Here are some of the instruments
I like playing. The instrument in the foreground of the picture
to the left is a harpsichord that I built myself. It's modeled
after a harpsichord originally built by Hans Moermans in Antwerp
in 1584. At the back of the room is a Yamaha grand piano. I constructed
both the Flemish harpsichord and the double-manual French harpsichord,
shown in the photograph below, in the early 1980s while working
in Mozambique. For the latter instrument, a harpsichord built
in Paris in 1769 by Pascal Taskin served as prototype. During
that same period in Mozambique, I also built a couple of clavichords
and a guitar. Building a lute is an never completed project started
that same period. Other priorities moved it to the backburner
where it has remained since. I may take that challenge up again.
Creating something new, using
one's hands to do so, is always a great pleasure. However, building
your own musical instrument and then playing it is a delight
that can hardly be described to those who never went through
the experience themselves. I never before had the feeling to
be so intensely closely connected to the sounds that my touching
the keys produced. Making such instruments is also a unique opportunity
for bringing together one's artistic and scientific faculties
with sound craftsmanship in efforts that extend over periods
of at least a year.
he saw in music not just a combination of sounds, but
he understood the fact that
every musical masterpiece is, as it were, a conception
of the world. And the
difficulty lies in the fact that this conception of the
world cannot be described in
wordsbecause were it possible to describe it in
words, the music would be
unnecessary. But he recognized that the fact that it is
indescribable doesnt mean
that is has no meaning.
The above notion comes close to my own appreciation of music,
whether I play music myself or listen to music performed by others.
Music transcends - or rather it helps me transcend - the much
more limited states of mind I would be adopting while engaging
in any of the multiple endeavors I regularly undertake, should
there be no music. For me, therefore, music never stands on its
own. It is intimately interwoven with and an essential extension
and enhancement of my existence in other modalities of being.
It is the ideal way to overcome my limited self.
Music, perhaps more than anything else, creates a sense of
continuity within the larger context of the flow of events over
the course of history. One becomes part of the feelings of one's
ancestors of the late 17th century by listening to the music
of Sweelinck and Buxtehude; moves into the 18th century with
Bach and Handel; progresses in time with Haydn, Mozart and Beethoven;
relives the early part of the19th century while playing Schubert
and Chopin; moving gradually further forward in time with Mendelssohn,
Schumann, Brahms, Liszt and Franck to appreciate the later part
of that century; transiting into the 20th century with the likes
of Mahler, Debussy, Bartok, Ravel, and Schoenberg; finally having
Strawinsky, Shostakovich and Prokofiev to provide the bridge
to one's own era.
As music is continually being recreated, its appreciation
never leads to perceptions like "Oh, how cute, this is how
they did it in the 18th century." Quite to the contrary,
one is very much aware, even in the case of performances that
involve the use of period instruments, that one is recreating
the past in the present, leading to a heightened sense of integration
over time, making Bach's music as relevant now as it supposedly
was in his own time. In fact, it seems to have acquired enhanced
relevance, knowing how it influenced composers and interpreters
who came long after him.
For reasons that I don't quite understand, the possibility
to connect particular musical creations to other events in history,
is somehow able to lend the latter an enhanced meaning. Thus,
it seems to matter, at least to me, that the publication in 1690
of John Locke's An Essay Concerning Human Understanding
coincided with Johann Pachelbel's famous Canon in D or that Brahms
finalized what is now known as his Piano Quintet in F Minor in
the same year when James Clerk Maxwell presented his equations
to the Royal Society. It doesn't alter the reality of science,
music or philosophy, but all of them seem to gain from the fact
that they are part and parcel of the more integral human experience.
Finally, I am fascinated by the associative power of music
in how it is able to prompt the recall of all kinds of memories,
such as of events that coincided with when I first heard a particular
piece of music or books that I read as a child while listening
to my mother playing the piano. Because of that associative power,
music functions for me also as a potent means for fostering reflection.