Pellegrina's Notebook

"In art, as in love, instinct is enough."

Category: Musicophilia

Immortal beloved

On a damp, grey day during my last visit to Vienna, Ana and I took the long tram ride from the Westbahnhof  to the  Zentralfriedhof to visit Beethoven’s grave, not I hasten to add his place of burial – his remains were moved here from the Währinger Ortsfriedhof in 1888. While the rain beat down, having abandoned my useless umbrella, I read the eulogy written for his funeral by his friend Franz Grillparzer from my rain-spattered BlackBerry. Trying not to, my voice caught on the words – dramatic, beautiful and prescient, and tears fell, blurring my eyesight making it difficult to read the small screen, and less proficient a gesture as I had hoped. I would certainly have failed a radio audition, but I read on allowing Grillparzer’s narrative to add providence to the rain.  A few Korean students appeared, mystified, yet captivated by my exposure,  chatting to each other until Ana asked them in international language to ‘shush’ and I continued till the end: ‘And whenever, during your lives, the power of his works overwhelms you like a coming storm; when your rapture pours out in the midst of a generation yet unborn; then remember this hour and think: we were there when they buried him, and when he died we wept!’

Later, I recalled Beethoven’s own tear-drenched words to an unconfirmed lover, the first of these words always haunt me:  “My angel, my all, my very self”. Never forget that the space between the notes contains so much feeling. Music without this feeling is just noise and for one who ‘heard’ only in his soul, this is ever more resonant.

The First Letter

July 6, in the morning

My angel, my all, my very self – Only a few words today and at that with pencil (with yours) – Not till tomorrow will my lodgings be definitely determined upon – what a useless waste of time – Why this deep sorrow when necessity speaks – can our love endure except through sacrifices, through not demanding everything from one another; can you change the fact that you are not wholly mine, I not wholly thine – Oh God, look out into the beauties of nature and comfort your heart with that which must be – Love demands everything and that very justly – thus it is to me with you, and to your with me. But you forget so easily that I must live for me and for you; if we were wholly united you would feel the pain of it as little as I – My journey was a fearful one; I did not reach here until 4 o’clock yesterday morning. Lacking horses the post-coach chose another route, but what an awful one; at the stage before the last I was warned not to travel at night; I was made fearful of a forest, but that only made me the more eager – and I was wrong. The coach must needs break down on the wretched road, a bottomless mud road. Without such postilions as I had with me I should have remained stuck in the road. Esterhazy, traveling the usual road here, had the same fate with eight horses that I had with four – Yet I got some pleasure out of it, as I always do when I successfully overcome difficulties – Now a quick change to things internal from things external. We shall surely see each other soon; moreover, today I cannot share with you the thoughts I have had during these last few days touching my own life – If our hearts were always close together, I would have none of these. My heart is full of so many things to say to you – ah – there are moments when I feel that speech amounts to nothing at all – Cheer up – remain my true, my only treasure, my all as I am yours. The gods must send us the rest, what for us must and shall be –

Your faithful LUDWIG.

The Second Letter

Evening, Monday, July 6

You are suffering, my dearest creature – only now have I learned that letters must be posted very early in the morning on Mondays to Thursdays – the only days on which the mail-coach goes from here to K. – You are suffering – Ah, wherever I am, there you are also – I will arrange it with you and me that I can live with you. What a life!!! thus!!! without you – pursued by the goodness of mankind hither and thither – which I as little want to deserve as I deserve it – Humility of man towards man – it pains me – and when I consider myself in relation to the universe, what am I and what is He – whom we call the greatest – and yet – herein lies the divine in man – I weep when I reflect that you will probably not receive the first report from me until Saturday – Much as you love me – I love you more – But do not ever conceal yourself from me – good night – As I am taking the baths I must go to bed – Oh God – so near! so far! Is not our love truly a heavenly structure, and also as firm as the vault of heaven?

The Third Letter

Good morning, on July 7

Though still in bed, my thoughts go out to you, my Immortal Beloved, now and then joyfully, then sadly, waiting to learn whether or not fate will hear us – I can live only wholly with you or not at all – Yes, I am resolved to wander so long away from you until I can fly to your arms and say that I am really at home with you, and can send my soul enwrapped in you into the land of spirits – Yes, unhappily it must be so – You will be the more contained since you know my fidelity to you. No one else can ever possess my heart – never – never – Oh God, why must one be parted from one whom one so loves. And yet my life in V is now a wretched life – Your love makes me at once the happiest and the unhappiest of men – At my age I need a steady, quiet life – can that be so in our connection? My angel, I have just been told that the mail coach goes every day – therefore I must close at once so that you may receive the letter at once – Be calm, only by a calm consideration of our existence can we achieve our purpose to live together – Be calm – love me – today – yesterday – what tearful longings for you – you – you – my life – my all – farewell. Oh continue to love me – never misjudge the most faithful heart of your beloved.

