Musical ideals are insensitive
'Can you imagine not having any personality? Just nothing really - it sounds like you're almost dead! Every personal opinion, every personal feeling, we would need to reject. But that's not it. It's not an annihilation of self. It's seeing that the self we tend to cling to is our own creation. We create ourselves. And so with awareness we're beginning to see that. We're beginning to notice how I create myself as a person. Just out of habit, out of not awakening, out of being caught up in thinking habit, emotional habits, and identities that I never notice yet alone question'.Recently I have been spending time with Wagner as interpreted by Sir Adrian Boult and Glenn Gould, and also - readers cannot have failed to notice - with Ajahn Sumedho's teachings. Sir Adrian's approach to Wagner, as captured in the invaluable EMI reissue of his orchestral excerpts, is what Thai Buddhists term anattā - devoid of self. Glenn Gould's transcriptions of the same music for piano are the total opposite and replete with personal opinions and personal feelings. Ajahn Sumedho teaches that we should practice anattā, or not-self. But in a Koan-like conundrum, rejecting Gould's subjective interpretation in favour of Boult's objectivity is itself a personal opinion. Which means musically both approaches are equally valid and indispensable - Boult's Wagner is fresh and clear like the wind-cleansed skies here in western France, while Gould's is a luxuriant soak in the sun-warmed sea.
Applying Buddhist teachings to Wagner's music is not entirely fanciful. There are several tentative connections between the wizard of Bayreuth and Prince Siddhartha, most notably the uncompleted opera Die Sieger. The sketches for the libretto - no music was composed apparently - suggest Wagner based it on Eugène Burnouf's 1844 Introduction to the History of Buddhism, and the speculative background to the opera inspired Jonathan Harvey's Wagner Dream. Glenn Gould, of course, had ambitions to conduct Wagner, and for one of his final recordings took the baton for the Siegfried Idyll; this was not intended for commercial release, but was issued, nevertheless, by CBS posthumously. It must be the most slowest ever interpretation: the timing of 24" 29" compares with Boult's 16' 19". For many Gould's will not be the ideal Siegfried Idyll. But as Ajahn Sumedho reminds us: "Ideals are insensitive. When you are idealistic you are attached to something that is beautiful but doesn't have any feelings'.
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