Thursday, October 17, 2013

Seeking the music that is beyond immediate reach


Junayd, the eminent Sufi master of the tenth century, counselled one of his fellow seekers to "know his contemporaries and understand those of his time and age" and went on to say "I note that the entire concern of most creatures is for this lower world, and that they seek the fragile goods that are within their immediate reach... the seeking of perishable realities has blinded minds and hearts occupied with the sole desire for the most vain of these... men are totally fascinated by the present life, and the things of the future life have become inaccessible to their clouded minds". Although generally viewed as a mystical expression of Islam, Sufism, with its emphasis on the inner wisdom of gnosis, can also be interpreted as an order of life independent of established faiths that has considerable contemporary relevance. The much vaunted digital long tail of 'things of the future' has proved, in reality, to be a short head of 'perishable realities from the lower world that are within easy reach'. Custodianship of things beyond perishable realities remains outside the digital domain as the lifework of a few of what Norman Perryman termed "analogue beings".

One such being is John McLaughlin Williams. His advocatory analysis of the forgotten music of Philippa Schuyler remains one of the most widely read posts On An Overgrown Path, and is, incidentally, one of the posts I am most proud of publishing. John knew Peter Paul Fuchs during his time at the Greensboro Symphony Orchestra and, together with Adrian McDonnell in Paris, he has worked selflessly with me to give Peter Paul Fuch's music the audience it deserves. One of the results of this advocacy is an exclusive recording of Fuch's Five Miniatures for chamber ensemble which now can be heard via this link. Another of John's passions is the music of Mahler's forgotten assistant Karl Weigl and he has written to me about his recent performance of Weigl's two violin sonatas. Here is his email which also touches on Ernst Toch (that is the bust of Toch that John mentions in the header photo) who is another composer lost in the mists of the long tail.

Hello Bob, I've recently returned from Los Angeles where I performed the two violin sonatas of Karl Weigl. It was done at a mist interesting place, the Villa Aurora, which was owned for many years by the writer and playwright Lion Feuchtwanger. His gorgeous Spanish Colonial home is now owned by the German government and run as an Austrian cultural hub and artists residence similar to the MacDowell Colony. The concert was approved by the Orel Foundation and supported by the Karl Weigl Foundation. Karl Weigl (the composer's grandson) attended with his wife the musicologist Julie Brand. The music was enthusiastically received, making one lament yet again the relative obscurity of this composer who in my opinion could be a household name if offered the kind of exposure Beecham gave Delius, or as Bernstein did for Mahler.

A fascinating confluence of paths occurred; when I entered the salon there was a gorgeous Blüthner grand awaiting. Nearby was a bust of none other than Ernst Toch. The Blüthner was brought to California by Toch, and it belonged to him for many years. My imagination soared, wondering what music had been played on this piano. It is a beautiful instrument that has a mellower sound than Steinways, and one ideally suited to the muted and autumnal colors of Weigl's middle European scores. It felt quite special to play there, and with this instrument - Glen Inanga was my collaborator. A beautiful program was made for the concert [see below]. Just thought I would share.
Also on Facebook and Twitter. Photos are (c) John McLaughlin Williams 2013. Any other copyrighted material is included as "fair use", for the purpose of study, review or analysis and will be removed at the request of copyright owner(s).

3 comments:

Pliable said...

I note that in New York a forthcoming Gotham Chamber Opera quadruple bill includes Ernst Toch's Die Prinzessin auf der Erbse -http://www.therestisnoise.com/2013/10/video-of-the-day-mahagonny.html

billoo said...

This was a beautiful post, pli. Thank you!One slight quibble: the tendency to think of sufism as 'independent of faith' or frameworks or 'bridges' (Simone Weil) can also, in its own way, contribute to a clouding (imo)...still love this:

'the sufi is he whose thought keeps pace with his foot'

Best wishes,

b.

Pliable said...

Billoo, thanks and your comment is a wonderful example of what JMW calls in his post "a fascinating confluence of ideas".

Up to the final draft of this post the sentence you highlight read:

Although generally viewed as a mystical expression of Islam, Sufism, with its emphasis on the inner wisdom of gnosis, can also be interpreted, perhaps heretically as an order of life independent of established faiths that has considerable contemporary relevance.

But I decided that there was already too much going on in that sentence. So, as the debate about the heretical and faith independent aspect of Sufism seemed tangentical to the main thrust of the post, I edited it out.

There is an awful lot bubbling under this thread. I had intended posting further about the faith independent aspects of Sufism and am currently researching a fascinating meeting between Nazrat Inayat Khan and the Zen teacher Sensaki Sensei.

To be continued....