Monday, May 31, 2010

Ludwig van Beethoven : A Letter & The Eroica

For my brothers Carl and [Johann] Beethoven

Oh you men who think or say that I am malevolent, stubborn, or misanthropic, how greatly do you wrong me? You do not know the secret cause which makes me seem that way to you. From childhood on, me heart and soul have been full of the tender feeling of goodwill, and I was ever inclined to accomplish great things. But, think that for six years now I have been hopelessly afflicted, made worse by senseless physicians, from year to year deceived with hopes of improvement, finally compelled to face the prospect of a lasting malady (whose cure will take years or, perhaps, be impossible). Though born with a fiery, active temperament, even susceptible to the diversions of society, I was soon compelled to withdraw myself, to live life alone. If at times I tried to forget all this, oh how harshly I was I flung back by the doubly sad experience of my bad hearing. Yet it was impossible for me to say to people, "Speak louder, shout, for I am deaf." Ah, how could I possibly admit an infirmity in the one sense which ought to be more perfect in me than others, a sense which I once possessed in the highest perfection, a perfection such as few in my profession enjoy or ever have enjoyed.--Oh I cannot do it; therefore forgive me when you see me draw back when I would have gladly mingled with you.

My misfortune is doubly painful to me because I am bound to be misunderstood; for me there can be no relaxation with my fellow men, no refined conversations, no mutual exchange of ideas. I must live almost alone, like one who has been banished; I can mix with society only as much as true necessity demands. If I approach near to people a hot terror seizes upon me, and I fear being exposed to the danger that my condition might be noticed. Thus it has been during the last six months which I have spent in the country. By ordering me to spare my hearing as much as possible, my intelligent doctor almost fell in with my own present frame of mind, though sometimes I ran counter to it by yielding to my desire for companionship. But what a humiliation for me when someone standing next to me heard a flute in the distance and I heard nothing, or someone heard a shepherd singing and again I heard nothing. Such incidents drove me almost to despair; a little more of that and I would have ended me life -- it was only my art that held me back. Ah, it seemed to me impossible to leave the world until I had brought forth all that I felt was within me. So I endured this wretched existence -- truly wretched for so susceptible a body, which can be thrown by a sudden change from the best condition to the very worst. -- Patience, they say, is what I must now choose for my guide, and I have done so -- I hope my determination will remain firm to endure until it pleases the inexorable Parcae to break the thread. Perhaps I shall get better, perhaps not; I am ready. -- Forced to become a philosopher already in my twenty-eighth year, oh it is not easy, and for the artist much more difficult than for anyone else. 'Divine one, thou seest me inmost soul thou knowest that therein dwells the love of mankind and the desire to do good'. Oh fellow men, when at some point you read this, consider then that you have done me an injustice; someone who has had misfortune man console himself to find a similar case to his, who despite all the limitations of Nature nevertheless did everything within his powers to become accepted among worthy artists and men. 'You, my brothers Carl and [Johann], as soon as I am dead, if Dr. Schmidt is still alive, ask him in my name to describe my malady, and attach this written documentation to his account of my illness so that so far as it possible at least the world may become reconciled to me after my death".

At the same time, I declare you two to be the heirs to my small fortune (if so it can be called); divide it fairly; bear with and help each other. What injury you have done me you know was long ago forgiven. To you, brother Carl, I give special thanks for the attachment you have shown me of late. It is my wish that you may have a better and freer life than I have had. Recommend virtue to your children; it alone, not money, can make them happy. I speak from experience; this was what upheld me in time of misery. Thanks to it and to my art, I did not end my life by suicide -- Farewell and love each other -- I thank all my friends, particularly Prince Lichnowsky's and Professor Schmidt -- I would like the instruments from Prince L. to be preserved by one of you, but not to be the cause of strife between you, and as soon as they can serve you a better purpose, then sell them. How happy I shall be if can still be helpful to you in my grave -- so be it. -- With joy I hasten to my death. -- If it comes before I have had the chance to develop all my artistic capacities, it will still be coming too soon despite my harsh fate, and I should probably wish it later -- yet even so I should be happy, for would it not free me from a state of endless suffering? -- Come when thou wilt, I shall meet thee bravely. -- Farewell and do not wholly forget me when I am dead; I deserve this from you, for during my lifetime I was thinking of you often and of ways to make you happy -- please be so --

