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Onward, the NC Symphony

“Monday Musings” for Monday September 22, 2014

Volume IV, No, 37/137

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(Editor’s Note:  The North Carolina Symphony is 82 years old.  We are pleased to observe the auspicious occasion by reprinting the News & Observer’s deputy editorial page editor, Mr. Jim Jenkins’ September 18, 2014 column.)

NC Symphony Plays a Rising Tune

By Jim Jenkins

As the North Carolina Symphony opens another classical season this week, the musicians will be elegantly attired and their instruments polished and tuned to perfection. Meymandi Concert Hall in downtown Raleigh will welcome the city’s prominent swells to the opening shows, and Grant Llewellyn, the magnetic Welshman who is the orchestra’s music director and public face, will again lead the symphony in musical triumph, no doubt.

Some will listen from up high in boxes, others will be in the orchestra level. My noble friend Dr. Assad Meymandi, the Raleigh physician who gave $2 million toward the concert hall named for his parents, will lean in intensely as he always does, taking in every note from his box. But all through the hall, in the boxes and above the floor, the spirits of more than 80 seasons past will be drifting and applauding in the hall.

One, of course, will belong to Maxine Swalin, for over 30 years the symphony’s impassioned advocate. Her husband, conductor Ben Swalin, another spirit in attendance, certainly helped bring the orchestra to prominence, saved it some would say, but it was Maxine Swalin who managed things, who went to classrooms all over North Carolina, when that wasn’t easy to do, and helped demonstrate for awestruck students the sounds of different instruments.

She saw in those faces, in all those hundreds or thousands of classes, eyes widen and mouths open at sounds the children had never heard before. Some would remember those sounds all their lives and develop, from that one visit, a passion for music. Yes, lives would be changed.

The symphony, this spectacular symphony, has come far since Maxine and Ben Swalin retired more than 40 years ago, but the nation’s first state-sponsored orchestra had its course well-charted by them and their successors, those other spirits you’ll feel in the hall this season.

It was never meant to be, since its infancy in 1932, a staid and stationary group. In 1943, improbably in a Southern state with rural roots, still with far to go on educating its people, and thousands of miles of unpaved roads, state lawmakers provided money for the orchestra, hardly enough to keep it going but an important symbol nonetheless.

And so Ben Swalin and his successors stayed true to the mission of bringing the symphony to the people, traveling statewide as a whole or in part, to bring classical music (and other forms) to the hamlets and hollows and cities and towns. It is in the memories of the children in those places, tens of thousands of them by now, for the tradition continues, that is found the heart of the North Carolina symphony.

In the memory of the kid from Shelby the sound of the cello offered some kind of inspiration that carried him through hard days at home. In the memory of a fifth grader from Moore County is that unmistakable timpani that brings a smile when she needs it. In the memory of one kid from Rock Ridge was his mother’s encouraging him to play violin after hearing the symphony. Jim Hunt served four terms as governor, but even now can call forth clear memories of his Mama and that violin.

Lives change even if those who hear the symphony as children never gain skills on an instrument, but learn to love music of any kind.

The symphony still goes to the people, still guided by the spirits and by extraordinary leaders who have followed them and some musicians with a dedication to their art that only those with music inside them, rising from their very souls, can have.

Meymandi Concert Hall, state of the art, made a big difference. So did conductors who followed Swalin and each, in his own way, advanced the musicianship. And so did those who are today parents themselves and remember when the symphony came to their town and the musicians came to their school, and now see their own kids inspired and entertained by this next generation of symphony players.

The pioneers paid it forward. But institutions such as this must never be taken for granted, though it’s easy to do that. Without the symphony, or the Museum of Art or the Museum of Natural Sciences or other magnificent institutions that honor and enlighten the people and especially the young people of the state, the color would be drained from this place.

So, Maestro Llewellyn, raise the baton and strike it up, if you please. There still are lives to be changed.

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*The editor is Adjunct Professor of Psychiatry, University of North Carolina School of Medicine at Chapel Hill, Distinguished Life fellow American Psychiatric Association; Life member, American Medical Association; Life member, Southern Medical Association, and Founding Editor and Editor-in-Chief, Wake County Physician Magazine (1995-2012).

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On Martin Luther…and Music

“Monday Musings” November 11, 2013

Volume III, No. 44/138

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Martin Luther, A Formidable Child of God Worth Emulating

By Assad Meymandi, MD, PhD, DLFAPA*

Yesterday November 10, was the natal anniversary of one of the most formidable children of God, Martin Luther of Eisleben, Germany. He was born 520 years ago, nine years before Christopher Columbus discovered America, and 21 years after the birth of Gutenberg, inventor of the printing press. Martin Luther was not a rip-roaring revolutionary. He did not set out to usher Protestantism in Europe and challenge the well-established Catholic Church and  the papacy. He was a scholar, a rather reclusive and obscure Augustinian monk and a university professor. In 1517, he posted 95 questions on the door of the church, a common practice when disputation (discussion, exegesis, and examination) was routinely used to clarify a philosophical or theological issue. He innocently posed 95 questions of the established church. The questions caught on fire and from that humble beginning, by 1521 he was catapulted to such prominence that even most peasants would recognize his name. Indeed, he was feared by the Pope and the Catholic establishment. He was openly defying the papacy and the Emperor. 1521 was the year Protestantism and the Lutheran Church were established.  Martin Luther’s argument was simply the issues of corruption in the Catholic Church– selling grace, selling salvation, and implementing other slanderous devices to raise money to build Saint Peter’s Basilica. Being an Augustinian monk and well grounded in Augustinian theology of grace, Martin Luther insisted that grace is given freely– It is not sold…Martin Luther maintained his steadfast Augustinian stand “sola fide, sola scriptura” which means by faith and scripture alone (not by purchase of redemption and grace) one may find the pathway to salvation. He wrote about a quarter million words about faith. He concluded that faith must be “living”, expressed in concrete actions of altruism and love for one’s fellow humans. To exercise faith requires discipline, vigilance and sacrifice

