Monday, February 18, 2008

On Brahms and a Waitress...

It was a quiet day in Hamburg. With his flight in the late evening, he had a couple of hours more to roam the city. He walked into a Café and found himself a seat by the window to watch the city pass by his window.

„Guten Tag, möchten Sie etwas bestellen?“

He looked up to see the source of the sweetest voice he had heard ever since he arrived in this city. He was greeted by the sight of this young, charming girl with the most exquisite facial features. The floral fragrance of her flowing, velvety hair stunned him momentarily before he regained control of his faculties to process her words.

„Oh, ich nehme eine Tasse Kaffee und ein Stück Schokoladenkuchen, bitte. Danke.“

The waitress gave him a saccharine smile before returning to the counter to work on his order. As he gazed at the waitress as she walked away, he heard the music of Brahms’s Piano Concerto No. 2 play in the background, a work which he had heard a couple of times but could never really appreciate. By a quirk of nature, as the opening theme played, he experienced a moment of musical epiphany. It all made sense to him now. It was music parallel to what he had just experienced.

Like the waitress who made a resounding entrance, the 1st horn sounded a beautifully innocent theme and before it all ended, the piano emerged from the depths of its lowest registers, seemingly like a deep and heartfelt response to the horn theme, rising to the higher registers. Wait, a response? No! The piano couldn’t help it, but mould itself into a beatific perfect cadence using the very last five notes of the horn theme.

The horn came in again, first in an inversion, followed by the same notes just an interval of a second lower. Irresistibly, the piano found itself echoing the last five notes of the theme again. Oh gosh, what was this waitress doing to him?

In a dreamlike state while waiting for the same waitress to send his food and drink, he was interrupted by another waiter, who sent his chocolate cake and coffee instead.

The piano broke into the lush soundscape with a dramatic cadenza of dissonance, intensified later by the use of cross-rhythms between both hands. What an emotionally volatile afternoon! He wondered if it was the waitress, or simply the music of Brahms.

He decided to focus his attention back to the city outside the window, in an attempt to maintain homeostasis. It was a lazy afternoon, without much activity out in the streets. This time, it was a new theme of a pastoral nature introduced by the violins.

As he stared dreamily at the streets outside, his thoughts drifted back to inner soul. Barely ten minutes in an apparently serene Café and it was getting much too intense for him. In his line of sight, a pair of lovers walked past his window. Subconsciously, he flirted with the idea of the waitress and him being a couple, before he realised what he was thinking. What poisonously inexorable yet undeniably sweet thoughts! As the music played, the new section, supposedly made up of new material, still contained notes from the opening theme. It was a most welcoming invasion of the theme, which Brahms had never forgotten. The music progressed on, with his soul being drawn deeper into it, and of course, his thoughts. Throughout the entire movement, Brahms had playfully hidden the opening theme which appeared in the most unexpected moments and places. The theme donned on a myriad of colourful costumes, and in its many facets, a different aspect of its beauty is exposed. It was just the right theme for this beautiful waitress he met. A true beautiful woman will look beautiful in anything, for each costume will accentuate a different aspect of her beauty…

It was time to head to the airport. He walked towards the entrance, not before turning back for the moment to steal a look at the angelic girl for the last time. He made a check of his luggage before taking a cab to the airport. He closed his eyes on the cab, indulging in his thoughts. Though the music had long ended, it was fresh on repeat mode in his mind, together with the mental images which he had taken of this beautiful girl in the birth city of Brahms. He was, after all, just a passing visitor…

Monday, February 11, 2008

I Am an Amateur...

I have spoken to many people about art (covering much more than simply music itself), from people who have no idea what is art to artistic professionals who do it for a living. In those conversations, I notice myself advocating the approach of art in the spirit of an amateur, even to professionals.

More often than not, I lament the fact that many aspiring musicians would be increasingly critical of the smallest mistakes as they become better in their art. Probably in a self-assuring attempt to prove that they are more musically sensitive and aware. I myself am not spared from such a tendency and I do have to continually remind myself to cast away such a malicious approach to art and retain the purest spirit of an amateur.

Amateur. As the term itself originally suggests, it is not simply about the Art itself, but doing it solely for the love of it. Beethoven, despite being (near) deaf, had attended 11-year-old Liszt’s concert in 1823 and praised him for his performance. Had he encouraged the young virtuoso based on the little or even none which he had heard, or was it more for the passion which he had seen and felt in the prodigy? Beethoven hadn’t earned much for his compositions as well, but it doesn’t take much to see that he was not writing for money. He hadn’t connected well with Rossini’s or rather, Italian opera in general, because they lacked something which he personally valued so deeply. If he had wanted to compose for money, coming up with a comical opera wouldn’t have been much of a problem for him. Even as a professional composer who was continually struck by financial issues, he would never compromise on what he wanted to express through his music to appeal to the masses superficially. Evident in all which he had left behind, his music was not simply a product of a professional duty, but more of that exhibiting an immense love not simply for music, but for life itself. Daniel Barenboim had recognised music is not an end in itself, but a means to understand life (in his 2006 Reith Lectures) and reconcile people (in the setting up of the West-Eastern Divan Orchestra). It was this certain quality in these great artists which had touched me and it is this which I want to give away by encouraging artistic appreciation and good taste in the spirit of an amateur.