Longing – a powerful feeling. Almost as powerful as love or fear. The unholy trinity: Not being able to love. Longing for somebody’s love. Fear of losing somebody’s love. When I was younger, I became an expert in the discipline of longing. But as time went by, I became (a little) wiser and learned to be happy with the present rather than longing for the past or hoping for a better future.
My favourite Russian composer Pyotr Tchaikovsky was an expert at longing too. He longed for human warmth, for recognition by his peers for his artistic achievements and, if nothing else, acceptance of his homosexuality, which would remain a fiction forever. In 1878 he wrote a lovely piece for violin and piano called “Souvenir d’un lieu cher” (Memories of a cherished place). He dedicated it to a place where his soul could rest, a place that he missed whenever he was travelling.
Distance was key for the patron
The place that Tchaikovsky cherishes so much is the estate of Brailovo, belonging to his patron, Nadezhda von Meck. In May 1878 he stayed there as he needed a calm environment to compose. A delightful tension had developed between von Meck and the composer. Though they both stayed at the estate, they lived in separated houses. They would write each other, but even though they both took strolls across the park, they would never meet. Von Meck insisted on this distance despite her adulation of the composer. She was probably the closest Tchaikovsky, usually not tempted by women, ever got to have a friend besides his brother and his firmer teacher, Nikolai Rubinstein.
Often he would ask his patron’s advice, on musical question e.g. his compositions, but also on daily life matters. More importantly, she was his confident: All his torments, his ideas however weird they might appear – he could spill them out in letters to Mrs. von Meck without ever seeing her, touching her, hearing her voice, smelling her perfume. And – most importantly: His patron probably was the only person knowing of Tchaikovsky’s homosexuality except for his brother and, most importantly, not taking offense. About this piece he wrote: “The first [movement] is, I think, the best, but also the most difficult; it’s called ‘Meditation’, the second is a very lively scherzo, the third a song without words.”
Tension and closeness
This tension between two people close and yet unknown to each other – it reminds me off certain contacts I have on social networks. People sharing certain interests with me: classical music mostly, a passion for other forms of art like paintings or photography. People discussing politics or other current affairs of importance, writing smart or witty texts, poems, book reviews.
I cannot claim to know these people, notwithstanding the fact that they are divulging certain aspects of their lives while hiding – for perfectly legitimate reasons – other traits. I must admit, I have grown fond of many of them, but I feel no urgency to meet them in the real world. If it happens, very well, we will see. If not, well… The longing for interesting contacts is balanced by the fear that meeting them would perhaps take away the spell. That would be sad, wouldn’t it?
And now, let Tchaikovsky cast a spell upon you with a recording by Cordelia Hofer (piano) and Ruggiero Ricci (violin). You can be very close to me if you want – for a few minutes.
© Charles Thibo