Brahms’s Requiem: “All Flesh is as Grass”

As I age I think more about death, especially as I see relatives and friends dropping away. I am blessed with good health and with genes that indicate continuing longevity, so I am not morbid about myself in these ruminations.

I still feel the absence of my father, my sister Diane, my life-long friend Fred Pape, and, quite recently, I thought of Uncle Harry (died in 1993)  whose oft-repeated phrase suddenly popped into my head at the proper occasion: “take it easy.” To indulge and assuage these thoughts and feelings I listen to music: most often Chopin and Grieg, occasionally Tchaikovsky and Rachmaninoff to evoke my mother.

I recently ‘discovered’ liturgical music, primarily the Mozart “Great” Mass in C Minor and his Requiem; and, the Stabat Mater of Pergolesi. Although I will never tire of them, I play them less often now, as I can conjure elements of each in my head when I wish. What I most recently have discovered that my favorite “classical” composer, Brahms, also wrote a requiem, about which more below.

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A requiem is an act or token of remembrance. The word is from the Latin requies, ‘rest’, as in requiescat in pace—‘rest in peace’.

The “act or token” is most often conducted as a Christian ceremony in recognition of someone’s death (also groups of people).

The “act” in church is often accompanied by music written specifically for remembering the dead. In this setting, the requiem takes the form of a liturgical mass.

Simply stated a ‘requiem’ is an occasion to remember someone upon his or her death, and to wish her or him a peaceful “rest.”

Johannes Brahms (1833 – 1897) wrote a magnificent piece of music for such an occasion, Ein Deutsches Requiem (1868), “A German Requiem.” And, even though he used text from the Old and New Testaments of the Lutheran Bible (in German, not the traditional Latin, hence the “German” in the title), it was not written to be performed in church, although there is nothing to prevent this. Nowhere in the text of the vocal portion of the music is there mention of Jesus Christ as is required for a liturgical mass.

He did use “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life” of chapter 3, verse 16 of the Gospel of John (King James Version cited here). But, as he told conductor Karl Reinthaler, “As far as the text is concerned, I confess that I would gladly omit even the word German and instead use Human; also with my best knowledge and will I would dispense with passages like John 3:16. On the other hand, I have chosen one thing or another because I am a musician, because I needed it, and because with my venerable authors [the Old and New Testaments] I can’t delete or dispute anything. But I had better stop before I say too much.” (Source).

Before discovering this piece, I was unaware that Brahms had written what could be termed ‘religious’ music. In researching this article I found he was not formally a religious man, but has been described as a ‘humanist,’ a term and concept I find almost abhorrent. I hasten to add I am not a member of any church or religion, and do not proselytize anything. I have written elsewhere on this, so will refrain from explaining further.

Nonetheless, I find that the second movement of Brahms’ Ein Deutsches Requiem, “All Flesh is as Grass,” grabs me and moves me as well as any of the liturgical music mentioned above. I perceive Brahms having been inspired by a power greater than man, just as with Pergolesi, Bach, Mozart and countless others who have written liturgical and secular music.

Here is the translated text of the second movement of Ein Deutsches Requiem, “All Flesh is as of Grass” (Source):

1 Peter 1:24
For all flesh is as grass, and all the glory of man as the flower of grass. The grass withereth, and the flower thereof falleth away.

James 5:7
Be patient therefore, brethren, unto the coming of the Lord. Behold, the husbandmen waiteth for the precious fruit of the earth, and hath long patience for it, until he receive the early and latter rain.

1 Peter 1:25
But the word of the Lord endureth for ever.

Isaiah 35:10
And the ransomed of the Lord shall return, and come to Zion with songs and everlasting joy upon their heads: they shall obtain joy and gladness, and sorrow and sighing shall flee away.

The words speak for themselves. The music contains a death march, but ends in the glory indicated by the words.

