Saturday, October 02, 2010

Rudhyar in Retrospect 1: The Seed-Man

Daniel Chennevière was born in Paris in 1895 and died as Dane Rudhyar 90 years later in San Francisco, having experienced one of the richer lives in human history. He was bedridden at age 12 following the removal of one of his kidneys, which spared him from being killed in World War One a decade later. During his convalescence, he studied music and philosophy, receiving a degree in the latter at age 16 from the Sorbonne. As a teenager, he had an intuitive vision, according to the remarkable Khaldea website dedicated to his work (click here), "which conditioned his entire life and work: (1) Time is cyclic, and cyclicity governs civilizations as well as all aspects of existence; (2) Western civilization is coming to what could be symbolically called the autumn phase of its cycle of existence. Such realizations made Rudhyar feel the urge to divorce himself from Europe and to seek a "New World" — a land where he could sow himself as a seed, carrying within his being the harvest of whatever was viable and constructive in the European past. The ideal of the "seed man" thus rose in his consciousness, dominating his thinking and his actual living."

His first book, published in 1913, was a study of the music of Debussy and included three piano compositions of his own. Chennevière was in the center of the Western artistic and spiritual avant-garde his entire life, and his teenage years were no exception. He worked as a secretary to the sculptor Rodin, attended the premiere of "Le Sacre du Printemps," and composed music for Valentine de Saint-Point's (above) dance troupe, Métachorie. The latter, according to the khaldea website, "was a Futuristic form of multimedia performance art, an abstract synthesis of dance-motion, poetry, music, geometrical form, color and perfume. A controversial and outspoken personality, Ms. de Saint-Point is today recognized as the prototypical female performance artist."

In 1916, Métachorie came to the United States for performances at the Metropolitan Opera with Chennevière's music being conducted by Pierre Monteux. Chennevière never looked back, abandoning Europe for the New World, and legally changing his name to Rudhyar, close to the Sanskrit word for "red," with Dane added because U.S. authorities demanded a first name. He spent the next, destitute three years on the East Coast composing and studying Oriental philosophies, while befriending an amazing variety of characters from the composer Edgar Varese to conductor Leopold Stokowski. It was the latter who introduced him to the Philadelphia heiress and prominent Theosophist, Christine Wetherill Stevenson, who became his sponsor and helped Rudhyar arrive at Krotona, a utopian Theosophist colony (below) in the Hollywood Hills, on January 1, 1920. California, with a few detours, became Rudhyar's home for the rest of his life.

Rudhyar continued composing his polytonal, modernist music, and helped to found the International Composers Guild and the California New Music Society, along with his composer friend Henry Cowell, who he met in 1920 at the Temple of the People at the small Theosophist colony in Halcyon on the California Central Coast, which still exists. He also wrote incidental music for the Hollywood Pilgrimage Play (below) that was written by Christine Stevenson, which was a successor to her "Life of Buddha" outdoor theatrical starring the modern dancer Ruth St. Denis. Shuttling between California and New York, he worked with St. Denis' pupil, Martha Graham, improvising piano music for rehearsals of her earliest dance compositions. He worked a bit in films, notably playing Christ in Cecil B. DeMille's silent 1924 version of "The Ten Commandments," with appearances in the same role for six months in the live stage prologue to the film when it played at the Grauman's Theatre.

One of the first people he met in Hollywood was B.P. Wadia (above right), an important Indian labor organizer who eventually broke with the Theosophical Society and joined an offshoot called the United Lodge of Theosophists. Theosophy, an esoteric spiritual movement fusing Eastern and Western traditions, had been undergoing schisms since 1891, with the death of its founder H.P. Blavatsky (below), a wild, wandering Russian mystic whose two years in Tibet gave birth to her major text, "The Secret Doctrine." By 1920, The Theosophical Society in India was being headed by the English Blavatsky disciple Annie Besant, who was pushing Krishnamurti as the vehicle of the coming Buddha reincarnation Maitreya, a claim that Krishnamurti eventually publicly renounced himself.

Rudhyar and Krishnamurti (below) are interesting complementary figures, both nurtured by Theosophy but both strikingly individual rather than doctrinaire. Their messages can probably be summed up as: "Learn how to think for yourself, and the world will be transformed."

Krishnamurti's break in 1929 with Annie Besant and the Theosophists took place at a huge public gathering in the Netherlands, where he said the following:
"You may remember the story of how the devil and a friend of his were walking down the street, when they saw ahead of them a man stoop down and pick up something from the ground, look at it, and put it away in his pocket. The friend said to the devil, "What did that man pick up?" "He picked up a piece of the truth," said the devil. "That is a very bad business for you, then," said his friend. "Oh, not at all," the devil replied, "I am going to help him organize it." I maintain that truth is a pathless land, and you cannot approach it by any path whatsoever, by any religion, by any sect. That is my point of view, and I adhere to that absolutely and unconditionally. Truth, being limitless, unconditioned, unapproachable by any path whatsoever, cannot be organized; nor should any organization be formed to lead or coerce people along a particular path."


namastenancy said...

Rudhyar - that's a name from the past that I haven't heard much in recent years. One of my astrology teachers, Nicki Michaels was a student of Rudhyar's and a friend of his wife. I went to the last couple of workshops that he gave before he died. I love his astrology work on the lunation cycle although the rest of it is over my head. Somewhere in my LP's, I've got an album of his music autographed by him.

Monica said...

Civic Center, you never fail to amaze me with the breadth of your intellect. I've been a fan of Rudhyar ever since 8th grade, when I tried to fathom "The Astrology of Personality."

The Sabian symbols are used by astrologers to this day, particularly by Jude's Threshold: