Ah, February… as I write this, yet another snowstorm is shaking its contents down on Chicago. I’m reminded of an opening line in “A Child’s Christmas in Wales“: “Winter in my memory is as white as Lapland.”
But it’s February. We counteract all this white with RED – fire, love, passion, red hearts, red roses (did I mention chocolate?): Valentine’s Day – the perfect antidote to Winter’s White.
Love… let’s hear what the world has been saying about love and romance:
“Omnia vincit Amor: et nos cedamus Amori.” (Love conquers all things: let us too give in to Love. Virgil, 70-19 BC)
“To be able to say how much you love is to love but little.” (Petrarch, 1304-1374)
“Love, and a cough, cannot be hid.” (George Herbert, 1593-1633)
“Keep your eyes wide open before marriage, half shut afterwards.” (Benjamin Franklin, 1706-1790)
“You don’t know a woman until you have had a letter from her.”(Ada Leverson, 1865-1936)
“Love doesn’t just sit there, like a stone, it has to be made, like bread; remade all the time, made new.” (Ursula K. Le Guin, 1929- )
“All you need is love.” (John Lennon, 1940-1980 and Paul McCartney, 1942- )
“If grass can grow through cement, love can find you at every time in your life.”(Cher, 1946- )
Words such as these capture love and romance very well. What of music, that “language of the emotions” that doesn’t rely on words to convey? Here, in February, my mind and heart turn annually to the music of Johannes Brahms, or to me, just “Brahms.”
I think Brahms knew all about passion and love. His unrequited young love of Clara Schumann, his mentor’s wife, lasted a lifetime. His music is infused with passion, strength, longing, and tenderness. If I were alive during this lifetime, I’d be found on his door stoop, howling at the moon.
Each February, I turn again to some of my favorite Brahms: the “Liebeslieder Waltzes” (love song waltzes) for piano four hands and vocal quartet, where tenor and bass sing a duet to the text of the poet Daumner: “Oh these women! Filled with delights! I would have become a monk long ago, were it not for women!” and the soprano and alto reply with a duo, “As the evening’s lovely sunset glows, so would I, a lowly lass; to please one many, shining with delight.” The music is lush and luscious: each of the 18 songs of op. 52 like eating an individual chocolate from a box of 18 delights, one more luscious than the next.
And who can think of Brahms without thinking of the great Arthur Rubenstein, whose recording, “The Brahms I Love,” is a cornerstone of every pianist and music lover’s library. For those readers interested in the combination of music, romance and intrigue, Arthur Rubenstein’s biography, “My Young Years,” makes one think he did everything but practice the piano before the age of 40 when he got married and settled down (to practice as well!) Then, of course, he lived well into his 90s (a testimony to marriage and practicing!)
Well, where there’s love, there must be humor, to survive. Rush Hour has something to offer in this vein as well: its “Liebeslieder Polkas” from our 2007 season for vocal quartet and piano five hands – by the infamous P.D.Q. Bach (aka Peter Schickele). The Passionate Shepherd to His Love, It was a Lover and His Lass, and Who is Sylvia? (“beauty shacks up with kindness”) take the nobility of the form used by Brahms into the realm of brilliant hilarity.
All, antidotes for the endless salt-shaker falling from the sky over Chicago this month!
I wish you happy listening, reading and loving this month!