In 2011, Peter Donohoe performed all the Beethoven piano Sonatas at a small concert and arts venue in North London, the Red Hedgehog – named after the famous 19th century Zum Roten Igel coffee-shop in Vienna where the composers hung out. I helped to get the venue ready for the series, and volunteered to scrub, sand and varnish all the floors, which were very dirty. It felt like a hands-on gesture to renovate a noble instrument and hear its voice.
‘Small is beautiful’. The 32 Sonatas were originally performed in small halls or in private houses. In our time the big concert industry has somewhat swamped that sense of community and … communion. Here was a chance to recapture the flavour and to support enduring musical values, at grass-roots level: feeling the deep need for this, in society at present.
2011 was a curious year for me: I also cleared (by hand) a ten-year rubbish tip from a garden; which took nine months. What was going on in my inner life? It was like a recurring dream I used to have, of a derelict chamber or series of forgotten and neglected rooms in the depths of my psyche. To bring them to life and make them grow and glow? I couldn’t resist the challenge!
Here are some of my impressions of the Beethoven series from my journal – illustrated with my sketches of Peter giving a master-class a month before the Beethoven series.
20 February 2011
Peter Donohoe’s master class reached the mountain tops – Liverpudlian Taurean-type maestro, discusses music with his students. I did a number of rough sketches. Drawing gives me energy … The atmosphere in the venue was delightful, and smelt of wood floors and paraffin heaters. A trick of the stage lighting makes the piano keys and other details wink scarlet glints … with the musical summit discussion around PD’s penultimate and very gifted student in the late afternoon (Chopin’s 4th Ballade)
Gallery – click to view
21 February 2011
Peter Donohoe’s competent bulk, story-telling profile and the glittering powers in his arms and fingers and centre of gravity are my good friend for life. His Liszt episodes from the Swiss Annees invoked 19th century magic, dreamy Venice and the almost unbearably, daemonically romantic Master of all the music: the long mane, erotic strength and gypsy speech. In those days, THINK of hearing all the composers for the very first time under Liszt’s hands: he did all the recording, all the travelling and drew in all the threads.
Peter plays Chopin – as all pianists do nowadays – very loudly. Ballades 3 and 4 and the Fantaisie Polonaise: and Schumann’s Arabesque that my grandmother used to play, very tenderly. Big colour range. The piano screamed but spoke. Pianists ravish pianos; this explains a lot for me.
24 February 2011
Mrs T has her wake-up call. Peter told her he was disappointed in the small audience number, and that the place is cold and dirty and – behind the bar especially – unhygienic, and he might have to withdraw from the Beethoven series. Catastrophe!
THE SCRUB AND SANDING
During the following month I hired a sanding-machine and took all the dirt off the floors – it was amazing to see the fresh wood emerge – and started to apply coats of smelly gloss varnish. The Indian takeaway shop next door complained that the fumes were coming through the walls. We googled online for an antidote – freshly chopped onions!
I arrived at ‘the Endangered Species’ yesterday, to an aroma of onions spread on bits of newspaper like cat food, no trace of fumes or damp, and the venue humming with two bookings – the actors in the back room and a quintet in concert black, in the front room having a jolly photo session round the Yamaha. The sanded bamboo floor looked pale, vulnerable and marvellous. In the evening I did my marathon. Two coats of water based acrylic varnish – home-worked from my local builders merchants – took nearly 6 hours. This morning I didn’t get up till nearly 9! Am still tired almost to tears, but enjoying great creative satisfaction – the depth and beauty of the bamboo glows up through the coating like a forest – (It was shop-coated but not dirt/feet/chairs proof when Mrs T bought and installed it.) The filthy black floors everywhere are gone: clean wood brightens the whole place, with my pictures in it, and the spirits of Beethoven & Co, and Mrs T’s resurrected desire to love it and keep it clean. There’s a lot of work to do on skirting boards and doors, etc. She gave me some Anthony Trollope in the headphones to accompany my labours. She loved my concentration and commitment. She said she can’t tell me how much this means to her. But she does. She is an eager, clever, long-nose schoolgirl with a big heart, fierce green politics and droll dark eyes, clumsy with her feet and knocks the onions around.
Movements of God are funny.
Photos of my work – I didn’t take any ‘before’ pix!
