Continuing this “Beethoven series” inspired by Elene’s researches : this post includes some journaling over the weekend, and portraits of the master by others, and from my new sketches.
First: a detail from my “watershed” series of dreams during the 1970s:
September 1976 – from “Paris and the Hollow Way”
“Smelling the flowers which grow around the end of Boulevard Malesherbes, I see the bright food in the brasseries, the Gaulish striped canopies over smoked glass. Avenues which radiate from this place are planted tree-deep with bouquets gathered this morning from the tart grass; the dew is still upon them – the waters of a river, where the pit of the railway once was.
“And yet this place in Paris has mile upon mile of shattered streets and dirty weathered brick. The sorrow moves me, through field upon field of unhoused space, like Liverpool after the war. As far as I see, no man lives here. It moves me in strange ways. I discussed these ways with the old hoardings of scarred planks and corrugated iron which give and take along the road. What tragedian devastated this land?
“No man,” they replied. No man is an island. But they live and speak. Their answer is in nomadic ways, in syllables of philosophy I cannot recall. They are my notice boards, my inner adversities that talk.
“So I came at last to an arrangement with Beethoven, of whom I was very fond. I found him in a room without much light, and a musty smell … maybe a Viennese cellar during Napoleon’s bombardment? I agreed to draw a portrait for him of his daughter. She’s a small child, and her facial features are very dark. For hours I toiled with each line and contour. I saw Beethoven’s light within her, her soul so clear where she sat, but I couldn’t get it right. The expression of her mouth and eyes, came into me, but I couldn’t connect. I hesitated. I erased and drew, and erased again and drew. The difficulty stared me in the face like having to learn all over again to walk, and made me cringe with pain. I struggled to achieve at length an approximation: my facility is lost, and I forgot the way. There are no short cuts I can take.”
The young child Beethoven?
portrait by an unknown artist, discovered in 1972
and … how might he have looked?
I was reminded of this, because I had rather a struggle to draw Beethoven over the weekend. I lost two early sketches of him which I like – maybe I gave them away – so I tried to reconstruct them. The creative process doesn’t always flow. Beethoven often had titanic difficulty with his compositions, scribbling and shouting and scratching out and searching for what he heard in the rain and the trees, from God.
Journal 24 July – Beethoven and Vera
He really is around … two new followers to my blog, who write about him and about pianos – did they come in through Vera Moore?
On Emily’s piano yesterday however, the three or four out-of-tune keys were very noticeable, and I couldn’t ride it well; it was evening after a long tiring day. When I played, the flowing faculty wasn’t there, and I stumbled along the up-down action. I rang the tuner: he said it could be tuned again in two or three months, but if it gets unbearable he will come and see what he can do. One small consolation: my own piano – a Spencer upright – is easier!
It was a revelation for me the day before, that to play Beethoven we must meditate with love: that is, to wait and let him enter. He reaches the soul universally and constantly regenerates and sprouts runners along the higher astral ground – a hardy perennial. The perennial is love – the humanitarian love which strove and strode nobly with his wrecked health and domestic furies.
I need to tune into that love, spontaneously or deliberately, to play him at all. I have to walk with him and feel the rain, meditate and imagine the wild wind in the trees I see, and the noble themes it whispers onto a sodden notebook page. The love and the divine beauty had to force a way through discordant tinnitus.
This must have made the silent sound of the outer world unbearably alluring – to see the movement and feel the wet rain. On his walks the nature devas counselled him: he sang and scribbled and “raved”. To rave is to be ravished in the elements. People who knew him recorded the way his face opened into a raptus. The raptus of old Beethoven fought the daily cacophonies inside his ears, and strode the serene paradox of the late quartets and the Opus 111 Arietta.
I did long ago, a small oil sketch of B walking in the grass hatless – can’t find it yet – did it get left behind at the red hedgehog? Yesterday it was clear to me that my enormous labour of love at the red hedgehog in 2011 (a small and struggling concert venue), to clean and sand down and varnish the floors which were filthy, was for Beethoven. I did it for the Peter Donohoe Beethoven series there – hook, line and sinker: an esoteric assignment if you will. If I hadn’t cleaned and brightened the floors, that wonderful Beethoven series might not have happened or touched earth there – a peak symbolic moment. The sublime got through the chaos – the timeless touch spread fore and aft, and struck its Sound and Glory.
As I mentioned Vera Moore above, suddenly my world with her is here too. She is with me. She was my piano teacher in Paris in 1965: her eternal Life in a rickety household, rather like Beethoven’s – but she lived till she was 90: her strong caress of the keys, like wrapping a baby – her reverent joy – giving birth to her “son of Art” and bringing him up through the French Resistance and after the war: her powerful and abrasive personality as a younger woman and single mother – I hear again the obstinate ripple of her voice. It didn’t bother her if her old Gaveau was out of tune – she couldn’t afford the tuner.
