Sunday, 23 May 2010

Dichterliebe - Aung San Suu Kyi

In March, 1999, Michael Aris passed away. He was the husband of Aung San Suu Kyi, the Burmese dissident, who is still under arrest in Myanmar on trumped-up charges.  Here they are in happier times, in Burma, in 1973.

Aris was an authority on Himalayan Buddhism at Oxford, so a memorial was held for him in the theatre at Wolfson College. His identical twin Anthony is also a Buddhist scholar, so it was uncanny to see him at the memorial, But in many ways, that's karma.

Karma too, in the form of the memorial, a performance of Dichterliebe, for it was Michael and Suu Kyi's favourite song cycle, and meant a great deal to them.  Schumann won Clara only after years of separation and struggle. Although Dichterliebe was written to celebrate their wedding, the cycle is infused with a sense of uncertainty, as if happiness might not last. Only a few years into their marriage, Schumann became ill and died. Michael and Suu Kyi at least enjoyed some years of happiness before destiny called..

So this Dichterliebe was very  special indeed, emotionally very powerful. Let no one say that extra-musical impressions don't count. They do. We would not be human if we responded to music without emotion. Even the most abstract sounds are processed by who we are. Not all emotion needs to be effusive, heart-on-sleeve, but it's there, because people are not machines.  Sometimes simplicity is all the more sincere.

Mark Padmore sang this Dichterliebe with Julius Drake at the piano. It was a wonderful performance. Previously I'd only heard him sing baroque, lute songs and  Henze's Six Songs From the Arabian (sorry, but it wasn't good) but this Dichterliebe had me almost in tears. It was an experience I'll never forget.

Oddly enough what sticks in my memory too is the strawberries we were served at the end of the meal. Incredibly ripe and fresh.  We ate that crop, but offshoots of the plants have been growing again, year after year. Suu Kyi won't taste strawberries again, in prison, far away in tropical Burma, and Michael is dead. But they must have enjoyed the first strawberries of summer in the past, just as they once enjoyed Dichterliebe. She has grown old, suffering for her people and her ideals. I don't know if she'll be vindicated in her lifetime, but her courage is a symbol, for Burma, and for people everywhere who stand up for what is good, against all odds. Please seemy other posts on Aung San Suu Kyi by following the labels below and support the Burma Campaign and spreade the word by giving the new boiography to your friends.    The book is REVIEWED HERE.

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