Behind the Twinkle of an Eye
It was one of those snow days where the flakes are the size of quarters, accumulating at least an inch per hour. The weather had impeded the usual bustle of Christmas shoppers, but there were a few of us stalwarts trying to spend next month's paycheck while ignoring the inevitable consequences. Looking like a dog fresh out of water, I shook the snow from my old herringbone overcoat and stepped into the warmth of Tower Records. I wandered through the supermarket sized record store to the enclosed classical music section and began perusing the vast array of CDs when a piano attracted my attention through the store's powerful sound system. I continued flipping through CDs, but found myself enthralled by the explosiveness of the piano. "It sounds like Beethoven," I thought. I was not completely familiar with all of Beethoven's sonatas so I thought it must be one of his lesser-known works. The soloist was extremely intense yet the music seemed to wander without focus, almost like a young man full of energy, but without direction; so serious, so dedicated, so ardent, and yet so rudderless. My own youth materialized in front of me as the music began recreating my distant past. Then very suddenly, a melody was conceived, a happy theme that announced that the young man had discovered some purpose in life. The frustrated intensity of a lost soul striving for, and yet imprisoned without a vision was miraculously transformed into a joyous spirit inspired by the freedom of knowing how to proceed. Images of an exuberant youth, painted by the inspired pianist, suddenly confirmed that he knew, without a doubt, the meaning of truth and the purpose of life. With unabashed conviction he proselytized his newfound knowledge. I smiled at his naiveté and envied the freedom that this fragment of truth had given him. I listed with poignant memories as the pianist pranced through variations of that airy theme.
I had stopped my search for CDs and found myself mesmerized. I thought, "How utterly amazing it is, that such freedom and power results from total focus and belief." Yet, I also know that the zeal of youth is often very personal, sometimes even selfish. Ironically, as these thoughts entered my mind, the pianist seemed to lose his direction again. It almost seemed that he discovered that something was missing in his life. He was not lost as before, but rather searching with purpose.
As the music created pictures in my mind, the bass section of a symphony orchestra tiptoed into the record store. I suddenly realized that the young character portrayed by the piano was becoming aware of a world beyond him, and that this world's future was inextricably bound to his own. He was beginning to realize that he had a responsibility not only to himself, but also to the greater whole. Inspired by the young man's theme, the orchestra playfully explored new variations. They took turns praising each other and then pronounced the joy of their discoveries to the world.
This glorious union left me breathless as I stood between the isles of the CDs, lost in wonder. The balance between the young piano and his orchestral friends was magnificent. I had never heard such an explosion of joy. Though one with the orchestra, the maturing youth was not required to give up his individuality. He could lead or solo. He could merge and blend and support. He understood his role and relationship to the world, and thus contributed much more to life than when he was alone.
And then, as before, the questions started to enter into the dialogue. These were not questions involving their relationship, but rather their purpose. The piano was beginning to realize a double responsibility. He could not succeed unless the world succeeded yet the world could not succeed unless every individual human being succeeds. This interdependence on each other as individuals is mirrored in our responsibility to all of humanity, and to our environment, and to the future generations of people who are blessed or cursed with the success of our performance as individual human beings and as a global entity.
This was no longer a flighty young man on a joyride. This was a mature man facing the mid-life music. I stood in the isle amongst the CDs riveted by the ominous ramifications of my own actions at any and every moment in time. And then, like angels heralding the presence of God, two voices lifted me into the air, along with two other patrons in the record store, and like iron particles drawn by a magnet, the three of us floated toward and converged upon the elfish-looking fellow behind the cash register. What the soloists had foretold was but a glimpse of the ecstasy yet to come. The pianist and his friends in the orchestra joined the angels, and I was transfixed. The music surrounded me, exposed me yet insulated me. It was inside of me too, emanating from my heart and soul. I was both exploding and imploding with sublime joy. Then, just as I thought I had experienced heaven on earth, a chorus as the voice of all humanity, past, present and future, entered through the glass doors of that magical record store to join the piano, the orchestra, the wise little clerk, and the three lone patrons. We were transfigured, at one with God, at one with each other, at one with ourselves. This state of spiritual orgasm sustained until only the echo of the experience faded in our ears. The only sound to be heard was that of four people blubbering uncontrollably. With tears of love and joy flowing down our respective cheeks, we simultaneously asked the little man behind the counter, "What was that piece of music?"
He answered, "Beethoven's Choral Fantasy." We followed him over to the Beethoven CDs and his last three copies of the CD seemed to rise from the rack. Smiling warmly, he handed one to each of us. I was a child again accepting gifts from Santa. I looked into his eyes and thought I detected something divine.
As I trudged through ever deepening snow to catch the metro, I looked into the eyes of everyone I met and was amazed to detect that same twinkle. And to this day, that same magical CD causes me to reflect on that winter day and reminds me of the divinity in all of us.
I have since purchased nearly a dozen other versions of the Choral Fantasy, but for me, none comes close to the transcendent qualities of the Capriccio recording with Herbert Kegel conducting the Dresdener Philharmonic, with the Leipzig Radio Choir, and Peter Roessl as the young man who, even today, continues to remind me of my responsibility to humanity. I find it interesting that this marvelous recording, which for me characterizes one man’s quest for freedom was made in East Germany as the first seeds were being planted that ended the cold war.