Brad Mehldau: "on Coltrane, Jimi Hendrix, Beethoven and God"

Brad Mehldau has written a blog post. No, Brad Mehldau has written a serious and highly personal essay. Titled as above.

If you skim-read through it, OMG, the first thing which jumps out visually is that there are quotes, extensive quotes in German. From Hermann Hesse’s Siddartha and Rilke’s Duino Elegies. Like tricky music, it’s the kind of gesture which will put some people off. Maybe that was the intention? A pianist thing?

It’s a fascinating piece of writing, and far from dry, in fact the language gets pretty colourful.

Mehldau’s subject matter is personal. He remembers the first encounter with Coltrane’s music at a classical music summer camp:

I was sweating and freaking out; it was awesome. I had never heard any music remotely like that. When we emerged again from the cabin, I was changed. Sometimes music can do that to you. It raised the bar for my expectation as to what music could – and should – be.

And Hendrix:

…that guitar solo seemed to carry the grief of the world on it, and it was so deep and beautiful that I was just lost to it.

And an acknowledgement that these are the kind of experiences which remove certainty, seem enormous, like a religious conversion.

You confront something that is greater than you and greater than what has until that point been safely contained in your worldview.

The remainder of the essay uses these experiences to jump off into probing what these kinds of experience mean, and looks at similarities and differences between the experience of art and of religion and belief.

Music dissolves these boundaries [between spiritual and sensual], or at least questions their stability. When we confront the sublime in great music – when we confront the sublime anywhere – hopefully we are ready for it. Hopefully we can submit to it, letting its power fill us, even while we remain humble, awed by its beauty.

It’s well worth a read. There are people for whom music is background, priddy toons, useful for selling stuff. And there are others for whom it is the most powerful thing they can ever experience. Which gives it its value.

Come to think of it, Thomas Aquinas and Descartes never heard Coltrane or Hendrix, so the ontological argument for the existence of God may now have serious flaws.



Categories: miscellaneous

3 replies »

  1. How can you mention God in the same breath as Coltrane, Hendrix and Beethoven – she’s just not in the same class!

  2. “there are quotes, extensive quotes in German. Like tricky music, it's the kind of gesture which will put some people off. Maybe that was the intention? A pianist thing?”

    I'm surprised by this. Each quote is translated directly afterwards. The translations are pretty good. Would you prefer that he only use an English translation? Or if the quotes were in English first, with German in parentheses and italics?

    Translated text can't always express as much as nuanced writing, or have the same meaning.

  3. Thanks for the comment. The main objectives of posting this piece – written well over five years ago now – was to draw attention to Brad Mehldau's essay. I wanted to write about and to reinforce what a worthwhile and thought-provoking read it had been. The sentence you have extracted and critiqued in such detail is something of an aside – untypical, not representative, and as you point out very fairly, doesnt really stand up on its own. So thank you.

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