“[…] there is greater glory in
killing war itself with words
than by killing men with swords;
and by achieving or maintaining peace through peace
rather than through war.”
Letter to Darius, 229, 2
In this new CD-Book War & Peace in Europe in the Age of the Baroque, we evoke through music the great century which preceded the end of the War of the Spanish Succession in 1714: a rich musical fresco and an in-depth historical review of a very brief but highly representative period in the history of Europe and its conflicts. From the Ottomans’ attack on Hungary in 1613, the Massacre of the Jews in Frankfurt in 1614 and the beginning of the Thirty Years War, to the Peace Treaty of Utrecht and the fall of Barcelona, we can see the extent of this unremitting tragedy of European civilization: the widespread use of the “culture of war” as the principal means of settling cultural, religious, political and territorial differences. This inventory of the long, sad succession of confrontations, wars, invasions, attacks, massacres, aggressions, sacking and fighting between peoples and ethnic groups throughout the history of mankind (in this case in Europe), teaches us that it is both necessary and urgent to acquire new ways of relating to each another if we are to reconcile differences in a world that is fertile in action, word and thought.
A century at war: 1614 – 1714
The 17th century began with numerous attempted invasions, constant skirmishes and repeated attacks by the Ottomans, who invaded and laid waste to Hungary on several occasions, and by the Thirty Years War. The length and violence of the war, of which the causes were multiple, had a grave impact on the economy and the demographics of central Europe and Spain. The various armed conflicts collectively known as the “Thirty Years War” tore Europe apart from 1618 to 1648, pitting the Habsburgs of Spain and the Holy Roman Empire against the mostly Protestant neighbouring European Powers, and sometimes also against France, which was mainly Catholic. The various episodes of the war including constant conflicts in the Netherlands, the Peace of Prague of 1635 (which, although it did not put an end to the Thirty Years War, brought about a change in the belligerents); the war against Spain, where the battlefronts shifted geographically from North to South; the war of the Ottoman Empire against Venice; the civil war in England, another nation which intervened on the international scene in a war as long as it was complicated; the Peace of the Pyrenees; the conquest of Crete by the Ottomans; the Treaties of Nimeguen and Ryswick and the Ottoman war against Russia, show that, far from being a separate issue, peace is always inevitably bound up with war. Our selection of music concludes with pieces celebrating the Peace Treaty of Utrecht, which in 1713 partially concluded the great War of the Spanish Succession. This large-scale conflict, in which the leading European Powers were locked in battle from 1701 to 1714, was the last great war waged by Louis XIV in his bid for the succession to the Spanish throne and, therefore, domination in Europe; the war of succession to the Spanish crown, which ended on 11th September 1714 with the capitulation of Barcelona, and was to have profound and lasting consequences for the organisation and relations between European nations, particularly between Catalonia and Spain. The Peace of Utrecht, which marked the end of the conflict, was one of the most important peace treaties of Modern Europe, drawing a new geopolitical map which would influence international relations throughout the 18th century and which would remain largely unaltered until the beginning of the 19th century, following the Napoleonic campaigns and another international alignment of similar importance arising from the Treaty of Vienna.
Music, Emotion & Memory
As a counterpoint to these moments in history, we have chosen to perform the most representative musical works by contemporary composers, both known and anonymous, from the period: Samuel Scheidt, Ambrosio Cotes, Lope de Vega, Johann Hermann Schein, Guillaume Dumanoir, Philidor, Johann Rosenmüller, John Jenkins, Jean-Baptiste Lully, Dimitrie Cantemir, Francesco Cavalli, Joan Cererols, John Blow, Joan Cabanilles, Marc-Antoine Charpentier, Antonio Caldara, Vasily Titov, Heinrich Ignaz Franz Bibern and George Frederick Händel, among the former, and Jewish (Aramaic), Ottoman, Catalan, Spanish and French composers, among the latter. Music, one of the highest artistic expressions of human sensibility, has been the constant companion of men and women in times both of war and peace. Sometimes it has been used as a rallying call to war, but it has also marked the signing of the peace. Music has been present at the battle-front as well as at the negotiating tables where peace treaties are signed, when former enemies finally decide to reach an agreement. It has roused men to fight, but it has also fostered friendship, harmony and respect between them. One of the fundamental characteristics of all civilizations is their capacity to remember the past, because without memory it is impossible to build a better future. Music is the art of memory par excellence, the most spiritual of all the arts (it only exists when the sound of a voice or an instrument brings it to life) and as such it is the earliest language of human beings.
