A  GNOSTIC  SYMPHONY

Veronic C. Testaguna

Introduced by Pelog Slenderoso

On the morning of July 26, 2008 the scientific community informed us that a finely
preserved fossil had been unearthed somewhere in Latvia. The creature, called
Ventastega Curonica, is thought to be 365 million years old, and occupies a transitional
position between fish and tetrapods.  It "probably swam through brackish waters, was
three to four feet long, and could also drag itself across sand banks without difficulty."  
Scientists are disinclined to believe that modern four-legged creatures evolved directly
from this "evolutionary dead-end," considering it more likely he represents "a branch that
died off, leading nowhere."

Precisely one week later, on July 3, a person of ambiguous gender (occupying a position
between the categories male and female, slithered through the half-open door to my office
at Ofterdingen Gesellschaft, where I currently preside as acting head.  From the folds of an
(appropriately ambiguous) garment she-he produced and presented me  with a card on
which I read the name, Veronica C. Testaguna.  This is an anagram for the fossil-thing
which, as Brahms said famously about the thematic similarity of his First Symphony with
Beethoven's Ninth, is something any ass can see.  Nor is the significance of the word-play
difficult to infer:  This lovely creature - the fossil, I mean -  living, loving, expiring millions of
years (I'm pretty sure) before the first dinosaurs emerged, melting into the past, giving way
to a world ignorant of its impoverishment - is nothing less than a paleontological symbol of
Heinrich von Ofterdingen, hints of whose vanished world appear now and then in the
musical discoveries of this our modest Gesellschaft.  (At the same time,
testa is Italian for
head, while
guna, as an exhaustive search has proved, means cheese in Old Icelandic.  
Hence Testaguna signifies
headcheese  which, as a visit to the local delicatessen will
affirm, is a curious hybrid cold-cut, resembling a chunk of earth in which sundry pieces of  
fossilized foods have congealed - it's quite good, and we often serve it at Gesellschaft
celebrations, along with draft beer and twinkies.)

...All of which conspires to makes my visitor's true identity easy to discover; indeed,  the
clever reader has by now probably exclaimed (in pleasure or in outrage)  "I knew it!" or
"This is impossible!" or perhaps  "Oh no, not again!"  For, like one of those cormorants  
seen off the coast of Long Island who, plunging into the sea, swims so rapidly and for so
long that the observer, having despaired of seeing the bird alive, is startled to discover him
at some distant point, gulping a slender fish down its curved ebony neck, Peter Ceniti, our
founder and chief-editor, has returned from oblivion, to the delight of his steadfast disciples
and to the dismay of his implacable foes, while it is surely no coincidence that his latest
"discovery" is the first work by Ofterdingen for solo piano since that original find,
The Blue
Flower
.  Nor should it surprise anyone that the "alternate universe" theory is here
propounded with greater force than ever, as in one of those Bruckner recapitulations that
combines restatement with development and climaxes in a hysterical apotheosis of noise.  
One can only wonder: with Ceniti back in the picture, can those other charter members of
our group, likewise missing so long - I speak of Pablo Cookie, of dear Pele Bono! - be far
behind?

A Gostic Symphony by Heinrich von Ofterdingen


Out of the mist of the beginning of our era there looms a pageant of mythical figures
whose vast, superhuman contours might people the walls and ceiling of another Sistine
Chapel.  Their countenances and gestures, the roles in which they are cast, the drama
which they enact, would yield images different from the biblical ones on which the
imagination of the beholder was reared, yet strangely familiar to him and disturbingly
moving.  The stage would be the same, the theme as transcending: the creation of the
world, the destiny of man, fall and redemption, the first and last things.  But how much
more numerous would be the cast, how much more bizarre the symbolism, how much
more extravagant the emotions!  All the action would be in the heights, in the divine or
angelic or daimonic realm, a drama of pre-cosmic persons in the supranatural world, of
which the drama of man in the natural world is but a distant echo.  And yet the
transcendental drama before all time, depicted in the actions and passions of manlike
figures,would be of intense human appeal: divinity tempted, unrest stirring among the
blessed Aeons, God's erring Wisdom, the Sophia, falling prey to her folly, wandering in
the void and darkness of her own making, endlessly searching, lamenting, suffering,
repenting,  laboring her passion into matter, her yearning into soul; a blind and arrogant
Creator believing himself the Most High and lording it over the creation, the product, like
himself, of fault and ignorance; the Soul, trapped and lost in the labyrinth of the world,
seeking to escape and frightened back by the gatekeepers of the cosmic prison, the
terrible Archons; a Savior from the Light beyond venturing into the nether world, opening
a path, healing the divine breach; a tale of light and darkness, of knowledge and
ignorance, of serenity and passion, of conceit and pity, not on the scale of man but of
eternal being that are not exempt from suffering and error.

The tale has found no  Michelangelo to retell it, no Dante and no Milton.  The sterner
discipline of biblical creed weathered the storm of those days and both Old and New
Testament were left to inform the mind and imagination of Western man.  Those
teachings which, in the feverish hour of transition challenged, tempted, tried to twist the
new faith are forgotten, their records buried in the tomes of their refuters or  in the sands
of ancient lands.  Our art and literature and much else would be different had the gnostic
message prevailed.

