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On Thursday each week my column appears in the Euro Weekly News. My opinion is just that, an opinion. Feel free to put your oar in but in a constructive way if you please. Thanks so much. - Michael

Is Music the Creation of Divinity?
29 September 2011

Is Music the Creation of Divinity?

Michael Walsh


Many great European musicians truly believed that their pens, as they composed, were guided by a divine spirit. Arguably the greatest musician of all time, Ludwig van Beethoven typically refused to take the credit for his music. For those of a mystical frame of mind there is much to ponder on. How do you describe something you cannot see? How did Beethoven create the most beautiful orchestrations of his music whilst unable to hear it?


Beethoven’s death, in common with several other great composers is threaded with mystery. As the Grim Reaper embraced this shabbily dressed irascible genius there broke over the Viennese night the most violent and terrifying electrical storm. The city cowered as thunder and lightning split the heavens. Beethoven, lying semi-conscious on his bed, was heard to murmur, ‘I shall hear in Heaven’. He raised his arm as though to salute the afterlife and departed. As his immortal soul departed the earth the storm immediately began to abate.


His funeral cortege brought this great European city to a halt. Schools and businesses closed; life held its breath and upwards of 30,000 people lined the streets to pay homage. Among the throngs was the great Franz Schubert who was to follow the great master to the grave just 12-months later.


Nearly two-hundred years on and the renowned Irish flautist James Galway is adamant that the edge to his virtuosity is sharpened by God’s guidance. When discussing his ambitions Galway agreed that they were limited: ‘They are merely that I should leave good memories behind me; that people should feel when they recall my name, that in some odd inexplicable way, they have at sometime heard the voice of the Infinite through me.’




Ludwig van Beethoven was just twelve years old when his virtuosity inspired his kindly mentor, Christian Gottlob Neefe, to present the talented child to the Elector of Cologne, Maximilian Franz: ‘He is, I believe, touched with genius.’

‘Quite a word to use of one so young,’ said the Elector: ‘You must not let this go to your head, young man,’ he added looking directly at Ludwig.

Ludwig spoke in a firm, clear voice: ‘Sir. I have a gift that people say comes from God. I believe that to be true.’


‘The Lord and I are on speaking terms, and our bickering most often gets penned onto a piece of parchment.’  – Beethoven.




The tremendous storm that consumed Vienna at the time of Beethoven’s spirit readying itself to leave his life-form may be dismissed as coincidence. Yet a similar freak of Nature occurred as Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart’s hearse was being trundled to his final resting place:


‘The hearse, with the few mourners, then proceeded to St Mark’s churchyard, but before the burial place was reached a terrific storm of snow and rain burst overhead, and with one accord the mourners turned back, and left the hearse to proceed alone. And thus the master, of whom it was prophesied that he would cause all others (composers) to be forgotten      was left to be buried by the hands of strangers in a pauper’s grave, without even a stone to mark where he was laid.’ - Francis Jameson Rowbotham.


When a little older he (Beethoven) arrived in Vienna for the first time, he looked forward to meeting yet another great musician; Wolfgang Mozart. Music, he thought, the highest art, coming directly from God. How many men have such a calling? In Bonn one alone. In Vienna one alone. And now I will meet him. At last! - The Last Master. John Suchet.


‘When Mozart was inspired to write Idomeneo or The Magic Flute, he was in touch with God.’  - James Galway, Flautist.




Of Franz Schubert Beethoven surmised: ‘Truly, the spark of Divine genius resides in this Schubert’. / ‘ .. The composer nearest to God’.  - Artur Schnabel




‘It seems as though God gave me a cheerful heart, so I'm sure He'll forgive me if I serve Him cheerfully.’


‘Whenever I think of God I can only conceive of Him as a being infinitely great and infinitely good. This last quality of the divine nature inspires me with such confidence and joy that I could have written even a Miserere in tempo allegro.’