23 March 2011
I go back again tonight, to apply the Third Coat in full. Fourth coat next week. The hard wear of constantly moving chairs, enormous piano and calor-gas heaters, needs several layers/coats. Last night I put first and second coats on the patches which had been covered by piano and chair-stacks, and tinkered a bit of Bach on that noble black beast, the Yamaha – fingers all a-fumble. I had to work around all the furniture of the rehearsing actors’ day, but have ordered it to be cleared. Mrs T provides wine – which she is afraid to drink herself.
27 March 2011
Last night the Peter Donohoe concerts began, and I understood why I have worked so hard. Beethoven at the height of his game, flowed into every well-loved part of my soul: the magic of musician and audience – who gasped like a woman in bed – such an intimate venue. There were plenty of people, (bookings suddenly flooded in yesterday) and Donohoe didn’t bang, he sang with power, nobility, simple humanity, tenderness and dazzling ferocity, those early sonatas I know well, but I never heard them played before! He said the one emotion not expressed in Beethoven’s sonatas, is defeatism.
The puzzlement is that music or performance seems ephemeral, a one-off; yet it has this power as no other, to draw villages of souls together for a blessing which pierces turmoil and any kind of speech.
28 March 2011
We heard the three Sonatas preceding the Pathetique. The last of these has a slow movement with Beethoven’s deepest thoughts and yearnings. When Peter plays the fast ones, he hurtles and bounds, much as I believe, the fiery Beethoven would have done – with splendid vocal statements, silences, humour and elasticity. It is architectural. He plays the slow movements with full sonority and depth from the key-bed, making the chords roll-break just a fraction, which resonates the bell. His technique and tool kit is precise, colour-toned and beautiful: he is a big man, he rides his mistakes, and power takes hold. His profile is good with the instrument, and so are his wide blue eyes and mature wonder. He said last month that when he practices he works, but when he performs, he learns. Each performance and its dynamic with the audience is unique.
They talked again (him and Michael White from the Telegraph) about the even-tempered piano nowadays, wherein the keys no longer have different tonal colours; but Beethoven and his colleagues would have approved of the way the instrument and its range has developed. The keys themselves have widened, so the hand stretch required is now greater. They discussed the composer’s metronome. Peter said he never bothers with it, and if he does, it plays tricks on him. The day’s living temper varies. Beethoven requests very fast metronome markings, perhaps because he inner-hears the music faster than it physically plays – just as when scanning or memorising a score; or when thinking rather than talking. My friend Paul put up his hand at the depth implication of this, and said something about the etheric field, and the borderline of the deaf or death. Randy Newman the critic told me afterwards, the Hammerklavier’s markings are impossibly fast, and then (apparently) stupendously slow in the slow movement, because when I mentioned my Solomon recording, he said Solomon took up Beethoven’s tempi spontaneously, in the Hammerklavier, and suffered his stroke immediately after.
It was all about frequency: the higher dimensions into the performer’s pulse. They discussed the sublime late Sonatas. These seemed to cadence Beethoven’s creation and look beyond – then followed his real Late period, the Quartets, Missa Solemnis, Ninth Symphony, the cosmic jokes in the Diabelli variations and the profoundly playful Bagatelles. He transcended dissolution. Temporal transparencies slide together enigmatically, and extend life – Peter’s side-slipping gestures. How Beethoven in such states, appeared “crazy”. I thought of Mrs T’s venue-household chaos – not unlike Beethoven’s – and how she adores him, she wishes she were his lover. So this whole noble festival and its curve, has Beethoven’s untidy and stressed out sublimity. It will command its course.
Gallery – click to view
I arrive into an insight … to let persons proceed in their own unfolding way; to assist with this only where I can, practically, and not to argue with their actions or ideas. They are learning, just as I have.
Do not put wrong lenses together. Accept and hear, and do not try to fix, or overrule.
“The whole nature of man must be used wisely by the one who desires to enter the way.”
At moments yesterday I perceived how aptly my task with the floors mirrors the chaotic artist element in my life: it shows me – like wood grain under varnish – my panics, terrors and scrambling against the clock – the disrespect for my person that they cause – the noble summit of the deep-end brief – the over all humanity: humane. The ability to care for my own home is evolutionary. Give it some, today.
Put lenses together which may be different, but which align truly.
Re-arrange the vehicles of consciousness, to co-ordinate always a little better with what’s given.
Peter spoke last night of the adventure of a Beethoven Series, and what it means to him each time he does one – the philosophical and physical commitment to the mountain.
