Crist is arisen!
My friend Andrew sent me a Western hymn for Pascha of which he is quite fond—“Now the Green Blade Riseth.” I had never heard it before, but it is catchy and earthy. Here it is sung by the choir of Ely Cathedral:
Now the green blade riseth from the buried grain,
Wheat that in dark earth many days has lain;
Love lives again, that with the dead has been:
Love is come again, like wheat that springeth green.
In the grave they laid him, love whom men had slain,
Thinking that never he would wake again.
Laid in the earth like grain that sleeps unseen:
Love is come again, like wheat that springeth green,
Forth he came at Easter, like the risen grain,
He that for three days in the grave had lain.
Quick from the dead my risen Lord is seen:
Love is come again, like wheat that springeth green.
When our hearts are wintry, grieving, or in pain,
Thy touch can call us back to life again;
Fields of our hearts that dead and bare have been:
Love is come again, like wheat that springeth green.
Christ is risen!
I wish you a great festive season for the feast of feasts! To celebrate, here is Светлый праздник, one of Rimsky-Korsakov’s many gifts to the world:
Have a lovely Bright Week!
Have you ever wondered if you were tone-deaf? Jake Mandell has created an online test that you may take: Tone-deaf Test. The test consists in playing sets of two short pieces of music, and you must choose whether the pairs are the same or different. My test resulted in a “very good performance,” though I suspect that I marked some that were the same as different because something seemed different but I was not sure how.
A blessed feast of the Meeting of the Lord in the Temple for those on the old calendar!
As a suitable commemoration of the old prophetess Anna who waited in the Temple for Christ (whose synaxis is tomorrow, along with Saint Simeon), I wish to share a short story about the remarkable “Maria Yudina: The Pianist Who Moved Stalin” from The Ladder of the Beatitudes by Jim Forest:
One of the people of modern times whose heart was radiantly pure was the Russian pianist Maria Yudina. I have come to know her indirectly through the memoirs of her friend and one-time classmate, composer Dimitri Shostakovich, and also through Tatiana Voogd, a member of our parish who knew Yudina personally and has slept under her piano—“the most sheltered place in her apartment,” she tells me.
It was Maria Yudina’s fate to live through the Russian revolution and its aftermath, seeing many of her dearest friends and colleagues disappear into the Gulag. A fearless Christian, she wore a cross visibly even while teaching or performing in public—an affirmation of belief at a time when the price of a display of religious faith could be one’s work, one’s freedom, even one’s life. She lived an ascetic life, wearing no cosmetics, spending little on herself, and dressing simply. “I had the impression that Yudina wore the same black dress during her entire long life, it was so worn and soiled,” said Shostakovich.
For Maria Yudina, music was a way of proclaiming her faith in a period when presses were more carefully policed than pianos. “Yudina saw music in a mystical light. For instance, she saw Bach’s Goldberg Variations as a series of illustrations to the Holy Bible,” said Shostakovich. “She always played as though she were giving a sermon.”
She not only performed piano works but paused during concerts to read the poetry of such writers as Boris Pasternak, who were unable to publish at the time.
She was notorious among friends for her inability to keep anything of value for herself. “She came to see me once,” Shostakovich recalled, “and said that she was living in a miserable little room where she could neither work nor rest. So I signed a petition, I went to see various bureaucrats, I asked a lot of people to help, I took up a lot of people’s time. With great difficulty we got an apartment for Yudina. You would think that everything was fine and that life could go on. A short time later she came to me again and asked for help in obtaining an apartment for herself. ‘What? But we got an apartment for you. What do you need another one for?’ ‘I gave the apartment away to a poor old woman.’”
Shostakovich heard that friends had made a loan to Yudina of five rubles. “I broke a window in my room, it’s drafty and so cold, I can’t live like that,” she had told them. “Naturally, they gave her the money—it was winter. A while later they visited her, and it was as cold in her room as it was outside and the broken window was stuffed with a rag. ‘How can this be, Maria Veniaminovna? We gave you money to fix the window.’ And she replied, ‘I gave it for the needs of the church.’”
