Wednesday, February 04, 2009


Arcadia (Greek: Ἀρκαδία) refers to a Utopian vision of pastoralism and harmony with nature. The term is derived from the Greek province of the same name which dates to antiquity; the province's mountainous topography and sparse population of pastoralists later caused the word Arcadia to develop into a poetic byword for an idyllic vision of unspoiled wilderness.

The Utopian vision, Arcadia, is associated with bountiful natural splendor, harmony, and is often inhabited by shepherds. The concept also figures in Renaissance mythology and is s vision of the pastoral. The inhabitants were often regarded as having continued to live after the manner of the Golden Age, without the pride and avarice that corrupted other regions. It is also sometimes referred to in English poetry as Arcady. The inhabitants of this region bear an obvious connection to the figure of the Noble savage, both being regarded as living close to nature, uncorrupted by civilization, and virtuous.

Representations of arcadia and the pastoral in the arts include paintings like this one by Thomas Eakins:

Some of Shakespeare's plays contain pastoral elements, most notably As You Like It and A Midsummer Night's Dream. As opera developed, the dramatic pastoral came to the fore with such works as Jacopo Peri's Dafne and, most notably, Monteverdi's L'Orfeo. Pastoral opera remained popular throughout the 17th-century, and not just in Italy, as is shown by the French genre of pastorale héroïque, Englishman Henry Lawes's music for Milton's Comus:

Our study of the Piano Sonatas of Beethoven journeyed into the world of the pastoral yesterday with his Sonata in D, Op. 28. When you consider the pastoral and Beethoven, his Symphony No. 6 in F, Op. 68, is probably the work that most often comes to mind. And it is a good example of the Arcadian impulse as is his even later Sonata for Violin and Piano in G, Op. 96. In the case of the Piano Sonata, op. 28, the appellation Pastorale that comes down to us was not invented by the composer, but by the publisher August Cranz of Hamburg (for an edition he published in 1838). Irving Kolodin, in his The Interior Beethoven, suggests this may have been done because of a perceived similarity between the first movement of the sonata and the F-major Symphony, or merely an attempt to connect to the fame of that work.
At any rate the first movement and finale display characteristic elements of the pastoral tradition. A languorous and sonorous opening of the first movement is created in part by the drone of a repeated D in the bass that does not cease for 24 bars. Charles Rosen, in his book on Beethoven's piano sonatas, comments on the "tranquil atmosphere, an unpretentious air of quiet mastery, with which the harmonic movement is accomplished." The rondo finale that concludes the sonata is very rustic music which heightens the pastoral feeling of the whole.
Finally, the Sonata, while written in the first year of the new century, seems to look backward rather than forward. It is in traditional classical form with four movements, including a sonata movement, a song movement, a scherzo and a rondo finale. It is this look backward that may in some sense be a final indication of its' arcadian essence.

The Interior Beethoven by Irving Kolodin. Alfred A. Knopf, New York. 1975.
Beethoven's Piano Sonatas: A Short Companion by Charles Rosen. Yale University Press. 2002

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