Friday, November 11, 2011

Symphony and Song

All that is not perfect down to the smallest detail is doomed to perish.

Fortunately, something always remains to be harvested. So let us not be idle.

If a composer could say what he had to say in words he would not bother trying to say it in music.

If I weren't the way I am, I shouldn't write my symphonies.
Gustav Mahler

Jean Sibelius: You have said that if a composer could say what he had to say in words, he would not bother trying to say it in music, did you not?

Gustav Mahler: I did say that, and I meant to, and still do.

JS: Would you say that music speaks to us in ways that words cannot?

GM: Most definitely, but I also said that if I weren’t the way I am, I shouldn’t write my symphonies. It is not given to everyone to use music to convey a thought, an expression.

JS: Of course, not everyone has the ability to write music.

GM: I did not mean it in that way. What I meant to say was that it is not everyone’s desire to convey, although it is undoubtedly everyone’s ability to express themselves.

JS: It is, but some to a greater extent than others. Shakespeare used the medium of language, Michelangelo, paint and marble.

GM: And us poor composers have only our music to fully express ourselves, were it otherwise.

JS: Why do you say that? Do you not think you fully expressed yourself in your song cycles and your symphonies?

Circumstances come between us and what we hear, or what we are prepared to think we hear, let me say. The sublimely beautiful Adagietto from your Fifth Symphony would enchant the hardest heart, and yet it might also crack the heart in times of personal tragedy too, don’t you agree?

GM: I do indeed, and yet I have always strived to portray grandeur and great beauty alongside tragedy, depths of the soul next to boundless elation. In the midst if life, we are in death, is it not said.

But you yourself have tried to surmount impossible odds by your composition, have you not, and triumph is always opposite defeat, is it not?

JS: It most certainly is, my friend. At the time of my nation’s most deadly peril, my ‘Finlandia’ comforted the people and encouraged the optimism of their ultimate triumph.

GM: That is a wonderful thing to have done with music; the symphony is the fruition of that loneliest of occupations: composition, brought to its fullest expression by musicians working together.

JS: Let us not forget the audience. Were it not for them, music would be something like the tree falling in the jungle. With no one to hear it, it would make no sound.

GM: As for the symphony, to your pictorial image of sound, should be added that if no one heard the symphony but the musicians playing it, would it still have the intended effect?

JS: Probably not. Musicians, like orators, are not in the position to hear their words, the music they are producing.

GM: True enough. A symphony is more than the sum of its parts. It is a whole entity and must be heard as one, if the sentiments it expresses are to be felt by those listening.

JS: And it has been said that a Shakespeare play, a symphony by Beethoven and a thunderstorm are based upon the same elements. Do you not think that is true, my friend?

GM: Indeed, but that thought works in several other ways too, doesn’t it? Thunder is a product of natural occurrences, is it not?

JS: It is. You mean it is the sound of electricity being generated.

GM: Before that?

JS: Of hot air and cold air meeting.

GM: And before that?

JS: Of the low pressure and the high, of the land below being cool, or the seas warmer.

GM: Exactly so. What shows itself as a physical phenomenon – the sound of thunder, the flash of lighting before it, is but the expression of deeper causes, the hot meeting the cold, air over cool land or the warmer ocean. As it is with the physics of meteorology, so it is with the symphonic form of music.

One melody becomes overlain by another, and then, by a process some have called rotation, those themes become distorted and express something other than the beauty they formerly signalled.

Is that not true of your own symphonic works, my friend?

JS: Quite so. Unfortunately, there have always been those who would detract from the initial beauty of them and only harbor in the harsher themes of my music.

GM: The critics, you mean? Pay little or no attention to what critics say. There was never any statue erected in honour of one, was there?

JS: Indeed, that is well said. It is easy for those who do not bare their soul in their work, as we do, to be maligned in the eyes and ears of our public. In any case, most of what is written in symphonic form must be heard more than just the once in order to more fully comprehend all the nuances of our work. Is that not so?

GM: It is, and for a very good reason; we might almost say that we bring on that situation ourselves, by writing and writing, by adding layer upon layer of thematic content over what is sometimes a very familiar refrain, possibly from a Finnish folk song, in your case, or possibly from the sounds of cowbells tinkling in the Alpine meadows that grace our lands, in mine.

JS: To arrive at that sound, after much listening to discern it, must be something akin to an epiphany to the listener, must it not?

GM: It most surely must, and I have to say that I would have it no other way for those who can afford time to persevere with my music. The reward is there, but it must be searched for before it is found, like all rewards worthy of the name.

Effort is required, not just in the composing, but also in the listening, just as effort is required in the reading of one of Shakespeare’s plays; the effort is amply rewarded.

JS: In what form does the reward take, would you say, given that rewards from listening to plays must needs be different from those from music?

GM: I see no difference in the kind of reward, only in its outward form – its shape, if you will.

JS: Then say how the rewards are in any way similar.

GM: In showing the listener, or the reader, that he is not alone; that others have feelings that he does, that others suffer in similar ways to him; in ways he is exalted, for what we express is not merely joy, although that is undoubtedly our greatest gift to our audience.

JS: I can indeed confirm that what you say is right; our music can speak of the very depths of despair, the peaks of joy, and the discipline of resistance and resilience too, for that is vital in this world of triumph and torment, of joy and despair, of fulfillment and loss.

GM: Exactly, the symphony must be everything, it must include all human experience, it must omit nothing, then and only then is it true to itself and to us who have penned it.

JS: And we are aided, in our attempts to paint a scene using music, by the features of musical notation, are we not?

GM: The chromatic scale does assist in that painting, as you put it, and were it not for our propensity to attribute shades to notes, we might find we could not ‘paint’ quite as vividly as we do.

JS: We are fortunate indeed, but it is as much the audience’s doing as our own, is it not? What is it in the mind of man that apportions colour to sound, shades of colour, rather let us say?

GM: Who is able to say, but I have often noticed that whilst working, on those occasions when some living creature makes its customary sound, the lamb bleating, the cattle lowing, the bull bellowing and the ducks quacking out on the lake, that although I hesitate to say I have experienced any changes in the colour of what was before my eyes, a sheet of paper, most probably, I have nevertheless experienced a lightness of thought, I know not what else to call it, but I felt this lightening, nonetheless.

It was as if my burden was made lighter, even as the shades themselves turned almost imperceptibly lighter on the page, and instead of bending over my work, the better to see the page, my back straightened, rendering my gaze a fraction more distant from the tip of my pen. Now, and hear I think I come as near to proving my point as I, a layman in such matters, can come; my writing did not dim one iota, even as my back became straighter in the chair, and my head moved backwards. I would even go so far as to say that all before me seemed clearer on the page.

JS: But my friend, could that not merely have been due to your shoulders not obscuring the light from behind you as you wrote? It often happens to me thus.

GM: Ah, my friend, but you see, I work with the light from out the window shining in across my page. In that way, I am able to see the vista – look across the lake to its distant shore and beyond to the foothills that guard the high pastures of the Alps.

JS: And you say you experience a lightening of your load. What is the load of which you speak?

GM: Nothing more or less than that we are all laden with, some refer to it as the human condition, though I will own to my own weights being from more tangible sources.

JS: That is not particular to you, my friend. I have often thought that someone practicing their art, drawn to it as we both are, albeit for different reasons, that nevertheless, such weights as bear down upon us do so because we are blessed, if that is the right word, by having a sensitivity not common in many of our fellows.

GM: Some may say we are cursed by it, I think, though I have never thought it unfair in any way. Man has his cross to bear, of whatever weight, bearing down upon his mortal frame, or his mind. Man must not repine, and neither will I.

JS: We musicians are fortunate indeed in as much as we have a mode of expressing our feelings to which we are sensible, are we not?

GM: Again, I have not quite thought of myself as so very fortunate in that respect, though I am sure many would agree with you in thinking that we undoubtedly are.

We must take what God grants us, thanking Him for bestowing on us the blessing of life, of being a father to darling children, as they sit under sallies of kisses from their mother, with light upon them from my eyes.

It is surely in our children that we see God at work, we see the human race stepping forward, running, gamboling as the lamb meets the earth in its tender times, still fleet of foot, amid the flowers of the meadows as they run down to the lake’s edge to drink.

JS: You get much of your inspiration from the world of Nature which surrounds you, do you not?

GM: I do indeed, and I thank the Lord for it. I often wonder though, how it must be for those dwelling in less bucolic bliss, amid the clang and roar of steel and steam. What of those who live in places where industry is hard by?