Shostakovich, who regarded religion as superstition, didn’t approve. “The church may have various needs,” he protested, “but the clergy doesn’t sit around in the cold, after all, with broken windows. Self-denial should have a rational limit.” He accused her of behaving like a yurodivye, the Russian word for a holy fool, a form of sanctity in the eyes of the church.
Her public profession of faith was not without cost. Despite her genius as a musician, from time to time she was banned from concert halls and not once in her life was she allowed to travel outside Russia. Shostakovich remembered:
Her religious position was under constant artillery and even cavalry attack [at the music school in Leningrad]. Serebriakov, the director then, had a habit of making so-called “raids of the light brigade.” . . . He realized that Yudina was a first-class pianist, but he wasn’t willing to risk his own position. One of the charges of the light brigade was made specifically against her. The cavalry rushed into Yudina’s class and demanded of Yudina: “Do you believe in God?” She replied in the affirmative. “Was she promoting religious propaganda among her students?” She replied that the Constitution didn’t forbid it. A few days later a transcript of the conversation made by “an unknown person” appeared in a Leningrad paper, which also printed a caricature—Yudina in nun’s robes surrounded by kneeling students. And the caption was something about preachers appearing at the Conservatoire. The cavalry trod heavily, even though it was the light brigade. Naturally, Yudina was dismissed after that.
From time to time she all but signed her own death warrant. Perhaps the most remarkable story in Shostakovich’s memoir concerns one such incident:
In his final years, Stalin seemed more and more like a madman, and I think his superstition grew. The “Leader and Teacher” sat locked up in one of his many dachas, amusing himself in bizarre ways. They say he cut out pictures and photos from old magazines and newspapers, glued them onto paper, and hung them on the walls. . . . [He] didn’t let anyone in to see him for days at a time. He listened to the radio a lot. Once Stalin called the Radio Committee, where the administration was, and asked if they had a record of Mozart’s Piano Concerto No. 23, which had been heard on the radio the day before. “Played by Yudina,” he added. They told Stalin that of course they had it. Actually, there was no record, the concert had been live. But they were afraid to say no to Stalin, no one ever knew what the consequences might be. A human life meant nothing to him. All you could do was agree, submit, be a yes-man, a yes-man to a madman.
Stalin demanded that they send the record with Yudina’s performance of the Mozart to his dacha. The committee panicked, but they had to do something. They called in Yudina and an orchestra and recorded that night. Everyone was shaking with fright, except for Yudina, naturally. But she was a special case, that one, the ocean was only knee-deep for her.
Yudina later told me that they had to send the conductor home, he was so scared he couldn’t think. They called another conductor, who trembled and got everything mixed up, confusing the orchestra. Only a third conductor was in any shape to finish the recording.
I think this is a unique event in the history of recording—I mean, changing conductors three times in one night. Anyway, the record was ready by morning. They made one single copy in record time and sent it to Stalin. Now that was a record. A record in yes-ing.
Soon after, Yudina received an envelope with twenty thousand rubles. She was told it came on the express orders of Stalin. Then she wrote him a letter. I know about this letter from her, and I know that the story seems improbable. Yudina had many quirks, but I can say this—she never lied. I’m certain that her story is true. Yudina wrote something like this in her letter: “I thank you, Joseph Vissarionovich, for your aid. I will pray for you day and night and ask the Lord to forgive your great sins before the people and the country. The Lord is merciful and He’ll forgive you. I gave the money to the church that I attend.”
And Yudina sent this suicidal letter to Stalin. He read it and didn’t say a word, they expected at least a twitch of the eyebrow. Naturally, the order to arrest Yudina was prepared and the slightest grimace would have been enough to wipe away the last traces of her. But Stalin was silent and set the letter aside in silence. The anticipated movement of the eyebrows didn’t come.
Nothing happened to Yudina. They say that her recording of the Mozart was on the record player when the “Leader and Teacher” was found dead in his dacha. It was the last thing he had listened to.
Shostakovich found Yudina’s open display of belief foolish, yet one senses within his complaints both envy and awe. In a time of heart-stopping fear, here was someone as fearless as Saint George before the dragon, someone who preferred giving away her few rubles to repairing her own broken window, who “published” with her own voice the poems of banned writers, who dared to tell Stalin that he was not beyond God’s mercy and forgiveness. She had a large and pure heart. No wonder her grave in Moscow has been a place of pilgrimage ever since her death.
