Should I Ever Die: Tchaikovsky, Please!

One of a thousands sunsets at my place. © Charles Thibo
One of a thousands sunsets at my place. © Charles Thibo

Do you think about death from time to time? Your death? No? I do. There is nothing wrong with that. I find it fascinating that we just cannot know what is going to happen. We will turn to dust, biology and theology agree on that point. But what about the soul? Is it lingering on? What about the traces we have left in this world? How quickly will we be forgotten? Thinking about death – my death – doesn’t scare me right now. And if at some point, I will have to say good-bye to this world, here is what my final musical greeting will be: The first movement of Tchaikovsky’s Serenade for String Orchestra in C major, Op. 48.

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A Metaphysical Love on the Coast of Cornwall

John Duncan has painted in 1912 the fateful moment of Tristan and Isolde drinking a love potion. (Courtesy City Art Centre, Edinburgh Museums and Galleries)
John Duncan has painted in 1912 the fateful moment of Tristan and Isolde drinking a love potion. (© City Art Centre, Edinburgh Museums and Galleries)

Love and death. Man enslaved by his passions. Man doomed because of his passions. Romance followed by tragedy. Tragedy on a supreme level. Audience devastated, in tears. Richard Wagner. I like Wagner. Ugh! Well, yes. If I have started this blog half a year ago, it is to a large degree Wagner’s fault. Let me explain: As a student I was fascinated by the nihilistic German philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche. Two years ago, I read somewhere that Wagner was once Nietzsche’s idol, and so I bought a biography on Wagner. The book was full of interesting references to other composers and I bought more biographies. That was the moment I disappeared behind a pile of books about classical music. The start of a passion…

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Pilgrimage to Switzerland and Italy

At the lake of Walenstad, Liszt wrote a melancholic tune for Marie d'Agoult. © Charles Thibo
At the lake of Walenstad, Liszt wrote a melancholic tune for Marie d’Agoult. © Charles Thibo

On the road again! In last Thursday’s post, we traveled with Schubert, but today we will journey with Franz Liszt through Switzerland and Italy. Between 1835 and 1838, he composed “Années de pélerinage” (Pilgrim Years) – a piano cycle of three suites inspired partly by Johann Wolfgang Goethe’s novel “Wilhelm Meisters Lehrjahre”, a prime example of Romantic literature, partly by a turbulent turn of events in his own life. As we have seen with the German composer and pianist Fanny Mendelssohn, the longing for antique ideals of beauty and wisdom – to be looked for in Italy – has inspired more than one artist from the Romantic period, and at the time when Liszt wrote this cycle, he was like Goethe’s hero on a quest for his true self.

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United We Pray

The Reformation Symphony: Martin Luther meets Felix Mendelssohn © Charles Thibo
The Reformation Symphony: Martin Luther meets Felix Mendelssohn © Charles Thibo

Since my time at university, I have been flirting with Martin Luther. I grew up in Luxembourg, where the Catholics outnumber any other confession, and moved later to Munich, where Catholics have the upper hand over Protestants. In Munich, halfway through my studies, I attended a Protestant mass rally – the Evangelischer Kirchentag – out of mere curiosity. I found the discussions and the open-mindedness of these believers much more inspiring than what I knew from the Catholic Church.

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