Tuesday, 15 July 2008

We were healthy

Watched a very moving film about Theriesenstadt yesterday in which a ninety-eight year old Jewish pianist recounted the story of her survival as part of the prisoners' orchestra: We were given black water in the morning, she said, and white water at mid-day, and black water again in the evening, and yet we were healthy. Why? Because we looked forward to playing in the evening.

In the same film, a horrible nexus was drawn between the anti-semitic writings of Wagner and the use of music by the Nazis as a warped cultural tool with which to bludgeon the inmates of the concentration camps. (Primo Levi writes of how he will never get the music of the Lager - those infernal German marching songs, out of his mind.) Wagner believed that Jews had 'corrupted' the music of the Romantic period by their use of minor chords, and that their only hope within German society was to 'go under' (assimilation or annihilation?); yet it was Felix Mendelssohn who resurrected Bach's Matthew Passion! Perhaps this Nazi infiltration of the highest of the arts is an example of how a good impulse can so easily turn to bad - like a cell turning cancerous and setting forth on its interminable death march. For me, though, after watching the film, it was a message from the gods of the power music has to heal, minor chords or not. Beethoven felt it at Heilgenstadt, where it turned his mind from thoughts of suicide to thoughts of transcendence. And how Beethoven transcended! Wow! I was playing the Fifth Symphony - for the first time in years, as part of my current music studies. What a testament to healing that is, and what a powerful force for good.

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