The Transformation of Pain Helps us see Value in Suffering

“Behind every beautiful thing, there’s some kind of pain.” ~ Bob Dylan

Pain – either physical or emotional, is something most of us seek to avoid. Yet our pain is just as valuable as our joy.

Such perceived undesirable feelings are at the opposite end of the emotional spectrum from joy and ecstasy, but are essentially all part of the same energetic material. Pain is one of those things that we strive to remove and resolve once we’re feeling it, yet it has immense value to our lives if we can use it constructively. As a form of feedback it is invaluable.

It can lead us to an expanded awareness and an equanimity that would not otherwise have been possible, but for our moments of pain.

Pain that has been transcended can be compared to the physical pain of childbirth: it hurts like hell at the time, you have no idea how long the labour will last, how long you can bear the intensity, but when it’s finally over you have a priceless gift – a new life. After a few months it’s not possible to recall the acute pain of childbirth, it is consigned to a murky memory; all you know is that it was worth it, because you brought a human being into the world.

What recondite depths have inspired composers, writers, poets, artists, social entrepreneurs and people from all walks of life, wanting to make the world a better place for others?

Two Fridas by Frida Kahlo
In 1939 Frida and Diego divorced. She was devastated and her emotions were reflected in this painting. She drew two identical Fridas, but with different personalities. One is the “Mexican Frida;” the one Diego Rivera fell in love with. The other is “European Frida” – the new and independent artist that’s recognized worldwide, but also, the woman her husband abandoned.
Their hearts are exposed over their clothing, and there is a thin vein passing through them both, uniting them. Victorian Frida holds surgical scissors that cut the vein in her lap, and the blood spills on her white dress. Frida was experiencing real sorrow, the kind of sorrow that made her feel she could bleed from the pain. Both women are holding hands as if the artist accepted she was the only person who understood her, loved her, and could help her to move on. ~ Matador Network

Such motivations do not normally emanate from pain free lives. When we have experienced profound pain we genuinely develop more compassion and empathy, and are probably more willing to help alleviate suffering if we come across someone going through a similar situation.

Pain is a powerful motivator: it can spur us into action, prompt us to change course, widen our perception, and in many cases, make us more accepting and less judgmental and align us to a meaningful purpose.

“Numbing the pain for a while will make it worse when you finally feel it.” ~ J.K. Rowling, Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire

For me, intense pain formed the bedrock of my determination to follow my dreams and made me a stronger, more resilient person. I learned to listen to the inner longing that wasn’t based in my head.

Through pain I liken myself to a carbon atom that has been pressured, pulverised and heated inside the earth’s mantle; a violent process that forms a striking crystalline structure which is dense yet clear, still rough around the edges, yet with further cutting and refining will one day gleam with the best of them.

I have taken the gems (no pun intended!) of my own suffering, and used them in a coalescence of knowledge, experience and imagination in the form of my novel, The Virtuoso. 

There was a time in my life when I considered making an early exit from existence, but fortunately I decided against that idea. My love for my family spurred me to turn my life around. One day at a time.

It has been said that suicide is a permanent solution to a temporary problem. Most people don’t want to consciously end their life, they want to end their pain. Sadly, not every one can get past their pain.

The Death of Chatterton by Henry Wallis

Tarquin and Lucretia by Titian c. 1571

The other day I was reading an email from Vishen Lakhiani, the founder of Mindvalley, telling a very personal story about how a painful experience became the catalyst for the values he lives by.

In Vishen’s words:

Your values became the healing you want to give to the world because of past pain.

My first core value was sparked from a horrible incident in 2003.

Just imagine, for a minute, being forced to leave the country you love because you were put on a watchlist based on a bullsh*t idea that, because of your place of birth, you were somehow a potentially dangerous immigrant.

But that was the situation I was placed in 2003 while living in America. I don’t blame anyone…it was the years following September 11th. And this was part of global politics. But boy was it painful…

I had lived in America for a decade and it was a place I had called home. My wife from Estonia and I lived in New York. We were newly married and I’d been living in the United States for 9 straight years. This was our home and I wanted my son born as an American.

But then – one day in 2003 arriving at JFK airport I was taken into a special room and told that I could no longer travel as freely. I had been added to an early version of the same Muslim-watchlist that Trump has been recently pushing for.

See, because I happened to be an immigrant from a Muslim-dominant country (Malaysia), I, alongside 80,000 other men, weren’t afforded the same freedom of movement as everyone else. I could no longer board flights or get off a plane without enduring 2 to 3 hrs in interviews in tiny rooms at the limited airports I was allowed to fly from.

Worse, I was expected to report to the government every 28 days. Interrogated for hours, get my picture taken, and have my credit card purchases scrutinized. Sometimes after waiting in line for up to 4 hours. And I had to repeat this. Every. Four. Weeks.

The funny thing was that I was not even a Muslim. Nor should that even matter.

Waiting 4 hours in the cold New York weather every 28 days just to be subjected to a really degrading process was something I could only tolerate for so long.

That was it.

And I had enough.

I was deeply saddened that I had to leave America this way, but I felt I didn’t really have a choice but to relocate Mindvalley to Malaysia.

In the end, in 2008 the then-new President Obama ruled the whole dumb process unconstitutional and this Bush-era regulation was tossed into the garbage bin.

I was finally free to travel.

But this pain served me. It set me up for the value of UNITY.

Unity is the idea that we align not with our country, our flag, our religion, or our ethnicity first — but that we align first and foremost with humanity as a whole.

My kids are half-Indian and half-white. You know what that means? It means they look middle-eastern. I don’t want MY children ever ending up on some stupid “watchlist” because fact-challenge old men with racist tendencies think something like a Muslim-ban is somehow a good idea.

So, I made it my mission to bring humanity together.

And the result was the value of Unity in everything we do at Mindvalley.

For example, our events typically welcome people from 40 different countries. Our team of 300 people now come from 49 countries.

And we make effort to represent the under-represented. Mindvalley University for example had 55% women speakers. Our courses feature people of all ethnicities and sexual orientations.

And we actively stand up for pro-Unity politics.

Unity was a value that made me who I am.

I was once on the popular talk show “Impact Theory” and the host Tom Bilyeu asked me.

“Are you an entrepreneur or a philosopher?”

I replied that I think the label ‘entrepreneur’ is pointless. Anyone can be an entrepreneur.

“What defines a person”, I said, “is not the label – but what they stand for.”

I could lost my business. I guess that happens to many people. But it won’t make me lose my identity.

But if I lost my stand. And my stand is Unity. I would not be Vishen Lakhiani. Everything I do, including Mindvalley, is designed to bring unity to the human race.

That’s how deeply entrenched unity is in my DNA.

And you can see how PAIN – can lead to the strongest values.

The healing, transforming power of music

Nowhere is the transformative quality of pain more evident, accessible and immediate than in the experience of listening to, performing and writing music. Like all the creative arts, music can be a miraculous medium for ameliorating pain – leaving a legacy of great benefit to many people, no matter if they are alive at the same time in history.

The Violinist by Joseph Rodefer DeCamp

All types of music fulfill this role for people. Some prefer rock, pop, country, jazz, tango, rap, heavy metal, dance anthems, not forgetting the more established and earlier types such as romantic, classical and baroque.  I find my mood and activity selects the music, but the kind that reaches the parts others cannot is – surprise, surprise – classical music.

I have included a few examples of pieces that continue to resonate with audiences centuries later, due to the emotion that was fundamental to their creation. It seems many of the most loved and enduring musical works were hammered out on the anvil of pain…

As you can imagine, keeping this list short is quite impossible for me, so forgive my alacrity if we’re not on the same musical page.

The andante con moto of Schubert’s chamber masterpiece ‘Death and the Maiden’ speaks to me deeply of pain. When I hear it, any unresolved pain I feel comes through and tells me it’s there…

It connects me to the composer, to myself and to humanity.  It has even inspired the title of a trilogy of psychological thrillers, quietly brewing in my psyche.

Schubert composed the String Quartet No. 14 in D Minor, D. 810 in 1824, after he had been seriously ill and realised that he was dying. It is Schubert’s testament to death. The quartet takes its name from the lied ‘Der Tod und das Mädchen’, a setting of a poem of the same name by Matthias Claudius which Schubert wrote in 1817.

Only one who suffered such as Schubert could have written it. Much of Schubert’s music reflects the deep chasm of human emotion. It some of the most heart-felt music I think I will ever hear.

“My compositions spring from my sorrows. Those that give the world the greatest delight were born of my deepest griefs.”
~ Franz Schubert

An incredibly moving performance of Schubert’s Piano Fantasie in F minor, D. 940 for four hands, by Dutch brothers Lucas and Arthur Jussen:

The bittersweet quality of the melody and their sensitive, nuanced interpretation makes me well up.

The touch of a master makes the Impromptu No. 3 Op. 90 sound like it’s coming straight from Schubert’s heart…

“The wound is the place where the light enters you.” ~ Rumi
Variations on this sentiment:
“There is a crack in everything God has made.” ~ Ralph Waldo Emerson

Antelope Canyon – by Madhu Shesharam on Unsplash

“The crack is where the light gets in.” ~ Leonard Cohen
“Blessed are the cracked, for they shall let in the light.” ~ Groucho Marx

Beethoven similarly expressed profound depths through his music, in way too many pieces to share here. Works that could only have come about because of his physical and emotional wretchedness. He was the epitome of the tortured genius!