JS: I am sure that there are some who are lured by what I have heard call the ‘romance of the machines’, who marvel at metal being cut, being heated and bent into shapes of increasing utility to other manufacturers, even as such utility and such shapes are a complete mystery to the uninitiated.

GM: I am sure there are those who find that the open hearth furnace does show our Maker in ways we would otherwise probably consider nearer to the workings of Hades.

Iron and steel are governed by laws that are from sources akin to the shaping of mountains, or the storms over our heads, are they not?

JS: It is curious indeed, is it not, that even as we begin to speak of that which we know but very little, there does seem a romantic side to some aspects of industry.

GM: I believe it suffices for music in that land without , as the mighty industrial nation across the ocean has been termed.

JS: England has its lakes, its mountains – not so grand or so high as those near to our feet, I grant you, but mountains nevertheless.

GM: Quite so. It matters little to the hill walker out stretching his legs of a Sunday, as the English working men are said to want to do, whether the summit is ten or twenty thousand times the slope of his front garden. It is in the climbing, and in the stretching, in the working the body to its maximum that exerts his mind.

JS: Even as he spends the week expending much more energy in the darkness of his work.

GM: Such an expending of energy in his leisure is all the more gratefully felt, I imagine. If the Englishman is a wage-slave on Monday, he is most definitely a free man on Sunday, is he not?

JS: He is so, and no man on Earth values his freedom more than an Englishman. His is most jealous of it and works any tyrant hard to displace the hold he would have on him. For that, I congratulate him and earnestly wish him joy in his hills, even in the knowledge that on the morrow he must bend his back and shelter his brow from the searing heat of molten metal before him.

GM: And I would add that although he is well aware of the might of such machines he has had a hand in making, that they could crush him as he passes underneath their rods, that they are nonetheless mere children of his own devising and can be silenced by a swift movement of a lever. Man is supreme, if not so supreme in Nature as he is in manufactured nature, supposing there is such a thing.

JS: Man uses the forces of Nature, and the forces wrought by fire to forge a world of iron and steel. But will it not bring man to an untimely end?

GM: Prometheus gave mortal man fire to use, wrested from Zeus, in the myths of our lands, and we use it to progress, not to go down the dinosaur’s way, and that is how it should be. Man must strive until all his possibilities and his avenues of achievement have been explored, should he not?

JS: On the face of it, your words sound right; they appeal to the heroics spirit of the modern age, but shall we not destroy this Earth, that gives us succor; that gives us our very life?

I wonder if it is our place to drive man along by what we write. Are we not glorifying this endless rush to prosperity, or should we, like you, bring man to a more sylvan peace than he has hitherto known.

GM: I write what the Earth tells me; how she speaks to mankind through the birds singing in the trees, the brook babbling on its tumbling way to the sea, and I write the things my faith dictates to me, even as I am shattered by the death of my children.

It is faith that will set us free, not prosperity of a surfeit of worldly goods. Man does not live by bread alone, it is said, and he would do well to remember the source, the true source of his happiness; not measured in what he can consume, in what he can purchase; in the chattels and shekels he uses to bargain his life away. Life has but a tenuous hold on any of us; I can testify to that, and do so, but not mutely.

We each do what we can in this world; some to merely further their own contorted paths they follow, leaving a wake of destruction trailing behind them; others follow a gentler, less heroic route to the end of our time. It is this obsession with the self as something worthy of glorifying that is at the heart of most of our troubles in this time in which we live.

We have seen the destruction wrought by nationalist fervor, both in our own time, as it will surely come again to burn this most lively of continents. We can foretell the destruction of such ego-driven mania, even as we are living at peace with ourselves working diligently to further our way of expressing earthly joys, exalting Heavenly powers as we do so.

It is the work of Art and those who practice it, in whatever form it takes, to outline and illustrate a better way than the obvious one of this headlong stampede to death.

JS: But the symphony can speak of things other than Nature, even as that is as great a theme for any music to attempt to symbolize.

GM: Your symphonies, they say, speak to people too, albeit on sometimes more apparently pressing issues, to wit, emboldening a people to stand together in defiance of those forces that would rend a nation asunder.

Though, I have to say that nationalism, taken to its ultimate power, and without the noblest of purposes to ensure it has its own nobility, can be a refuge for scoundrels, bent, as such often are, on pressing their very own individual claims to grandeur at the expense of scapegoats.

JS: I am well aware of that of which you speak. You are entirely right to be sceptical, for, as you say, outright nationalism can be so easily usurped and put to purposes that go against all that the people of any good country stand for and uphold.

A nationalism that fights and stands up against real aggression from neighbouring states hell-bent upon invasion or else outright attack is the most noble cause worthy of any man calling himself a citizen.

Ordinarily, I have come to think of statehood as no more or less than the machinery of control, given expression in tradition and ceremony, at the expense of real freedom. The state is a relatively recent phenomenon, is it not?

GM: It is, though it is not without its critics, not least those who hold that the state holds a monopoly on the use of force to achieve its ends. The state has existed in its various forms since ancient evenings by the mighty Nile, or the Tigris, but as an entity with bureaucratic institutions, our own Weimar Republic, as crumbling as she has become, is the epitome of the state.

JS: That is as maybe, Sir, but the state of Finland has come to mean the unity of its people, willing, more than willing, I shall say, to stand as one and face a foe massing at its borders.

GM: And can music rally members of that state, against such an enemy?

JS: It is my most fervent wish that it can, yes. Music works to enhance and glorify, does it not? Where you have used it to express the glory and greatness of His Creation, mine has sought to give spirit to a people. No, that is wrong, for my people have spirit, in plenty.

GM: Then your music can only magnify that spirit, surely.

JS: Magnify and focus it, I believe. A people can only act as an individual entity if they so feel one; my own symphonies have sought to give that unity expression.

GM: But do you honestly believe that a man toiling in the field, tending his cattle, can know this unity through musical tones, for in the end, that is really all we have, the chromatic scale, as we have said, flourishing light with darkness, bold strokes with more subtle, to move the emotions.

JS: But we use the old melodies, do we not, to string together something which is bigger than the sum of individual parts; for that is what we do, if we do anything; weaving our country’s songs into something to uplift and conjure.

GM: That is well said, for we do exactly conjure, not as the magician conjures out of thin air, as it were, but out of the columns of air vibrating from the notes we have put together.

JS: Yes, and in that lies the answer to the question of how we are able to move minds to greater things than may be dreamt of by the peasant sitting at his fireside; though it is just that image we put in place, to make our citizens running hither and thither in their crowded thoroughfares recall their earlier, simpler days, when, as children, they were told tales of daring do when their noble ancestors confronted the demons and dragons of myth and legend. We may overlay our earliest memories with layer after layer of newer design, more pressing reality, but we never entirely forget that imperial palace whence we came and to which we will return. It is our task, it is art’s task, to rekindle something of that former flame that moved us so, even as were dangled on our mother’s knee, as they say, even as we lacked the means of fullest expression, we understood the spirit that runs in our veins, the blood that unites us in our national family.

GM: You are on very contentious ground here, I must warn you. For there are those in our midst who would exploit that tie of blood to sever greater ties; to use it against those whose ancestry has been found to be something different from some imagined Aryan norm.

JS: My ways are not those to divide my people, though I do know there are those who will do anything to further their own ends, at the expense of others. This is not my way. I mean no harm to those who mean no harm to me and my own, whereas those of which you speak would bring back to our memories the need for the Leviathan to rein us in from our more selfish ‘state of nature, as such has been referred to by the learned and the profane.

A state standing alone against oppression and invasion is a vision to behold; it is a people’s finest hour in a calendar of finest times; the best and the worst, when, triumphing against tyrants, a people can again speak of nationalism without inciting the memory of other blemishes upon the glory of being united.

GM: The symphony then, can be used to generate courage; courage in the face of seemingly impossible odds, for your beloved Finland and its people, can it not?

JS: That is so, it can and it did, but if we try to use our music to eulogize individuals, even courageous ones, something happens – adulation can be a transient aspect of our emotional life.

GM: That is undoubtedly so; no less a champion of our cause – Beethoven – initially dedicated his magnificent 3rd Symphony – the ‘Eroica’ – to Napoleon Bonaparte, comparing him favourably to the greatest consuls of ancient Rome, who, even adoring him, declared him to be, if fact, no more than a common mortal upon hearing that he had declared himself Emperor.

JS: What is transient is man’s heroism, though, as I have insisted, a people cannot be inconsistent; but what is true for the many does not always hold for the individual. Power, they say, corrupts, and absolute power corrupts absolutely. Is that not true?

GM: It most certainly is, but it is not always the case, I think.

JS: Nonetheless, it is sufficiently true to render any glorifying of the individual a less than appropriate theme for the symphony, I think you must agree.