ever thine

ever mine

ever ours


The C major of this life

Some time ago I wrote on the eschatology of art – the coda of an artist’s life that often produces works that reach far out into the future with a mighty sweep of providential foresight, like the incandescent light on the last minutes of a butterfly’s flight. The last works of Schubert bear this significance particularly deeply, and no more so than in Schubert’s achingly plangent Quintet, written only months before the composer’s death in 1828. This work, now regarded as an epitome of the majesty of the chamber music canon, was disregarded by Schubert’s publishers, who preferred to see him as a simple penner of songs and piano music.

I heard it in an exquisite performance at the Proms last night by the Belcea Quartet, augmented by the wonderful Valentin Erben, cellist of the great Alban Berg Quartet. The vast classical vaults of the Royal Albert Hall hung an eerie shroud over a rapt audience on a cool, damp weekday night while the ensemble of players on a stage that only days before had hosted an orchestra and choruses of Cecil B de Mille proportions for Havergal Brian’s Gothic Symphony, looked refined and delicate, humbled by space – the juxtapostion of the archly overstuffed to the filigree sound world of pure chamber music. Even with the crimson flash of Corina Belcea-Fisher’s gown, they seemed spectral and removed as if they were locked away in a snowglobe waiting to be tilted. Until the sublime but somewhat questioning final notes, the Neapolitan chord, it were as if we were waiting for the world to end, so that another might be born.

Well, it is earth with me; silence resumes her reign:

I will be patient and proud, and soberly acquiesce.

Give me the keys. I feel for the common chord again,

Sliding by semitones, till I sink to the minor,—yes,

And I blunt it into a ninth, and I stand on alien ground,

Surveying a while the heights I rolled from into the deep;

Which, hark, I have dared and done, for my resting-place is found,

The C major of this life: so, now I will try to sleep.

From ‘Abt Vogler’ ~ Robert Browning

Schubert Quintet in C – Adagio. The Emerson Quartet with Mstislav Rostropovich

A voice imprinted on water – music and musicians

What you are, you are by accident of birth; what I am, I am by myself. 

Ludwig Van Beethoven

My earliest musical memory: the room was green and I danced on the table to Mozart, I think it was the Jupiter symphony, and in those sounds I heard the world around me took shape, all its curiousness and bewildering angles were suddenly rounded, polished and brilliant and I understood that I existed and why. It was for music like this. I was about four or five years old and this is the age of’ “why?’ – “Why am I here? What happens when you die? Why do you get old? Why is an apple green and sometimes red?” Furthermore, I was still coping with a new forming memory – time has a strange relativity when you haven’t been long on the earth. I saw photographs of myself taken the summer before and yet I thought my parents had a secret other daughter they never told me about,  I could not recognise myself, but when I asked for music and my father answered my whim and played the Mozart symphony for me, I saw myself reflected back to me fully for the first time.

It sounds clichéd, pompous, even tautological, (for musicians are innately ‘musical’ of course) to be prosaic on why musicians make music but it’s more than that  – we are born and not made. The enjoyment of great classical music (in the generic sense) is a gift many receive but its idiosyncratic imprint on a musician is gifted before birth – in the womb. I have often wondered if there is a sensor, a kink on the labyrinthine configurations of DNA that grafts it onto us and that all those recently fashionable theories about playing Bach and Mozart to the unborn have reasonable merit. We absorb the vibrations, sounds fall into voids and replace an impenetrable silence with energy and form; music chooses us and sets an unbroken seal upon the heart. Don’t ever ask if I would choose my strange life and the turns and detours of my fate line – this life, chose me.

To make things further complicated, I was granted an auxilary gift so that great music and the empty plains of the imagination it builds upon, resound with patterns of colour, texture and sensitivity so vibrant that sometimes I am left entirely breathless. This ‘gift’ is called synaesthesia, but I digress, for although many musicians have ‘syn’ (we are not unfamiliar with the other kind too!), the fuel of it is sound – sounds that change us every minute we live them. Every black dot on a stave would be a riculous anachronism  were we not to pull it from the page and attempt to make sense of it – musical notation, such strange runes, centuries old, is something out of which we can attempt to create an eternity.

For the power to negate time is with us in every performance – music comes and goes and we fight with just enough will to win – almost, but the hunger to receive more of its secrets lends every day of a musician’s life the illusive hope of a voice on water  rippling through to eternity. I tap the meniscus of this hope every day and would not exist bereft of it. I just would not exist at all.

