As an exception in German- Martha

Vierzehn Jahre alt war ich und es ist als sei es gestern gewesen. Es waren die billigsten Karten. Stehplätze. Ich stand mit dem Rücken zur Wand und eigentlich sah ich sie nicht. Das Erste was ich von ihr sah war ihre Hand, die über ihren Kopf hinaus zeigte bevor sie vorsichtig und fest zugleich zurück auf den Flügel fand. Beethoven’s Drittes Klavierkonzert. Sofort gehört, vor ihr und selbst so stümperhaft gespielt. Dann kam ihre Hand und alles wurde anders. Mit dem Rücken an die Wand gelehnt stand ich damals, und ich weiß es noch als sei es gestern gewesen, höre noch immer die Harmlosigkeit des Orchesters, der alte, wohlbekannte Klang, Beethoven, meine erste musikalische Heimat. Nicht Bach, nein Beethoven war es, der für mich Musik wurde. Dann ihre Hand und schon nach den ersten verhaltenen Minuten des Stücks, war alles ganz anders, im Lauf ihrer Hand.  Bald schon musste ich die Augen schließen, und presste den Rücken fest an die Wand. anders war dieser Klang, waren diese Hände auf dem Klavier nicht auszuhalten. Die Schärfe die in der Luft lag, die nichts Harmloses hatte, sondern eine glänzende Kühle, wie die Spitze eines scharfen Messers, in uns fuhr. Uns hinein in die Knochen und weit, weit hinein unter die Haut, bis sie sich auflöste in alle Töne, bis über den Klang hinaus. Das dachte ich damals und denke es heute wieder, wo ich nicht an der Wand stehe, sondern sitze, das ist doch keine Musik, das ist doch kein Klavierkonzert, das sind doch keine Töne, das ist doch kein in Musik verwandeltes Notenpapier, dieses unter-die Haut-fahren und aus dem Sog gibt es kein Herausfinden mehr . Schumann spielen ihre Hände und wieder, werden mir die Knie so weich und ich muss die Augen schließen, vor diesen Händen auf diesem Klavier. Das ist doch keine Musik dachte ich damals und wieder müssen sich meine Hände an den Knien festhalten, so bricht erst ,mit Schumann und dann mit Debussy der Boden unter dieser Musik, unter diesen Händen hinweg. Schumann, der doch der ewige Träumer war, ist hier geradeheraus, und keineswegs harmlos, kein Filou, im Vorübergehen, sondern ein Geliebter der alles, alles will und es in ihren Händen findet.Und auch Debussy, ist kein leichter Faun, sondern unter ihren Händen erzittert seine Welt, und wieder muss man die Augen schließen vor dieser Intensität. Dass das Musik darf, dass das Musik sein soll, dass das Musik ist, konnte ich damals gegen die Wand gelehnt nicht fassen und bis heute ist diese Erschütterung, die in ihren Händen liegt in mir geblieben. Keiner, der vielen Pianisten, die ich hörte zwischen der Wand und dem gestrigen Abend, mögen sie so brilliant wie technisch versiert sein, haben mich so ergriffen, so erschüttert, so erregt wie sie und ihre Hände. Seit damals, immer wieder und es ist die Schonungslosigkeit ihrer Hände, der ich seit jenem ersten Mal nicht mehr entkommen bin. Das muss Musik sein, dachte ich damals und zum Glück lehnte ich gegen die Wand, bevor ihre Hand erneut die Töne anschlug.

Martha Argerich, 26. März 2016, Berliner Philharmonie





Whoever has ears, let them hear.