The Piano Sonata No. 23 in F minor, Op. 57 (Apassionata), was written at a time of great political and personal turmoil, and it seems that Beethoven has bared his soul within the notes. The famous triadic motif from his fifth symphony can be heard in the opening movement, indeed, it pervades much of his musical output.

You can hear the violent rage, anguish, torment, passion and determination expressed either consciously or unconsciously by Beethoven, as if he is unashamedly showing us his inner core, which was clearly on a stormy setting at the time.

He was reeling from a broken heart, just when his brother Karl announced his marriage to Johanna, a woman Beethoven despised. He could not bring himself to dismount from his moral high horse and be happy for them.

Oh my, it was quite the maelstrom… I think Richter played it like the mercurial maestro would have:

Prior to publication of the Apassionata, Beethoven erupted with fury in a disagreement with a great patron of the arts, his aristocratic benefactor, Prince Lichnowsky. The altercation supposedly took place one stormy night at the prince’s country estate near Graz.

Lichnowsky asked Beethoven if he would perform for him and some of Napoleon’s officers he was playing host to. Beethoven refused in his combustible, irascible manner, and strode off into the rainy night with his Appassionata score under his arm; but not before telling Lichnowsky that there were many princes, but only one Beethoven!

The blotches caused by the contact of rain and ink from that fated evening are still visible on the original autograph manuscript.

Even though Beethoven never quite forgave Lichnowsky for his transgression, he still wrote to his estranged patron sometime later to complain of his “thoroughly lacerated heart.”

The pain of parting is so beautifully transferred to the ivories by Alfred Brendel in this recording of Beethoven’s Piano Sonata No. 26 in E-flat major, Op. 81a, ‘Les Adieux’:

In his brilliant analysis of Beethoven’s Piano Concerto No. 4 in G Major, Charles Hazlewood highlights that the piano and orchestra are in a conversation; a dialogue that becomes increasingly tense through the first and second movements.

He enthuses that Beethoven created a new era for the role of the piano by not starting the concerto with a grand orchestral opening, as was the custom, but instead with a tentative phrase on the piano, which seeks to dictate terms to the orchestra.

Discord permeates each phrase of the conversation as the tension becomes more pronounced in the andante con moto. When the piano finally breaks out it seems that the gulf between the piano and the orchestra is unbridgeable, until the third movement brings about resolution and reconciliation. The piano mollifies the orchestra and they unite musically.

I could not leave out the incomparable second movement of his Piano Concerto No. 5 in E-Flat Major minor, Op.  73 (Emperor), which seems to encompass the entire history of mankind at the molecular level within its sublime, poignant melody.

The whispered opening makes me hold my breath for eight unbearably beautiful minutes, floating in suspended animation, soaking up the apotheosis of all that is…

James Rhodes blends notes and emotion perfectly in the third movement of Beethoven’s Piano Sonata No. 30 in E Major, Op. 109:

Backed by Stanford University’s Ensemble in Residence, the St. Lawrence String Quartet, Robert Kapilow, (composer and radio commentator), explores the notion of illness as a potent source of creativity, (e.g. appreciation for existence) through Beethoven’s ‘Heiliger Dankgesang’, which Beethoven wrote in thanksgiving after recovering from a life-threatening illness.

Tchaikovksy could also pack in the pathos, as expressed in his Serenade Melancolique Op. 26, via Itzhak Perlman on his violin:

The sobriquet ‘Suffocation’ is a fitting description for Chopin’s Prelude No. 4 in E minor, Op. 28:

I think the addition of the cello brings out a lyrical, lugubrious quality to the melody:

The original lyrics to ‘So Deep is the Night’ by André Viaud and Jean Marietti were set to Chopin’s Etude No. 3 in E Major, Op. 10 ‘Tristesse’, perfect on its own:

In the medium of opera and vocal works suffering finds an outlet through the voice. I find  Camille Saint-Saëns’s ‘Mon coeur s’ouvre à ta voix’ from Samson et Dalila one of the most moving arias ever written. Maria Callas was no stranger to emotional pain, and you can hear it as she pours out her heart:

Callas is also unmatched as Norma in Bellini’s eponymous opera singing the aria Casta Diva:

Puccini and Pavarotti are a match made in heaven…

I love the strong sentiment in this interpretation by Marita Solberg of Edvard Grieg’s ‘Solveig’s song’ from his Peer Gynt Suite:

Bach’s eternal, prayerful and beseeching ‘Erbarme dich mein Gott‘ (Have mercy Lord, My God) from his epic St. Matthew Passion:

Get the tissues ready for Handel’s signature aria ‘Lascia ch’io pianga’ from his Opera Rinaldo.

Let me weep

over my cruel fate,

and sigh for freedom.

Let my sorrow break the chains

of my suffering, out of pity.

Dimitry Shostakovich takes us to the abyss as he performs the andante from his Piano Concerto No. 2 in F Major, Op. 102 in this vintage recording:

Albinoni finds a sorrowful voice for the oboe in the adagio of his concerto No. 2 in D minor, Op. 9:

I couldn’t leave out maestro Mozart, who proved he was equally at home with a deep and meaningful as well as a galloping allegro.

Vladimir Horowitz always takes me to another dimension with this recording of the adagio of Piano Concerto No. 23 in A Major, K. 488. The heartache is palpable…

In my humble opinion this is no ‘feeble adagio’ as Brahms had labelled the slow movement of his Violin Concerto in D Major. The oboe, bassoon, brass and violin share the profound melody.

To me it is poetic and purifies the soul.

Franz Liszt wasn’t always a showman, as he proves in his nostalgic and tender Consolation No. 3:

Love hurts and pleasures at the same time when Wagner gets involved! The immortal Tristan und Isolde, Prelude & Liebestod:

The Symphony of Sorrowful Songs is a symphony in three movements, composed by Henryk Górecki in Katowice, Poland, between October and December 1976.

In the second movement a solo soprano sings the Polish message written on the wall of a Gestapo cell during World War II, from the perspective of a child separated from a parent. The dominant themes of each of the three movements of the symphony are motherhood and separation through war.

The symphony is constructed around simple harmonies, set in a neo-modal style which makes use of the medieval musical modes. The nine-minute second movement is for soprano, her words are supported by the orchestra and the movement culminates when the strings hold a chord without diminuendo for nearly one and a half minutes.

The final words of the movement are the first two lines of the Polish Ave Maria, sung twice on a repeated pitch by the soprano.

Maternal Affection by Adolphe Jourdan c. 1860

Górecki dedicated the work to his wife, Jadwiga Rurańska. He never sought to explain the symphony as a response to a political or historical event. Instead, he maintained that the work is an evocation of the ties between mother and child.

You can certainly feel the fathomless pain of parental separation, as well as the music’s roots in the Holocaust, and indeed every war:

Honestly, I could go on forever, but I think you get the idea!

In his book, The Joy of Music, Leonard Bernstein makes a point about the futility of trying to extract the meaning of music, contending that it stands in a special lonely region, unlit…

The composer and musical artist bring their own ‘wounds’ and life experience to their work. In the process there is catharsis, release, healing, beauty and meaning. For them, and for us.

For violinist Ji-Hae Park, music was part of the pain and the resolution:

One could go as far as to say that a completely happy life provides no substance for a creative individual.

Hirzel, Switzerland by Ricardo Gomez Angel on Unsplash

I have had my fair share of pain, but also incredible joy, and it makes you appreciate the good times. I’m reminded every day to extract every drop of life from each precious, present moment…

Letting go

Letting go of pain takes patience and practice. At least for me.

When I finally decided I was sick of the perverse way my ego was getting off on my pain, I decided to let it go. I could stand in the fire and not be burnt by it. But that took time and awareness.

In hindsight we can understand how our painful experiences have made us who we are, and how they may have served us, but rarely is this possible when we are in the thick of it.

When we step out of the victim archetype we regain our power.

I find this profound teaching by Dr. David R Hawkins (in terms of the paradigm of Content and Context) really helpful in managing and transcending pain. The best course of action is to focus on the totality of the experience, (context) and not the specifics, (content).  He was a wise and wonderful real-life Yoda!

#BeTheBowl

I recently had a candid chat with a good friend of mine, who happens to be a spiritual coach, and I was relaying what a horrendous first six months of the year I’d had, and how I’d struggled to maintain my usual positive outlook and get back on track with my plans. I put on a humorous slant, relieved that I’d got through it. She listened and smiled, and gave me the most amazing advice.

She said, “Ginny, be the bowl!”

I must have looked a bit dim and confused, because she went on to explain that in Japan, they have a custom of not throwing out damaged or broken things. So a precious vase that may have been knocked over and smashed is glued back together using a special gold lacquer.

Rather than cover up the imperfection of the object or throw it away, they appreciate and celebrate it.

I really love that ethos. The practice is known as Kintsugi.

I thought #BeTheBowl would make a great hashtag  to embrace life in all its manifestations.

We all go through rough patches, but rather than bury the hurt, or wallow in it, we can always bring it into the light to mend it with our personal application of liquid gold.

Our life experience comes moment by moment through our thoughts, emotions, words and deeds, and to expect that it will always be perfect is setting us up for unnecessary suffering. We have to just roll with the punches, knowing that they are coming, but not necessarily how hard, how many, where or when…

It seems a much more reasonable proposition to love and accept each other despite our random gold seams.

#BeTheBowl is my new mantra whenever I’m feeling low or the proverbial hits the fan.

#BeTheBowl helps me see myself and humanity as a work in progress.

