to see any opera in America  by Michael Tippett, Hans Verner Henze and Olivier Messiaen (I saw his Saint Francois D’Assie in Paris last year), and other composers.

Meantime, Happy 200th Birthday to Richard Wagner!

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*The writer is Adjunct Professor of Psychiatry, University of North Carolina School of Medicine at Chapel Hill, Distinguished Life fellow American Psychiatric Association, and Founding Editor and Editor-in-Chief, Wake County Physician Magazine (1995-2012). He serves as a Visiting Scholar and lecturer on Medicine, the Arts and Humanities at his alma mater the George Washington University School of Medicine and Health.

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