January 27, 2013 — Today is Mozart’s birthday – Wolfgang Amadeus, that is, not me. He would be 257. He lived 14 percent of that age. He died December 5, a recurring date of the ending of things in my own life. Today is my brother’s birthday, too. He’s lived nearly twice the years as Mozart. The two share a common love for music. My brother, from about age 3, sat at the piano, as did Mozart. He composed, too – pieces from a series my family called “Hammering on the Keyboard”.
I watched Dustin Hoffman discussing in conversation with Charlie Rose the other night the 2012 movie he has directed, “Quartet,” starring Maggie Smith, Tom Courtenay, and other greats. This movie is about the unintended reunion of four aging opera singers, based on a play and script by Ronald Harwood. Harwood was inspired by Giuseppe Verdi’s “Bella figlia dell’amore” quartet, which he considers one of the most beautiful pieces of music ever written for the human voice, from “Rigoletto.”
Of my favorite Charlie Rose conversations are those with Dustin Hoffman. He is an entertaining conversationalist and Rose lets him run on. As I laid my head on my pillow to sleep at 1 a.m. when the TV show ended, I found my cheeks aching from smiling broadly for an hour.
Those of us in our 60s and 70s know how hard it is to find work, no matter how high our achievements and level of education. Hoffman, who is four years older than I, talked about the declining availability of roles for actors as they age, of the short career span of a singer, dancer or an athlete. The actor who romanced Mrs. Robinson talked about how fleeting is life and the wisdom not to waste it. Jane Fonda, born the same year as Hoffman, writes in her book, Prime Time, about the poignancy of the third and final act of one’s life, those years over age 60: relationships become deeper, you realize that it’s the little things that are meaningful, and you have the experience to know that you’ll get through the current crisis somehow. Don’t waste time, live life, fulfill your dreams. I’ve lived a full life, but I’ve also wasted time, discarded opportunities, as I see it. But, all the evidence isn’t in yet, so I cannot judge. It may be that I have composed my life as I needed, that the related early expositional and variational movements developed the requisite preparation for the resolution at my finale.
A friend once told me, “You are always right where you need to be, doing what you need to do at that moment.” I find that thought comforting.
There’s another movie out about music and aging, with almost the same title, “A Late Quartet,” directed by Yaron Zilberman, one of the writers, and inspired by Beethoven’s late composition, String Quartet No. 14 in C sharp minor (Op. 131), a long piece, the seven movements of which are played without pause. The piece is recognized in music circles for its air of finality, so prompting Franz Schubert to remark, “After this, what is left for us to write?” “A Late Quartet” tells of an aging chamber group, and stars Christopher Walken and Philip Seymour Hoffman, among others.
My information about these two movies, besides from Dustin Hoffman, I took from two New York Times stories, “Two Films in Which Classical Music Is Much More Than a Score” by Michael Cieply, October 31, 2012, and “A Rigoletto Reunion Just Might Save the Day,” by A. O. Scott, January 10, 2013.
The former story cites the Guarneri String Quartet. Among my favorites, I wanted to read more about them, so I clicked on the newspaper link. I learned that, formed in 1964, once considered the world’s finest string quartet, to my disappointment they retired in the fall of 2009. A founding member, cellist David Soyer, died in 2010.
Everybody gets old. Everybody dies. From the instant you are born your whole life is a prelude to your death. You could die between notes, between breaths in the middle of the night while you are sleeping. This scenario, in my third act upstaging my earlier life, prompts me to reflect on what I do, how and what I think, and how I use my time. No matter how conscientious I am, though, I am always behind on emails; so I hope you will have patience.
Born October 10, 1813, nearly 200 years ago, composer Giuseppe Verdi died on the 27th of January 1901. Before his death, he established a retirement home in Milan for musicians, called Casa di Riposo per Musicisti, known as Casa Verdi. The home did not open until after his death because he did not want the acclaim.A documentary was made about Casa Verdi in 1984, titled “Tosca’s Kiss.” It is currently unavailable except from a handful of sellers in the UK. On seeing the documentary, “60 Minutes”, with Morley Safer, produced a 1987 story on it. I am keeping this post short because I think you may want to watch this touching piece. If you have 14.25 minutes, grab a tissue and click on this link: http://www.cbsnews.com/video/watch/?id=6282135n
Thank you for this wonderful tribute to music, to Mozart and Verdi, and for including the link to the Morley Safer story about Casa Verdi. A most heartwarming story indeed. My heart goes out to those Casa Verdi residents, wonderful, beautiful people.
And thank you, Steve, for your wonderful tribute to Mozart, Verdi and opera on your Valley Free Radio Monday Evening Classics the other night. You inspire me.
So enjoyed this Samantha thank you! And happy birthday to your brother! As well as those above whose musical legacy lives on and whose genius gives us joy.
I often wonder how and why I have mis-used my time and energies; we all have so much to do yet I know I distract myself in endless ways. Avoidance of self? Possibly, even probably …
I tried to access the video, but something strange was happening. I will definitely try again and will for sure see the film.
Thank you again!
Oh, the misuse of time, Susan. You are not alone. In fact, I’m setting a prime example today. Avoidance of self? Yes, sometimes — in a mini-vacation way. Hope you get to watch the whole video. Sometimes those links don’t cooperate and then later they do. Thanks, Susan.
Since I’m up way too late on a work night, I will try to watch the video later this week, but this will also require me to remember to watch the video — and remembering is always a bit of a challenge with a life as hectic as mine. You sound a bit melancholy. I think your friend’s observation, “You are always right where you need to be, doing what you need to do at that moment” is comforting, too, provided you’re not ever anywhere near a sidewalk that could swallow you whole and take you on a one-way ride to Middle Earth.
I reside a short walking distance from Verdi Square:
Remember to watch the video, V. — just a reminder. 🙂 Those Italians … you know … they’re really a trip, a house full of divas — touching but with a humorous ending.
Yes, I have been feeling a bit melancholy; it’s the way the blue flu affects its victims. I don’t recommend it. I’m starting to feel human again. I didn’t have a fever, just very tired and bordering on insanity. Hopefully no trips to Middle Earth yet. 🙂 Our friend R. did get swallowed up by a sidewalk, actually one of those basement doors in the sidewalk that your mother always told you not to walk across, when the hinge broke. He fell into the cellar and split open his big toe. He survived and is still with us, as we know.
Thanks for the Verdi Square info — very interesting. I would be there every Sept. weekend if I lived nearby; sounds like a wonderful music festival.
With or without ink there are those of us that might seem crazy to those that don’t seem anything at all – I prefer crazy – and that short film will make you laugh and cry; with deep, deep layers of poignancy.
As chance would have it; I enjoyed Dustin Hoffman yesterday as his portrayal of Ricco Rizzo in Midnight Cowboy, considering… deep, deep layers of poignancy.
Thank you for this thoughtful essay.
I see you’ve been chatting with the Black Monk, R. Glad you enjoyed the video. It is poignant. I want to watch it again. I can’t get it out of my mind. Deeply affecting.
Yet, still… this mortal garb of genius…
These intelligent and creative people left incredible legacies, but you see — they live on! Lovely.
Would that I had the funds, Gwynn, I would love to do what Verdi did — set up a retirement home with my writing royalties. Maybe there’s a home for writers somewhere whose pens are nearly out of ink. Meanwhile, I thought that perhaps I should practice my guitar, learn Italian and apply to Casa Verdi. On the days they let me out, I could visit George Clooney.
very nice Carol! Will watch the video.
The video is very touching, Val, and stays with you long after you’ve watched it. Thank you.