Sandro Botticelli - Dante e Beatrice (~1480-1500)
Lewis NIELSON – Herzplatten (soprano/flute & percussion)
It seems strange to me today to recall the sensation of walking into Lewis Nielson’s office as an applicant to the Oberlin composition program. Lewis glanced at the scores I had brought in, and I could read immediately in his face that our interaction was going nowhere. I suppose this was his prescient way of telling me that I was to become an interpreter and not a composer. Nearly a decade later, Lewis has become a friend, a mentor and a surrogate family member – a moral compass with respect to making music.
What has happened in between that interview and now is the result of many strong influences I was extremely lucky to encounter. However, I can unequivocally state that my fundamental outlook toward the importance and urgency of making music is due to Lewis’ influence. This attitude is never something that Lewis asserts verbally; one merely senses that when one is working on one of his scores in his presence, something critical is happening – something essential to the human experience. Although, I have never witnessed anything less than complete cordiality and patience in Lewis’ interactions with musicians (or anyone, for that matter), one reads his desperation to be heard in his body language.
When Lewis was in San Diego last year for the recording of his percussion sextet Tocsin, he proposed to me the project which was to become Herzplatten. I remember discussing the texts (which deal with the various roles that the heart plays in life, from the amorous to the clinical) that he proposed, and listing myriad ideas regarding pieces he should listen to for influence, as well as pitfalls I would have liked for him to avoid. I could also read in his face that while he was politely nodding in agreement with my suggestions, I was absolutely wasting my breath; the piece was already written in his mind. An inner force was guiding him to write this and nothing could intervene. Several months later, two packages arrived in San Diego. One contained three large gongs which Lewis, for no good reason, decided to donate to me. The other contained four copies of the finished score to Herzplatten. I honestly can’t remember which packaged weighed more. Upon glancing through the 48 pages I received, I knew that this was a gauntlet that Lewis had thrown down for Alice and me. Without ever having read Dante’s La Vita Nuova (to which the piece owes its structure of nine movements and much of its text), I conjured the image of Lewis ripping out his own heart and throwing it at the page. The piece may be only for a duo, but it feels to me like a magnum opus. This is truly Musik als Existentielle Erfahrung.
Jonathan Hepfer, 2014
From Dante’s La Vita Nuova
A gentle thought that speaks of you
comes to linger with me often,
and speaks of love so sweetly
that I makes the heart consent to it.
The soul says to the heart: “Who is this one,
who comes to console our mind,
and whose power is so mighty
that it lets no other thought stay with us?”
To each loving and gentle-hearted friend,
to whom the present rhyme is soon to go
So that I may their written answer know,
greetings in Love’s own name, their lord, I send.
The third hour of the time was near at end
when every star in heaven is aglow:
‘twas then Love came before me, dreadful so
that my remembrance is with horror rent.
Joyous, he appeared in his hand to keep
my very heart, and, lying on his breast.
my lady, veiled lay asleep.
But he awakened her, and of my ardent heart
aflame, he humbly bad her taste:
I saw him, at last, in tears depart.
III. Then I realized that you were thinking
about the quality of my dark life,
so that over my heart came a fear
of revealing with my eyes my wretchedness.
My lady carries Love within her eyes,
whereby what’er she looks at gentle grows.
Towards her, where she passes, each man draws,
and, met by her, with tremblingly heart replies.
His forehead bent, he pales and nearly dies,
so deeply his defects he sees and sighs.
Envy and pride dare not to her stay by:
then help me, ladies, praise her to the skies
Every most humbling thought and every bliss
rise in the heart of one who hears her speak,
so he who sees her first is truly blest.
And if her faintest smile be manifest,
to tell it, word is vain, and mind is weak
so new and dear a miracle it is.
The eyes grieving for the heart’s pity
have from seeping suffered pain…
I wish to speak to no other
than the gentle heart that is in a lady;
and I will write of her as I weep, for
she has gone from us to heaven suddenly,
and has left Love with me, sorrowing.
