God is powerful enough to create something so marvelous.
I found Werckmeister Harmonies to be incredibly boring for stretches, but that was made up for by the good parts. The reveal in the hospital is one of my favorite moments in film history – so stunning. Based on this film and Damnation, I want to see more Tarr. The Turin Horse looks fantastic.
What about? Do you agree? Dislike?
Here’s my current understanding of the boring stretches. Tarr tried to make a film that had the quality of a painting. If you saw a painting of two people walking on down a street, in a way, it would be boring because “nothing” was happening. When I such a painting (when I’m in the mood to do this anyway), I’ll read into the painting and ask questions like: "Where are they going? What’s their frame of mind? Why did the painter choose that particular body language? Clothing? Colors? etc. These thoughts can take quite a bit of time, but as I do this, the painting can become alive for me. By lingering on certain shots, I’m wondering if Tarr was trying to create this painting-like effect. (Not sure if this effect works, though. I’d have to watch the film again, and I’m not sure I want to do that. :)
“It’s not cosmical, this shit is ontological..” Bela tarr interview about WH at lincoln centre.
Is WERCKMEISTER available in the US in a good DVD? Or is there only a Facets version?
I’m not sure which version I saw, but I’d guess it was the Facets version (via netflix).
Thanks, Jazz. That Facets version of SATANTANGO is, to put it politely, inadequate, and I’ve been reluctant to bother with others from that company, but I may have no choice.
Well, the fact that Facets version of Satantango is inadequate is bad news, as I’ve been wanting to see that. I don’t think the transfer is terrible for WH, but, let me say, that for whatever reason the visuals didn’t blow me away, as it did for others.
I would highly recommend buying the Artificial Eye versions of the films. Check out the reviews on DVDBeaver for good image quality comparisons ( Sátántangó, Werckmeister/Damnation). I bought Sátántangó, Werckmeister Harmonies, and Damnation for less than the cost of the Facets version of Sátántangó. Plus I think I only spent $70 on my region-free DVD player. Well worth it in my opinion to have access to the Artificial Eye and Second Run catalogs. Now a region-free Blu-Ray player….that’s expensive.
I am going to throw caution to the winds and try to explain the issue of tonality mentioned in the film, so at least people can address what it might mean with more clarity. here it goes: An instrument with “pure” tuning can only play in one key. All the notes in that key form kind of an imperfect grid of slightly varying distances. In order for instruments to be played in ANY key, that imperfect grid has to be fudged slightly to be more even, so that distances between notes are similar no matter where on the “grid” you are. Therefor, if you buy a standard piano in the store, it can play in all keys but every key is equally “out of tune” by a slight amount.
So at one point , the lead character comes in to a room and the Piano character is listening to a recording of a piece of music. He then says something about how it is in Eb and sounds off (it does). We had learned earlier that the Piano character is working with “pure” tuning. If you play a piano piece written in Eb on a piano with “pure” tuning in C (for example) it will sound out of tune. (if you switched that same piece in the key of C it will sound fine) Most classical pieces migrate through several keys, which would mean trouble on an instrument with “pure” tuning.
so if there is any metaphor to be found (that is up to you) it would be along the lines of: In order for for all keys, (or ideas?) to be possible, purity has to be dispensed with.
I think I got that right… its been two decades since I took that class….
SPOILERS …so the last scene between the lead character and the piano character. The Piano character states in so many words that he sold the piano so it is back to normal tuning (meaning the “non-pure” tuning that we all are all used to)
In order for for all keys, (or ideas?) to be possible, purity has to be dispensed with.
Right, it’s an issue regarding archaic just intonation. Eszter had believed that the preludes and fugues of Bach’s “The Well-tempered Clavier” would sound better played on an instrument tuned to just intonation.
An alternative to just intonation is well temperament, a tuning system which was described in the writings of Andreas Werckmeister. Bach read Werckmeister, adopted some of his ideas, and the “The Well-tempered Clavier” and other works went on to be hugely influential on Western music.
