The death of classical music? In search of vital signs (1)

We’ve been here before, haven’t we. The prophets of doom have been clearing their throats again to announce the impending death of classical music. The source of the latest jeremiad is English novelist and journalist Philip Hensher, writing in the British Independent newspaper on May 18, who begins his lament by noting that the London Underground has taken to playing the opening of Beethoven’s Seventh Symphony over public address tannoys – but not in order to lift the spirits of weary commuters. Instead, Henscher notes, it seems that researchers in the field of sociopathology have come to the conclusion that the general public is so averse to classical music that anyone tempted to loiter with malicious intent will be sent running in the opposite direction. Beethoven as crime deterrent – a depressing sign of the times:

‘Even 20 or 30 years ago, the great history of art music was something of general interest and respect. Now, it has turned into, at best, a specialist interest, and at worst something to move people along rapidly in a public place. Are we seeing the end of art music? Is our generation the last that will see it as anything but a remote and specialised interest in this country?’

As a symptom of this malaise, Hensher points to the way in which serious music competitions such as BBC Young Musician of the Year (which I can remember following with great interest as a teenager, and which first brought several friends of mine to public attention) have lately been completely upstaged in the media by celebrity ‘talent’ shows whose message is that years of painstaking study, discipline and noble aspirations are a nothing but a waste of time in our karaoke era:

‘There is space on television for people who can’t conduct and can’t sing – Maestro and Popstar to Operastar – but not for people who can. Soon, we will be asked to admire a pretty girl playing a first-month piano exercise with elaborate orchestration behind her. The art acquired over a lifetime will be sought out for admiration by a diminishing few.’

Such words may sound elitist and a little cruel, but it has to be admitted that there is something distinctly strange in reading about a TV programme such as ‘Maestro at the Opera’ in which celebs – not professional musicians – battle it out for the right to conduct an act of Puccini’s La Bohème at London’s Royal Opera House. You can make up your own mind as to whether you find the rationale offered by the ROH itself convincing or not, but it is worth remembering (a fact of which the general public is not necessarily aware) that the opera houses of the world function thanks to largely invisible music staff, many of them endowed with encyclopedic knowledge of the operatic art and remarkable talent in several disciplines – including the extremely difficult job of singer psychotherapy – who will never be given such opportunities.

Hensher pinpoints what he sees as the collapse of ‘cultural confidence’, the notion that ‘everyone can and might enjoy art music, if they’re exposed to it’, as having occurred over a period spanning the last decade of the twentieth century and the first of the new millenium. For the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989, cue BBB: Bernstein and the Berlin Phil. playing Beethoven 9. For the twentieth anniversary of the event in 2009, bring on rock band Tokio Hotel: readers can draw their own conclusions from Hensher’s comparison …

kinshasa-symphony-274x300

There is much with which I can sympathize in this article – Hensher’s point is surely well-taken that one of the spiritual ailments of Britain (and by extension the affluent West in general) is the mass media’s reduction of anything and everything to the level of superficial entertainment. That the deeper significance of art-music seems to be a closed book to much of Western society is indisputable. Indeed, there is a certain irony in the fact that it is not in the countries that birthed it but in once-colonized nations such as Venezuela or the Democratic Republic of Congo (which might have been thought likely to react against Western classical music as an alien cultural expression imposed by imperialist aggression) that its transformative social potential has been grasped most spectacularly through participatory grass-roots initiatives such as El Sistema and the life-affirming work of the astonishing Kinshasa Symphony Orchestra.

And yet I cannot find myself agreeing with his wrist-slitting prognosis for the future of classical music:

‘I will miss it. Probably some readers will miss it, too. But in a hundred years, no one will. It will be incomprehensible, dead, and gone, and very few people will care.’

It may well be that the elite cultural institutions mentioned by Henscher (national public broadcasters, the great European orchestras and the hallowed canon of the Austro-German symphonic corpus that constitutes their core repertoire) are indeed in decline. But it strikes me that to say that in a century’s time classical music will be as obsolete and indecipherable as cuneiform is masochistic in the extreme. What if Philip Hensher is simply not looking in the right places, particularly in the nooks and crannies away from the limelight where in my experience some of the most interesting things are often to be found?

