Tuesday, September 29, 2020
Monday, August 17, 2020
The pianist sat worried at the keys.
It was that moment when the sun emerges from the night.
Or was it dusk, and had the sun just set?
Whatever time it was, whatever day,
The man, not a religious sort,
Began to pray.
“I have no music,” was the young man’s cry.
I have no songs to give. Lord, say
The word, unloose what’s pent up in my heart.
I’ll change my ways, live only for my art.
“How I regret my misspent days.
Let my soul sing again, and You
Alone will be the object of my endless praise.”
Prayers from these swaggering self-centered fools,
Who usually God deny, intrigue the Deity.
And so He stopped the sun’s descent (or rise)
And brushed His hand across the pianist’s eyes.
It was a spell,
And so it fell upon the sad man’s soul.
Near blinded by the Light
That sat beside him on the quilted bench,
He blinked, too stunned to gasp.
Every finger in his fists unclenched, unclasped.
The pianist saw no form or face,
But heard resounding in his bones
An unmistakable deep voice the words intone:
“Be silent. Listen carefully to what I say.
I have a deal to make with you today.”
Tears welled in the young man’s eyes.
Who would have thought that prayers
So easy and immediately could yield
Spectacular results like these.
“I'll go church more often,” he briefly mused,
“And not make fun of nuns and rosaries.”
“What is this deal?” the musician asked,
“Will I compose again? Will thousands thrill
To bagatelles and variations without end,
To fugues, and trills, and lilting rounds, and
Choruses and songs? Will my creative power,
once-inexhaustible, return ere long?
“You shall, it will,” the Master said,
“if you agree to terms I offer you
So light and free. All I will restore to you
And more, if you make one small sacrifice
“I’ll give you all the music that Heaven can embrace.
I’ll yield the murmurs of My Heart,
The swirling stars in space.
The wing beat of a hummingbird
The crimson of the dawn, the lion’s roar,
I’ll fill your soul with sound that never has been heard before.”
The young man was transfigured,
He almost would have glowed,
Except the thought of one small thing,
Unknown, his ardor slowed.
“That all sounds quite enticing,” he said
With some control. “But I can’t help feeling
The price will weigh too heavy on my soul.”
The Light dimmed briefly, then flared bright.
“There is a cost,” He said. “I’ll give you all my music.
But your hearing take instead.”
“My hearing!” The pianist was silent. Then, bending from the waist,
He fell upon the keyboard. The keys crashed in their place.
A terrible discord filled the room. The sun’s reflection on the floor,
Quivered, then was no more.
“It is the law of Nature I created,” the Mighty One whispered in his ear.
“For any force of Nature, an opposite reaction must appear.
“Humanity, potentially my greatest feat, hungers for art to lift them from defeat.
There is no other mortal, save yourself, who can deliver them from grinding strife.”
“But how could I endure, not hearing my own work?
This is my life!”
“You will see it in the faces of those who do
And in their lives, transformed, because of you.
You will see it in the changes you have rent:
breeze-lifted seedlings, heaven-sent.”
The musician sat up straight, then looked away.
He could not tell if it were night or day.
But as time passed, the strain
Of sorrow on his face did not stay long.
“I never could resist a song,” he said at last,
with a hint of a wink, looking back at the Light
which already had begun to shrink.
“Perhaps it’s fair.“
“You’ll never know unless you take my dare.”
The Wise One paused.
“I know the pain of sacrifice. But never mind.
You’ll be glad when it is over,
but it still hurts at the time.”
And so the Light receded, and the day began.
(You see, it was a rising sun, as Franklin knew.)
At the keyboard, fresh improvisations flew
From the fingers of the sad young man. Unfurled,
They rose into the air
And through the window's light,
In the direction of the sun
And the shepherd's silent pipe.
Christmas Pianist, a painting by James Nyika
Wednesday, June 10, 2020
Llyr Williams's Beethoven sonata cycle, one of the most extraordinary feats of musicianship in our still new century, had been scheduled at the Guadalajara, Mexico, music festival in 2020 as part of the composer's 250th anniversary celebration. But the global pandemic required other, more creative solutions to showcasing this rare musical talent.
Instead of streaming from an empty concert hall, the program was recorded in Williams's own home. The cozy environment (one expects a tray of Welsh breakfast tea and scones to appear any moment) provided a refreshing new experience of one of Beethoven's towering achievements. Eight videos of the complete cycle appeared on YouTube during June 2020. There may be a still photo or clip from the recordings hanging around YouTube if you search diligently. Ironically, many thousands more listeners were able to watch the videos than would have attended the performances in Mexico.
The good news is that Williams's cycle is available, audio only, in a recording made a couple of years back at Wigmore Hall. Search for "Beethoven Unbound" 12-CD set or mp3 at amazon.com or other music distributors.
Saturday, May 2, 2020
While continuing to teach Humanities courses at Thomas Edison State University and Southern New Hampshire University, I am working on a few writing projects that reflect my love of music, the humanities, and Asian culture and philosophy.
These include plans for a new book which weds the art of tea to the spiritual classics of China. This follows in the wake of the successful launch of my latest book, Dao and Daoist Ideas for Scientists, Humanists and Practitioners (Nova Science Publishers, 2019), co-edited with Yueh-ting Lee, Dean of the Graduate School and Professor of Psychology at Southern Illinois University-Carbondale.
As to be expected, Beethoven is never far from my writing desk. I have a number of "Beethoven and..." articles and papers in mind, and may be tempted to pen another chapter in the Beethoven Chronicles (Invictus and The Black Spaniard). I am also planning some essays relating to music in time of pandemic. In March and April of 2020, I must have seen more operas (thanks to online archival streaming) than in the last 30 years combined, including four different castings of Beethoven's only opera, Fidelio.
While catching up, I want to express my gratitude for the judges and administrators of the Artblog emerging writers competition this winter. There was a cash prize for the top winners in art and music writing, designated, I am sure, for young people hoping to start a career. But since there was no age limit indicated, I qualified for and was thrilled to receive an Honorable Mention for writing about music; specifically, an unpublished review of the Mozart Requiem performed in Philadelphia.
At the beginning of the pandemic, many of us despaired that arts organizations--struggling in the best of times--would not survive. But the emergence of small, socially distanced groups and online streaming such as Hope@home and World Piano Day, rekindled the embers of anticipation. At this writing I have just enjoyed Deutsche Grammophon's stream of Nine World Premieres by Dmitri Shostakovich (July 5, 2020) with performances by Avdeeva, Masleev, and Trifonov.
As business studies have proven for decades, people do not work for money alone; indeed, their greatest effort may be in service to an ideal or passion, which as often as not is an expression of artistic culture. Despite my initial pessimism, I now know that the arts will survive and thrive once more. The arts are rooted in the human soul, and no force can extirpate or remove them from their ground.
They may not immediately resemble the arts we previously knew. But like the biblical words of Handel's Messiah, "The trumpet will sound..."
And we shall be changed.
This is the second volume of my Beethoven Chronicles, focusing on the revolutionary composer's early years in Vienna marked by triumph and tragedy.