“If this were to be the last full album I ever produce, I will be so proud. This man’s story deserves to be told through the generations, and I only hope this will be a small part in sharing this man’s legacy.”
These words by Matthew Mayer are the testimony of the inspiring and convincing act of Rajmund Kolbe, who was later named Maximilian Kolbe and canonized for his self-sacrificing act born out of pure love, empathy, and the spirit of renunciation of the highest order. He volunteered himself to be killed at the hands of Nazis whereby replacing a fellow-prisoner. There was no reason for him to do so but the prompt of the divine love that wells up when one sees others in distress.
A soldier dies saving others from dangers, but a saint also dies for the welfare of others. Maximilian Kolbe was truly a saint!
It is to such an amazing act of reason-less compassion that this album is dedicated. The title of the album is ‘16670,’ which was the number assigned to Kolbe in Auschwitz. The call, the agony, the inspiration, the pain, and the sensitivity of the act is palpable in every note…you imagine yourself watching the prison-scene and admiring the courageous beauty of the act, as the music plays in the background of your mind.
Feel humbled and proud that you came to know about such an incident in the history of mankind, as the music of ‘16670’ takes you to a sonic meditative experience.
To be released on 14 August–the date on which he left his mortal coil–the album would truly be a tribute to St. Maximilian Kolbe!
Album Name: 16670
Artist Name: Matthew Mayer
Total Time: 34:05
To imagine, to begin to capture the essence of such an act of history is brave, sometimes overwhelming, and often too overbearing if you have not lived that thought so many times; ruminating and almost losing oneself in that space is a prerequisite of doing such a creation. And has Matthew done justice to it? I would say, yes–he has. The mood, flow, and the timbre of every note make it so palpable.
There are eleven tracks in the album, and each one carries the potential of bringing you to this world of deep empathy and compassion. The range and depth of the emotion are captured so immaculately by the versatility of the piano. Like the mind of Kolbe, which was at peace throughout the weeks following his act till he was injected with lethal poison, the album flows slowly, giving ample time in between the two notes to allow you to soak yourself in that essence. I marvel at the tempo with which Matthew has composed every song–he sounds totally drenched in the ambiance of the act.
The very first and the title song ‘16670‘ sets the tone of the album alright. It starts with the ironic mood of the situation and quickly transmutes into an intense struggle of thoughts, emotions, and the victory of conviction and courage. At 2:20s, the song begins to feel the bliss that such a supreme act would bring to an elevated soul, and ends with a thumping sound, which reminded me of the Indian drone of Tanpura, which is believed to be matching the sound of the origin of the universe–Big Bang. Symbolically, so appropriate for a soul that has achieved the mergence with the Divine.
‘Glasses‘ is a gentle masterpiece. The ascension has begun and the soul is rising. The subtle higher notes at 1.25s add such a poignancy to the melody. It is a soft piece allowing you to lose yourself away in another world. Like a delicate flower that touches your skin and the pain seeps out.
Sensitivity and subtlety…let them address you like strokes of a breeze that sets you free and you marvel at the otherworldly kindness that mankind is capable of showing in the face of utter ruthlessness. ‘Simple Humanity‘ is that slow reminder.
The lilt and prod of ‘For a Stranger‘ is so deep. If you could think of putting the feeling of unconditional love to music, this would be it. I just felt so much love in this song.
Poland is a country that witnessed the worst of humanity, but nature takes its course no matter what. ‘Polish Flowers‘ is the harbinger of better times. Sun can’t be hidden forever and when it shines on the soil and water, hope blooms.
‘Philosophy of End‘ is an amalgamation of beliefs, understanding, concepts, and ideas. For what lies beyond is beyond our ken, and there is nothing else we can do but speculate, hope, wish, or dream of. The circles of notes on the piano depict this eternal struggle of the human mind.
The irony, the vacuum at the start of ‘Choices‘ and the intermingling of emotions from 1:02s lay bare the mental state of a common man who faces such a moment, before ‘Vision (Dreams 8)’ brings back you to a dreamy state where the elemental existence does not matter. There is a hint of strange joy in this song.
‘Block 17‘ is the cell in which the offering was made and the song lets the feeling sink–try thinking what would be going in everybody’s mind at the moment when Kolbe volunteered to die. Awe, disbelief, and limits of surprise would have smeared the minds of everyone, and yet there is an undertone of a beautiful smile that would have escaped his lips.
‘Block 11‘ represents the cell where Kolbe was kept with nine other prisoners and starved. Waiting for death is more fearful than death itself, yet for the one who volunteered to die for a stranger, there is this strength and stability that is definitely God-given. The song moves like the soft notes of a prayer, which is silent and does not ask for anything.
‘Kid Rajmund‘ is my favorite along with ‘Glasses.’ It has the innocence and child-like exuberance. Kolbe has breached past the bindings of this world and has entered the Garden. Peace prevails here.
Listening to this album, I felt like I am venturing onto a sonic spiritual voyage, pregnant with values that verily sustain this world. I fear the review may sound too philosophical at places, but you can’t help it. To write anything else than what you feel when you listen to such music is a disservice to the whole idea of paying a tribute. To know the theme of the album and not to feel such emotions would be totally unnatural.
Matthew is one of the most accurate story-telling pianists I have ever heard, but this album is not simply a compilation of songs–it is the essence of the very soul that reverberates with the same emotion and is moved by it.
So uniquely relatable to the present times, when every second demands a sacrifice for others. Take heart from St. Maximilian Kolbe and let ‘16670’ inspire you in your duty, work, and assignment. Keep marching on!