________________________________

I will not attempt a systematic refutation of the article’s conclusion, but merely point to a few signs of life that I myself observed on a recent whistle-stop visit to Britain. On May 13 I was at Westminster Cathedral in London, where SDG’s latest Psalm commision Love Endureth by Roxanna Panufnik had its first airing with the Cathedral choir under Martin Baker during Vespers. It is difficult to convey in writing the impact of this highly unusual sung liturgy (performed almost exclusively in Latin), projected by the choir from the East End out into the vast space of this truly cavernous building. Words such as ‘timeless’ and ‘numinous’ come readily to mind but cannot replace the sensory and spiritual experience of the moment. Westminster Cathedral is definitely what the early Celtic Christians used to call a ‘thin place’, where the veil separating the realm of worldly appearances from a greater reality of ‘things in themselves’ (to use Immanuel Kant’s categories) somehow seems less opaque than elsewhere. This is all the more notable given the Cathedral’s location in the hubbub of London’s commercial West End, a backdrop against which it stands as an important witness – in a manner not dissimilar to the church of St Gervais-St Protais in Paris, home to the Fraternité monastique de Jérusalem, or the Kaiser-Wilhelmgedächtniskirche in the heart of West Berlin – to alternative, counter-cultural values whose importance an increasing number of people inside and outside of organized Christianity are beginning to realize.

Westminster Catholic Cathedral

Westminster-Cathedral-225x300

Westminster Catholic Cathedral

Listening to Roxanna Panufnik’s haunting setting of Psalm 135/136, whose Sephardic Jewish melodic inflections seemed to merge seamlessly with the Cathedral’s neo-Byzantine architecture, it was as if the Biblical narrative of the liberation of Israel from Egyptian oppression (the prototypical anti-imperialistic narrative of the Judeo-Christian tradition) referred to in the text was tantalizingly made present for a few brief minutes. After the opening invocation, ‘Praise the Lord, for he is good: for His steadfast love endureth for ever’, a hauntingly poetic first section praises God’s work in creation, characterized by the gentle undulation of slow chordal streams in bitonal motion, with a mellifluous soprano solo floating above them. Love Endureth then builds to a compelling climax in its second part, in which the Hebrew text Ki L’olam chasdo (‘For forever His mercy’) is treated as an ostinato over which the choir recalls the Exodus in a powerful declamation:

‘Who brought Israel from among them: With a mighty hand and a stretched out arm: Who divided the Red Sea into parts: And brought out Israel through the midst thereof: And overthrew Pharaoh and his host in the Red Sea.’

Westminster-Cathedral-Choir-School-225x300

Westminster Cathedral Choir School

As the choir reached Love Endureth‘s culmination in the moments prior to the return of the opening refrain, the music seemed to flare up in such a way as to evoke the fiery epiphanic language of the Old Testament ‘prophetic imagination’, to use the title of a memorable study by theologian Walter Brueggemann. Were it not for the awareness that I would probably have been promptly been escorted out of the building by Cathedral security for creating a Public Disturbance, I might well have exclaimed the words of the prophet Elisha in 2 Kings 2:20 on seeing his mentor Elijah taken up to heaven in a whirlwind aboard a chariot of flame: ‘My father! My father! The chariots and horsemen of Israel!’

In attempting to describe this visionary moment it is important to emphasize the role of the Cathedral acoustic as what I can only term an ‘active presence’; prior to the service Roxanna and I had both attended the final rehearsal of the piece at the Westminster Cathedral Choir School (a constant hive of musical activity where Cathedral musicians Martin Baker and Peter Stephens march the choir through the huge daily quantity of liturgical music with remarkable efficiency and consummate professionalism), and although the sonic effect of Love Endureth in the modest rehearsal space was already impressive, the aural result in the Cathedral itself was on another plane altogether.

Nave-of-Westminster-Cathedral-225x300

Talking with people at a small reception afterwards, it was clear that I was not the only one to have found hearing Love Endureth intensely moving, and to come away from the Cathedral changed in some small way, sensing that something had happened during the liturgy. Which surely has to be one of the hallmarks of authentic worship. Sitting next to me in the nave was someone whose normal weekly encounter with the Psalms takes the less exotic form of responsive speaking in a predominantly African Methodist Church (and who was on his way to a Sunday evening service in a South London soccer stadium); as he remarked, the Westminster Cathedral Vesper service may be an acquired taste as far as its ancient language and form are concerned, but it would be a great shame were it not to exist.

