Sunday, February 15, 2009

One of the niftiest and most enjoyable museums I have visited in many a day is the one in Brussels full of musical instruments. It is astonishing and it is unique: Five floors of music makers representing every musical period and genre for the past several hundred years. Here you will see the obscure and the precious. Apparently the Muziek Instrumenten Museum has the largest and most valuable collection of musical instruments in the world. In the category of obscure, I was rusty on my ritual music from Tibetan monasteries until this morning, but no more. I can now hum those tunes with the best of them. Ingenious, the way this museum works. As you approach each display of instruments, music materializes in your headphones, and you hear tunes recorded using the exact instruments before you. Best idea is to pick up a laminated sheet available as you enter each gallery. Hereon is the name of the soloist or group responsible for the music you are hearing and when it was recorded, together with the name of musical selection, and which instruments are used. In some instances, you hear rare recordings of the instruments themselves and sometimes you get a real gem. For instance, there are several beautiful and rare harpsichords grouped together, and as you approach one of them you hear a 1934 recording of Wanda Landowska playing away. Down the way, you can hear the Monteverdi orchestra in full concert recorded during the early 1950s. Approaching an assortment of brass instruments you can be enthralled as you dance about to the grand finale of the third act of Verdi’s Don Carlos. What a treat. And . . . what is that I spy?
Why it,’s a Turkish ukulele!!! I have got to get my hands on that little fellow. Sorry sir, no playing our instruments. There is a special section on Haydn this year, it being the anniversary of his death 200 years ago. Lots of text, beautiful period posters, some oil paintings to complement the array of instruments he had at hand, many when he was in the service of the Esterhazys. To me it is truly amazing how Haydn’s music is so very appealing and timely and fresh more than two centuries after he penned it. Guess that is why it is called classical. In the extensive piano collection there is a real treat. Andras Schiff, whom I just heard last night playing across the street in concert, is heard in a wonderful recording playing a Beethoven eccossaise on a piano once owned by Beethoven! Now that is quite a trump card. If I come back to Brussels I will set aside several hours to enjoy this unique museum. I could never get enough of it. As an aside, they have a concert series here and it would be a no-brainer for me to have a season ticket. There also are lectures and symposiums throughout the year. Just a fine place. Today’s Sunday morning offering was a soprano and pianist doing music by Debussy, Satie, and other 20th century composers. So contemporary in fact that the composer of one piece was sitting next to me! Stood up and and took a bow after his piece was performed. I’m glad I didn’t make an untoward remark during this rather painful original work, but I did quietly determine that my limited time here could be put to better use. Hearing early instrument recordings of Haydn originals, for example. I did not stay for the entire live concert program. Too much to see. Too much to hear. Too little time. Too bad. I must come again. After a comfortable lunch with a very tasty veal chop at the highly touted and mighty crowded Aux Armes de Bruxelles, followed by a quick stop at the famous Amigo Hotel for a glass of wine, I boarded the fast train to Paris. With nothing in the larder in my apartment, I stopped at Le Taverne du Sergent Recruteur, an atmospheric little spot just around the corner. From my first days I have been wanting to visit this cute place. Its eclectic decor includes a knight in armor, early cooking utensils hanging from the ceiling, oil paintings, a steamboat captain’s wheel. Wood floors, wood beams and drippy candles everywhere. A perfect spot on a cold Sunday night for a steaming cassoulet and some soothing red wine. Voila.

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