@Peabody— “Relativism” That is what I felt it meant. But I am not sure Tarr/original author would use that word… or would they? It is interesting that the lead character describes the whale in terms of a work of creation and profound imagination, a work of god the artist as opposed to god the moral force, and the lead character is the only one who is at all drawn to this whale that is in fact sitting in the middle of the crowded town square.
I’m not entirely sure that I understand what you mean, but I don’t think Eszter’s main point is that purity has to be dispensed with. His point is to denounce the (arrogant) move to use “all the keys”—or, as he says, “Later, all this was not enough, unhinged arrogance wished to take possession of all the harmonies of the gods.” Imo, the “harmony of the gods” refer to certain ideas and objectives that are beyond the understanding and capacity of human beings. In my reading of the film, I believe Eszter is talking about the way human beings of pushed aside God and sought to build a society strictly on human reason and ingenuity—a world that starts with the Enlightenment, perhaps and finds its fruition in the Modernism. When Eszter refers to Werckmeister’s harmonies as false, he’s saying that the ideology and beliefs of modern society and culture are false—they are unstable and will always end in ruin. (And that’s what we see played out in the film.) Eszter’s solution is that we have go back to the natural tunings—which represents a more humble stance, one that recognizes the limitations of human beings, while also acknowledging God. (The whale represents God—and reverence for God or powers beyond human beings. Society can be saved only by embracing the whale.)
I posted Gyorgy Eszter’s monologue earlier, but I’ll post it again as a reference:
“I have to make it clear that not even for a moment is there a doubt that it is not a technical but a philosophical question. So that the tonal system in question through researches, has lead to us inevitably to a test of faith, in which we ask: on what do we base our belief that this harmony, the core of every masterpiece, referring to its own irrevocability, actually exists or not. From this it follows, that we should speak of, not research into music, but a unique realization of non-music which for centuries has been covered up and a dreadful scandal which we should disclose. Hence the shameful situation that all the intervals in the masterpieces of many centuries are false. Which means that music and its harmony and echo, its unsurpassable enchantment is entirely based on a false foundation. Yes, we have to speak of an indisputable deception, even if those who are less sure, a little moderate, babble on about compromise. But what kind of compromise, when for the majority pure musical tonality is simply illusion, and truly pure musical intervals do not exist. Here we have to acknowledge the fact that there were ages more fortunate than ours, those of Pythagoras and Aristoxenes, when our forefathers were satisfied with the fact that their purely tuned instruments were played in only some tones, because they were not troubled by doubts, for they knew that heavenly harmonies were the province of the gods. Later, all this was not enough, unhinged arrogance wished to take possession of all the harmonies of the gods. And it was done in its own way, technicians were charged with the solution, a Praetorius, a Salinas, and finally an Andreas Werckmeister who resolved the difficulty by dividing the octave of the harmony of the gods, the twelve half-tones, into twelve equal parts. Of two semi-tones he falsified one, instead of ten black keys, five were used and that sealed the position. We have to turn on this development of tuning instruments, the so-called constant tempered, and its sad history and bring back the naturally tuned instrument. Carefully, we have to correct Werckmeister’s mistakes. We have to concern ourselves with the seven notes of the scale but not as of the octave, but seven distinct and independent qualities like seven fraternal stars in the heavens. What we have to do then, if we are aware, is that this natural tuning has its limits and it is a somewhat worrisome limit that definitely excludes the use of certain higher signatures.”
“Imo, the “harmony of the gods” refer to certain ideas and objectives that are beyond the understanding and capacity of human beings.”
Well . . . in a more immediate, literal way, he’s referring to the ancient (and still not uncommon in 17th century Europe) idea that music was made by emulating a sort of ideal, universal, supernatural music (like a Platonic Form). Werckmeister himself actually wrote that “God is the author of all music,” which he seems to have meant more or less literally.
he’s referring to the ancient (and still not uncommon in 17th century Europe) idea that music was made by emulating a sort of ideal, universal, supernatural music (like a Platonic Form).
Are you saying that Eszter is saying this is the type of “music” we should return to? I’m confused about when the music goes “bad” in Eszter’s mind, but it sounds like music started taking a wrong turn after the Greeks.
