Friday, February 28, 2014

A Beautiful Life

I suspect that many people who love the arts, especially classical music, have read about the death of Alice Herz-Sommer in London. I missed the story when the great Alex Ross, music critic of The New Yorker, wrote about her last year. But the story in today's New York Times is a must-read:

Alice Herz-Sommer
Ms. Herz-Sommer was an astounding 110 years old, and as a child she knew Gustav Mahler and Franz Kafka, once playing piano for the latter. Think about that for a moment. That means my grandson Elliott, who is two, was contemporary with a person who met one of the musical heroes of my family.

There are so many reasons to play a musical instrument, but in the story of her unbelievable life, the Times gives one of the best ever known. As a Jewish woman enmeshed in the horror of the Holocaust, she lived through that madness because she would not let go of a lifeline named Chopin. She spent hundreds of hours learning his Etudes.

"They are very difficult," she said in an interview in 2010. "I thought if I learned them they would save my life." And of course they did.

The days when every middle-class parlor had a piano as its centerpiece are long gone. I read about a business on Long Island whose sole job is to destroy old, unwanted pianos and recycle them. But what we can take into our hands we can hold deep in our hearts.

And sometimes they can save our lives.

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