Carlos, Merche, Marijoxe … All say hello to Ramon Andrés in Elizondo. The essayist, poet and aphorist has lived for three years in this town in the Baztán valley, north of Navarra, but anyone would say that he has been a lifelong neighbor. He arrived from Barcelona, evicted by real estate pressure and by the screaming of an opposing society, and settled in a quiet apartment overlooking “a west cut out of gentle mountains and groves”. From there hunting with binoculars “flocks of migratory birds”: storks, pomeranian eagles, cormorants, ducks, cranes and herons, according to the inventory that Andrés (Pamplona, 1955) makes at the end of his last book, Philosophy and consolation of music (Cliff).
During the confinement, one day he went shopping and a woman shouted at him from the other side of the street: “Thanks for writing!” Another song is the town’s bookstore, whose showcase is a multilingual monograph by the novelist Dolores Redondo, author of the famous Baztán police trilogy that, before the coronavirus, supplied the valley with literary tourists. Now, the Elizondo pension registers on a Monday in late September an occupancy comparable to that of the hotel in The glow, But Andrés’ routine has not changed: morning walk with his dog, a somewhat skittish female Podenco, coffee at the Malkorra bakery, “limited resources” and a lot of work. He lives here with his partner, the philologist Lola Josa, a specialist in the Golden Age, who spends part of the week in Barcelona.
Only the concentration that his “refuge” gives him can explain the feat: Philosophy and consolation of music is a 1,164-page treatise on the history of “thinking transformed into music”, from the pre-Socratics to the Enlightenment. “The counterpoint”, says its author, “are the references to the consolation that it produces. Perhaps it is the art that most intervenes in the mood. And, therefore, the one who comforts the most ”.
He spent three years writing (2016-2019), although it seems the result of a dedication of decades. “I am always filling out notebooks and aphorisms. If I lived 200 years ”, he warns,“ I could publish many books, but I will leave having done a small part ”. The essay reads as a complement to two of his previous works: The world in the ear (2008), on the birth of music in culture, and the monumental (1,776 pages) Dictionary of music, mythology, magic and religion (2012, both in Cliff). Like the latter, Philosophy and consolation of music it is conceived as a “reference work” (in which an onomastic index is missing). “It is the last that I write of this type; another like this, and I don’t count it, ”he explains. “It was a debt to myself. There is no precedent for something like this, not even outside of Spain. At least I don’t know them ”. From now on he will dedicate himself to rehearsals “with a greater element of recreation”. He is already working on one on Josquin Desprez, a Renaissance composer of the Franco-Flemish school.
Andrés defines his books as “inner journeys that accompany his deep loneliness.” This begins with a quote from Elias Canetti (“Music is the greatest consolation for the very fact that it does not create new words”) and with the certainty that, “older than literature”, it is also a tool against forgetting , as the Greeks already knew. Guided by Boethius (480-524) —author of the influential Consolation of philosophy, which he wrote while awaiting his execution in the prison of Pavia – the book stops at the gates of Romanticism. “I left it there so as not to exhaust the patience of the reader, the editor [Sandra Ollo] and mine ”, he clarifies. “The road to the Enlightenment constitutes a closed universe. Furthermore, much has already been said about Nietzsche and his relationship with music. Or about Adorno ”.
Through its pages, full of stories and threads to pull, hundreds of tutelary figures of Western culture parade: Pythagoras (capable of hearing “the music of the cosmos”), the pioneer Hildegard von Bingen, Juan Luis Vives or Lutero, ” that he played lute and flute “, and said:” If a school teacher can’t sing, I won’t look at him. ” Also, “among the hard of hearing”, Kant or Spinoza. Vives is, for the author, an example of secular Spanish deafness. “Erasmus and Tomás Moro adored him, but since he was a Valencian from a family of converted Jews, he had to leave. Our true black legend is laziness, envy and a certain laziness ”.
“And why is this such a poor music-loving country?”
—I’d say he’s a bit deaf, also for politics. Curricula have never favored music. Some other Minister of Education has tried to suppress it. And it is not that there is no hobby or talented musicians, but she is always considered of lower rank. What Torres Villarroel said, “these are musicians, the happiest side of the four that has madness”, still stands. Here you are looking for immediate performance, and music cannot deliver it. The right always wants to listen to the same stagnant repertoire and the left considers “cultured” music to be elitist. What to do then?
