Sunday, August 20, 2006

Rain Breaker

Beethoven Symphony 6 in F Major 'Pastoral' (Op. 68);
Berlin Philharmonic conducted by Herbert von Karajan

He slides the CD into the stereo system, flips forward to the fourth movement, turns up the volume. Then, as the first notes explode from the speakers, steps out of the door and into the rain.

At first the storm dismays him. He feels the wind buffeting him, the rain soaking through his clothes. He panics. This is insane, he thinks to himself, I can't fight the weather with music! As if confirming his fears, the rain seems indifferent to his presence, too disdainful even to laugh at him.

He shuts his eyes and tries to concentrate. Hidden deep within the swirling confusion in his head he hears what can only be a note of calm, and latches on. Slowly it comes to him then, the music opening like wings in his head, the chaos retreating as a delicate yet implacable beauty takes its place. For a moment he is lost in the perfection of it, and ceases to notice the storm, no longer remembering where he is or what he is doing there.

When he finally opens his eyes the rain is all but done - there's only the faintest drizzle in the air. Maybe this will work after all! For the first time he allows himself to hope, and the warmth of it flows easily through him, swelling in his chest even as the symphony builds up around him, like a genial mountain, rising from the earth.

But it is too early to celebrate. Again he shuts his eyes and concentrates and again that ineffable sense of peace finds him. But he senses the immense sense of power behind it now and he bends his will against the sky, and the music obeys him and he can feel the clouds slowly giving way, the first sunbeam coming joyously through. Intent on his task, not daring to breathe for fear of showing weakness, he pushes the cloudbank further and further back, unveiling a sky of purest azure, so that by the time the music peaks again his eyes open to see the entire garden bathed in clear, dripping sunlight.

It is done! He has done it! Or rather Beethoven has, his notes reaching out across the centuries to drive back the clouds. At the thought of this his pulse fills with an overwhelming sense of gratitude, with a feeling of awe for something so grand, so glorious.

And yet the joy he feels at this moment of triumph is not the exultation he had expected, not the leaping excitement of the lark that he had hoped to hear again. This is a calmer, more tranquil happiness, as much relief as exhilaration, a joy that deepens rather than exalts.

It begins to dawn on him that it not he who has used Beethoven, but Beethoven who has used him. That in drawing upon the fierce and majestic magic of this music he has unwittingly pawned his soul to it, made an emptiness in his heart that only sound can fill. He would say that Beethoven has betrayed him, but the thought is impossible. Beethoven has not betrayed him, Beethoven has given him more than he could ever have dared to ask for; he has betrayed himself by accepting the bargain.

As he listens to the last notes of the symphony parade victoriously back to their inevitable silence, he feels a strangely satisfied sadness within himself. So this is what nostalgia feels like, he thinks, the sensation in the pit of your stomach when you come over the top of a hill and know that from this point onwards all is descent.

When the music ends, he will go back inside and tell his girlfriend that the storm has passed. He will not tell her about the Beethoven, though - she would not understand. The news will excite her. She will want to go on the picnic they had planned but were thinking of abandoning. He will watch with amusement as she makes her preparations for the trip, enjoying the sight of her flitting about, but feeling in the exhaustion of his heart that he can no longer love her. Oh, he will smile at her pleasantly enough, acquiesce in her little whims, engage in whatever trivial chat she offers. But all the while the notes to that last movement of Beethoven's Sixth Symphony will be playing around in his head, filling him with music, making him their own.

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sunshine said...


witnwisdumb said...

Excellent post... I think I'll go listen to some music now. Nothing soul snatching, just some soothing Pachelbel ;)

n said...

As you describe the music, it sort of comes alive as a landscape.

jus another pebble.... said...

"....a joy that deepens rather than exalts...."

to feel so in the presence of sthing it a wonder that people 'fall short'?...surely tht cant be 'right'?...or is better to await another tht seemingly 'hears' the same symphony..... or perhaps another cant experience the same anyway..........
jus a thought..

The ramblings of a shoe fiend said...


Falstaff said...

sunshine: thanks

witnwisdumb: Ah Pachelbel. No risk of losing your soul there. Staying conscious, though, may be a little difficult.

n: thanks.

pebble: Oh, it isn't that hard to find other people who really appreciate Beethoven's 6th. It's finding people who are that passionate about Beethoven and still sane enough for you to want to date them that is the tough bit.

shoe-fiend: Thanks