~ Ludwig van Beethoven

Heiligenstadt, October 6th, 1802

Known as The Heiligenstadt Testament, this letter was written by Beethoven in 1802. He was running 33 then. That year marked the culmination of Beethoven's personal and artistic crises. This unsent letter, addressed to his brothers, was discovered in his room after his death in 1827. Heiligenstadt is a small village located in the north of Vienna, surrounded by forests. Heeding to the advice of his doctor, Beethoven stayed at this village and took long strolls in the forests. His hearing problem became acute and he underwent a deep sense of anguish and loneliness at this failing faculty. The certainty of turning irreversibly deaf loomed large in the horizon. He realised that he would never be able to hear the sound of a distant flute or a sheperd's song again. This was an insurmountable tragedy for Beethoven as he had one of the sharpest ears in the history of humanity. At the personal front, his first love Giulietta Guicciardi turned down his proposal in the same year of 1802, as she hailed from the nobility and Beethoven was a commoner. Giulietta went away from the life of Beethoven to get married to some Count in the next year. All this led Beethoven to enter into depression and melancholy.

The mystery of life is that when one door closes, another one opens. More so, if one is bestowed with that Grace. Such a magical transformation happened during the Spring and Autumn of 1802 for Beethoven, who then emerged out more strongly. He overcame the despondency and surged out with creative flourish at the end of this disquieting episode. Shortly after writing The Heiligenstadt Testament in the form of the above letter, he completed his Second Symphony and began to work on Symphony No.3, the Eroica in 1802. During the same year, he had composed his Sonata No.14, also known as the Moonlight Sonata. It remains as one of the most beautiful of the 32 piano sonatas composed by Beethoven during his 57 years of living. Beethoven dedicated the Moonlight Sonata to his first love Giulietta. The immense energy and strength to Beethoven to continue his life's journey sprang out of the turbulence he underwent during 1802, creating masterly symphonies till his last and immortal Ninth Symphony, by which time he had become completely deaf. Out of the 16 string quartets composed by Beethoven, he aptly called his slow moving Fifteenth Quartet as a Holy Song of Thanks to Divinity, from one made well. This was one of the few last compostions of Beethoven composed during 1825, a few months before his death. Upon hearing this Quartet, his contemporary Franz Schubert is said to have remarked, "After this, what is left for us to write?".

Beethoven's Symphony No.3 was named by Beethoven himself as Eroica, which in Italian means the heroic. The work for this composition, though began in 1802, had got completed in 1804. This particular composition of Beethoven is regarded in the history of Western Classical Music to herald the end of Classical period and the beginning of the Romantic era. The Romantic musical form was the predominant musical form of the 19th Century and lasted upto the first decade of the 20th Century. The greatest composers of Romantic period include Hector Berlioz, Felix Mendelssohn, Frederic Chopin, Franz Liszt, Giuseppe Verdi, Richard Wagner, Johannes Brahms, Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky, Antonin Dvorak, Nokolai Rimsky-Korsakov, Leos Janacek and ending with Gustav Mahler, from whom Modernism began in music during the 20th Century. To put it in perspective, the most significant composers of the Classical era of the 18th Century are Joseph Haydn and Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart. And the greatest composers of the preceding Baroque period of the 17th Century to mid-18th Century are Johann Sebastian Bach and Antonio Lucio Vivaldi. Each period in the history of Western Classical Music, starting from the post-Renaissance Baroque to the Modernism of the 20th Century, exhibit distinct attributes and unique characteristics in tune with the developments in other forms of art and human endeavour, along with the socio-economic changes in Europe. Each musical era along with their respective composers require detailed elaboration and in-depth understanding to appreciate Western Classical Music in better light. We shall try to venture into it, whenever an opportune moment emerges to do so. But before endeavouring further, one should cultivate the art of listening. One should learn how to be all ears. To nature, to human beings and to life. Then only one can listen to music.