Peter Donohoe spoke last night of Beethoven’s profound political and philosophical awareness during a time of intense social upheaval. I said it is like this again, today (which is why it’s significant to hear Beethoven in the Highgate Red Hedgehog) but I didn’t mention Pluto in Capricorn, in case Peter thinks astrology is codswallop. He might not. There is the mystic in him, and the intelligence. He loves Messiaen, and studied under Yvonne Loriod. He was very tired yesterday, and a bit skinless. He hadn’t slept well. As he loves Messiaen, his inner world has those vast slow bird song mandalas, like Dante’s Rose in the Paradiso.
The floors begin to glow with beauty, and are admired; Peter played the Moonlight and Pastorale as always in his searching, lyrical and thrilling manner to pin-drop pause and howls of amazement in the applause. Sarah from Radio 3 pitched in for the pre-concert conversation – he likes her – and they discussed Stravinsky’s remarks during Rite of Spring, about the composer or performer being a vessel for the music. There were about 65 in the audience. Peter enjoys himself in the dialogue atmosphere. Mrs T dares to book his 13th Beethoven cycle next year. The bamboo forest floor shines golden, and it is a concert hall, serious and serene.
11 April 2011
Beethoven was an emperor who despised Napoleon’s competing claim. As Donohoe said, his apparent arrogance was in fact, confidence not only in himself, but in the self-transcending power of his gift. Around it, effects settle and Time sets a pulse. The pulse itself gathers intention.
For my mother, the Red Hedgehog, the Beethoven and meeting Mrs T, (who wishes she could borrow her) is another adventure in human eccentricity, to dine out on. She thinks the shop front should stay as it is, because the interior oasis by contrast is fascinating to step into.
They mentioned in Saturday’s talk, that Beethoven lost nearly all his possessions during his frequent moves from lodging to lodging, but never lost the thousands of pages of his notes and musical ideas which he carried always with him. Where are these?
I spoke to Donohoe in the doorway of the Awful Bar (where he says he likes to stand), about the mandalas in Messiaen and those same flowering pulses – like Dante’s Rose – in his intelligence of Beethoven; and the control of the cyclic dance measure through all the passion; the voices and colours and accents which emerge. He agreed and was pleased. Underpinning the Beethoven cycle has been this discussion of tempi, pulse and inner and outer hearing.
The playing is titanic, and sometimes terrifying, I feared the instrument would break, the power unleashed yet just contained in that wind swept dance or circling. It must be twenty times louder than Beethoven’s day: yet Beethoven played like a fury, as well as with tenderness, and so he is invoked. Randy Newman the critic came up and said that was the worst Adieux he EVER heard. For me it was full of profound speech. The Appassionata, a waterfall of fountains, made me tremble. Opus 78, said to be Beethoven’s own favourite, is Beethoven’s warm romantic personality, face to face.
The Messianic mandalas of Peter’s performance of Beethoven – (he told me that most people don’t perceive that spiritual energy-field in Beethoven) – are magnetic. I perceive this power and its law, touching the ground.
Gallery – click to view
Ops 90-something and 101 were heavy in places – Peter was not quite in his stride – but the Hammerklavier was a profound and passionate reading, especially the slow movement, and the questing recitative as it floats between the keys to the fugue – through endless space – and all through the Hammerklavier the mandala inseminates all the keys, like Wagner’s chromatic Tristan. I was surprised, because I hear again and again how DIFFICULT the Hammerklavier is to play, and for people to hear … yet the whole of it is accessible, to me: how well I know it, every note! I said to Peter, I suppose I’m rather odd, he said yes you are. This work is the interior man laid bare – his thoughts, his jottings, exploring and titanic resurgence. In the fast bits, Peter tumbles through all his tempi like water in flood, like (I guess) Beethoven must have done, devouring the multiple pulse.
18 April 2011
Full house at the hedgehog last night, for Peter’s last 3 Beethovens, which he played with sublime powers. Before the music, John Suchet spoke of the original red hedgehog in Vienna, about the size of this one, and with about the same audience, and how last month at the end of a certain bad day, in the middle of 12 emails, all marked Rubbish, stood just one marked Red Hedgehog, and it opened up from there; and so here he is – and he talked with attractive enthusiasm about his hero and the Sonatas and the dreadful mishandling of beloved nephew Karl. Yet Karl survived and went to America where he produced another little Beethoven who – sadly – died in World War One.
