For this week’s Classical Radio Blog – at the suggestion of Malcolm Farnsworth, I am focusing on Daniel Barenboim. The Argentinian born pianist of Jewish heritage has had a life and career that would dwarf any number of musicians of which we have had biopics.
Moving to Israel when he was 10, he had met and played for the Berlin Philharmonic’s music director – Wilhelm Furtwangler – by the age of 13 and had impressed him so much that Furtwangler invited him to play a Beethoven Piano Concerto in Berlin. Barenboim’s parents thought it too soon , however, after WW2 for a Jewish child to play in Berlin. On that topic, though, Barenboim was one of the first Jewish artists after WW2 to sign a recording contract with famed German record company, Deutsche Grammophon.
Before I go on – where I discovered the playing of Barenboim was when the ABC played videos of him playing the entire set of Beethoven Piano Sonatas. It was magical. And here is a reason why – with Barenboim playing the first movement of the “Moonlight” Sonata.
Barenboim was also famous for marrying the full-on English cellist Jacqueline Du Pre. At the Western Wall in Jerusalem, days after it had been captured by Israeli troops in 1967.
Du Pre’s story is one of the most tragic in music, as she was considered the most brilliant cellist of her day (and considered by many today to still be the best ever) – yet she was cut down by Multiple Sclerosis at the age of 28. However, the story turned messy, as Du Pre had an affair with her brother-in-law and after Du Pre had to be placed in permanent care, Barenboim started and continued an affair with a fellow pianist. These events are represented – perhaps not truthfully, if participants are to be heard – in the film Hilary and Jackie. Barenboim, when asked about the film said “Couldn’t they have waited until I was dead?”
Here is Jacqueline Du Pre, playing the Elgar Cello Concerto – one of the most moving pieces ever – with Barenboim conducting.
Barenboim went on to continue a great piano playing career, as well as a conducting career, which is now his main focus. He is known, amongst other things, for mentoring Simone Young, the Australian conductor who gained a great opera conducting reputation in Europe, came home to direct Opera Australia – only to be told that her productions were too expensive and that she should leave. But more on her another time. I’ll throw in some more Barenboim playing Beethoven – the first, dramatic movement of the “Pathetique” Sonata
Just as you’d think this was enough of a life for a man to have, Barenboim has become an outspoken critic of the state of Israel and its occupation of Palestinian lands. He stated in an interview in 2003 that the occupation was “morally abhorrent and strategically wrong”, and, “putting in danger the very existence of the state of Israel.” He struck up a friendship with Palestinian academic Edward Said and became the first Israeli citizen to accept Palestianian citizenship. Here he speaking of the need for peace
He has also gone on to perform in the West Bank and Ramallah, forming the West – Eastern Divan Orchestra, that features Palestinian and Israeli players as well as concerts in the occupied lands featuring players from European countries – concerts that have required United Nations support to put on. His political views are explored on his website – musician websites are usually just ads for records. Not Barenboims. This is his Palestinian / Israeli orchestra performing at the London Proms – one of my favourite symphonic movements, the last one from crazy man Hector Berlioz’s Symphonie Fantastique.
To end with, more Barenboim and Beethoven. Here he is, playing the last parts of Beethoven’s last piano sonata – one of the more profound pieces of music going around.
And thanks again to Malcolm Farnsworth for suggesting Barenboim. Not only one of the great musicians of the past half century, but one of the most important musical political figures.