Ultima Thule

In ancient times the northernmost region of the habitable world - hence, any distant, unknown or mysterious land.

Thursday, February 08, 2007

Musings on Verdi's Requiem

This is another very long and very beautiful email that Helen wrote to veritas, her internet friend, on October 20, 2003, soon after -- perhaps the same evening -- we had returned from hearing a performance of Verdi's immortal Requiem at the Kennedy Center. Her heart was full of the beauty we had just experienced, and as always, she just had to get it down in words before it had vanished.

Towards the end of the email her thoughts naturally turn to the mystery of life -- and to music: how beautiful and sad that everything beautiful in life passes ---like music -- only
exists in time --- we cannot freeze it --- we cannot hold it --- we cannot admire it when we like --- only in the passage of time does it exist -- like us ---- so ---the ultimate mystery -- and perhaps --- this is why music moves us so deeply.


She was delighted when I found this quotation from The Leaden Echo, a poem by Gerald Manley Hopkins, in which he poses the same question: How to kéep—is there ány any, is there none such, nowhere known some, bow or brooch or braid or brace, láce, latch or catch or key to keep
Back beauty, keep it, beauty, beauty, beauty, … from vanishing away?
-- and then gives his answer, in the companion poem The Golden Echo, that beauty comes from God, and returns to God. This seemed to match her own feelings.

David

Hi veritas --- well --- we had a wonderful time -- beautiful weather --
beautiful drive into Washington through the foliage of Rock Creek
Parkway -- almost all the way from our house down directly to the
Kennedy Center - makes a beautiful drive -- beautiful winding creek,
heavy forests on either side with a strip of bike/hike trail and picnic
areas -- people jogging, biking, picnicking -- lovers strolling and
taking pictures of one another -- leaves drifting softly down and
flying
over the pavement everywhere -- soft rich colors -- blue sky -- perfect
October day in Washington - and then the Ken Cen -- nice architecture
--
sort of neo-Greco-classical -- you'd know the correct phrase -- echoing
the rest of the monuments nearby -- the Washington monument looming in
the distance - the famous/infamous Watergate Hotel next door -- all
those expensive shchmancy-fancy stores -- Christian Dior, etc. -- a
little taste of how the other half lives --- but all lovely. We've
been
there before of course -- but not for about a year.

Inside -- red carpets, crystal chandeliers, mirrored walls and
enormous ceilings -- a fitting place for a center for the performing
arts - housing the Opera House, Concert Hall and the Eisenhower Theater
-- lovely. The place was sold out --- I love to people watch -- all
sorts -- young, old, frumpy and dowdy and casually dressed (why don't
people make an effort?) some sweet old things in wheelchairs being
pushed up the ramp and I thought - you dear, dear sweet ones -- once so
young -- your hearts so full -- and now -- is this what you want to
hear
-- the Requiem -- is it not a bit too close to home? -- but then I
thought -- no it is always the right time for beauty and at that age --
perhaps a Requiem is perfect -- as a little reminder of where they are
headed perhaps. Sweet and sad thought.

The house was sold out -- the seats were divine --- the music --
heavenly --- 2 choruses combined in strength -- must have been 200
voices -- some even in the little balconies surrounding the stage ---
offstage trumpets -- glorious -- wonderful -- and at the end -- the
quiet libera me, libera me, libera me ---- it ended --- hushed silence
from the audience -- the conductor slowly lowered his arms and bowed
his
head almost as if in prayer --- and still the audience was so
spell-bound that no one wanted to spoil the effect or intrude on the
spell -- until finally someone began to applaud -- and then -- a
standing ovation -- people were cheering!!! shouting!!! --- it was
like a football game -- but these people were cheering beauty and
transcendence -- how happy that made me.

(I wrote the following impressions down shortly after I got home --
sorry for being prolix -- just thought I'd include them)

Heaven, I'm in heaven ---------or -- to be more exact I was -- I have
drifted a little lower now that it is over but still I can hear the
melodies -- the heartache - the supplication -- the truth --- the drama
---- of mankind -- of his lot --- of his fate -- cast down here on
earth
-- not understanding why or where -- but still --- with moments like
this -- and with geniuses like this that have been bestowed on us --
can
we doubt that God exists? That something or someone created us --- with
these feelings, these emotions, this intellect, this questing feeling,
and the ultimate knowledge --- the knowledge of death -- which animals
sense but do not know or fear the way we do --- why was this given to
us???

Verdi has taken me on a journey -- even though I know this piece by
heart -- have heard it many times -- hearing it in that great hall --
live -- with real people pouring their hearts and talents and energies
into it -- I understood it and experienced it fully for the first time
--- Verdi -- that unbelievable colossus --- how could he have been
human
to create such music -- but Verdi --- who spent his life in the theater
-- giving us drama -- the drama of people living and loving and killing
and dying --- he understood the human heart like no other ---- gave us
his final drama in the Requiem --- and gave us the truth --- a glimpse
of something immortal we should all pursue -- that we are driven to
pursue -- but --- ultimately --- he is right -- Verdi the agnostic ---
laid it out --- ultimately we cannot know -- ultimately it is all a
question ---- and he was so honest ---- there it is in all its majesty
and pathos and tragedy and joy -- the human drama -- La Divina Comedia
---- mankind --- gifted or cursed with these sensibilities, faced with
the knowledge of his own extinction -- yet has inklings and strivings
higher.

