Thursday, November 09, 2017

I regret being a son of the West


Antal Doráti's contribution to classical music is seriously undervalued. A consummate conductor, his achievements included the second complete cycle of the symphonies of that peerless composer Joseph Haydn (the little-known cycle conducted by Ernst Märzendorfer was the first) and a 1959 Firebird which remains the benchmark against which other recordings of the complete ballet are judged. He studied with Béla Bartók and went on to conduct the world premiere of the composer's Viola Concerto. In 1963 the arch-modernist William Glock appointed Doráti principal conductor of the BBC Symphony Orchestra; in his four years in the post he conducted premieres of works by composers including Michael Tippett, Roberto Gerhard and Nikos Skalkottas. Doráti's own considerable output as a composer is even more seriously undervalued, and his two symphonies would surely find favour with today's late-Romantic indoctrinated audiences if they were but given the chance.

If Antal Doráti's contribution to classical music is seriously undervalued, his contribution to humanitarian thinking is virtually unknown. In 1987 he was approached by the Nobel Peace Prize winning International Physicians for the Prevention of Nuclear War (IPPNW) to participate in their concerts and recordings for peace. This working relationship acted as a catalyst for him to write what was literally his last testament titled For Inner and Outer Peace, which is dedicated to IPPNW. This outpouring of a lifetime's previously unvoiced thoughts was written down with great urgency in the last 18 months of his life. In it Doráti states many times that he felt compelled to share his urgent message, and writing the manuscript literally occupied him to his last breath.

For Inner and Outer Peace was published in 1991 three years after Antal Doráti died, and it has long been out of print. In his last years Doráti found solace in Christianity and later compositions such as his beautiful setting of the Pater Noster, and his melodrama Jesus or Barabbas reflect this. But For Inner and Outer Peace is much more than a fascinating footnote to the career of a forgotten musician. The subject of Jesus or Barabbas is the power of the mob, and we now live in a world overshadowed once again by the fear of nuclear conflict, over which the corporeal and virtual mob rule. Which makes the following wisdom from For Inner and Outer Peace painfully relevant:

It is a remarkable fact that - so far - perhaps every real champion of human peace (and there have been few of them compared to the innumerable false ones) began with the quest for that same "inner peace" which they themselves were never able to achieve. The one exception I can think of might be Buddha, whose faraway image emits the rays of complete inner peace. Sometimes, when looking at a pebble, an insect, a plant or a blade of grass, that dream of inner peace - so different to that for which we in our western corner of the earth strive, and yet so complete - I am transported to such high and subtle regions that, upon "awakening", I regret (for a while) being a son of the West. In these moments I resolve to learn more about the East. And I do, a little: but never much, because I am too strongly and obsessively fascinated by the mysteries of the culture that has raised me.
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1 comment:

Pliable said...

Joshua Cheek comments on Facebook:

'For me, pretty much anything conducted by Antal Dorati bore the mark if excellence, (and I have many of his recordings in my collection), but I was unaware of this aspect of his personality. A wonderful morning read from Bob Shingleton.'