The sheep are gathering in the middle of street. In the village of mine there live many more sheep than men. The sheep here look proud and are very self-conscious. We are more humble and I am sure the sheep do not think much of us. When the sheep gather on the street, we wait patiently. Once, shortly after I moved here, a driver ( not from our village of course ) horned and the sheep did not move for hours, grinning at him bluntly. But sometimes when the sheep are in a good mood they form a circle and give a concert. A concert?, you might say and shake your head. But you hear quite right. It is not a too well known fact, but the sheep here form a formidable choir. Their conductor, the only black sheep in the flock supervises closely the set up of the stage. I know it has been known for a long time that a black sheep is the unwanted and not much liked cousin of the flock, but this could not be any more wrong. The black sheep, without exception splendid looking in their black suits form for centuries the conductors of the world-famous sheep orchestra you find from Ireland to Australia. Their dignified air and knowledge about the great pieces of sheep music make them experts of their very own kind. When the sheep all took in their position, the conductor sheep flicks twice with his left ear and unisono the concert is opened with the well- known hymn “Oh, praise all the fresh herbs” A marvelous piece, a waving chorus of strong sheep throats. The hymn having ten verses praises the lush valleys, the fat green meadows, the wisdom of the ancestor sheep and the mother country of all sheep: Ireland. Then  the solist, the famous Susanna Sheep-anova, who performed on meadows all over the world and was trained by the Russian soprano Ljudmila Sheep-akovic ( you are quite right to assume, that she is a far away cousin of the well-known composer Schostakovic.) Susanna now steps forward, the conductor again flicks his ear back and forward and then she masterfully performs the aria ” The wolf took our youngest” in c-minor. Truly a tear-moving piece that narrates in a most emotional way the century long struggle between the sheep and their attacker. Breathless we stand behind our open windows, clapping and trying to dry our misty eyes. Susanna Sheep-anova elegantly catches a bouquet of fresh clover thrown at her by own of her staunchest admirers. Even Queen Cat not too fond of sheep or music swings her tail in admiration. Now the not any less famous tenor Don Sheep-onso steps forward. Of Romanian origin, he has sung on the most important open air sheep music festivals between Bucharest and even performed a the Festival for Ancient Sheep Tunes in Bologna. His steps towards the middle of the street are powerful and elegant, the conductor has not even time enough to instruct the seagulls, playing the violins or to do his notorious ear-flick, when the strong, clear and crisp voice of the Don sets in with a masterful performance of ” Your sheepish eyes make me just wonder”, a dream-like floating piece, not unlike  Schubert’s song cycle, telling of a lost love and hope to see a certain pair of eyes again. The Don, who will give as well a duet with Susanna Sheep-anova later  of Traviata, bursts of energy and strength. It is not well-known, even in otherwise well- educated circles that La Traviata in its original version tells the story of a young sheep that lost its way. Today we are reminded of this much more powerful version and wish we could stop the time to let this concert last forever. But for a last time the conductor flicks his ear back and forward and the concert ends with  “May all the sheep live long and prosper, after a theme of Johann Sebastian Bach. We bent forward, clapping and cajoling, the sheep look quite contempt, the conductor a bit sweaty, the Sheep-anova and the Don take the lead and slowly as it is their nature the sheep leave the street to graze on the meadow quite opposite of the village pond.


Oh don’t run so fast, says the moon and bends his head to get closer to me. Oh, come, come on says the lilac that grows white and velvet among the hedges and wants to draw me into his arms. From an wide open window an old Fado melody is to be heard. Dance, oh, dance sings a voice in my ear, come on take my hand and let’s disappear just the two of us and the voice of Joana Amendoeira will carry us away. Ours is the night and the summer leans just at the steps of the bookshop around the corner and silently smiles. A bicycle slowly passes by, but too fast he is anyway that I could ask him for a dance. The darkness takes my hand, seducingly soft and with the scent of the very first hay and throws blossoms in my hair. A golden summer the darkness promises, gentle hands and a firework here and then. And for moment I stop to look for the keys and take a deep breath before I walk upstairs into a flat that is rather cool and silent with its old wooden floors and the clock ticking a bit too slow for so many years.

