Some pieces make me forget time and space. Ludwig van Beethoven’s Violin Concerto for instance. Franz Schubert’s song cycle “Winterreise”. Some books make me forget time and space too. Books like Reiner Stach’s biography on Franz Kafka. Three volumes and an annex, several thousand pages, a wonderful gift. Diving into Franz Kafka’s world, diving into the life in Prague at the turn of the 19th century and into the mysteries of the mind and the emotions of this enigmatic writer – what a pleasure! I discovered Kafka very late, in the summer of 2017, by now I rank him as one of those writers that fascinate me most.
It’s been more than three years since I introduced you to the Lithuanian composer Mikalojus Konstantinas Ciurlionis! I presented two symphonic poems, a few organ works and briefly mentioned his string quartets. It’s time for my readers to catch up with my exploration of his works then. Ciurlionis’ biography taken for itself is remarkable enough to fill a whole series of post. He was a painter, a composer, an essayist and he lived in an interesting time. He witnessed the end of the Russian Empire, of which Lithuania was a part, and he missed by a few years the rebirth of Lithuania as an independent country. The national awakening during the 19th century was nurtured to a great deal by Lithuania’s intellectual elite, of which Ciurlionis was a part.
“It’s good! Awfully emotional! Too emotional, but I love it.” Edward Elgar wrote those lines about his Violin Concerto in B minor, Op. 61. The composer was right. It is emotional. It is very good. And I love it too. A few days ago, I was walking to my car. It was the beginning of a grey and wet day. I had the opening bars of the first movement in the ear and I was thinking about a girl I once loved. It was an impossible love, of course. She lived in the former Soviet Union when we first met; I was still a student. I wrote her long and passionate letters, but she had more common sense than I had. She knew perfectly well she would not leave her country. She studied at a college in her country, her family was poor and she would not travel anywhere.
East and west united, sublimated, a synthesis of oriental and occidental culture, two broad streams of ideas about beauty and harmony coming together and creating something new – Ahmed Adnan Saygun’s String Quartet No. 1 (Op. 27) is all that and so much more. The first movement sets the tone: Oriental phrasing side by side with the French avant-garde of the 20th century – Saygun studied between the two world wars with Vincent d’Indy in Paris – very evocative, very ambitious too to incorporate traditional folks elements from what used to be the Ottoman Empire very much like Bela Bartok did after his ethno-musicological studies.