Fantasizing over Belligerent Norse Kings

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Norseland. © Charles Thibo

Welcome to Westray, a remote island in the North Sea, part of the Orkneys. I have unforgettable memories of a holiday when I was like 25 years old. Few people live there, the climate is harsh usually, but I was lucky and enjoyed several sunny days that made me discover the singular and rough beauty of this part of Scotland. I also enjoyed teaming up with other backpackers to visit the remarkable graveyard of Pierowall, to observe the myriads of sea birds nesting in the cliffs or to try to live for one day of food picked, bartered or worked for on the neighbouring island Papa Westray. That day we got plenty of mushrooms, sea snails, potatoes and a lobster too small to be sold by the fishermen.

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Throwing Off the Shackles with Max Bruch

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Liberty. © Charles Thibo

There’s music and there’s music. Some piece may trigger melancholy, some other may lead to introspection. Some piece will make me feel comfortable and some other piece will make me feel anxious. And then there’s the kind of composition that lifts me off the ground, that makes me connect to a higher spiritual awareness. Max Bruch’s Concerto for 2 Pianos in A-flat Minor (op. 88a) is such a piece: Majestic, a nonstop delight, it makes me feel like I am flying into the endless blueness of the sky, it stands for a life unrestrained by fear, for throwing off the shackles, for liberty.

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A Masterwork and the End of a Friendship

Aquilegia vulgaris. © Charles Thibo

The commun columbine is one of my favourite flowers in our garden. Its shape, its colour, its robustness coupled with a delicate form make me look out for it every spring. In traditional herbal medicine the columbine was considered sacred to Venus, and the little poisoner’s manual tells me that all parts of it are poisonous though the dose would have to be very high to be lethal. Anyway, I do not intend to poison anyone. Each time I pass the columbines, I  have to look at them. Each time I listen to Max Bruch’s Serenade in A Minor (op. 75), I marvel about the delicacy of the piece and its overall beauty.

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A Versatile Romantic Piece for the Clarinet

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Wood. © Charles Thibo

Existential needs – how many composers had to worry every day about their financial situation and felt it as severe limit to their creativity! Not this man however. “I had a family to feed and to secure the education of my children”, Max Bruch explained. “I was compelled to write pleasing works, easy to understand. […] I always wrote good music, but always music that was easy to sell.” Quality did not suffer necessarily. Towards the end of his professional career as a composer and a music teacher, he wrote a set of works for clarinet, cello and piano: 8 Pieces, Op. 83. He also composed two arrangements, one for violin, cello and piano, and a second one for violin, viola and piano, always having the versatility and economic benefit in mind.

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