[Outlook] Keep climbing until the end

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[Outlook] Keep climbing until the end

I went to the Concert Hall at the Seoul Arts Center last Sunday. It was the second show by pianist Paik Kun-woo, who was performing Beethoven’s Piano Sonata Cycle in 7 Days. His performance of Sonata No. 15, known as Pastoral, and Sonata No. 8 that Beethoven called Pathetique, were especially impressive.
It was a drastic contrast between tranquility and intensity. It was like a pause in a raging storm, when the sky suddenly parts to reveal a streak of sunlight piercing the ground from the heavens.
It was truly impressive and I had to admire Beethoven once again. The characteristics of the composer can only be delivered by someone like Paik, who has lived some 70 years and gone through the ups and downs of life.
Paik is more suited for Beethoven than the young pianist Kim Sun-wook or the confident and powerful pianist Park Jong-hwa.
At 8 p.m. on Thursday, I hurried to the same venue again to listen to Paik’s performance of Beethoven’s Piano Sonata No. 29, also known as Hammerklavier.
In 1818, when Beethoven was extremely poor, he was given a new piano as a gift from Broadwood and Sons, the piano manufacturer in England. It was not bread or money, but the instrument was equipped with hammers stronger than those in any other piano. It was called hammerklavier, after all.
With this new weapon, Beethoven wrote a piano sonata for hammerklavier in 1819. The composer was 49 years old then and after completing that piece he confessed that he then knew what composing was about.
“Hammerklavier” is a watershed in Beethoven’s life. The music is so grand and majestic that it seems more like a symphony that an orchestra should play, rather than a piano sonata.
So for pianists, Hammerklavier is a majestic and dangerous mountain that cannot be conquered easily. The music is like the K2 mountain, the peak of death among all the mountains higher than 8,000 meters in the Himalayas.
On Thursday evening, the old pianist seemed exhausted in the last stage of the Beethoven piano sonata cycle. Would he conquer the dangerous mountain, Hammerklavier?
The keyboard that he pounded let out heavy breathing, but the pianist continued the painful performance as if trudging up a mountain, step by step.
Just as K2 made countless alpinists give up ― or swallowed them in deadly crevices ― it seemed that Hammerklavier was about to swallow the pianist.
He looked small before the huge mountain that Beethoven left behind. But Paik did not give up. He struggled until the end.
At last, he climbed to the summit of the huge and dangerous mountain called Hammerklavier. The audience held its breath during the entire performance.
In the end, their applause was praise for the player but perhaps it was also to scold themselves for not trying to scale the peaks in their own lives.
Everybody has a mountain to conquer in his life. But most people simply look up at the mountain throughout their lives and then die.
We all know that we should at least try, even if we end up dying in the middle of the mountain. But we are afraid we just keep looking at the mountain, and before we know it our life ends.
Let’s see where my mountain lies. Where is the mountain that I should try to climb, even if I die in the attempt? Have I found the mountain? Or is it that I don’t dare to start climbing, even though it is standing right in front of me?
Perhaps we will be truly happy if we find the mountain and keep trying to conquer it until we die.
They say the journey of 1,000 miles begins with a single step. So let’s take that first step. And keep going to the end.
That is why we are envious of the pianist’s passionate and fighting spirit.

*The writer is an editorial writer of the JoongAng Ilbo.

By Chung Jin-hong
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