|When you are in the depths of an old forest there is no silence. You hear the wind, the leaves, some cracking of branches, voices of animals, perhaps. These sources are amorphous and so the appearance of musical hallucinations is possible. Spirits have inhabited these woods ever since humans kept and passed down tales. The spirit of a place can appear. This might not be benevolent. There seems to be variations of ghosts everywhere. I grew up near these woods and have ventured into them during my childhood. But I couldn’t see the forest for the trees. Until now.
One night, Robert Schumann suddenly left his bed, having dreamt that a ghost, purportedly the spirit of either Schubert or Mendelssohn, had dictated a "spirit theme" to him. He wrote it down. It turned out to be a theme he had composed and used a few times before. The variations on this theme, the ‘Geistervariationen’, German for Ghost Variations, are his last work. Immediately after, he was admitted to an insane asylum and within 2 years he was dead. The asylum where Schumann spent his last 2 years was in the countryside. It was surround by old German forests, the same kind that the Brother’s Grimm describe in ‘Children's and Household Tales’, published in 1812, just 2 years after Robert Schumann’s birth.
Like Schumann, I hear a constant tone, his ‘A’. Like Schumann, I suffer from intense and periodic mental heath attacks that make me question the reasons to stay alive. Schumann wrote that this greatly disturbed him and that musical hallucinations grew out of this. Schumann’s wife Clara wrote that Robert described those apparitions of music as both "wonderful" and "hideous". What is more wonderful and hideous in music than parallel fifths and the Devil’s tritone?
Now I’m older than Schumann ever was. Sitting in a spiritual house surrounded by an imaginary forest far from my childhood home, I can now see what he saw. It is an awakening, everything is manifest in one appearance, or as Christopher Casey wrote in “Grecian Grandeurs and the Rude Wasting of Old Time”: a revolt against the social and political norms of the Age of Enlightenment and a reaction against the scientific rationalization of nature.
The ‘First Haunch of Venison’ is based on an appearance first mentioned in the Latin Acta Sanctorum’s entry on Saint Hubert which was appropriated from the hagiography of Saint Eustace. On Good Friday morning, when the faithful were crowding the churches, Hubert set out to hunt. As he was pursuing a magnificent stag, the animal turned and he was astounded to see a crucifix appear between its antlers, while he heard a voice saying: "Hubert, unless you turn to God, and lead a holy life, you shall quickly go down into hell." Hubert dismounted, prostrated himself and said, "Lord, what do you want me to do?" He received the answer, "Go and seek Lambert, and he will instruct you."
This account is mythologically interesting because Hubert went into the forest and had a spiritual vision. What he saw was an animal with a ‘Kreuz’ (German for cross) above his head and what he heard was a voice. The Lambert that he sought out was the bishop of Maastricht, a town located 104 km, or 65 miles, from the town of Moers, where I spent my impressionable teenage years and where I ventured out into the forest, seeking visions. Coincidentally, Schumann’s insane asylum in Bonn-Endenich was the exact same distance away from Maastricht.
What I saw in my Schumann-ian spiritual house, surrounded by the imaginary forest, was a different type of crucifix hovering over what appeared to be three deers in one. It was more like the cross that Fox Mulder from the ‘X-Files’ puts on windows, which is a cross at a 45-degree angle, or the X symbol. What I played was music that started in the same ‘Geistervariationen’ netherworld where Schumann left off in 1854, hoping to conjure up music so I won’t have to go through hell again.
In retrospect is easy to interpret history as if it has meaning. We seek patterns even if there is just noise. This ‘First Haunch of Venison’ is no exception.