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So, I think of those who have departed, immersed in music which celebrates death, becoming spent of sorrowful emotions and filled with strength for the journey which continues.

From Vasil Georgiev

HOW MY LIFE IS GOING ON WHEN “BEING OLD”

I congratulate Ron for his initiative to create the blog “Being old,” where every old human being can share his memories, his current life, and opinion.

My name is Vasil Georgiev. I was born on 13 January, 1931 in Plovdiv, the second-largest city in Bulgaria. I originate from a middle class Bulgarian family. I was one year old when my parents moved from Plovdiv to Sofia, the capital of Bulgaria. Here I spent my life until 2001 when I moved to Stockholm, Sweden.

The reason for my move was the death of my spouse Dr. Nadja Georgieva. Nadja was a stomatologist, specialist in orthodontics. She died from colon cancer with metastases. Nadja and I have one daughter who graduated in medicine in Sofia Medical University and later got a scientific degree, a PhD in Pharmacology. In 1990 my daughter got an invitation for post-doctoral research at Astra Zeneca, in Sweden. Subsequently she moved to Karolinska Institutet in Stockholm and within a couple of years became Associate Professor in Neuroscience.

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In Cannes. France

I graduated in medicine in 1954. After graduation I worked as a military doctor for two years at the southern border of Bulgaria. This kind of medical work did not fit well with my ambitions. So I left the army and spent almost two years in the country as general practitioner. Subsequently, I got a position as research fellow at the Department of Pharmacology, Institute of Physiology, later named Institute of Neurobiology, Bulgarian Academy of Sciences, in Sofia. Here I spent forty four years doing research in the field of neuropsychopharmacology. During this period I received two doctorates: PhD, and DSc (Doctor of Science). I also achieved positions as Associate Professor and Full Professor.

I was a leader of a research team and also a scientific supervisor of large number of PhD students. During the same time, I gave lectures in Pharmacology for students at Sofia State University’s Faculty of Biology, as well as at Sofia Medical University, and at the new First Private Bulgarian University.

As I had not been a member of the communist party which governed Bulgaria during 45 years I was not able to take an exclusive position at scientific institutions. Instead, I concentrated at making good research and publishing the results. During my whole research career, I have published more than 230 papers, predominantly in English, in internationally recognized scientific journals. Since I was able to establish scientific collaborations with many colleagues in different countries (UK, Hungary, Poland, former USSR, Japan, former Jugoslavia, Greece, Sweden), a large number of these publications was done in collaboration with them. Significant for my scientific career was the year (1968-69) which I spent as a Riker International Fellow at the Laboratory of Neuropharmacology, run by Prof. W. Feldberg, National Institute for Medical Research in London. I won this fellowship in a competition through the International Union of Pharmacology (IUPHAR). I spent also three months (1990) as an invited Professor in the Department of Pharmacology, Kurume Medical University in Japan.

During the period 1992-1996 I worked as visiting scientist at the Department of Pharmacology, Karolinska Institutet, Stockholm, together with Prof. B. B. Fredholm, with financial support from Swedish grants and the European Science Foundation. This joint research was realized in the framework of bilateral contract between Bulgarian Academy of Sciences and Swedish Royal Academy of Sciences. As a results of this latter collaboration we have published five papers in scientific journals with high impact factor. All my scientific publications are continuously cited in the scientific literature.

When I moved to Stockholm I had already retired (1999). My life changed completely. In Stockholm I joined the ESCC (English Speaking Community Club). There I met interesting people speaking English which was very good for keeping my knowledge in English at a reasonably good level. Here I met Ron Pavellas. We both found similar interests in some aspects of life, and particularly, in music. For quite a number of years we regularly have met once or twice a month and discuss which concerts of classical music to attend. We attend concerts usually either at Berwaldhallen or at Konserthuset; sometimes at churches. Ron very often describes his impressions from the concerts in articles in his music blog. In summer time we visit some museums. Ron rather often shares with me his writing ideas. I try to give him useful advice which he sincerely appreciates.