Beethoven's Eroica has four movements in it. The four movements of this masterly Symphony can be related to the turmoil Beethoven had undergone during 1802.  The music critic John William Navin Sullivan, in his elaborate work Beethoven (1927), wrote that the first movement is an expression of Beethoven's courage in confronting his deafness, the second, slow and dirgelike, depicting the overwhelming despair he felt, the third, the scherzo, an indomitable uprising of creativity and the fourth an exuberant outpouring of creative energy. Beethoven had originally conceived of dedicating this symphony to Napoleon Bonaparte. But he got disgusted when Napoleon declared himself to be an Emperor in 1804 and tore the title page of the Symphony into pieces and threw it away. The title page of the composition was re-copied by Beethoven and then he re-named it as the Eroica. Though the entire Symphony No. 3 of Beethoven with all its four movements should be listened together to get a complete feel of it, my most favourite piece is the fourth movement of Eroica, especially the one conducted by one of the greatest conductors of 20th Century, Herbert von Karajan of Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra. For me, this particular masterpiece of Beethoven signifies the triumph of Eros over Thanatos. It is a grand celebration of the joie de vivre of existence. It is the one of the most profound homages to the Divine Grace which eternally blesses life on Earth.

Thursday, May 13, 2010

Tango ~ To Love In Dance..

South America is one of the most fascinating continents on Earth. It is the land of the Mayan and the Incan civilisations - two of the greatest epochs in the history of mankind. The face of this glorious land was transfigured beyond recognition by the end of the 15th Century, due to the voyages of Christopher Columbus which were funded by Queen Isabella I of Spain. It paved way for the invasion of the New World by the Spanish conquistadores and their subsequent colonisation, having far-reaching implications in the multi-faceted culture of this beautiful continent. The arrogance, the madness and the folly of the Spanish colonisers have been meticulously captured in the epic movie Aguirre, the Wrath of God by Werner Herzog, with Herzog's fiend Klaus Kinski giving an immortal performance. The Spanish conquest of indigenous peoples of the Americas resulted in exploitation of the natives who were converted into forced labour. Along with the colonisers came their dreadful diseases, most importantly small pox. It wiped out a vast majority of the natives leading to a massive labour shortage for the colonisers to cultivate their plantations. Consequently, the Spanish colonisers got involved in the Trans-Atlantic Slave Trade.    

The innocent villagers from the West and Central Africa were violently captured, kidnapped and shipped to the New World, comprising of both the North and South Americas. Out there in the wilderness of both the Americas, the African villagers, who had by then become slaves, were sold as forced labourers to work in the plantations and mines of the European colonisers. Alex Haley's captivating novel Roots : The Saga of an American Family gives a profound glimpse on the history of Blacks in America. Alex Haley has colourfully fictionalised his journey to discover his genealogical roots upto his seventh generation ancestor Kunta Kinte, who was captured in Gambia and shipped to America in 1767. The slave trade flourished from the 16th to the 19th centuries, during which about 1.2 crores of Africans arrived in the New World, excluding the substantial number of people who died onboard the ships due to varied fatalities that happened during enslavement. Maafa is the term given by the Black scholars to denote the slave trade primarily of African people. In Swahili, it means the African Holocaust or the Holocaust of Enslavement.

The history of the last five centuries of both North and South Americas is a blood-soaked palimpsest. It is drenched with the blood and sweat of two different streams of highly respectable and culturally sophisticated human beings. On the one side, it comprised of the millions of native Americans of various indigenous origins including the Aztecs, the Mayans and the Incans. And on the other side, it constituted more than 12 million Africans of varied ethnicities originating from Western and Central Africa. When these diverse communities started communicating with each other, with the mediation of European Modernity, newer forms of artistic expressions emerged on the horizon. From the turn of the 19th century, there was a creative effulgence across South and North Americas in all the domains of art : music, dance and literature. And one such creative zenith was accomplished by modern civilisation with the emergence of a dance form called Tango.

