Like everyone else, I have been left bewildered by what has been happening in this country over the last few months. To even attempt to answer the ‘why’ is futile: nothing I have ever experienced in my lifetime has been so utterly incomprehensible.
It is a long-held tenet that music has the power to heal. I’m not too sure about that, but it definitely has the ability to unite and to comfort – in whatever form; whether it be in the message sent out by the formation of the West Eastern Divan Orchestra, or the truly inspirational 23 year-old, Ariane Grande, in Manchester last night.
Music of any kind, you see, doesn’t actually have to say anything; sometimes, it just is. That is its gift. Each of us takes from it something different, a different reaction, a different emotional feeling.
I was on the point of posting something altogether more light-hearted this week, but that will now have to wait.
Instead I am steered to this recording of Schubert’s ‘Ave Maria’ . Before you hang up on me, thinking ‘oh, I know this one, no need to listen here’, I urge you to spare yourself six minutes, even if not right now, to listen to this rendition. Most of us are familiar with the Latin version, assuming, wrongly, that it was Schubert’s intention to set the music to the Catholic prayer. It was, in fact, composed in 1825 to a liberally translated setting of Walter Scott’s ‘The Lady of the Lake‘. This, therefore, is in German.
This is a remarkable account on several fronts. The American soprano, Jessye Norman (born 1945) has one of the most beautiful voices you will ever hear; her German diction and pronunciation are perfect; and her understanding of this piece is palpable. Norman has a reputation for occasionally taking things at too slow a pace, but any such accusation here would be ill-judged.
It is well accompanied, even if at times the piano sounds like an LP slowing down. Norman, however, never wavers. Far too many people bellow this out. Norman sings it prayerfully and with a tenderness in the quieter passages, even on higher notes, that surpasses all others I have heard. Above all, it is authentic and straight from the heart.
Here, then, is my musical offering of comfort.