Return to Arcadia
Arcadia is a universal theme permeating the whole history of art, the earliest examples of Arcadian art works being Polybius the Arcadian’s (c. 200 – c. 118 BC) Histories, Ovid’s (43 BC– 17/18 AC) Metamorphoses, Theocritus’s (died 260 BC) Idylls, Virgil’s (70 BC–19 BC) Eclogues. Music historian Giuseppe Gerbino (2014,1) points out the veiled eroticism of Arcadian pastoral:
“At the beginning of the seventeenth century, cardinal Roberto Bellarmino allegedly claimed that Batista Guarini’s Il pastor fido posed as great a threat as the protestant reformation”.
It would be demeaning to stigmatize pastorale poetry only as frivolous and self-referential pastime of the elite. Contrariwise, the pastoral fiction seemed to “work as a metaphor for human existence, and as a way to articulate discourses about human nature and its relation to the world” (Gerbino 2014, 4). However, this exposition cannot provide an overall view on this literature. The pastorale idyll has also been depicted in the painting by Nicolas Poussin called Arcadian Shepherds. The first version was painted around 1628–30 and is located in Chatsworth House, in Derbyshire. The other version (painted c. 1637–38), entitled Les Bergers d’ Arcadie, is currently in the Louvre. In both paintings, the shepherd is pointing to the words engraved on a tombstone: Et in Arcadia ego.
According to art historian Louis Marin ( 1995, 29) Poussin deconstructed historical painting through metarepresantation:
“He construes the painting as a kind of ’theoretical’ paradigm while representing representation as contemplation. Yet his conception deconstructs the painting in the very instant its end is achieved, the moment it provokes the delectation or jouissance that is the effect of representation itself.” (Marin  1995, 28.)
Louis Marin (1999, 80) points out art historian Erwin Panofsky’s (1892–1968) thesis relying on the two contradictory characterizations of Arcadia that may be found in classical texts. “On the other hand we have the Arcadia of Ovid and Polybius the Arcadian. This Arcadia is the land of precivilized origins, of the origin contrued as a wilderness. On the other hand we have the conception of Arcadia described in Virgil’s Eclogues, a conception resulting from transference, that is a renaming of the Sicily of Theocritus’s Idylls.” The latter conception created by Theocritus and Virgil, emphasizes the “discordance between the supernatural perfection of an imaginary space and the natural limits of human life.” (Marin (1999, 80)
The fragment Et in Arcadia ego could be seen as a paraphrase of Virgil’s V Eclogue, which tells about the shepherds Menalcas and Mopsus arriving at the tomb of their companion Daphnis. In Eclogue V the shepherds Menalcas and Mopsus mourn their deceased companion Daphnis:
The thistle springs up
and the thorn-bush with the sharp prickles.
Strew the ground with leaves,
draw the shadows over the fountains, shepherds.
Daphnis orders such things to be done for him;
And make a tomb, and to the tomb superadd an inscription:
‘I am Daphnis in the woodlands, known hence even to the stars.
Guard of a beautiful flock, myself more beautiful even.’
(Virgil, translated by I. Perley Smith 1909, 31.)
Thus the shepherds cried over their beloved Daphnis. This has often been interpreted as a metaphor for death, which is present even in Arcadia. One could ask whether death is not the key element of our ”first” experience of the natural world. The scent of mouldering earth – with no sense of drama – is typical of real woodland. This suggestion is at the core of our performance of Et in Arcadia. The materiality of wood is used as a performative element in our music performance.
Wood is often experienced as a secure, organic and welcoming material, although it is undeniably dead and brittle, having lost its vital elasticity. Wood, used as building material, has lost its ability to grow new leaves, and the tree’s photosynthesis has stopped. These multi-layered and even contradictory qualities of wood are known to instrument builders around the world, and the famous verse Dum vixi tacui, mortua dulce cano has often been written on the lids of the muselars and harpsichords of the 17th-century: While living I was silent; dead, I sing sweetly.
According to Bachelard ( 2006, 11), the unconscious is immediately captured by the ambiguity of the matter embedded in the form. The imagination seems to become particularly fascinated by a matter that tempts an imaginative response: “A matter without imagined dual existence cannot play this psychological role of fundamental matter. Matter that does not provide the opportunity for a psychological ambivalence cannot find the poetic double which allows endless transpositions.” (Bachelard  2006, 11.)
In our performance, wood as artistic material creates multiple poetic connotations. To Virgil, Arcadia was the meeting point of life and death, the very place where the circle of life can be understood in its most tangible manner. In this case, even the wooden concert venue and instruments, as well as the living (singing) and dead materials of the performance itself, themselves embed endless amounts of the ”poetic transpositions” described by Bachelard ( 2006, 11). This is one way of enhancing materiality in a music performance.
Landscaping a meditative garden
The cultural values related to trees, gardens, parks and woodlands can be analyzed by exploring the ideas of the famous landscape architects. The most interesting topic concerning our Et in Arcadia ego-music performance is the relationship between the natural and artificial elements. Art historian and art philosopher Oskar Bätschmann points out the essential element of portrayal as evidence of the death of the person it represents and he quotes Blaise Pascal, who expressed this dialectic of the portrait followingly: “A portrait contains absence and presence, pleasure and displeasure. Reality excludes absence and displeasure.” (Pascal cited by Bätschmann 1990, 50.)