FB  ‘God touched me with his finger and said 'write for the theatre, mind you - only for the theatre'... and I've been faithful to this supreme command.’ Giacomo Puccini




‘A Lady being very musical, was invited by him (Handel) to a private Rehearsal of the Messiah, and being struck with the Exceeding dignity of expression in the Choruses, and other parts of ye oratorio so inimitably set to the sacred works, after the musick was over she asked him how it was possible for him, who understood the English Language but imperfectly, to enter so fully into the sublime spirit of the Words. His answer is I think a lesson to all composers, at least of Sacred Musick;

Madam, I thank God I have a little religion.’


On composing Messiah, Handel is said to have remarked (1741):’I did think I did see all Heaven before me and the great God Himself.’ On another occasion, Handel whilst writing the Messiah, when speaking to a servant at the hotel in which he was staying: ‘Once he had finished the hallelujah chorus he spoke to the servant, ‘The lord spoke to me and hath said ‘twas not I who wrote this but on accord of Him.’




‘I am being used as the instrument for something higher than my own warrants. I am in the hands of the Immortal Genius I serve for the span of my life and his intention that I complete only what I can achieve.’


‘An atheistic upbringing is fatal. No atheist has ever created anything of great and lasting value.’ - Richard Wagner in conversation with Engelbert Humperdnck in 1880: quoted in Arthur M. Abell, ‘Talks with Great Composers’ (1955)




B. ‘How do you think of those lovely melodies?’ asked a female admirer of Charles Gounod: The master replied: ‘God, madame, sends me down some of his angels and they whisper sweet melodies in my ear.’ - Charles Francois Gounod (1973).




‘I know several young composers who are atheists. I have read their scores, and I assure you, Joseph, that they are doomed to speedy oblivion, because they are utterly lacking in inspiration. Their works are purely cerebral. No atheist has ever been or ever will be a great composer.’  - Johannes Brahms in conversation with the violinist Joseph Joachim (1831 – 1907). Quoted in Arthur M. Abell: Talks with Great Composers. (1955).




Half an hour before he died he (Dinu Lipatti) was listening to records of Beethoven’s F minor Quartet. To his wife he said: ‘You see, it is not enough to be a great composer. To write music like that you must be a chosen instrument of God.’


Walter Legge, the impresario was later to remark of Dinu Lipatti: ‘By the same light we may say it is not enough to be a great pianist: To play as Lipatti played you must be a chosen instrument of God. God lent the world His chosen instrument whom we called Dini Lipatti for too brief a space.’




The renowned Italian Classical Pianist: ‘I'm nothing but a priest of god's music.’




‘Life was a much uncomplicated thing to him. Instead of turmoil or neuroticism or dark brooding, we encounter a simple and sincere piety, such as only the deeply religious man is capable of.’ - A writer’s observation of the Czech composer.




That Bruckner felt inspired by God is to state the obvious. In addition to the vocal religious works, he dedicated his 9th Symphony ‘To our Beloved God’ (although it's said that he modestly appended 'if He'll accept it').


Anton Bruckner did make it clear that he also considered his view of the Day of Judgement as part of his perspective. Another of his quotes: ‘When God calls me to Him and asks me: 'Where is the talent which I have given you?' Then shall I hold out the rolled-up manuscript of my Te Deum and I know He will be a compassionate judge.’


‘They want me to write differently. Certainly I could, but I must not. God has chosen me from thousands and given me, of all people, this talent. It is to Him that I must give account. How then would I stand there before Almighty God, if I followed the others and not Him?’ – Anton Bruckner.




James Galway is an internationally acclaimed flautist. He says: ‘Nothing pleases me more today than when somebody says to me: ‘You know, Jimmy. You can hear God in your playing.’ It delights me to think that in some small way I am a link between God and whoever is listening.’


‘What I had to do instead, I decided, was to make sure I represented the composer properly to the world. Or to go and bit deeper, the composer’s inspiration, which obviously came from God.’


AMALIA RODRIGUEZ, Iconic Portuguese Fado Singer.


‘Even if he doesn’t exist, I believe in Him.’




The greatest classical Spanish guitarist of all time, Andres Segovia had said of Williams: ‘A Prince of the Guitar has arrived in the musical world. God has laid a finger on his brow, and it will not be long before his name becomes a byword in England and abroad, thus contributing to the spiritual domain of his race.’