GM: I most certainly do, and for various reasons; the symphonic form requires thematic content that will both stand the test of time, and while Beethoven’s mighty 3rd Symphony has certainly done that, few if any now associate it with Napoleon, except in the negative aspect of his reputation; if you will, the ‘Eroica’ reminds us of what he might have become rather than what he actually did become – a tyrant – thinking himself superior to all men.

JS: As you say, thinking himself superior to all others, when, in fact, the least powerful of men, the peasant laboring in his fields is nearer to the Almighty in everything he does, even as we would deem him powerless in other respects.

GM: The pursuit of power is a wholly ignoble pastime, and so it is that music does well, in the main, to avoid any attempt to portray greatness in any one person.

JS: Portraying absolutes only is the function of art, I would say, and classical music is just so precisely because it glories those qualities and properties, those aspects of life that are worthy of being adored and eulogized in the symphony. The pursuit of truth is a long and arduous journey, is it not, but one that will ultimately and inevitably bear fruit.

GM: So it will, and it is art’s function both to bring that point to the notice of an audience. Classical music is so named because it does not consort with the fashions of the day, as Beethoven found himself as he dedicated his music to the man Tolstoy referred to as ‘the Antichrist’ perpetrating horrors and infamies in his headlong rush to conquer.

What is classical is the fidelity of the genre; to truths that are so through the years, for it is time that finds out the lies of men’s lives, or the transient nature of fad or fashion. And it is time that opens men’s eyes to their folly in abusing Nature, for Nature, like truth, abides, even in the face of those who would have us believe otherwise.

The grand design – What the Universe tells me

Gustav Mahler: Imagine a work, so large that it mirrors the entire world.

Richard Strauss: I can only imagine it. You want to invoke the forces that created the cosmos. That is something to imagine.

GM: You say that and yet every day of your life you walk amongst His Creation. Such music would be so dramatically charged that it would have the power to change us. So that instead of placing ourselves at the centre of the Universe, as we are always wont to do, we place God in Heaven; we come to respect the Earth rather than desecrate it, again, as we are habitually wont to do. O man, Beware!

RS: Of what should we be wary of, my friend?

GM: While we yearn for happiness and life, there is suffering and death. Should we not beware, knowing that is true?

RS: Of course, but a man is but a man. One man cannot carry the weight of such things on his frail shoulders, surely?

GM: One man cannot, as you say, but I address mankind in my music, and it is mankind - whom I shall hereafter refer to as man - it is man who shall bear the brunt of the blame, and the shame of what he has made of the world since that glorious Creation.

RS: But what can be done? To whom shall you turn?

GM: I will tap the wisdom of the planet upon which we live and breathe. As I said, I will invoke the forces that created the cosmos, using the mystical immense sound of Nature to move and to change, that is my task.

RS: But music has never been used to do such things, we have said, have we not, that music – classical music – as our work is becoming to be known – music can be and has been used to portray the heroism of a people, and the apparent heroism of one man. Can it now be made to fulfill such an enormous task as to conjure the spirit of the Earth.

GM: I believe it can, and I will endeavour to make my music do so.

RS: In symphonic form?

GM: Yes, for that is the greatest expression that music can carry, is it not?

RS: It is, but such a symphony would last an eternity, were it to do what you hope it will do.

GM: Not an eternity, my friend, though it will undoubtedly be of gigantic proportions , particularly when compared to what has gone before.

RS: But can music do what you intend? Can music shape a world, and reveal life’s deepest secrets?

GM: That is what we will find out, my friend. I will write, and engross myself in Nature, awaking to bird call, the rustle of life stirring as the Sun rises in the sky. I will eat but little, nearing myself to Nature, not through sensations of pleasure as we generally do, but in ways that will make me aware of all around me – above and below.

RS: Again I ask if we will be changed by entering your world – the world you have created?

GM: I have not created any world, God Himself has done that. What I seek to do is to mirror His Creation in sound, so that we may return to that first dawn, that crack of thunder as our Universe is created, until I can rekindle the flame from the heat – the few degrees that haven’t cooled yet, and the sound, for that must still be all around us.

RS: But any sound still present from those billions of years ago, is drowned out by the noise we make in our daily rounds.

GM: But it is still there, and my music will bring it to our ears, if only for a fleeting moment as I pass on to what will be my own musical poem that takes us through all the stages of evolution.

Pan awakes – two notes alternate, and the Universe comes into being, then life asserts itself as summer marches in. Form emerges from the seeming chaos of creation, The pulse of life begins – amoeba stir in the muds of ebbing waters – the primary particles of existence, changing in the instant and Nature itself awakens in tones and sounds – everywhere is the power of Creation – in sound and fury, for what has become our own sanctuary, might well have become something entirely different. We dwell in a universe of infinite possibilities.

RS: But there is a hierarchy of life, is there not, and we human beings are at the very pinnacle of that pyramid, are we not?

GM: So we are accustomed to think, but should we be toppled from that pinnacle, should we be removed, would not life flourish without our presence?

RS: I think it surely would, yes.

GM: And for a very good reason; we continually threaten all forms of life with everything we do.

RS: That is true, but we know the truth of that. Is that your message, for if it is, it is somewhat redundant.

GM: You say we know that, but yet we continue our reckless way on and down. It is my task to bring us back from that brink. The single underlying force of Creation shall be unleashed and given to Man. This will should be given back to humanity.

RS: Are you saying man has lost this will?

GM: He has not lost it, and nor can it ever be fully lost. If it were, who would there be to write symphonies decrying its diversion? And though all life is doomed to a narrow experience of the world, it is my contention that through music, man can come to extend the limits of his experience, and in that will come the changes I so earnestly wish my music to create.

RS: So a deeper reality is what your music aims to create in the minds of your audience?

GM: It is, and one that is not deformed by our own will, which is not the will to live, but something darker.

RS: And the answers to our deepest, most earnest questions – Who are we? Why are we here? Will be addressed in music?

GM: That is it, my friend, you have grasped my notions in their essence. And Pan will awaken the whole teeming pageant of life.

RS: And the ancients meant the name Pan to mean ALL, did they not?

GM: They did, and it is in this appeal to all, to the spirit of all, that my music addresses and speaks to. The tunes and melodies of Pan become a march, and marches awaken in man the essence of participation – of marching to a beat, and of watching as a band marches past, marches stir us in ways that other forms of music do not.

RS: Indeed they do, but invariably marches evoke military precision. Is that what you want to invoke in your audiences?

GM: My audiences will consist of people who have lived and still live under the conventions of their day. What would be the use of my appealing to a people who did not exist, or else appealing to them in ways they could not respond to? Like it or not, that is the way the ear has been trained. I am not here to retrain that ear, but rather to use it to reach a new understanding of what we are, and of who we are, while placing us, not at the peak of Creation, not as some supreme evidence of the wonder of Creation, but rather as a part of it, with a part to play.

RS: And the rhythms of life are pictured in your symphony.

GM: They are, as I I have said, using the mystical, immense sound of Nature, to move us.

RS: You have used the march to signify humanity then, have you not?

GM: In part, yes, but marching involves movement – relentless movement – that is the form of the march – once begun, the march has the power to move us, seeming as it does, unstoppable.

RS: But marches also evoke the images of the military.

GM: And the military evokes action, does it not? Action is stirring, is it not?

RS: It is indeed.

GM: Life stirs, even in the dead silence of winter, and so it is with man. We sleep, and we dream whilst sleeping. Man is no more moribund when he is sleeping than when he is fully awake. It is while he is sleeping that ideas rise in his mind. He retires in the evening, with a glimmer of thought, waking to the full light it comes into as he rises from sleep. There is the connection between the creation of the Universe and human creativity.

RS: You invoke the gods, do you not, in your attempt to recreate in sound, in music, this connection between the creation of the Universe, and human creativity?

GM: I do; Dionysus and Apollo.

RS: Why those specifically?

GM: Dionysus was the god of wine, the grape, of madness and ecstasy, was he not?

RS: He was, but what of it? There are surely other, more appropriate deities you could have invoked, are there not?

GM: To be sure, there are many others, but to suit my purpose, none. For in this music I wished to at once portray the contradictions that we detect in Nature.

RS: Contradictions, which contradictions?

GM: In the real essence of Nature, which I love and adore, and find myself totally and absolutely enveloped when I go to my beloved mountains in summer. I have escaped the frenetic world of life conducting, organizing and working as little more than a wage-slave, though the world imagines the life of a conductor to be something quite different from reality.