@Jazz- We are in agreement. The problem is in the way I phrased it. the character is saying We HAVE dispensed with pure tonality (Matt pointed out that “just” is the correct term). I was trying to explain what he meant musically- That in order for an instrument to be played in all keys, certain relationships between notes have to be “fudged”. therefor anything post Bach at least is built on this “every key is evenly and precisely out of tune or fudged” tonality. This new tuning brought about incredible amounts of freedom and creativity historically. This characters mission to “go back” might be impossible, unless the complexity of nearly all “classical” music is discarded. This accounts for the scene where he is listing to a recording and saying how it sounds wrong. (An Eb piece played in what I would assume to be a “just” or “pure” toned piano in C)
Regarding the “harmony of the gods” – it is definitely NOT mysterious as to WHAT it is. It is not unknowable. Anyone can have their piano tuned this way (with a good piano tuner, who would probably ask "are you like totally sure?… and what key do you want it be in?… and are you willing to play ONLY in that key?) It might be mysterious as to it’s origins, but not to WHAT it is. (Actually its origins can be prosaically explained with the overtone series, but behind that… who knows) This character’s dilemma is the lack of freedom that this purity presents.
Regarding the “harmony of the gods” – it is definitely NOT mysterious as to WHAT it is. It is not unknowable.
Wait. I read the harmony of the gods—and the entire use of musical references—as metaphorical. Did you read the monologue in the same way?
So the “harmony of the gods,” refers to certain ideas or objectives that are beyond our capacity and/or understanding. For example, consider the notion of Communism. Getting to a point in society where there are no upper or lower classes, where everyone shares material wealth, so no one is deprived, is good thing. But can we get there? Can we get there by rejecting God—essentially replacing God with human reason and talents? And forget about a utopia like the one suggested by Communism, and consider a stable and just society. Can we create that—without God? In my reading, Eszter says we can’t and we (the West) have built their societies and cultures on something false. Do you agree with that? Or are we reading the monologue differently?
@Jazz- The Piano character is talking metaphorically about something that is more concrete- He is referencing an actual kind of tuning that we no longer use because it limits the instrument to one key. He is linking that original kind of tuning to the gods, because it is more pure and does not involve compromoise. He has evidently started working with a justly tuned piano (or “pure” tuning) and is discussing the limits that it brings, and is declaring that it is “not a technical but a philosophical question” (If we was speaking to other composers, he would have to make that distinction so that the other composers understand that he feels something has been lost and rendered false by the compromise made by the ingenious well-tempered tuning system) When he speaks to the lead character at the end he says in so many words that the “piano has been sold, so it is back to the regular tuning now” (He is probably relieved… slightly… but then he sees the whale) It is wonderful stuff because it is both metaphoric and concrete (so he is not just a mystic), but it is very very hard to try to explain the musical concepts. Though I’d thought I’d give it a whirl!
My wi-fi is very limited right now, so I can’t search. but there are choruses and other instrumentalists that have released music with the kind of original tuning that character discusses.
As to your metaphor, that might indeed be valid (I am open to it) because all I am trying to say is that the character is not JUST speaking mystically, but he is doing some valid “composer talk.” Also, although the Piano character uses the world “false” – a more accurate term might be “ugly impure compromise”… and I would say that “false” foundation is probably any society at all. That unless we are like the whale, or the child like lead character, we are probably “false.”
The Prince on the other hand, is speaking a language which is definitely not practical or “political” but seems to be pure nihilism. So this film really is interested in a very primal battle of some kind.
" I’m confused about when the music goes “bad” "
In theory, Werckmeister. In practice, it’s really Bach.
It is wonderful stuff because it is both metaphoric and concrete (so he is not just a mystic), but it is very very hard to try to explain the musical concepts. Though I’d thought I’d give it a whirl!
By “concrete,” you mean that the musical ideas are actually based on real musical theory? FWIW, I assumed it was.
And I appreciate you trying to explain the musical ideas. Another poster, Flani, has been working on this, too, so hopefully he’ll post his thoughts soon.
He is linking that original kind of tuning to the gods, because it is more pure and does not involve compromoise.