Khalil Gibran’s poem On Pain, from his timeless book, The Prophet,  is a great reminder that pain is the divine taking us to a different dimension of life. It’s futile to oppose and resist the inevitable.

The only reason we suffer with our pain is that we don’t want to accept its existence and don’t recognize its value. We think that pain is not fair, that we didn’t deserve to experience it, that perhaps we are being punished for something we have or haven’t done.

My biggest question to God during the depths of my despair was always, ‘why me?’ In truth, pain chooses us when it sees that we are ready for transformation.

“Mental pain is less dramatic than physical pain, but it is more common and also more hard to bear. The frequent attempt to conceal mental pain increases the burden: it is easier to say “My tooth is aching” than to say “My heart is broken.” ~ C.S. Lewis (The Problem of Pain)

I can’t think of anyone who transformed his pain into such beauty and an enduring legacy more than Beethoven…except Jesus!

As I tell the W.I. ladies whenever I do a fiction talk, there is no greater fodder for your fiction than that of your life, or the lives of loved ones.

Grampians National Park, Australia by Manuel Meurisse on Unsplash

The soul has to be breached to be opened, and wounds do the breaching. The deeper the wound, the richer your story will be, the greater the journey, and the more satisfying the transformation.

This is just as true for real life as it is for fiction.

“Only the wounded physician heals.” ~ Carl Jung

A Brave New (and Hopefully) Best-Selling Cover for The Virtuoso

“There is much to discover that’s not on the back cover!” ~ E.A. Bucchianeri

We’ve all heard the well-worn idiom, ‘don’t judge a book by its cover’. After all, the phrase goes back to at least the mid-19th century, first printed in the newspaper Piqua Democrat, in June 1867:  

“Don’t judge a book by its cover, see a man by his cloth, as there is often a good deal of solid worth and superior skill underneath a jacket and yaller pants.”

Yet it’s something we all do, whether we’re aware of it or not. It’s even harder to be objective when that cover belongs to your own book!

An author’s emotional connection to their work is usually strong, and sometimes personal preferences can unconsciously override what might be more popular with readers. The challenge is to strike a balance or fusion between the author’s ideas and appealing to the marketplace.

When it comes to covers, whatever will accurately represent the story and arouse a potential reader’s curiosity is the priority.

Some eye-opening stats about the Amazon literary marketplace

Here is a comparison of titles held by the Library of Congress (the oldest federal cultural institution in the United States, thought to be the largest library in the world), versus Amazon, the world’s largest online book retailer.

Library of Congress (LOC):

  • Total Books & Printed Material – 14, 602, 487
  • English Titles – 6, 804, 199
  • Titles available online – 199, 160

Amazon:

  • All Books (in stock) – 40 million (2.7 x LOC)
  • English Titles – 10 million (1.5 x LOC)
  • English Kindle Titles – 4, 794, 589 (24 x LOC)

With around 4.8 million English books available on Amazon Kindle, it is by far the largest single platform for ebook sales in the world. A staggering 70,000 new titles are added to Amazon every month, with a 17% growth in book supply every year. Over 2,000 books are launching every day onto this publishing behemoth…

It’s a tough job to create a compelling book cover that’s both eye-catching and unique, in order to stand out in a crowded market and entice readers. It has to embody the story with flair on the outside, and then fulfill the promise of that visual hook on the inside.

The bottom line is, does the book cover create the desire to read it?

A cover plays a major part in helping to differentiate your book from the plethora of titles available online and in book stores.

“In the old days, books had awful covers and marvellous content; nowadays, the opposite happens.” ~ Giacomo Leopardi, Thoughts

Is it greedy to want both a stunning cover and great content? No, I don’t think so. These are the standards professional authors aim to achieve and that readers expect.

There are some amazing and iconic covers out there. Here is a list of the 50 coolest book covers chosen by shortlist.com.

I am hugely excited and a teeny bit trepidatious about changing my literary ‘brand’. The new cover is very different from the first, but that’s a good thing in my opinion. Otherwise, what’s the point in a fresh look?

New front, spine and back cover of The Virtuoso

I asked Oliver Bennett at More Visual Ltd. to redesign the cover of The Virtuoso to include my Publishers Weekly review, and of course, the beautiful contemporary classical soundtrack (embedded on the sidebar), performed by violinist Adelia Myslov.

I think he has done me proud, and I love it. But what I think doesn’t really matter.  It takes creative courage to judge your own book by its cover, and you can only go on your own impressions as well as feedback from others. I’m grateful to those I’ve asked for giving me their honest opinions and suggestions.

Ultimately, artistic design is highly subjective, just like the act of reading itself.

3D view of The Virtuoso

I hope the new design will garner positive comments, and perhaps, (in conjunction with favourable book reviews), help generate more book sales…

If you fancy giving it a go, here are the UK and US Amazon links. The Virtuoso’s new Goodreads page.

I’d be delighted for any feedback from readers: either past, present or possibly future! I am currently offering free digital copies to book reviewers and book lovers who are willing to leave an honest review.

Just drop me a line via my contact page and I’ll email the link. If you prefer to hold a paperback I’d be happy to send you one in the post.

For U.S. based readers I’m running a Goodreads Giveaway of 100 Kindle copies of The Virtuoso between 16th and 24th June. You will be able to enter this giveaway from the link I will post on my sidebar.

Maestro Vengerov Inspires Artistic Growth at the 2018 Menuhin Competition

Masterclass: a session of tuition by an expert, esp a musician, for exceptional students, usually given in public or on television.

This year’s distinguished Menuhin Competition, (12 – 22 April) now in its 35th year (but held every two years), was founded by its iconic, eponymous violin virtuoso, Yehudi Menuhin, with the goal of nurturing promising young violinists.

Violinist Maxim Vengerov has certainly continued that tradition over three inspiring master classes in Geneva, the host venue for the 2018 competition.

Diana Adamyan from Armenia was the overall winner of the senior category. The 2018 prize winners. Her performance of the Bruch violin concerto was so nuanced, sublime and effused with emotion that it’s hard to get your head round the fact that she is only eighteen years old! A star in the making.

Anyhow, back to the tuition. A Menuhin Competition masterclass is a valuable opportunity for a young musician to learn from one of the most revered living violinists in the world. And if you want to do something you’ve never done before, it makes sense to be guided by someone who has already done it, and even better if they’ve excelled at it.

Maxim Vengerov duly stepped up to the teacher’s plate and knocked it out of the park.

I attended a masterclass he gave in the Sheldonian Theatre in Oxford a few years ago, recorded for posterity in my first blog!

These 2018 recorded masterclass sessions are manna from heaven for music students and violin lovers. Maestro Vengerov gives priceless advice to participants to help them develop their technical, artistic and performance skills.

As well as being a world renowned violin virtuoso and conductor, Maxim Vengerov is currently the Ambassador and visiting Professor of the Menuhin Music Academy in Switzerland (IMMA) and as of September 2016, the Polonsky Visiting Professor of Violin at the Royal College of Music in London.

Maxim Vengerov is not only an outstanding performer, but also a natural and gifted teacher. His love of the instrument, the music and his students is like a rich, warm sonata that envelops you in a hermetic bubble of energetic nurturing, lighthearted humour and scholarly encouragement.

Is it obvious I worship him?!

These recent masterclass videos are entertaining and inspiring for music lovers and non musicians alike, because they instill an appreciation of the talent, work and dedication that goes into perfecting just one piece; highlighting the depth of knowledge and mastery required to truly convey a composer’s mind through the sound of his notes, to draw the listener in.

It takes a virtuoso to express advanced technique infused with emotion and not get lost in either. It’s called interpretation and it’s a fine line to walk.

What I love is that Maxim immediately knows where the improvement points are, and uses a range of methods to help the students expand their abilities. He is assertive and appreciative in equal measure, a winning combination. I love how he invigorates and encourages them without being overpowering or striking fear into their hearts, and motivates without crushing their confidence.

Not everyone it seems, can give an accomplished masterclass. A Masterclass in how not to give a masterclass.

Vengerov shows the pupils where they can improve, be it in phrasing, the intricacies of bowing, depending on the type of colour and sound required, their technique, voice and musicality, all demonstrated with such wisdom and wit.

He humbly shares his own experience of learning with the legendary cellist Mstislav Rostropovich and jokes about how hard it is to just play two notes evenly!

Even more funny, he quips about the quality of a student’s bow, casually telling the audience that he has multiple bows, and how he uses different ones for Mozart, Shostakovich and Brahms, adding as an afterthought, “It’s an expensive profession!” Then he winks, and clarifies further, “We are starting to work from the age of five.”

You can really hear what a difference his 1747 ‘Kreutzer’ Stradivarius violin paired with Jascha Heifetz’s bow makes.

I have included these wonderful masterclasses as a tribute to musical artistic endeavour!

Nineteen year old violinist I-hao Cheng from Taiwan works through the ‘Andante’ and ‘Allegro’ from Bach’s Solo Violin Sonata No. 2 in A minor, BWV 1003:

Eighteen year old violinist Zachary Brandon from the United States (with pianist Nicola Eimer) tackles Franz Waxman’s Carmen Fantasy:

OMG! Thirteen year old violinist Nurie Chung from South Korea (with pianist Nicola Eimer) plays Eugene Ysaye’s Caprice d’apres l’Etude en forme de Valse de Camille Saint-Saëns:

It’s also worth seeing the excellent masterclass observations and teachings from some of the other 2018 Menuhin Competition jury members.

