Saturday, December 3, 2011

Tranströmer’s haydnpockets

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.
The sound says that freedom exists
and someone pays no tax to Caesar.
Tranströmer’s poem brings new words to music’s lexicon:
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:
“We do not surrender.  But want peace.”
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:

     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:

Listening List

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). 


David said...

So much to absorb here - I can't wait for a quiet space to watch the Transtromer film. But how could one not reverence a poet who somehow links Schubert with the essence of life? The older I get the more aware I am of that truth - and it seems that only pianists in their late maturity, like Leonskaja and Richter, could really probe the infinite depths.

Haydn sonatas are a bit of a treasury, too - again, it was Richter who made a point of programming so many. But he did so in preference to Mozart simply because he said he thought Haydn could be understood; Mozart proved a nearly unsurmountable challenge to him, oddly. Leonskaja said the same.

In the meantime, thanks for leading me to discover a poet of whom I knew nothing.

Susan Scheid said...

David: So many riches in your comment, too! More to say, and I will, but just an alert that the "video" of Schubertiana is actually only audio. I wish it were video, too, though I did think the audio, particularly as it includes his introductory remarks, a treasure.

Suze said...

'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.’” '

My eyes bogged out of my head when I read this, but the first thing that popped into my head is what I know from study to be the strengths of either side of the brain and felt what might oddly be termed relief to know that it was his right side that suffered paralysis.

The popular conception of the division of labor between the right and left side of the brain is certainly oversimplified, but there is more than a ghost of truth to it.

This post, together with your last one, are beautiful tributes. You educate me, Sue.

Rubye Jack said...

I had never heard of Tomas Tranströmer before reading your two posts Susan. And, I would probably never hear of him in the future if it were not for you, so much outside my circle of learning and understanding is music and poetry. Thank you for this.

Mark Kerstetter said...

Thanks Susan. I found the Haas video instructive and the Martin Earle video beautiful.

David said...

So. I listened to the poet reading - very beautifully - in English; I found him reading in Swedish with what seems to me the wonderful translation by Robert Fulton printed out beneath. Tears came to my eyes at select points, like the passage where he writes about everyday hopes and fears, and adds 'none of that is really worth our confidence./The five strings say we can trust something else. And they keep us company part of the way'.

Collected Poems coming my way now. Thank you profoundly for this introduction.

Susan Scheid said...

David: Still more to say, and I will--for now, is it possible for you to send on the link to the video in Swedish you mention? I was unable to find it, and would love to include it in the post.

It gives me great joy to think of Tranströmer's poems winging their way to you as I write. Happy reading!

David said...

I found it on a site of another admirer called Chamber of Secrets, and like the one you have in English it's just a sound recording. The YouTube ref is

Friko said...

For reasons you know about I have only just arrived here. Schubert and Transtromer, two of my favourite people to see me through dark days.

Without them, and others like them, life could, at times, appear as a wasteland of mediocrity, not worthy of the effort it takes to go on.

You have also reminded me that I have a poetry site, thank you.
Perhaps that will lift my gloomy spirits.

Britta said...

Dear Sue,

"I raise my haydnflag. The signal is: 'We do not surrender. But want peace.' - that is really poetical, I see it at once.
And I love this too: " he who gets a river to flow through the eye of a needle" - someone who can see this in others and formulate it will have the willpower to play with the left hand, admirable!
Thank you for your wonderful post! Britta

Peaches Ledwidge said...

Thanks for the knowledge Susan and David.

Susan Scheid said...

David: “But how could one not reverence a poet who somehow links Schubert with the essence of life?” Well said, well said, and, indeed, how not? Isn’t it interesting how Schubert, who died at a mere thirty-one, was the communicator of that essence? What Leonskaja and Richter say about Mozart is fascinating to learn: in a way, perhaps, they understood so much they simply could not bear to blunder in. More anon . . .

Suze: Interesting. I wonder, though, is the playing of music a left-brain activity? And composing a right-brain one? It feels a bit reductive to me, though I do also think there is something to the idea. (I remember that book, “Drawing on the Right Side of the Brain,” and how much better one could draw if done upside down and backward, thus leaving any “left-brain” rules or preconceptions behind).

Rubye Jack: I’m surprised to see your comment that music and poetry are “outside my circle of learning and understanding.” I can’t help but think that, for a lover of Frida Kahlo, as I recall you to be, these other creative arts can be just a short step more to go. I do hope, to extend that very overused analogy, you’ll put a toe in and tell us should something catch hold!