Roxanna-Panufnik-225x300

Roxanna Panufnik with the score of ‘Love Endureth’

Did someone notice any of this apart from the Cathedral congregation and maybe a few stray tourists stumbling into the building from the piazza outside? Maybe not. This particular first performance almost certainly went unobserved by the official media channels and London music critics. But so what? With the advent of social networking via the internet my hunch is that an ever greater role in the dissemination of New Music will be played not by print journals but by the infectious enthusiasm of individual bloggers eager to share their personal experience of live events with friends and other internauts. And the number of such freelance commentators is potentially far greater than we might at first think, especially when you consider that the première of Love Endureth was part of the larger London-wide Festival of Contemporary Church Music held from May 12 to 20 in venues across the city.

The programme of this festival makes for instructive reading, as it seems to indicate that, contrary to all the talk of the demise both of ‘classical’ music and of Western Christianity, there is actually a quiet explosion in artistic creation for the Church happening right now: the Festival listing contains no fewer than 18 world premières, including contributions by highly-respected names in the British contemporary music scene (Julian Anderson, David Matthews, Judith Bingham) and the active participation of top publishers Faber & Faber. If the London Festival of Contemporary Church Music’s visibility is not as great as might be expected given the sheer amount of activity represented, it is only because of the geographical spread of festival events which seem to have assembled themselves in a ‘bottom-up’ fashion rather than being concentrated in one place as a result of vertical, ‘top-down’ central planning. This kind of ’emergent structure’, to use a fashionable technical term, may fly somewhat in the face of our traditional concept of ‘event management’, but my intuition is that it represents the shape of the future: it passes relatively undetected to the untrained eye because its overall shape can only be seen from a certain altitude (what looks diffuse at ground level looks highly concentrated from a bird’s eye view, as you can test by zooming in and out of a landscape on Google Earth with the ‘places of interest’ activated).

The transition from top-down to bottom-up thinking characterizes many cultural trends in the age of Wikipedia, the OpenStreetMap project or ‘crowdfunding’. The basic principle embodied in all three is that involving as many collaborators as possible within an open source structure with a bare minimum of overall steering allows something to be generated that  is more than the sum of its parts. From Philip Hensher’s article it is not clear that he has really grasped the potential for the future of classical music represented by this innovative approach to stimulating artistic creativity (although it should be remarked in passing that the Church is probably not the first place he would look, given that he is not exactly a friend of organized religion, even if he can on occasion bring himself to say a kind word for the Martin Niemollers of this world).

A further intriguing example of what I mean is an ongoing initiative of which I also became aware during my visit to Westminster Cathedral, this time in the field of organ music. The intrepid British organist William Whitehead (who was present at the May 13 Vespers service) has embarked on a huge project to fill in the missing pages in J.S. Bach’s Orgelbüchlein that JSB left blank save for the titles of chorales encompassing the whole Church Year. The 118(!!) projected pieces to be based on these chorale melody will be written by a wide variety of composers (contributions are being actively solicited over at http://www.orgelbuechlein.co.uk/rules/ ) from students to established professionals, and will range from works for beginners to settings intended for certified 8th Dan black-belt organ virtuosi.

petrushka-project-300x148

It is perhaps interesting to note a conceptual convergence between William Whitehead’s scheme and the recent launch of Schott Music’s  ‘Petrushka Project’, a large-scale endeavour to generate 70 new pieces of piano music which will subsequently be available via Schott’s digital platform notafina and on a YouTube ‘Petrushka Channel’. 21 of these compositions will be aired at the Juilliard School’s Paul Hall on June 19 by pianists Michael Brown and Christopher McKiggan, including pieces by composers such as Peteris Vasks, Robert Beaser, Bernard Rands and Viktor Suslin, with further performances in the pipeline in London, Mainz and Beijing.

Another name appearing on the Petrushka Project roster which immediately drew my attention is Gavin Bryars, who will be one of the heroes of part two of my search for vital signs demonstrating that reports of classical music’s impending doom are premature. We’ll be keeping a close watch on our musical ECG and EEG monitors, so stay tuned.

Further details concerning Roxanna Panufnik’s Love Endureth, and her upcoming Warner Classics CD on which it will be included, can be found at http://www.loveabide.com/cd-tracks/

Top ten of 2011

Da stand das Meer‘s Top Ten of new sacred music heard (though not necessarily composed) in 2011, listed alphabetically:

