Gold. I am tempted to consider the Baroque period as the Golden Age of arts in Europe. Literally and in a more abstract way. Literally since architects used thousands of tons of gold sheets to decorate churches and palaces. In a more abstract way as powerful and rich patrons, princes and bishops alike, spend huge sums to foster literature, performing arts, painting, sculpture, music and architecture, leading to an explosion of creativity unseen in the centuries before. This in spite of the economic decline and political unrest that marked the second half of th 16th century and the 17th century in Europe.
On the road again! In last Thursday’s post, we traveled with Schubert, but today we will journey with Franz Liszt through Switzerland and Italy. Between 1835 and 1838, he composed “Années de pélerinage” (Pilgrim Years) – a piano cycle of three suites inspired partly by Johann Wolfgang Goethe’s novel “Wilhelm Meisters Lehrjahre”, a prime example of Romantic literature, partly by a turbulent turn of events in his own life. As we have seen with the German composer and pianist Fanny Mendelssohn, the longing for antique ideals of beauty and wisdom – to be looked for in Italy – has inspired more than one artist from the Romantic period, and at the time when Liszt wrote this cycle, he was like Goethe’s hero on a quest for his true self.
Since my time at university, I have been flirting with Martin Luther. I grew up in Luxembourg, where the Catholics outnumber any other confession, and moved later to Munich, where Catholics have the upper hand over Protestants. In Munich, halfway through my studies, I attended a Protestant mass rally – the Evangelischer Kirchentag – out of mere curiosity. I found the discussions and the open-mindedness of these believers much more inspiring than what I knew from the Catholic Church.
“There are still so many beautiful things to be said in C major”, the Russian composer Sergei Prokofiev once remarked. So true. Schubert’s piano piece “Wanderer Fantasy” in C major, Op. 15 D.760 for example. Take the opening: Massive accords gradually diluted in a lovely melody for the right hand… beautiful! If you care to look at the score, you may wonder how many fingers the pianist needs to play all those notes in any given time! To put it mildly, it requires a certain degree of virtuosity… of which I can just dream!