Lynette Abel  / Aesthetic Realism & Life

"Power & Grace in Music, with a Note
on Sincerity"
from a Music: Aesthetic Realism Presentation
of October 26, 1975
by Paul Abel

Introduction:

In 1946, Paul Abel began his career as an airline pilot. Several years later, in 1949, Mr. Abel received his Master's degree in Music at Syracuse University, where he was on the  faculty and taught voice.  In 1969, he began to study Aesthetic Realism in New York City in classes with its founder, Eli Siegel.  In 1975 he taught voice, using the Aesthetic Realism point of view.  This is his point of view in the essay presented here.  What he sees about Verdi's Rigoletto, I believe, adds importantly to its beauty and value.  Also, the relation Mr. Abel sees between the power of the famous Quartet from Rigoletto to that of a jumbo jet will surprise, thrill, and educate those who read it now, and in future years.--Editor

      Just 40 years ago, there appeared in my high school graduating class prophesy, this statement: 

Ten years from now, Paul Abel will be making his debut at the Metropolitan Opera House as the Duke in Verdi’s Rigoletto. 
I mention this, because it shows how long I have been affected by and loved this opera.  Until I studied Aesthetic Realism, it would never have occurred to me to set down in any clear way why this music affected me or why I loved it.  Aesthetic Realism says, “In reality, opposites are one; art shows this.”  Music then, tells us what opposites have to do with the structure of the world and man as he wants to be.  As The Right of Aesthetic Realism to Be Known, number 93 says:
Because of this the world is given an everlasting, sensible basis, for what could be more sensible than to be calm and forceful at once, reposeful and intense at once.
I have been studying the truth of these statements in classes with Eli Siegel since 1969.  The import of them has made for larger emotions in me about music, people, and the world, and explains why I love the opera Rigoletto more than ever, and in particular the great Quartet from the last act "Bella figlia dell'amore."  The opposites of power and grace are the very heartbeat of this music.  Here is the opening melody of the quartet, sung by the tenor Luciano Pavarotti. (play)  In the Saturday Review of October 4, 1975 Roland Gilette says of Verdi:
There is, in whatever he touches, a strength and sincerity that cannot fail to command our admiration.
Mr. Gilette speaks of strength, but there is no mention of grace as inseparable from it.  This statement does not include what Aesthetic Realism says is central:  “All beauty is a making one of opposites….” An instance of this was made clear in recent class when Eli Siegel said: “Any time you hear beautiful music, you are seeing the instantaneous presence of power and grace.  That is the main proposition.  The two are always together and there is no exception to that.”

     Sincerity is a word critics often use in speaking of Verdi.  When power is together with grace, we have sincerity.  These are the hallmarks of Verdi’s art and with Rigoletto composed in 1850, his mastery asserted itself abundantly.  It is richly so in the great Quartet, and reality loves it.

     The Opera first performed in 1851 is based on Victor Hugo’s play,  Le Roi s’amuse.   The title is usually translated as The King’s Amusement.   In the first Paris season, Rigoletto was performed over one hundred times.  Victor Hugo resented its popularity.  But when he finally heard the opera, he was forced to admit its greatness.  Of the famous Quartet he exclaimed: “If I could only make four characters in my plays speak at the same time and have the audience grasp the words and sentiments, I would obtain the very same effect.”

     You heard the mystery of the opposites in the opening phrases of the Duke of Mantua.  He is a cold-hearted libertine, but he sings one of the warmest, most ravishing melodies in all opera.  In what appears to be ardent assertiveness, coldness and warmth mingle.  They can be felt in the power and grace of the first few notes as the composer combines the melodic flow with what are technically call grace notes or ornaments.  These added notes seem to be an impediment but they really help the flow of the musical line, which is essentially simple and economic.  It is based on these three notes of the tonic chord, A-flat, B-flat, F.  Now listen, as these notes are gathered into a rhythmic pattern with the addition of grace notes. (play) Does this melody say something of economy with richness, making for beauty?  Here it is without grace notes.  Notice that their omission has interferes with the instantaneous presence of power and grace.  (play)  In the last section of the melody, it rises a full octave to a high sustained note, and there are no ornaments.  They are not needed.  They would interfere with the power and sweetness of that long held high note.  The graceful decent of the sighing, falling notes which follow and round off the phrase is exactly right.  It verifies what Eli Siegel has said:  “Grace is the way a thing is done, making you feel no more effort was used than necessary and all that was needed was used.” (play)

     Before we look further at the music of the Quartet, which occurs near the beginning of the last act, let’s see what has gone on before.  Gilda, the daughter of Rigoletto, has been seduced and abandoned by the Duke of Mantua.  As the Quartet begins, the Duke is singing to another woman, Maddalena, “Bella figlia dell’a more,” which means “Fairest daughter of love.”  Gilda and her father are outside the Inn.  Inside are the amorous Duke and the flirtatious Maddalena. Critical comment often mentions the buried emotional expressions of the characters that blend into a harmonious unity.  Verdi, himself, hinted at the Quartet’s greatness in this remark he made to his first Rigoletto: “I never expect to do better than the Quartet.” 

     To page 2 of Music: Aesthetic Realism, with a Note on Sincerity

 
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