There is within traditions of faith and literature such a personality. An Ecstatic experiences the world distinctly. Qualities of prophetic vision abound. In ecstasy lies a unique capacity to see one’s own name from a distance, and to read it aloud with tremendous cold objectivity, with brutal self-doubt. For the Greeks, ekstasis meant to stand outside oneself, in trance.
Kleiber had that merit. He fused it to an artistic energy that was Blake’s ‘eternal delight’. While combining distance from his own ego with that ecstatic urgency, he made his unique art. Across his whole career Carlos lived an intensely integrated theory of music. All forces were co-determinate, correlate, all bent toward a burning sufficiency. No wonder he was so often disappointed. Few others of his time played for such stakes. Callas and Vickers and Stratas certainly did. Furtwängler and Gould, unquestionably. Add Argerich, Oistrakh, Richter, Kissin, Tennstedt and a few others and the list soon emaciates. A trait common to most of these personalities is that they belong to a subculture of secession. Periods of retreat, departure, disappearance were essential — and sometimes gained by dissolving into a role. In time, Kleiber exfiltrated into public shadow.
Carlos was no theologian. The manufactured evidence of Belief amused and repelled him. The shoddy politics of organized piety disgusted him. He shared Emily Dickinson’s view of God as “a noted clergyman”.
But he understood the practices of an aesthetic faith. The 10th Century poet and mystic Al-Ghazali made sense to him: ‘The purpose of music, considered in relation to God, is to arouse longing for God, and passionate love for Him, and to produce states in which God reveals Himself and His favor, which are beyond description and known only by experience. These states are called ecstasy.’ It was a state Carlos sought in every performance. It could only be gained through the disciplines of study and imagination and an insatiable desire for Proximity.
He came closer to these intimate visions, this molten awareness, than any conductor of his era. But when told so, when praised for it, he would shrug or laugh or ridicule. It was his pain that he — almost alone — could see how much further there remained to travel. He once listened to one of his own recordings, declared that it was “ok”, and then decided he made a mistake. “It must have been by Karl Böhm.” That could be read two ways.
I regret never talking with him about William Blake. Carlos’ own states of innocence and indifference were announced there. So too was his anxiety and belief. Emily Dickinson anticipated Carlos’ own desire for that special state. They understood one another. Like Blake, she foretold the cost of Kleiber’s achievement.
For each ecstatic instant
We must an anguish pay
In keen and quivering ratio
To the ecstasy.
For each beloved hour
Sharp pittance of years,
Bitter contested farthings
And coffers heaped with tears.
There will, inevitably, be a recalibration of his reputation. It began to occur before he died. Even now it accelerates…