June 26, 2005

Like tears in rain

I was listening, on Friday night and again on Saturday morning, to the second movement of Beethoven's Fifth Piano Concerto, the Emperor. I had seen a television programme on the Thursday, Beethoven's Hair, which had ended with the composer's funeral in 1827, and the oration written by Franz Grillparzer and spoken at the gates of the funeral by Heinrich Anschütz:

Because he withdrew from the world, they called him a man-hater, and because he held aloof from sentimentality, unfeeling. Ah, one who knows himself hard of heart, does not shrink! The finest points are those most easily blunted and bent or broken. An excess of sensitiveness avoids a show of feeling! He fled the world because, in the whole range of his loving nature, he found no weapon to oppose it. He withdrew from mankind after he had given them his all and received nothing in return. He dwelt alone, because he found no second Self. But to the end his heart beat warm for all men, in fatherly affection for his kindred, for the world his all and his heart's blood.
Over the words spoken by Anschütz, and over the subsequent credits, they played a theme from the second movement, Adagio un poco mosso, of the Fifth Piano Concerto, and the following day I went to the music shop at the Barbican and bought a recording of the piece. I had the afternoon off, and when I came home the sun was beating down outside. I stayed inside on the sofa and, oppressed by the sun and exhausted by the week, I fell asleep for a couple of hours.

When I was woken by the complaints of the cat, I found her hair was wet from rainfall (and it rained again, before I awoke on the Saturday) and I went into the kitchen, put on the CD and looked out at the glistening garden as the second movement played. The theme begins a minute or so into the movement. It is a short-lived, fragile theme, on the piano, descending down the scale and giving, to me, the impression of gently falling rain. Which might have been why it felt so evocative, that evening and on the subsequent morning, recently woken and watching the wetness of the leaves.

I have known the theme for many years. I heard it last when listening to all five piano concertos before a concert last August at the Barbican, but I heard it first, I think, on the soundtrack to Picnic At Hanging Rock. This, very likely, is why I associate it not only with the general mood of sadness that the theme implies, but with wider themes of loss and disappearance and unresolvable sadness, themes that often occupy much space within my thoughts. When put together with the oration from Beethoven's funeral, the sentiments of which ("he withdrew from mankind") strike deeply and disturbingly, they summoned up those themes and the need to explore them once again - and the need to explore them with the help of the music which had provoked them. Hence the CD, and the garden, and the themes of loss and disappearance and gently falling rain.

One evocation produces another, and another in its turn. Moreover, when one is freshly woken, one's mind slips easily from one subject half-remembered to another half-forgotten, like sleepwalking across stepping stones. One grasps for an idea - what is it that I'm thinking of? - and slips into that idea, or, just as likely, a different one, by a process no more controlled than a word-association. A theme-association perhaps, as one wanders blindfold through the memory and listens for recognisable sounds.

As Beethoven's falling rain moved me gently from one recollection to another, I began to think myself reminded of the final paragraph of a short story by Pamela Zoline. One that I had read first, thirty years ago, in an old copy of New Worlds and one which I had returned to, intermittently, ever since. It's another story of loss, but the loss of one's balance, the loss of one's sanity, the onset of a breakdown. And, as Beethoven evokes falling rain, it begins with a woman's falling tears. (The tears, however, are never just her own. Michael Moorcock, who first published the story, wrote that it "struck me with such force when I first read it that I cried".)

She begins to cry. She goes to the refrigerator and takes out a carton of eggs, white eggs, extra large. She throws them one by one onto the kitchen floor which is patterned with strawberries in squares. They break beautifully. There is a Secret Society of Dentists, all moustached, with Special Code and Magic Rings. She begins to cry. She takes up three bunny dishes and throws them against the refrigerator; they shatter, and then the floor is covered with shards, chunks of partial bunnies, an car, an eye here, a paw; Stockton, California, Acton, California, Chico, California, Redding, California Glen Ellen, California, Cadix, California, Angels Camp, California, Half Moon Bay. The total ENTROPY of the Universe therefore is increasing, tending towards a maximum, corresponding to complete disorder of the particles in it. She is crying, her mouth is open. She throws a Jar of grape jelly and it smashes the window over the sink. It has been held that the Universe constitutes a thermodynamically closed system, and if this were true it would mean that a time must finally come when the Universe 'unwinds' itself, no energy being available for use. This state is referred to as the 'heat death of the Universe'. Sarah Boyle begins to cry. She throws a jar of strawberry jam against the stove, enamel chips off and the stove begins to bleed. Bach had twenty children, how many children has Sarah Boyle? Her mouth is open. Her mouth is opening. She turns on the water and fills the sink with detergent. She writes on the kitchen wall, 'William Shakespeare has Cancer and lives in California.' She writes, 'Sugar Frosted Flakes are the Food of the Gods.' The water foams up in the sink, overflowing, bubbling onto the strawberry floor. She is about to begin to cry. Her mouth is opening. She is crying. She cries. How can one ever tell whether there are one or many fish? She begins to break glasses and dishes, she throws cups and cooking pots and jars of food, which shatter and break, and spread over the kitchen. The sand keeps falling, very quietly, in the egg timer. The old man and woman in the barometer never catch each other. She picks up eggs and throws them into the air. She begins to cry. She opens her mouth. The eggs arch slowly through the kitchen like a baseball, hit high against the spring sky, seen from far away. They go higher and higher in the stillness, hesitate at the zenith, then begin to fall away slowly, slowly, through the fine clear air.
The fine clear air. The piano theme in the second movement is lifted from its sadness by the strings, and lifted once again by the woodwind: finally it gives way to the triumphant theme of the third. But you can wait a long time for the theme to change. The sand keeps falling, very quietly, in the egg timer. The old man and woman in the barometer never catch each other. What is lost is often never found again. I looked at the freshness of the garden and the fine clear air and listened to the gently falling rain.


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