On Joy, Freedom, and Walls (An die Freude, Freiheit, und Waende)

January 29, 2017 at 3:46 pm

On Christmas Day, 1989, Leonard Bernstein conducted a concert in Berlin – on the program was Ludwig van Beethoven‘s Ninth Symphony. Germany was celebrating its reunification – the Berlin Wall had been torn down only a month earlier. The text of the “Ode to Joy” was altered – “Freude” (joy) was replaced with “Freiheit” (freedom). Some scholars argue that the original text indeed used the word “Freiheit”, and that the poet changed it out of fear of persecution.

Beethoven’s 9th symphony is a marvel. It is a symbol of the strength of the human spirit in the face of evil, always looking towards beauty, always dreaming of a better world. It’s no surprise that it is the Anthem of the European Union. It’s a symbol of the hope for human unity:

[Joy’s / Freedom’s] magic brings together what old traditions has unjustly divided. All men shall be as brothers where your gentle wings hover. Be embraced, you millions; this kiss is for the whole world!

Thirty years after the Berlin Wall was torn down and Germany was celebrating its unity, we Americans are building a new wall and actively dividing ourselves from our fellow humans. It is disgusting. We must do whatever we can to stop this. I am not a warrior, I am a musician; I cannot fight with weapons, so I will fight with Beethoven.


Happy Birthday to FAoL

November 18, 2016 at 10:30 am

As I mentioned yesterday, today is FAoL’s birthday.

It all began as a way to keep my mind fresh, to fight off the mid-life blahs and boredom: one post a day, 300 words maximum, for one year.

I’m under no illusions that I have more than a dozen or so readers, but that’s ok. If you’re reading this, please accept my humble thanks for taking time out of your life to read my ramblings, whether it was every day (thank you, my wonderful supportive wife) or only when Facebook was so miserably boring that you decided to click my daily spam. I do get the occasional note from a perfect stranger, thanking me for the blog, which is always uplifting.

At first, I wasn’t sure I could find 365 pieces worth writing about; ironically, I have a long list of pieces I still want to feature. Then I was concerned about finding something interesting to say; I’m proud of many posts, though certainly some are just “meh”. The future? I’ll be reposting stuff I’ve already written, and writing new content on occasion.

For FAoL’s half-birthday, I had a (musical) champagne toast. For its actual birthday, something more sincere and contemplative: Franz Schubert‘s setting of An die Musik. It’s one of Schubert’s 600+ art songs for solo voice and piano. For me, the spirit of the piece is better captured when sung by a choir – music is so much more glorious when it is shared!

Translation from Wikipedia:

You, noble Art, in how many grey hours,
When life’s mad tumult wraps around me,
Have you kindled my heart to warm love,
Have you transported me into a better world,
Transported into a better world!

Often has a sigh flowing out from your harp,
A sweet, divine harmony from you
Unlocked to me the heaven of better times,
You, noble Art, I thank you for it!!
You, noble Art, I thank you!


Mozart goes to Hell

October 28, 2016 at 10:46 am

There’s a lie we like to tell ourselves: bullies are mean because they are actually insecure, depressed, unloved, and lonely. That might make us feel better when someone is picking on us, but the truth of the matter is, bullies are jerks who are living the good life at the top of the social ladder.

And that’s why there are stories like Don Juan: seducer, rapist, murderer, liar, and just about the most horrible person you can dream up. Mozart‘s operatic version of the story, Don Giovanni, begins with the main character seducing the daughter of a knight, before then killing her father – with no regrets for any of his actions. The opera concludes with a triumphant moment of justice, when the murdered knight appears as a ghost who offers Giovanni one last chance to repent – Giovanni, however, would never stoop so low. The knight grabs him by the hand and pulls him down to hell.

Note: this video should have ended at 6:52, when the clapping begins – what follows is a concluding scene where the remaining characters learn what happened to Giovanni. The general consensus is, he got what he had coming to him.