“Without the senses there is no memory, and without memory there is no mind,” wrote Voltaire. Without the power of music to touch us with its emotion and beauty, it would not be possible for us to be fully human; in Goethe’s words “He who merely loves music is only half a human being, but he who practises it is fully human.” In Goethe’s opinion, musical sound goes straight to the human soul, with which it immediately resonates, “because music is inherent to human beings.”
The great century which concerns us here was graced by some extraordinary artists, scientists, explorers and thinkers, but it also witnessed numerous conflicts in which Christian Europe was embroiled in wars fuelled by religious strife and territorial ambitions. The century also saw the westward advance of the Muslim world and, ultimately, a new balance of power in which sovereign States prevailed over residual pockets of feudalism, resulting in absolute monarchies such as that of Louis XIV. The emotion of music in conjunction with these historical events offers us a new perspective, giving a powerful insight into the origins and the persistence of violence, which is inherent in all war, as well as the difficulties of achieving a durable and just peace between conquerors and conquered, and between peoples of different cultures and religions.
Royal armies versus national armies
It should not be forgotten that, more often than not, those wars were the result of power struggles in which the royal armies of one or several countries were sent to fight against the people of an invaded nation or country. Sometimes those armies fought against each other, while the local inhabitants stood by as more or less willing or helpless onlookers. In the 17th century, armies normally consisted of mainly professional soldiers: the officers were aristocrats, while the troops were mercenaries. This is what Erasmus of Rotterdam wrote in 1500 in his warning to the princes of his day: “And now, Princes, ponder and reflect on whether you have ever seen cities ruined, towns and villages reduced to ashes, churches burned or fields laid waste, and whether this spectacle appeared to you as devastating as it really is… For such is the fruit of war. If you lament the need to open the gates of your realm to the great, accursed multitude of mercenaries, to feed them at the expense of your own subjects, to curry their good will and even flatter them; and if, moreover, it grieves you to entrust yourself and your safety to their whim, then you should know, O Princes, that such misfortune is the fruit of war. War is the scourge of States, the tomb of justice. When the world is at arms, laws are reduced to silence.”
It was after the French Revolution – or, more precisely, from the time of Napoleon, that a terrible, systematic change came about with the conscription of young men from each and every family in both town and country. From then on, conflicts became all-out wars between nations: the French nation against the Russian nation, the German nation against the French nation, etc. Class differences between the aristocracy and the people translated into an elitist distribution of tasks and responsibilities; the result was the terrible carnage of ordinary soldiers in the First World War and the even more appalling and universal slaughter of the Second World War, in which millions, many of them civilians (between 65 and 75 million), were killed.
The culture of war
War has been a constant in the lives of men and women for more than 5,000 years, and today, at the beginning of the 21st century, the culture of war is stronger and more prevalent than ever. More and more armed conflicts all over the world take a daily toll of thousands of often innocent victims. With more than 35 million displaced people in the world, never in the history of mankind have there been such dramatically high numbers of refugees and people who cannot return to their countries of origin.
Like slavery, war is a form of institutionalised violence; it is neither natural nor normal, but is cultural in origin. As Raimon Panikkar so aptly observed in his book entitled Paz y desarme cultural (1993), “The first permanent army, in the sense of an entity specialised in violence, appeared in Babylon at a time when society was changing from being a matriarchy to a patriarchy.” Jan Smuts writes, “When I look at history, I am a pessimist, but when I look at prehistory, I am an optimist.” Indeed, wars were unknown in prehistory, even though tribal violence existed to a greater or lesser degree.
Civilization founded on power began around 3000 BC, when the invention of writing enabled power to become organized and to establish a strict control over society, which in turn led to an increase in slavery as a source of cheap labour and soldiers. From that time forward, the number of wars and their victims steadily increased.
And yet, we should not forget that “for more than 95% of his existence, Man has been a hunter, not a warrior. The urban transformation that accompanied the Neolithic revolution was characterised by the passage from a matriarchal civilization to a patriarchal civilization.”