All that is past is but a reflection

Alles Vergängliche

Ist nur ein Gleichnis;

Das Unzulängliche,

Hier wirds Ereignis;

Das Unbeschreibliche,

Hier ist es getan;

Das Ewig-Weibliche Zieht uns hinan.”

‘Chorus Mysticus’ from the final scene of  ‘Faust’  ~ Johann Wolfgang Von Goethe

Many moons ago I sang in two performances of Mahler 8 at the Royal Festival Hall conducted by the quiet, nervous and uniquely gifted Klaus Tennstedt, a conductor on whom Mahler had made an indelible mark.  Those few days changed my life forever.  This is not hyberbole – I was very young and I had just started singing after years as a frustrated pianist, and life was clearly revealing the direction I would take.  In the years that followed Mahler’s music and life was to etch a mystical pattern on my journey that is nothing less than extraordinary. I will spare you all the details, but it is just so.

Mahler 8 is not my personal favourite of the symphonies but the spirit of it levels the most banal of feeling and in moments from Part Two – a setting of the final scenes of Goethe’s ‘Faust’, the gnawing and beguiling essence of the Ewig-Weibliche/eternal feminine is as spellbinding as the hymn that intones it – the elemental Chorus Mysticus. It was clear that Mahler’s life had itself guided him towards this idea of the intense femininity of creation and hope and when his marriage lapsed into difficulties and Alma’s infidelity, he dedicated this symphony to her in a passionate plea for her return to him, a plea which moves the symphony into the ecstasy of those final moments.

That moment years ago, singing the Chorus Mysticus,  seeded the creation of the novel I was ‘born’ to write (a novel distinctly tinged with Mahler) and so over the years, Mahler has flowed into and out of my life, firmly echoing the traces of choices I made, good and bad, guiding me to where I should be. In recent years, completing my book, a book which has certainly changed me and my life for it seems I had written in it my own future, it was the Third symphony with its last movement ‘What Love Tells Me’ and the transfiguring opening Adagio of the Tenth, that coloured my writing and provided the ostinato for my narrative.

The idea of redemption and the absolution of emotion underpins Mahler’s music along with his unerring sense of the spiritual yearnings of humanity and where they take us. It is emotionally unnerving, there is no doubt, but as Jung said – “There can be no transforming of darkness into light and of apathy into movement without emotion.”  It is no wonder then that we hear our own voices stir within Mahler’s sound universe.  For me above all, I can never escape, nor would wish to, that Mahler is always present in my life and the themes return over and over like a karmic incantation much as they did for Mahler himself and for that matter, Alma too. Like the words of the Chorus Mysticus, Mahler is for us the undescribable captured. Bach,  Mozart, Beethoven are all about music. Mahler is about us.  There is no music in the world that so effectively describes us and reminds us that all our emotions – tender, extravagant and passionate, matter and make us. Emotion is self, and self is destiny.

In a perfect confluence of words and music, here is Mahler’s setting of Friedrich Rückert’s ‘Ich bin der Welt abhanden gekommen’. Nothing comes close, in only a few minutes, to describing the prescient emotional  truth of Mahler. Ignore the sentimental overplay of photography – the translation is good and well, as is the magic of Mahler  – you’ll get it. Sung by my lied hero – Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau.

We are such stuff as dreams are made on

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. …”

The silent woman ~ the strange love of Alma and Oskar

Alma Mahler was a widow for a year when she met the painter Oskar Kokoschka. Having annulled her relationship with Walter Gropius to repair her marriage to Gustav Mahler and to enjoy a semblance of connubial happiness prior to his death in May 1911, Alma was drifting into another intense episode of her life.  Kokoschka presented as a fiery and turbulent protagonist compared to the serious, intense Mahler and the elegant Gropius and Alma was entranced.

Shortly after their meeting Kokoschka wrote her a passionate letter, devoting himself to her and begging to marry her and it wasn’t long before Alma and Oskar became embedded in an intense erotic saga, a folie à deux, that was to last three years.   Throughout this time Oskar’s indiscreet and explosive obsession with Alma evolved in his art, in his famous seven painted fans depicting his love for her and the notorious painting ‘Die Windsbraut’ – The Bride of the Wind.  This celebrated painting features the sepulchral looking artist gripping the curvaceous and glowing body of Alma – as if he would die the moment she let him go.

Alma found the relationship exhausting with the physical and emotional demands of her jealous lover stifling and eventually frightening.  Even Oskar’s mother realised that her son was in the grip of erotomania and begged Alma to let him go. The trouble was Alma tried and he wouldn’t.  When she became pregnant by him she had the child aborted out of fear but this made things worse for poor Oskar. However, the approaching war provided a distraction for the painter and he enlisted, probably at Alma’s behest.  He got a commission with the assistance of a friend and left for the front in his K und K uniform finery.  Unfortunately, he received a serious bayonet injury to the head in Galicia and was sent to convalesce, seeing out of the war in a struggle to regain his physical and mental strength, pining for Alma and his dead child.