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In Vienna, with Johannes Brahms

I turned 85 years on the 13th of January 2016.

Being rather old and also being a physician who has some practice in medicine and in medical research I would like to share my modest experience which I have in keeping a good health condition.

I always start the day with 30 minutes or more of exercises to improve the muscles, mainly of my spine. The exercises have been described in the book “Bible of the people with back pain” (translated in Bulgarian) by the Australian physiotherapist Sara Key, working in London. As I have been suffering for many years from lumbago, complicated with lumbar disc hernia, as well as of sciatica, with permanent numbness, these exercises help me very much to be in good physical condition. I also use some other exercises for the other parts of the body. When I perform the exercises I usually listen to some classical music (Chopin, Beethoven, Mozart, Grieg, etc).

After the exercises I have my breakfast in which I include quite a number of seeds, some nuts and always blueberries, one of the more potent food in terms of protecting the brain. I also take a small piece of bread with butter, cheese and olives, together with a cup of green or black tea when I take my medicines for the day.

I continue the day with some house work, reading the news from electronic media (mainly in Bulgarian) or scientific literature in English. Lunch I have at home eating food which has been prepared by my daughter during the weekend. Sometimes, during the week days, I myself also cook. I usually cook beans or lentils once a week. Both are extremely healthful foods. I remember my mother used to do the same. Beans, especially , are believed to be a Bulgarian national food. Everybody in Bulgaria likes both beans and lentils.

My mother lived 86 years; my father lived 87 years. My paternal grandfather lived 97 years. My maternal grandmother lived 90 years. It seems that I have family predisposition for long-living. It is not my purpose to live long but I try to organize my life in such a way that to avoid awful factors from my life. Usually I eat fruits (avocado or bananas, apples, grapes, mango, oranges, berries, pears, etc.) after each meal. After lunch I usually take my nap (for 20-30 min). Than I go outside for a walk (45-60 min). In the afternoon I usually drink either coffee with milk (cappuccino) or tea (rooibos or green).

My evening meal is always with my daughter after her return from work. We prefer meat from chicken, veal and also fish which are consumed mainly at lunch and during weekend. At supper we never eat meat but mainly vegetables in salad form (spinach, ruccola, etc.) with olives, cheese etc. We have reduced to a minimum our bread intake. We also have tremendously reduced the use of sugar in any form. We regularly observe our body weight and calculate BMI. We also regularly take vitamin D3.

I have to mention that the existence of good psychological climate at home is very important. My grandson, who was schooled in Stockholm until he enrolled in the study of Economics at the prestigious University of Warwick in England, graduated with very successful scores and now has a good job in London’s financial center.

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In Monte Carlo

When possible we travel abroad together. For example we traveled to London two years ago to attend my grandson’s graduation ceremony at Warwick University. We usually spend one month in Bulgaria. Last year (2015) we traveled to Vienna, as well as to the French Riviera (Nice, Cannes, Monaco).

Before going to bed I usually read (novels, stories, etc.), but I avoid staying up late. I go to sleep before midnight. I try to have 7-8 hours sleep in the night.

Nice and interesting spending of my time at home is following the RESEARCH GATE, an internet portal for scientific literature and activity. I have registered into it and receive regularly information for my scientific publications (followers, citations, questions and answers, etc.). So far I have 1202 citations of my publications in the scientific literature, 880 reads and 222 profile views. This means that the researchers are still interested in my publications. Through this portal I could ask the authors for sending me copies of their articles. I could also discuss with the authors their results.

In conclusion, I would say that it is important to age with dignity. Being old is condition when life and professional experience had been achieved. And if the old person is secured financially , has rather good health, keeps good physical and mental activity, has good friends, and most importantly, lives in good psychological atmosphere at home – such a person might contribute with knowledgeable and useful advice to the surrounding people. Life can be good and interesting, despite of the age, if someone knows how to spend it.

