Fields of time to flamenco music

When art meets science


Who: Ronald Westra, physicist at the Department of Knowledge Engineering

What: The poem La leyenda del tiempo by Federico García Lorca

Target group: Science College students

“Music is very different to literature or visual arts. It connects directly to your emotion. Music only exists in the moment, a book or a painting will always be there waiting for you,” says physicist Ronald Westra. “It is very personal. If I put on Bach or Mozart when I am at home, my daughters immediately ask if I can turn it off. On the other hand, the music that they like often sounds like whining to me.”

What the Westra family took to straight away, however, was flamenco. “We were on holiday in Spain, in the neighbourhood of Granada. There were posters for a flamenco evening. I thought it would be commercial rubbish. But my wife and her brother really wanted to go.” Music was performed that was inspired by Federico García Lorca’s poems. “My Spanish is not good enough to understand the text, certainly not if it is being almost screamed out as it is with flamenco and in a heavy Andalusian accent, but I thought it was very impressive. There was dancing as well, a highly intense way of moving. It was performed with so much conviction: those people completely believe in it.”

Back from holiday, Westra became engrossed in Lorca’s poems. “He came from a well-to-do family. His father did not want him to become an artist. At first he became a banker but then he started writing poetry. Later on he went to the United States. Eventually he disappeared during the Spanish Civil War, most likely murdered by Franco supporters.”

Westra finds La leyenda del tiempo Lorca’s most beautiful poem. “It is about dream, reality and time. In the first stanza, he compares a dream to a sailing boat floating on the water. The dream is timeless. When you wake up, you don’t know exactly what the sequence was of the fragments that passed by. A few stanzas further on, it is about a toddler’s scream against the broken voice of the elder. In your dream you remain the same person, whether you are old or young. You can just as easily dream about your grandparents who have been dead for fifty years as about something that happened this week. Lorca writes something like: ‘But if the dream tries to build walls on the fields of time, then time reminds the dream that it is just a dream.’ And in Spanish that is magnificent.”

Time also plays an important role in physics. “The theory of relativity is one of the most fascinating issues in natural science. What is time, what is space, what are particles? These are the most elementary questions in the field. We can use formulas and calculations to provide answers, but not let it sink in. You also want an emotional answer, one you can really understand. A poem – in its undefinedness, mysticism and mystery – can make statements about it.”

In this column lecturers recommend art that throws a different light on their field than textbooks do

Fields of time to flamenco music
Author: Cleo Freriks
Federico García Lorca

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