Japanese violinist, conductor and jury member Joji Hattori works with seventeen year old violinist Julian Walder from Austria (with pianist Nicola Eimer) on Ravel’s Tzigane for Violin and Piano:

Arctic Philharmonic Chamber Orchestra Artistic Director and jury member Henning Kraggerud coaches sixteen year old violinist Elli Choi from the United States on Mozart’s Violin Concerto No. 4 in D Major:

Judging and competition insights from the 2018 Menuhin Competition jury members:

I think the students themselves deserve a round of applause, it must be nerve-racking enough to be taught by a legend, let alone in front of an audience, and I applaud them for their dedication and ambition.

While I’m on the subject of masterclasses…

A violin masterclass happens to be the setting of the opening chapter of my fiction novel, The Virtuoso.

I am in the process of creating a new book cover with a new strapline. I think the current strapline: her life is her cadenza, (although it embodies the story) may be too narrow for non musical readers.

So far I am undecided between:

  1. Performance is everything to a virtuoso. Could you give up the one thing you felt you were born to do? 
  2. Performance is everything to a virtuoso. Is redemption possible without the music?

Let me know what you think if you have read it, or have a constructive opinion. Feedback is always helpful when implementing changes. Thanks!

Genuine Music Legend Leonard Bernstein Asks: Why Beethoven?

“I can’t live one day without hearing music, playing it, studying it, or thinking about it.” ~ Leonard Bernstein

In the summer of 1948 the pianist, composer and conductor Leonard Bernstein took a road trip with his younger brother, Burton Bernstein (who appears to have been their speedy chauffeur) and a literary British friend.

Their conversations are far from humdrum, as you would expect from such luminaries. I wanted to share a section of their dialogue that I found fascinating, intellectual and insightful, as documented by Bernstein in an early chapter of his book, The Joy of Music under the heading: Bull Session in the Rockies.

At the time of the conversation they are somewhere in the mountainous region of the Picasso Pass of New Mexico, and Leonard Bernstein refers to his brother as Y.B. (maybe some affectionate nickname) and his literary friend is called Lyric Poet ( L.P.).

Bernstein has these gracious words about his friend: L.P. is a poet’s poet from Britain and one of those incredible people who are constantly so involved in politics, love, music and working ideals, that, despite their established success, they often find themselves embarrassed in the presence of a laundry bill. When L.P. speaks, he is oracular; when he is silent, he is even more so.

I totally admire Lyric Poet, whoever he is/was, for attempting musical discourse with such a mind as Bernstein’s. He must have felt exasperated at times!

I have interspersed the text with Beethoven recordings by Bernstein where he has made a recording pertaining to their conversation to enrich the overall experience.

The following is what transpired between them…

Why Beethoven?

LP: My dear Y.B., I suspect you have forgotten the fact that our tyre burst yesterday was caused by just such driving as you are now guilty of.

YB: Don’t end your sentence with a preposition. (But Y.B. is impressed enough to reduce speed considerably-though gradually enough to preclude the suspicion that he has yielded a point. Few can impress hard-boiled Y.B.; but even he is not immune to the oracle. Some minutes pass in relieved silence; and, with the tension gone, L.P. may now revert to the basic matter of all trip-talk: the scenery.)

LP: These hills are pure Beethoven. (There is an uneventful lapse of five minutes, during which L.P. meditates blissfully on his happy metaphor; Y.B. smarts under the speed restriction, and I brood on the literary mind which is habitually forced to attach music to the hills, the sea, or will-o’-the-wisps.)

LP: Pure Beethoven.

LB: (Ceasing to brood): I had every intention of letting your remark pass for innocent, but since you insist on it, I have a barbed question to put. With so many thousands of hills in the world- at least a hundred per famous composer- why does every hill remind every writer of Ludwig van Beethoven?

LP: Fancy that- and I thought I was flattering you by making a musical metaphor. Besides, I happen to find it true. These mountains have a quality of majesty and craggy exaltation that suggest Beethoven to me.

LB: Which symphony?

LP: Very funny indeed. You mean to say that you see no relation between this landscape and Beethoven’s music?

LB: Certainly- and Bach’s, and Stravinsky’s, and Sibelius’, and Wagner’s- and Raff’s. So why Beethoven?

LP: As the caterpillar said to Alice, “Why not?”

LB: I’m being serious L.P., and you’re not. Ever since I can recall, the first association that springs to anyone’s mind when serious music is mentioned is “Beethoven.” When I must give a concert to open a season an all-Beethoven program is usally requested. When you walk into a concert hall bearing the names of the greats inscribed around it on a freize, there he sits, front and center, the first, the largest, the most immediately visible, and usually gold-plated. When a festival of orchestral music is contemplated the bets are ten to one it will turn out to be a Beethoven festival. What is the latest chic among young neo-classic compcosers? Neo-Beethoven! What is the meat-and-potatoes of every piano recital? A Beethoven sonata. Or of every quartet program? Opus one hundred et cetera. What did we play in our symphony concerts when we wanted to honor the fallen in war? The Eroica. What did we play on V Day? The Fifth. What is every United Nations concert? The Ninth. What is every Ph.D. oral exam in music schools? Play all the themes you can from the nine symphonies of Beethoven! Beethoven! Ludwig v-

LP: What’s the matter, don’t you like him?

LB: Like him? I’m all for him! In fact, I’m rather a nut on the subject, which is probably why I caught up your remark so violently. I adore Beethoven. But I want to understand this unwritten proscription of everyone else from the top row. I’m not complaining. I’d just like to know why not Bach, Mozart, Mendelssohn, Schumann-

YB: Andybody want a piece of gum?

LP: Well, I suppose it’s because Beethoven – or rather there must be a certain tra- That is, if one thinks through the whole-

LB: That’s just what I mean: there’s no answer.

LP: Well, dammit, man, it’s because he’s the best, that’s all! Let’s just say it out unashamed: Beethoven is the greatest composer who ever lived!

LB: (Who agrees, but has a Talmudic background): Dunkt dir das? May I challenge you to a blow by blow substantiation of this brave statement?

LP: With pleasure. How?

LB: Let’s take the elements of music one by one- melody, harmony, rhythm, counterpoint, orchestration- and see how our friend measures up on each count. Do you think it an unfair method?

LP: Not at all. Let’s see, melody…Melody! Lord, what melody! The slow movement of the Seventh! Singing its heart out-

LB: Its monotone heart, you mean. The main argument of this “tune,” if you will recall, is glued helplessly to E-natural.

LP: Well, but that is intentional- meant to produce a certain static, somber, marchlike-

LB: Granted. But then it is not particularly distinguished for melody.

LP: I was fated to pick a poor example. How about the first movement?

LB: Just try whistling it. (L.P. makes a valiant attempt. Stops. Pause.)

LB: (Brightly): Shall we move on to harmony?

LP: No, dammit, I’ll see this through yet! The…the…I’ve got it! The slow movement of the A-minor quartet! The holiness of it, the thankfulness of the convalescent, the purity of incredibly sustained slow motion, the-

LB: The melody?

LP: Oh, the melody, the melody! What is melody anyway? Does it have to be a beer hall tune to deserve that name? Any succession of notes- Y.B., you’re speeding again!- is a melody, isn’t it?

LB: Technically, yes. But we are speaking of the relative merits of one melody versus another. And in the case of Beethoven-

LP: (Somewhat desperately): There’s always that glorious tune in the finale of the Ninth: Dee-da-da-

LB: Now even you must admit that one beer hall par excellence, don’t you think?

LP: (with a sigh): Cedunt Helvetii. We move on to harmony. Of course you must understand that I’m not a musician, so don’t pull out the technical stops on me.

LB: Not at all Lyric One. I need only make reference to three or four most common chords in Western music. I am sure you are familiar with them.

LP: You mean (sings) “Now the day is o-ver, Night is drawing nigh; Shadows of the eeee-v’ning-“

LB: Exactly. Now what can you find in Beethoven that is harmonically much more adventurous than what you have just sung?

LP: You’re not serious L.B. You couldn’t mean that! Why, Beethoven the radical, the arch revolutionary, Napoleon, all that-

LB: And yet the pages of the Fifth Symphony stream on with the old three chords chasing each other about until you wonder what more he can possibly wring from them. Tonic, dominant, tonic, subdominant, dominant-

LP: But what a punch they pack!

LB: That’s another matter. We were speaking of harmonic interest, weren’t we?

LP: I admit I wouldn’t advance harmony as Beethoven’s strong point. But we were coming to rhythm. Now there you certainly can’t deny the vigour, the intensity, the pulsation, the drive-

LB: You back down too easily on his harmony. The man had a fascinating way with a chord, to say the least: the weird spacings, the violently sudden modulations, the unexpected turn of harmonic events, the unheard-of dissonances-

LP: Whose side are you on anyway? I thought you had said the harmony was dull?

LB: Never dull- only limited, and therefore less interesting than harmony which followed his period. And as to rhythm- certainly he was a rhythmic composer; so is Stavinsky. So were Bizet and Berlioz. I repeat- why Beethoven?

LP: I’m afraid you’re begging the question. Nobody has proposed that Beethoven leads all the rest solely because of his rhythm, or his melody, or his harmony. It’s the combination-

LB: The combination of undistinguished elements? That hardly adds up to the gold-plated bust we worship in the conservatory concert hall! And the counterpoint-

YB: Gum, anyone?