  • Eriks Esenvalds (1977-) Passion and Resurrection (Hyperion recording with Stephen Layton, Carolyn Sampson, Polyphony, Britten Sinfonia)
  • Vladimir Godar (1956-) Mater (ECM recording with Iva Bittova, Milos Valent, Marek Stryncl, Solamente Naturali, Bratislava Conservatory Choir, Dusan Bill)
  • Galina Grigorjeva (1962-) Molitva for saxophone and organ (live recording with Virgo Veldi, Ulla Krigul)
  • Sofia Gubaidulina (1931-) In tempus praesens (Deutsche Grammophon recording with Anne-Sophie Mutter, Valery Gergiev, London Symphony Orchestra)
  • Betty Olivero (1954-) Neharo’t, Neharo’t (ECM recording with Alexander Liebreich Kim Kashkashian, An Raskin, Philipp Jungk, Lea Avraham, Ilana Elia, Münchener Kammerorchester)
  • Roxanna Panufnik (1968-) Tallinn Mass ‘Dance of Life’ (Estonian Radio broadcast with Mihhail Gerts, Patricia Rozario, Tallinn Chamber Orchestra and chorus)
  • Arvo Pärt (1935-) Adam’s Lament (live performance with Olari Elts, Estonian Philharmonic Chamber Choir, Ensemble Orchestral de Paris
  • Einojuhani Rautavaara (1928-) Mass (live performance with Michael Gläser/Netherlands Radio Choir)
  • Terje Rypdal (1947-) Lux Aeterna (ECM recording with Kjell Seim, Palle Mikkelborg, Iver Kleive, Åshild Stubø Gundersen, Bergen Chamber Ensemble)
  • Valentin Silvestrov (1937-) Sacred choral works (ECM recording/DVD-ROM with book To Wait for Music (Duh i Litera)) with Mykola Hobdych, Kiev Chamber Choir)

 

Close to the edge

‘It seems that when the church engages at the fringes, it almost always brings life to the center. This says a whole lot about God and gospel, and the church will do well to heed it.’ (Alan Hirsch, The Forgotten Ways, 30)

The South African-Australian writer Alan Hirsch is a provocative thinker whose work on the mission of the contemporary Church in a post-Christendom context has provided me with much food for thought over the last few months. One of his main theses, as expressed by the quote above, is that the Church needs to return from its status as a pillar of the Western social and political establishment since Constantine to the radical engagement of its early centuries as an illegal movement working at the margins of society (pointing to the example of the unprecedented growth of the Church in China in the teeth of Maoist persecution as a template for Christianity today). The context for Hirsch’s remark quoted above concerning the relationship of the fringes and the centre is primarily socio-economic, but I see an intriguing parallel with what I have been observing for a while now on a geographical level in Europe, an area in which Hirsch has – perhaps a little sweepingly – argued elsewhere that there are no credible signs of Christian witness. On the pages of this blog I have tried to contend on a number of occasions that there are in fact such signs in the area of music, of which one seems to be the emergence of spiritually vital artistic initiatives at the Western and Eastern extremities of the European cultural space. This it seems to me is where signals of a renewal of sacred music currently seem to be the strongest in this continent, signals which just maybe serve as a barometer of a more general spiritual re-awakening. There is an uncanny commonality, it seems to me, between the new sacred art presently emerging from the Western edge of Europe (Britain and Ireland), and from the former Eastern bloc, one which will, given time, ‘bring life to the center’ (to adopt Hirsch’s phrase). It is maybe not surprising that the periphery is often the best place to look for creative innovation, as this is where centralizing bureaucracy – the principal instrument of forces wishing to maintain the status quo – are least capable of surveillance and stifling genuine innovation by the imposition of conformity. I could cite many musical examples in support of this intuition, but let me restrict myself to two recent ones. The first was the discovery of the work of the Slovak composer Vladimir Godar (1956 -) in the form of his haunting and powerful Mater, recorded by ECM in 2005. It made me wonder how much creativity from Central and Eastern Europe’s smaller nations may be going unnoticed at an international level for the lack of exposure in the West, and what the impact may be once figures such as Godar come to broader attention.  The second was a radio broadcast of Roxanna Panufnik’s new large-scale Tallinn Mass, a British-Estonian collaboration whose near-hypnotic conclusion (compellingly performed by Indian-British soprano Patricia Rozario and local Estonian forces) struck me as some of the strongest contemporary choral music I have heard for a long time.

