ROCK BOTTOM

During this period when people aren’t allowed to embrace each other, it seems as though music provides one of the few opportunities to experience intimacy. Something that touches the emotions without any physical touching

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Foto: Emile Ducke, New York Times

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Navigating the Corona Crisis with Pianist Extraordinaire Igor Levit
By Carolin Pirich and Britta Stuff

March 12, Ludwig van Beethoven, „Piano Sonata No. 21 in C major, Op. 53“

The first movement of the „Piano Sonata No. 21 in C major, Op. 53,“ also called the „Waldstein Sonata,“ begins with the rhythmic repetition of a C major chord, a rapid pulse that makes it sound as though time is rushing by.

But for the last several days, the world has been a slower, quieter place, and Igor Levit heads to the electronics store Saturn on Berlin’s Alexanderplatz square, where he buys a tripod and a mount for his mobile phone, all for just 24 euros. Earlier that day, he tweeted out that he was going to perform that evening. He wrote: „You’re the audience. Starting today, 7pm EST, I’ll play something for you from my home, here on twitter.“

At 7 p.m., he sits down at the grand piano in his apartment, an instrument he calls „Edwin“ because it once belonged to the pianist Edwin Fischer. Levit has placed a few random pictures on the piano along with a prize he once won. And he plays the „Waldstein Sonata,“ a piece that is considered Levit’s masterpiece and which is special for the way it reveals the transition from the classical period to the romantic. It opens up a space that nobody could have foreseen when it was first written.

When he is finished playing, Levit pounds his fist on the piano bench, stands up and walks toward the tripod. The video goes dark.

March 23, Beethoven, „Piano Sonata No. 31, A-flat major, Op. 110“

By now, he has played 11 concerts at his home, beginning each evening at 7 p.m., with the only exception coming on March 18, when he started a bit earlier so as not to conflict with Chancellor Angela Merkel’s televised address to the nation. He has played Beethoven’s „Appassionata,“ Schumann’s „Fantasie in C major“ and Shostakovich’s „Piano Sonata in B minor“. The arrangement of pictures on his piano has changed, but his routine has thus far been consistent: He sits on his bench and says a few words about the piece he has chosen for the evening, first in German and then in English, usually wearing sweatpants and slippers. On one occasion, he described a Beethoven sonata by saying it was as if the music could take you into its arms and make everything OK for a moment. Another time, he chose a chaconne from Bach in a Brahms arrangement because it is „full of mourning“ yet „provides consolation“ in the middle. …

In music, there is a symbol called the fermata, sometimes called the corona for its resemblance to a crown: an arch with a dot below. When it is placed above a note, it means that the note should be held for longer than normal. When there is no note, it is a rest symbol. But it is up to the musician to decide how long the rest should last.

In these days of March 2020, it is as though there is a fermata above the entire world. People have returned home, schools have been closed and restaurants, beauty salons and concert houses have likewise shut their doors. The streets are empty, and police are patrolling the parks. Everybody from artists to tax advisers, are on their own.

The last several years of Levit’s life have essentially been lived in fast-forward. At the young age of 33, he is one of the most famous pianists in Germany. Fully 10 years ago, the music critic Eleonore Büning wrote that he doesn’t just „have the stuff to become one of the great pianists of this century,“ he already is.

He was supposed to be playing at the Heidelberger Frühling music festival this spring and then in Rome, with the Orchestra dell’Accademia Nazionale di Santa Cecilia. He was then planning to head for London, to play with the London Philharmonic Orchestra and then to New York for a performance in Carnegie Hall. He was going to play the „Hammerklavier“ sonata and then Busoni’s „Piano Concerto.“ He would have soaked up the applause before traveling onward to another stage, another piece and more applause.

His apartment in the Mitte district of Berlin is large and airy. The walls are lined with houseplants while his laundry has been hung out to dry in the middle of the living room. Nearby, at the edge of the room, is his Steinway grand piano. High French doors lead to a smaller room with a desk and some shelves. He has carefully stacked some books on the floor, intending to arrange them. He lives alone in the apartment.

It is 6:30 p.m. when he opens the front door and leads the way into the kitchen. „It’s a complete clusterfuck,“ he says.

He says he spent the day doing what a lot of people are doing these days: shopping. He went to Metro, where a lot of the shelves were bare. He opens his cupboards, which are well stocked with rice and pasta, and he shows off his cookbooks, which look as though they have never been opened. He says he didn’t need to get any toilet paper. He counted his supply before he left: 58 rolls.

He says that he also bought himself a television today, spitting out the word „television“ as though it was a contagious disease. He spent 17 years without a television, never wanting or needing one. But now, he feels that he should maybe watch the news from time to time – as though he has never before felt the need to bring the world outside into his living room. …

continue reading (SPIEGEL international)

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