Thus begins Hans Jonas' monumental study, The Gnostic Religion, and I would add
at this point, by way of clarification, that Gnosticism, as Jonas reveals it, is best
understood to be a tendency common in late Antiquity, crossing religious boundaries, thus
noticeable not only in "heretical" Christian sects but in strains of Judaism and in Iranian
and Hellenic forms as well.  Its distinguishing features are a radical dualism (light and
darkness, spirit and matter, good and evil, etc.) and a profound world-weariness expressed
in a yearning for deliverance.  Salvation in this scheme comes through knowledge (gnosis)
and the primary gnostic insight is of our other-wordly origin: the gnostic soul awakens to its
plight as trapped in a fallen world, and the spiritual homesickness it experiences bears the
possibility of redemption.  Though squelched by the early Church, the Gnostic impulse
never disappeared completely, flowering in the late Middle Ages (see
The Frozen
Troubadour
in Publications for information on Pere Cardenal and the Albigensian
Crusade) and surfacing in modern times in various philosophies and sci-fi stories (notably
David Lindsay's
A Voyage to Arcturas, a favorite of the Ofterdingen Gesellschaft staff.)

But what has all  this to do with Heinrich von Ofterdingen?  Nothing! - just kidding: a
lot.  While backpacking in eastern Lativa last month, I unearthed a manuscript of a
hitherto unknown composition for solo piano entitled
A Gnostic Symphony, and both
the elegant script and the inimitable musical  style are so reminiscent of
The Blue Flower
that the absence of authorial designation seems a small impediment in reaching this
conclusion: the piece was written by Heinrich von Ofterdingen!

This serendipitous circumstance must  lead the scholar to put aside all
preconceptions and existing theories and admit to a serious revaluation of Ofterdingen's
place in music history.  Readers of the Gesellschaft will recall that, several years ago, in
the
Mystery Tapes (see Publications) several notions were passionately promulgated,
ranging from the plausible (if pedantic) view of Ofterdingen as Romantic recluse to the
(outrageous, unfounded) accusation of fraudulence and deception.  As it turns out
Professor Pele Bono (the beloved, wise, genial, muscular Bono, missing in action) seems
to have gotten it right: the evidence of the musical score before us strongly suggests that
Heinrich von Ofterdingen occupies an important place in the 19th c. of an alternate
universe, parallel to ours, about which we are now in a position to form an image.  

In this other "Age of Romanticism," it would seem, the Gnostic religion prevailed, resulting
in a world of dreamy idealists, pale, bony ascetics (impatient to escape the flesh), or
perhaps fat, lascivious epicureans (living it up, since the world's false anyway), but in any
case a world bent on transcendence - and here the full importance of Novalis'
Blue Flower
image is revealed.  The
Ideal, the unattainable, is that which draws us out of ourselves
and up from the world: music is the means to escape, even the path to salvation.  

As for the composition itself, I'd say there's probably a program in there - how could the
artist resist, with all those symbols ( The unknowable God, Sophia - Divine Wisdom,
the Evil Demi-urge, the Soul's Yearning, etc.) crying out for representation?  I will leave to
others the task of sorting this out.  (I have to stop soon and teach a kazoo lesson:  
somebody's got to pay the bills!)  The harmonic language also bears close examination: it
would seem to possess various modal touches reminiscent of Ofterdingen's tripartite
system (most clearly demonstrated in the
Tangerine Concerto), but these are mingled with
a free, expressive chromaticism that bespeaks a steady stylistic development.  The
pianistic textures (as one would expect by now) are varied and rather interesting, while
avoiding all suggestion of gratuitous or immoderate display.

In conclusion I ask the reader's indulgence as I refute (briefly but decisively) certain
assumptions that are being made regarding my personal life, information which in any case
has little bearing on the facts of solid scholarship but which, if left unchallenged, might lead
to confusion, embarrassment, even insomnia or constipation).  I state categorically then: I
detest alligators and all other reptiles, living as well as prehistorical,  I abhor
cross-dressing in all forms, and  I have never so much as tasted headcheese, whatever
that may be.  A few pertinent details on  my background can be gleaned from the modest
bio available in
Meet the Editors under Contacts.  I am, in fact, a woman, in the fullest
sense of the word, a woman in  a field dominated by men, incurring all the abuses that
inevitably ensue, a woman, it is true, of unusual physical strength and athletic prowess (yet
another source of bitter jealousy), a woman who can hold her liquor with more dignity and
grace than her heftier male counterparts, regardless of what they claim...

(But what if I'm Peter Ceniti after all - whom do you see when you look on him?  A foolish
man with a rumpled shirt? - children are laughing as, distracted, he steps in doggy-poo,
dreaming of empyrean realms.  Whom do you see when you look on him?  Novalis
incarnate, pining for his own lost Sophia, Novalis in whose
Hymns to the Night a Kingdom
of  blinding Darkness, primordial world-womb, lurks beyond lying day.  Whom do you see?  
(I love this rhythm!)  A Prince of Light from Beyond, bearing a saving message to an
uncomprehending world: Oh, sleepers, wake, we are spirit!  Gentle reader:  take not this
fair delusion away, else he shall perish, and all the angelic and daimonic realms along with
him shall cease to be.)

V. C. Testaguna