What counts as the ‘fringes’ of Europe is of course a matter of personal opinion, but the question of whether it is to the continent’s apparent backwaters rather than to Europe’s major cultural hubs that we should be looking for signs of renewal did cross my mind this week as I travelled to Sarospatak in Eastern Hungary, a stone’s throw from borders with Rumania, Slovakia and the Ukraine. Technically this is still Mitteleuropa, but the four-hour train ride eastwards from Budapest definitely gave me the feeling of heading out towards some kind of cultural rim. For several years now, the historic Reformed Collegium in Sarospatak has been the scene of the Crescendo Institute, a pioneering venture in combining high-level music-making and Christian spirituality which has become the region’s largest summer musical academy, drawing participants from a wide range of countries from the US to Vietnam and China. Last year my Hermosura de Dios orchestral song-cycle on words of Saint Teresa of Avila was given its first performance at the Institute (twinned with the Zemplen Festival) by the leading Hungarian mezzo-soprano Andrea Melath. The orchestra conducted by fellow Soli Deo Gloria board member Delta David Gier featured both highly talented students coming from everywhere between Lisbon and Moscow as well as members of the Prague Philharmonia, Dallas Symphony and Cleveland Orchestras. This year, as well as making a couple of spoken presentations on music and faith to the students, I had further proof of the talent on view in Sarospatak when acting as one of the judges of the Institute’s Concerto competition, having the privilege of hearing young Eastern European violinists and flutists every bit as accomplished as the leaders and soloists of many a Western European orchestra.

One particularly interesting event at the Institute was an enthralling lecture on the occasion of the bicentenary of the birth of Franz Liszt in 1811 by the Dutch musicologist Marcel Zwitser, dealing with the intriguing question of the apparent contradiction between Liszt as the 19th century’s foremost rock star and Liszt the musical Franciscan, the composer of almost frighteningly stripped-down scores such as the Via Crucis, whose harmony not only seems to anticipate the Grenzwelt of late Reger, early Bartok or Scriabin, but even the ‘spiritual minimalism’ of the late 20th and 21st centuries. What is remarkable – though clearly not to all tastes – in the late Liszt is that he seems to be the first composer (with the notable exception of Schubert in his bleakest songs such as Der Leiermann or Der Doppelgänger, which Liszt significantly transcribed for solo piano) to have grasped that what is left out of a composition can in fact be just as if not more important than the actual notes on the page. Whether in his overtly religious works of his late period or in the existential wanderings of pieces such as Nuages Gris and the Funeral Gondolas, it is clear that Liszt’s primary interest is in the empty and frequently desolate space between the notes. In opening himself up to this space, Liszt effects an astonishing philosophical reversal from the virtuosity of his early compositions. He no longer dominates the musical material through technique but rather allows the silence to speak for itself – a stance which constitutes the very essence of spiritual minimalism. It is in the embrace of this concept that Liszt is a true radical: there is a remarkable coherence between his ‘Franciscan’ ideal of renunciation and the ‘voluntary poverty’ of an Arvo Pärt, embodied in the decision not to use all technical means at the composer’s disposal, but rather to seek artistic truth through an act of what Valentin Silvestrov has referred to as musical ‘disarmament’ [разоружение].[1] In the case of the Via Crucis the correspondence between the extreme frugality of musical means and the subject-matter of the self-emptying of God could not be clearer: what we have here is the equivalent of musical ‘kenotic’ theology, an exploration of the Godforsakenness of the Cross as disturbingly modern in its own way as the expressionism of Jürgen Moltmann’s Crucified God or Hans Urs von Balthasar’s Mysterium Paschale a century later.

This quality in Liszt of the struggle of faith with the apparent absence of God was recently pointed out by Pope Benedict XVI (one of von Balthasar’s collaborators) after a concert of Liszt’s music performed in the Vatican by the Hungarian National Philharmonic Orchestra under Zoltan Kocsis, featuring Liszt’s extended and rarely-heard setting of Psalm 13. Dating from 1855, this 25-minute work is not written in the extreme idiom of the Via Crucis, yet there is a distinct similarity on the level of textual content:

‘This piece dates back to the years in which Liszt stayed in Tivoli and Rome; it was a period when the composer lived his faith intensely, so much so that he almost exclusively wrote sacred music. Let us remember that he took minor orders. The piece which we have heard gives us an idea of the quality and depth of this faith. It is a Psalm in which the praying person is in a difficult situation, the enemy surrounds and besieges him, God seems absent and seems to have forgotten him. And his anguished prayer rises in the face of this situation of abandonment: “How long, O Lord”, the Psalmist repeats four times. The tenor and the choir repeat “Herr, wie lange?”, in an almost incessant way. It is the cry of man and of humanity that feels the weight of evil that is in the world. Liszt’s music conveys to us this sense of heaviness and distress. But God does not abandon. The Psalmist knows this, Liszt does too; as a man of faith, he knows. From the anguish, a cry full of faith leading to joy is born: “My heart shall rejoice in thy salvation. I will sing to the Lord because he has dealt bountifully with me”. Here Liszt’s music transforms itself: the tenor, choir and orchestra raise an anthem full of confidence in God, who never betrays, never forgets, never leaves us by ourselves.'[2]

