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Denis de Rougemont, Open Letter to the Europeans

Ferney-Voltaire (Ain), France, February 21 1970

ELPENOR EDITIONS IN PRINT


We have to wait for the middle of the fifteenth century for the terms Europe and European to enter into current usage. This was a time when Christendom was losing its Near Eastern extensions, now occupied by the Turks, and was tending more to coincide with geographical Europe, and yet the first humanists were beginning to distinguish between the two concepts of christianitas and Europa. It was in the works of a man who was first a great humanist called Aeneas Sylvius Piccolomini, then a great pope called Pius II, that Europe, faced with the Islam of Mahomet II, saw herself defined as the Christian heir to both Rome and Greece.

*** 

Music is born with the Gregorian chant - the first European musical language - in Italy in the sixth century, it is enriched at the monastery of Saint Gall with the sequences and tropes of Notker and Tuotilo, it comes into being independently with the troubadours of Languedoc, from the twelfth century, at Saint Martial of Limoges, at Notre Dame in Paris, then later in Champagne and the North - Philippe de Vitry, Guillaume de Machaut - and simultaneously in Florence - laudi and madrigals -, and finally at the court of Burgundy and in Flanders. Among the Flemish and Italian cities, along the great trading route of the Renaissance linking Venice and Bruges, trading composers and styles increases in the fifteenth century: Guillaume Dufay is an illustration. A new school blossoms in Flanders with Ockeghem and Josquin des Pres. It extends out to Burgundy, France, and from Spain to Bohemia, then goes back down again towards Italy, which it enriches with its numerous discoveries, until the sixteenth century, when Roland de Lattre, born in Mons, becomes Orlando Lasso in Rome and Naples, then Roland de Lassus in Paris and Bavaria. Later, the Germans, like Heinrich Schutz come to be initiated with the Venetian masters. Bach diligently copies the works of Vivaldi. In the nineteenth century, the centre of gravity of European music shifts towards the Germanic regions, Hanover, Saxony, Vienna, Bayreuth. It is then to the German masters that the first composers from Moscow and St. Petersburg come to learn their craft. At the beginning of the twentieth century, several Russians, such as Stravinski, will influence Western music in their turn, impressing Paris with their works. The evolution of painting follows more or less the same routes. These routes, we should note, run across a dozen borders with glorious indifference. They link cities, creative centres, masters, and not nations in the modern sense. (...) Roland de Lassus does not belong to the Belgium, France, or Italy, of the present, just as Grunewald did not become a French painter owing to the annexation of Colmar to France nearly three centuries after his death. When it comes to music, painting, architecture, philosophy or science, to say nothing of religion which inspired them all in the beginning, there is not a single branch of our culture that does not result from a thousand exchanges, weaving the common fabric of European arts; and there is not a single one of them that one may study seriously or intelligibly in an area limited by the frontiers of a single one of our present nations. There is no more "French painting" than "German chemistry" or "Soviet mathematics", since before all these arbitrary divisions, there is a great community of creations and mutual influences which will always be called Europe in the history of the human spirit.

 

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