People are too busy for commitment. So should I be, really. Too busy for commitment? For an alchemist, commitment is where I am. Commitment is my job. When Mrs T went off to the pub to debrief and dine with Peter and his wife and daughter, I had an energy lift, and tidied things up and put half the chairs away, leaving it neat and golden … and had to scramble/clamber into the locked back room through the glory hole, to retrieve my bags …
The ‘Endangered Species’ now has a great Beethoven audience, ambiance and a chatty maestro, with two colourful ladies running it and welcoming everybody. Mrs T began to remind people that she hasn’t actually got any money. Let’s hope the Last Night of the Beethovens triggers more Providence – it is an energy field. I met the hedgehog’s original financial provider, a man called M and his boyfriend. The floors shine. In league with old Beethoven in his own desperate lodgings, I rolled up my sleeves. I’m proud.
This stayed with me: Peter spoke during the master class and during the Beethoven series, on interpretation. He said that often there is too much emphasis on this, and on one’s ideas about the music. He aims to take himself out of the way, to play the notes the composer wrote – humility – and let them speak. Do not stand in front.
If you are interested in helping The Red Hedgehog in its work with music, education and the theatre, here is the link: http://www.theredhedgehog.co.uk/ . The manager is Clare Fischer.
See also my post of Timothy West at the Red Hedgehog
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.
All art and creative writing in this blog is copyright © Janeadamsart 2012-2014. May not be used for commercial purposes. May be used and shared for non-commercial means with credit to Jane Adams and a link to the web address https://janeadamsart.wordpress.com/
Thank you once again for another inspiring post.! The following really stood out (for various reasons):
“What was going on in my inner life? It was like a recurring dream I used to have, of a derelict chamber or series of forgotten and neglected rooms in the depths of my psyche. To bring them to life and make them grow and glow? I couldn’t resist the challenge!”
Are you familiar with John Keat’s idea of Mansions of Many Apartments?
“He said the one emotion not expressed in Beethoven’s sonatas, is defeatism.”
Very true indeed- somehow Beethoven always found the strenght to keep going.
“They talked again (him and Michael White from the Telegraph) about the even-tempered piano nowadays, wherein the keys no longer have different tonal colours; but Beethoven and his colleagues would have approved of the way the instrument and its range has developed. The keys themselves have widened, so the hand stretch required is now greater.”
I think the extra octaves they would have liked, but the loss of tone colours is a drawback, as is the bigger keys and heavier action!
“Beethoven requests very fast metronome markings, perhaps because he inner-hears the music faster than it physically plays – just as when scanning or memorising a score; or when thinking rather than talking. My friend Paul put up his hand at the depth implication of this, and said something about the etheric field, and the borderline of the deaf or death.”
That is certainly something that is worth considering. ..
“Beethoven was an emperor who despised Napoleon’s competing claim. As Donohoe said, his apparent arrogance was in fact, confidence not only in himself, but in the self-transcending power of his gift. Around it, effects settle and Time sets a pulse. The pulse itself gathers intention.”
Indeed- to be confident in his gift was to honour the music that came through. The pianist Jonathan Biss has given lectures on the piano sonatas and discussed how the sonatas have time distorting effects when listening to them.
“The Messianic mandalas of Peter’s performance of Beethoven – (he told me that most people don’t perceive that spiritual energy-field in Beethoven) – are magnetic. I perceive this power and its law, touching the ground.”
Yes, me too…it can be felt when listening..experienced…
“I was surprised, because I hear again and again how DIFFICULT the Hammerklavier is to play, and for people to hear … yet the whole of it is accessible, to me: how well I know it, every note! I said to Peter, I suppose I’m rather odd, he said yes you are. This work is the interior man laid bare – his thoughts, his jottings, exploring and titanic resurgence.”
The Hammerklavier is very spiritual and is a soundscape of Beethoven’s life journey. It is not an “easy listen”- but it is not meant to be; it isn’t meant for chilling out, background music etc, but to sit/lie down and experience, to go on a journey with. Yet, it is full of beauty, so not hard on the ear to listen to; perhaps I should sustitute easy listen for casual listen.
“Peter spoke during the master class and during the Beethoven series, on interpretation. He said that often there is too much emphasis on this, and on one’s ideas about the music. He aims to take himself out of the way, to play the notes the composer wrote – humility – and let them speak. Do not stand in front.”
He sounds like he has the right idea! John Lill sees this in a similar way. Are you familiar with Ronald Brautigam? He plays Beethoven’s piano works on fortepiano, and also Mozart’s and Haydn’s. HIs recording of The Hammerklavier is extraordinary.
Thank you so much for this illumining feedback!
You are welcome Jane. I really like your Brahms artwork too- what medium did you use?
A friend of mine came by yesterday and brought me a huge bag of acrylics- so much of them I reckon they will last me about a year!