Friday, August 21, 2015


“It is courage, courage, courage, that raises the blood of life to crimson splendor. Live bravely and present a brave front to adversity.”  Horace, Roman poet

Sunday, July 26, 2015

To not give up is all we can do

Beethoven suffered from deafness and lead poisoning.
We attended the final installment of the 2015 Steans Institute for Piano and Strings at Ravinia.  It featured string quartets by Mozart, Bartok and Beethoven.

"Did you really like it?" my companion asked after it was over.  "I didn't hear anything, just notes."

I have had that experience, too, very recently, and it is frustrating.  Nothing is worse than being ensconsed in a concert hall, with glorious sounds pouring forth, but unable to receive or decode any of them because one is tired, or distracted or depressed or whatever.

Yesterday, however, on closing day as it were, I was able.  I didn't hear notes, per se, or even the melody-harmony-rhythm that makes up music, per se, but rather I experienced each personage behind their pen.

Perhaps it had been because I had earlier come across this quote from Virginia Woolf, and it was rolling around my subsconscious:  "How Shakespeare loathed humanity -- the putting on of clothes, the getting of children, the sordidity of the mouth and the belly!  This was now revealed to Septimus;  the message hidden in the beauty of words.  The secret signal which one generation passes, under disguise, to the next is loathing, hatred, despair.”  From Mrs. Dalloway, Virginia Woolf

What did these three composers think of humanity, I wondered.

In Mozart, we have the quintessential Opera Man (in business centuries  before Adam Sandler created the comical character).  We have the creator of both Figaro, and Don Giovanni, the admirable, and the reprobate.  Mozart takes it all in, and says with a wry smile and perhaps a scatological invective (he was famous for that), 'for better or worse, this is humanity, God save us all.'

Bartók, the severely intellectual Hungarian, seems on the surface, not so optimistic about things.  In fact, his SQ No. 2, has a wonderful caprice in the middle movement, but movements one and three are dour, pessismistic, depressed.  For many, this is life, not television life, but the real life.  Bartók doesn't recoil from it, or whitewash it over.  Life as pain, suffering, tragedy unspeakable.  Much of his music takes this straight on (though his final and major work, Concerto for Orchestra, affirms life nonetheless.  In his own words: “except for the amusing second movement, the general character of the work represents a gradual transition from the harshness of the first movement and the solemnity of the death song in the third movement towards the affirmation of life in the final movement.”)

Beethoven, however, writing in his Op. 131, in his penultimate year, seemingly never wavers in his embrace for all that God is and has for us,  at least in his music, and all that humanity is or isn't and ever shall be.  Beethoven is the will, the volition, the comeback, the never give up that each one of us must have to some degree just to start the next day after getting knocked flat on our back the day before by things great and things small.

The mighty Beethoven, knocking on God's door, speaking for like-minded humanity, saying in effect, "Don't forget us, don't give up on us, because we don't give up on life.  We don't give up on you, Lord, even though you are hidden from us today, some day we shall see you face to face."

Beethoven once wrote that apart from music, everything in his life he had done had been done stupidly or badly.  Mighty Beethoven, deaf, wracked by lead poisoning, miserable from that condition much of his life, would not give up on his music, (thank God) and so left a legacy and blueprint and trust of the human will for every human who came after him. 

Tuesday, June 30, 2015