The Demands of the Genius

Another memoir about a creative woman: Käbi Laretei. She is now perhaps most known for having been married to Ingmar Bergman for ten years, but she was also a very successful concert pianist in her day, who collaborated with Stravinskij and Paul Hindesmith, to mention only two. In this small book "Toner och passioner" (= notes and passions), she writes about her working life, about the pianist Laretei. Her two husbands are only present in a couple of anecdotes that are of importance to the story of her career. Much more important is her own "housewife", Bärbel, who was her nanny/housekeeper/secretary. In the end, when she asks the question why her career as a pianist cooled off and she started doing other things, one of her answers is that Bärbel left her. (It rings a bell: Åsa Moberg writes in her memoir that one of the most thrilling things about her lover, Harry Schein, was that he lived with a housekeeper.)

When Laretei writes about the struggle of the travelling performer: lost luggage, time to practice, a place to practice, inferior instruments (there´s a lot about Steinways and Pleyels and such in here), noisy hotelrooms, demanding impressarios, demanding conductors, demanding composers, the difficulty to sleep, taking care of one´s hands, the importance of a certain kind of earplug, irritating children on planes - well, you think it can´t have been an easy life.

The whole memoir is centered around one special relationship she had to an American couple, that acted as her impressarios in the US for ten years. It´s interesting to read how they courted her, did everything for her, but in the end also demanded quite a bit from her. There are no free lunches, as they say. Unconditional love is a rare thing, indeed.

And there is also the doubt, the constant striving for a better performance. Laretei is never satisfied and in this passage, she is talking about it with her first husband, Gunnar (in my own, quick translation):

After a concert in Helsingfors I cried on the phone and lamented my total failure with my Beethoven concert. A few years later I heard the same concert on the radio, a fantastic recording. "That´s exactly how I want it to sound! Why can´t I play it like that, that´s how I want it!" Gunnar said calmly: "That´s you playing."

I bet that felt like a rather pleasant slap in the face, haha.

After my read, as I google Laretei and think about the demands of the creative person and how impossible it must be for that kind of genius to thrive in Swedish society today, with its demands for equality and how no one is expected to have to give up anything (career, a good night´s sleep, whatever) for a child or a spouse, I come across mention of her son with Bergman, Daniel. I remember him also becoming a film director but I haven´t heard anything of him for years. Turns out, he doesn´t seem to have done anything in the film industry since 2000. According to Wikipedia, he works as a nurse. I don´t know if it´s true, but if it is, there is a sense of balance to it, I think. Or irony, if you will. Perhaps the cult of equality and sameness, agreeable though it may be, has cost us quite a few original thinkers and performers.

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