Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Melancoly Musings

This morning I'm going to take a break from the hard, dry stuff.
It gets on my nerves sometimes that some people don't understand that it is possible to think, and talk about something, about life, whatever, without sounding like a stuffed opposum, or a computer.
Sometimes I think that since we invented the machines, particularly the calculating kind, we have taken it upon ourselves to ressemble them more and more. Like.. the machines are perfection. Look : they don't die, they don't make mistakes (!!!!! well, yes, they make "mistakes", but we are continually convinced that THEIR mistakes are OUR fault...).
A little bit of observation would enable us to understand that the machines... run down, make mistakes, wear out, conk out, DIE, if you like in a DIFFERENT WAY than we do, but, well, they too are subject to the inevitable bulldozer destruction of TIME, so, well, maybe we shouldn't see our SALVATION in them, or be constantly belittling ourselves in comparison to them.
This morning I was listening to Philippe Cassard's program on our national public radio, wherein he presented and analyzed several Brahms lieder, accompanying a Canadian soprano.
I have been listening to Philippe Cassard for quite some time now.
(I beg forgiveness from my readers if I have already spoken about him at length here.)
Philippe is a talented classical pianist AND he analyzes classical music with great sensitivity, subtility, and finesse.
He plays music AND talks about it.
That is NO MEAN FEAT. It is almost as difficult to talk about music as it is to talk about wine, or odors, for example.
But Philippe does it very well. And his program is a lesson in how to combine analytic thinking AND sensitivity/emotion.
We NEED to achieve this combination in my opinion. I will come back to this in the future.
But where is the melancoly ?
In Brahms.
I first met Brahms seriously when I was 26, and was preparing a concert of A German Requiem at the time my father died suddenly and unexpectedly. I never sang the Requiem, (I had to take off across the Atlantic for the funeral) but it brought me unspeakable comfort and consolation, along with Brahms' First Symphony, during the long ordeal (for me..) of my father's death.
Through the years, I have felt tremendous gratitude towards this man who was dead long before I was born for the music that has kept me propped up in trying times.
Through the years, our relationship has blossomed, become more complex, as I have got to know him better, through his music.
Philippe knows a lot about Brahms that he shares in his programs. The fact that Brahms knew his Bible by heart, for example. (That is evident when listening to him.) That he had an intimate, personal relationship with God, and that, like many people in the 19th century Romantic movement, he worked hard to find exactly WHAT he believed, and what he could believe in. That his idea of God was definitely not a pre packaged one.
I don't think that Brahms had pre packaged ideas or beliefs anywhere, anyway.
He was an insatiable reader. Curious about everything. And a wanderer, like so many other Romantics. Upon arriving in a new place, he would search out schools, assemblies, to hear the music the people were singing/playing. (Germany has always been a country where music has a vital, living place in the culture. How's music doing these days, Toby ?)
Brahms did not often use great poems and literature to compose around, because he believed that poetry... well, it was self sufficient, and that it was disrespectful to set a great poem, and a great poet to music. As someone who writes poetry, I understand, and respect that.
One of his exceptions is.. the Rhapsody for Alto and Men's Choir, set to one of Goethe's greatest poems, I think. A poem that must have spoken particularly to Goethe, AND to Brahms. A kind of manifesto about modern man and his incapacity to believe, or be comforted.
A poem that speaks particularly to me, now...
I will write it on the blog for the next post.
Sadness is in the air today, for me. The mood will last a while.
You know... we really cannot escape the consciousness of our own mortality.
We can stick death and suffering somewhere in a corner, and pretend they don't exist, (we can stick our old people out of sight in nursing homes, and our dying in the hospitals) but they WON'T STAY in the corner. We can pretend that the consciousness of our mortality is an illness too, and trivialize our noblest, most beautiful, and subtlest feelings while sticking reductionist labels on them to try to make our pain and fear more bearable.
But in spite of all this effort... the consciousness of our mortality will not go away.
Best to look for ways to be comforted, I say, than try to pretend that death and suffering don't exist, trivialize them, or turn them into illness...
And our whole civilization, in the course of its history, has produced a multitude of beautiful expressions that can accompany us to comfort us in the face of death and suffering.
And we can SHARE in the expressions of our ancestors to find continuity with them AND comfort at the same time.
You know... if you TAKE THE TIME to sit down with a beautiful Brahms lieder, READING THE WORDS WHILE LISTENING TO THE MUSIC, you will hear how the music and the words go together in an inimitable way. It would be simplistic to talk about "illustration", because the music does not illustrate the words. It's more complicated than that. The relationship between music and words is... beyond words, you know ?
Next time, Goethe. Promise.


