Fratres

Neue Wache

The avenues are deserted on this clear evening of May. Furtive passers-by appear to avoid each other, all is silent.

Inside the spacious auditorium the small orchestra is waiting. The soft light illuminates the stage, the delicate wooden surface of the violins and celli. Soon, rapid steps are heard. The conductor enters, and the musicians stand up, as one.

The conductor salutes the orchestra, and, smiling sadly, bows looking at the empty seats: the auditorium is empty. Turning back to face the musicians his composure is calm, religious. A small gesture of the hand launches the first movement of Fratres. As the notes fill the almost empty space, we hold our breath. We, and thousands of others across the world, are not there, but we are, all the same. We watch the concentration on the faces, transfigured, of the musicians.

We are not merely attending, this is a communion. Outside, the illness holds the city in its grip. Its shadow obscures the Spring sky.

“Erwin Stein, a pupil of Arnold Schoenberg, arranged a version of Gustav Mahler’s Fourth Symphony for only 15 musicians for the legendary “Society for Private Musical Performances” in 1921. The institution, founded by Schoenberg, presented symphonic compositions arranged for small forces to an audience interested in contemporary music – also because the privately financed association naturally did not have a large-scale orchestra at its disposal.

For different reasons, namely health considerations, the large orchestras cannot perform during the corona crisis, so it looked like the Berliner Philharmoniker’s European Concert, traditionally held on 1 May each year, which was to be held for the first time under the baton of chief conductor Kirill Petrenko, would not be able to take place either. The keenly anticipated trip to the scheduled performance venue of Tel Aviv was cancelled, as was the concert tour planned for afterwards. And yet Kirill Petrenko and members of his orchestra performed on the scheduled date and at the traditional time of 11 am. The venue – in keeping with the general “stay at home” slogan – was the Philharmonie. Due to legal guidelines, no more than 15 musicians were on stage at the same time, taking into account the required minimum distance, all performers were tested for the virus – and of course spectators were not allowed in the auditorium. However, the European concert was also conceived as a media event from its very beginnings. So the 2020 concert, with live broadcasts on television, radio and in the Digital Concert Hall, ultimately reached a large audience around the world despite the extremely unusual circumstances. And in Erwin Stein’s arrangement, the main symphonic work of the concert, Mahler’s Fourth Symphony, could also be performed.

However, the programme of the first half of the concert was changed: instead of Max Bruch’s Kol Nidrei and orchestral songs by Mahler based on poems by Rückert, they performed compositions by Arvo Pärt, György Ligeti and Samuel Barber for string orchestra. Pärt’s work Fratres, inspired by Gregorian chants, is one of the most famous pieces from the post-war period with its appealing harmony and structure and its ethereal sounds. Ligeti’s Ramifications, with its unusual string playing techniques and ingenious timbre effects, also brings to mind those instruments that could not be played in the European Concert on this occasion. And Barber’s Adagio, considered one of the saddest pieces in the history of music, expressed the worries and hardships of the present situation. The performance could also be understood as a message of support from the European Concert to Barber’s home country, the USA, which has been particularly badly affected by the corona crisis. 

In its original version, Mahler’s Fourth Symphony also uses smaller forces compared to the preceding Symphonies 2 and 3. In contrast to the monumental substance of the previous works, the composer intended in this work to write a musical “humoresque”. Although it does not lack darker elements or irony, the symphony contains many cheerful and comforting passages. The finale, whose soprano solo was performed as originally planned by the celebrated singer Christiane Karg, tells of “heavenly life” in the unmistakable Wunderhorn style.”

Moi, Gabrielle, historienne #WritersWednesday

I wrote this back in 2014 as I was working on the beginning of the novel still titled “The Page”. This work carried on over the following five years, and should have been completed here in Berlin, but was not. Some 40,000 words later, it lays still, unfinished and unedited. Should I take another look? There are so many inconsistencies, and plenty of confusion about characters. In this post, one of them, the historian Gabrielle, who, at the time, was central to the story, accuses the author, and other character, Julian, of being an amiable fool, and a fraud. Indeed it felt like a personal accusation.

I then moved on to write “Viktoria Park”, inspired by Berlin, and events further East that are still unravelling today. “Francis’ story” should have followed but was abandoned quickly, as I found myself under increasing pressure from a variety of sources of inspiration. The bulk of my production has been, from then on, short stories, and even flash fiction. I am pondering now what my writing priorities should be.

Sisyphe sur le Rivage

A la fenêtreJ’ai donc choisi ces colonnes pour m’exprimer, plutôt que le blogue de notre auteur. Ce n’est pas que je me méfie de cet homme charmant, mais, ici, je me sens plus libre. Mais, d’abord, permettez-moi de me présenter.

Je m’appelle Gabrielle, qui est le nom qui, je crois, autant qu’on puisse s’assurer d’une ressemblance à telles distances, est le plus proche de mon vrai nom, dans une langue encore peu parlée dans votre monde. Je suis historienne, enfin, l’une de plusieurs spécialistes, dans cette partie de votre galaxie. Mon secteur particulier, ou, comme il est peut-être plus précis, mon intérêt propre, c’est l’histoire du vingtième siècle. À ce titre je suis restée dans votre voisinage, disons, pendant quelques années. Mais, me direz-vous, pourquoi ne pas nous dire les faits tels quels sont? Eh bien voilà: je suis arrivée chez vous un peu avant la guerre de 1870 entre la France…

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A tale of two cities

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A walk in a park, and a reading of Vasily Grossman inspired those lines.