From Nanci Thomas

[Nanci is a friend from my time in Anchorage. Alaska: 1979-1984. She lives in Washington State, USA]

Well, I guess I am a survivor too, next year being my 70th, a year which I never thought I would see at the youthful age of 18, living in Spain’s Costa del Sol.

My parents were prisoners of war in Santa Thomas in the Philippines, along with my two elder brothers and grandma on my mother’s side. They went through much, for which I hold them in enormous admiration. They never held ill-will toward the Japanese, in spite of what they endured. My Uncle Bruin spent much time in the jungle living off roots and wild berries until eventually captured by the enemy. That he survived was a miracle.

I came along after the war and returned to the Philippines with the family. This was the place they loved the most. Yes, it was quite an idyllic place.

My parents’ generation was a special generation, on the cusp of the old and the beginning a new, awesome and sometimes frightening future.
From there my brothers went to prep school in the UK and I to Calcutta with my parents—an eye opener of great proportions, in my observation of the culture of this immense civilization with its myriad ethnic traditions, dialects, language, and religions.

I have witnessed other cultures as well, their diseases and social changes, with personal sadness. My life in the U.S., has not always been positive: the advent of television, flight, space travel, computers, the internet, many presidents, social changes, and upon seeing how my adopted country has affected others.

Nanci's ArtAs someone who paints, and does photography, I see deeply the absolute beauty of the natural world, creation itself, awesome beyond belief—and then also, the pathos, sadness and brutality of man against his fellow man as well as other members of this planet. Why? In the scheme of things, life is brief and frail, and we all just specks of dust.

Did I leave a positive footprint? hopefully there is time for this, though personally, I believe the hands of the clock are close to midnight. Exciting yes! but what kind of tiny footprint have I left, have we left? Worthy or unworthy. I am definitely not ready to ‘fade into the sunset’ yet.

Perhaps the best gift in life, for me anyway, is being blessed with a dearly loved family, living treasures, being a part of their lives, ups and downs. At any moment, they could have been taken away from this earth, through the war, but our great Creator saw fit to keep them from an early passing. A miracle in itself. So I thank Him every day for their presence in my life, along with some of the finest friends one could ever have.

What more could I wish for? I have been utterly blessed throughout.

Tinnitus

I met a man around 15 years ago who, a week after we met, jumped off the Golden Gate Bridge to his death.

We had a mutual friend, Kelly, who asked me to meet with him after I had told Kelly about my tinnitus. Kelly was interested in how I dealt with the constant low hum and high-pitched hissing, and the occasional but temporary loud, clear tone. He said his friend, whom I later met, was depressed about his tinnitus. Kelly thought my meeting with him and talking about our shared affliction might help him.

Upon meeting his friend in San Jose I learned he was, indeed, depressed about his tinnitus, but it was different from mine. He said that, when in conversation, whatever he heard echoed and reverberated.

~1438120515~what did you sayI told him what I had told Kelly—I have found a way, both voluntarily and involuntarily, to ignore the constant hissing and humming. I don’t ‘hear’ my tinnitus unless I consciously think about it, or unless I am in a place where there is almost complete silence. Kelly’s friend was not impressed, saying this way of dealing with it was not available to him.

Kelly’s friend had other problems as well. He had lost a critically important client for his business, and his wife had left him. So, I can’t blame the tinnitus for his unfortunate demise, but it seems a contributing factor.

I began to notice the sounds in my head around twenty-five years ago, when in my early fifties. At first it was the hissing which masked all sibilants and stridents: s/z/f/v. Also, I found myself reading lips, needing to see my interlocutor’s mouth to understand some of the emanating sounds, both heard and unheard. I finally bought hearing aids at around age sixty, but even as the technology has improved (I’m on my third pair) nothing can make me hear s/z/f/v. Except for a few distorted tones in the upper ranges (typically played by flutes and violins), I hear music well-enough to enjoy it fully. I can fill in the blanks when listening to familiar music, just as I interpolate much of the speech directed toward me.

