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Post details: Das Reich in der Luft

Das Reich in der Luft

Flying is a source of many wonders. My favorite in-flight movie - the one played on that little round screen on the side - comes at that moment when a descending airplane is just about to delve into a thick layer of clouds. You can see them slowly approaching from below, like a seemingly infinite bank of fog. Then you start recognizing the bulging shapes of individual clouds and soon the silvery wings of the aircraft start cutting gently into the streaming wisps of water vapor. Like blades of a lawn mower making stacks of celestial hay right in front of your eyes. Puffs of moisture are rolling wildly by like condensed dreams of a rogue angel hanging ten on a cotton wool beach. This is what a battlefield would look like if Heaven and Earth had a fierce pillow fight. A sight out of this world.

When I was a teenager, I enjoyed reading Romain Rolland's excellent biography of Beethoven. It was a book whose deep and instinctual insight into music influenced me in many ways. But there was one expression in that book which I remember to this very day although it is in German - a language of which I have only a very limited knowledge. When the flow of narration comes to Beethoven's Piano Sonata op. 106, Rolland observes that in this Masterpiece Beethoven reemerges as the supreme ruler of his "Reich in der Luft" (Kingdom in the Air). After many years spent in a creative limbo, his 29th Piano Sonata became the definite sign that the new Spring is in the offing. The king has returned to the throne.

The phrase itself had roots in Beethoven's own words. In one of the letters to his nephew Carl, he observes: "Mein Reich ist in der Luft" (my kingdom is in the air). So there it was - straight from the horse's mouth. For while I took it only as an abstract figure of speech, without any deeper meaning, but when I started flying to America, I discovered that there is an image that goes with it.

It is what you see from your window when the airplane starts skimming the clouds.

When that happens I imagine Beethoven walking amidst the billowing cushions, frowning as usual, flailing his arms like giant batons and humming fragments of the Hammerklavier Sonata to himself in a loud and coarse voice. And when I look at the world consisting only of two colors - white and blue - and yet offering endless variations in its shapes, I feel that this is a fitting home for his legacy.

Here, high above the ground he will live forever - the supreme ruler in his Reich in der Luft - unencumbered by Earthly noises and giving benevolent advice to those who aspire to fly.



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