Tango is a modern dance form which originated in the middle of the 19th century in Argentina, Uruguay and Brazil. It is said to have been shaped by the dance rituals of Candomble cult, which emerged from the synthesis of some of the native Brazilian religions with the Yoruba religion of the African diaspora from Nigeria. During the Candomble ceremony, the Supreme Being called as Olorun sends the venerated spirit of the ancestors called Orixa, embedded in the anima or the soul of Nature. The Orixa would possess those who participate in the dance ritual, make them go into a trance and heal their souls. During the 19th century, the Candomble was banned by the Catholic Church and was even criminalised by some governments. No wonder, artistic creativity has always been an anathema for any organised religion and the modern nation-state.

Tango is a social dance which has its roots in the working-class slums of Buenos Aires. The music of Tango is derived from the fusion of various genres of music from Europe. To Tango is to walk with a partner in music. Tango is essentially to dance with one's partner with a rhythm in the body movement from head to toe. It is a silent conversation between the two bodies in unison. Tango happens when the eyes and the bodies speak to each other. Without any word or sound. The basic elements of Tango are : the embrace, the walk and the music. The styles of the Tango are varied from place to place. But the underlying themes of any good Tango are its playfulness and musicality. The axes of two bodies merge into one another as they dance in love. It is the most intimate artistic expression which depicts the yearning for communion between two bodies, mind and soul. When two beings who are intimately in love starts to Tango, the ancestors would appear on the sky to watch it with joy. The spirit of the  Orixa would be beckoned by the God Olorun to bless the loving souls to confluence with each other..

(You Tube shared above : A Tango composition from one of the greatest 100 movies of 20th Century, as per my rating : Tango, directed by the Spanish director Carlos Saura in 1998. The cinematography is by Vittorio Storaro, a master in the art of capturing shadow and light.)

Sunday, May 9, 2010

Rabindranath Tagore : Fruit~Gathering


I woke and found his letter with the morning.

I do not know what it says, for I cannot read.

I shall leave the wise man alone with his books, I shall not trouble him, for who knows if he can read what the letter says.

Let me hold it to my forehead and press it to my heart.

When the night grows still and stars come out one by one I will spread it on my lap and stay silent.

The rustling leaves will read it aloud to me, the rushing stream will chant it, and the seven wise stars will sing it to me from the sky.

I cannot find what I seek, I cannot understand what I would learn; but this unread letter has lightened my burdens and turned my thoughts into songs.


You took my hand and drew me to your side, made me sit on the high seat before all men, till I became timid, unable to stir and walk my own way; doubting and debating at every step lest I should tread upon any thorn of their disfavour.

I am freed at last!

The blow has come, the drum of insult sounded, my seat is laid low in the dust.

My paths are open before me.

My wings are full of the desire of the sky.

I go to join the shooting stars of midnight, to plunge into the profound shadow.

I am like the storm-driven cloud of summer that, having cast off its crown of gold, hangs as a sword the thunderbolt upon a chain of lightning.

In desperate joy I run upon the dusty path of the despised; I draw near to your final welcome.

The child finds its mother when it leaves her womb.

When I am parted from you, thrown out from your household, I am free to see your face.


My portion of the best in this world will come from your hands : such was your promise.

Therefore your light glistens in my tears.

I fear to be led by others lest I miss you waiting in some road corner to be my guide.

I walk my own wilful way till my very folly tempts you to my door.

For I have your promise that my portion of the best in this world will come from your hands.


This autumn morning is tired with excess of light, and if your songs grow fitful and languid give me your flute awhile.

I shall but play with it as the whim takes me - now take it on my lap, now touch it with my lips, now keep it by my side on the grass.

But in the solemn evening stillness I shall gather flowers, to deck it with wreaths, I shall fill it with fragrance; I shall worship it with the lighted lamp.

Then at night I shall come to you and give you back your flute.

You will play on it the music of midnight when the lonely crescent moon wanders among the stars.


I found a few old letters of mine carefully hidden in her box - a few small toys for her memory to play with.

With a timorous heart she tried to steal these trifles from time's turbulent stream, and said, "These are mine only!"

Ah, there is no one now to claim them, who can pay their price with loving care, yet here they are still.

Surely there is love in this world to save her from utter loss, even like this love of hers that saved these letters with such fond care.


I have kissed this world with my eyes and my limbs; I have wrapt it within my heart in numberless folds; I have flooded its days and nights with thoughts till the world and my life have grown one, - and I love my life because I love the light of the sky so enwoven with me.