As I say, I escape to the mountains to write – to compose – to find myself in Nature and her in me. It is whilst taking my breakfast down to my little hut by the lake, the better to avoid all human contact before my composition begins that I observe Nature at her most delicate – in the flowers of the field and the hedgerow – pansies freaked with jet, lords and ladies, the cuckoo-pint hiding in the undergrowth of hedges, invisible unless you know where to look. I notice Nature at its most seemingly delicate; I notice the design of petal and leaf, and I wonder at Nature – at the wonder of Creation.
It is when I see the hawk in its stoop, swooping out of a clear blue sky, to pounce on and kill the unsuspecting vole, going like me to its first repast – it is only then that I am brought to the reality of Nature.My first composition was entitled by me with the title

What the flowers of the meadow tell me

A title I have since removed.

RS: It is a lovely title. Why did you not use it?

GM: For the very simple reason that I did not want such words to cloud the imagination of my audience as it listened to my work. Unfettered by words, where indeed, really none are necessary, I believe that the ear will be struck by those chords and juxtapositions I sought with which to render Nature in a world of sounds.

RS: And do you think you succeeded?

GM: Certainly, but, whilst I was writing about the flowers and this delicacy, came the hawk to remind me of this other, seemingly indifferent side to Nature; this chaotic, disorganized aspect that ruled over the Earth and everything in it.
From this, I returned to a time before life on Earth – before Earth, to the creation of the Universe, and then and only then did the gigantic form and structure of the symphonic work I had embarked upon fill me with awe, the awe of Creation – the forces, the elemental forces that created all.

You must realize, a modern audience must realize, that I was writing at a time of little real knowledge of that cataclysmic process whereby our planet floated and was governed in our solar system, in which in turn it was bound in the galaxy that is our Milky Way, and that a piece of nothing in the midst of the Universe, imagined only by myth rather than science.
I wanted to recreate those forces of which I – we understand so little. Indeed, all we can bear witness to is the result of this upheaval in Nature. Were not the mountains in my visage, the lake at their feet, created by this very upheaval in ages past?

RS: Quite so. It is wonderful to contemplate, and the wonder of it is that you were so lead to contemplate it by first regarding the pansy at your feet, the twittering birds in the branches of the trees, the blue of the sky and the dark of the Earth beneath you.

GM: It is certainly that – a wonder, and so my days were spent in this secondary creation after His. I wrought the iron from the deities who wrought our destinies; I conjured Dionysus and Apollo; the one to bring the chaos of creation, the other to give that chaos shape. The bawdy meets the military precision; out of the strong comes forth sweetness, has it not been written?

RS: Indeed it has, but not in such an all encompassing manner as you have achieved by your pen and paper in the quiet mornings by the lake, my friend.

But then you go to Nature on a more human scale, do you not, in your second movement?

GM: I did, but you will recall that what was my first effort became my third in music; the creation of the universe being the first, of which enough has been spoken already.

RS: Then let us go to the 2nd movement – that of more human scaled dimensions.

GM: Yes, with life as one, leaving behind the infinite and the infinitesimal, and moving through the lens of my music to what the flowers in the meadows tell me.

RS: And what do they tell you?

GM: They tell me of the delicacy of God’s creation, of the infinite detail, they tell, they show me, they burst upon my senses from the cold earth from whence they spring. They tell me of the greenness of life, the blueness of rain, of the power of mountains and the power of God.

RS: But you have also spoken on the seemingly indifferent process of Creation, of Nature.
GM: As the flowers lift their faces to the sun, the bull bellows and roars, rushes down to the water’s edge to drink, and tramples all beneath his hooves. The bull is indifferent to the fate of the flowers.

RS: But the bull has not killed from hate, like man does.

GM: That is true, but man has not entered our sylvan scene, even as the bull has brought the crescendo of life to an abrupt close. Nature is this adjacent force of life and death. In the middle of life, we are in death, it is written.

What the animals in the forest tell me.

RS: And it is here that you bring in the songs that have enchanted you throughout your life, is it not?

GM: Here, yes. The songs that have always stilled my heart work in ways that leave room for the imagination to play; the death of the cuckoo is tragic, unfolding its drama in woodland and in meadow. We are left to mourn, but Nature supplies its own with more of what it needs – the nightingale replaces the moribund cuckoo and life returns to pastures new, to open the valley’s singing days, to begin life over again in a circle that is never ending – that is my point, my focus and my theme. It is not for us to rationalize it, for to do that is to impute our own dull reasoning, which leads us to place limitations on Nature; impose our will upon it when it is Nature’s will that will prevail – always and forever. We consider what we may – weighty things, as we think, but the Almighty considers all.

RS: And that is why this 3rd movement is at once your most scurrilous, most tragic – as if Nature were sticking out its tongue at humanity.

GM: That is where we err; Nature is indifferent to us, as it is to the pansy trampled under the madding hooves of the bull. The bull must drink. Life must continue. Whether we continue to abandon that idea will determine our own fate. Whether we continue to abandon that idea will determine our own fate; either we pass from this Earth or abide by Nature’s laws that bind us.

Vier letzte Lieder - Richard Strauss' Four Last Songs

Fruhling – Spring
In shadowy crypts
I dreamt long
of your trees and blue skies,
of your fragrance and birdsong.
Now you appear
in all your finery,
drenched in light
like a miracle before me.
You recognize me,
you entice me tenderly.
All my limbs tremble at
your blessed presence!

Thomas Mann and Richard Strauss

Thomas Mann: No man remains quite what he was when he recognizes himself.

Richard Strauss: You have often remarked thus, and yet I still maintain that we must also recognize ourselves in Nature, at the feet of the blessed presence – the bursting bud, the lamb gamboling for the sheer joy of living, at one with Nature, knowing nothing of tomorrow, nothing of yesterday.

TM: The bursting bud knows only that it holds the flower, whose sole, soul purpose is to spread itself across the land in bursts of colour. And so it must be with one who would heap earthly glory upon Nature’s bounty; not for earthly reward, a mere coin of mortal worth, but rather to bring him closer to His Creation.
All sorts of personal aims, hopes, ends, prospects, hover before the eyes of the individual, and out of these he derives the impulse to ambition and achievement.
Thought that can merge wholly into feeling, feeling that can merge wholly into thought - these are the artist's highest joys.

RS: But man must know his limits, know the extent of his horizons.

TM: Why a horizon, when I wanted the infinite from life? My art, like yours, knows only the limits imposed by Him who sets us all in one frame – our good Earth.

RS: That is undoubtedly true, but you must concede that the limits of the physical world bear little resemblance to those of the mind – the imagination. It is in our imagination that we shake free any limits that are imposed upon us.

TM: Those limits imposed upon us by man are there to be so shaken off, not so those imposed by God. His limits are known only to Him. It is only for us mere mortals to imitate Creation, and the earthly paradise He has created. I attempt this using the language of words – climbing the mountain of magic, rising out of the plains of forthcoming despair. Your expression is of a wholly different kind, is it not?

RS: It is, but we mould the same clay, cast the same pots, using, as you say, different means.

TM: These pots we mould, are not some mere shards we assemble. Man is everywhere broken. Our fall from His Grace must be reversed, we must, as I have said, and written, ascend the mountain to find ourselves.

RS: And having found ourselves anew, are we then to recognize ourselves?

TM: Certainly, and in so doing, we change, never remaining quite the same, as I have said. It is in this change that we must seek our salvation.

RS: And we aid this search in our art, do we not?

TM: Yes, it is our mission, and ours alone, to bring our brethren to this higher consideration of what life is and must be. If we are to dwell peacefully, if we are to fulfill our destinies together, for none can do it alone, we must play our part in this reconstruction. Even the peasant laboring in field and workshop has his part in this, his is no less a part, of no lesser significance or importance to our destinies than the person of high birth. Less important is the person who has merely positioned himself to acquire vast wealth.

RS: It has been said that our life is but a sleep and a forgetting; we must awaken from our sleep, and we must remember - there hath passed away a glory from the earth, it is ours to attempt to revive that glory, in song, as in word and deed.

TM: Indeed. But we must first believe that when you want something, all the universe seems to conspire in helping you to achieve it.

RS: That is the popular myth surrounding our desires. It is my belief that much of what man desires is unworthy of him; that the universe is imagined to conspire in helping to achieve it is probably more true than he realizes, given the nature of them, whereas one is loved purely because one is loved, no other reason is needed for loving.

TM: And so, there we have our answer, one must love rather than simply desire or want. It is in love and in loving another, as well as loving certain qualities in which we find our salvation.

RS: Whereas we have habitually been used to valuing merely what is desired, instead of its intrinsic value.

TM: One would almost go so far as to say that something only has value if it is valued so by others. Is this not true?