History of Protestantism

1.   Before Martin Luther, many “protestors” had questioned the practice of selling grace by the Catholic Church. Among these protestors was John Huss (1369-1415), the Czech theologian, and founder the Hussite Church. Papal Inquisition which was a common practice of the 15th and 16th century condemned Huss as a heretic. He was burned at the stake. He is recorded in history books as the first martyr of the Hussite Church. Meantime, the air of dissatisfaction and malaise generated by the Catholic Church was prevalent among European peasants which constituted the vast majority of the European population. There was no middle class. The societal structure consisted of a few super rich land owners, those who worked in the government, and those secure in the hierarchy of the church and priesthood. The remaining 95% of the population were poor farmers and peasants. Historical demography suggests these people suffered illiteracy and servitude with no hope for advancement or opportunity to break loose from the shackles of slavery.

2.   Another factor which complicated matters was the general public had not recovered from the devastation of bubonic plague, 1347-1350.  The plague wiped out three forth of Europe’s population, while the papacy to protect itself against the plague moved from Rome to Avignon, southern France, a safer territory.  The public felt abandoned and neglected by the church, breeding much anger.  The European public continued to carry for some 70 years its pent up hostility against the Catholic Church.  All these factors helped ignite and sustain the fire of protestant reform.  From 1240 on, there were many voices raised in protest of the church practices but often, if not always, silenced by the force of organized papal inquisitions with the ultimate punishment of death by hanging or burning at the stake.  But in 1521 the reform succeeded

The influence of non-theological forces

3.   In addition to the lingering effect of Black death seventy years earlier, other social injustices generated immense pent up anger in the vast majority of peasants. The unequal distribution of wealth, where 93% of wealth was controlled by less than 10% of the people, helped the maturation of the notion of Protestantism. Other factors included high infant mortality which in Central Europe was between 15 to 35%, with another 10 to 20 percent of children dying before age 10 years, helped inflame the public dissatisfaction and anger. Other forces were exposure to famine, epidemic diseases and the ravages of wars. These factors collectively made people lose faith in the authority of the government, the church and priests. The people were numbed by societal injustice.  And finally by the time Martin Luther started publishing his theses, thanks to Guttenberg, the magical printing press became available enabling Martin Luther to disseminate his work widely through throughout northern Europe. All these forces pushed our birthday hero to pursue answers to his original 95 questions, setting the world on fire of protestation.

Martin Luther, a musician and polymath

4.   Besides his theological and philosophical contributions and writings (his collected work exceeds five million words), Martin Luther was a hymnologist and an accomplished musician.  The number of hymns the authorship of which is contributed to Martin Luther is in the hundreds. He encouraged return of music to church services. Martin Luther was a polymath.  He was trained in law (he did not finish law school as his father wanted him because he found studying law to be boring!), theology, philosophy, epistemology, rhetoric, linguistics, political organization and music. He was the formidable author of more than five millions words, among them some 3000 letters he wrote to friends, colleagues, students, fellow Augustinian monks, and fellow parishioners. I view Martin Luther as a representation of God and a role model in achieving one’s maximum potential. Happy Birthday Brother Luther!

 Olli Mustonen, A Superb Omen

These days under the leadership of Sandi MacDonald, President and CEO, and Grant Llewellyn, Music Director, NC Symphony is producing magic. Recently, we had pianist conductor Jeffrey Kahane leading the symphony in Beethoven Symphony No. 2 in D Major, op 36, and Mozart Concerto No. 22 in E-flat Major for piano and Orchestra, K482. We were happy to see Maestro Kahane back at the podium, this time both conducting the orchestra and playing solo piano.   For decades, going back to 80’s, Kahane has been a welcome NCS guest artist/pianist. He was one of 11 auditioned when NCS was selecting a new conductor in 200-2001, a position that went to Maestro Grant Llewellyn. So, those with NCS institutional memory were happy to see the lovable and hugely talented Maestro Kahane back. As an aside, the 3rd movement of Mozart’s piece, if one listens carefully mimics the tune of festive fraternal song “For he is a Jolly Good fellow, nobody can deny.”  The whimsical insertion has to do with Mozart’s exposure and indoctrination to Masonic rituals and songs. Free Masonry was established in England in 1717.  Mozart became a Mason along with his librettist friend Schekineder who wrote the libretto, and played the first Papageno for Magic Flute, a 1791 opera devoted to Masonic ritual. It was Mozart’s last opera.

This past weekend, the audience was privileged to watch the brilliant and incomparable Finnish pianist Olli Mustonen, a superb omen, for Raleigh and RTP, playing the technically demanding Johannes Brahms’s Concerto No. 1 in D minor op. 15. The performance was brilliant. Olli took me on a 43 minute journey in the ether of tomorrow. Every note of the complex composition was articulated superbly pushing the listener higher and higher into the stratosphere of transcendence. The height of enjoyment was unforgettable and celestial. At age 81, NCS has matured to a degree to make traveling to NY Philharmonic, Paris Palais Garnier and Vienna unnecessary. Bravo!

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*The writer is Adjunct Professor of Psychiatry, University of North Carolina School of Medicine at Chapel Hill, Distinguished Life fellow American Psychiatric Association, and Founding Editor and Editor-in-Chief, Wake County Physician Magazine (1995-2012). He serves as a Visiting Scholar and lecturer on Medicine, the Arts and Humanities at his alma mater the George Washington University School of Medicine and Health.