In this time, Alma had resumed her affair with the more refined and aristocratic Walter Gropius and they announced their marriage in 1915, further crushing Kokoschka.  In 1918 in an attempt to finally exorcise his subjugation to his passion, knowing he had lost her to Gropius, he commissioned the Munich based doll- maker Hermine Moos to make a life-sized doll of Alma, replete in all details.  It was even said to have included Alma’s pubic hair.  On completion of the project, Oskar proudly brought his ‘escort’ out into Viennese society, walking her around the Ringstrasse and taking her to the opera, inciting a mix of outrage, concern and hilarity among his peers.  It was soon clear however, that the doll which he called ‘the silent woman’, was unable to resolve any of his unending erotic desire for his lost love and it was destroyed.

As the painter later remarked :

Finally, after I had drawn it and painted it over and over again, I decided to do away with it. It had managed to cure me completely of my passion. So I gave a big champagne party with chamber music, during which my maid Hulda exhibited the doll in all its beautiful clothes for the last time. When dawn broke – I was quite drunk, as was everyone else – I beheaded it out in the garden and broke a bottle-of red wine over its head.

Musica Universalis ~ The art of being Daniel Barenboim

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.

Daniel Barenboim\’s website

Tryst – a story of Venice

“There is always some madness in love, but there is also always some reason in madness.”

Francesco Petrarca

July 20, 1304 – July 19, 1374

There were three months I hardly spoke at all, so struck was I with such a place, a torment of the senses. I glided down the rivas, watching spools of ribald light throw rainbows of colour, which ducked under bridges, catching the seraph sterns of the gondolas. She was but three breaths and a corner away, behind her iron lace curtain, her quiet sighs warming her camphor drenched tissues, with which she wrapped her pearl, silken arms, just in case…

The beginning.  The rest is all Venice. These words were inspired by Canzoniere of Petrarca (Petrarch), the poet whose entire life was defined by longing, of ideal love, by a woman he never really met – Laura de Noves. Then there is the Ospedale della Pietà. All I can say now is – watch this space…

Garlic and sapphires in the mud


Precious few words capture the essence of music better than these by the always remarkable T.S. Eliot.  I have long experience of trying to filter the seraphic mists of the greatest sounds humanity has created into sentences – it is easier to outline a shadow.   In the Four Quartets, Eliot had elicited to define the spirit of Beethoven’s final renderings of heartbreaking and heart-filling humanity  – the last string quartets.  I think he does it so well.  Here is the final canto of ‘Burnt Norton’.  If you listen you might just hear the plangent vocalise of the Cavatina from  op. 130 and the furore of the Grosse Fuge fall through the words Eliot spins out for us.

Words move, music moves

Only in time; but that which is only living

Can only die. Words, after speech, reach

Into the silence. Only by the form, the pattern,

Can words or music reach

The stillness, as a Chinese jar still

Moves perpetually in its stillness.

Not the stillness of the violin, while the note lasts,

Not that only, but the co-existence,

Or say that the end precedes the beginning,

And the end and the beginning were always there

Before the beginning and after the end.

And all is always now. Words strain,

Crack and sometimes break, under the burden,

Under the tension, slip, slide, perish,

Decay with imprecision, will not stay in place,

Will not stay still. Shrieking voices

Scolding, mocking, or merely chattering,

Always assail them. The Word in the desert

Is most attacked by voices of temptation,

The crying shadow in the funeral dance,

The loud lament of the disconsolate chimera.

The detail of the pattern is movement,

As in the figure of the ten stairs.

Desire itself is movement

Not in itself desirable;

Love is itself unmoving,

Only the cause and end of movement,

Timeless, and undesiring

Except in the aspect of time

Caught in the form of limitation

Between un-being and being.

Sudden in a shaft of sunlight

Even while the dust moves

There rises the hidden laughter

Of children in the foliage

Quick now, here, now, always –

Ridiculous the waste sad time

Stretching before and after.

From ‘Burnt Norton’ ~ Four Quartets ~ T.S. Eliot

The good you deserve…

“Dedicate yourself to the good you deserve and desire for yourself. Give yourself peace of mind. You deserve to be happy.” Hannah Arendt

It stole into my soul and it has never left.

The breath would be cleaved from my body before it does, and even then it would try to sing.

It has dug into me and woken me up from long sleep to turn back and allow my soul to recognise itself.wordpress stats

Glenn Gould/Beethoven Piano Concerto No 5 in E Flat Major