Mysticism. If you are tempted by mystic experiences, Bela Bartok’s Music for Strings, Percussion and Celesta (BB 114/SZ 106) should enchant you. It certainly did enchant me and the audience in the 1930s. In a time of disenchantment, when frivolity and hate rule, Bartok’s music hints at man’s desire to retrieve a state of internal purity, that does not change over time and that alone allows creativity, the French writer Pierre Jean Jouve once opined. Bartok’s Music for Strings, Percussion and Celesta is a landmark in the history of 20th-century classical music and one of Bartok’s best known works.
These opening bars! The massive brass fanfare. The short, sharp string accents. The gently swaying, lyrical bars that follow and seem to paraphrase a the section “From Bohemian Woods and Fields” of Bedrich Smetana’s “Ma Vlast” (My Fatherland). The opening of a first movement that I will never forget. That you will never forget. The agitated drama of the first movement prompted me to pick that picture as an illustration. The ever-changing sky at sunset keeps fascinating me, especially when it takes that dark pink color, clouds glowing like a stream of magma.
What a fantastic full moon! I stood at the back door leading to our garden and watched it in awe for many minutes. How big it seemed to be! That old dream from my childhood came back – me, flying to the moon. The dream is still very much alive, I feel it intensely when I watch the moon on days like that one, a month ago. And by chance that very same evening I discovered a composer whose piano music seemed to perfectly fit my mood. Or was it the music that discovered me at the right time?
Antonin Dvorak’s String Quintet in E flat major (Op. 97) has a singular impact on me: It enhances any feelings I harbour at the specific moment I am listening to that piece. Sadness, joy, melancholy, optimism… Which means that the music does not transport a specific feeling, but rather lays bare the feelings inside myself. The music breaks up the armor and makes me aware of what I feel. What a gift from a composer to mankind! It has been recorded in the 1990s by the Wiener Streichsextett and quite recently by the Pavel Haas Quartet along with Pavel Niki, a recording that I warmly, warmly recommend.