Friday, February 19, 2021

This Planet Needs us, Just as we Need this Planet


The baroque music of Jean-Philippe Rameau coupled with modern street dance. The result is nearly mind-boggling. Gaia appears to us in her vital, strong, exuberant form.

To be sure, it would be difficult to say that Rameau was an ecologist. This opera, "Les Indes Galantes" was composed in 1736 and the views of the time were very different from ours and the story is weak, a sugary pastiche of exotic loves, not truly very interesting. But Rameau was first and foremost a composer, a great innovator in his times. And, here, the music he proposes to us sounds very modern in how it catches the strong armonies of the natural world. What's most remarkable is how some people in the early 18th century already saw forests as a source of life and peace.  The main words say,

Pleasant Forests, pleasant forests
Heaven, heaven, you made them
For innocence and for peace
After that Luisella Chiavenuto sent me a link to this piece, I have seen it, I think, 20 times, maybe more. And every time I watch it, it seems to me mind-boggling that in 1736 someone could compose a music that would match so well and so perfectly with our modern street dancing. The intensity of the whole scene... it is indescribable. Look at the faces of the dancers, look at the singer, Sabine Dievilhe, look at how intensely she sings, she acts, she moves. You have to feel in your guts, you cannot perceive it with your brain. 
Perhaps the most surprising thing is that this moment of incredible intensity comes from a opera that's little more than a sugary story that reflect plenty of prejudice against the "savages" that Europeans encountered in their saga of domination of the lands beyond the oceans.
Yet, Rameau manages to convey the feeling they must have had at that time, the discovery that the world was so much larger than it had been thought to be not long before. A world that, in our times, has shrunk to nearly nothing, encroached by the human expansion that has destroyed nearly everything that at the time of Rameau could be called "savage."
So, today, like at the time of Rameau, we lounge for something that maybe exists/existed only in our dreams. But dreams are not a matter of little importance. They have a remarkable tendency to tell us much more than we can perceive when awake. And the dream of the "pleasant forests" that Rameau thought and that Sabine Dievilhe sings so well remains with us.
Humans are not just wood-cutting animals. When they are at their best, they can do this and even more beautiful things, all part of the infinite variety of Gaia. 

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Ugo Bardi is a member of the Club of Rome, faculty member of the University of Florence, and the author of "Extracted" (Chelsea Green 2014), "The Seneca Effect" (Springer 2017), and Before the Collapse (Springer 2019)