When asked where did his talent come from? Herbert von Karajan, the formidable Austrian-German musician and conductor was equally forthright: I was given special tools, special talents. I never had any doubts that my talents came from the Creator. My duty to Him is to exploit them to the fullest. My ambition is to make music as perfectly as possible and reach as many people as possible.’


‘You dont need faith to believe in God, because there are plenty of signs available of His existence. Mozart wrote a symphony as a child. Heredity cannot account for this. There is only one explanation: the Creator chooses people as His instruments to produce some beauty in a world that is all too ugly.


‘We see and hear him now at the height of his powers, superbly able to keep a Bruckner symphony spinning not like a top but rather like some celestial sphere – massive, glowing, and infused with cosmic power.’


- Denis Stevens describing the final von Karajan recording of Bruckner’s 7th Symphony in April 1989. The maestro of maestros passed peacefully on three months later. ©


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A CLASSICAL LIFE (A Musical Soliloquy)
24 September 2011

In a moment of whimsy it occurred to me that music, in its European form, can offer a feast of quality music that reflects life from womb to tomb. This list of suggestions is subjective. But, if it inspires you to explore, understand and appreciate the finest music spanning the most gifted musicians over centuries, then please feel free to you tube or purchase any of the following introductions to the world of classical music. Think of each track as a sublime glass of aphrodisiacal wine; I think you will return again and again. - Michael
A CLASSICAL LIFE   (A Musical Soliloquy)

The dawn of my life (Ravel; Daphnis et Chloe) found its sunrise in my meeting you (Puccini; They Call me Mimi) upon which my spirit soared to new heights. (Wagner; Tristan and Isolde, der Liebestod). Those early carefree days (Johann Strauss; The Blue Danube) brought a serene tranquillity to my life. (Beethoven; Moonlight Sonata Adagio)

 I cannot reminisce about our first summer together without recalling our lovely walks through river vales and meadows (Beethoven; 6th Symphony. Pastoral). Do you recall how peaceful it was (Debussy; Prelude a l'Apres midi D'un) and remember the unbroken bird song (Delius; On Hearing the First Cuckoo of Spring).
Our lives then were not totally Bohemian. (Smetana; Muy Vlast). We did have our careers to concentrate on (Johann Strauss; Perpetual Mobile) but we could always find time to relax and listen to Mozart's Concerto for Flute, Andantino. I remember the countryside was so incredibly green, the cornfields gloriously yellow (Vaughan Williams; The Lark Ascending). 
It must be as beautiful in other countries too. I often wished that you and I could travel (Albeniz; Espana / Respighi; The Pines of Rome), discover new worlds for ourselves and enjoy life to its limits (Offenbach; Gaite Parisiene); or even get a feel for adventure (Borodin; Steppes of Central Asia / Sibelius Finlandia) and visit Moscow (Mussorgsky; Dawn on the Moscow River).
There was no denying the intensity of my feelings for you and our special romance (Chopin; Piano Concerto.1 / Elgar Serenade for Strings) brought such harmony to our lives; almost as the violin complements the piano (Beethoven Piano Concerto, No.2 adagio or Beethoven’s Spring Sonata).
True love never runs smoothly and misunderstandings brought the occasional thunder clouds (Beethoven; 5th Symphony) and the passion of my once losing you (Puccini; Madame Butterfly Love Duet) brought unbearable heartache (Mahler; Fifth Symphony Adagio).
Happily fate intervened and we were soon together again soon which made my heart as light as a mandolin (Vivaldi; Various Concertos). 
From there on my life was again filled with excitement and anticipation. (Ravel; Bolero). I felt as though spring had returned (Robert Stolz; Village Swallows in Austria) and life was full of delightful pleasures again (Verdi La Traviata; Let's Drink).
My darling, you brought such contentment to my life (Recuerdos de la Alhambra). I was always so very happy with you. (Chabrier; Espana / Josef Strauss; Off on Holiday).
Yes, I was so much at peace with both myself and the world (Chopin; Raindrop Prelude / Debussy; Perfumes of the Night). Ah, the mellow lateness of each evening (Mozart; Clarinet Concerto / Rodrigo; Concierto de Aranjeuz / Weber; Clarinet and Strings). We would enjoy a glass of wine together while we listened to John Field's piano nocturnes before retiring.
It was while I would lie waiting for sleep to wrap its dreams around me that I remembered those lovely nights that we spent at Santora in Spain (Siene en la Florista/Carulli; Duo in G. Op.34).
So much for the memories and when Christmas was drawing near (Stille Nacht, Heilige Nacht). I could hardly wait for the first snow to fall (The Skaters Waltz). I used to think how wonderful it would be to be in Germany with you for Christmas and New Year's Eve (The Bells of Aachen and Regensburg).
With the nights closing in the children seemed to be around more often and I loved frightening them with stories about trolls in the forest (Grieg; In The Hall of the Mountain King), the witches sabbath (Mussorgsky; The Night on Bare Mountain) and magic (Dukas; The Sorcerer's Apprentice).
I remember young Peter, always the soldier, marching up and down the room (Charles Gounod; The Soldiers Chorus). He had just been telling us about a Swiss adventure story (Rossini; William Tell Overture). 
You may not remember. You had retreated to the back of the lounge (Pavaroti; Torna a Surriento); to dreamily think about our holidays no doubt.
We always had the last dance together (Weber; Invitation to the Dance), and the night I proposed to you as we listened to Mozart's Piano Concerto, No.21 followed by Martucci's Nocturne when driving home?
I am still very much at peace with the world (Beethoven 9th symphony; Adagio) and I am as in love with you as ever (Elgar; Salut d'Amour). Life since has been so wonderful (Schubert; Trout Quintet) and contented (Saint-Saens; The Swan).
But, time has marched on and I find myself thinking more and more of those lovely days when we were younger. (Butterworth; the Banks of Green Willow / Delius; the Walk in the Paradise Garden).
Now, in the sunset of our lives I am more contemplative about the future (Sibelius; The Swan of Tuonela / Richard Strauss; Death and Transfiguration) and wonder how long it will be before I am just as reflective about Faure's Requiem Michael Walsh ©

