The Feeling of Eternity

Notes are not like buildings or paintings, they have no lasting objective meaning, no unalterable presence. Of course, there is the score, the sheet of music filled with more or less exact and detailed indications by the composer, who was able to encrypt his musical thoughts through the centuries, like a map which is supposed to point us musical wanderers the way to the work of art. Despite being only a thousand years old, written notation has conserved an enormous richness of musical works of art for us.

However, we know only too well that the far greater part of all the music ever thought up by human minds represents a continent forever lost to us, for the simple reason that it was never notated, but passed on orally, ultimately disappearing. And therein, we get an inkling of the fundamental problem, and at the same time the true meaning of interpretation: every musical work of art must be brought to life continuously. Time and again, it must be illuminated, gauged and, quite simply, understood. In doing so, it is not necessarily the novelty of what is being said, but the degree of inner necessity, the humanity, the expressive power that determine the relevance of an interpretation. And then there is another, deeper meaning: our innermost is the true content of music, the subjective, and this can only ever be rendered by someone who puts his own subjective innermost into the work of art. In short, therefore, the composer’s inner life must be conveyed by the inner life of the interpreter in order to reach the inner life of the listener. Music cannot express itself, it must be brought into our present, again and again. Music must be played, that is why its meaning cannot be more than a possibility of being discovered by the interpreter. For this reason, its meaning is an existence of possibilities first and foremost. On this basis, one might interpret music as a symbol of infinity.

We must attune to a work of art, no matter its nature; it is a closed system, a closed realm, a world unto itself. This attuning requires a basic openness of all our senses, for that is the only chance a work of art has to unfold within us and have its effect. When we listen to “Early Music”, for example, with the conscious belief that it is old music and not our own innermost concern, the work of art is already lost beyond redemption. Our habit of encountering works with a historicizing attitude is dangerous, for all this does is to hinder our perception of its true message, while its deeper core remains hidden. We do not live, we merely reflect upon life. We thereby lose music, because we no longer dare to feel music alone, to encounter it in the moment. We settle for its description – if only the printed one in the programme. Of course as performers, we musicians have a special responsibility for the notated score in its purity – we have been trained, among other things, to be painstaking interpreters of the printed page, we have all the historical sources at our fingertips and the ability to “translate” it exactly. However, we should never settle for that, but keep an eye on our natural relationship with music. A composition, however, is an organism, and the only purpose of its text is to understand the composer’s original impulse, no more and no less. The fact that the work is the way it is can only be felt. It is impossible to plan every detail of a performance; the interpreter is a means to make music an immediate experience, is always present and never part of the past. Thus, interpreting is not only mastering, but also a process of living with, in and within the music. To us, a performance is always about experience and internalization of the music, not just about insight. This is the only way of encountering the “present” in music, by making the time of listening the same as the time of the music. Music often causes us to forget our sense of time, and time becomes meaningless. Only art is able to engender a feeling of “eternity” in this situation – thereby creating something which is impossible in life.

Markus Poschner