Last Wednesday, the world of letters lost a treasure: beloved Minnesota essayist, poet and raconteur Bill Holm unexpectedly succumbed to complications of pneumonia in a South Dakota hospital.
I didn’t know Bill well, but I read him; and so he felt as fully-fleshed, as dear to me a longtime family friend. Who could spend time inside his singular prose, and in so doing brush against his formidable intellect and wide-ranging passions, and feel otherwise? So, when I heard of his passing last week, I did what many did, I’m sure: I went straight to the bookshelf and took refuge in his glorious stories.
As I poked around the shelves and reacquainted myself with his work, I ran into an old favorite: an impassioned essay which hit themes that recurred again and again in his writing–the enduring joy to be found in great music and art, the perils of brutishness and political myopia. As I read, the paragraphs below, in particular, struck me. I can think of no more fitting tribute to Bill Holm’s life and literary legacy than to share those words with you here:
Great works of art ask more of us than elevator music, celebrity magazines, Survivor and internet games. Beethoven gives us everything inside him-all his brain and heart and genius and soul. And he demands that we give him the same. Like Rilke’s “Archaic Torso of Apollo,” he asks us to change our life-to think and feel with everything inside us. He gives us joy, wisdom, beauty at the highest level of human consciousness. He means more than to merely amuse us, though he is of course able to do that with elegance and humor too.
My friend Jonas Ingimundarsson, Iceland’s most beloved pianist, had a bout with cancer a few years ago, but after the usual terrors luckily survived. I went to see him at a little concert hall outside Reykjavík where he practiced on a Bösendorfer Imperial. I asked what he was working on. “Now,” he said, “I have time only for the most beautiful music.” He played a Chopin “Nocturne” and one of Schubert’s last “Klavierstucke” with great inward tenderness. I wept like an idiot listening to him. None of us has time for any but the most beautiful music, the greatest music, played and heard with everything inside us.