Peace & Disarmament
The search for peace has also been a constant in the lives of men and women for more than 5,000 years, yet even in today’s world it seems to be an unattainable utopia. Nevertheless, the art of living as a human being is precisely to attempt the impossible. Having said that, as Raimon Panikkar points out, “The attempt to achieve peace by means of a single culture has not gone beyond the archetype of the Pax romana … The objective of peace is necessary if we wish to impose our culture, our economy, our religion or our democracy.” In fact, peace is not possible without disarmament, but the disarmament required is not merely nuclear, military or economic. As Panikkar suggests, we also need a genuine cultural disarmament, “a disarming of the dominant culture that threatens to become a monoculture which, in stifling all other cultures, is ultimately itself asphyxiated.” Is there any way of halting the increasingly deadly arms races and the worldwide proliferation of all manner of ever-more sophisticated weapons of destruction? We cannot forget the more than 124 million victims of the numerous wars waged in the 20th century, from the First World War to more recent conflicts, or the more than 800.000 people who die each year as a result of armed violence, when in more than 50 countries, armed violence is among the ten major causes of death.
History also has a memory, and it teaches us that “victory never results in peace, that peace is not the fruit of victory,” as demonstrated by the tens of thousands of documents on which Jörg Fisch based his book Krieg und Frieden im Friedensvertrag (Stuttgart, 1979). These documents reveal not only the most unimaginable shortsightedness of human beings, but also their even greater naïveté. In conclusion, history teaches us that peace is not delivered by treaties, just as love is not summoned by decree. There is something in the nature of both peace and love which cannot be created to order, and that “only reconciliation can lead to peace.” All peace is made up of three equal and essential elements: freedom, harmony and justice. But, as Raimon Panikkar, says, “Justice is not to be confused with legality.” In this context, we need only remember that the original Constitution of the United States excluded slaves and black Americans.
I firmly believe that we can only combat the arch enemies of mankind – which are ignorance, hatred and selfishness – through love, knowledge, empathy and understanding. And isn’t that the ultimate purpose of art and thought? That is why it is essential to understand today’s globalised world, to be more aware of the complexity of the circumstances in which we live in order to reflect independently on how we might contribute to change “the dreadful chaos in which exhausted humanity currently lives, seemingly having lost touch with the essential values of civilization and humanism” (Amin Maalouf).
A world in crisis
The chaotic state of the world has been exacerbated in recent years by inhuman economic policies that have sacrificed millions of lives in the pursuit of completely outdated systems of exploitation. That is why, in these times of grave economic crisis, the sharp increase in military spending in the world is all the more surprising, reaching the astronomical figure of more than 1,700 billion dollars and serving merely to fuel and prolong the numerous armed conflicts which currently rage in the East and the West, many of them still unresolved and with little prospect of being resolved in the near future. Unfortunately, this proliferation of long-term conflicts (in Afghanistan, Iraq, Chechnya, Palestine and Africa), as well as more recent conflicts (Syria) and the so-called “irregular” guerrilla wars (in Latin America) and various forms of terrorism, have so far claimed the lives of thousands of innocent victims and resulted in more than 35 million displaced people in the world. As Erasmus accusingly wrote in 1516, “War almost always takes its heaviest toll on those who have no part in it.” Twenty years after having allowed the systematic destruction of Sarajevo and the massacre of thousands of innocent Bosniaks, we are now witnessing the martyrdom of the Syrian people with the same human indifference and total impotence on the part of the world’s great nations. Absolute evil is always that which man inflicts on man, and it is a universal fact that concerns all mankind. Hannah Arendt was perhaps the first to recognize that fact when in 1945 she wrote: “The problem of evil will be the fundamental question facing postwar intellectual life in Europe.” Can art, music and beauty save mankind from that evil?
In Dostoyevsky’s novel The Idiot, an atheist called Hippolite asks Prince Myshkin, “Is it true, my Prince, that you once said that “beauty” would save the world? Gentlemen,” he exclaimed, addressing the whole company, “the prince contends that beauty will save the world […] What kind of beauty is it that will save the world? […] Myshkin stared at him in silence.” The prince has no answer, but, like Antoni Tàpies, we believe in an art that is useful to society, an art that through beauty, grace, emotion and spirituality, has the power to transform us and make us more sensitive and altruistic.
I would like to conclude with a quotation from a great writer, a man of great commitment and a very dear friend, José Saramago: “If I were asked to place charity, justice and goodness in order of priority, I would put goodness first, justice second and charity third. Because goodness in itself is already a source of justice and charity, and true justice is a source of charity. Charity is what is left when there is neither goodness nor justice. […] And there is one more thing I would like to add. I am old and sceptical enough to realize that “active goodness”, as I call it, is unlikely to become the common social framework. However, it can be the personal driving force of each individual and the best antidote to the ‘sick animal’ that is man.”
Bellaterra, Autumn 2014
Translated by Jacqueline Minett