“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.
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.
Few introductions of a piano concerto have captivated my attention as quickly as Nikolai Medtner’s Piano Concerto No. 3 in E minor, Op. 60. Tension, solemnity, grace – it’s all there. Medtner wrote it between 1940 and 1943, while he moved from London to Birmingham and from Birmingham to the countryside to escape the bombing campaign of the German Luftwaffe. He completed it upon his return to London, a city devastated, but not vanquished.
Schnell und rastlos – quick and restless – is the name of the first movement of Wolfgang Rihm’s String Quartet No. 5, a piece that itself has no proper name. Quick and restless – that’s me, to the great despair of my contemporaries. I have little patience and I like to get things done fast. At times my attention span is limited too, and I like to do several things at the same time usually messing up one or two. Quick and restless – is that the corollary to an ardent desire to live, to see, to hear, to do? I suppose it is.