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Classical Music Rocks - Ask the Bang Gang
23 September 2011

It is futile to compare some music as being more favourable than others but there’s some I really don’t understand. I can’t get my head around rap, heavy metal or head-banging music, but, if it’s popular who am I to criticise it?  I do have my fantasies though, one of which is to host a heavy metal musical event at an outside arena.

I can picture it so well; 40,000 expectant heavy metal fans bursting with anticipation. I take centre stage and tell ‘em they’re in for the audio-orgasm of their lives. You can hear a pin drop as the curtain rises to reveal, in its entire glory one of the world’s great orchestras.
The conductor’s baton is raised as fast as jaws drop but without a moment’s hesitation the expectant heavy metal fans get what they crave for: That’s what I call heavy metal.
An orchestra can consist of as many as 95 very noisy musicians. Think on; the percussion section of the orchestra isn’t known as the bang gang for nothing. It is otherwise known as ‘the kitchen department’; this is for good reason.  It was difficult fantasying as to what would best blow the wax out of the ears of the horrified spectators. I settled on the fourth movement of Beethoven’s 7th symphony. I admit to being torn and I leave alternatives to your own imagination.
I was never into golf but when I once suggested I might give it a go I was warned off: “Don’t even think about it,” I was told: “It takes over your life.”
Much the same can be said of good music; especially orchestral, opera and ballet. Sure there’s stuff you don’t understand or simply don’t like. The same could be said of literature but does that mean you’re going to give up on reading, or stop listening to pop music, because there’s stories or tracks that don’t appeal to you? Pick an’ mix; you will love it.
What floats my boat, more than the music itself, are the artistes who make up the world of classical music. Believe me; the lives of the great composers would make our toes curl. Eat your heart out Silvio Berlusconi. Here is George Bizet’s take on opera. Bizet, remember, composed the world most popular opera: Carmen.
‘As a musician I tell you that if you were to suppress adultery, fanaticism, crime, evil, the supernatural, there would no longer be the means for writing one note.’
See what a sheltered life you have been leading, you rock chicks?  Richard Wagner really rocked. Claude Debussy and Franz Liszt, like many other great musicians, were skirt chasers of considerable merit, as was Giacomo Puccini. The great musicians could be rude, crude and downright offensive. It is difficult to imagine music more sublime than Mozart’s adagios (the slow movements) but what a foul-mouthed cad and irascible rogue he was. Few of the greats were modest and most were scathing about other musicians.
Were they more popular than today's musicians? You could say so. Upon departing this earth many of their funeral corteges brought great cities to a standstill. So did their music; when Offenbach, Emile Waldteufel, Meyerbeer, Rossini and Chopin and others, introduced a new composition, cities went wild and crowds rioted. The music sheets were frantically copied and passed around. Most (nice) homes had a piano at least, often other musical instruments too. People could not only talk music; they could play, sing and dance to it too.  
Their lives and their music; the times they lived in, were often far more exciting than ours. It is all part of the drama and the excitement of great music composed and performed by the most gifted musicians to ever stride the earth. It has endured for many hundreds of years.
As Elton John observed: ‘I regard all pop music as irrelevant in the sense that in 200 years people won’t be listening to what is being written and played today. I think they will be listening to Beethoven.’