The beautiful Magelone

When we were young, you and I, we spent whole afternoons on the ground of your massive, always a bit dark living room. Your chairs and tables were made of heavy wood. Oak I guess, but I might be wrong because some of the pieces were nearly black. In the left hand corner stood a massive and obviously very old palm tree, whose leaves shivered in the light breeze that came through the high windows. One was never sure if the windows were open or closed. Heavy curtains, made from red velvet hung in front of them. My grandfather brought them, you told me and shrug your shoulders as if you wanted to excuse the rather unusual sense of taste, but I loved the place, loved the slight dust everywhere, loved your scent that was inseparable from the room, loved the cushions with their Persian patterns, all of them faded but still a reminder of once more colorful days.Hour after hour we spent on the floor listening to music of the old record player, whose needle scratched noisily along and from time to time needed readjustment. And it was on the very same ground, next to your shoulders when we listened for the very first time to Johannes Brahms song cycle “The Beautiful Magelone.” And I told you the old, the very old story that took place in the fifthteenth century, where the beautiful neapolitan princess Magelone fell in love with the duke Peter. But Magelone was meant to become someone’s else wife. They ran off together, but ran into a world were Peter was captured by Ottoman soldiers and their ways disrupted. Two centuries later it was Ludwig Tieck, who brought back the story into light till Johannes Brahms transformed it into music. The music follows a story, where feelings constantly change and Brahms constantly changes the nature of the songs, one finds everything in his music, from a lullaby to rhapsody. But again and again you asked for one song out of the twelve,”Geliebter wo zaudert” where Peter lies on a boat, torn between his feelings for Magelone and the beautiful daughter of the sultan Sulima, who wants to fill the gap opened through their separation. In the end the daughter of the Sultan does not succeed, Peter and Magelone find their way back to each other and year after year they come back to the place where their love once begun to sing the very same song. And we on the floor listened again and again, you bent forward and kissed me with your featherlight and always a bit dry lips and never minded that I did not kiss you back. But one day, when I went up the stairs in the late light of the afternoon, under my arm a record my grandmother just had sent me, you did not open the door when I knocked. Not on this day, nor on any of the following days. One day, many months later, a new name appeared on the door. For many years I did not listen to Brahms anymore and nearly forgot the story of the “Beautiful Magelone” and even today when sometimes in the radio they play a song or two of the cycle I do not listen too carefully. But I wonder if somewhere, you still lie on a floor, next to you a pile of nearly faded cushions, the old palm-tree just around the corner and if you tell someone again and again the old, the very old story of Peter and the beautiful Magelone, as once I did so many times.

Music in the air

The sheep look miserable. The crows on the big chestnut tree look miserable too. Then they start to sing. I don’t know because I am not well-informed in crow circles, but the songbook for dull days published somewhere around the late 1660s seems not to do much help in cheering the crow crowds up. That’s a pity. Unfortunately crow songs have many verses and crows possess staying power when it comes to singing. They are not impressed not even by the barking dog, who now himself starts to intone a hymn for a solo dog in the style of an old madrigal, written somewhere in south-eastern Spain in the times when the great dog-massacres took place somewhere around the expulsion of the Moors. And indeed, his barking remembers all the long-lost generations of dogs, never ever to be forgotten. The crows look slightly impressed but not enough to stop their own polyphony chorus. The seagulls now incited themselves are gathering on the two neighbored rooftops, discussing their contribution. And the the party of the Irish dance fraction wins, they start with a long and quite rhythmic piece inspired by Astor Piazolla, who is quite popular among seagulls. Don’t say you never heard of this! And they do with success. More and more seagulls are joining, Astor always promises great craic. In the first row, the “Society of Tap-Dancing Seagulls” appears ( if you want to join, they meet every Wednesday at 5PM, fee: two piece of salmon ( cut ) or one tuna steak ( whole ), meeting point: Read On’s roof, and start their dance performance. Oh, how nicely and synchronously their claws bang on my rooftop, how elegant their plumage swings, and oh, how enthusiastic they become, truly set on fire by the beat of the band, dancing faster and faster. The crows look at them in pure disgust. Ridiculous you can hear, but some crows look jealous as well. Such a nice tutu you can hear them whisper, would suit us as well as them. And the seagulls know, that the crows know. The sheep think they should exercise more too, they sigh deeply, maybe a match of cricket later this week, would do good for their shape. But not hockey, no hockey, no definitely not, that’s for sure. We are modest creatures, with have a sense of pride and modesty, shouts grandmother sheep from far behind, don’t forget your modesty. Grandmother sheep tends to forget sometimes that she herself in her younger years possessed not one, not two, but three LP’s of Astor Piazolla herself. The Queen of the sheep-floor she was called, but who are we to judge her? We, live ourselves with a queen and are well aware of their habits. And so we’re not much impressed that Queen Cat just yawns, when told that she missed quite an extraordinary concert. Just for a few minutes she listens to the heartbreaking song of the old dog. Dog massacre, so, so, you can hear her thinking, while walking up and down the shelves, wasn’t there quite a good article in the recent volume of ” Cats. Rule the world without a word?”

