A vision of the World from the isolation of the sickroom

Life carries on within the narrow confines of this house where I am, hopefully, recovering from my brain haemorrhage and fractured spine.

Three months now of this cursed “taking care.”

Don’t do too much, take a sleep in the afternoon, don’t lift anything, avoid stress, and, most importantly, don’t bang your head.

It is enough to give anyone a brain haemorrhage if he likes doing too much.

Early spring flowers have started to bloom outside my window – snowdrops and primroses, white and yellow as bright as the bright blue of today’s sky. Inspiring stuff even for the most jaded and frustrated invalid.

The world goes on out there, no question.

Shiny new President Obama thrusts his way to the headlines with one announcement after another. Hopeful but tough, he is as inspiring as spring.

Physically isolation in this house may cut me off from the world but I do my best to stay connected. My head doesn’t go out of its way to help though.

That feeling of concussion surrounds me with a muffling shield and every now and then I feel a weird withdrawing sensation – none of that makes me feel at the vibrant centre of the universe.

Reading the newspapers helps….as long as that annoying hand trembling stays manageable.

So what is going on in the world?

So many bad things of course……

Burmese refugees being towed out to sea by Thailand’s military and left there stranded, 600 of them drowning.

More cholera deaths in Zimbabwe.

Unspeakable atrocities still being committed by rebel militias in central Africa.

Civilians, men, women and children, in Gaza still suffer in the aftermath of the recent conflict.

So many tales of man’s inhumanity to man.

Do we like our fellow men, I sometimes wonder?

Today it is reported that Switzerland is rushing through legislation to prevent naked German ramblers coming over their borders. A Swiss government spokesman said, what he assumed to be a universal human response:

“How would one feel if one was to go walking in nature and suddenly came across a group of naked people?”

His answer was “upset.”

Not being a naturist myself, and especially not tempted to try it in an English or Swiss January, I couldn’t help feeling that it is illogical to love “walking in nature” but then also being upset by man in his natural state.

The consensus seems to be, in Switzerland any way, lets close our eyes to those Burmese victims but let us address something more upsetting. Act now to prevent our citizens from seeing the horror of the human body in its natural state.

Sometimes, the isolation of illness can be a blessing. The world seems a better place, sometimes, cut off here with Spring shooting forth its first natural blooms just outside my window. There are no naked Germans in sight, of course, but should that be such an unnatural, unpleasant sight?

Maybe we should learn to love our place, and our fellow human beings’ place in the natural world. Love it more than civilization allows. Maybe then sights of those drowned Burmese, raped and mutilated Africans and bombed Palestinians and Israelis might seem more shocking, less human and less natural.

I turned away from the newspaper.

I needed a further test of my post haemorrhaged powers of concentration.

I had found it difficult getting back my ability to think and feel my way through classical music since coming back from hospital.

Gradual breakthrough, marked my progress.

First it was Bach and the Double Violin Concerto running at about 15 minutes.

Then Beethoven’s Fifth at just over half an hour.

It was working, welcoming me back to a world I have so often associated with mankind’s most sublime imagination.

So it was to be Mahler’s Third Symphony (my favourite recording: Rafael Kubelik and the Bavarian Radio Orchestra) – supreme challenge indeed running at its magnificent one and a half hours. The longest symphony in the standard orchestral repertoire.

I can’t help pushing myself, I know.

The five movements, for a giant orchestra, each originally had a title describing, well, to Mahler’s mind, everything.

The great arch of creation from the dawning of nature in all its brutality and excitement to the beautiful and sometimes poisonous blossoming of its plant life to the birth of the animal kingdom in its glory and its gore.

The arrival of mankind, first in all his earthiness, then vulnerability, his questioning and suffering, his innocent dream of spirituality and then, in one long, gently passionate arch, his awakening to the ecstasy and sublimity of love.

The history of the World but also, idealistically and inspirationally, the history of each human life.

Far from being isolated in my sick room, sitting there, listening to this, I was far from isolated.

Within that span of one and a half hours, was maybe all I needed to know and all any of us needs to know. Our place in Nature, with all its pain and joy, seeking eternity and finding it in love.

If only that was also a vision of the world out there, beyond my window.


  1. Funny you should break with your chronology for Mahler 3. That's my favorite Mahler when I'm not listening to 5 or 8 or maybe 2 (the only one I don't get is 7).

    In my mind what makes 3 so special is the way it looks at one thing–the tension between joy and despair, life and death–from 4 different perspectives, rather in keeping with the movement between the chakras in the human body:

    1. The level of the earth (movement 1)

    2. The level of man and society (2 & 3)

    3. The level of myth (4 & 5)

    4. The level of that for which there are no words (finale).

    In the end it's all one.

    The only other example of this approach to music that comes to mind is Joni Mitchell's Don Juan's Reckless Daughter, where each side of the double album looks at the subject of dreams and escape from a strikingly different perspective.

    Of course I have very little academic background in music and these views are subjective to say the least.

    Ah Mensch…

  2. Well you touch on so many things that I agree with there Anatole.

    I love Mahler 3 too, as you may have guessed. It has certainly helped me a great deal recently.

    The tension you mention between Joy and Despair is for me so moving especially as in the end he sides with Joy. Well that’s how I hear it.

    “Lust – tiefer noch als Herzelied”
    “Joy – deeper still than heartache.”

    I love that – especially as Nietzche’s words are set to music which is as chillingly bleak as it is also strangely warm.

    How coincidental too that you should mention chakras.

    I practise chakra meditation which I find very powerful in just such a way as the music moves me.

    So I am at one with you on all of this.

    To add to our agreement, I also love the 5th, yes the 8th. too but my first experience of Mahler was a rather ropey recording of the 7th. which nearly stopped me listening to any of the others.

    The 9th. and The Song of the Earth, which also has chakra overtones, are also very important to me.

    I don’t know the Joni Mitchell – even though I love her music – you have egged me on to finding that recording. Thanks for that, it sounds really interesting.

    By the way, what’s with that apology about your views? I really like the cross-cultural references which probably show the advantages in not coming to this music from a strictly academic musical background.

    You have made me see the symphony and my chakra meditation differently now.

    Thanks for that.

  3. What brings the progress through the chakras to mind is the way that, in the 3rd, he heals that tension at each level of the symphony, rather than just at the end of the whole work like he usually does. I don’t have personal experience with the meditations, but it’s my understanding that one must heal each chakra in turn before moving on to the next–correct?

    I need to give the 9th another shot: I’ve only heard one recording and it’s rather grainy.

    Caveat about the Mitchell: as near as I can tell I’m the only person on the planet who believes that it’s arguably her most brilliant album.

  4. Anatole, yes it is certainly what I was taught about those Chakra meditations that you move on after each healing stage.

    I find doing this quite remarkable, I wish it would actually heal my brain haemorrhage, maybe it will, but it is certainly healing in a profound “spiritual” way if that doesn’t sound too hippie! And it now, after some practice, succeeds in taking me away to somewhere where I can imagine healing is as easy as ABC.

    I see just what you mean though with the 3rd. As much as I love that glorious celebrationary ending to the 5th., it does send you to the depths of despair before sending you soaring at the end of your suffering.

    I am not being in any way original in recommending Karajan’s recording of the 9th. but even his biggest detractors have to admit it is one of the greatest recordings in the classical music repertoire.

    Don’t listen to it in the company of folk who disapprove of men crying though unless, like me, you don’t give a damn about such sillinesses.

    I have already, by the way, risked your caveat over the Joni Mitchell, by way of Messrs. Amazon.
    Can’t wait to hear it.

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