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Some Reflections and Observations

“Monday Musings” for Monday October 13, 2013

Volume III.  No. 39/133

excesses_

By Assad Meymandi, MD PhD, DLFAPA*

Reflections

Three things I do not understand:

1)  CEOs of big businesses like Merrill Lynch who send their companies to near bankruptcy and exit with a quarter billion dollar retirement package.

2)  Coaches who compile a less that a mediocre record, yet get contract extension and a whopping raise in their salaries sending their annual compensation into millions while our teachers barely make ends meet.

3)  Student athletes who can barely read and write. They work like slaves to generate a product with sales in the billions of dollars yet they get punished for accepting any gift from fans. This is a repetition of 17th adn18th century slavery, and the epitome of hypocrisy and unfairness. The entire system is unethical. It should be illegal and ought to be banned. One reasonable solution is to pay the student athlete a salary and pay teachers to tutor them and bring up academically, while they play their sport.

 World Chess Championship in Raleigh

Masters from all over the world will be convening for 2014 chess championship. The 2013 champion is a 22 year old Norwegian, Magnus Carlsen who became a grandmaster at age 13.  It would be exciting if our Raleigh Visitor’s Bureau would attempt to bring the match to Raleigh.

I was privileged to be in Reykjavick in 1972 and see the late Bobby Fisher playing chess with his Russian opponent Boris Spassky, about whom I have written in the past. What impressed me about the young Bobby, besides his bad behavior and total paranoia and mistrust for everyone, was his total mastery of the game, and his brilliance. His kind of brilliance was unfortunately blinding and not illuminating. It was more damaging than benefiting.

To me, Bobby Fischer was a good reminder of Richard Wagner (1813-1883), the most brilliant opera composer, writer and thinker of the 19th century. Wagner’s biological father was a Jew. Like Wagner, Fischer was also born to Jewish parents, yet like Wagner, in his life time, he piled an incredible amount of derogation and insult on Jews.  Like Wagner, Fischer was an unrepentant and zealous anti-Semite.

There are plenty of reasons to bury the memories of Bobby Fischer and let him fade into dustbin of oblivion. But his brilliance in chess may be selectively used as a role model for teaching focus, determination and devotion to learning to our young people. He provides a good example of how to train the brains of our children and grandchildren.  Let us celebrate him, and his contributions to the honored and honorable game of chess.

 David Edwards/Le Laboratoire

David Edwards, a professor of Biomechanics at Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) has started a gallery at the Louvre Museum in Paris that truly combines science and art, dealing with how a primitive, nondescript stem cell is transformed into a neuron. David is so good at what he does, and I am so impressed by his brilliant mind and abundant practical imagination, that I think any one going to Paris ought to plan to go see this exhibit. He is so much in touch with how science and humanities overlap that we might invite him to become a Meymandi Fellow at the National Humanities Center in RTP.

 Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) and Domestic Violence

October is Domestic Violence Awareness Month. The ravages to two wars US has been involved for the past dozen of years is directly related to ever higher incidence of PTSD. More human lives (both male and female) are lost to domestic violence. 2011 recorded the highest number since we have been keeping records. The victims, especially children, are severely scarred and emotionally abused. Domestic violence is of epidemic proportion in certain segment of our society. Iraq war has worsened the rot on families of military returnees who experience post- traumatic stress disorder.

Fortunately, we have Interact of Wake County, a worthy organization that is taking the matter of domestic violence seriously. Interact is providing safety, shelter and emotional support for the victims and their families. Interact is shining light on the murky and unpleasant landscape of this unwelcome epidemic. Interact deserves the support of everyone.

 Repulsive Public Events

It is unconscionable for print and electronic media to devote so much space and time to absolutely repulsive stories dealing with people consuming huge amounts of food (hot dogs and doughnuts) for a cause or a prize. We have seen these races where people gorge 12 doughnuts or 2400 calories to run four miles which burns about 400 calories, to raise money for a worthy cause. The goal of raising funds for a worthy cause is holy, but the method is most repulsive. With the epidemic of obesity causing diabetes, hypertension, and cardiovascular disease, I believe your story to encourage gluttony, profligacy and self indulgence was most unwise. I believe people ought to be encouraged to fast, lower caloric intake, and lose weight, while they run and engage in fund raising.

 Beethoven, The Mysterious Metaphysical Force of Deity

In 1824, Ludwig Van Beethoven was deaf. He was ill, temperamental, grouchy and uncooperative. He was 53 years old and ready to die.Yet he composed the majestic Ninth Symphony. I have heard the Ninth in many venues in Europe, Australia, America and even Africa, to audiences of tens of thousands. NC Symphony’s performance under the baton of Maestro Grant Llewellyn belongs right up there with the National Anthem of Europe conducted by the late Leonard Bernstein and the NY Philharmonic…Bravo!

 An Opera House for Raleigh

Gaetano Donizetti was one of the three bell canto opera composers (the others were Giacomo Rossini and Vincenzo Bellini) who made brutal demands on the vocal cords of his lady singers. We need to bring more of their operas to Raleigh. Also, the idea of Raleigh having its own opera House is most intriguing.

Raleigh is inching closer to becoming a late 16th century Florence where the arts, music, poetry and dance flourish; where brisk intellectual conversation and children’s laughter fill the air of its vast parks; where fountains flow with life and energy and where academia and business meet their maximum potentials. Raleigh is the essence of the NC State’s Motto, “Esse Quam Videri”, to be rather than to seem. Perhaps we can fit the new opera house in soon to be born Dix Park.

