Beethoven

That is the title of a sonnet by Albrecht Haushofer, a poem about grief.

<<Der so geschrieben, war ein tauber Mann.
Verstehen wirst Du’s erst in spaeten Jahren.>>
Sie schweigt. <<Wenn Dir einmal das Herz gesprungen
Und weiterschlaegt und weiterschlagen soll.>>

When one day your heart breaks, and goes on beating, and has to go on beating, says young Albrecht’s old piano teacher.

There are about ten minutes between the gym and my house, and the classical station decided to toss me the scherzo from Beethoven’s Eroica, a breakneck sprint with a tally-ho of horns barreling right through the heart of it. It is a thing I love, though this particular recording — it was their CD Pick Of The Week, with Daniel Barenboim conducting the wonderfully named West-Eastern Divan Orchestra — was a little leisurely for my taste, nothing shabby about Barenboim, I just like it a touch more headlong, and I began saying to the empty inside of the car “Ah, c’mon, pick it up. I like this a little faster, don’t you? I bet Norrington would tear it up.” (Roger Norrington’s “historically accurate” tempi all sound like Too Much Coffee Man was involved.) There is no one left in my face to face life who would get what I was talking about at all, but my late and ex husband would have, and he was right there in the passenger seat, I had my eyes on the road but imagined reaching out and touching him, the horrible twill pants he used to wear until they were shiny and the bony shoulders under any old size of tee shirt. The last night he spent in my house, ten years divorced from me, homeless but refusing to admit it, and already crumbling from cancer, we played “who composed that?” with a late night broadcast (he guessed Mahler, I won with Bruckner). The man in the passenger seat of my new Fit cared nothing about death or endings; he was listening to Beethoven with the fist-pump I used to see when a really ballsy moment burst out of the brass section or the soloist tore up the cadenza in some bravura concerto.

“Well, it’s not like there’s anything shabby about Barenboim,” I said. I mentioned grief, didn’t I? Joy sits in grief’s lap, like a big dopey dog incapable of respecting solemnity.

I drive weeping sometimes, but so far I haven’t had to pull over.

Norrington finishes about ten seconds quicker. Not a big-ass difference. It’s really all about the horns, anyway.

Eine Kleine Nachtmusik

A comment of Az’s a few posts back reminded me of the way that I wake up, more mornings than not, with a melody running in my head. Sometimes it can be traced to my half-conscious absorption of performances broadcast by the local public radio station. Sometimes not.

This sounds like Mozart or early Beethoven, but Musipedia has no match to offer; the longer I hum it, the more density of orchestration I hear, suggesting a piano concerto or small ensemble rich in delicate counterpoint. I’ve started whistling the damn thing. I can’t believe it came out of my own unconscious head.

Anyone got any ideas?

Nocturne

Sometimes I finish early, which feels a bit like stealing back something from — what? past years that seem to have gone by too fast for me to appreciate them, so that I want to run them again like a good movie? the life I intended to have at this age? Much as I love my work, I really did not expect to still be going at it full bore when pushing sixty, however bad-ass a sixty we are talking about here.

This evening the D. C. area is under a stunning curtain of windblown rain, turning the slightest depression in my lawn into a lagoon and the gutters into caramel-colored millraces. I like this. It means anyone with a grain of sense is staying put. I feel safe with my theft of time.

I worked a lot of late hours when I was married, but I took more vacations then, too — time was more affordable — and my late and ex husband, that walking Schwann’s Catalog and musical dictionary, would sit across the room in the evenings, enjoying the programs on the classical station. If we were talking and certain pieces of music came on — not necessarily pieces with a personal meaning to us, just performances that we both recognized as good — we would fall silent by mutual understanding.  I suppose I could have married a man who was not fated to lose his mind, but then, he would not have been the man half reclining in the easy chair with a chessboard and book on his lap, eyes closed, listening to Murray Perahia or Itzhak Perlman, or trying to guess who had composed the half-familiar piece of high romanticism whose announcement we had missed. (“Bruckner?” “I think it’s Mahler.” “That horn column sounds like Bruckner.” “Maybe Dvorak?”)

Tonight there was no conversation to distract me from the announcer, who even opened the NSO showcase with a few program notes.

Beethoven puts you at some suspended moment outside of time, or perhaps at the center of all moments in time, like being within the facets of a jewel.

I looked over at the chair across from me, once or twice.

Shantih

I am unfit for polite society for a lot of reasons. Breaking down in tears a few seconds after switching on the radio, for example.

You read about people at the moment of death, or near death, seeing a white light. I think that what you hear is something like the minute that starts at about 4:16, here.

There are people who like to flippantly call pieces like the Emperor — well known, often played — “war horses.” In the exemplary words of  Robert Graves’ celebrated essay on swearing, I suppose they need their bleedin’ ear-‘oles syringed out.

Thor

A couple of minutes ago, after a day of clear or at the most hazy skies, an actinic flash zapped the darkness outside my dining room window, the thunder waiting just long enough for me to wonder: blown transformer down the block? Nuclear attack?

(I once mistook one for the other; as a sprout, I was drilled so often in the ritual of diving under your classroom desk to kiss your ass good-bye that my first reaction to a kamikaze squirrel shorting a transformer, right outside my childhood home, was to duck and cover. If you live a handful of miles from the Capitol you get a sort of belle indifference about these things, with time, but the reflexes stay.)

I didn’t expect thunder tonight, at the end of a crisp and fairly sunny day. I have a sort of mystical fascination with it. Age and homeownership complicate my feelings with worries about the unhealthy-looking oak next door or power outages, but as a kid, when other girls wanted to be Barbie or Liz Taylor in “National Velvet,” I wanted to be Thor. (I got terribly excited when a character in Abraham Merritt’s Moon Pool was named Thora, but she was a throwaway walk-on. Damn.) I listened to the Ring Cycle avidly, but Donner’s appearance in the end of Rheingold is frankly disappointing. Fellow Wagner lovers and detractors alike may disagree, but it is too damn polite.

He needs to be swinging that thing, and I mean in the music not just one particular staging. This is something composers are always trying to do and it usually escapes them.

Honest to God Rossini had a better handle on it — still too foursquare rhythmic to be real, but the relentless thing was there. About 1:00 here.

Beethoven took a shot. It wasn’t bad.

Strauss actually seems to have done it best. He understood chaos. But still, you know: More Timpani.

I miss those days when I didn’t think about gutter damage or downed trees. I wanted to be a big creature made of cloud, slamming the thick lower air with a phantom hammer half as big as the world. I’ve had the good fortune to be twenty yards or so away from three lightning strikes in my time, the kind where the thunder is simultaneous. Everyone would prefer to order up their own death: I’ll take that one, if I can get it.

A few years ago when I made my misbegotten foray into political work I was issued a four-pound maul, for hammering in sign stakes. I seized the black permanent marker we used to ink the campaign’s permit number on the signs and wrote gravely on the handle: MJOLLNIR.

He Did What?

Franz Liszt was one of those love-or-hate-’em composer/performers, sometimes both at the same time — a gigantic, prima-donna personality, a performing style that mixed stupendous technique with hammy brio and about forty-five fingers on both hands.

He gave me whiplash this afternoon when I came home, having left the radio on.

Hearing that performed on a piano reminded me of a favorite simile of Robert Anton Wilson’s: “Like opening a door in your own home and finding Buck Rogers shooting it out with Fu Manchu.”

They’ve got the Revolutionary and Romantic orchestra playing the original version now, back to back. I don’t know if that’s for educational comparison, or to make us all calm down.