Hmm, I didn’t interpret his monologue that way. I thought he preferred the original tuning because it didn’t attempt to deal with the “harmony of the gods.” In other words, the musicians of that time period humbly recognized that there were some aspects of music that were beyond their abilities and inappropriate to deal with—cf. “…when our forefathers were satisfied with the fact that their purely tuned instruments were played in only some tones, because they were not troubled by doubts, for they knew that heavenly harmonies were the province of the gods. Later, all this was not enough, unhinged arrogance wished to take possession of all the harmonies of the gods.”
That unless we are like the whale, or the child like lead character, we are probably “false.”
I think the whale represents God (or even a Christ-figure)—as it is an expression of God’s power. But I agree that the film is saying we have to become more like Janos, the child-like character. He is the one that views the way with the appropriate awe and humility. We can also see this same attitude at the beginning when he describes the planets moving in the solar system. (This is contrasted by the helicopter—man-made—circling Janos at the end.)
I think the Prince represented the Antichrist or Satan, misleading people to stay on their same course (the one built on a false foundation—a foundation created from hubris). So we have two choices: become like children and embrace God (the way; the natural harmonies) or listed to the Prince and continue the same path, which will inevitably lead to destruction (as it does in the film).
Jazz- I like all your thoughts on the various meanings. I had not thought about that great helicopter sequence. Another small detail which must be intentional: The Piano character is speaking to the somewhat infantile looking lead character at the end. He discusses selling the piano and having its tuning restored (and therefor giving up his quest to “rescue” music or to return it to purity) . At the same time the Lead character is singing, is he not?
While I love all of your concepts and think they are valid, I also think the images used are fascinating as nightmare like mysteries.
At the same time the Lead character is singing, is he not?
I can’t remember. I also don’t recall the comments about the piano (which I think are really interesting.) If Eszter says that selling the piano and that it’s been restored (to the tuning based on Werckmeister’s harmonies), then that echoes the people choosing the Prince; and the authorities doubling down on the same approach—as opposed to turning to the whale.
If Eszter makes those remarks, this fits with his look of horror when he turns to the whale. I interpret that to mean several things: a feeling of confirmation—that his sentiments expressed in the monologue were correct; a sense of regret and despair because society failed to and seems incapable of, turning back to the whale/God.
Basically, I see the film as a kind of warning similar to the prophets of the Old Testament. (Btw, I think The Turin Horse has the same kind of prophetic warning as well.)
I’m still working on my explanation Jazz and will try to post it soon, but as Two Plus Two mentioned it’s very difficult to explain fundamental musical concepts in layman terms!
But it’d be great to see more people posting explanations of the musical theory behind the monologue.
I’m drawing some diagrams to illustrate how sound waves produce a fundamental tone and a harmonic series of overtones, more diagrams to explain the “octave” and how/why it is split into 12 tones (in Western music) whose intervals can be “tempered” for equality (and why “equality” is not natural), and even more diagrams to illustrate the differences in the intervallic relationships (in an octave) between just intonation, well temperament and equal temperament, which should hopefully give a better idea of the meaning of Eszter’s monologue.
One can already find these sorts of musical explanations on the web but they’re generally not really geared towards the layman in my opinion.
@Flani- I agree that musical explanations on the web are too “music nerds only.” I look forward to your post. by the way, did you see the film? If so, was my understanding of this scene correct: that at one point we see the Piano guy (Eszter) listening to a recording of a piano piece (that he says is in Eb I think) finish and saying it obviously sounds off- I assumed that the was because he had a justly tuned piano in C or some other key. The final chord actually sounded warped (maybe enhanced by the director to make the point). Did I get it right?
I’ll have to watch it again to refresh my memory and get my head around its meaning, but for what it’s worth I’m not sure at this point just how important the monologue really is in the context of the entire film and its quality, though I’m sure it’s worth something and I’m keen to explore it in detail after I’ve posted my music theory diagrams unless someone else beats me to it.
Oh, I think it’s extremely important.to the meaning of the film, and I don’t think you can really fully grasp the metaphoric level without first having a pretty good grasp of the literal level.
I guess I can ask here, what was up with the scene with the kids? Can someone explain what they took from that scene?