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*The writer is Adjunct Professor of Psychiatry, University of North Carolina School of Medicine at Chapel Hill, Distinguished Life fellow American Psychiatric Association, and Founding Editor and Editor-in-Chief, Wake County Physician Magazine (1995-2012). He serves as a Visiting Scholar and lecturer on Medicine, the Arts and Humanities at his alma mater the George Washington University School of Medicine and Health.

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On Opera’s Relation to Buddhism and Sufism

Monday Musing”, for Monday October 7, 2013

Volume III. No. 38/132

E9 Bayreuth  Margravial Opera Stage

Bayreuth Margravial Opera House

A Few Words About The Opera

and

How it Relates to Buddhism and Sufism

By Assad Meymandi, MD, PhD, DLFAPA*

Yesterday, October 6, 2013 was the 413th anniversary of western opera (see below). The first opera, Orpheus (Orpheo) and Eurydice was composed by Jacobo Peri and performed at Piti Palace in Florence on October 6, 1600. This date marks the beginning of Western Opera. Before that earlier in late 1590’s there was an experimental composition named Daphne, and of course before all that there was Greek opera some 2000 years earlier. In 1607 Montverde re-wrote the same opera, Orpheo and Eurydice which remains in the repertoire after 406 years.  To observe the holy birth of the opera, here are some thoughts:

Why Opera?

There are four powerful instruments used for introspection and research on self.  One can learn more about one’s self through psychoanalysis which is usually very expensive and time consuming. The other tools are studying history, theater and poetry. The last but certainly not the least is understanding and studying opera. Opera, a combination of words and music, offers us the most comprehensive and potent introspectoscope. Opera gives the participant an opportunity to become aware of one’s unconscious in dynamic gradation. Do we as viewers possess at least some of the evil and sexual identity confusion that eclipses Iago and Othello (in opera Otello)? Are we endowed with passion that made Don Jose kill Carmen? Are we capable of transcendence that come with the Zoroastrian parables in Wagner’s Ring Cycles? In order to get to know ourselves better, I believe opera should be an integral part every citizen’s cultural and intellectual diet. It is much less expensive that psychoanalysis, and while being intellectually stimulating, it is more enjoyable and entertaining.

History of Opera:

Opera is an Italian word. It means work. In the late 16th Century a group of Florentine scholars decided to get together every week and study the music and writings of the ancient Greek.  They called themselves the Florentine Camarata. It was very much like our modern day book clubs, except that these people were very serious about their work. The culmination of these studies and discussions was Jacobo Peri’s composition of Orpheo which was performed at 8:00 PM, October 6, 1600, at Piti Palace in Florence.  Of course in 1607 Claudio Monteverdi gave us his version of Orpheo. It marks the beginning of Opera. We have enjoyed 400 years of opera as result of the intense work of this group.

Types of Opera:

Italian opera dominated Europe throughout the 16th and early 17th centuries.  Around 1670’s, French opera, with its founder and inventor Jean Baptist Lully (1632-1687), emerged. Lully was an Italian orphan who immigrated to Paris at age 14. He rose to become the court composer for the Sun King, Louis 14th, who rained for 73 years. Lully gave us the French Overture and its dotted rhythm brings on grandeur, pomposity and majesty meant for Louis 14th. Other French composers followed: Jean-Philip Rameau, Jean Jacques Rousseau, Christoph Willibald Von Gluck, Giacomo Meyerbeer, Bizet etc. There are German, Russian, Chinese, and now many third world country operas. Also, there are lyric opera, grand opera, opera buffa and opera seria, just to name a few. I have chosen Carmen as an example of illustrating the power of the opera.

Carmen is an opera comic in four acts. It was written by Georges Bizet. He was a genius. Bizet died penniless at age 38, exactly three months after Carmen was staged. Had he lived three more years, he would have reaped immense wealth because of Carmen’s success all over Europe. Perhaps Bizet and Van Goch were soul brothers. They lived in poverty, yet after death, their work’s value increased immensely. Bizet knew music and composition. His musical compositions at age 17 easily compare to the music of Mendelssohn and Mozart. His one act opera in 1857, Le Docteur Miracle, shows his mastery of operatic idiom at an early age.  In Act II of Carmen, the accelerating gypsy dance is an orchestral tour de force in which dissonance and sliding harmonies paint the scene of Lilla Pastia’s underworld tavern. Bizet knew human nature.  He was as keen as Shakespeare when it came to assessing human nature. The famed German philosopher Fredrick Nietzsche, in an essay on Carmen, wrote that he saw the opera 21 times.  “Every time I see Carmen, I sit still for five hours, I become more patient which is the first step of true holiness…”

Carmen is a story about love, not of higher order, but as futility, cynical, cruel and at best deadly hatred of two sexes. Love translated in the horror proclaimed in Don Jose’s last cry “yes, I have killed her…I have killed my adored…” Carmen, the epitome of carnal desire, temptation and primal raw sexuality, is the Eve and the serpent rolled in one. In act III she sees her mortality in the cards that she and her gypsy friends were reading. She gave into her fate and led a reckless life. Don Jose, a decent and simple soldier when he first met Carmen, turns into a love crazed killer. He is Adam. He is Kane. He would not have been transformed into a killer if the violence and killing were not in him to start. There is a bit of Adam, though deeply hidden, in all of us. Don Jose is Adam. Jose’s unrestrained male sexuality and machismo ultimately caused his destruction.

Perhaps like Nietzsche who claimed to become a better philosopher every time he sat through a performance of Carmen, we can see this very deeply moving and instructive work as the beginning.

