From the age of 11 (when I first heard a performance of his 7th symphony), Beethoven has been the one, constant, overwhelming inspiration of my life.
It was only natural, therefore, that when we went to live not far from Bonn (Vignettes 2 and 3) that I should ask my father to take me to visit the Titan’s birthplace.
The neglected building was still closed to the public as was to be expected; the windows were shuttered, the rooms dark, stale and dusty; the furniture still under heavy, loose covers.
But coffee and cigarettes (I later learned) were the magic “Open sesame” which sprung all doors at that time in Germany’s deeply-troubled history, and suddenly, to my joy and wonder, I was free to roam around this enchanted house which to me was more full of priceless treasures than any golden palace from the Arabian Nights or the legendary Caves of Golconda.
How or why this happened, I didn’t understand at the time. Nor did I care! Childlike, I just soaked myself in it – and then, walking into one room, a miraculous moment: I came across one of his pianos!
“Look on my works, ye Mighty, and despair” Shelley
(Alone, and playing the 1st movement of the “Moonlight” sonata on Beethoven’s own piano in his birthplace, Bonn, early 1947)
O’ercome with reverence and silent awe,
Slowly I steal, nay – softly I creep
Across the creaking, wooden floor,
And touch the very keys he touched,
And sound the very sounds
That stole across the still night air
In Heiligenstadt the fair
So long ago, so long ago
So far – and yet so near.
(Aber Belsen and Treblinka
Are eternities from here).
I try to draw through my fingers,
And the keys that my fingers enround,
The innermost source of his being –
Of this soul made incarnate in sound;
Matter resolves into radiant tones,
Englutting the world and me,
While moonlight floods the haunted room
As a cavern by silent seas.
And there, right there, in the listening room,
With the frost on the roof-tops clear,
I sat in entrancèd wonder
And whisper’d a vow to the air.
I, too, have travell’d in realms of gold,
Their sacred temples to reft,
But along the Rhine stands a simple house
With a room that I’ve never left.