If to leave this world be as real as to love it - then there must be a meaning in the meeting and the parting of life.

If that love were deceived in death, then the canker of this deceit would eat into all things, and the stars would shrivel and grow black.


Not for me is the love that knows no restraint, but like the foaming wine that having burst its vessel in a moment would run to waste.

Send me the love which is cool and pure like your rain that blesses the thirsty earth and fills the homely earthen jars.

Send me the love that would soak down into the centre of being, and from there would spread like the unseen sap through the branching tree of life, giving birth to fruits and flowers.

Send me the love that keeps the heart still with the fulness of peace.



~ Rabindranath Tagore (May 1861 ~ August 1941)

[Translated from Bengali to English by Rabindranath Tagore]

Published in 1916


Friday, May 7, 2010

Capital Punishment : Is Killing For Killing Ethical?

(Photo Mumbaikars including Muslims celebrating the verdict on Ajmal Kasab)

This much I can say : I have never felt any hatred or anger towards any of the killers, not even for a moment. And personally, I don't want the surviving terrorist to be given a death sentence. I would like to see him incarcerated for life and made to work for humanity.

If I were to sit with the killer, I would ask him to tell me about his family, about his childhood. I believe he came from a very poor background and the leaders of the terrorist group used him.

I was in Florida when I heard the news that my husband and my daughter were also killed in the Mumbai terror attacks. I collapsed on the floor. After weeping for a long long time, I went into myself and began to pray..

~ Kia Scherr, who lost both her husband Alan, aged 58, and her only daughter Naomi, aged 13, in the November 2008 terrorist attacks at Mumbai.

Capital Punishment is a lawful infliction of death as a punishment. It is an extreme form of retributive justice sentenced by the governing jurisprudence. As modern civilisational values grew over the last two centuries, this form of punishment began to be increasingly viewed as a barbaric form of cruelty and the efficacy of it as a deterrent measure became questionable. 
Countries like Venezuela and Portugal were the first nations to abolish the death penalty altogether as early as the 1850s. Today, it is virtually abolished in all of Western Europe and most of Latin America. Britain effectively abolished capital punishment in 1965. It is still not abolished in India, many states in the USA, China, Japan and many Asian, especially West Asian and African nations.

Ajmal Kasab is just a pawn, who was picked up from an impoverished family in Pakistan. He was trained and brain-washed to perpetrate such a heinous violence on the innocent denizens of Mumbai. By hanging Ajmal Kasab in India, what do we achieve? Next time, when the Taliban slits the throat of an innocent Muslim in Afghanistan and hangs him in public, how are we going to react? How do we understand the sentiments of Kia Scherr, who is another victim of Mumbai terror attacks? Though Ajmal Kasab is also a victim of terror, won't complete life imprisonment do much greater justice? Can't he be made to repent and wail till he dies? Won't those echoes reverberate on and on? And keep haunting the public memory?

It is time to ask profound questions : What are the factors which made an innocent Ajmal Kasab turn into a dreaded terrorist? Who are all responsible? How can real justice be done to all those complex issues that would crop up, if we start asking the real questions? Will terrorism of all kinds stop until we address the root-causes of it?

Since we do not want to get disturbed deeply and want to continue with our petty ways of living, we feel happy that the fool is finally hung and the files would shortly be closed.
And we call it as justice!

Mool Bandh Mudra : A Post-Modern Yogic Therapy!

Hi Folks,

Don't you think, its high time, that we relax a wee bit?
Too much of Zen will have such unanticipated fallouts.
We should keep reminding ourselves that such excesses are not good for our bellied bodies, already afflicted with mid-life crises.
Let us forget our fractured souls for the time-being.
Let it rest in peace for a while.

Let us now start practicing this new-age yogic therapy, which I've termed as Mool Bandh Mudra.
You are welcome to suggest newer names and finer modifications in the postures and methodologies of this post-modern yogic practice.
Especially the climax!
Apart from immensely helping to ward off the work-place and blog-space boredom, this yoga is supposed to be having innumerable therapeutic benefits.
Both visible and invisible.
You are requested to share your profound experiences after undergoing this therapy.

Let us rejoice!