RS: It is indeed, and so we are brought low by those desires that stem, not from love, not even from necessity, but because we have been educated to desire them. Spring, that time that is full of fragrance and birdsong, the Earth drenched in the unquenchable light of the vernal sun is something more treasured than we think.

TM: We are back to that thought that our life is but a sleep and a forgetting, are we not?

RS: Quite so, and we are thus removed from any lasting consideration of that imperial palace whence we came, are we not?

It is as I have said, as we both have said, it is art’s function, if it may be termed in such a mundane word coined merely for reasons of utility, to bring to man’s memory, to his conscious mind the glories he has known.

Robert L. Fielding

Monday, November 7, 2011

Gustav Mahler: Nature, God and Art

A symphony must be like the world. It must contain everything.

I don't let myself get carried away by my own ideas - I abandon 19 out of 20 of them every day.

If a composer could say what he had to say in words he would not bother trying to say it in music.

It's not just a question of conquering a summit previously unknown, but of tracing, step by step, a new pathway to it.

The point is not to take the world's opinion as a guiding star but to go one's way in life and working unerringly, neither depressed by failure nor seduced by applause.

When I have reached a summit, I leave it with great reluctance, unless it is to reach for another, higher one.


Thomas Mann: You said that a symphony must be like the world. It must contain everything.

Gustav Mahler: Yes, I did say that. For me, the symphony is the complete form of musical expression.

TM: Greater even than the opera?

GM: Yes, my friend, greater than even that. In opera, music and libretto combine to inform, to command, and to relate, whereas with the symphony, the music is all; it must contain everything.

TM: Only God can do that, surely.

GM: God and Shakespeare, yes. But we who deal in notes, in tones, and not in verbal language, though we do often resort to its use, we compose, we musicians have only the tools of our trade to communicate our intent to the world.

TM: But where are we to search for our intent? You recall that the art of composition is a lonely one; you write in your hut by the lake, do you not, taking an apple as your only repast. Where do you get your intended composition?

GM: As I am alone with my work, my answer would be that I get it from my own mind, but that would be too simple an answer, for it gives no information other than stating the obvious. The mind, the mind is like a vast expanse of land that I must cross to and fro to discover what I am looking for.

TM: And where do you look, in your mind?

GM: In all those reservoirs of feeling, in those fathomless depths of emotion.

TM: But where are they? Do you alone know how to access those parts of your personality that lie dormant or covered for the rest of us?

GM: It is not for me to say what I can do, what I can know. I only know this; that once the search begins, things fall into place, my life, all I have experienced, all I have read, or been told, or seen, all I believe, unites in my searching, and finds expression in my music.

TM: Do you think you could ever find a different vehicle for your self-expression?

GM: Quite possibly, yes. For no doubt the workman who stood here by this lake and built this hut felt something akin to self-expression even as he was sawing wood and combining his skill and his brawn to create what you see before you – this little hut, my home for the days of creation.

TM: But surely the carpenter has his plans, how can he deviate from them? How is he expressing anything except the plan in front of him?

GM: The plan of the hut – the drawing, if it is such, the measurements, you mean, all that is only a part of what he does before he puts away his tools and goes home to his rest.

TM: A part, I grant you, but a major part. Is there anything left for him to do except follow the plan obediently?

GM: His plan is merely someone’s outline, as one might outline an essay or a musical composition, a story or a poem; it is not the hut itself, only an idealized form, not a realized one. It is the realization of the plan that the carpenter creates.

TM: And how is that anything more or less than a plan?

GM: The medium is wholly different, as is the plane of its architecture, and the use to which it is put once it is built.

TM: But that cannot be a part of the carpenter’s skill, can it?

GM: Whose skill would it be, if not his, and mine, the user’s?

TM: You might as well say that it is the lake’s skill and the trees that shore it.

GM: Who can say that it is not those things. Have I not said what the flower tells me, what the stars tell me, what the night tells me? Should I now not put them together and express my thoughts in music, using all those components that go to form my experience of sitting here in this hut searching my thoughts and feelings, my emotions? Should I not include all of these elements, and should these not include the hut that shelters me as I write?

TM: But can the audience reach what you intend to portray? Can the audience feel what you feel?

GM: Each feels according to what he brings to the experience of listening, and from the particular direction that he brings what he contributes to the experience.

TM: So you are unable to say that anyone listening to your music can experience anything like what you intend him to experience.

GM: You have me wrong if you think that is my mission. I express what I am capable of; let us not forget that like each member of the audience, each member of the orchestra, each conductor, I bring what I bring in the particular direction that I bring it. If I find commonality, it is in the conventions of the form in which I write.

I am changing what I can, not for any superfluous reason, but because I must change it. The forms of the past cannot ever be sufficient for me to express what I desire to express.

TM: But if you change the symphonic form, do you not change the concertgoers’ expectations?

GM: I sincerely hope so. In change lies progress, and in both, painful as they can usually be, comes education. We live at this moment in our history, and we must consequently make what we create reflect that fact.

TM: But what has gone before was not of our making, was it? You did not start the Franco-Prussian War. How can you deal with it in your work?

GM: For the very reason that I am unable not to. It is who I am, who we all are, is it not?

TM: Yes, I suppose it is.

GM: Then we must reflect it in our way, each according to our means. The carpenter built this hut; he lived through the war that is finally over, and doubtless he will live though others. He comes to his task with that knowledge inside him. Do you think he can eradicate its effect on him?

TM: But does it inform how he holds a hammer, how he saws a piece of timber?

GM: You cannot see that it does?

TM: Not at all, all I see is the carpenter building the hut.

GM: Then you are not observing the whole organism, only the arm as it swings the hammer, only the hand as it holds the saw. Yet it is the artist who must observe the whole event, the carpenter sawing, the birds singing, the wind blowing, the sun shining, is it not?

TM: Why must it be the artist who shall have the task of conveying all?

GM: To allow the listener to experience everything the composer does.

TM: And that includes how he feels too, does it?

GM: Most certainly, for if it did not, it would be unworthy of the name of art, wouldn’t it? It would be a snapshot of a man building a hut, or a film of him doing so. At least, in my way, I ensure that the pictures that emerge from my music are more real than anything the camera could record.

TM: How can that be? Surely the camera can record with absolute accuracy and high resolution?

GM: But that is all it can do, my friend. It cannot begin to show the real event, the man stopping over his plans as the breeze from the lake attempts to free them from his gaze.

TM: Were his plans to blow away, he would have to stop his work, wouldn’t he?

GM: Most certainly, and yet you persist in stating that the breeze plays no part in the building of the hut.

TM: It only slows or stops to the extent that the plans are obscured from the carpenter’s gaze. That is all the breeze does.

GM: And yet in the brief interval in which the carpenter must stop and place his boot firmly on the pans to prevent them from being whisked into the water, he is able to think of something to prevent the hut being blown away in a similar fashion when the breeze becomes a storm. No moment is wasted, my friend; not for the carpenter or for the artist depicting him in sound.

TM: But a symphony must do more than describe the physical conditions of the scene it seeks to portray, surely?

GM: Of course it must, and so it does, if it can be truly be called a symphony. It must capture the essence of the scene, and it must capture the spirit of all it seeks to portray.

TM: Can you say what you mean by the spirit?

GM: If we return to the little hut by the lake, built, if you recall, by the carpenter, forced occasionally to retrieve his plans from the clutches of the breeze as it blows out across the expanse of water that is the lake.

Now, let me ask you a question. What does the carpenter bring to his task, and what does he take from it?

TM: Well, first of all, he brings his expertise, his skill in working with wood, and his frame of mind as he approaches his work.

As far as what he takes from his task is concerned, he surely takes his wages that feed his family and replenish his pockets when the need arises.

GM: And anything else?

TM: The sense of achievement he must feel when he has made something with the sweat of his brow and his knowledge of the material of his work.

GM: And do you think he brings to it anything more than his skill as a worker of wood?

TM: I suppose you mean his bearing towards his work; his love of his work, I might even say.

GM: Do you think there is anything in his spirit that brings him closer to his work?

TM: I suppose his faith would be involved, particularly with a man with such a trade as his.

GM: What do you mean?

TM: It may sound a bit obvious, but he may well always be aware that Joseph was a carpenter; that his trade is one that goes down through the ages of man, right back to the earliest days of man making a surplus enough to remove himself from tilling the soil to take up other work that served to move mankind on further to where we stand today.

GM: That is well said, for we all come to this spot with the cooperative efforts of many, acknowledged or otherwise. We work under a sheltering sky, which should seek to unite us, but fails in some.

