A Greater Music - Excerpt
In the beginning there are memories. Conventional memories whose essence is either visual or aural, shifting eventually to those which, through their own agency, reclaim past scenes inside remembered soundscapes. Mendelssohn-Bartholdy-Strasse, immersed in the music I am oblivious to the fact that the train that I have to take has already pulled in, the passengers have already boarded and the train has whisked them away. Clara Schumann’s portrait gleaming pale above paper money, the Shostakovich corner in the LP store, a gramophone discovered in an antiques store on the craftsman’s street, a museum of musical instruments down a small side street not marked on the map, music schools. More music. Raindrops fell, and were overlaid above with more drops, and above them still more. They fell continuously, layer upon layer, and an instinctive lifting of one’s gaze sees severally existing worlds unfurl over the fields, stretching away beyond the gray barrier that marked the edge of the motorway. Air heavy with rain, overcast with clouds, churned by gusting wind, the melancholy color of a seemingly shadowed evening, earth and water and air and color. Of all the discrete chords pursuing infinite freedom each on their separate path, each in possession of their own language, a musician singled out one. That chord, which layered raindrop over raindrop, extended the domain of the original droplet throughout the world that lay beneath the massing clouds, beyond the fields and low hills and what had at one time been wilderness. On stage, at an orchestral concert I’d attended with M, an oboist mistakenly played a sharp note. It had happened at least twice by the time they were halfway through the movement, which wasn’t a particularly long one. Overall, a disappointing performance. During the break, people milled around in the hall, wineglasses full. The sound of the wine lapping against the delicate glasses differed according to whether it was white or red. People in black woolen clothes gathered there, the sounds of their conversation filling the lower part of the cavernous space like smoke dispersing at a low height, before being gradually absorbed into the walls and portraits. This was in the dead of winter. It was at M’s house that I first heard “At the Santé Prison,” the song of a condemned man awaiting death. Between one piece and another, or one movement and another movement, I would open the kitchen window a little and breathe in the crisp air, or make some fresh coffee. At first I was bored, unable to lose myself in the music. At the time I was more taken up with M than I was with Shostakovich. All the same, we listened to all fifteen of Shostakovich’s symphonies, one after another, in no particular order . . . The symphony had made an immediate impression on me. Later, I realized that it had caused me to acknowledge the omnipotence of death, the sole theme of such music. This acknowledgement hurt those close to me, and I had to endure their condemnation. The night was deep, the lamps stood unlit, and the paved road was uneven; the tram stop was some way off. Beneath the raindrops, still more raindrops were falling, not at a constant speed, but continuously. Beside them other raindrops were falling, also at unappointed intervals, and beside them still more raindrops, and beside them still more . . . thus was the world beneath the massed clouds captured and occupied. It was the empire of a mathematics which, for all its exquisite detail, was freed from the strictures of an orderly rhythm, and played extempore.
It was in my teens, when I got my own stereo and learned to play the piano and violin, that I found my way in to the world of music. It was learning an instrument that opened this door, providing a deeper understanding than can be gained through passive listening. And yet I turned out to be utterly devoid of musical talent, even allowing for the fact that I was too old, by then, to be able to tap into that innate ear for music that children supposedly have. At the time, though, I can’t say I really felt the lack, because in those days I imagined that this thing, music, was merely incidental to the world, a kind of garnish. In other words, I considered it on-par with overly embellished old-fashioned clothes, romantic poetry, my weekly art class, an intricately crafted dessert, the occasional trip to the theater as a reward for good grades.
[. . .]
Such a lot of time has gone by since then. Now, I have willingly taken upon myself the role of M’s protector. An inconceivably intense affection flooded through me for the tender, haughty being known as M. I closed the glass window, anxious about the prospect of M catching yet another cold. The sharp tang of petrol pervaded the interior of the old car. M had a serious allergy to many medicines, so she couldn’t take general fever remedies. Greater music, the voice said. Even before the final bar had ended, the voice repeated those same sounds, greater music. Like the raindrops which fell continuously, but seemingly without any fixed pattern, greater music, in an uncalculated extempore moment before the final notes were over, like the falling of the next raindrop while the lingering notes of the first still sound, falling to the ground beneath the clouds with no set beat, greater music, the next first notes joined the continuum. That continuous sound is called music . . .