'Emotion can be the most reactionary of feelings.'
I was 28 when I left an interpretation class at Alfred Brendel's London residence with this phrase from the Master, pronounced during the dinner that followed, etched in my memory with an enormous question mark.
For me, emotion was synonymous with if not truth then at least sincerity. Above all, emotion was the supreme goal of an artistic interpretation. Granted, I had 'highbrow emotion', to borrow the expression of a friend who called my sincerity into question when I linked this feeling to 'cerebral' artists like Brendel and Pollini (the only pianist who ever made me cry at a concert) but little matter: to my mind, emotion was the sentiment that took precedence.
Does Bachar el-Assad like Mozart?
For those -- quite numerous in the musical world -- who are familiar with the 'Stalin-Yudina episode', this title and this question are not mere provocation. In his book "The Memoirs of Dmitri Shostakovich," Solomon Volkov relates the following episode: one day Stalin heard a performance of Mozart's Piano Concerto in A major K.488 on the radio. Moved by it, he asked for the disc from the radio manager who obviously replied that the disc would be sent straightaway. The only problem was that there was no disc to send: the interpretation by the great pianist Maria Yudina, which had brought a tear to the eye of the Little Father of the Peoples, had been a live performance.
Responding to a great emotion calls for great means: Madame Yudina, the conductor and the orchestra were convoked in the middle of the night to record this disc of which the sole copy was found the next day on Stalin's desk.
I am certainly no dictator but, at my humble level, I do what I can: it was whilst walking up Rue de Montorgueil in Paris, carrying the CD of Arnold Schönberg's Gurrelieder (1900-11) in Simon Rattle's interpretation, that I curtly sent packing the homeless person who was begging a bit too insistently for my taste. Once I'd reached home, I was able to listen in a single breath to this sublime performance that so moves me.
Was it this mistrust of 'emotion', so closely linked to tonality, that pushed Schönberg and so many other great composers to abandon it for an atonal language round about the time of the first large-scale slaughter of the 20th century?
Was it-this same mistrust that pushed Brendel and Pollini to refuse it, sometimes in a provocative manner, with interpretations whose sole concern was the search for meaning and semantics?
To get back to Bachar, The Guardian published pirated e-mails that he exchanged with his wife between July 2011 and February 2012. Here one finds not only the banality of evil but also 'the monstrousness of emotion'.
The expressions of love between Bachar and his beautiful Asma are not lacking. On 28 December, Asma wrote him: 'If we are strong together [...] we will surmount this together [...] I love you...' On 5 February, Bachar sent her a clip of country singer Blake Sheldon's 'God Gave Me You'.
No, Bachar's musical tastes, brought to light by the e-mails of his iTunes account, do not seem to include Mozart: whilst carrying out a genocide against his own people Bachar el-Assad was listening to Lebanese pop, with Nasri Shamseddine and The New Wave, or New Order's 'Bizarre Love Triangle'.
Shortly before Christmas, he ordered a pop hit from the '80s: 'Don't Talk, Just Kiss' by the British duo Right Said Fred. For the New Year, he downloaded a Christmas album in homage to Cliff Richard along with the hit 'We Can't Go Wrong' by Cover Girls.
As for Madame, according to these same e-mails, the 16-cm heel of her favourite Christian Louboutin model (in crystal), places her above any suspicion on a completely different level from Mozart.
Hear the song below:
YouTube Yudina - Mozart
Dionysios Dervis-Bournias is a conductor based in France.