domingo, 2 de noviembre de 2014

Chapter 17 from Works and Spiders, an essay by Milan Kundera in Testaments Betrayed


When I was thirteen or fourteen years old, I  used to take lessons in musical composition. Not because I was a child prodigy but because of my father’s quiet tact. It was during the war, and a friend of his a Jewish composer, was required to wear  the yellow star; people had begun to avoid him. Not knowing how to declare his solidarity, my father thought of asking him just then to give me lessons. They were confiscating Jewish apartments, and the composer kept having to move on to smaller and smaller places, ending up, just before he left for Theresienstadt, in a little flat where many people were camping, crammed, in every room. All along, he had held on to the small piano on which I would play my harmony or counterpoint exercises while strangers went about their business around us.
Of all this I retain only my admiration for him, and three or four images. Especially this one: seeing me out after a lesson, he stopped by the door and suddenly said to me: “There are many surprisingly weak passages in Beethoven. But it is the weak passages that bring out the strong ones. It’s like a lawn –if it weren’t there, we couldn’t enjoy the beautiful tree growing on it.”
A peculiar idea. That it has stayed in my memory is even more peculiar. Maybe I felt honored at getting to hear a confidential admission from the teacher, a secret, a great trick of the trade that only the initiated are permitted to know.
Whatever it was, that brief remark from my teacher of the time has haunted me all my life (I have defended it, now I dispute it, but I have never doubted its importance); without it, this text could very certainly not have been written.

But dearer to me than that remark in itself is the image of a man who, a while before his hideous journey, stood thinking aloud, in front of a child, about the problem of composing a work of art.

-Milan Kundera

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