Monday, 6 February 2017

The coolness of Purcell

In my last post I wrote that my use of art in a particular context depended on "an overly etymological understanding of the word art". I've been thinking about this with a certain amount of self doubt, and have found that my use of the word etymological was dubious.

Etymology (the word) is developed ultimately from the Greek adjective ετυμος (there may be a diacritic or two there – we didn't do them at O-level ).  It means true or real. A calque...
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To form a calque the receiving language borrows the format that the donor language uses to construct a typically two-part compound, but not the word itself. It translates each element of the compound using a native word: for example Latin omni- + potens, Old English æl- + mihtig (whence our almighty), Spanish todo- + poderoso. [Incidentally, that bunch of examples isn't supposed to suggest a series of any kind; its just a bunch of examples.] ...
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...used by Cicero was veriloquium (says Etymonline); sadly there's no English borrowing *veriloquy.

But what of art? There's nothing particularly real or true about the meaning I was referring to.  Etymonline says this:
art (n.) Look up art at Dictionary.com
early 13c., "skill as a result of learning or practice," from Old French art (10c.), from Latin artem (nominative ars) "work of art; practical skill; a business, craft," from PIE *ar-ti- (source also of Sanskrit rtih "manner, mode;" Greek arti "just," artios "complete, suitable," artizein "to prepare;" Latin artus "joint;" Armenian arnam "make;" German art "manner, mode"), from root *ar- "fit together, join" (see arm (n.1)). In Middle English usually with a sense of "skill in scholarship and learning" (c. 1300), especially in the seven sciences, or liberal arts. This sense remains in Bachelor of Arts, etc. Meaning "human workmanship" (as opposed to nature) is from late 14c. Sense of "cunning and trickery" first attested c. 1600. Meaning "skill in creative arts" is first recorded 1610s; especially of painting, sculpture, etc., from 1660s. Broader sense of the word remains in artless... More here
So the words "Meaning 'human workmanship' (as opposed to nature) is from late 14c." hit the spot, but of course the meaning kept developing; the meaning I had in mind was not original (not that that matters, as I keep emphasizing, and as this blog argues – it was just one of many stops along the way).  A rolling word gathers dozens of meanings. In  fact, even stops is the wrong image – meanings are more like a river (which has different general characters at different points of its passage, but which at any moment can take on any new meaning or nuance of meaning, depending on context).
See a bigger one here


My reason for making the assumption that human workmanship was the original sense was the text of one of Purcell's pieces that my choir will be singing in – oo-er – less than four weeks: Come Ye Sons of Art. When I first sang this piece (with another choir) I realized that sons of art weren‘t people like Constable (Junior) and his school-chums, assuming (stupidly) that this sort of art was the original meaning. Offshoots like artless and Bachelor of Arts should have saved me from leaping to this conclusion.


In that choir, our MD was a music teacher, and in one concert we sang part of Dido & Aeneas – possibly the sailors' chorus "Come Away, Fellow Sailors" where they...

...take a boozy short leave of your nymphs on the shore
And silence their mourning with vows of returning

But never  intending to visit them more.

(Age-old sailor behaviour – ‘doing a "Bobby Shaftoe"', as mentioned before.)

<FWIW> 
Etymonline notes boozy as dating from 1719, and OED is one of its sources. So – unless Etymonline is missing a trick – Nahum Tate's libretto of Dido & Aeneas, written in the last years of the previous century, was putting a pretty untried neologism in the mouths of the sailors. 
</FWIW>
Anyway, Dido. We  were singing from a set of scores borrowed from our MD's A-level set. And in the margin next to the marvellous descending ground bass at the beginning of Dido's Lament the previous owner had written

‘Purcell, you are so cool‘.

Well, he is. Come and hear, on 4 March at Reading University‘s Great Hall.

b

PS And here's a clue:

  • The pathologically dependent, in for a penny,  accuses. (7)


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