LB: -is generally of the schoolboy variety. He spent his whole life trying to write a really good fugue. And the orchestration is at times downright bad, especially in the later period when he was deaf. Unimportant trumpet parts sticking out of the orchestra like sore thumbs, horns bumbling along endlessly repeated notes, drowned-out woodwinds, murderously cruel writing for the human voice. And there you have it.

LP: (In despair): Y.B., I wish I didn’t have to constantly keep reminding you about driving sanely!

YB: You have just split an infinitive. (But he slows down)

LP: (Almost in a rage- a lyrical one, of course): Somehow or other I feel I ought to make a speech. My idol has been desecrated before my eyes. And by one whose tools are notes, while mine are words- words! There he lies, a bedraggled, deaf, syphilitic, besmirched by the vain tongue of pseudocriticism; no attention paid to his obvious genius, his miraculous outpourings, his pure revelation, his vision of glory, brotherhood, divinity! There he lies, a mediocre melodist, a homely harmonist, an iterant riveter of a rhythmist, an ordinary orchestrator, a commonplace contrapuntist! This from a musician, one who professes to lift back the hide from the anatomical secrets of these mighty works- one whose life is a devotion to the musical mystery! It is impossible, utterly, utterly impossible!

(There is a pause, partly self-indulgent, partly a silence befitting the climax of a heart-given tribute).

LB: You are right L.P. It is truly impossible. But it is only through this kind of analysis that we can arrive at the truth. You see, I have agreed with you from the beginning, but I have been thinking aloud with you. I am no different from the others who worship that name, those sonatas and quartets, that gold bust. But I suddenly sensed the blindness of that worship when you brought it to bear on those hills. And in challenging you, I was challenging myself to produce Exhibit A- the evidence. And now, if you’re recovered, I am sure you can name the musical element we have omitted in our blow-by-blow survey.

LP: (Sober now, but with a slight hangover): Melody, harm- of course, Form. How stupid of me to let you omit it from the list. Form- the very essence of Beethoven, the life of those magnificent opening allegros, those perfect scherzos, those cumulative-

LB: Careful. You’re igniting again. No, that’s not quite what I mean by form. Let me put it this way. Many, many composers have been able to write heavenly tunes and respectable fugues. Some composers can orchestrate the C-major scale so that it sounds like a masterpiece, or fool with notes so that a harmonic novelty is achieved. But this is all mere dust- nothing compared to the magic ingredient sought by them all: the inexplicable ability to know what the next note has to be. Beethoven had this gift in a degree that leaves them all panting in the rear guard. When he really did it- as in the Funeral March of the Eroica– he produced an entity that always seems to me to have been previously written in Heaven, and then merely dictated to him. Not that the dictation was easily achieved. We know with what agonies he paid for listening to divine orders. But the reward is great. There is a special space carved out in the cosmos into which this movement just fits, predetermined and perfect.

LP: Now you’re igniting.

LB: (Deaf to everything but his own voice): Form is only an empty word, a shell, without this gift of inevitability; a composer can write a string of perfectly molded sonata-allegro movements, with every rule obeyed, and still suffer from bad form. Beethoven broke all the rules , and turned out pieces of breath-taking rightness.  Rightness- that’s the word! When you get the feeling that whatever note succeeds that last is is the only possible note that can rightly happen at that instant, in that context, then chances are you’re listening to Beethoven. Melodies, fugues, rhythms- leave them to the Chaikovskys and the Hindemiths and Ravels. Our boy has the real goods, the stuff from Heaven, the power to make you feel at the finish:  Something is right in the world. There is something that checks throughout, that follows its own law consistently: something we can trust, that will never let us down.

LP: (Quietly): But that is almost a definition of God.

LB: I meant it to be.

***

I feel that this lively discussion formed the basis of several of Lenny’s famous recordings about the genius of Beethoven in which he espouses the idea of the perfection of each subsequent note in Beethoven’s music.

Rather paradoxically Bernstein slates as well as salivates, over Beethoven. Some of us aren’t happy! Thomas Goss take’s up Lyric Poet’s mantel in defending Mr B!

Whatever your thoughts on Beethoven, mine have been regularly expressed erring on the side of praise, neigh, worship for his craft! Beethoven is a composer of the people and for all time. His music speaks to everything that truly matters in life. Even when it seems trivial it is anything but. And when it is powerful it is transcendent…

It’s why Beethoven has the starring (historical) role in my fiction novel, The Virtuoso, which was described as: “A modern day Beethoven story,” in the summary from one publisher’s review.

I do hope you enjoyed the debate! I’d love to hear your views. I’ll let Beethoven have the last word!

#TuesdayBookBlog – How to Make an Author Insanely Happy

“A page-turner and moving journey filled with romance, Burges’s novel shows the possibilities of moving on beyond tragedy.” ~ Publishers Weekly

We authors are a sensitive breed. At least, I know am. Perhaps it’s because of my creative and open nature. Writers live in a world of words and pictures, with scenes floating around and playing out in our heads. Premises come and go; only the most compelling that take root in the depths of our imagination will be used for that next novel. Our heads are full of images: faces, voices, characters, traits, plots, places, descriptions, all coalescing and escalating to a breathtaking climax before breakfast. No, not that sort!

oscar-wilde-quote-a-writer-is-someone-who-has-taught-his-mind-to

As Ernest Hemingway said with a hint of satire: “There is nothing to writing. All you do is sit down at a typewriter and bleed.”

Not literally I hope, but sometimes it feels like my head will explode. You craft your stories as best you can, edit them, get them read, incorporate feedback, edit and rewrite, get more feedback and go on until you’ve reached the end of your tether and just want to get the darn thing published.

You’ve probably gathered I don’t possess the patience of a saint!

virtuoso-kindle-no-bleed-2

Some writers are blessed with quick minds, maybe if they have no other work or family commitments they can churn out a book every year. It took me five to finally publish my debut novel, The Virtuoso. It was a labour of love. But that doesn’t mean to say I don’t care about its journey out into the big, wide, literary world.

With upwards of a million books on Amazon and the empowerment Indie publishing brings to many aspiring writers, it’s tougher than ever to stand out among the noise as a first time author.

oscar-wilde-quote-in-old-days-books-were-written-by-men-of-letters

I know if I could just get The Virtuoso featured on Classic FM or BBC Radio 3 I’d be in with a fighting chance of reaching many of my potential readers through the medium of music. After all, music is at the core of my novel, and so is an irresistible story. Sadly, I don’t have a large marketing budget to afford the advertising and an unknown author is a bit of a risk for the big radio stations.

And now to the question of how to make an author insanely happy: it’s twofold really, read their book and write an honest, constructive review. Social proof is the best way for a fledgling author to win new readers and build up a fan base so that they can hit the ground running with their next novel. Writers spend many hours obsessing over their ‘babies’ and want nothing more than to enrich readers’ lives with their work.

oscar-wilde-on-writing-and-creativity-22-638

I haven’t found the process of marketing my book entirely comfortable, I don’t like to blow my own trumpet, but it is certainly easier to sound off someone else’s!

Hence my unashamed promotion of my first major book review; an awesome endorsement from industry giant, Publishers Weekly. When I submitted The Virtuoso for a review on their BookLife platform I wasn’t expecting anything to come of it. It was highlighted that many, many books were sent to them and only a select few would be chosen for a review.

oscar-wilde-quote-there-is-no-such-thing-as-a-moral-or-an-immoral

Imagine my delight when I received this email from BookLife yesterday!

Dear Ms. Burges,

The Publishers Weekly review for your book, The Virtuoso, ran on Nov. 14th:

http://www.publishersweekly.com/978-0-9930777-1-5

Thank you for submitting your book for review to Publishers Weekly. Of the hundreds of self-published titles received each month, only a handful of the very best are selected for review.

Thank you also for being a part of the BookLife community. We hope you will continue to use all of the resources at BookLife.com to support your work as an author.

Sincerely,

BookLife.com

Here it is:

publishers-weekly-review-cropped

Dare I finish by saying that the thing that would send this particular author into the stratosphere, would be to have a film adaptation made of The Virtuoso.

My dream cast

My readers tell me they think it would make a fantastic film. My dream cast would be Keira Knighly in the main role as Isabelle Bryant, the heroine of my novel. She has the perfect blend of spirit, talent, vulnerability, courage and beauty, (both inner and outer) to play the beleaguered violinist. her Her box office appeal doesn’t hurt either!

Sharon D. Clarke is the only woman I can visualise as the larger than life jazz singer, Hortense Lafayette. I think Damian Lewis could bring the right amount of the narcissist and tortured soul to conductor Howard Miller’s character. I’m not sure about Daniel Carter. Maybe someone like Hugh Grant could fill his shoes.

There are some wonderful locations as well, such as Madeira, New York, Vienna and London.

hofburg-palace

If you’ve read The Virtuoso, thank you, and if you’ve left me a review on Amazon or Goodreads, thank you from the bottom of my heart! Do feel free to share your ideal cast for the film adaptation, I’m open to suggestions…

I can always dream can’t I!?

At least the music soundtrack has already been recorded!

The Secret of Beethoven’s Fifth Symphony

If you’ve read some of my previous musical blogs you’ll know that I’m a bit of a Beethoven fan. Well, let’s not beat about the bush – it’s more like hero worship!

Beethoven featured quite a bit in my debut novel, The Virtuoso.  I listened to his fifth symphony many, many times whilst writing it. I also did some research, but with a musical icon of such genius there is always more to learn and I’m delighted to continue my education into his life and music.

beethoven-original-score-of-fifth

Recently the BBC produced an outstanding documentary: The Secret of Beethoven’s Fifth Symphony. It was narrated by Ian Hislop, journalist, political satirist and editor of Private Eye, in collaboration with eminent conductor Sir John Eliot Gardiner and his Orchestre Revolutionnaire et Romantiq.