There is the city by the wide river, beyond it there is only the immense steppe, to the sea. There was a turning point, they say, a combat of titans.

Here, the river is slow and narrow, feeling its way to the Elbe. There are, all around, woods and and lakes: water reigns. I walk those streets, haunt those memorials, read the grafiti on the walls of the Reichstag, carefully preserved, that remind us of those who walked all the way from the city by the wide river, to meet their fate here.

I live here, and think constantly of the long road, from the shore of the Volga.

Image: Soviet War Memorial, Schönholzer Heide, Berlin

 

The violin

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She appears suddenly, soon swept away by the camera, behind the violoncellists. Even at a live concert, he has difficulties in seeing her more than fleetingly. Yet he knows her face, a medieval beauty, inspired, aloof, as if out of a distant past. He basked in the symphonic beauty, Tchaikovsky, Alban Berg, Mahler… She’s there, not all the time, over the years she appears not to have changed much. Is she a spirit? Is she the soul of the orchestra? When did he notice her first?

Lost in a dream, he listens, enthralled, expecting an angel to appear.

Untouchable

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I remember the first months in the city, I was puzzled by people wearing black, as if in mourning. Months and years passed. Slowly, I wore darker clothes, without knowing why. Not only during the grey season, all the time.

Did I forget Spring would come, clearer skies? Did I ignore the cheerful chorus of the winged friends?

No, like so many others, as if in a dream, I became untouchable, a silent ghost, sometime observed in the deserted streets, wrapped in darkness.

On the streets #Berlin #January

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Still remnants of the past Sylvester

and dead Christmas trees

litter the streets,

grey the walls,

sad the dogs,

only the crows find cause to rejoice.

Sparrows sing, in the cold bushes.

The city, lost in a dream,

lets the clowns speak, 

ignores the lies:

she’s heard many others.

Yet Spring will come,

and the Sun will shine again on Mauerweg.

 

Image source

Encounter with an Angel, a pre-Christmas tale

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I stood waiting at the traffic lights with a few other humans, and I noticed her immediately: her posture, the recognisable signs of strength and gentleness. There are some very beautiful beings in this city, but this was enough for me to keep my eyes on her, as the traffic roared past us. She turned her head round toward me, and I saw the light in her blue eyes, and heard the melody of her voice in a concert of crystalline bells:

“You look worried, my friend, and you should not be,” said the Angel with a dazzling smile, “We know that not all is well in this world, but this is no different from all times,” she continued, as I looked at her face in awe. “Besides, there are some very good things happening, even if it is sometime difficult, for you, to recognise them. You should know that every time the Enemy scores one, We win two, sometime even three. So, please relax, and keep your faith in Her, for She won’t abandon you, however stupid you might be, most of the time.”

I was speechless. People walked around me. The lights had changed from red to green and back to red again. The Angel had gone, in a cloud of bells.

Hidden

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The little daemons I used to see, at the crossroads, or standing high up on roofs, pretending to be busy, have gone. Or, perhaps, I have stopped noticing them, or they have stopped inviting me to see them. What does it mean? Is it because the city is now used to me, no longer interested? Or is it me who is now impervious to her mysteries, unable to decipher the signs, to see through the deceptive appearance?

But they are still there, watching, without being watched. They are waiting for my next move: they have all the time, other strangers to amuse themselves with, other tricks to play on the unaware. They know that, day by day, this old man is losing strength.

Soon I will be ripe for the taking, for the offer I cannot refuse. The Master knows.

Image: Nemesis, source

Of a broken box and a small town

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In the past two weeks my writing output (I did not want to say “literary”) was badly affected by the collapse of my old Mac, bought in 2009. This was the tool for my writing before and after a first (disk) failure, back in 2018. I was then lucky enough to find a local expert (in Gesundbrunnen) to fix it, without loss of anything. So its life was extended by about a year. Ha! the anxiety, those precious manuscripts! I have now bitten the bullet, and got a so-called refurbished recent version of the same, so that I can now, for a while, avoid the usual trap of “too old to be updated etc.” Hence new MacOs and new virus protection. Even an updated version of Scrivener. Sigh… The “migration”, although assisted courtesy Apple™, was an experience… It’s all there as far as I have been able to ascertain, so far. I am now full of enthusiasm, and I am even considering a major reconstruction of my first novel, still languishing on the Cloud (more about this for another post).

In the meantime, on a beautiful and cool Sonntag we have discovered another treasure of Brandenburg, the town of Eberswalde. Treasure because of the location (slightly north-east of the city of Bernau by Berlin, and easily accessible with the regional train, well designed for carrying lots of bicycles), along two beautiful canals, the Finowkanal and the main Oder to Havel canal. Superb riding country, much loved by cycling enthusiasts all year round. The Finowkanal is on its length the site of magnificent industrial buildings in ruins, notably a paper mill dating back to the XVIIth century (and still working in 1991 when the vultures came in), and an electricity generation plant. This inspired me to write about it, and seek its history.

Now let’s go back to work!

Image: old paper mill in Eberswalde, source: Technikdenkmal in Eberswalde

Eberswalde bei Wikipedia.de