Tag Archives: Memento Mori

Quality I

Napoleon said (it could be apocryphal) that quantity has a quality in itself.

This makes sense when we’re talking about the art of war. The one who has the most cannon fodder doesn’t always win. But it helps.

But not in life, not so much.

Our life is one of consumption: of emotions, of food, of books, of films, of everything that is art, and earthly pleasure, and intellectual stimulation.

Is it better to be the person who has all the hours of all his days filled by an endless procession of insipid experiences? Or one who enjoys, for long stretches of time, high quality experiences?

The clock is ticking. Make your choice.

The Passage of Time

I read this year (in which book, I do not recall) that we should compare ourselves not with who others are today, but with whom we were yesterday.

That’s good advice. The message:  what’s important is not so much where we are, but that we are improving.

But even by this measure, two dates cause me pain every year: my birthday, and New Year’s Eve.

Maybe I lack humility. But I can not look at the person who I was last year, and be satisfied with who I am today. Even though I’m in a better place, even if there’s progress – it’s never the amount of progress that I want. I am constantly dissatisfied. I always feel I could have done better.

I have no great moral lesson to draw from this. I promised myself that I would write something today, and I am keeping that promise. If you, dear reader, suffer from the same malaise, then I am sorry, but I have no solution on offer.

If it helps you, know that you are not alone.

About Beethoven’s Last Night

I have already written about my peculiar relationship with music. Exceptions are usually songs that tell stories. I’m not the right person to assess musical quality, but stories are my life, so it does not surprise me that a song which incorporates a narrative catches my attention.

I am not necessarily talking about a musical number at the theatre or the movies. Those never sat well with me; it felt like the prose was being forced into the music. A story does not mean dialogue; it does not mean prose. A handful of good stanzas is enough when you know what you’re doing.

One of my favorite albums is “Beethoven’s Last Night” by the Trans-Siberian Orchestra. It is a brilliant rock opera that, across its 22 tracks, tells the story of the composer’s last night.

But like the best stories, it frames it as a battle between good and evil. At the gates of death, the artist despairs to finish his last work, and primordial forces arise to fight for his soul. Hell appears incarnate in Mephistopheles. The heavens send a muse, under the guise of an old love.

Music represents the dialogue between these three parts. Mephistopheles does everything to convince the composer of the futility of his efforts; the muse encourages him to persist, to create his final work in praise and honor to the Divine. Throughout the album, Beethoven vacillates between inspiration and despair, under the influence of these two forces. It is one of the most beautiful metaphors the artistic process that I had witnessed.

That all this is transmitted so vividly, so colorfully, through short verses and the power of music… That is simply exceptional.

So who wins, after all, the soul of the composer?

You can find out by listening to the album:

It is worth leaving my usual note here: we live in a fantastic time in which we have beautiful art at our disposal, completely free of charge. If such a work captures your imagination, if such art inspires you, then that is a signal to ponder the possibility of buying what is freely given, and thus support the artist.