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A Letter from Idil Biret

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Dear Editor,

In the 1970s, during a stay in Vienna for concerts, I made the acquaintance of Miraben Madeleine-Slade, the daughter of an admiral of the British Navy who had spent long years in India helping Gandhi. The luminous personality of this elderly “grand dame” had greatly impressed me. The synthesis of inner peace and a very youthful enthusiasm apparent in her demeanor was quite extraordinary. At the time she was writing a book on Beethoven, which was why she was living in Vienna, where she was attending most of the concerts. I remember that once Miraben became quite ill. It was autumn, and the weather was quite humid. Miraben had gone to the woods near Vienna, Wienerwald, several days in succession, to experience what Beethoven probably did while he was in the process of creation: taking long walks and lying down on the grass when he felt tired. Miraben had done the same and had naturally caught a cold. I was surprised by her reaction as she seemed delighted by this result. When I enquired about her health, she told me triumphantly, “This illness is the very proof that Beethoven did not have one of these ‘shameful’ diseases. All the symptoms he had were the result of getting sick from lying on humid soil. I am experiencing exactly the same thing.” She might have been right or totally wrong, but her determination was admirable.

I last saw Miraben some years later at Richard Drasche’s chateau in the outskirts of Vienna, where she was temporarily residing in a guest house.

I thought about her when I read the reference to Mira in the Harper’s post about Romain Rolland, where by chance a recording of my performance of the Andante of Beethoven’s 5th Symphony is played (as transcribed by Liszt). “What a coincidence,” I thought, and I wondered what happened to the Beethoven biography Miraben was writing.

Idil Biret

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