I had a birthday in February. Not a big one, just a I’m-glad-to-have-another-year-on-earth one. It was also my first birthday without my mother, so there was a tinge of melancholy around the edges. Perhaps more than a tinge. My husband’s gift was tickets to a concert I had wanted to see, and even though I had asked to go, by the time I got home from work I wanted to put on my pajamas and sit by the fire with the dogs. We went anyway. And in one of life’s great lessons, in not going, we would have missed something irreplaceable and rare.
The concert was the 300th anniversary of the Lipinski Stradivarius. It’s the same violin that made all the headlines last year when it was stolen, and subsequently recovered. The violin is called the Lipiniski because it was once owned by Karol Lipinski, a virtuoso performer renown throughout 19th century Europe.
All of the music on the program was music that had been played on or written for the Lipinski Stradivarius. The last piece was a well-known quartet by Robert Schumann, written for Karol Lipinski. In the introduction to the piece, the violinist, Frank Almond, spoke about the history of the music. It was a favorite piece of mine, known since childhood. After he had finished speaking and the music began, it suddenly struck me. I was listening to music played on the same instrument that probably first played those notes; That the violin had been in the presence of Robert Schumann, and, no doubt, his beautiful and gifted wife, the pianist Clara Wieck Schumann, and perhaps their friend and her admirer, Johannes Brahms.
It was a moment of acute awareness of the transitory nature of human life, and of connection to these real people who had existed before only as names and figures of history. The Schumanns are long dead. They had tragic lives, but the longing and intensity of their love for one another give them an immortal status, even without their respective musical genius. And here was this object, this inanimate, yet fully animated instrument, which was here to bear witness to lives long gone: Stradivari; Lipinski; the Schumanns; Brahms; now remembered not by their own intimate and personal consciousness, but by their creations. Their bodies are dust, but the expressions of their hands and minds live on for the benefit of civilization 300 years later, 180 years later, and for as long as human beings still cherish such things. May that be forever.
It was a memorable birthday.