Toby said...

I share that melancholy. I'm at home this week taking an overtime holiday, but it's been nonstop doctors because of my shoulder (which I've learned is frozen and has a trapped ligament too, has to be operated, and it will take 18 months to 2 years before I can use my arm properly again) which has been a problem for a long time now. Self-pity, yes, but I've slowed myself down too and had a longer and more distanced look at 'debate,' blogging, entrenched opinions, and come up melancholy. There's so much ego out there. So much misplaced defensiveness and aggression, so much ignorance masquerading as arrogance. It's very worrying.

You're kindasorta talking about the ineffable here. I'm reading (and being very influenced by) Charles Eisenstein's "The Ascent of Humanity" (which I urge everyone to read). He has opened my eyes to those aspects of existence that concern you greatly, Debra. He talks of ascent ironically, in the sense of hubris, Daedalus, technology gone mad and so on, and tracks back this run away train to what he calls separation. He points this separation out in all fields of human endeavour; language, science, religion, art, and so on, but (I'm not finished with it yet) hints at what he sees as the coming age of reunion. Though fascinating and cause for melancholy, the book is dripping with hope too. I really like it. It's available for free online, so you can get a feel for it before buying.

Though I love music I don't track it down, so I can't offer a report about the Berlin music scene. My passion is for pop music (though when I say pop I mean that broad swathe of music which is not classical). In there I include Jeff Buckley, Nina Simone, Bob Dylan and a bunch of others. On the classical side I listen to Chopin and Bach because they are on my iPod. As I child I loved Beethoven, but this morphed into a love of Yes and Genesis because the older boys were into them. I am aware of a slow return to classical music now. My wife knows far more than I and so introduces me to plenty (I forget all names and titles nowadays though), and her aunt was a concert pianist. A diseased lung cut her career short though.

And yes, music plus poetry is a special mix when it fuses well. Something emerges from the fusion which cannot be described.

Debra said...

I will look into the book you recommend, Toby.
I have already made a list of the books I'm taking away on vacation. Mostly really old stuff...
Barzun has got me very excited about reading the old stuff again, and THROUGH READING IT, reconnecting to OUR shared cultural heritage.
I'm going to read some Pascal, Montaigne and Rousseau over the summer, since I won't have too much access to a piano, anyway.
I agree with you about blogging.
I will not be returning to naked capitalism.
It is too big a place, too many people running around there. Not really a blog FAMILY, like what I have/had with SuddenDebt, when Thai was still there. Too many... really disillusioned, unhappy, cynical people on naked capitalism too.
You know... the people I hang out with on my loony forum, the ones who are living with very little money, and in indescriptable suffering sometimes (they're not saints, don't get that idea...) they manage to sound less disillusioned than that somewhat whiny American middle class that still hasn't even begun to see material hardship...
A little bit like we noticed in France that the people who voted extreme right for an anti immigration platform were often the people who didn't even have an Arab person in their town... Unbelievable, huh ??
Sounds like you're a polyvalent person for music, and I think that's a great thing too. Listening to lots of different stuff, well that's.. DIVERSITY, right ? ;-)
Good for you.

Debra said...

By the way... I REALLY sympathize with your shoulder problems.
I have shoulder problems too. (Since last September.)
But I'm a bad girl. I haven't been to the doctor to get anything diagnosed...
Maybe next September.
About the docs... I learned when my daughter was little that there is no one standard opinion on what's wrong with you.
Most often... you have 4 docs, and 4 different opinions... (Glenn on naked capitalism seemed to feel that medecine was a science, but, well that was because he believes in science, right ??)
For mechanical problems, I get a good opinion from an experienced physical therapist, because they are up to their elbows in mechanical problems, and very often have a more holistic approach to mechanical problems than the docs, who can be very compartimentalized (separation, I think in your above comment...).
With time, I have learned to remedy my different mechanical problems THROUGH piano practice, for example. Playing the piano really TREATS my ills, you know. It is a way of relaxing muscles that get all knotted up through tension.
The bottome line, I guess, is to find somebody, doc or not, whom you TRUST, because any treatment works much better if you trust the person who is treating..
Take care.
Hey.... we can discuss our aches and pains, huh, like Montaigne, who wrote whole chapters on the functioning of his bowels ?? ;-)
Gotta find the right words, though.
No dry and dusty stuff for me...

Toby said...

Poor diagnoses cost me dear. Get a scan and get yourself to a good orthopedist asap. For me it means up to two years off my bicycle, the only way I have of staying fit. I have a sit down job and sit down hobbies, so very little time to move and be physical. Not good.

So don't wait. Get your shoulder seen to! An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure!