Friday, September 12, 2014

The Most Profound Influence Upon Me -- a Historian; Not a Musician...

For  those of you who read my blog regularly, you know that I had studied with a number of brilliant musicians and a small knot of geniuses - the base of my musical pyramid is quite strong, thanks to these luminaries.
However, the base of my  existence extends in many directions outside of my chosen field, due to a historian, not a musician;  in much the same  way that  one of the teachers I studied under  who possessed the greatest knowledge of the piano repertoire I had  yet encountered, was  a trumpet player; not a pianist (in previous blogs, I have already written about both of these gentlemen).
I recall the days when this historian, whom I had met during my  teaching days at college and high school levels, made a point of our getting together once or twice a week, in informal mode(either at his or my home, or in school).
He exercised a consistency in asking questions germane to music, as did I about issues historical,  mostly out of my growing awareness of the width of his knowledge. He often reminded me, with a smile, that   "you know more about history than I know about music."  He began working on a PHD during this period, at the age of 54 (he was about twenty years my senior).  His chosen subject was the rebuilding of the British navy by St. Vincent, and I remember my helping him arrange  many of the countless informational ingredients  deemed  necessary in order to earn the degree, which he proceeded to do.
 His range of information was enormous -  one  of our sessions might deal with the impact of the Thirty Years'  War;  the next, perhaps, might wrestle  with the social realities obscured by the wonders  of the Renaissance. I recall our spending a considerable amount of time on the Enlightenment, and its impact not only on the politics of the eighteenth century, but also how the relationship to the  Church had altered, and how such human endeavors as education and the creative core had been transformed in thought, then deed.
These last two issues were discussed at length in our sessions, with Beethoven becoming a  kind of  center piece - do remember that the great composer once gave us the ultimate  truth about the growing disdain for Authority and Royalty  during this defining period  -  "it is they who should bow to us."
This historian  was an avid listener of great music, and possessed an almost grudging admiration for those who wrote and performed. He had almost as many questions for me as I reserved for him . I believe I first met him at one of my performances.
One day, he asked me a question - a question that forever altered my way of thinking about and dealing with music, let alone veritably all other pursuits, right up to this day.
The question was "why does Beethoven's music sound the way it does?"
Of course, there was no immediate answer on my part.
I pondered that question until I realized that he was asking about all of the possible historical contexts and issues, let alone events,  before and during  the life span of the composer, that  led to his particular language, both spiritually and intellectually. In other words, this historian could have asked "why does Mozart's music sound like Mozart?" or, "why does Chopin sound like Chopin?" etc. etc....
The coruscation that followed has been the basis of all that I do in my learning processes  through all of  the years that have gone by. For me, the delight of connection in the most intrinsic form, of the power of History as elemental requisite of any pursuit I choose to learn about, cannot be described.

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