Modern medicine has not only saved my life, but prolonged it, though this comes at something of a toll to my brain’s clarity of thought and attention. So, dear reader, you will perhaps forgive this old gentleman if his train of thought wanders today.
I was thinking of composers whose lifespans I have already outlived: Mozart, Schubert, Chopin, Mendelssohn, Schumann, Bellini, Pergolesi. The delicious and always useless pleasure of speculating on what they might have created had disease not taken them at such young ages.
I meditate on the role of the artist as intermediary between the natural and supernatural realms, which reminds me of Orpheus, and the many treatments of that legend. He, more than Saint Cecilia, is the patron saint of music and musicians, to my thinking. From 1480 to the twentieth century, “pre”Monteverdi, Monteverdi, Gluck, Stravinsky, Birtwistle, Carter, Henze, Weill, even Offenbach (irreverently, so French).
And why do we relate to the story? Perhaps because it progresses from hope and fortitude to failure, thus summarizing the human condition for some of us. The kidnapped one is going to be rescued from death through the power of music, but ego and retrospect (looking back!) is the curse of the would-be rescuer.
At times, I address the HIP issue (see blog post of two weeks ago): “The deepest and most complex problem in ‘authenticity’ is that although we may know what happens in a work of art, and how it affects us, we cannot be sure how it affected them.” The great music teacher and writer Wilfred Mellers (1914-2008) wrote that. He was very supportive of my duo-piano partner and myself, when we faced managerial opposition to our desire to program and record Bach’s “The Art of the Fugue” at two (modern) pianos.
“Man is an Amphibian, living in divided worlds of body and spirit.” _Sir Thomas Browne (1605-1682)
Ernest Newman (1868-1959) said of the music of Mahler and Delius that it was the “sunset cry of wounded kings.” Beautiful line, taken from “Paolo and Francesca” (tragedy in four acts) by Stephen Phillips (1864-1915). The centennial of Mahler’s death is being observed this year (another composer whose lifespan I outlived), and Delius’ birth centennial is next year.
French anthropologist/ethnologist Claude Lévi-Strauss (1908-2009, no, he did not invent the blue jean) said: “While we are listening to music we enter into a kind of immortality.”
“It seems that we learn something about the arts when we experience what the word solitude is meant to designate.” _Maurice Blanchot (1907-2003, French writer, philosopher, literary theorist)
Last word goes to our favorite egomaniac, who nevertheless gave us hours and hours of transcendent music to ponder in its multilayered meaning, so unsusceptible to simplistic or even any “solution.” Isn’t that what art “does” for us? “Once in five thousand years things work out right.” _Richard Wagner to Cosima on his last night alive.
© 2011 by Frank Daykin, for Innovative Music Programs