Saturday, October 29, 2011

The Power of Music

Sitting rapt under the spell of Simon Keenlyside's baritone last night at Herbst Theatre, after a numbing day and year, I was reminded of Willa Cather's poignant short story, A Wagner Matinee.
The second half of the program consisted of four numbers from the Ring, and closed with Siegfried's funeral march. My aunt wept quietly, but almost continuously, as a shallow vessel overflows in a rainstorm. From time to time her dim eyes looked up at the lights which studded the ceiling, burning softly under their dull glass globes; doubtless they were stars in truth to her. I was still perplexed as to what measure of musical comprehension was left to her, she who had heard nothing but the singing of gospel hymns at Methodist services in the square frame schoolhouse on Section Thirteen for so many years. I was wholly unable to gauge how much of it had been dissolved in soapsuds, or worked into bread, or milked into the bottom of a pail.  The deluge of sound poured on and on; I never knew what she found in the shining current of it; I never knew how far it bore her, or past what happy islands. From the trembling of her face I could well believe that before the last numbers she had been carried out where the myriad graves are, into the gray, nameless burying grounds of the sea; or into some world of death vaster yet, where, from the beginning of the world, hope has lain down with hope and dream with dream and, renouncing, slept.
Reminded, too, of another difficult period of my life when I, like the worn aunt in Cather's story, almost refused one night to leave the opera house, to go back into the real world.  It was Tosca that I almost lost myself in for good, the second act with church candles and gold and vaults and music so exquisite it claimed my soul utterly and I didn't think I could bear to come out of it again.  (Persephone in the underworld?)

images:  Chagall, Blue Violinist, Terminartors

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