Forget all that stuff I wrote yesterday about the vanity of human wishes and all that; well; no, don’t forget: you must all still read Vanity Fair and remember that each of us is only a tiny bit part in the Human Comedy.
But I’m sure I’ve written before now about the station manager at Manor House tube station, who often – okay, I’m just assuming it’s the manager – plays music through the PA system. It’s always a surprise, and I often stop at the top of the escalators to hear a little bit more.
And I know I’ve written before now about how I was taken to see Ingmar Bergman’s film of ‘The Magic Flute’ when I was 14. I became obsessed, saw it two or three times, and then for my 15th birthday was given the full recording by my dad: a classic recording, conducted by Otto Klemperer. Even now, for music alone, it’s unbeatable in its pure Mozartian beauty. It was a brilliant gift to start out in life with.
‘The Magic Flute’ has a funny reputation. It’s a Masonic parable, sure; it’s a magic story about good and evil, sure; it’s got some dodgy gender politics in it, but that’s always going to be the case if you imbue gendered characters with moral characteristics, in a parable. It’s also fabulously ambiguous, and a product of the Enlightenment, that sort of tunnels under the Enlightenment to a pre-rational past we all still carry with us, and explores our need for both. For both our parents. It’s deep, and deeply about endurance and self-knowledge and people being different, and the need to test yourself, and the fact that you will prevail, but not in the way you thought. It is redemptive; the rewards are forthcoming. There are supernatural agents. And it’s funny. It’s a Singspiel, it was written for a music hall.
In short, ‘The Magic Flute’ has everything, and the music is sublime.
Here’s what Einstein said about it:
It was his bequest to mankind, his appeal to the ideals of humanity. His last work is not Tito or the Requiem; it is Die Zauberflöte. Into the Overture, which is anything but a Singspiel overture, he compressed the struggle and victory of mankind, using the symbolic means of polyphony; working out, laborious working out in the development section; struggle and triumph.
Well, last Monday I had to go do my workshop in town, and was worried sick about my aunt, and about the dog, and about the future, and about everything. I had roped my oldest kid and his girlfriend into coming over to sit with my hospitalised, dementia-ridden aunt’s little traumatised dog; they are two of the only about six people poor Charlie actually really KNOWS. I rushed out, a little late, and up to the bus, and down into the station, and there was some music playing. It rose up from inside me, rather than coming in from outside, and suddenly at the ticket barrier I realised why. It was the overture to ‘The Magic Flute’.
Thank you, Mozart, I thought, as I stood at the top of the escalator.
And happy birthday for today, January 27th.