Tuesday, 20 December 2016

Brahms and Schiller : antidote to toxic 2016

Evening Scene with Moon (1801) Abraham Pether

As this horrible year draws to an end, Johannes Brahms Der Abend op 64/2 from the part song set Drei Quartette published in 1874, to a poem by Friedrich von Schiller. from 1776.  The "strahlende Gott", the radiant sun, is sinking  The piano plays one note at a time, like a heavy tread.   The fields  are parched, the horses pulling a cart are weary.  As the  sun sinks,so does the spirit.  Then a sudden vision :"Siehe, wer aus des Meers krystallner Woge" Almost in unison the four voices  spring to life, decorating the word "kristallner" so it shines.  The pace quickens.  "Rascher fliegen der Rosse", as if the horses sense refreshment. The godly Thetys beckons. Thetys was a Titan, the wild tribe who preceded the Greek Gods. Her signifier is water: the source of life, replenishing the parched (hence the reference to dried fields). She was mother of the Oceanides, the spirits of the Oceans whose tides control the earth.  The four voices, like horses, are energized, their lines well differentiated. The piano part prances, too.  Suddenly, "Stille halten die Rosse, Trinken die kühlende Flut." Now,

"An dem Himmel herauf mit leisen Schritten
Kommt die duftende Nacht; ihr folgt die süße
Liebe. Ruhet und liebet!
Phöbus, der liebende, ruht."

Up in the heavens, night descends quietly, the smells of the night are fragrant, damp, refreshing. "Ruhet und Liebet!" repeated twice, for emphasis.  Beloved Phoebus (Apollo, the sun) rests and loves. What is Der Abend about? Perhaps it's about sleep, offering an escape from toil. Yet it could also be about Death, the sleep from which you don't wake because you've gone on further. About 20 years ago I went to the funeral of someone my own age who died young after a long struggle. I'll swear the song was being played!  Tactfully, I tried to ask. "Joni Mitchell" said someone. This year, as the world seems to be hurtling, hell bent, towards Armageddon,  it's tempting to think on Lethe. But better to stay, struggle and fight back.

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