What I have tried to do in my music is to codify the world of Nature and the world of God, a unity of which is vital to our time here on Earth and beyond the grave. To glorify what has been done with us, by us and for us is what I seek to convey in my music.

TM: I want to ask you how music can really convey anything to an audience, short of rapture, or horror? How can the vibrations in a column of air so affect one, do you think?

GM: Well, I should begin by again stating the obvious, for which I beg your forgiveness and your patience. The musician’s medium, as you have said, is air, the painters the canvas and its effects on the retina and the visual cortex.

The musician aims at that most delicate of human intricacies (after the mind and possibly the heart) the ear – that little sac of bones displayed in delicate distance relative to each other and their reacting to what blows in by way of vibrating columns of air, again, as you have already mentioned.

Helmholtz has described how certain intervals of sound – of these vibrating columns of air – affect the nerve endings; some producing calm, others a more stressful orientation to what is entering the auditory channels. The semitone, that pernicious space between two adjacent keys on a piano, struck together, produce distress to the listener.

TM: So what you are doing, with your symphonic works, is to manipulate the emotions of the audience merely by activating those notes that cause distress, I may say, discord, in the listener.

GM: And then, by recourse to other, more calming configurations of notes, relieve the tensions set up earlier.

TM: But surely you do not go through your music with a fine toothed comb, merely to distress and calm, do you?

GM: Distressing and calming the audience is not my main consideration, and although I am aware that what I write will inevitably cause such perturbations, I do not specifically set out to create them.

Rather, I intend, in the only way I can, which is through musical composition, to convey my wonder at God and Nature working in harmony, as they surely do, to produce the Earth and all its splendour, all its ills, in successions that strike the listener as a revelation.

TM: We learn, if and when we learn anything at all, do we not, by having our expectations disturbed, rather than at those times when all is as we have come to believe it is?

GM: I am encouraged to think so, and yet there are those who bellow at music that so assaults their hearing, as they might say of some of my chords, who revel only in what they know.

TM: That is the enemy of progress, I think.

GM: It is, and while I hope my music is thought of as avant-garde, I do not think it will be thought so after my death.

TM: To be appreciated after one’s demise is the wish, is it not, of any composer, any artist?

GM: It is popularly thought to, yes, but I think most would take any generous applause while still mortal as a much more appreciated accolade.

I do not compose music to gain applause, however gratifying, indeed necessary, such applause is to any performer who stands or falls by his popularity with his audience. I say again, I do not court such popularity; that I reserve for my time as conductor, as director of music rather than as composer of it.

When I sit in my little hut, munching an apple, penning phrases in my forthcoming creation, I do not think of money, but concentrate rather, on what inspires me, although I think that concentration is the wrong word for what happens to me in my hut by the lake. I am inspired and moved to write music. That is all.

Robert L. Fielding

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

Edvard Munch

A work of art can only come from the interior of man. Art is the form of the image formed upon the nerves, heart, brain and eye of man.

My whole life has been spent walking by the side of a bottomless chasm, jumping from stone to stone. Sometimes I try to leave my narrow path and join the swirling mainstream of life, but I always find myself drawn inexorably back towards the chasm's edge, and there I shall walk until the day I finally fall into the abyss.

The way one sees is also dependent upon one's emotional state of mind. This is why a motif can be looked at in so many ways, and this is what makes art so interesting.

In my art I have tried to explain to myself life and its meaning. I have also tried to help others to clarify their lives.

Just as Leonardo da Vinci studied human anatomy and dissected corpses, so I try to dissect souls.

When I paint, I never think of selling. People simply fail to understand that we paint in order to experiment and to develop ourselves as we strive for greater heights. (Edvard Munch)

The Frieze of Life
Max Reinhardt: You said that we should no longer paint interiors with men reading and women knitting, that instead we should paint living people who breathe, who feel, who suffer and who love, didn’t you?

Edvard Munch: Yes, I did say that. I think that it is not enough to paint a sort of idealized picture, having someone pose, as if standing in front of a camera about to have a photograph taken. A painting is not a photograph.

MR: Why do you say that? It is the artist’s task to show reality, isn’t it?

EM: Not to show reality, for what does that mean? It is it real to show a worker standing by his bench, holding his tools and looking at his work, when in reality, as you say, he would hardly ever stand so. And besides, I do not think art deals with reality, at least not in any simplistic sense.

MR: Then what does art deal in?

EM: In something bigger than reality.

MR: What is bigger than reality?

EM: Life. Life is a bigger entity than any reality you can see, or take a photograph of, or even paint, come to that.

MR: Then what do you paint?

EM: Better ask why do you paint, and begin from there, don’t you think?

MR: Alright, why do you paint? Why does anyone paint?

EM: First of all, I have to say that I can’t speak for others. I can’t really tell you why others paint. All I can do is say why I think I paint, and then let you make what you will of that.

MR: Why do you say, why I think I paint? Don’t you know why you paint?

EM: I think I know, but a psychologist might give you a different answer to the one I give.

MR: But it is you I am interested in, your reasons for painting, not some others opinions of why you paint.

EM: That is well said, there are those who say they know more about my paintings than I know myself. They may be right in their opinions, I cannot always find better reasons than they find. But, as critics of my work, I only quote the poet, Alexander Pope, when he says, ‘Let such teach others who themselves excel’, and censure freely who have written well’, and while he was talking about the literary form of art rather than the more visual, the principle is the same.

An industry has grown up out of our brush strokes; one that has little to do with art and more to do with exploiting what artists do.

MR: Well then, I will ask you to tell me, without the vicarious comments of the critic who purports to know this and that about what you paint and why you paint it.

EM: I paint, I can’t speak for others, but I paint to find out something more about my condition than I knew before I wet the first brush and began to paint.

MR: What do you find out? What is there to find out in that medium?

EM: The world.

MR: You learn a lot from your art then?

EM: I do. My art is who I am, you see. When you look at one of my paintings, you are cutting through a segment of my life.

MR: But then you are saying that your art speaks, are you?

EM: In ways that tell more than words can relate, for words – language, is bound by laws that have little to do with the human condition. When you write a sentence, you are limited by several things, I think you must agree.

MR: Things? What things?

EM: Well, at an elemental level, you are bound by letters, by words, by sentences. You are bound by what can and cannot be said in language, are you not?

MR: That is true. What of music? Is the composer bound by such laws?

EM: He most certainly is, but they are not the same laws, of course, and the interpretation of his music is left to the listener without the medium of language to confine and conform.

The musician is bound by the notes that can be heard by the human ear, in that range and in no other, and although there is little equivalence in music of the word or the sentence to limit him, the musician is nevertheless bound by laws that are not found in the visual arts, excepting one.

MR: And that is?

EM: The plane in which he works; if he paints it is in the two dimensional, if he chisels marble, it is in three such.

Where all art is released from these various confines is in the receptor – in the being that sees, or hears or touches.

MR: But then he is bound again in trying to say what he feels, about how he is affected by the art he takes some part in as the onlooker or listener, if you prefer.

EM: Precisely, and it is in this attempt in words to say what reasons have made me paint this way rather than another that the critic errs.

MR: Then who can say?

EM: No one can say with any certainty, for that is what words give – they apportion an amount of certainty where there is none.

One person looks at my paintings, and then is told by what he subsequently reads about what he has seen, told what to think he has seen, and in that telling, and in that thinking lies the error. Art is only truly that to the person experiencing it.

One man comes from the joys of lovemaking, one from the despair of bereavement, let us say, yet another comes from his place of work, or from his home, whatever that may be like, and yet we persist in saying that this art means such and such to all, as if ten men were but the one, as if a million were one. Art is whatever it is at the point of experiencing it.

MR: So how do you hope to convey your feelings to the person looking at what you have painted?

EM: I do not hope anything. I merely represent a feeling on canvas. That one man comes to my own experience is fortuitous indeed, though I fail to see how that can really be so.

MR: But if a person is able to express himself in those terms in which you have expressed yourself when painting, then surely there is some congruence, is there not?

EM: How can there be? Have we not just agreed that once an utterance is made in words, then something is lost, or say that something that is essentially intangible is made real, but how can that be reality when it is confined and confounded by words that adhere, as we have said, to laws that are not at one with feelings – real feelings. That is the difficulty of saying why I paint, and what my painting means. In so doing, I must needs use words, and that takes away any simulacrum of reality.

MR: But let us still talk about what you ostensibly say your paintings are about, even as you have now admitted that words fail you.

EM: They do fail me, but they do not fail my art.

MR: Why not?

EM: Because my art expresses itself in a non-verbal form.

MR: But when someone wants to talk about how your art has affected them, they use language.