Pope Benedict’s appeal to Liszt as a composer steeped in prayer is certainly historically grounded, but how does it sit with the near-universal cliché of Liszt as an inveterate womanizer (with his virtuoso piano recitals as domineering acts of seduction), the ‘ultimate Romantic’ in his dealings with the opposite sex? A discussion of the truth of such a view is beyond the scope of this post (and my musicological competence), but what is absolutely undeniable is the passionate eroticism of much of Liszt’s piano music, not excluding works with explicitly religious subject-matter such as the composer’s own favourite piece (and mine), Bénédiction de Dieu dans la solitude from Harmonies poétiques et religieuses. Listening to the work being played eloquently during Marcel Zwitser’s lecture by the highly gifted young Russian pianist Polina Kulikova, I was struck by the proximity of the Bénédiction‘s ecstatic nature mysticism to the harmonic progressions of the Liebestod of Tristan und Isolde (the object of another of Liszt’s transcriptions for solo piano). While Liszt’s Catholicism and the longing for a pantheistic absorption into the Weltall expressed by Wagner are in many respects very different, the fact that the music is so similar gives pause for thought. A powerfully erotic spirituality seems to characterize both these instances, but one which in my opinion is (contrary to the view of many of Liszt’s critics) not reducible to a will to sexual domination. The shared element found both in the Bénédiction and the Liebestod is rather a passionate longing for the ultimate communion, the dissolution of the subject-object dialectic, a desire that has been a mark of mystical thought in many religious traditions (the Song of Songs being a prime example). Already in the Harmonies poétiques et religieuses Liszt seems to want to transcend the self, whether in the ecstasy of Romantic love or in the rapt contemplation of Creation. For Liszt, eros and agape are definitely not polar opposites, but rather two sides of the same coin. If in his late works this urge towards self-transcendence takes a radically pared-down form, this should perhaps not be viewed as such a suprise, being simply a new expression of an intense desire  for self-surrender which had already been present in his earlier music. In this respect Liszt’s spiritual evolution is maybe not so much a reversal as a purification of a basic attitude which remains consistent throughout his life.

'Four Ages of Liszt', Etude magazine, 1913

One composer to have grasped this aspect of Liszt was Olivier Messiaen (whose ‘ecstatic’ use of the key of F sharp major in works such as Le Banquet céleste and Vingt Regards sur l’Enfant-Jésus is clearly Lisztian), whose work is marked by a very similar juxtaposition of the sacred and the unashamedly erotic. In his book of conversations with Antoine Goléa (1961), Messiaen responded to critics of his own patently sexual pieces such as Cinq Rechants bycomplaining that the notion of Romantic love in the popular imagination is a pitifully debased and misunderstood caricature of a noble spiritual ideal. For Messiaen, the placing of human and divine love in essential contradiction to one another is a fundamental mistake. Great lovers are as rare as great saints in Messiaen’s view, presumably because they share the same quest for self-abandonment (in this context it is interesting to note that, like his Hungarian predecessor, Messiaen found himself irresistibly drawn to Francis as the epitome of human sainthood) in the other. Against the reduction of notions of the erotic to the exploits of Don Giovanni, Messiaen remarked, with typical Gallic vigour:

“I prefer the attitude of Liszt, answering the importunate question of what he thought of Mme d’Agoult: “What do I think of her? But I would throw myself out of the window for her!'[3]

Franz Liszt, am Flügel phantasierend, 1840 (Staatliche Museen zu Berlin). Liszt is depicted between George Sand and Marie d’Agoult (reclining against the piano)

_______________________________________

[1] Valentin Silvestrov, To Wait for the Music: conversational lectures (Kiev: Duh i Litera, 2010), 263 ff.

[2] http://www.vatican.va/holy_father/benedict_xvi/speeches/2011/may/documents/hf_ben-xvi_spe_20110527_concerto_en.html

[3]  ‘Je préfère l’attitude de Liszt, répondant à un fâcheux qui lui demandait ce qu’il pensait de Mme d’Agoult : « Ce que j’en pense ? Mais je me jetterais pour elle par la fenêtre ! »’ Antoine Goléa, Rencontres avec Olivier Messiaen (Paris: Julliard, 1961), 42.