Poster A bespectacled gentleman demonstrates improper violin technique
Nicholas Cords
Erin Baiano/Courtesy of the artist

Brooklyn Rider's Nicholas Cords on Beethoven, gratitude and the power of creativity

Our Daily Breather is a series where we ask writers and artists to recommend one thing that's helping them get through the days of isolation during the coronavirus pandemic.

Who: Nicholas Cords of Brooklyn Rider

Where: Boston, Mass.

All of this found time might have provided a prime opportunity for an epic chamber music reading party, but I nevertheless keep a near-constant strain of music running in my head. Maybe because [Brooklyn Rider] recorded it recently, but I've been holding Beethoven's String Quartet No. 15 in A minor, Opus 132, front-of-mind these days.

Beethoven found himself recovering from a life-threatening illness in 1825 when he composed the central movement, the Heiliger Dankgesang eines Genesesen an die Gottheit, in der lidischen Tonart ("Song of Thanksgiving from a Convalescent to the Deity, in the Lydian Mode"). This desert island movement is not only a celebration of feeling new physical strength, but it is essentially an expression on the renewal of the soul and the joyful return of Beethoven's creative powers. Touchingly written in the margin of a sketch for this movement is the following note: "Thank you for giving me back the strength to enjoy life."

I have wrapped myself over the years with so many different activities and responsibilities, celebrating the mantra of the itinerant artist that "busy is good." So much so that I had been feeling frequently overwhelmed and disconnected from an overarching sense of purpose. Now, as the days at home slowly pass, the layers of that life are slowly peeling away.

After the initial waves of panic (which, admittedly, have not gone away completely), emerging is something more calming and elemental. A throughline is starting to form across daily activities like writing, communicating with friends and family, teaching online, improvising a new way of daily life, practicing the viola and thinking about how to contribute in an age of physical distancing. That throughline is a magic power each and every one of us posses; the unyielding power of creativity.

I've understood more than I ever have before that the creative spark within me can never be taken away, and that it is in fact incredibly sustaining and life-affirming. It's surreal that it should take a global pandemic to remind me of this simple truth, but I think I've understood Beethoven's thankful sentiment more in the last week than I have across decades of music-making.

Nicholas Cords is the violist for the quartet Brooklyn Rider, which recently released the album Healing Modes. He is also co-artistic director of the musical collective Silkroad and serves on the faculty of the New England Conservatory of Music.

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