Ermenonville, near Paris is one of the most famous meditative parks, and belonged to the marquis Louis-René de Girardin (1735–1808), who was passionate about landscape gardening. Ermenonville was inspired by English gardens but was particularly known for its paysages interessans, a more liberated way of landscaping compared to the previous style of geographical lines dominated by Cartesian laws (van den Brock 2012, 44). This passion for landscaping led de Girardin to write a book, De la composition des paysages, ou des moyens d’embellir la nature autours des habitations, en y joignant l’agréable à l’utile, which was published in 1777 (Ibid., 45–46).
The ideas of a ”natural” landscape and of a cultivated and designed park are intertwined. Van den Broek describes the relationship between fabricated and natural by pointing out the special interconnection this question has with painting. “Most painters of that time fabricated dramatized landscapes, made up of landmarks, villages, castles, ruins, mills, and monumental trees. In England, the painting more or less preceded the landscape, whereas de Girardin tried to lay out a landscape that invited to be painted.” (Van den Broek 2012, 47.)
De Girardin wanted to show the endless possibilities of embellishing and enriching nature (van den Broek 2012, 52). Already in the beginning of his book de Girardin shows the differences between his ideas on landscaping referred to the previous landscape architect André Le Notre’s (1613–1700) visions. According to de Girardin Le Notre managed to massacre the nature in the name of architecture, mutilated the trees in every way, flattened the terrain into a monotonous planimetry, and made the whole plantation follow cold symmetrical lines (de Girardin 1777, Introduction xj).
In contrast, De Girardin aimed at developing, conserving and imitating the nature. He didn't want to force it to submit to the rules of architecture. (de Girardin 1777, Introduction xij–xiij.) André Le Notre didn’t write a book on landscaping, but one can visit the gardens and parks he has designed. For him the symmetry and clear, geometric layouts probably incorporated power, monarchy and divine omnipotence on earth. His re-landscaping of Le Jardin des Tuileries (1664) was like the Elysian Fields come true.
One of the most recent meditative parks, I have visited is Sanssouci in Potsdam, Germany. This large park spreads out in front of the palace of Sanssouci once owned by Frederick the Great. One of his ideas with the creation of the park was to cultivate plums, figs and grapevines in Potsdam, and therefore a terraced vineyard garden was built there in 1744. A pavilion resembling a Chinese teahouse is located on the south side of the palace with a golden figurine representing an imaginative version of a Chinese man sitting on top of the pavilion’s tambour and holding a parasol. The pavilion was built during 1755–1764 and designed by the architect Johann Gottfried Büring. As also typical for meditative gardens of the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, Sanssouci includes artificial ruins called Roman Pillars, a round temple and a wall of an ancient theatre were built in 1748 and designed by Georg Wenzeslaus von Knobelsdorff and a theatre painter, Innocente Bellavita.
Similar elements can be found in meditative landscape gardens in Finland, but on a smaller scale. The gardens of Mustio, Fagervik and Monrepos, near the former Finnish town of Viborg, are all famous for details resembling those in Sanssouci. Meditative landscape gardens are often designed to have a calming effect on the human mind, but at the same time they are meant to invigorate the (possibly) weary soul and to orientate the thoughts towards lofty and universal themes such as the course of human life and death, the human history and humans’ role on earth. One can ponder different nations on our planet, and the different types of nature one can experience here in different countries. The paths through the garden are designed to provide compelling sights, which are constantly revealing new viewpoints on the landscape.
Typically, a charming river weaves back and forth along and across the path of a meditative garden. Often, a pretty bridge is built over it, and perhaps one might even see an island or a formation of rocks in the water, making the river even more interesting. The sound of water amongst the stones and curves is as important as its winding shapes. One path might lead to the gravestone of an ancient philosopher, while another tempts us towards a delightful pavilion, or a meadow, or perhaps a statue. The light one sees through the high thickets of reeds is different from the one filtering through the leaves of a maple tree. All of the elements of a garden are carefully studied and conjoined in order to emphasize their diversity or their mutual harmony.
This surrounding, omni-directional and immersive effect of nature concords with the ideas of the aural garden of Et in Arcadia ego-music performance. The aural omnidirectionality can be referred to visual sensory impulses like Don Ihde (2007, 75) does followingly:
“My auditory field and my auditory focusing is not isomorphic with visual field and focus, it is omnidirectional. In the shape of the auditory field, as a surrounding thing, the field-shape ’exceeds’ that of the field-shape of sight. Were it to be modeled spatially, the auditory field would have to be conceived of as a ’sphere’ within which I am positioned, but whose ’extent’ remains indefinite as it reaches outward toward a horizon.”
The challenge is to overcome the qualitative differences between the acoustical and amplified sounds. Therefore the experimentation between the acoustical and manifactured sound are crucial for this kind of a performance and artistic research.