Tomas Tranströmer’s Allegro begins:
After a black day, I play Haydn,
and feel a little warmth in my hands.
The keys are ready. Kind hammers fall.
The sound is spirited, green, and full of silence.
I shove my hands in my haydnpockets
and act like a man who is calm about it all.
I raise my haydnflag. The signal is:In Schubertiana, Tranströmer writes: “I know too—without statistics—that Schubert’s being played in some room/there and for someone the tones at this moment are more real than/everything else.” Of Schubert himself, he writes:
“We do not surrender. But want peace.”
And he who catches the signals from a whole life in some rather ordinary
chords by a string quintet,
he who gets a river to flow through the eye of a needle
is a fat young gentleman from Vienna, called “the little mushroom” by his
friends, who slept with his glasses on
and stood himself up punctually at his writing lectern in the morning.
At which the music script’s wonderful centipedes set themselves in motion.
In the audio that follows, Tranströmer reads Schubertiana in English translation (beginning at about 3:39), prefaced by tales that led to its creation. He ranges from Schubert’s brief lifetime, when, “even in Vienna, he was not regarded as an extremely important composer, but as a second-rate, but gifted and promising, composer,” to a concert in China “during the time of the Gang of the Four,” and on to a view of New York City from East Orange, New Jersey.
He cautions that Schubertiana isn’t “a poem about the life of Franz Schubert: it’s a poem about what music means to me and to mankind.”
In 1990, Tranströmer suffered a stroke that paralyzed the right side of his body and affected his speech. In 2007, The Griffin Trust for Excellence in Poetry awarded Tranströmer its second Lifetime Recognition Award. Robert Hass, in his tribute to Tranströmer at the event, related that “when he had the stroke, his wife Monika . . . who is a nurse, drove into Stockholm and bought, because Tomas loved playing the piano, the entire Western literature for piano for the left hand, I’m told, and brought it back and said, ‘Tomas, get to work.’”
Tranströmer did. He recorded a CD of poetry readings and piano pieces for the left hand. The CD is called Klangen sager att friheten finns, taken from Allegro: “The sound says that freedom exists.”
Wednesday, December 7, 2011, marked the beginning of the 2011 Nobel Prize lectures and ceremonies, and Tomas Tranströmer has been awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature. To honor the occasion, I offer this post, in tandem with my previous post, Dreaming in Swedish.
The Nobel Lecture in Literature was a program with texts by Tomas Tranströmer, who was in attendance. The program took place Wednesday, December 7, 2011. The Nobel Prize ceremony took place Saturday, December 11, 2011. A brief slide show from the ceremony appears below:
Before getting to the listening list, I must include two things:
First, a mention of that essential place for poetry, Friko’s Poetry and Pictures, where you’ll find Tranströmer’s Breathing Space July.
Second, here is Schubertiana, read by Tranströmer in Swedish (beautiful to hear, even without knowledge of Swedish).
The poem, translated into English, can be found, in a translation by Robert Fulton, here. (Thanks to David Nice for spotting the link.)
To hear several selections from Tranströmer’s CD, click on Tranströmer’s Official Website.
A selection of musical Tranströmeriana can be found there, too, including these:
At the head of the list is Ellen Lindquist and Companion Star’s drömseminarium (dream seminar).
You’ll find Jan Garbarek here, too.
A selection from 21st century Swedish composer Benjamin Staern’s Tranströmersånger (Tranströmer Settings) can be found here.Here's an Allegro, this one from Haydn's Piano Sonata in E-flat Major:
Tranströmer refers to two pieces in Schubertiana, the String Quintet in C Major and Fantasia for Two Pianos in F Minor. The first movements of the String Quintet and the Fantasia can be heard below. A Spotify playlist of Schubert Quintets (some in more than one version) and two recordings of the Fantasia can be found at Schubertiana.
Fantasia (first movement)
String Quintet in C Major (first movement, in two parts)
String Quintet in C Major (second movement-Adagio)
Below is a short film by British director Martin Earle that uses excerpts from Schubertiana, as translated by Jöns Mellgren. (The music is the Adagio from Schubert’s String Quintet in C Major.)
A Galaxy Over There from Martin Earle on Vimeo.
Credits: The photograph at the head of the post can be found here. The quotations from Tranströmer’s poems are from Tomas Tranströmer, Selected Poems, edited by Robert Hass. The translations are by Robert Bly (Allegro) and Samuel Charters (Schubertiana).