Today, romance, reality, and engineering design.
The University of Houston's College of Engineering
presents this series about the machines that make
our civilization run, and the people whose
ingenuity created them.
It does not seem possible
that Kenneth Clark's brilliant TV series,
Civilisation, came out so long ago, in
1969. His style and content, imitated so often over
the years, have permanently touched our thinking.
The other night, I heard Clark's ghost once again
in a concert by the group, Fortune's
Wheel. Their music of the high Middle Ages,
reminded me of Clark's program on Romance and
We've grown accustomed to many forms of early music
-- pianofortes and gut-stringed violins playing
Mozart, Purcell and Monteverdi in baroque style,
Dufay and Josquin on renaissance crumhorns and
viols. We've become pretty familiar with music from
after the horrors of the fourteenth century plague
and the Hundred Years War.
What little we do hear from the twelfth
and thirteenth centuries is usually Gothic
cathedral music -- done in the Gregorian modes.
Yet, the secular music of that age wore a
very different face. The Virgin Mary had emerged as
the primary intercessor for the European laity, and
the odd result was a fixation on romantic love.
Every woman was the Virgin in human form -- every
man, her noble knight, serving her with absolute
purity of heart.
The result, Clark says, was a form of
fantasy behind which lay a sharp sense of
reality. Outward reality was symbolic of
the ideal order behind it. Reality was to be taken
seriously, because it was a token of the ideal (or
the fantasy) that underlay it.
Scholars have gradually decoded some of the secular
music of that period from very limited sources, and
written in primitive musical notation. But
texts survive. So many lyrics -- sagas to
tear one's heart. Here's an example, a simple
expression of grief by a departing knight to his
Without my heart, I depart in sadness,
and will have no joy until I return
But not all love is requited. Listen to this
how can your subtle sweetness
be so harsh to me
when I gave my heart, my body, and my love?
The most poignant piece in the program was sung of
a lady whose husband had died in a tournament. She
begins a life with him gone.
Beautiful Doette began to build an abbey
which is very large,
and she will be the abbess.
there she will take in all
who, through love, know pain and suffering.
-- that last line sung in a heart-rending
And there was the parallel with the best
engineering. The new machine is always the fruit of
fantasy, shaped in an ideal world of the mind, to
function amidst harsh realities outside. Small
wonder these people sent European technology on its
blazing leap forward. Without the dream behind it,
no machine -- no love -- stands up to worldly
assault. Behind that glorious music, the other
night, I also heard the engines that drove a great
epoch in human history.
I'm John Lienhard, at the University of Houston,
where we're interested in the way inventive minds
Clark, Sir K., Romance and Reality. Civilisation:
A Personal View, New. York: Harper and Row,
Publishers, 1969, pp. 60-87.
The concert, titled Pastourelle, was
presented by Fortune's Wheel (Lydia,
Heather Knutson, Eric Mentzel, Shira Kammen, and
Robert Mealy) at Christ Church Cathedral, Houston,
on Sunday, March 2, 2003 as part of the Houston
Early Music Series. Instrumentation consisted of
two vielles and a medieval harp.
The Engines of Our Ingenuity is
Copyright © 1988-2003 by John H.