Musica Universalis ~ The art of being Daniel Barenboim
by Barbara Maria Rathbone
Last night I attended one of the much lauded appearances of Daniel Barenboim conducting the Staatskapelle Berlin at The Royal Festival Hall, in programmes of Schönberg and Beethoven. Barenboim has been the musical director of the Staatskapelle and Staatsoper Unter den Linden since 1992, proudly supporting their Eastern European traditions, which were redolent in the smoothly crafted sound of the strings, ever so slightly dry, that shone in Schönberg’s augmented string sextet Verklärte Nacht, heavily reminiscent of Wagner. Barenboim followed with a reading of Beethoven’s 5th Piano Concerto, which was as lively and lucid as I have ever heard. Even a few slips on the keys could not mar the exuberance and vivid expression of a Maestro at the apex of his art.
Barenboim has stepped from child prodigy to one half of one of most well-known musical couples – indeed it was his being the husband of ‘cellist Jacqueline du Pré that brought him more into the collective consciousness of this country, to revered Maestro and humanitarian. His journey through his art is a fascinating one. It is Daniel’s strident need to express that ‘Everything is Connected’ (his latest book) that makes him so appealing to me – an artist who expresses that art exists not in the shackles of vacuous tradition but that the truly great artist has gifts of communication that extend beyond any boundaries. I refer to this connexion as zwischenart (I apologise for my crude German compound noun!) – neither one or the other but between two or more worlds.
Beautiful art and great music does not hush the business of a restless mind to a single focus, nor is it created out of a void but from the design of a peculiar pattern of genius and even then that can exist, as was the case with Wagner, against a torment of contradictions and shadows placed against it. Barenboim understands this more than anyone and has spent a lifetime championing the music of Wagner when it was denigrated by Wagner’s association with the common cultural anti-Semitism of 19th century Europe later reinvigorated by the Third Reich. Wagner was the ultimate integrated artist – writing his own libretti, forging new theories of stagecraft, performance protocols, and vividly theorising these into the idea of Gesamtkunstwerk, in the same way as Barenboim matches his musical personality to truth-seeking, justice and cross-cultural mutual understanding.
It is no wonder that Beethoven speaks so well through the fingers of Barenboim. Beethoven was the first composer to really imbue his work with a strongly innate humanism. He wove the echoes of his times into his music, taking the remnants of Sturm und Drang and the Enlightenment into the new realms of romantic freedoms – the freedom to reflect in your work the idée fixe of one’s passions, not only the internal but the external passion for society.
For Beethoven and for Barenboim, music is a tool of reconciliation and not just of comfort. As Barenboim states as his hypothesis in ‘Everything is Connected’, music can provide an “alternative social model where Utopia and practicality join forces”. As Beethoven disclosed his feelings about Napoleon in his symphonies, Barenboim directs his justice and understanding seeking through his baton and his fingers and from there into words as the internationalist statesman of music. Art informs and we live – ‘In art as in love, instinct is enough’ as Anatole France had it, but genius cannot exist without instinct. Everything IS connected and Daniel Barenboim has successfully woven his instinct into a beguiling hope, not just for his beloved Levant, but for the world.