"Tell me, what is it you plan to do with your one wild and precious life?" ~ Mary Oliver

Tag: beethoven

living large . . .


I’ve been noticing lately that the Universe’s messages to me have all been about not holding back and deciding to go full tilt in living my life everyday.

So what if Pope Francis is 78 years old with various age-related problems – his will and intentions during his U.S. visit have sent a strong message about values that all can benefit from and that are hard to ignore. “Be good to each other and do the right thing.”

Coming upon the New York Times review article about Sviastoslav Richter reminded readers of how probably unhappy as a person Richter was and reluctant to concertize in the U.S. in 1960. But just take a listen to his recordings (which I did last night) of Schumann’s Fantasy in C, Chopin’s “Revolutionary” Etude and Beethoven “Appassionata” sonata, third movement. He goes full tilt with a musical energy that can’t be ignored . . . and if you’re anything like me, it almost makes your hair stand on end!

I guess that’s what it’s all about: “appassionata” means passion – and just because we find ourselves older than we ever thought we would be, it doesn’t mean that we can avoid living our lives by being reticent nor making excuses for why we don’t do things more and better than we ever have before. Going for it as long as we can sounds pretty good to me.

In parallel, I have also rediscovered in the past weeks what has given me so much pleasure in my life, and am following these pursuits happily again. What else, really, is there to do? As Ruth Reichl said recently, “you should have as much fun as you can because you don’t know what’s coming down the road.”

Oh, and then there’s the “blood full moon eclipse” tonight too, not to be seen again until 2033, eighteen years from now. But right now, it’s more than enough to take just one day at a time, playing and listening to music, cherishing what we have and mostly, paying attention to it all, with many thanks.


spring steps . . .

my granddaughter's shoes . . .

my granddaughter’s shoes . . .

Sometimes, it feels like time stands still and progress is impeded. Or worse, something happens that stalls or detours what we’d like to see happen. Yesterday or the day before, I was cooking in the kitchen and twice ran the big toe of my injured foot into something–the stove or the fridge as I swiveled around in my wheelchair. So much for my naivete, thinking I could safely get around by myself!

The result was an angry looking, red, swollen joint on my big toe the next day which I gingerly iced for ten minutes at a time. I was also miffed at myself for being careless and not putting on the right side Teva sandal to protect the foot which protrudes beyond the footrest of the wheelchair. Anyhow, it’s better today and so I decided to venture into the pantry adjacent to our kitchen to sort and cull out canned goods for a U.S. Postal food drive scheduled for this Saturday. The only thing is, there’s a step down from our kitchen to get into the pantry.

Normally, we wouldn’t even notice such things that we take for granted. So in order to get in the pantry, the wheelchair footrests had to come off. Then, I pulled the wheelchair gingerly into the pantry, reattached the footrests and sat down in it, pulling things out like lentil soup and chick peas that I didn’t think we’d use. I also put G.’s cans of Coke into the small fridge that we use for drinks so as to free up space in the big fridge we use in the kitchen.

Sounds good, right? Except for the near-fall that I took when I tripped, getting the wheelchair into the pantry, breaking a china cannister that was in the way. I managed to pick up the broken pieces with my handy grabber, proud of myself that I was able to get most of the broken pieces into a double layered plastic grocery bag. I’ll ask G. to sweep up the rest of it up once he’s back home since I don’t want to push my luck any further.

In looking through the foodstuffs, I discovered I had plenty of dried tree ear, shitake mushrooms, dried bean curd skin, tiger lily root and cellophane noodles. When soaked in a bowl of hot water before ready to use, they are then rinsed, and cut up and then cooked with some napa cabbage, resulting in one of my favorite dishes, Buddha’s Delight. I remembered there was a small container of marinated ground pork and shrimp left over from making wontons last week which I’ll defrost and add to our buddha dish, slightly departing from the recipe’s vegetarian origins. No matter, I thought, it will still taste good. So, that’s how tonight’s dinner got decided.

"buddha's delight" for dinner . . .

“buddha’s delight” for dinner . . .

Afterwards, I pulled myself onto the couch and looked outside at the beautiful, sunny, early Spring day. Somehow, it reminded me of Beethoven’s “Archduke Trio” which I saved into a playlist from my library on I-Tunes and emailed to my daughters, M. and C. to see if they could download it and enjoy the wonderful piece themselves where they are, working so hard today to study for exams and preparing students for theirs too.

So simple: clean things out; try not to fall (too badly); use what I already have to make supper; look out the window at the beautiful Spring Day, listen to Beethoven; share it with the kids.

That works for me! At least for today.

Postscript: Happy to report the next day, I was shown by a physical therapist how to use crutches to go up and down the steps (bad foot down first; good foot up first.)

We live on the third floor of a large Queen Anne Victorian house so there are lots of steps, and also thankfully, lots of landings on which to rest. Having gotten over my reticence to try it out, I figured I’m going to be on crutches a lot longer while the ankle strengthens and becomes more limber, so going up and down the stairs with crutches (rather than sitting and sliding on my backside) is a logical next step to take.

