Tuesday, November 18, 2014
Revealing Pain Through Beauty
Last week while I was at the Texas Counseling Association conference in Dallas, Texas, my wife, daughter and I went to hear the Dallas Symphony Orchestra. They were performing Concerto in E minor for Cello and Orchestra, Op. 85 by English composer Edward Elgar. They also performed Pavane, Op. 50 and Requiem, Op. 48 by French Composer Gabriel Faure’. I had never heard of these composers so we attended the lecture prior to the performance to learn more about the composers. I highly recommend taking advantage of any community lectures before a classical performance as the information adds to the enjoyment of the performing of the musical works.
With Edward Elgar I was surprised that I was familiar with one of his works. Matter of fact anyone who has graduated would be familiar with his Pomp and Circumstance No. 1 that is played as a march at most high school and university graduations. His cello concerto was composed in his later years. It is a dark emotional work reflecting the mindset of Elgar, who had become disillusioned like many after WWI with the atrocities of mass killings and mustard gas killings. Also his wife that he loved dearly was gravely ill and he was facing illness as well. The program listed a quote from a letter he wrote that showed Elgar’s mindset, “Everything good and nice and clean is far away never to return.”
Knowing what his mindset was, I was setting up myself to hear a depressing sad piece. Yet as the young cellist, Alisa Weilerstein, performed her magic on the piece, I was captured with the beauty of the notes and emotion rising from the music. Yes, melancholic and dark, but still beautiful at the same time. It made me think of the wonder of the creative mind of Elgar to be going through personal pain yet creating music that could showcase the beauty of the range of tones from the cello.
With Gabriel Faure’ he was a contemporary of Elgar and the pre-performance lecture noted they had even met. Faure’ was trained in his schooling to go into church music and he started as a church organist. The requiem was a funeral mass piece Faure’ composed. So again at the lecture I was thinking another depressing piece about death. A difference was mentioned though compared to regular funeral mass music Faure’ wanted to take a different view of death. Most requiems that were popular at that time period, emphasized judgment in death. His requiem focused on solace and rest. The program notes listed a quote from Faure’ “It has been said that my Requiem does not express the fear of death and someone has called it a lullaby of death. But it is thus that we see death: as a happy deliverance, an aspiration toward happiness above; rather than a painful experience.” What a powerful statement as a way to look at death. It caused me to think back to my mother’s death years ago and the joy that was expressed at her home-going celebration at her church, remembering hymns she enjoyed and also as people shared kind thoughts about her.
When we heard the Requiem performed the Dallas Symphony choir performed along with the piece. The piece was far from depressing instead sections were majestic and powerful and other sections where light and airy. The solo “Pie Jesu” was performed by soprano Susanna Phillips. Her voice was amazing in capturing the emotion and lightness of the piece. In the reflection section below I have a short video clip of Barbara Bonney performing this solo. Do give it a listen.
Pain and death are subjects we don’t like to consider but they are part and parcel of our life journey. It helps us to understand these negative aspects of life through the creative mind of the artist, poet, or music composer as they bring bring beauty and different ways to understand the topics.
Reflection - What solace do you turn to during times of pain or grief through loss? To these composers who lived in difficult times of the hardships right after WWI music was a solace to use as an outlet. Take a listen to “Pie Jesu” https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=PJanc3-a320 and think over what you felt after listening to it