Opera, Sufism and Buddhism:

One must read the 19th century German Philosopher, Arthur Schopenhauer (1788-1860) ,whose writings are very much imbued in Sufism and Buddhism to understand, “To be, one must first not be…” Richard Wagner (1813-1883), the genius anti-Semitic German musician and composer of opera (he hated the word opera because it is an Italian word and he hated Italians(!) and who called his work “Music Drama”), was a disciple of Schopenhauer. His operas, especially Tristan and Isolde, and the Ring Cycle consisting of four operas, 18 hours, are full of Zoroastrian parables and Buddhist reference to “nothingness” before becoming “something.” This ruthless, racist and megalomaniacal genius not only composed his own operas, but wrote the libretto and conducted the work. His compositions are not just opera but an all encompassing Gesamtkunstwerk, like a super bowl half time show! The writings of Rumi, Shams Tabrizi and Baba Taher Oryan, all Persian Sufi Poets, assert the Buddhist notion of the issue of “being”, the western concept of which is called ontology. I am inserting an essay on opera from years ago to whet your appetite.

In my mind, opera continues to be the most complete art form. It has the greatest capacity for communication and impact per second of any other art form including my most favorite art form, classical music. What I wonder is when and where in NC we will see some modern operas the list of which is approaching 90. I have noticed and admired the Met’ s willingness to add some of the modern operas such as Cyrano de Bergerac with Placido Domingo as Cyrano, Sondra Radvanovsky (Roxanne), and librettist Henry Cain, this season. I yet to see any opera by Michael Tippett, Hans Verner Henze and Olivier Messiaen (I saw his Saint Francois D’Assie in Paris several months ago), and other composers. As a psychiatrist we try to help people with addiction. Addiction to opera is one addiction that I recommend.

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*The writer is Adjunct Professor of Psychiatry, University of North Carolina School of Medicine at Chapel Hill, Distinguished Life fellow American Psychiatric Association, and Founding Editor and Editor-in-Chief, Wake County Physician Magazine (1995-2012). He serves as a Visiting Scholar and lecturer on Medicine, the Arts and Humanities at his alma mater the George Washington University School of Medicine and Health.

 

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Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony

“Monday Musings” for Monday September 23, 2013

Volume III, No. 36/130

Beethoven’s 9th
Raleigh Meymandi Concert Hall 
Maestro Grant Llewellyn, Conductor

By: Assad Meymandi, MD, PhD, DLFAPA*

(Beethoven was born on December 16, 1770.  This edition of Monday Musings is dedicated to him.)

Liszt

The next time you go to Musee D’orsay in Paris, that unpleasant piece of Rail Road station, the former Minister of Culture of France, the late Andres Malraux, transformed into  a magnificent museum, go all the way down the hall to the last gallery on the left. There, you will see several paintings of various groups. One of them that stands out is a painting by the 18th century French painter Dan Hauser.  It is the picture of a Parisian salon in the 1830s.  It shows Franz Liszt at the piano, and at his knee with her face covered is Countess Marie D’agoult, a socially prominent Catholic lady who left her husband and children to be one of many Liszt’s mistresses-scandal galore.  Next to Marie is Alexander Dumas, next Chopin and his inseparable girlfriend Aurore Dudevant (George Sand) smoking her fat cigar; next to her, the violinist magician contortionist Nicholas Paganini; next, Rossini, the  bell canto opera composer (he composed Barber of Seville in 1816), and Victor Hugo. They are all gathered to hear Liszt play Beethoven, and way on top above everybody’s head is a bust of Beethoven in the background of clouds roiling into infinity. Yes, the painting shows Beethoven high above with the Gods…This is how Beethoven was worshipped after his death.

Ludwig van Beethoven was born December 16, 1770, fourteen years younger than Mozart.  His childhood was dreadful.  Almost every night, he and his brothers, Kasper (Karl) and Nickkolaus had to go on the streets and cajole their drunken father to come home.  The gentleman was a severe alcoholic and on a church pension.  The family was one step ahead of welfare.  Beethoven fought suicidality most of his life and at one point after becoming deaf he actually planned suicide.  He wrote a long letter, Heiligenstadt, complaining bitterly about his miserable life and reasons for ending it.  But thankfully, he did not go through with his plans.  It was after 1799 that he began composing his famous nine symphonies culminating in the incomparable ninth.  Beethoven’s music is not classic, it is not romantic, it is just Beethoven, expressive, full of power, full of life and full of promise and possibilities, something like the writings of Paul and Pauline theology.

Beethoven’s immortal 9th Symphony composed in 1824 is a summation of his life, a summation of all he had learned and had lived for. Almost anywhere in the world, reference to the 9th is without doubt or question Beethoven’s 9th. It is NOT any of the other symphonists such as Schubert, Bruckner, Mahler, etc. It is always Beethoven’s ninth. No matter where on earth from Ethiopia, Sub Saharan Africa, to countries of Eastern and Western Europe, and to the countries of South America and down under, Australia, in the circles where there is the slightest familiarity with classical music, when you mention the 9th symphony, the listener will reflexively say Beethoven. They might not know his full name, they might not know how to spell his name, they might not know anything about his birth date, birth place, the miserable childhood he had with a drunken father, a long suffering violated and abused mother and several younger brothers, but they know it is Beethoven! The 9th Symphony became immortal when it was chosen/adopted to be the National Anthem of the United Europe in 1989 after the fall of the Berlin Wall. Later, because of the national pride and momentum of the newly adopted National Anthem, the currency of Euro was created which is now being used by 320 million people, Beethoven’s nine symphonies are eponymous with might, excellence and inimitability of Beethoven style. In word association games, tissues are associated with Kleenex, cars with Chrysler, psychoanalysis with Freud, chewing gum with Wrigley and yes the 9th with Beethoven. The dean of music critics, Joseph T. Kerman, ordinarily parsimonious in praise and use of adjectives, refers to Beethoven “as belonging to the same salon with Gods, and merging with Gods.”