A supper of mustard/rosemary/garlic marinated lamb loin chops and fresh asparagus made it all worthwhile!


to do list . . .

ball mumsSome might consider this hiatus of waiting for surgery and then recuperating from surgery to be a time of waiting. Not so, I say to myself after returning from my pre-surgery exam yesterday.

Last night, for some reason, I found it hard to fall asleep and so my mind wandered around and about to take stock and to reflect about what I want or need to do with my time. First of all, I’ve gone through the exercise of putting my affairs in (better) order, talking with my daughters and husband about how they may help each other after I’m gone and going through what I would like each of them to have and also feel free to swap at will. Who knows, I might last a long time after this, but that very intimate task is done, at least a template is in place and can be tweaked every so often. That’s a big load off my mind.

So last night and today, I’m thinking about what I would like to take note of during this chunk of the year while I’m getting back on my feet. Here’s a to-do list that I’m thinking about right now:

1. Be sure to hydrate (drink lots of water) and cut down on bread, butter, potatoes and sweets so that I maintain the weight I’ve lost so far and don’t hapzardly gain a few pounds. Eat more fresh salads with the yummy dressing that I make up ahead of time (garlic slices, olive oil, Marukan seasoned rice vinegar, fresh lemon juice, a little sugar). Handful of mesclun and baby arugula, sliced large fresh mushrooms, ripe pears, marcona almonds, goat cheese. . . like that. It’s so easy to fall back into eating heartier (and higher calorie food) just because it’s tempting to do during this fallow period.

2. Read about recipes and preparations for ramen noodle broth; fixings and condiments; same for soba noodles. Read my Japanese Farmhouse Cookbook, Momofuku and Ivan Ramen Noodles to introduce new dishes into my cookery menus; cold salads and condiments on the side. I love to cook and while I’m slightly limited now, I can still reframe and renew the ideas I’m used to cooking and slowly introduce them into the mix of what we eat.

3. Read lots of books that I enjoy, not what I think I should read. I still have “War and Peace,” “The Tale of Genji” and “Remembrance of Things Past” in the bookshelves, the bindings still tight. I mean, I know I should read “Anna Karenina” but her plight is somewhat dated and I’m not interested in swimming in such deep literary waters. I’d rather dip my reading toes into more enjoyable fare: perhaps Mona Simpson’s new novel that is due out in mid-April. I am still catching up with Lorrie Moore’s “Birds of America” anthology of short stories before I venture towards her new book, “Bark,” which, in the NY Times Book Review sounded like an extraordinary effort towards using puns around the word “bark”–which, if you must know, don’t interest me that much. Lydia Davis, who won the Booker prize for her short stories last year is a writer from Northampton nearby and fun to read every once in awhile.

I used to love to read mysteries and may embark upon re-reading some of the Georges Simenon mysteries which I heard were being re-printed; fun to read about Inspector Maigret and his wife while he solves crime all over Belgium and France. I also enjoyed the Dorothy Sayers series of Lord Peter Whimsey mystery novels. Maybe when I try them out again, they will seem dated, but we’ll see.

4. High on my list is to play the piano with my wheelchair drawn up to my Steinway piano named “Victor.” There’s tons of Bach that can be read without the use of pedal ( my right ankle is gonzo right now.) One of the oscar-winning documentaries was a half-hour film called “The Lady in Room 6” which is about the oldest living Holocaust survivor, Alice Herz Sommer, who died at the age of 110 two weeks ago. In it, she can be seen joyfully playing Bach Inventions on her Steinway upright piano. She has enormous hands and plays with a calm and sprightly musical aspect. While she was incarcerated in the camps, she took it upon herself to learn the complete Chopin Etudes, very difficult pieces for a pianist. I figured if she could do that, the least I can do now is to learn some new repertoire myself while I’m recuperating. So that’s an inspiration. Take a look at the film if you want some perspective on how nothing matters except love and music.

My own piano to-do list includes sightreading pieces and excerpts from Bach Well-Tempered Clavier Books I & II, Inventions, Italian Concerto, Fantasie,  French Suites, English Suites, Partitas; Chopin concerti; Brahms concerti; Beethoven sonatas, Rachmaninoff Preludes; Scriabin Prelude, Op. 11, number 11. It might be good exercise for me to play everyday at intervals and use my back, arms and hands.

5. I have four big balls of Noro yarn left over from three vests that I made for a family up in Minneapolis. I think I’ll use a new criss cross pattern to make a piece of some sort for myself to commemorate this happening in my life–something nice to look at and also to keep warm in while reminding myself how lucky I will be to survive this Spring of 2014. It will be fun to figure out how to do it out of the remaining yarn that I have to work with. I gave the spectacular multi-colored vest with patchwork pockets to one of my daughters last weekend. She looks terrific in it and although in my mind’s eye, I thought I would make it for myself, it’s too colorful for my little brown wren personality so it will be perfect for her to wear when she’s teaching her French classes. When she returns next week for a visit, we’ll take a photo and post it.