Before I watched it I thought I already knew everything there was to know about this piece of music. The most famous opening four notes in musical history: da- da –da – dah. A motif of three triplet quavers in G followed by a dotted minim in E flat, followed by triplet quavers in F and an extended four beat note in D, repeated throughout the first movement and variations thereof in the other movements.

It premiered on 22nd December 1808 at the Theater an der Wien and much to Beethoven’s chagrin it wasn’t an immediate success. I know how he feels! But audiences in Vienna weren’t ready for his powerful, uncompromising brand of music.

Detail of the 1804-05 portrait of Beethoven by JW Maher, painted at the time Beethoven was writing his fifth symphony.

Detail of the 1804-05 portrait of Beethoven by JW Maher, painted at the time Beethoven was writing his fifth symphony.

Symphony No. 5 in C minor, Op. 67 was composed between 1804 and 1808 when Beethoven was in his late thirties at his lodgings in the Pasqualati House, which also features in The Virtuoso.

He had already written his heart rending Heiligenstadt Testament a couple of years earlier and was still composing despite his tragic descent into deafness. Experts believe he was already 60% deaf by the age of 31 and completely deaf by age 46 in 1816.

The common theme agreed by scholars was that of ‘fate knocking at the door’, of Beethoven expressing his inner turmoil at his deafness and faltering love affairs. Beethoven could not escape his physical destiny, but by sheer force of will he was determined to fulfill his artistic destiny. Ludwig lived in turbulent times and possessed a turbulent temperament!

beethoven-published-cover-to-fifth

I used this context for part 1 of my novel as my protagonist Isabelle Bryant, a world famous violin virtuoso has to deal with the loss of her fingers and ensuing devastation. One publisher kindly reviewed it as ‘a modern day Beethoven story’.

But Sir John Eliot Gardiner’s assertions that this symphony is about so much more really resonate with me. It makes perfect sense that one of the most revolutionary pieces of music of the 19th century (indeed of all-time), is at its heart about a revolution – the most shocking and radical of them all: the French Revolution.

The French Revolution had taken place between 1789 and 1799 when the young Beethoven had been aligned to the ideas of liberté, égalité and fraternité. Freedom and the enlightenment ideals were themes that he drew from more obviously in his epic ninth Symphony for example, but perhaps, due to circumstances, more covertly in his fifth.

“Behold all ye friends of freedom… behold the light you have struck out, after setting America free, reflected to France and there kindled into a blaze that lays despotism in ashes and warms and illuminates Europe. I see the ardour for liberty catching and spreading; …the dominion of kings changed for the dominion of laws, and the dominion of priests giving way to the dominion of reason and conscience.” ~ Richard Price sermon c. 1789

I had not been aware that Beethoven had seriously considered moving to Paris, but as fate would have it he remained in Vienna.

At this point in his career Beethoven was not beholden to the imperial court as earlier composers like Mozart and Haydn had been. He did, however rely on the patronage and support of his wealthy, aristocratic benefactors; the upper class nobility from the privileged echelons of society that ‘the people’ had rallied against in the French Revolution for living in the lap of luxury whilst the poor suffered and starved.

This must have caused some inner conflict for Beethoven. He was dependent on an aristocratic system to produce his life’s work, yet he fervently believed in a meritocracy.

The repercussions of the French Revolution and the execution of the Austrian princess Marie Antoinette reverberated throughout Europe. The subsequent invasion by French Troops of Austria and Vienna, Beethoven’s home and place of work, must have been tough to reconcile.

Although I’m sure Beethoven was sickened like many writers, artists and scholars by the two year reign of Terror and blood bath that Robespierre unleashed, he was still loyal to the principles behind the revolution, if not the manner in which those principles came to fruition. Human nature being what it is, power crazed individuals got out of hand.

Under such delicate political circumstances Beethoven could not afford to be outspoken about revolutionary ideals while living under the noses of the House of Habsburg, who were at war with France. His position would have been tenuous.

Beethoven knew the only way to express his views and convictions was through his music.

And here it is in full, a wonderful new recording by John Eliot Gardiner and the Orchestre Revolutionnaire et Romantiq:

The effect is softer and more textured compared to a modern orchestra because they are playing on period instruments, and as John points out the sound is more pure and authentic. This is how Beethoven intended it to be heard.  These older instruments are being played to the very edge of their capabilities. You would expect nothing less from Ludwig though. It is also performed at a quicker tempo to many other performances at 108 beats per minute, as directed specifically by Beethoven (who loved his metronome).

When I listened to this recording knowing the fervour, idealism, the political upheaval and personal strife of Beethoven it made perfect sense. I listened with new ears and it just blew me away…

Influences

At the beginning of his musical career Beethoven had been tutored at the court palace chapel in Bonn by composer and court organist Christian Gottlob Neefe, who imparted his musical knowledge and love of Bach as well as his radical political views to the impressionable teenage Ludwig. Beethoven studied keyboard, viola and organ.

‘Nous jurons tour, le fer en main’

Beethoven was almost certainly influenced by the Italian born composer Luigi Cherubini, who was living in France and his patriotic Hymne du Pantheon.  The German musicologist Arnold Schmitz (who had influenced conductor John Eliot Gardiner), argued that the opening lyrics of this rousing hymn: Nous jurons tour, le fer en main (we all swear, sword in hand), De mourir pour la Republique (to die for the Republic), et pours les droits du genre humain (and for the rights of man) are the inspiration for the unforgettable opening bars of Beethoven’s fifth symphony.

Drawing of the Pantheon in Paris

Drawing of the Pantheon in Paris

Article in Gramophone magazine by John Eliot Gardiner on this subject.

The belief that no human being had a divine right to rule over another human being was sweeping through Europe and the arts and literature were flourishing.

The desire for a better, more just society can also be heard in the second movement of Beethoven’s fifth with its expansive and gentle melody.  Its beauty and harmony perfectly fit this ethos of a united humanity – except Beethoven does not quite unite us musically by the end of this movement, subduing the chords before they can attain closure.

John Eliot Gardiner sums up the second movement as a kind of prayer by Beethoven for the elevation and evolution of mankind.

Beethoven’s fifth symphony is his way of saying: ‘I believe in the rights of man, I believe in the brotherhood of all men and I believe in political freedom.’

While studying at university in Bonn, Beethoven had been to see Friedrich Schiller’s play, The Robbers, which fuelled his rebellious attitude towards the upper class and economic inequality. Beethoven realised that art (in whatever form) could have a real impact on an audience and on the world.

The popularity of Beethoven’s music for over 200 years proves this universal power of the arts. Great swathes of humanity still live under repression and terrifying violence. It’s still relevant.

Another musical influence is from one of Beethoven’s earlier, more overtly political works, the lieder Der Freie Mann; a poem by Gottleib Konrad Pfeffel set to music in the key of C Major. If you listen carefully you can hear similarities between this music and the opening bars of the 4th movement of his fifth symphony (also in C Major), with its theme of freedom achieved.

Yet more evidence to his state of mind around that time and the revolutionary origins of the fifth symphony. There are also elements of the rising triadic idea from Der Freie Mann used in the second movement of the fifth.

One of Beethoven’s musical sketch books known as Landsberg 6 contains his preliminary ideas for many of his works between 1802 and 1804, including his fifth symphony. The outline of the opening of the first movement is in there, as well as basic ideas for the beginning of the third movement, the Scherzo. The musical motifs are notated as slower but similar to the opening movement, and as John Eliot says, ‘It really does feel like humanity is on the march.’

So without further ado, here is the brilliant documentary which covers more detail than I have time and space for. It’s well worth watching:

I’ll leave you with the words of Monsieur Rouget de Lisle’s Hymne Dithrambique: Chantons la liberte, – la liberte, couronnons sa statue, Comme un nouveau Titan, Le crime est foudroye…

Lisle’s hymne Dithrambique was used by Beethoven as inspiration for the theme of ‘liberty’ in the fourth and final movement of his fifth symphony; Beethoven’s musical culmination of a political and personal utopia.

I’m going to have to listen to it again, it kind of makes you feel invincible!

Celebrating a Monumental Musician and Man: Yehudi Menuhin

“Music creates order out of chaos: for rhythm imposes unanimity upon the divergent, melody imposes continuity upon the disjointed, and harmony imposes compatibility upon the incongruous.” ~ Yehudi Menuhin

When asked to think of a violinist, probably one of the first names that would come to mind is Yehudi Menuhin. I’m going to sound-off a bit (in a good way), as today marks the centenary of his birth, (22nd April 1916).

Yehudi Menuhin violin quote

Perhaps being British I was exposed to his music more than say, the likes of his contemporaries, Jascha Heifetz or David Oistrakh, but he’s undoubtedly one of the giants of the 20th century and revered by many current soloists. Not just for his supreme talent on the violin, or indeed his teaching and music school, or his conducting, but for also for his humanitarian work and contributions to the world of classical music as a whole.

A child prodigy, he first studied under Louis Persinger and later Romanian violinist and composer, George Enescu.

You could say he was truly a citizen of the world, born in the USA to Russian Jewish parent’s he became a Swiss citizen in 1970 and a British citizen in 1985. He performed all over the world during his illustrious career.

