Herr: Es ist Zeit. Der Sommer war sehr groß.
Leg deinen Schatten auf die Sonnenuhren,
und auf den Fluren lass die Winde los.
Befiehl den letzten Früchten, voll zu sein;
gib ihnen noch zwei südlichere Tage,
dränge sie zur Vollendung hin, und jage
die letzte Süße in den schweren Wein.
Wer jetzt kein Haus hat, baut sich keines mehr.
Wer jetzt allein ist, wird es lange bleiben,
wird wachen, lesen, lange Briefe schreiben
und wird in den Alleen hin und her
unruhig wandern, wenn die Blätter treiben.1
The Austrian poet Rainer Maria Rilke (1875-1926) has been a loyal companion to me for more than two years. He wrote this poem in 1902 in Paris. Every now and then I take up that 848 pages strong edition of his complete poems, the one with the shining red binding, and read a few lines, I let the force and splendour of Rilke’s language sink deeply into my my mind. Many poems I need to read twice or three times, before I fully grasp their meaning and the genius of the mind that wrote them. Rilke’s talent to use wordplays and a complex syntax to express a double meaning, the fusion of clarity and obfuscation provoke my greatest admiration.
Lean and sober artworks
The poem quoted above however is an example of another talent of the poet: the ability to express an emotion with very few and very simple words. Very lean, very sober, withoud losing any of Rilke’s expressiveness. Which brings me to the piece I will be musing about today: Johannes Brahms’ Violin Sonata No. 2 in A minor, Op. 100. I can recommend two outstanding recordings: one made by the violinist Isabelle Faust and Alexander Melnikov on the piano, one recorded by Christian Tetzlaff (violin) and Lars Voigt (piano).
Brahms wrote Op. 100 in 1886, and it is one of my favourite pieces by this composer. He wrote it for his close friend the violinist Joseph Joachim and Andrew Clements, the music critic of “The Guardian” highlighted a decade ago its “lyrical effusiveness, [Brahms’] concern to make the violin sing above all else”. At that time he did not know about the two recordings I mentioned, they are fairly recent, but I am sure he would have been delighted. Faust and Tetzlaff make the violin sing effortlessly, but with much passion.
A brooding Brahms
Melancholy – that is the mood of this late Romantic piece, but melancholy elevated to a degree that Franz Schubert could inly have dreamt of. While Schubert was more the restless, nervous, desperate mind while Brahms seems to me more like a brooding man, plagued by a million worries, not daring to express them unless it were through music. If that was his intention, he fully succeeded with the second violin sonata, a piece wonderfully suited to accompany you during a stormy autumn evening.
The worse the weather, the better it will feel to be home, listen to Brahms and read a few poems by Rilke. And have a glass of that sweet and heavy wine the poet speaks about.
© Charles Thibo
1Lord, time has come. The summer was exceptional.
Let your shadow rest on the sundials
and set the winds free to blow across the lands.
Give the last fruits the order to ripen,
grant them two southern days,
push them towards completeness and inject
the residual sweetness into the heavy wine.
He who has no house yet will not built one,
he who is alone now will remain alone for long,
he will keep watch, read, write long letters
and will walk back and forth in the alleys
restless while the leaves are drifting.