One’s hearing deficit is hard for others to understand, much less be empathetic with. A blind person, or a person with an impairment of the limbs or other parts of the visible body, more naturally evokes sympathetic reactions. The confusion of a deaf person is often perceived as humorous, and it serves one (me, at least) to go along with the humor and even build upon it.

My mother, in her eighties, was concerned about her tinnitus. She took medication to control her paranoid tendencies, so the sounds in her head would evoke confusion and concern. I reassured her that I had the same affliction and, thus, it was a family trait.

I wonder if Kelly’s friend had paranoid or other psychological tendencies which the tinnitus exacerbated. Maybe it was the tinnitus which pushed him over the edge.

An excellent novel and story to read if you want to enter the world of the partially deaf: Deaf Sentence, by David Lodge.

Missing Relatives and Friends

I am currently dwelling upon the disappearance of all my older relatives and my only sibling. There is no one remaining in my family with whom I have shared memories from before my first child turned, say, ten years old in 1973. That’s around 35 years of remembered history which is not directly relevant to anyone living. To keep some of these memories alive I have created a Family Blog.

I have few friends left from the older times. Fred and I went to Berkeley High school together, and we have remained in touch since 1953. Gary and I met professionally in San Francisco 1963, went our separate ways in 1964, but have exchanged letters at Christmastime ever since. Denny and I met professionally in Sacramento in 1977 and quickly became pals, but we live far apart. We stay in touch primarily by Facebook.

Several other friends, all younger than I, have died. One old friend, a buddy from our time together in the US Navy, recently contacted me after around 50 years since we last saw each other. His family brought him to meet me in San Francisco when I was visiting family near there. His mind was failing under the burden of a growing dementia. He and his family wanted a photo record of this visit to remind him of it. We spent two days together traveling the San Francisco Bay Area, remembering old times and old friends when we had been on shore leave.

Arnie and me

I have made and retain other friends from newer times. We will grow older together.

So what more is there to say regarding the fading away of family and friends? I guess there is no conclusion to reach other than to recognize the obvious and to accept it.

Being Old

I welcomed my 75th birthday, early in 2012, because I felt it settled the question of whether I was yet “old”. The answer was, and is, Yes!

According to the life expectancy table for year 1937, I could then reasonably have expected to live to age 58. I’ve already got a bonus of 17 years.

Upon achieving age 76 on January 7, 2013 I can reasonably expect to live another 10 years, according to this statistical table from the Social Security Administration. In that I changed my residence from the USA to Sweden 10 years ago, to be with Eva, my Swedish wife, I could possibly add a few more years to that expectation.

Now, people I meet don’t have to dance around saying “old” in front of me. I let ’em know, when appropriate, that I am, indeed, old and happy to be so. After all, consider the alternative.

An Invitation to Survivors

Yes, we are the survivors:

  • of The Great Depression that our birth parents nonetheless brought us into;
  • of the Second World War which our parents¹ experienced directly or indirectly;
  • of the epidemics of childhood diseases and of the periodic “flus”;
  • of the accidents that befall young people especially;
  • of our own participation in the many undeclared wars since WWII, or in the peacetime military;
  • of our experience with, and sometimes misbehavior around, big machines, including especially automobiles;
  • of the mistakes in judgment we have made throughout the years;
  • of the random events over which we have no control.

(¹Note: the word “parents” is used generically here, as some of us were raised by other relatives, or foster parents, or institutions.)

I invite you to use this forum to tell our readers what you have learned in your many decades.

I invite you to help me create a personal history of our generation that will serve as a resource to others.

I invite you, as a brother or sister survivor, to stay with me and the other contributors to this weblog as we fade into the sunset.

To contribute, contact me at ron@pavellas.com