Friday, July 17, 2015


What's left for us in this life when there is so little beyond it


I will not enter the fake debate about whether Biber was only a Catholic on the surface forced to be so as a survivor of the 30 year war in Bohemia, three quarters of the population of which had been eliminated either by systematic extermination or by post-war epidemics. Is there any Hussite in this Catholic composer? Probably because no one can never ever eradicate the deepest nature of a person even generations later and the 30 year war was a trauma for Bohemia and the surviving Bohemians of the most terrifying and utterly sickening nature. One can silence the expression of that trauma but can never get rid of it and it will come back at any moment in unforeseen places. And we will see that later.

I am more fascinated by the violin. Some say Biber is a virtuoso violin player and composer for his time. But he is not the virtuoso of too many notes. He is very limited and concentrated in notes but his originality is that he plays with the violin as a multifarious animal that can be tuned, detuned and retuned at will to be tamed by the violinist and composer at will, and this recording gives you the chords of the four strings systematically piece after piece and you can see how rich that use of the instrument is. But what’s the result? What is the mystery of this violin?

Biber is able to emphasize another quality of the violin. It is an introspective instrument that is far more effective in sorting out one’s feelings than describing outside scenes. The violin can maybe meow like a cat but that is good enough for Vivaldi and his seasons, four by the way, what a banality! Biber uses his violin as a great mental and spiritual contemplative mirror in which you can contemplate all the dozens of seasons of your own psyche. The violin can be so narcissistic that some might run away because so many people are afraid of seeing their real faces.

So what, then, and what about Biber’s sonatas? Far from telling us the story of Jesus – a story we are supposed to know by heart and on the very tips of our ten fingers if not also our ten toes – Biber  tells us how he feels in front of this story. The dominant tone is that it is the saddest story you can tell that maybe brings the brightest promise you can dream of? And there we can say Biber is a composer of his time, of his devastated Bohemia, of his predetermined faith.  And you can feel, experience, sense and appreciate this immense suffering in the concluding sonata in one movement, the Passacaglia.

Let’s get into his feelings and sufferings, his hopes and destiny if we can. In this voracious death targeting life what’s left is the power of a heart against all that insane violence. The final and long Passacaglia. Sad, sadder, saddest! A lamenting lamento! A tenebrous tenebrae! A descending descent into the bowels of the earth, I mean death! A dirge even! What do we have left when life is reduced to being crucified on the cross of life we produce ourselves for the sake of forces we neither control nor really identify. We kiss their hands or their rings. We bow in front of them and kiss their shoes if they order us to. And our happiness is limited to that submission. We only have for ourselves and our satisfaction our forlornness and our forsakenness. Because that is what we are. Forlorn and forsaken in a blind alley called life that only leads to death. We can dream onanistically of redemption, of the mind of course because there is no salvation for the body. But we are vain believers because that redemption will only come on the other side of this everyday suffering when we will have no body to suffer with and actually no mind to make any difference between pain and bliss.

That’s what comes out of these mysteries. It costs you nothing to believe in that Catholic or whatever redemption as long as it will have no impact or effect on your life, except that it might provide you with the possibility to survive and the means not to starve. But as for the spiritual enlightenment that will be nothing but a pale burning light in your imagination, alienation and illusions. But if that provides you with soup and gruel take it and say thank you to be sure to get more.

I listened to that Passacaglia in G minor four times and each time I went down lower and lower into the darkness of a benighted cave where there is no light at all to project any shadow on the wall. Poor Plato! No cave, no shadows, nothing. We are nothing but a cruel blood lust in an animal body that is so weak that we have invented all possible weapons to make other people suffer and to kill them, after they have enjoyed the slow approach to that final moment in as much pain as possible.

Is that the Hussite in Biber? Probably, maybe, but it is also the deepest sadness a man can experience in front of his frightening sadistic nature.


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