Don’t Scalpel the Mona Lisa!

In a recent Book Review of the New York Times (Decem­ber 2, 2006), William F. Buck­ley reviews Mar­tin Geck’s new biog­ra­phy of Johann Sebas­t­ian Bach. Of Geck, Buck­ley writes:

He tells us, on the sub­ject of the com­plex­ity of one of Bach’s chorales, such details as that ”the canon voices of the can­tus fir­mus are divided over two sep­a­rate key­boards” and ”are not acousti­cally sep­a­rated from the other parts.” Thus, ”the fab­ric of con­stantly inter­sect­ing voices is nonethe­less barely com­pre­hen­si­ble because Bach has over­laid the con­tra­pun­tal layer with its tra­di­tional oppo­site. The two voices ‘accom­pa­ny­ing’ the can­tus fir­mus canon are expres­sive solos taken from the slow move­ments of his sonatas and con­certi and tricked out with mod­ern man­ner­isms and gal­lant rhyth­mic changes.” This is the scalpel applied to the Mona Lisa, which brings to mind a recent news story on the sci­en­tists who are study­ing that mas­ter­piece with invis­i­ble infrared light, per­haps hop­ing to estab­lish what the sub­ject ate on the day Leonardo painted her eyes.

What a great metaphor! It’s hard enough to cre­ate beauty; don’t go after it with a carv­ing knife.

About Richard D. Russell

This was written by Richard D. Russell, New York City based composer of fine music.