The Course of Empire
The Course of Empire is a cycle of five paintings by 18th century American painter Thomas Cole, founder of the Hudson River School. The cycle depicts the same landscape at different historical points of development of a fictional empire. The cycle was completed in 1836, and contains themes of man’s relationship to nature, development of civilization, excessive greed, and the vicissitudes of fortune. The cycle has been seen as a critical response to the election of populist president Andrew Jackson just a few years prior. Cole drew direct inspiration from Lord Byron’s Childe Harold's Pilgrimage, often citing the following lines in his descriptions and advertisements for the cycle: There is the moral of all human tales; 'Tis but the same rehearsal of the past. First Freedom and then Glory—when that fails, Wealth, vice, corruption—barbarism at last. And History, with all her volumes vast, Hath but one page. The symphony is in five movements, each one corresponding to a painting. In it there are several musical motives analogous to themes in the paintings, all tied together by an expansive and imposing minor 7th interval heard in each movement, representing the large boulder atop a mountain seen in every painting, itself representing fate and inevitability. The famous Welsh hymn Calon Lân is quoted at various points, representing introspection, reflection, and a break from the aggressive ambition depicted. The first verse of this hymn is as follows: I don’t ask for a luxurious life, the world’s gold or its fine pearls, I ask for a happy heart, an honest heart, a pure heart.
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