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22 September 2011

How do you define classical or ‘good music’? Why bother? Far better than me have tried and failed. The best explanation I ever heard was, “If you like it, it is good music. If you don’t like it, it’s bad music.”

As a small child I remember the kitchen table being pushed aside and mother grabbing me by both tiny hands. The radio presenter had just announced Over the Waves; the waltz by the Mexican composer, Juventino Rosas. Mother would waltz me around the kitchen, much to my embarrassment, but I liked the music. 
As a teenager I was vacuumed up by rock an’ roll; my sister’s best friend dated, and had a child, by Paul McCartney. My brother managed a band at the Cavern in Liverpool. I became friends with legends. I paid a return visit last week and found it much as it was. A child of the times I also adored country (and western) music; Johnny Cash, Hank Snow and Hank Williams being favourites.
Unlike my contemporaries I never defined the music that was important to me. I knew what I liked and I adored the music of Wagner and the Strauss family as much as I liked Louisiana’s Cajun music. My first opera was Johann Strauss’s Die Fledermaus (The Bat). I was hooked. In this one delightful performance there were glamour, a wonderful story, vivacity, great music; beautiful ladies, roguish guys, humour, drama, pathos, and most of all, originality.
Life takes many twists and turns for those who are not professional musicians and so music of all kinds was to me no more than life’s theatre scenery.
For lovers of classical music; orchestral, chamber, dance, opera and ballet, there was precious little choice until Classic FM started in summer, 1992. At the time BBC 2 had just one hour of good music on Friday night. There was BBC Radio 3 but it was so ponderous you really had to be the most pretentious of twits (or steeped in the classical genre) to understand it.
I was on my own but I bought records, and then CDs and DVDs, as I explored my more discerning tastes. Fate was kind to me; I rented a Victorian mansion (annexe actually) a short stroll from Liverpool’s celebrated Royal Liverpool Philharmonic Orchestra. In like a shot I was soon absorbed by this wonderful venue. There I was privileged to meet many gifted musicians, included Vasily Petrenko, the orchestra’s present conductor. I collected photographs and autographs, and built my library – and my understanding. I was in love. I have collected many photographs and well wishing autographs including those of Nicola Benedetti, Carl Davies and Rolando Villazon.
I sacrificed all when I moved to Spain’s Costa Blanca: The nearest orchestra and opera opportunities were in over-priced Alicante and Valencia. I consoled myself by getting involved with the Jalon Valley’s Palma Concerts. They hosted the best of aspiring classical talent; again it was a privilege to become their friends.
My dream has always been to host Schubertiad evenings or weekends; soirees’ where lovers of good music can socialise and share their passion and knowledge of good music. I have now moved to the Costa del Sol; the awesomely beautiful Mijas Pueblo. Here, surely, there is fertile soil to bring together lovers of good music. Surely we can arrange soirées. Will my dream come true? Only you can answer that question.

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