I read somewhere that Liszt could draw forth the heart and soul from an out-of-tune instrument and captivate his listeners. There must be a way of using those odd sounds.
One of Vera’s students helped her to write a piano Method. I don’t think I heard Vera play Beethoven, but when Beethoven’s window opens in my soul, I may be pretty sure she will come through it as well. Her gift like his, is a delicate seed of power, grace, humour and peace, in a turbulent nest.
I think Vera taught her piano students the “horizontal” caress which holds and rolls along the white and black keys, and on rare occasions comes through me in a moment of delight (I soon fall off !). I believe Liszt played like this, glancing sideways with seductive smile (“isn’t this amazing?”); and Paul Roes aims to reconstruct it in his “Music – the Mystery and the Reality“.
I do prefer old uneven character pianos to the mechanically-perfect electronic keyboards. You can hear straight away, even through a high open window.
Here is a timely message from a fellow blogger:
“Draw a circle
place inside of it
every aspect of your
human experience …
all shame and guilt
all the things you would love to forget
and all that you hope
you will never forget.
“Make it a place where all of it fits.
Let them no longer be strangers
to one another.
Let them take off their shoes and stay a while
toast to one another’s health and long life.
“When everything that you have experienced
is located in one place
‘One with Everything’.”
Charlie Morris wrote this poem … this morning, about everything in his life, the human texture, difficulty and joy, being in this one room unconditionally and inclusively, which is “God”. It is not spiritual or unspiritual.
So Beethoven poured basins of water over his head to cool the fire of composition. Now see and breathe interior peace in and as the room. Nobody is alive without depending on something or someone for their well being. No one goes it alone. Look at what I depend on! If my path with the Inner School was taken away, where would I be?
Gallery, working from Kloeber and Carolsfeld’s portraits
– click to view
I spent the rest of the day trying to draw Beethoven – three more efforts. It is much more difficult for me than it used to be – and so is playing the piano. I found my Robbins Landon book which has lots of pictures, and an interesting photoshop idea online, with B’s life mask. I got very bogged down and stuck.
I also extracted from my 2011 journals, the gist of Peter Donohoe’s Beethoven series at the red hedgehog (zum roten igel in North London) – I might put it in my next post, with my sketches of PD’s master-class. Then my energy was all gone.
Gallery – click to view
Beethoven kept this painting by Joseph Mahler on his wall throughout his many changes of lodging. It must have been among his few possessions – apart from the thousands of pages of his notebooks – which survived. He will have identified particularly with its heroic quality. Another of his treasured paintings was the one of his grandfather.
I decided to ‘have a go’ with this one, but quickly found the pose too artificial and romantic to reproduce convincingly! So I switched to the idea of him conducting from the keyboard – keep practicing ! Keep trying …
I hear the severe ecstasy of my grandmother, Helen Ede – her face and eagerness shaped somewhat like his. She used to play Beethoven’s Waldstein Sonata on her Bechstein … in whose dusky dark tones I explored his slow movements. When her memory went, or she fell off a note, she would say ‘h’ai’ crossly.
We spoke together about the Arietta in his Opus 111 – after listening to her old record of Claudio Arrau playing it. Her face lit up: I cannot reproduce her voice, but she said something like this:
“… the long trills where the sun comes out. You have in the beginning an austerity, and through the variation the austerity slowly relents, letting go of its own form, to melt and smile and dance. You know that place where the dotted rhythm begins to go around, and around, to break it up – dissolving the form into light without ever quite losing it … ? it falls open and time stops. It seems to me that through that light, very gradually emerges again the variation. The theme didn’t quite disappear, but is transcended and transfigured. Then slowly the bar lines return, and the theme resumes.”
Imagining old Beethoven in private, his deaf face, his pain transfigured, alone in that mess of a room, having just poured another bucket over himself … I hear in some of his piano music, the Dionysian cyclic mandala or mantra rhythm, like Dante’s cosmic rose, dissolving into light.
“Ochh Jane,” says my grandmother in her Scottish-German accent, “Oh what a sight to see.”
My adventure invites fellow travellers. I am a poet, an artist and a seer. I welcome conversation among the PHILO SOFIA, the lovers of wisdom.
This blog is a vehicle to promote also my published work – The Sacred India Tarot (with Rohit Arya, Yogi Impressions Books) and The Dreamer in the Dream – a collection of short stories (0 Books). Watch this space.
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