Fire Island, Broken Strings

Posted on Aug 22nd, 2010 by Jeanne Golan

Spent the day on Fire Island with some friends who have a place out there.  Early morning drive, then the ferry.  Meandered along the mostly unpopulated oceanfront on a quiet gray weekday and through the sunken forest.  Being there is like walking into another time, or even having time suspended as the rhythm of the day is measured by the tides and waves.  It was arranged for us to have access to the local community center for me to try out the newly learned Seventh Sonata on my guinea pig audience.  No. 7 is the last piece Ullmann wrote, and as with all the others, there’s a deeply autobiographical quality to it, in how he structures it, in what he quotes (everything from Bach to operetta to folk song to himself!).

Playing on a truly junky baby grand in such a bygone place made me mindful of what this sonata must have sounded like at it’s first performance in Terezin, just weeks before Ullmann was taken to Auschwitz and killed.  Surely that piano in the camp was less than ideal and must have been completely out of tune.  As I was playing, reached a big grotesque moment in the music and a string broke, making a fearful twang that kept resonating and resonating.  It whipped back and forth  Felt like I’d connected with the piece in the spirit of its premiere; even under the most adverse conditions, this music has a power of its own and the gifts it must have provided for it’s initial listeners (and for today’s listeners as well) immeasurable.


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