EM: They are affected by my art in ways they cannot express.

MR: Then how can they know how they have been affected, if they cannot express it in the only way they have?

EM: You mistake yourself, my friend, if you think that language is the only way we can express ourselves.

MR: Well then, let me put it this way, using language, speaking, to someone who can understand that language is the best way we have of expressing ourselves.

EM: Again, you are mistaken, my friend.

MR: How so? What other way is there of communicating?

EM: I am surprised you can ask such a question when you use ways other than language to communicate most of the time.

MR: What other way?

EM: The non-verbal way.

MR: Which is?

EM: Let me ask you a question; how does a mother communicate her love for her newly born child? That child is not yet able to understand one syllable of the language her mother speaks, and yet the child understands that it is loved by its mother. Is that not a fact?

MR: Certainly.

EM: Then how is that? How has the mother communicated her love?

MR: By the things she does, I suppose.

EM: You might say by the things she does, and the manner in which she does them, don’t you think?

MR: By her smiling at the child when she feeds her, you mean?

EM: That is certainly one way in the myriad of ways a loving mother communicates her love for her child.

MR: But there are others.

EM: Many others, and there is one way in particular.

MR: Which is?

EM: Which is her way of being.

MR: Being what? You will have to elaborate.

EM: I thought I might. Let us say that she expresses herself through everything she does, and everything she does is an expression of her love for her child. Can you not see the truth of that?

MR: I can, yes, but how does the child understand what is being communicated?

EM: By being her child, again, by being.

The mother conveys her love for her child in everything she does, and the child understands that she is beloved even if she cannot say that word, ‘love’ or understand what it is in language.

MR: But what has this got to do with how your art affects me?

EM: Because it expresses itself by being.

MR: Again, you will have to elaborate.

EM: Bear with me, my friend. You stand before my painting, ‘The Scream’ and you look at it for some time. You cannot be but affected by it.

MR: But I might not be able to say how it has affected me.

EM: That is most probably true, but it has affected you.

MR: How, if I cannot say how?

EM: Remember the child looking up at her mother; she knows she is loved, even though she cannot say so in words.

MR: So what you are saying, are you not, is that words – language – is not enough.

EM: It is never enough. The ways my painting have affected you go too deep for words. You cannot find the words to express how you have been affected.

MR: Then how do I know I have been affected by your work?

EM: Because you are human, from a broadly similar culture and of a similar age. How can you not be affected?

MR: But I ask again: how can I know, how can I relate it?

EM: You can’t, not really. But your desire to tell others has nothing to do with my art, and everything to do with the fact that you are a social being, you need to tell, to express your feelings to others.

MR: But you have said that I can’t, that I haven’t words to help me.

EM: That is true, you haven’t. What you have is your ability to be.

MR: So my needing to talk about how your art has affected me is merely a product of my culture, is it?

EM: Yes, it is, and your language. First, you have lived in this industrial age of ours, and all you have been taught in the course of your life is that everything of value should be capable of being quantified, put down in words or spoken about to others.

MR: But that is normal, isn’t it, to have that need?

EM: It is for you, and for me, but for the being you really are, your soul, it is not necessary. In fact, I would go further and say that your propensity to want to quantify and elucidate has led us to the impasse we find ourselves at.

MR: What impasse?

EM: The impasse we have come to that has brought us through wars, through all kinds of violence, through hatred and prejudice – that impasse.

MR: And you think it is language that has brought us to it, do you?

EM: Language, certainly, and its properties within us.

MR: Which properties?

EM: Those that come with language – faith in words, and a loss of faith in ourselves as human beings. Everything we say and do proclaims it; everything except art, that is.

MR: So you think art expresses itself in a sort of way that is prior to our attaing or acquiring language, do you?

EM: I most certainly do.

MR: But why, how?

EM: Because we enter a world of images, not of language. We are born without language, are we not?

MR: Yes, but we soon learn how to speak, don’t we?

EM: We do, and in so doing, we are being inculcated into a civilization and its ways, its social mores – we are learning much more than language. We are learning how to be, and what to be.

MR: And so you think art, your art, speaks to a sort of me that is pre-lingual, if I can say such a thing.

EM: All art does so. It communicates to you in elemental ways that go beyond words, but it communicates to you nevertheless. And, furthermore, because it communicates in a non-verbal sense, it acts more deeply upon you than it would were it to be merely a form of verbal language.

MR: But what of art that uses language? What of a Shakespeare play? Does not Hamlet speak to us who watch and listen?

EM: It does, most certainly, but it does so in ways that are different from those ways though which visual art expresses itself.

MR: But it is no less art for that, I think.

EM: No less art, no, it is a different form of art; it is a way that is more culture specific, as it is language specific.

MR: But surely those failings shown to us in plays such as Hamlet, Othello, and King Lear – those are not culturally specific ways of behaving, are they? They are surely universal. Is not jealousy a universal emotion?

EM: We have come to think it is, but I think you will find it too is a product of who we are and what we are.

MR: But I hope you are not saying that there are people who feel no jealousy. I cannot believe that.

EM: And nor can I. What I am saying is that in our culture, we have made jealousy functional, or say it has become so because of the utility society gains from it.

MR: What utility?

EM: Jealousy is a part of desire, is it not?

MR: A part, yes, but a perverse part, surely?

EM: We have reined it in to control it, but it has its part to play in the way we live, I think you will agree.

MR: What part can it play?

EM: My dear friend, we live in a world in which the Earth and its treasures are unequally divided. Can you not see that were we not to have this propensity to be jealous, the world of commerce and trade would not turn half so rapidly as it does?

MR: But we censure those who become jealous, don’t we? Is Othello not mocked for his insane jealousy?

EM: He most certainly is, but would he be so mocked if what he coveted was another king’s land or property. Shakespeare shows us green eyed jealousy for what it is and how we treat those who feel jealous of another. The world is full of stories of those who envy and who acquire; it is only those who behave in such ways that attract moral reprobation that are attacked. In its other forms, it is lauded, is it not?

MR: In what other forms?

EM: Why, in its competitive spirit, by us forever wanting to be what we are not. By us forever wanting to be ambitious; which is no more or less than a socially acceptable form of a kind of jealousy. Watch Shakespeare again, and learn what is acceptable in our society and what isn’t.

My art makes no such bold challenges to your faith, but challenges you in other ways nevertheless, I think.

MR: But what kind of challenges? How can I be challenged if I cannot express myself so in language?

EM: The mistake you make is by imagining that the only way to express yourself is through language, or through art.

MR: What other ways are there?

EM: Merely by being. Did Ghandi not say, ‘Be the change you want to see in the world!’?

MR: Yes, I believe he did say that.

EM: Well then, being the change you want to see in the world is a way of self expression that does not rely only on words, but on being.

MR: How can I change who I am?

EM: Do you know who you are? Do you know what you are?

MR: I should hope so.

EM: There you are again hoping. Don’t hope – be! Any change that comes to the way we live our lives will not come merely by hoping it does, don’t you agree?

MR: Well, I think we must start by hoping.

EM: I cannot agree. Hoping is idealizing, whereas what needs to happen is more practical. Change needs to begin, rather than be hoped for. If you hope for something, you are doing something more or less akin to wanting someone to begin without doing anything to begin it. Being the change is starting the change, and if change is to happen, it has to begin somewhere, don’t you agree?

MR: Yes, I suppose it must start somewhere. It’s just that I always imagine it starting somewhere else and then taking hold and spreading like wildfire.

EM: But if it must start somewhere, why not with you?

MR: Because I am only one person.

EM: But one person can be a symbol for the whole world of people, can it not? What happens to you happens to millions of others, does it not? You are exploited by greed – your own greed and the greed of others, are you not?

MR: It is hard to say I am exploited by myself. We usually think we are exploited by others, don’t we.

EM: Yes, we do, and that is our first error in thinking about change. Someone is doing something to us, yes, but really, our systems are so pervasive, so omnipotent, so real in our minds that we take on their values, make them our own, internalize them and then identify with them.

Being the change you want to see is to look at everything you do and ask yourself if you are doing it voluntarily, really voluntarily, or are you acting out of motives that are not your own, are motives foisted upon you by the status quo.

When you act, are you acting in an original sense, or are you merely mimicking? That is why my art is so important to me, and why all art is so important to the world of people, because it signifies a person acting originally and creatively.

What is creativity but a way of acting originally, of having possibly non-original thoughts coalesce in ways that are entirely original to you. When you create, you become original, you stand alone and you stand out.

If you want a change, you must want to be it, surely. You must really want it, for if you do not really want it, it probably means it is not of you and you are not of it. Being the change is the change being you, which is nothing more than being creative with your whole being.

