Being a musician is a lot of work. It’s not just the hours of practicing that are difficult. It’s that when we practice, we are working towards something. The performance, which lasts just a few minutes, looms over every hour of practice. And one gets more and more anxious as the performance date approaches. I believe this to be good work. For many reasons. There is a joy in practicing for a performance and a joy in just practicing, for the fun of it. Most of this work, for me at least, is done in solitude. I like solitude. But most music is not possible without other musicians.
Tonight I was privileged enough to perform one of the most beautifully mournful pieces ever written: Klaglied, by Buxtehude. And it could not have been possible without three other VERY fine musicians. I have never heard them play, and sing, so beautifully. The piece was written after his father passed away and it’s prolonged, rolling, dissonances make it a piece that truly can transform the performance hall. To me, it seemed like the walls and the portraits felt heavier and were filled with sorrow, remembering the past suffering that they have bore witness too. And yet the music seems to lift these burdens as it calls them forth. And so, when I hear that there were tears in a few people’s eyes, it makes all these hours of rehearsals and practicing worth it.
Here is the translation of the first and last verses:
Must death then also break those chains
No earthly circumstance can unfetter?
Must it also wrest from me
The one who cleaves unto my heart?
Alas! a father’s mournful passing
Brings too bitter sorrow with it,
When from the breast the heart is torn
The pain exceeds the throes of death.
Sleep in peace, beloved one,
Live in peace, O blessed soul;
I, your son, now deep in grief,
Inscribe upon your hollow grave:
‘Here lies one whose gifts of music
Once gave joy to God Himself;
Now his spirit, full of gladness
Has joined the heavenly choir above’.