Divine images of a dimly perceived world

Edwin Fischer
6 October 1886 – 24 January 1960

My dear friends,
     We have deliberately chosen this quiet house to devote ourselves to the works of the great masters; far from the bustle of the big city, we chose this austere place which you can only reach after a good quarter of an hour’s walk. Without artificial light, without cars and telephone, surrounded only by Nature, I hope that arriving you may already have lost and forgotten the restless, trivial and all-too-material things of everyday life; and that thus in tune with trees, clouds and winds you may approach those musical works with receptive minds. For the intention here is not to teach you some pieces quickly — I want nothing else, nothing less than to lead you away from the piano and back to yourselves.
     In these days of perfect technique there is no room for the perfect performance of a piano piece in the merely artistic sense of the word. The gramophone record can do that better. Only that art which comes from within, out of a creative personality, will be interesting, impressive and constructive. You need to attain singleness of mind. In order to get there those who have not ‘died’ before must die now; which means they must sacrifice to Art all vanity and all affectation.
     Like an explorer you must, then, gently go down into the dark depths of your being where you were as a child, and there you must listen to the surge of your desires and your longings and become like a child again, like a tree or a flower, genuine and unsullied, giving yourself up to the fullness of life. And when you are quiet enough, in awe of the divine within you, with your ear pressed against the ground to listen to the secret tune which vibrates throughout the universe — then He will light in you that holy fire of imagination which draws strength from the very depths of your own being.
     And if you are humble as well as strong you will then gaze upon the land of that being, the land of true things, power and greatness and beauty, and suffering too, gentleness and purity. And when you have fully absorbed these ‘ideas’, let power rise into your life, your deeds, your art; and build according to your own imagination. And the image of your beauty and greatness, your love and your grief, your hope and your joys will become translucent and fertile. You have become a creator.
     A creative man in his best moments is godlike. If, however, you are not strong enough to bring to reality your ideas, you will still ‘find’ the great works of the masters. They are vessels ready to receive your flowing emotions. These beautiful forms are the other half of your existence. Embrace them, fill them with life, do not violate them, let them ennoble you; and give to these divine images of a dimly perceived world the warmth of your individual life.
     And yet this psychic world needs for its realisation earthly reality. Although we use, in our particular art what is thought to be the most ethereal of all matter, namely vibration, almost independent of earth — that vibration must nevertheless be shaped, created. The way from the idea to the sound via psyche, body, musical instrument, is long, and something is being lost at every station of this via dolorosa; a fraction only of the original image materialises.
     To help you on this way and make things easier I shall do my best, so that out of the blending of the masterpiece with your personality something new may arise, and from it may shine forth the light of eternity, powerful and clear, the Light which alone makes life worth living.

Edwin Fischer, Speech given at the opening of a summer school for pianists, 21 June 1937

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