In the annals of human history, the power of Beethoven’s music, especially his symphonies, most of them curiously composed in minor key, is unparalleled. His 9th is indeed the apotheosis of vigor, vitality, hope, redemption, and possibility, yet it is imbued in sublimity, transcendence and beauty. Reviewing other notables’ remarks about Beethoven’s 9th is equally interesting. Hector Berlioz, a failed medical student, yet brilliant composer and writer, admitted that in some ways the 9th “remained unfathomable to me.” He continued “In composing the 9th, Beethoven broke some musical laws, and frankly it is so much worse for the law!” Stuart Isocoff, a contemporary NY music critic suggests that “Beethoven’s new forms, new visions, explored new ways in what music could do and what music could say. Beethoven had begun early in his career to construct his compositions out of small cells, which are organically, as if governed by a kind of musical DNA, matured. The 9th unfolds a psychological drama in which themes are declared only to become subsumed in the flame of heavenly bliss.”

The NC Symphony recently performed the 9th under the baton of its talented and energetic music director, Maestro Grant Llewellyn. Beethoven’s 9th, with its final movement for chorus, four vocal soloists and orchestra set to Fredrick’s Shiller’s poem “Ode to Joy,” left the audience ecstatic with extended spontaneous ovations. The RTP audience was blessed by the hundreds of voices of the NC Master Chorale, directed by Dr. Alfred Sturgis, with the four soloists, soprano Barbara Shervis; mezzo-soprano, Paula Murriphy; tenor Benjamin Butterfield; and bass Kevin Deas. When the celestial voices of the Chorales were singing “Freude, Tochter of Elyzium, deine Zauber binden weider was die Mode stren geteilt; alle mencchen werden Bruder who dein sanfter weilt.” “Joy, daughter of Elysium, your magic again units all that custom harshly torn apart, all men become brothers beneath your gentle hovering wing.” I felt like I was floating among myriads of angels of hope, comfort, promise and beauty. The magic of the 9th approaches Biblical mystery of how miracles occur.

The extensive literature compiled by theologians of repute, among them Dietrich Bonhoeffer (the German theologian imprisoned and executed by Hitler in Flessenburg Concentration Camp at age 39) and the late Paul Tillich of Harvard University, refer to Beethoven’s music as an essential intellectual tool to understand how “magic” turns into “miracle.” The miracle is described as a man, Beethoven, in 1824, at age 53, in spite of his deafness, cantankerous and increasingly world weary and clinically depressed, living in an apartment with leaky roof and minimal toilet facilities, “he bared his soul in a work so stunning in originality, scale and emotional power that virtually every great composer who followed has lived under its shadow.” And in my view, the miracle continues the shadow cast by the 9th is protective and not destructive. It is nurturing and not condescending, it is life giving and not burdensome. That is the miracle of Beethoven’s music. Some theologians compare Beethoven’s personal life to the life of Job, the violated, abused and tortured soul in the old Testament. Yes, Beethoven’s music, especially his 9th, is a miracle.

I have been fortunate to have heard the 9th since my childhood conducted by greats of the music world, Eugene Ormandy, George Szell, George Schulte, Arturo Toscanini, Leonard Bernstein (he conducted the 9th in 1989 when the Berlin Wall came down), Loren Maazel, just to name a few. I believe what Llewellyn and the NC Symphony musicians and the combined Raleigh and Durham chorales produced in Raleigh’s Concert Hall with its superior acoustics, was a memorable and transcendent experience, comparable if not superior to other programs.

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*The writer is Adjunct Professor of Psychiatry, University of North Carolina School of Medicine at Chapel Hill, Distinguished Life fellow American Psychiatric Association, and Founding Editor and Editor-in-Chief, Wake County Physician Magazine (1995-2012). He serves as a Visiting Scholar and lecturer on Medicine, the Arts and Humanities at his alma mater the George Washington University School of Medicine and Health.

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Humanism and the Gift of Giving- a Brief Biography

Monday Musings for Monday December 31, 2012

Volume II, No. 52/104

 

Dear Readers: 

ATTACHED IS THE LAST “MONDAY MUSINGS“ OF 2012.  AS WE TOUCH THE EPISTEMIC THRESHOLD OF THE NEW YEAR, HERE IS A WISH THAT THE CONSTANT RUNNING BROOK OF JOY ENVELOP YOUR LIVES IN 2013 AND ALWAYS.

 AM

Assad Meymandi, MD, PhD, DLFAPA

Distinguished Life Fellow, American Psychiatric Association 
Adjunct Professor of Psychiatry
 
UNC School of Medicine at Chapel Hill
3320 Wake Forest Rd., Suite 460
 
Raleigh, NC, 27609
 

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A Few Thoughts on Messiah and Maestro Handel

Monday Musings for Monday December 10, 2012

Volume II. 40/92

NC_Symphony

A Few Thoughts on Messiah and Maestro Handel

By Assad Meymandi, MD, PhD, DLFAPA*

NC Symphony and NC Master Chorale recently performed Messiah with authority, power, transcendence and luminosity that the piece deserves.  Here are a few thoughts about Messiah and our beloved octogenarian NCS:

Messiah is special in many ways:

1)     Handel (George Frideric) and Bach (Johann Sebastian) were born in Germany the same year, 1685.  Handel in Halle, and Bach in Eisenach, about fifty miles apart.  They followed different paths, different careers, and different life styles.  Probably never met.  Handel spent a lot of his professional life in England and wrote music for George II, former Elector of Hanover of Germany.  Handel was working for the Elector as a Kapellmeister.  He left Germany for Italy to further his musical education without the Elector’s permission. The Elector, who later became George II, King of England, was not very pleased.  Handel approached George II in London and apologized for abandoning his post.   Handel was forgiven by the king who commissioned the Maestro for many pieces of music, among them The Water Music. George II became very fond of Handel’s music.  It was Handel who composed music for the King’s coronation in 1727.  Obviously by 1727, Handel was well forgiven by his majesty.