In the music I experienced the highs and the lows of human existence
---
the doubt, the fear, the supplication, the joy, the ecstasy, the wrath
of God and possible judgement -- the calls of the trumpets heralding
the
judgment day --- the casting out from heaven -- and then -- the
pleading, the fear, the childish appeal -- please -- save me -- don't
leave me here alone --- remember me --- free me -- free me ---- yes --
this is the ultimate human drama and Verdi saved it for his last -- and
he truly understood it and gave it to us straight -- we can never be
sure --- and so it all ends on an uncertain whisper --- no amen -- no
glorious radiant modulation into major key as the sun breaks out -- no
-- uncertainty and doubt - after all the tumult and pleading and drama
--- a whisper -- libera me -- libera me -- libera me.

If men like this existed --- if talent like this existed -- if music
like this exists -- there must be a God --- else where does all this
magnificence point? What is its purpose ---- it has nothing to do with
procreating the species -- or survival of the fittest --- no ---
because
music like this exists I KNOW there is a God and something divine and
mysterious that we can only dimly apprehend -- but I know it -- and
that
is why I cannot live without it. It is not in the churches with the
silly robes and the pointy hats and the sermons and the piece of bread
and wine in the mouth or even in the cloying insufferable quoting of
the
bible in your face -- flung --- here --- take this and this --- you are
nothing because I read the bible and quote it --- but do these people
look into the heart of another human being -- truly look? that is
where the answer lies --- no --- it is there --- in humanity's quest
for
higher things and beauty.

So --- I soared on angel's wings -- on Verdi's mighty talent -- and the
talents of all those people who played and sang so magnificently -- the
soprano -- my God -- 5 feet wide --- but what a voice!! --- soaring,
ringing tones -- with supple, pliant lines and beautiful control --
such
feeling -- just exactly the way I would hope it would be sung --
excellent mezzo-soprano -- lovely bass --- with a flexible lyrical
sound
-- not too strident -- and a heavenly tenor -- a last-minute substitute
but wonderful -- lyrical clear tones -- a singer of lieder -- which
suits this piece more than a heavier tenor like Domingo -- the
Ingemisco
is one of the loveliest and most tender melodies -- and he sang it
divinely -- hitting the high C effortlessly and brilliantly. The
soprano
ends the whole piece along with the chorus and orchestra -- singing a
reprise and fullfilment of the beautiful theme adumbrated in the
opening
-- Requiem -- rising each time to a high note -- and finally to the
highest -- gliding up effortlessly to heaven.

Well -- this is me -- now -- tonight --- but such a perfect performance
will not soon be forgotten -- and such a lovely day -- how beautiful
and
sad that everything beautiful in life passes --- like music -- only
exists in time --- we cannot freeze it --- we cannot hold it --- we
cannot admire it when we like --- only in the passage of time does it
exist -- like us ---- so --- the ultimate mystery -- and perhaps ---
this is why music moves us so deeply.

Well, veritas ----- this has been long --- but you know how I love this
stuff -- and Verdi --- and Beethoven and Chopin --- they point the way
because they saw inklings of something higher --- and that's where I
look for inspiration -- to the great artists through history -- not the
forgotten priests with their intrigues and their politics and their
indulgences --- who remembers them now ---- we remember beauty --- we
remember art --- we remember Christ ----- but all who claim to tell us
how to live our lives are just as we are --- and just as mystified if
they would but look into their hearts.

Have I gone on too long??? I usually do --- but you are a good friend
and will not mind ---- my love to you all --- truly --- let me
know how you are --- Helen

1 Comments:

At 5:01 PM, Anonymous Mike Landfair said...

From About me of Ultima Thule written by Aussiegirl aka Helen

"I am a naturalized Ukrainian-American, fortunate enough to have been admitted to this great land as an immigrant. My personal history is the spur for this blog. My parents lived through the Ukrainian Genocidal Famine of 1933, survived years of Communist persecution, fled to the West, endured forced labor in Nazi Germany, and following liberation, ended up in Allied internment camps fighting forced repatriation to the Soviet Union under the Yalta Agreement. Their courageous struggle to bring our family to freedom, first to Australia, then to America, and their example of unflinching faithfulness to truth and honor, have left an indelible impression on me. My parents did not save me from Communism and Nazism for me to go gently into dhimmitude or slavery. Hence my passion and my mission to expose threats to freedom and democracy wherever they are found. This blog is a testament to their courage and my small gift to their heroism."

Her husband David emailed to say she died of lung cancer on January 13th of this year. He will continue to keep her blog open and post some of her writings. I encourage you to look back over her blogging record.

If I had been more diligent in my reading of blogs in my blogroll, I would have noticed before now that she was gone. Reading what David has posted for her I was struck by her intelligence and love of music. In one post he reprints her email to a friend after attending a Verdi concert. She wrote:
"Verdi has taken me on a journey -- even though I know this piece by
heart -- have heard it many times -- hearing it in that great hall --
live -- with real people pouring their hearts and talents and energies
into it -- I understood it and experienced it fully for the first time
--- Verdi -- that unbelievable colossus --- how could he have been
human
to create such music.

[...]

If men like this existed --- if talent like this existed -- if music
like this exists -- there must be a God --- else where does all this
magnificence point? What is its purpose ---- it has nothing to do with
procreating the species -- or survival of the fittest --- no ---
because
music like this exists I KNOW there is a God and something divine and
mysterious that we can only dimly apprehend -- but I know it -- and
that
is why I cannot live without it."
I feel as she did, but about Mozart. I remember seeing Amadeus for the first ever exposed to his music, thinking it was so pure, so emotional, that it could only have been a gift to us from God.

 

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