Philosophy and consolation … it is also full of aphorisms. It is in reflections such as “music is a way of thinking about the air, a way of learning the vibration that the atmosphere leaves in the ear” that his poetic status appears. These months he has published The trees we have left (Hyperion), where nature and culture are mixed with experiences (“San Juan Night: believe me, I am not lying to you, / I have jumped 10, 12 high flame bonfires, / in Arizkun, down the street, at my age, white hair and black jump “) and memories:” When I was born on Generalissimo Franco Avenue, / today called Lower Navarra, the roads / were counted by accidents. Provincial asphalt / and fear of the engineers to deal with the mountains. / It was the year of Pedro Páramo and in which Einstein died ”. At the end of the rehearsal, he says, he bought “a Decathlon chair for 11 euros” and went to the field to compose those poems.
Although, normally, Andrés works in his study, in an apartment lined with books. A private library, with catalogs of ancient art, musical essays, a lot of philosophy (from his first babbling to Emanuele Severino, who died in January and whose memory the book is dedicated to) and poetry, which has its own room. His work table, on which the model of a drifter hangs, is surrounded by reproductions of paintings and photographs, a photocopy of part of the score of the Requiem of Ligeti, also cited in the dedication, or a copy of Part of a story by Ignacio Aldecoa, “one of the few novelists” who reads from time to time, to soak up his “powerful Castilian”. “An etymological dictionary gives me more life than a novel.”
His ability to work could be due to the fact that he is a late writer, even if he was a precocious boy. His first trace in Spanish culture is the album Sing to Blas de Otero (1977), fruit of his friendship with the Bilbao poet, whom he frequented before he turned 20 at his house in Madrid. He recorded it for Ariola, in the days of JM Caballero Bonald’s record label (“who let us do what we wanted,” he says). He always prays that it be forgotten. “I did it to become independent from home, but the result is not good.”
His family had moved from Pamplona to Barcelona in pursuit of his father’s textile businesses, who “was so Wagnerian” that “only with time” has he “learned to love” the composer’s work. Then came his years as an early music singer, a profession he left (“since then, I have tended to intellectualize music rather than play it”) when he confirmed his aversion to traveling. And in those follows: author of The luthier from Delft (2013), only went to the city of Vermeer once the essay was published, convinced by one of his four children, the result of two previous relationships.
“I have been able to dedicate myself to writing very late, almost 50 years old. He had a family to support. And I did it with all kinds of editorial work: correcting, translating…, I have done many translations of black, I don’t mind saying it ”. He also helped found the magazine Archipelago (“Our form of resistance to the withdrawal of humanism”) and published an anthology of baroque poetry, a dictionary of musical instruments or a history of suicide in the West that he retouched for a reissue five years ago. It was Jaume Vallcorba, founder of Acantilado who died in 2014, who uncovered the particular essayist inside him with the publication of his Bach life through the library that the genie left when he died, an acceptable long seller appeared in 2005. Then came works on the Dutch Golden Age, the Lamento della Ninfa, madrigal de Monteverdi, contemporary culture (Thinking and not falling) or, in Not suffer company, about that silence always longed for and that was done out of obligation in confinement. “Everyone appreciated it. Silence is good, for a mere physical matter. In our daily lives we do not think, we are continually receiving orders. Silence puts everything in its place ”.
He has also been building a base of readers, attracted by a crystalline style and a rare work in Spanish, conceived from the margins. In his Barcelona years he was not only an author (in Spanish) ignored by the official language, but he also did not fit into the publishing world, almost always focused on the latest novelist and little interested in matters such as baroque music. “I don’t miss Barcelona, except for the company of some friends. But I have not neglected. I follow the Catalan news with concern. And I see that it continues installed in the absurdity, “he assures the day after the sentence of disqualification of the president Quim Torra. “There is no one innocent in that dispute. Nobody. There is a Catalonia of first necessity that does not repair this problem [del independentismo] because it seems minor. Factories are closing and reaching the end of the month is imperative. We have so much love for the sides, for ‘them’, for ‘us’, for ‘for them’, that we are stagnant. I hate the sides. If there is something I am happy about, it is to have got rid of ideologies. I see that left-right battle as something old-fashioned. “
His recipe for overcoming the current disaster includes “deep doses of common sense and a search for individual responsibility and an ethical life. You don’t know how many things would be fixed just with that ”. “The population has a too passive attitude. He complains about politicians, but delegates to them. And that’s not fair either. The great revolution is living with what is necessary. That overproduction, that inertia, that way of anticipating the future, so typical of the West, is very nihilistic. We strive to forget about the present, “he adds, before a neighbor interrupts his reflections:” Well, agur, Ramón! ”, He says goodbye, as he leaves Elizondo’s bakery, heading for the gray morning of Baztán.