My sighs give me great anguish,
when thought in the oppressed mind
brings before me her who has divided my heart:
To weep in pain and sigh in anguish
destroys my hear whenever I find myself alone.
You, who along the road of Love proceed,
stop, and pay kindly heed
if there be any grief as grave as mine.
I beg you but to listen to my plea,
and then you will agree
that to all torment I am door and key.
Not for the little goodness that’s in me--
for his own noble breed
did Love so sweet a life to me assign
as made me often ties behind me hear
“O God, what dignity
could give this man a heart so rich and rare?”
All of my boldness I have lost today,
which from my loving treasure used to stir,
and so in poverty
now I dwell, most afraid all this to say.
And, eager still to imitate all those
who out of shame their inner want conceal,
bliss I without reveal,
but weep within and fret from all my woes.
for wicked Death with bitter want of rue
in gentle hearts his cruelty has shown,
wrecking whatever praise on earth is due
to a gentle lady above virtue’s own.
Come, gentle hearts, and hear my every sigh,
for it is pity now that wishes so.
Away all of my sighs in sadness go,
and yet I would of grief, without them, die.
Guilty these eyes of mine would prove if they,
oh, much more often than I would wish,
should mourn my lady with the greatest woe,
and soothe, in mourning her, my heart’s dismay.
Come! You will hear them sigh and often call
my gentle lady, o lovely lady
gone to her virtue’s worthy quarter.
For often they despise this life already--
here in the body of this grieving soul,
bereft of its salvation totally.
The heart replies: “Oh, pensive soul,
this is a new little spirit of love,
who brings before me its desires;
and its life, and all its power,
come from the eyes of that compassionate one
who became perturbed at our sufferings.”
From Paul Celan’s Lichtzwang (C) /
Hannah Krall’s Shielding the Flame (K).
They handed me a spoon, a spoonful of life.
- (K) Arie Wilner
“The heart is working normally. He now joins the main artery to the vein with a special bridge. Arterial blood is beginning to flow into the veins. He waits again. The heart moves,. Another spasm. Then a few more fast spasms and the heart begins to work, slowly, regularly. The blue veins become red from arterial blood and begin to throb. The blood is flowing away—nobody knows exactly where, but it is finding some outlet through some of the smaller runoffs. Several more minutes pass in silence. The heart is still beating, without any interference.”
“Alone with the heart, which is moving in its sack like a tiny, frightened animal. For it is still moving.”
- (K) Marek Edelmann
“heart smaller than the fist of a corpse.”
- (K) Marek Edelman
The wild-heart, domesticated
by a half-blind stab
into the lung,
Air gushes forth
slowly, soaked with blood
into the rare promise of
“…about the anterior myocardial infarction with the left anterior hemiblock. This is very important because, up till now, it has never been possible to rescue anybody from this sort of heart attack. People die in these circumstances in a somewhat peculiar way: thewy lie quiet, silent, more silent, yet more quiet, with every passing hour, and gradually everything inside them slowly dies. Legs—live—kidneys—brain…Until one day the heart simply stops and the person is dead. It happens so very quietly, so inadvertently, that a patient on the next bed may not even notice. When a person with an anterior myocardial infarction with left anterior hemiblock is brought to the hospital, one can be sure that this patient is going to die.” (K) – Marek Edelman
let the dwarf-sounds in,
they have been examined:
together they muffle up the great heart
and bear it off on their shoulders to
every distress, every distress.
“Because only he—and not the world-famous Swedish guest—had pulled out from hearts of peasants pieces of rug, splinters, and window frames. It was thanks to this that [just five years later, on June 20, 1952,] he was able to open [her] [the heart of a certain Kwapisz Genowefa] and operate on her mitral stenosis.” - (K) Marek Edelman
"I didn’t want it, I don’t want this drink:
Let me puke it up.
I know life is a full bowl
and the world is good, good and healthy,
- (K) Arie Wilner
"...life leaves my blood empty
life just leaves me cold, confounded,
it only gives me cerebral congestion,
It feeds others, but it drains me…”
- (K) Arie Wilner