We are such stuff as dreams are made on
by Barbara Maria Rathbone
I have been captured by visions, by the substance and ideas of last words, last notes, last strokes of paint – the eschatology of art. The creative process is very apposite to summing up, and all artists tend to flow toward the inevitable last moments of their gifts, flourishing like the small flowering bud that waits for the last moments of spring to kick forth its bloom and colour into the unfolding majesty of a new season. Some of the greatest works of art are born in the last years of a life’s pattern, the rupturing defiance of death or illness, or ignominy – Shakespeare’s last plays, notably The Tempest, from whence I take my title, Beethoven’s Goliath glory bursting into the Grosse Fugue and the Last Quartets, along with Goya’s Black Paintings or Schubert’s last piano sonatas.
All works mentioned have a refined sense of the metaphysical, they tip onto the edge of a strange and beguiling end. There is always something more to say and as one gets older the conduits of self-expression multiply and vex. Early talent settles and we begin to sense our small part in the proportion of stardust accorded to us. Art, after all, is the defiance of mortality, of ephemera, and music in particular is a stretching sinew of our immortality, in whatever way we choose to structure it.
Nothing declares that more than in Beethoven’s Grosse Fugue. Schubert’s last piano sonatas too, are full of pertinent edginess, to the point that they jump out of time and context altogether in places just as much as the searing craziness and fury of the Grosse Fugue or the bitten and sordid dreams of Goya’s Black Paintings. This is when we observe – doesn’t this sound modern, look modern? These artists have poked their fists into the future and proven that great art is beyond time and vanquishes the sting of death itself – its voices mingle into the stardust of our present, be it indeed clothed as an ‘insubstantial pageant’.
We are such stuff
As dreams are made on, and our little life
Is rounded with a sleep. …”