That’s as far as I have gotten today. Little by little enjoyable things to do. That’s one of the lessons I am learning too: to be more patient, to take care of myself as only I can, and to enjoy something each day.

clara and arthur . . .

Xmas 2005-Spring 2006 583_2_2As some of you know, I’m a pianist and also slightly OCD (obsessive compulsive disorder) when I come across a pianist that I haven’t listened to before but love their way of playing. One of the ones I wrote about before was Paul Lewis, an English pianist whose Schubert and Beethoven recordings are beautifully musical and sensitively played. His recording of the Beethoven Rondo from Opus 4 in E-flat major is one of my favorites and I’ve started to study it myself recently.

Another pianist I came across the other day while searching for renditions of Scarlatti on I-tunes is Clara Haskil. Many contemporary pianists play Scarlatti as though they were finger exercises, rushing up and down the keyboard as though the metronome and speed were what they were aiming for rather than making music. They either play too fast or take too much liberty with rubato that drives me crazy when I listen to them.

So, when I happened upon Clara Haskil’s Scarlatti recordings, I stopped and savored listening to them because they are so musical, the tempi reasonable and most of all, the melodies were so beautiful. So I looked her up on Wiki (where else?) and found she lived in the last mid-century, born in Romania and of Swiss origins. She won a Premier first in piano at the age of fifteen and she also won a Premier first in violin at the same time! Beset by physical problems and living in poverty (Wiki says) she nevertheless performed with many of the premier musicians of the time: Pablo Casals, the conductor Ernest Ansermet and most of all, as a pianist playing with the French violinist, Arthur Grumiaux.

At first, I was tempted to purchase a 10 Scarlatti sonata recording by Clara Haskil for $9.99 on I-tunes. But on further exploration, I discovered a compendium of recordings by her for only $11.99 that included the Scarlatti sonatas. Imagine my astonishment when I scrolled down to see that there were 105 (one-hundred-five) tracks on this single recording! A click and a download quickly filled my I-tunes library with concerti recordings, Bach Busoni numbers, Beethoven and the lode of Scarlatti. I listened to it while I made some maple oatmeal scones this morning.

maple oatmeal scones

maple oatmeal scones

So, why is this post also about Arthur Grumiaux? Apparently, even though Clara was about twenty years older than Arthur, they had a very close musical partnership. One of the most touching and humorous observations about their relationship was that Grumiaux, the violinist, was also a fine pianist. So the two of them would sometimes swap instruments and play each other’s parts when they rehearsed together! I thought this was so charming and such a rarity of musicianship at their level that I wanted to write about it in this post.

Sadly, Clara died at the age of sixty-five as a result of a fall that she suffered at the Brussels train station on her way to a concert that she and Arthur Grumiaux were scheduled to play together the next day. Apparently, her death was a huge and personal loss for him when she died. Although he had diabetes, he continued to concertize and died almost twenty years later from a stroke when he was sixty-five.

So, there you have a story about Clara and Arthur. Her recordings are playing in the background while I read and cook. And their story serves as such a tender example of human relationship and music making, at least for me. (Sigh.)

Postscript: If you would like to read a personal essay about Clara Haskill published in the journal, “Clavier,” please click here.

adagio. . .

Here’s an interesting discovery I made after reading a novel by Rachel Cusk, a young British writer. (I seem to have artists from the UK in my frame of reference these days for some reason.) In her novel, “Bradshaw Variations,” Cusk describes a character playing an “Adagio” movement from a Beethoven sonata. Although the sonata is not revealed, I was curious enough from the novel’s description to page through my Henle edition of Beethoven’s 32 Sonatas in two thick volumes. As I did so, I sat down at my Steinway grand piano, named “Victor,” rebuilt years ago by my husband, “G”, and began to sightread through ALL of the Adagio movements. I discovered in the process that they are among the most melodic, beautiful compositions that are contained in this oeuvre (not knowing the plural for the word, “opus”!)

Anyhow, “Adagio” means “slowly.” An apt concept for how to spend days when it is so hot and humid outside (now under the heat dome that the weatherman keeps talking about) and as summer days languish. These gorgeous melodies also serve as a musical antidote to all the cleaning up and cleaning out that I’m still in the process of doing (“simplifying. . .”) I’m even thinking of playing (and possibly recording) a program of Adagios when my birthday rolls around next year, perhaps. Because the tempo is “slowly,” the melodies also offer up an opportunity to make beautiful music while not having to kill oneself technically to keep up at this point in my piano playing life.

To my amusement, I discovered that I was already practicing Bach’s D minor sonata whose first movement is marked “Adagio.” It serves primarily as a chordal introduction to a wonderful Fuge movement.

So, I’m blessedly happy, adagio-ing along and am glad to have discovered these wonderful pieces. And for my money, they put Mozart to shame–the Beethoven melodies meatier, more robust, evoking such sweet pathos. Yum!