You may listen to this particular recording of Mozart’s Concerto No. 23 in A Major from A.D. 1943:
III Allegro assai
Jewish Christian women named Mary have a peculiar habit of boldness before tyrants. Perhaps, Maria’s love and courage may have even persuaded old Joe to repent before the end. May her memory be eternal!
On the Roman calendar, it is the feast of Francis Xavier—a Jesuit of some personal importance to me. To celebrate the day somewhat fittingly, given the Navarran’s mission to the East, I offer the following. Behold Beethoven’s tribute to Schiller’s poem, sung by thousands of Japanese in “daiku”:
For some background, you may wish to read, “A Weird Relationship between Japan and Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony.”
It is remarkable to see how well a civilization has embraced the treasure of another. Of course, such borrowing and adoption have happened since the dawn of man. Cross-pollination underlies much of culture. However, those transactions happened in distant ages, and we no longer consider them. However, the Orient remains, in many ways, quite alien to us. It is therefore wonderfully strange to witness the Far East celebrate the canon of the West.
As Europeans fall into barbarism, there may be consolation that the yellow people will keep the flame of the West burning, at least in some ways.
As Sandy drenches us in the Mid-Atlantic, a relevant post is required. However, there are not many songs about hurricanes. The Scorpions’ “Rock You Like a Hurricane” and Dylan’s “Hurricane” are contenders, but I do not like the first, and the second has nothing to do with a real hurricane. Well, here is Switchfoot’s “Hello, Hurricane.”
It is a bit too light for the subject matter . . . too cheerful for a storm. Darkness is needed. As such, here is more fitting piece by Johann Sebastian’s boy, Wilhelm Friedemann Bach: Symphony in D minor “Adagio & Fugue” performed by the Concerto Köln.
Sic transit Sandy.
For today, I present Tannhäuser, my favorite Wagnerian opera. I found a performance by the Bayerischen Staatsoper (Bavarian State Opera) from A.D. 1994. While I am glad to find a full video online, I am not fond of its peculiar interpretation. I know that the production is eighteen years old, but can’t the Germans move past their postwar decadence? For instance, the opening orgy leaves little to the imagination. Even with Wagner, couldn’t we have a bit of restraint and suggestion? (rated PG-13)
The modern age ever lusts after the new and bizarre. Unlike the opera’s hero, the modern West never moves beyond its illusory quest for base satisfaction toward a higher good.
Given my recent trip to ארץ ישראל, I thought that I would offer the Israeli anthem, which means “the hope.” The song reminded me of one of my favorite pieces, “Vltava,” from Smetana’s Má Vlast. I discovered that both works owe some of their beauty to an Italian Renaissance tune, “La Mantovana.”
Hatikva is not as sublime as the Czech masterpiece, but it makes for a worthy anthem. You may read the poem’s words on Wikipedia.
On the long flight to Tel Aviv, I repeatedly transitioned between states of sleep and consciousness while catching glimpses of other people on the plane, hearing random conversations, and watching film sequences on personal entertainment monitors. I was particularly intrigued and confused by scenes from the neighboring monitor’s display of The Tree of Life. Then, I caught the faint sound of Smetana’s “Moldau,” and I quickly grabbed an earphone set to listen to the movie’s soundtrack. Imagine the joy of a man in a desert who happens upon a spring, and you have some idea of my psychic state at that moment.
The plucky Israel Chamber Orchestra has shown their eydl character by performing at the one hundredth Wagner festival in Bayreuth: “Germany opens taboo-shattering Wagner festival.” Lambasted by Wagner haters and the perennially aggrieved, the orchestra’s decision helps to chisel away further the taboo against Wagner in the Israeli community. Good for them. Wagner is celebrated for his music, not for his political opinions or for the fact that he was beloved by National Socialists generations after his death.
As a patriotic and filial tribute, I present Charles A. Zimmerman’s “Anchors Aweigh” on this Independence Day:
Thanks for serving, Dad!
Wikipedia has an article on the song’s development in naval culture.