If you can do that, you can surely escape from the shackles that bind you. They may be invisible, but they are no less real for that. You must be yourself in a real way in order to become the change. Can you see that?

MR: I think so. You are saying that I am a product of my time and the way I am required to be, aren’t you?

EM: Yes, I am. Even that realization is profound. We hardly ever come to that point. We should, if we look at what we do, examine everything we do and say, even everything we think.

MR: Do you really think it is necessary to examine our thought? Surely those are our own, aren’t they?

EM: You think so. Think about anything you care to think about and you will find it has the stamp, even the seal of approval from those interests that would have you act in ways beneficial to them.

You cannot help thinking in those ways, I think, but you can and must become aware of them and once you are aware then you can alter them, you can alter your habitual way of thinking about yourself.

That is the first real step to changing; becoming aware of the source of your thoughts.

MR: I think you must have become aware of who you are and what you think, and why you think in the ways you do.

EM: Why do you think that?

MR: Because you can express yourself through your art, which is yours and yours alone.

EM: But are you saying that everything that is painted expresses originality?

MR: Yes, I suppose I am.

EM: A lot of art is done to sell, selling it being the way success is apportioned and considered, and in targeting a buyer or a market of buyers, the artist fails in what he does, fails in being original, fails in expressing something in a way that is unique to him. Real art expresses only the artist who created it. If it expresses anything else, it is either thought to do by those who look at the art, who judge it art.

Art should express something that cannot be expressed in any other way, should it not? We have already agreed that it cannot be expressed in words, that words fail utterly and miserably. Art is that which cannot express itself in any other way, is it not?

MR: Yes, I think it is.

EM: Then if it is so, it must be original, must it not, and to be truly original is to be truly creative. To be creative is to change something within oneself, to express an idea that does not copy other ideas but rather synthesizes existing ones.

There are those who say that any text has meaning only in reference to other texts. While that is undoubtedly true of words in texts, it is not necessarily true of visual art, or at least let me say it is not true of any art that comes from the non-verbal, and expresses itself and its artist in ways that cannot be usurped by any authority higher than the individual.

To be the change you want to see, be that individual, thinking in ways that are not a part of a text elsewhere, and in ways that do not have meaning except in reference to other texts or other meanings. Let those meanings be yours alone, not expressed by language – that way quickly and easily becomes tainted by other, ‘superior texts, which are not your own but are those put there by others. Be the change you want to see by giving meaning to your own self rather than merely standing as a mirror for those meanings that originate elsewhere. Be yourself, in a real sense, rather than in a way that is sanctioned and approved of by others. That is the test of art, if anything is, art is so by virtue of it not having a meaning other than the original one given to it at its point of creation. Even as the first stroke of the brush is contemplated, that is the point at which creativity begins. It is not dependent upon language, and consequently cannot take its meaning from other language – text, for in other text resides the control others have over you.

Robert L. Fielding

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Beethoven at Heiligenstadt

Music is a higher revelation than all wisdom and philosophy.

Music is mediator between spiritual and sensual life.

Music is the one incorporeal entrance into the higher world of knowledge which comprehends mankind but which mankind cannot comprehend.

Recommend to your children virtue; that alone can make them happy, not gold.

The barriers are not erected which can say to aspiring talents and industry, "Thus far and no farther."

Capability and Capacity
Beethoven at Heiligenstadt

In May, 1802, Ludwig van Beethoven went to Heiligenstadt to rest and recuperate from a depression brought on by the knowledge that he was going deaf. His friend, the German surgeon and ophthalmologist, Johann Adam Schmidt, advised the ailing man to go there, hoping the peaceful atmosphere would improve his condition.

Whilst there, Beethoven wrote what has come to be known as ‘the Heiligenstadt Testament’; it expresses his fear and disgust at his ensuing deafness. He never showed it to anyone, it only being discovered after his death and published in 1828, though it was addressed to his brothers, Carl and his second brother, Johann, whose name he never penned on the document.

Here he talks to Johann Adam Schmidt about his slowly worsening condition and his despair; his hopes and his fears of not having long enough to complete his ouvre .

Ludwig van Beethoven: I have ever been disposed to the gentle feelings of goodwill to my fellow, even as my childhood was tainted by the unhappiness of my dear, beloved mother suffering at the hands of my father – an inebriate, not willing even to allow that his son had a modicum of talent, bragging and boasting in public, apparently, though never within my hearing. How irony comes to taunt me now. I say those words, ‘within my hearing‘, and where he to trumpet my claims to ability, I would not hear him.

Now, the flute, that loveliest of all instruments, goes unheard, even as it is played not afar, in some garden through which we walked. Do you recall, my old friend?

Johann Adam Schmidt: Indeed I do, but you must put such thoughts out of your head, my good friend. Here, in this sylvan spot, you may yet recover from your ailment. Sit awhile and view the natural beauty of the scene, the better to recall the sights you can still enjoy, even as they are tainted with this silence.

B: It is not a silence. I could perhaps bear that, for one often craves the quiet of the grave, especially in the midst of all I hold dear, my beloved Berlin, so dear as she is to me. Even that quiet is denied me.

In its place I have a sound akin to the creaking wheels of the tumbrel carrying the doomed nobles of Paris, the perfumed and powdered gentry found out at last, usurping what power the people bequeathed them. That sound that must have tormented them through the cobbled thoroughfares of that mighty city torments me, who even undeserving, as they were not, nevertheless must bear the sound that keeps your own good words from my hearing.

JAS: If you could but have admitted this infirmity to those around you, it would have made it easier to bear – people are forgiving in such cases, are they not?

B: But this infirmity in someone of my calling, of my one occupation I was sent to perform, if you so believe in a deity that gives benevolence to one’s heart and mind to create in His Honour, and to glorify His Creation. How could I once admit I had this impediment that is death to my trade. How could I?

JAS: Others less fortunate than you, my dear friend, have borne the loss of that one talent that is death to hide, dwelling in this dark world and wide. Could you not have persevered, knowing that you have already great things performed, composed and played?

B: But I know my kind; I know the misunderstandings and misgivings that we are all heir to. Since there can be no recreations in society for me, no refined discourse with me, no mutual exchange of thought, only just as little as the greatest of my needs command may I mix with society, that and no more. How could I admit to an infirmity that renders me incapacitated in social intercourse?

JAS: Well then, you must live like an exile. Else you must disdain the hot terrors you say grip you upon the approach of your peers. Cannot you wait and effect the cure here in this bucolic serenity, then return to your best days? You must have patience, for naught is gained without it.

B: But you forget my time is spare and waning as I sit in this silence with only the shards of sound to accompany my solitude. I cannot hear the shepherd singing to his flock; the rural ditties mute, tempered to the oaten flute. Where comes my inspiration but from the sounds and songs of this Earth?

JAS: You can be charmed by those words you read, can you not? Your light is not denied. Who best bear his mild yoke, it is said, serve Him best.

B: But you know I am not built as one who can only stand and wait, even in the light that fills my eyes from morn to dusk.

JAS: Then can you not be inspired by what you see, and neglect that which you are habitually come to use to pen your work. Others have done it, and will do with more joy than you, my friend. Can you not have joy to create? Is that not enough?

B: You would have me forced in my 28th year into becoming a philosopher, would you?

JAS: I would have you become more philosophical, yes.

B: And can I ask the Divine to look into my inmost soul, to know above all that love of man and desire to do good live therein, and still deny my best work to come.

Well, I must choose Patience for my guide, and have my determination remain firm. Perhaps I shall get better, perhaps not, and yet I must strive to make capability and capacity come together in all I do to move towards my destiny as a maker of music, which, is a higher revelation than all wisdom and philosophy.

JAS: Remembering that he you strive to emulate, could awake with whole symphonies stored in his lobes, leaving us all wondering how this could be achieved.

B: Since no words are necessary in musical notation, as with the science of mathematics, it is not beyond the realms of possibility to learn that Mozart had this extraordinary mind.

JAS: As you have too, my friend, for your work pronounces it to the world’s ears, even as yours are denied its sound.

Above all, my friend, above all, produce work, create sound, use that medium to which you are most suited, be it the written word, be it shades and hues on canvas, or the shapes uncovered in marble blocks. It is there to discover. It is yours to unearth, and post o’er land and ocean without rest. They also serve who only stand and wait.

B: Well, I am contented. Your words have convinced me to go on, even as men decry me.

JAS: There will always be such. It is not given to every man to create as you can create. Your capabilities match your capacities, be persuaded of that my friend.
Robert L. Fielding

Ludwig van Beethoven

Robert L. Fielding