Monday, 8 November 2010

Impossible Music

We may be grateful that an intrepid team of Oxford musicologists have established once and for all that the above depicted sonata for flute - as played by the derri̬re - is, indeed, impossible. In fact, of all the instruments depicted in Heironymus Bosch's legendary tryptich, The Garden of Earthly Delights, only the flute and the drum were in any way playable (and neither of them, in quite the way they were intended). Of the painting's hurdy gurdy, Andy Lamb, manager of the Bate Collection, the museum behind the project, attests in The Guardian, "The design seems to be fundamentally flawed. When you turn the handle, you get a half-hearted buzzing noise, but you can't get any melodies out of it. It would be difficult to hold because its strings are in the wrong position Рand there is even a superfluous string."

But if the infernal music of the painting's right hand side - the music of hell, of dystopia - is impossible; the imagined utopian music of the right hand side is unrepresentable. Bosch's contemporary, Thomas More, who claimed to have been told about Utopia by a man from Antwerp, where Bosch lived and worked for many years, offers the following in supplement to The Garden's silent left hand:
"Yet in one thing they very much exceed us: both vocal and instrumental, is adapted to imitate and express the passions, and is so happily suited to every occasion, that, whether the subject of the hymn be cheerful, or formed to soothe or trouble the mind, or to express grief or remorse, the music takes the impression of whatever is represented, affects and kindles the passions, and works the sentiments deep into the hearts of the hearers."