Spiegel im Spiegel

This summer, while I wasn’t blogging, I acted on the advice one of my brothers gave when I told him about my planned break. He suggested I take notes of things and music that resonated with me. He and I share a love for the idea of those happenings in life considered “chance,” which we refer to as serendipity, so I really took his words to heart.

As it turns out, I heard a couple of remarkable classical pieces that I thought might fit on a Classical Sunday edition of the blog. Due to some goofy error by me, though, I dragged those extracts out of my working notes and lost them. As a former colleague would say, “It’s in ‘computer heaven.’

Anyway, one piece I heard and saved did remain in my notes and, as it turns out, felt perfect for sharing with you today. The universe has a way of providing, I’m told…

The Estonian composer Arvo Pärt wrote “Speigel im Speigel” in 1978, just before leaving his country due to Russian oppression. (He was able to return home after living in Germany for 20 years.) In my post from November 28, 2020, on Counting Crows’ “Rain King,” I talk about the only person I’ve ever met from Estonia, a brilliant, gifted, compassionate university professor who seemed to exhibit wounds from having had to escape her homeland, which had essentially been invaded and settled by Communist Russians (in a way I imagine is similar to the experience of Indigenous people on what’s now known as North America: cruelly displaced, mistreated and disregarded). And, like with my country’s record of human rights violations, no one seemed to make a big deal of what was happening in Estonia starting in the late 1970s. I still remember that teacher, now deceased, and how her stories came across as deeply soul-crushing.

So today, perhaps serendipitously, I found the link to this selection and, already in a contemplative space, having a lazy morning and nestled with some reading, I really absorbed the music. I later went for a walk in nature; there’s a City-maintained park about ten minutes’ walk from our home, and it’s a favourite place of Sweety’s and mine to go through on walks. But this weekend, she was away, so it was me missing her a lot while at the same time knowing that I have never had to comprehend what it’s like to be oppressed, or living in hostile, occupied territory, or being a refugee, or chronically poor, or any number of staggering conditions faced by billions on the planet, as we all sit here freely checking out the internet from the comfort of where we are.

“Spiegel im Spiegel” is a piece that has been used in several films or film trailers I know, including the intriguing Heaven (2002) by Tom Twyker, featuring Cate Blanchett and Giovanni Ribisi; Richard Curtis’s charming film About Time (2013, with a favourite actor, Bill Nighy, coaching his son on how to cope with a life of time travel), and the—in my opinion—horrid Gravity, by Alfonso Cuarón (music in the trailer, 2013; a science fiction movie of such promise, with a massive budget and fascinating premise and only two characters, but both of whom were so utterly, badly miscast, destroying the film as severely as space junk caused their spacecraft to be smashed to bits), among other movies.

Another film that uses the music is Wit (2001), a TV film adaptation of a heart-rending work by the American playwright Magaret Edson. British actor Emma Thompson plays the central character, a university professor diagnosed with metastatic, stage four ovarian cancer. (The immensely talented Canadian stage actor Seana McKenna performed in this role in Winnipeg about 20 years ago, and Sweety and I were fortunate to witness it. I’m almost sure it was at the Royal Manitoba Theatre Centre’s Warehouse Theatre, their venue for slightly edgier works. If not there, maybe Prairie Theatre Exchange, but I really think it was RMTC… I just couldn’t find any online archives to confirm that. Wherever it occurred, McKenna’s treatment of the role was memorable in an almost life-altering way: I clearly remember us walking away from the theatre that night in completely shattered, teary silence.)

Producers have used the music to bring the listener into a quiet, contemplative space, inviting in compassion and a calling to identify with the characters.

A Wikipedia article explains that the composition is made up of piano triads combined with the violin’s slowly rising and falling scales, like questions and answers, or walking to or away from a mirror, thus the title, “Spiegel im Spiegel” or “mirror in mirror” as if looking into the infinite reflections creating by opposing mirrors.

One day this summer, I heard the piece and couldn’t place where I’d heard it, so I set aside a link for later review. Since then, I found a recording with two English classical musicians, violinist Tasmin Little and pianist Martin Roscoe and after hearing them, recalled these memories as I started writing earlier today, before my sweety returned safely home.

This weekend, contemplating how blessed I am in an absence-makes-the-heart-grow-fonder kind of way, the music was both a salve and a reminder of just how incredibly fortunate I am to be living a life without tyranny, with good health, a roof over my head, food, and loving companionship.

Now you know a little about why this is my Song of the Day for Today. Thanks for joining me here.

Here’s the audio from the Tasmin Little YouTube topic channel:

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