2)    It is variously reported that Messiah was written by Handel in fewer than 30 days.  A true miracle.  His knowledge of the Bible was astounding.  His creative genius of musical composition was unparalleled.  Handel was a big man.  He did not mince words.  If he did not like a minion’s behavior, he would let his displeasure be known by beating up the irritant. Wonder if King George II was intimidated by Handel’s heft and bulldog demeanor?

3)    Messiah opened 270 years ago, in 1742.  King George II was in the audience at the performance premiere.  He became so excited by the majesty of the music that he rose during the Alleluia chorus.  Of course everyone else rose.  When the king rises no one stays seated!  The music touched him very deeply.  And that is why, to this day, audiences throughout the world follow what has become the cultural tradition and accepted decorum. We all rise when Alleluia chorus is sung.  Since 1742, Messiah has played continuously without cessation, in war, in peace, in famine and in abundance.  It has been played every year for the past 270 years.

4)    The only other musical lasting and playing continuously is Ibn Khaldoun’s Talavat of Qur’an passages.  Ibn Khaldoun was born in Tunis in 1332.  He was a brilliant Muslim economist, philosopher, theologian, polymath and music lover.  He wanted to bring music back to Islam,  a religion that had banned music.  Khaldoun wrote to the reigning Caliph suggesting and arguing that since it is acceptable to sing the passages of the Holy Quran, by fatwa, the Caliph should allow singing and music in Islamic nations.  The Caliph agreed.  Khaldoun started an annual singing competition for Islamic countries which continues to this day.  It is very much like our Oscars or the Emmys.  All Islamic nations send their best singers to participate in Talavat competition.  I believe Nigeria holds the current championship.  Talavat started in 1355 when Khaldoun was 23 years old. In the history of music, there are no other compositions known to have continuously played.

As an aside: Ibn Khaldoun forwarded the concept of trickledown economics.  One might recall that in 1981, Robert Mundell, Chairman of the late President Reagan’s Board of Economic Advisers, introduced trickledown economics.  He had studied Ibn Khaldoun.  In his writings, Mundell has made numerous references to the 14th century Arab economist.  A Columbia University professor of economics, Mundell conceived and created the Euro.  He is now working on a currency for the Middle East and the Arab world. Any suggestion what it might be called?  Mundell won 1999 Nobel Prize in economics.

Symphony no. 7 by Dmitri Shostakovich, performed by NC Symphony

In its 80th year, the NC Symphony has reached a degree of maturity, predictable excellence, and incredible versatility that is gratifying and admirable.  Recently, the symphony  played back to back the relatively short Mozart ‘s Symphony no 25 in G minor followed by the 75 minute technically demanding and colossal Dmitri Shostakovich’s Symphony no. 7.  The 104 piece symphony with 26 violins, nine violas, nine cellos, six basses, 13 French Horns, two harps and a complement of piccolos, flutes, oboes, with 10 additional trombones and trumpets housed in the chorale loft of the concert hall, along with an impressive array of percussive instruments, provided a memorable evening.  The music depicted storm of war, softness and tranquility of peace, conflict, and human indignity.  The composition brought to mind synaesthetically, Picasso’s painting the famed Guernica and the tumultuous narrative of Leo Tolstoy’s War and Peace.  Guest conductor Carlos Kalmar’s mastery of the music brought Maazelian exactitude and  excellence which allowed for the majesty of the talent of the NCS’s musicians to be fully expressed.

We have professional sports such as football and basketball that get full weekly coverage in the local media.  I wish we would offer equal recognition to our NCS team.

*The writer is a Distinguished Life Fellow American Psychiatric Association, Adjunct Professor of Psychiatry, University of North Carolina School of Medicine at Chapel Hill.  He is the Founding Editor and Editor in chief, Wake County Physician Magazine (1995-2012)

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Beethoven’s 9th

Volume II. No. 32/84

Beethoven was born on December 16, 1770.  This edition of Monday Musings is dedicated to him.

The next time you go to Musee D’orsay in Paris, that unpleasant piece of Rail Road station, the former Minister of Culture of France, the late Andres Malraux, transformed into  a magnificent museum, go all the way down the hall to the last gallery on the left. There, you will see several paintings of various groups. One of them that stands out is a painting by the 18th century French painter Dan Hauser.  It is the picture of a Parisian salon in the1830s.  It shows Franz Liszt at the piano, and at his knee with her face covered is Countess Marie D’agoult, a socially prominent Catholic lady who left her husband and children to be one of many Liszt’s mistresses-scandal galore–  Next to Marie is Alexander Dumas, next Chopin and his inseparable girlfriend Aurore Dudevant (George Sand) smoking her fat cigar; next to her, the violinist magician contortionist Nicholas Paganini; next, Rossini, the  bell canto opera composer (he composed Barber of Sevillein 1816), and Victor Hugo. They are all gathered to hear Liszt play Beethoven, and way on top above everybody’s head is a bust of Beethoven in the background of clouds roiling into infinity. Yes, the painting shows Beethoven high above with the Gods…This is how Beethoven was worshipped after his death.