Yehud Menuhin on music

His recording contract with EMI was the longest in the history of the music industry, lasting almost 70 years from his first recording aged thirteen in 1929, to his final recording aged eighty three in 1999. He recorded over 300 works both as a violinist and conductor.

His legacy lives on in the form of his music school in Surrey (where Adelia Myslov, the violinist who recorded the soundtrack for my novel, The Virtuoso, attended). Adelia spoke of performing with him and I could see they were very special memories for her.

Yehudi Menuhin_1976

So many of his You Tube clips are from those halcyon days of black and white; truly vintage performances that I love. For me, Menuhin was the embodiment of virtuosity, his style was romantic without being sentimental, his musicality and phrasing was exquisite. I’ll share some of my favourite performances of his throughout this post.

“In playing Beethoven the violinist should be a medium. There is little that is personal or that can be reduced to ingratiating sounds, pleasing slides and so on. Everything is dictated by the significance, the weight, structure and direction of the notes and passages themselves.” ~ Yehudi menuhin

Rather than populate this post with tons of text, I’d rather give you his voice and music…

A Violonist in Hollywood – Yehudi Menuhin in coversation with Humprey Burton:

The focus of the film is on previously unreleased footage from the legendary Hollywood music film, Concert Magic from the year 1947. In interviews and conversations with his biographer Humphrey Burton, Yehudi Menuhin recalls the origin of the film, the war and post-war era in America and Germany. Special attention is paid to his commitment to the victims of World War II. These include great artists forced into American exile such as fellow musician Béla Bartók.

During the Second World War Yehudi Menuhin helped to raise the spirits of war victims and refugee children with numerous concerts. He supported artists in American exile, performed for an audience of freed prisoners of the concentration camp Bergen-Belsen, and in war ravaged Berlin he played demonstratively under the baton of Wilhelm Furtwängler.

Looking back at the mid-1940’s it is clear to see with what passion Menuhin linked his goals of musical excellence with a dedication to social causes. He used music to plead for justice and reconciliation often against strong resistance.

“Each human being has the eternal duty of transforming what is hard and brutal into a subtle and tender offering, what is crude into refinement, what is ugly into beauty, ignorance into knowledge, confrontation into collaboration, thereby rediscovering the child’s dream of a creative reality incessantly renewed by death, the servant of life, and by life the servant of love.” ~ Yehudi Menuhin

Yehudi Menuhin School

The Menuhin School was set up in 1963 for musically gifted children and is based in beautiful grounds at Stoke d’Abernon near Cobham in Surrey. I attended a classical concert there last year when Adelia was performing with Craig White; many of the school’s alumni are invited to return. It’s the spiritual home of violin tuition, with Lord Menuhin’s grave located in the grounds near the performance hall.

Menuhin grave

Violinist David Hope was lucky enough to be taught and mentored by Yehudi Menuhin, and talks about his journey with the late maestro and also his latest album, My Tribute to Yehudi Menuhin:

Current violinists fortunate to have been taught by Lord Menuhin include Nigel Kennedy, Nicola Benedetti, Paul Coletti and Peter Tanfield.

The Menuhin Competition

Set up in 1983, this is the world’s foremost violin completion for young musicians under 22. The Menuhin Competition is held every two years in different locations around the world. Past winners include Julia Fischer, Ray Chen, Lara St. John, Tasmin Little and Ilya Gringolts. The 2016 final was won earlier this month by Chinese violinist Ziyu He.

“I would hate to think I am not an amateur. An amateur is one who loves what he is doing. Very often, I’m afraid, the professional hates what he is doing. So, I’d rather be an amateur.” ~ Yehudi Menuhin

Instruments

As you would expect from a musician of his calibre Yehudi Menuhin played on several famous violins, the most famous of which was the Lord Wilton Guarnerius of 1742.  Among his other violins were the Giovanni Bussetto 1680, the Giovanni Grancino 1695, the Guarneri filius Andrea 1703, the Soil Stradivarius, the Prince Khevenhüller 1733 Stradivarius, and the Guarneri del Gesù 1739.

David Fulton - current owner of the 1742 Lord Wilton ex Yehudi Menuhin Guarnerius

David Fulton – current owner of the 1742 Lord Wilton ex Yehudi Menuhin Guarnerius

I couldn’t find a clip where I could be sure Menuhin was performing on his Lord Wilton, but I have found one of James Ehnes playing Tchaikovsky’s Melody on it in 2012.  He made a series of recordings on famous Stradivari and Guarneri del Gesu violins. It seems to possess a very rich, deep and powerful tone.

Performance clips

The Menuhin Century: (Ave Maria, Flight of the Bumblebee):

I think I’m going to have to purchase this!

Beethoven Violin Concerto in D major, Op. 61 with the London Symphony Orchestra and Sir Colin Davis in 1962:

Yehudi Menuhin, aged 22 performing the Mendelssohn violin concerto in E minor, Op. 64 with his teacher, George Enescu conducting:

I absolutely adore his Bach Chaconne solo!

An iconic recording with David Oistrakh of Bach’s Double Violin Concerto in D minor:

The second movement of Paganini’s Violin Concerto No.1in D Major:

A fabulous vintage video of Menuhin in rehearsal and performance of Mozart’s Violin Concerto No. 3 in G Major, KV 216:

A vintage recording of Menuhin performing Edward Elgar’s Violin Concerto with Elgar conducting the LSO:

Menuhin plays the dramatic third movement of the Saint-Saëns Violin Concerto No. 3 in B minor, Op. 61 with the LSO:

Tchaikovsky’s Sérénade Mélancolique with the RPO:

Teaching

 Violin Tutorial – Left Hand First Exercises:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mvV4A6lz-0w 

Left Hand Playing:

Keeping it in the family 

Performing with his sister Yaltah (on the piano), in a feisty rendition of Sarasate’s Habanera:

Accompanied by his son Jeremy Menuhin playing Beethoven’s ‘Spring sonata’ in F Major:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=CQUzCeIcFnw 

Menuhin performs Beethoven’s ‘Archduke’ Trio in 1974 with Rostropovich and Kempff:

Collaborations

Indian Classical Music with Ravi Shankar, Alla Rakha and Yehudi Menuhin:

Yehudi Menuhin & Ravi Shankar – Tenderness:

In his jazz mood with Stephane Grappelli! Autumn Leaves:

Jacob Gade’s tango – Jalousie:

I haven’t really touched on the technical difficulties he faced in the latter part of his career, because despite his virtuosic decline he was always an outstanding musician, conductor and human being.

Poster at the performance hall of Yehudi Menuhin School

Poster at the performance hall of Yehudi Menuhin School

“Actually, I was gazing in my usual state of being half absent in my own world and half in the present. I have usually been able to ‘retire’ in this way. I was also thinking that my life was tied up with the instrument and would I do it justice?” ~ Yehudi Menuhin

5 Valuable Lessons I Learned From Writing a Novel

“After nourishment, shelter and companionship, stories are the thing we need most in the world.” ~ Philip Pullman

When someone reads a book they are going on a journey. That person has invested hours of their life travelling in the mind of the author, wanting nothing more than to reach the end if it’s an exciting adventure…

Book and hands closeup

The fictional dream is a powerful phenomenon. There’s been many a time I couldn’t stand not knowing what was going to happen next because I was totally engrossed in a story. Equally there were moments when my imagination was in overdrive and I was writing so fast there must have been steam coming off my keyboard.

Just as the benefits of reading impact on the reader, the action of writing imbues blessings on the writer.

I’m willing to bet even famous and seasoned novelists still get a rush of joy when they read a good review of their work. It’s a kind of validation that the thing they love doing and can’t live without is somehow contributing to another person’s life in a positive way.

Twitter_-_stephanie_comments

That’s certainly the case for me as a newbie author. But beyond those feel good factors there are some profound and deep things I discovered about myself in the process of writing and publishing The Virtuoso, that go way beyond recognition or financial success.

It may not be a literary masterpiece in the same ilk as Hilary Mantel’s, or as epic as War and Peace, but it’s my story, told with my ‘voice’.

In the spirit of sharing I thought it would be helpful to list my personal lessons, in case you were thinking of writing your magnum opus or best-seller this year! It could equally apply to any large project that you have decided to undertake in 2016.

  1. I’m a finisher. The first time I wrote the words The End a feeling of euphoria swept over me, but alas, it didn’t last very long! When I saw the quality of my first draft I was less than impressed and soon realised that it was going to take an awful lot of hard work to produce something of a respectable standard. After umpteen late nights, a further three drafts and two professional edits my 100,000 word manuscript was ready to go out into the big wide world.  So what if it took a few years of consistent effort alongside my daily life; what means more to me is that I completed it.
  2. I have more courage than I thought I did. Sending your carefully crafted words out there is scary as hell! What if people don’t like what you’ve written? Neuroses plagued me. But I reasoned that ultimately it wasn’t important what people thought of me as a writer, the only thing that mattered was the book. The message not the messenger. After my book was published I did three radio interviews, which the thought of doing absolutely terrified me at first. I spent most of last year way out of my comfort zone. But action cures fear. I was doing things I had never done before and conquering them, which is incredibly liberating and expands one’s horizons and confidence.
  3. The act of writing made me believe in myself. Although I visualised my book in print, I didn’t dwell on thinking about writing, I just did it. That created a real shift in my perception and before long my abilities. My creativity blossomed under the hat of hard work. I met and worked with two incredibly talented people as a result of my ‘creation’. The wonderful violinist Adelia Myslov and film composer Tim Johnson collaborated with me to write and perform a unique classical soundtrack to accompany The Virtuoso. Creativity begets creativity…
  4. I developed patience and perseverance. That lesson didn’t come easily either. I’ve had to work at becoming more patient and my book tested me to the limit! The time it took to write the thing, then get feedback, then polish and get more feedback and so on seemed interminable.  Had it not been a labour of love I never would have stuck at it. Even the submission stage was a lengthy process, never mind how long it took to build up some reviews. They were worth waiting for as it turned out.
  5. I learnt to trust my instincts and to forgive myself for my mistakes. Perfection is great to aim for, but in reality we sometimes have to settle for our best at the time. Our maiden voyage in any endeavour is likely to be a little awkward and unsure. Can you remember the first time you rode a bike, drove a car, made love, played a musical instrument or learnt a new skill? Maybe you fell off a few times, fumbled nervously, dropped a few notes and irritated another driver with that daring manoeuvre at the roundabout? So too it is with writing and publishing a book. No experience is ever wasted; you just don’t always get what you expect from it, but rather what you need instead.