View in the orchestra pit


But what might happen I always ask myself in the ten minutes before a concert starts, somewhere behind the still closed doors of the orchestra? Maybe the second violin dreams maybe not longer as for thirty seconds that the first violin would stumble and tonight the second would be the first? Maybe the cellist smokes a cigarette hastily, envying his colleague who passed glances with the pretty third flute, he admires for so many years. Might it be true that the oboist has difficulties in tying a proper knot but is too afraid to ask the trombonist next to him, who sums a melody he reminds from somewhere? And where did he hear this melody before? Could it be that the tuba player, just one time , just for one single evening might sit next to the first violin? And would he manage without getting blushed cheeks? And why, week after week starts the conductor to search for his cufflinks again and again at the very same time, when everyone knows that his cufflinks are always at the second drawer to his left, right to the shelves of Brahms. Does the fourth cellist really have new shoes that high? Why does the cornet looks that intensely at his fingernails. Did he forgot to practice the second part? And the two viola players, murmuring in a corner, do they complain that its always them, who have to change the note sheets? And the first violin, why does she held the cufflinks of the conductor in her hands? Does the double-bass player really like Mahler? And this melody swirling around, Strauss? Hm? Maybe. Is the instrument heavier than usual ask the fourth cellist the fifth violin. But the fifth violin searches for her handkerchief and bums together with the conductor, who still searches for his cufflinks. Aargh, cries the conductor and urgh, whimpers the violinist. The second clarinet needs a plaster. Freckin sharp, he shouts but is shushed silent. No swearing before a concert, shouts someone from behind. Freckin sharp murmurs the clarinet again. “Are people out there?” asks someone else, maybe one of the trumpets, curious as ever. The conductor sweats already, the third violin plays Candy Crush, the fourth viola plays in jazz trio in her rare spare time. But where did this melody come from? Schumann? Why did no one see the soloist of tonight? Who is the soloist tonight asks the organist from deep behind. The conductor still without cufflinks looks terrified. Two cellist fight with their bows and finally, finally the first violin gets up, passes over the cufflinks and starts to attune her instrument. Of course, Bartók sighs the second violin. Bartók, thinks the oboist with great relief. Of course. But who knows? Maybe everything is different. But the yellow scarf why its it there and more important did it help? Can someone tell me, maybe after the concert?

It was the nightingale, not the lark

When I opened the door a few days ago, nothing seemed to have changed. The books were the same in the shelves, the street was as quiet as ever. My neighbors children were crying when the time came for them to got to bed. The fir trees in front of the house are still dark green, silent and old. Sometimes a few people walk along the street but they walk fast and silent. the squirrels are still the kings of the woods and hedges, jumping upwards and downwards all day long. The vine branches are entwined along the windows and the windows are creaking as they ever did and always will do. The old black dog is still alive and the cats are as numerous as ever. The sage grows well and the peppermint too. The old piano with its slightly distorted D is still there waiting for my fingers to return. The challah waits to get into the oven as every friday and the neighbor from the house next door still drives a massive Landrover to do her weekend shopping. Everything seems to be the very same. But late in the evenings when the street slept I sat on the balcony with a cup of tea in my hands listening to a nightingale singing so bright, so clear and so full of longing that I could barely hear it for longer than five minutes. But I always listened and waited for her to start her sad and moving song. And so did I when I returned, leaving the doors of the balcony open to ensure I wouldn’t miss her. But the night remained silent, the night became a week and still today it seems that the nightingale has disappeared, sits on another tree, maybe singing another song. But here it is silent and I wish I would know a way to convince her to come back.