Towards the light – a Jewish meditation

Peace. © Charles Thibo

Today is the first day of Hanukkah, the Festival of Lights. Jews all over the world celebrate the rededication of the second temple in Jerusalem. I want to honour on this day a Jewish composer. I want to honour Jewish scientists and artists and their intellectual output by which they enriched European culture. Among those who brought the light to Europe were the philosophers Baruch de Spinoza and Moses Mendelssohn. The poet Heinrich Heine. The physicist Albert Einstein and the political scientists Hannah Arendt and Eric Voegelin. All five pondered in one way or another the fate of mankind and the experience of God and came to different conclusions. All five deeply cared about humanity, its progress, its well-being and searched for the purpose of life.

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“Looking for hope that did not come”

Double concerto Martinu-2
The peace did not last.

March 1938: German troops occupy Austria, supported by thousands of local Nazi sympathizers. April 1938: Adolf Hitler orders preparations to invade and annex Czechoslovakia. September 1938: Through bluffing and unscrupulous blackmailing, Hitler wins French and British approval to annex the Czech territories of Moravia and Bohemia. While political tensions in Europe reached a first culmination point, a Czech composer was busy writing a concerto upon a commission of the Swiss conductor Paul Sacher for the Basel Chamber Orchestra, a concerto grosso in three movements. It became known as Bohuslav Martinu’s Double Concerto, H. 271. It has been recorded by the Essener Philharmoniker under Tomas Netopil and the pianist Ivo Kahanek.

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A new kind of music cast in traditional forms

hindemith1
Exit Romanticism. © Charles Thibo

Fear – that would be too strong a word. Reluctance, yes, that describes it better. I feel an intense reluctance to listen to works of certain composers, to expose myself to their music despite my curiosity. What exactly do I expect? Being disappointed by music that may seem boring? Being horrified by dissonant sounds hurting my eardrums? I don’t quite know, but what I know is that once I summon my courage to explore the music of one of these composers, I usually do not have to confront disappointment or post-traumatic stress disorder.

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War and peace set to music by a Czech refugee

war and peace
Once they came as liberators…

Victory. Liberation. Can you jubilate after a war with 60 million people killed? Hardly. Relief was the first impulse that the composer Bohuslav Martinu felt after Germany had surrendered. It gave gradually way to unbound joy, but the memory of the deadliest conflict in human history lingered on. Such a tragedy could not be brushed away in a few weeks or months.

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