Ultimately your lessons will be unique to you, depending on where you’re coming from and they’ll probably surprise you.

Somehow the right people came into my life at the right time, and the support was there when I needed it. I’m very grateful to Satin Publishing for unleashing my words, and everyone who’s been a part of my writing/publishing journey.

Above all, I’ve managed to widen back and go with the flow a bit more. On the other hand, if you do feel inclined to read The Virtuoso I’d be very happy indeed!

And if you also wrote a review I’d be ecstatic!

I’ll leave you with the music that only exists because of the dream that was The Virtuoso

So, whatever you’re planning to achieve this year, go for it!

“There’s always room for a story that can transport people to another place.” ~ J.K. Rowling

Chatting about #NaNoWriMo, Writing and #TheVirtuoso Live on Marlow FM

I’m going to let my voice do all the talking on this post!

I’d like to say a big thank you to Jean Wolfe (@jeanspark) for having me as her guest on Friday 6th November to talk about writing on her BizBuzz show. Jean broadcasts every Friday afternoon at 2 pm on Marlow FM.  She was such a warm, welcoming and knowledgeable host and I really enjoyed our conversation.

Jean at Marlow FM

The goal of NaNoWriMo is write 50K words in a month! I’m using this month to get my next trilogy of novels off the ground.

I don’t want to repeat everything we discussed on air, so without further ado here is the link to the interview which will be available with all the music interludes for the next three weeks.

I was delighted to be on my local radio station Marlow FM (@MarlowFM), especially as there are a few scenes in The Virtuoso that take place in the town!

in the Marlow FM studio

And before I forget, here is Schubert’s marvellous String Quartet ‘Death and the Maiden’ (same title as my next trilogy) that we discussed in the interview:

Thanks for listening! I’d appreciate any constructive feedback, I did make an effort not to um and ah too much…

Thoughts on Nature Vs. Nurture

Prospero: A devil, a born devil on whose nature Nurture can never stick, on whom my pains, Humanely taken, all, all lost, quite lost. And as with age his body uglier grows, So his mind cankers. I will plague them all, Even to roaring. ~ William Shakespeare (The Tempest).

We can thank Shakespeare for the concept of nature and nurture, as elucidated by Prospero in The Tempest about the ‘foul’ Caliban.

George Romney - William Shakespeare's The Tempest - Act 1, Scene 1

George Romney – William Shakespeare’s The Tempest – Act 1, Scene 1

During my recent author interview with Viv Oyolu at Dream Corner – which gives inspiring women a voice – we talked about my novel, The Virtuoso, life and dreams. Towards the end of the interview we discussed children and education, and Viv mentioned that as someone who doesn’t have kids she was able to look objectively at how parents raise their children.

family-holding hands

She mentioned the nature/nurture scenario and it got me thinking. The nature vs. nurture debate has long been hit about the court of public and professional opinion like an endless ping pong, so as a mum of four, with some experience of nurture, I thought I’d serve up my take on it.

From a maternal perspective nature deals the earthly hand, whereas nurture gives a helping, developing hand. It’s a team effort!

We’re born with specific physical attributes, personality traits, various talents, but our future success and happiness in the world depends largely on how nurture shapes and molds these raw ingredients that we have to work with.

dancing

Rather than asking which one is better, or which one has the most influence, I think we should consider the possibility that the two are co-dependent and therefore inextricably linked.

Max Macdowell explains the basic question of Nature Vs. Nurture:

It’s a complex interaction of genes and environment that shape who we are, and more importantly, who we can become. Nature without nurture and vice-versa means that we face greater challenges in reaching our true potential.

seven-psycho-perspect

Nurture can come from different sources, but early in life it’s predominantly from our parents or another caring adult.

I saw a fascinating and moving programme on BBC 4 Sunday evening about two identical Chinese girl twins. I missed the very start, but basically the two had been separated at birth and adopted in China at the same time by two different families, one living in Norway and the other in North America. The two families, (having met in China) only found out for sure that their adopted daughters were twin sisters six months after they have been caring for them.

Mia and Alexandra eventually met and got to know each other, distance and language challenges notwithstanding. Both are growing up in loving homes, albeit in different cultural and environmental circumstances, yet when visiting the other family their mothers noticed shared behavioural tendencies in the twin daughter.

A fun and interesting talk from experimental pyschologist, linguist and cognitive scientist Steven Pinker, about his book, Human Nature and The Blank Slate, where he focuses on the arts and parenting:

Interestingly, British runner Mo Farah, now one of the most successful athletes in the world, has a twin brother in Somalia, who he used to race against as a child before he came to the UK. Mo didn’t always win. Today Mo’s brother is a car mechanic. He may be very happy with that, but it’s obvious that environment/nurture played a massive role in how their lives and careers diverged.

Trauma in childhood can be a massive hurdle to overcome. You may have great genes, but a terrible environment. How do some people achieve and emerge victorious from their circumstances, and yet others don’t?

Earlier this year I learned the story  of Mohed Altrad, which blew me away. I recommend you read his inspiring story: From Bedouin to Billionaire.

Here is an example of a young and vulnerable boy losing his mother in a cruel twist of fate, an outcast even among the Bedouins, yet he had the strength of character to understand that school would give him the nurture he needed to escape his environment. His story strongly supports my view that nurture can also be an inside job.

If you intend to nurture your abilities and dreams the people and circumstances who can help you will show up. It reminds me of this Zen proverb:

“When the student is ready, the teacher will appear.”

On the other side of the coin I’ve heard stories of child prodigies and young musicians in particular, (Mozart is the most famous example of this), who learnt one or more instruments at an early age. Many were propelled by their parents who recognised and encouraged their musical talent and actively supported them in attaining their musical goals. In Mozart’s case his nature trump card was a brilliant mind, but it’s unthinkable that he would have been the sensation he was without some serious nurturing from his family, (especially  his father Leopold), tutors as well as wealthy and influential patrons!

It’s the same with many achievers, whether they’re athletes, dancers, entrepreneurs, artists, writers, actors and so on…they had teachers, coaches, supporters and benefactors.  I suppose the bottom line is, if you don’t have the genetic makeup (physique) to be an athlete, then no amount of coaching will get you the gold medal. It has to be a combination of both.

nature-vs-nurture

There are also stories of talented people not achieving all they could in life because they just didn’t develop resilience, persistence and self-belief, which to me is also product of nurture. Reading a book and learning from the author is nurture. You may not know that person, but they can still help you.

The backbone of being nurtured is being loved and cared for. It also encompasses education, home environment, a healthy diet, sleep, being out in nature, learning skills, enjoying hobbies, having a mentor and the desire for a better life.

But is there such a thing as negative nurture? You only have to study religious fanaticism to understand that the wrong kind of nurturing produces evil deeds.

Nature or Nurture? Through the Wormhole with Morgan Freeman explores the link between genes and poverty in studies of twins:

It seems to me they are surmising that the more nurture a person receives the more nature comes to the fore.

Yet the facts of Mohed Altrad’s life buck this trend. Whilst it seems fair to say that poverty radically decreases one’s chances of fully expressing inbuilt genetic benefits, the rags to riches stories mean you can’t write people off just because of their socioeconomic background. They have faced and overcome challenges that those in more privileged positions haven’t and so develop an inner strength that can influence everything.

Sheer intention, imagination, determination, faith and deeply felt dreams can surely elevate nature and provide nurture to any individual’s circumstances?

Sometimes a person can have everything going for them and still squander it all. Perhaps there is such a thing as too easy a life?!

Maybe there’s an extra dimension to this conundrum…

What about the human spirit/soul? Does it have a pre-set blueprint (Karma) for life on Earth? What if we assumed for a moment that it has a divine nature and exists beyond time and space? If it isn’t genetic, and it isn’t defined by its earthly environment, how does it interact in the trilogy of Spirit Vs. Nature Vs. Nurture?

I thought I’d share this wonderful lecture given by Professor Steve Jones at Gresham College, in which he explains about genes and environment and their interaction beautifully. Nature, Nurture or Neither? The View from the Genes:

In conclusion I feel I may have asked more questions than I answered! But to me, it seems that a human being born in good health, with properly functioning genes, but neglected as an infant without a shred of nurture will perish, just as an individual born without robust genetic material will either die or have health problems despite nurturing.

Ultimately, for a person blessed with a sound body and mind by nature and given enough of the right kind of nurture, the sky’s the limit!