LUDWIG VAN BEETHOVEN: Symphony No. 7
In a symphony orchestra, only the woodwind and the brass players each have their own music stand. The strings in one particular section, on the other hand, share a music stand between two players. »Music-stand neighbour« is the official term for this symbiotic relationship, whose importance cannot be overestimated. Do the two musicians get on? Do they like each other's sound, movements and even smell? Who is going bring the pencil? And above all: which one is allowed to face the audience, while the other player sits on the inside and has to turn the pages?
The question »Shall we share a music stand?« comes close to a declaration of love. In this context, the first performance of Beethoven's Seventh Symphony must have been particularly interesting. Beethoven dedicated the work to the defeat of Napoleon, and all the VIPs of Vienna's musical community sat in the orchestra, including Antonio Salieri, Louis Spohr, Giacomo Meyerbeer, Johann Nepomuk Hummel and Ignaz Moscheles. Unfortunately, we have no record of who shared a music stand with whom.
A story from the Elbphilharmonie Magazine (in German only, 3/2018).
RICHARD WAGNER: WESENDONCK-LIEDER
In the mid-1850s, wealthy couple Otto and Mathilde Wesendonck treated themselves to a very special neighbour, none other than Richard Wagner. Wagner was on the wanted list in several European countries for unpaid debts and revolutionary activities, and the two opera fans generously allowed him to use the summer house in the garden of their Zurich villa and also gave financial support to the »Pumpgenie« (spendthrift genius), as Thomas Mann called him.
Wagner showed his gratitude by starting an affair with Mathilde. In the process, he stylised himself as the knight Tristan, making Mathilde his Isolde, and thus the opera of the same name was born. A by-product of this amorous involvement were the »Wesendonck-Lieder«, full of burning yearning, in which Wagner set texts written by Mathilde to music. In the end the affair came to light and Wagner had to pack his bags.
IGOR STRAVINSKY: THE FIREBIRD
Modern ballet has its origins largely in the work of a single man: Sergei Diaghilev. In 1909 the smart impresario launched the »Ballets Russes« series in Paris, for which he hired the best dancers of St Petersburg's Mariinsky Theatre, for example Vaslav Nijinsky, with whom he immediately embarked on a passionate affair. In Diaghilev’s search for a suitable composer he came across the 26-year-old Igor Stravinsky, who went on to write five major ballets for Diaghilev's company. The acclaimed opener was »The Firebird«, an incredibly colourful and glittering score. It was the perfect combination – and one that lasted for all eternity: today, Stravinsky and Diaghilev are buried not far from one another on the Venetian cemetery island San Michele.
GEORGE FRIDERIC HANDEL: THE MESSIAH
From the outside, the houses at numbers 23 and 25 Brook Street in London's elegant Mayfair district look perfectly normal; expensive cardigans and handbags are for sale in the ground floor boutiques. But appearances can be deceptive: two legendary musicians once lived here door to door, albeit separated by some 200 years. George Frideric Handel lived at number 25 from 1723 to his death in 1759, and it was here that he wrote his great oratorio »Messiah« with the famous »Hallelujah« chorus. Centuries and worlds apart, Jimi Hendrix rented rooms at 23 Brook Street (»The first flat of my own«) in 1968, but he only lived there sporadically.
Obviously, the two »neighbours« never actually met – or did they? Hendrix later claimed that Handel's ghost emerged from a mirror one night and approached him. Perhaps the great Baroque composer just wanted to apologise to the Afro-American guitarist for the fact that he had once invested in the shares of slave-trading companies – Hendrix’s grandfather was the son of a slave and her owner. Or was Handel just stopping by in the hope of a jam session?
»Hendrix later claimed that Handel's ghost emerged from a mirror one night and approached him.«
MILES DAVIS: IN A SILENT WAY
»The rockers' electric guitars and keyboards were too noisy for the jazzmen, while the jazzmen's highfaluting attitude got on the rockers' nerves.«
For many years, jazz and rock musicians treated one another like unloved student flatmates. The rockers' electric guitars and keyboards were too noisy for the jazzmen, while the jazzmen's highfaluting attitude got on the rockers' nerves. Now and again, someone crept into the other room, but only on tiptoe. The first person to hit on the idea of combining the strengths of both factions in the ultimate flat-share party was Miles Davis. His 1969 album »In a Silent Way« is regarded (together with its predecessor »Miles in the Sky« and the follow-up »Bitches Brew«) as the foundation stone of fusion jazz. And it's no coincidence that all the party guests – Chick Corea, Herbie Hancock, Joe Zawinul, Wayne Shorter, John McLaughlin – later went on to set up their own successful fusion bands.
ROBERT SCHUMANN / ALBERT DIETRICH / JOHANNES BRAHMS: F. A. E. SONATA
Like many brilliant minds, composer Robert Schumann assembled a circle of artist friends around him. As director of music in Düsseldorf, he invited many other musicians to visit him in the early 1850s, among them the young composers Albert Dietrich and Johannes Brahms and the violinist Joseph Joachim. After Schumann's tragic end in a mental hospital, the group of artists stayed in close contact, playing and even taking vacations together. The clearest sign of their intellectual and physical closeness is a violin sonata written jointly by Schumann, Dietrich and Brahms for Joseph Joachim. The title refers to Joachim's personal motto, which Brahms himself adopted and, unlike his violinist friend, complied with to the end of his life: F.A.E. = »Frei aber einsam«, free but lonely.
JOHN CAGE: 4’33‘‘
It's a familiar experience: you're relaxing on the couch at home in the evening, sipping a drink and listening to some favourite music at a volume in keeping with your own enthusiasm – when you suddenly hear the neighbours banging on the other side of the wall: it's their bedtime, and the music is too loud! Headphones are the only solution. Or you bring the evening to a close with a private performance of John Cage's 1952 piece 4‘33‘‘, which consists entirely of pauses. Or to be more precise, it consists of what you hear when no-one is playing: four minutes and 33 seconds of silence. All you hear is the muted murmur of the wind outside or the cars going by, the floorboards creaking or the quiet rush of your blood in your own ears. It turns anyone who can hear into a composer. Try it and see!
Text: Clemens Matuschek, Stand: 12.7.2018