Ludwig van Beethoven was born December 16, 1770, fourteen years younger than Mozart.  His childhood was dreadful.  Almost every night, he and his brothers, Kasper (Karl) and Nickkolaus had to go on the streets and cajole their drunken father to come home.  The gentleman was a severe alcoholic and on a church pension.  The family was one step ahead of welfare.  Beethoven fought suicidality most of his life and at one point after becoming deaf he actually planned suicide.  He wrote a long letter, Heiligenstadt, complaining bitterly about his miserable life and reasons for ending it.  But thankfully, he did not go through with his plans.  It was after 1799 that he began composing his famous nine symphonies culminating in the incomparable ninth.  Beethoven’s music is not classic, it is not romantic, it is just Beethoven, expressive, full of power, full of life and full of promise and possibilities, something like the writings of Paul and Pauline theology.

Beethoven’s immortal 9th Symphony composed in 1824 is a summation of his life, a summation of all he had learned and had lived for. Almost anywhere in the world, reference to the 9th is without doubt or question Beethoven’s 9th. It is NOT any of the other symphonists such as Schubert, Bruckner, Mahler, etc. It is always Beethoven’s ninth. No matter where on earth from Ethiopia, Sub Saharan Africa, to countries of Eastern and Western Europe, and to the countries of South America and down under, Australia, in the circles where there is the slightest familiarity with classical music, when you mention the 9th symphony, the listener will reflexively say Beethoven. They might not know his full name, they might not know how to spell his name, they might not know anything about his birth date, birth place, the miserable childhood he had with a drunken father, a long suffering violated and abused mother and several younger brothers, but they know it is Beethoven! The 9th Symphony became immortal when it was chosen/adopted to be the National Anthem of the United Europe in 1989 after the fall of the Berlin Wall. Later, because of the national pride and momentum of the newly adopted National Anthem, the currency of Euro was created which is now being used by 320 million people, Beethoven’s nine symphonies are eponymous with might, excellence and inimitability of Beethoven style. In word association games, tissues are associated with Kleenex, cars with Chrysler, psychoanalysis with Freud, chewing gum with Wrigley and yes the 9th with Beethoven. The dean of music critics, Joseph T. Kerman, ordinarily parsimonious in praise and use of adjectives, refers to Beethoven “as belonging to the same salon with Gods, and merging with Gods.”

In the annals of human history, the power of Beethoven’s music, especially his symphonies, most of them curiously composed in minor key, is unparalleled. His 9th is indeed the apotheosis of vigor, vitality, hope, redemption, and possibility, yet it is imbued in sublimity, transcendence and beauty. Reviewing other notables’ remarks about Beethoven’s 9th is equally interesting. Hector Berlioz, a failed medical student, yet brilliant composer and writer, admitted that in some ways the 9th “remained unfathomable to me.” He continued “In composing the 9th, Beethoven broke some musical laws, and frankly it is so much worse for the law!” Stuart Isocoff, a contemporary NY music critic suggests that “Beethoven’s new forms, new visions, explored new ways in what music could do and what music could say. Beethoven had begun early in his career to construct his compositions out of small cells, which are organically, as if governed by a kind of musical DNA, matured. The 9th unfolds a psychological drama in which themes are declared only to become subsumed in the flame of heavenly bliss.”

The NC Symphony recently performed the 9th under the baton of its talented and energetic music director, Maestro Grant Llewellyn. Beethoven’s 9th, with its final movement for chorus, four vocal soloists and orchestra set to Fredrick’s Shiller’s poem “Ode to Joy,” left the audience ecstatic with extended spontaneous ovations. The RTP audience was blessed by the hundreds of voices of the NC Master Chorale, directed by Dr. Alfred Sturgis, and the Choral Society of Durham Chamber Choir, Directed by Rodney Wynkoop, and the four soloists, soprano Jane Jennings, mezzo-soprano Stacey Rishoi, tenor Richard Clement and bass Raymond Aceto. When the celestial voices of the Chorales were singing “Freude, Tochter of Elyzium, deine Zauber binden weider was die Mode stren geteilt; alle mencchen werden Bruder who dein sanfter weilt.” “Joy, daughter of Elysium, your magic again units all that custom harshly torn apart, all men become brothers beneath your gentle hovering wing.” I felt like I was floating among myriads of angels of hope, comfort, promise and beauty. The magic of the 9th approaches Biblical mystery of how miracles occur.

The extensive literature compiled by theologians of repute, among them Dietrich Bonhoeffer (the German theologian imprisoned and executed by Hitler in Flessenburg Concentration Camp at age 39) and the late Paul Tillich of Harvard University, refer to Beethoven’s music as an essential intellectual tool to understand how “magic” turns into “miracle.” The miracle is described as a man, Beethoven, in 1824, at age 53, in spite of his deafness, cantankerous and increasingly world weary and clinically depressed, living in an apartment with leaky roof and minimal toilet facilities, “he bared his soul in a work so stunning in originality, scale and emotional power that virtually every great composer who followed has lived under its shadow.” And in my view, the miracle continues the shadow cast by the 9th is protective and not destructive. It is nurturing and not condescending, it is life giving and not burdensome. That is the miracle of Beethoven’s music. Some theologians compare Beethoven’s personal life to the life of Job, the violated, abused and tortured soul in the old Testament. Yes, Beethoven’s music, especially his 9th, is a miracle.

I have been fortunate to have heard the 9th since my childhood conducted by greats of the music world, Eugene Ormandy, George Szell, George Schulte, Arturo Toscanini, Leonard Bernstein (he conducted the 9th in 1989 when the Berlin Wall came down), Loren Maazel, just to name a few. I believe what Llewellyn and the NC Symphony musicians and the combined Raleigh and Durham chorales produced in Raleigh’s Concert Hall with its superior acoustics, was a memorable and transcendent experience, comparable if not superior to other programs.

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