Mark: I’m pleased you liked the Hass video. I was delighted to find it. The Earle video is an interesting take, as well, though I’ll have to confess, in this case, I had some trouble with him taking snippets of Schubertiana, rather than the whole. I tried to think of it as a collage, but the poem is such a magical whole I couldn’t quite let go of that.

David: Once more to you, and ah, now, haven’t you gone straight to the heart of that wonderful poem? (The Fulton translation, by the way, appears to be the one Tranströmer reads, as well.)
As you may have discovered, the Collected Poems includes “The Sad Gondola,” the first book published after his stroke. The title is take from a piano piece by Franz Liszt ,"La lugubre gondola.” I don’t know the piece, nor do I as yet have the book. I’m hoping, as Amazon let me down, to pick up a copy when I’m next in New York City. As for the introduction—after all you’ve introduced me to, I’m thrilled to be able to return the favor. I must in turn thank Michael Douglas Jones and Companion Star, as well as my poet-friend Elaine, for introducing Tranströmer to me.

Susan Scheid said...

Friko: Yes, you’ve been through it as of late far, far more than is at all fair. I shall be happy indeed if the reminder of Schubert and Tranströmer, not to mention of your indispensible poetry site, can help lift your spirits. And speaking of such, you know, I will never forget your post here, with that marvelous Klimt painting of Schubert to head it off and recounting a brilliant day, much of which was spent in the company of Schubert lieder. (We shall ignore the writing “teacher” who, in the end, needed more to be taught than to teach, if I am remembering rightly . . .)

Britta: Ah, the hadynflag. Such an utterly loveable coinage, yes? And I do agree absolutely with your clever observation about Tranströmer seeing in Schubert “he who gets a river to flow through the eye of a needle” is also an observation about his own creative will in the face of terrible odds.

Peaches: Thank you so much for following and for stopping by to comment. (To all, on visiting Peaches’ site for the first time, I found I had to “borrow” something right away—it was her greeting to followers, which came from such a generous spirit I wanted to adopt it on the spot!)

Shoreacres: To all the rest of you, if you go back to here
and scroll down, you’re now going to see the most wonderful poem shoreacres has written in response to the title and the photograph heading that post. I feel honored indeed to be graced with the gift of this poem. Thank you!

To you all: Today, I was able to watch some of the live webcast of the Tranströmer Nobel program that I’d embedded in the post. New as I am to his work, it was a thrill when I recognized his voice (recorded from an earlier time, though he was in attendance) and also recognized that he was reading Schubertiana in Swedish. The camera moved back, I could see the bow of a violinist, then a string quintet, and I knew then what we would hear. They played the beautiful Adagio from Schubert’s String Quintet in C Major (you can hear it in the sidebar, and I’ll be putting it in the post as well). At the end, all in attendance stood and applauded the music and the poet, linked now for all time.

David said...

This carries on being so rich. I've just read what you've written about the Liszt, Sue, having just replied to you Over There to the effect that I've been hearing Liszt's disconsolate late pieces in three recitals. And before Aimard's last night, my volume of Collected Poems had arrived just in time for me to quote part of a poem in the 'Sad Gondola' collection. Can I put it here in full, in Robin Fulton's poem? Unfortunately Googlemessaging doesn't allow the correct layout:

Liszt has written down some chords that are so heavy they ought to be sent
to the mineralogical institute in Padua for analysis.
too heavy to rest, they can only sink and sink through the future right down
to the years of the brownshirts.
The gondola is heavily laden with the crouching stones of the future.

Thank you! And so sorry, Friko, for your NHS hospital travail, which you describe in poetic terms that are all too familiar to me.

shoreacres said...

In the midst of so much unfamiliar to me, one thing stands out: Tranströmer's stroke, and Suze's comments about the hemispheres of the brain.

If you've not seen Jill Bolte Taylor's TED talk about her personal experience of stroke, it's a wonderful tangent that on review made Tranströmer's experience and accomplishments seem more accessible.

You can see it here, or if the link happens not to work, simply enter her name and TED into your favorite search engine.

And I'm so glad you found the poem worth mentioning.

Anonymous said...

It hurts me to hear that Schubert was regarded as a second-rate composer. I just can't understand how people could have thought that. Fortunately for all of us the music world came to its senses, but unfortunately for Schubert that wasn't until after his death.

Susan Scheid said...

Shoreacres: Thanks for that link--and once again for the lovely poem.

portraits: I was just watching a Ken Russell film about Henri Rousseau last night and was reminded again how often this fate befalls artists and composers (think of van Gogh, too). All the more reason, it seems to me, to support living composers and artists that we love, to seek them out, and to applaud them now. (If you haven't had a chance, I do recommend listening to Tranströmer's full comments on this subject. It's a wonderful story about a this magnificent poem.)

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