A Little Night Magic /or/ A Midwinter’s Night Dream
I had just barely gotten this earworm out of my head, only to be struck by a sudden realisation a week into the post-concert high of my first serious chamber performance in years – the hall was much bigger (and novel to myself) than I had cared to anticipate.
Backtracking 7(!) years, I was reminded of one of the few lines that struck me when the Australian(?) String Quartet took their precious time out to review and comment on my first NUSSO Miniatures performance, the first movement of Schubert’s Death and the Maiden string quartet. Basically, the 2nd violin and viola, being both “a good metre or so” behind the first and cello, had to play out that extra much.
This time round, the 4th violin and 1st viola (yours truly) had the unceremonious task of taking the sonic nadir, and in the (to me) strange and expansive setting we were fortunate enough to have our CFA coordinator listening and soundchecking. For that I am greatly thankful.
Given the circumstances, I would have been pleased simply by not screwing up. Given barely 10 minutes to warm up before the soundcheck proper, a little food time and warm-up time before backstage silence kicked in, and the rest was firmly in the hands of the fates and muses. The octet’s 1st and 4th were involved in the first (Mendelssohn) item of the night, and I was concerned about nerves and performance rhythm, even as they pulled off a muscular rendition of the allegro energico (e con fuoco) of the C minor Trio.
Ticking off seconds before going onstage, utterly convinced and unfazed given the setting and the preparation, I was dumbstruck by the sudden butterflies that materialised as the octet tuned up and agreed on an entirely fresh tempo.
Clutching the pencil-and-red-ink-riddled sheets, unnervingly flimsy to my cupped hand, bow threatening to slip out on the first bow, checking our tuning in a professional manner just to buy time; the upbreath took on a life of its own. Left hand refusing to shake in concert with the mind, dynamics breaking the dams of well-intentioned piani (heaven forbid pianissimi), rubati dictating the musicians rather than the other way around; it was later implied that the item was on the verge of breaking down.
Held together by sheer force of will, or perhaps by dumb luck, and sometimes riddled with things in a class of dark spots on the carpet and cobwebs in the closet, each passage’s completion bringing out the beginnings of comfort that continuity spared no time for appreciation, only the “bravo” from our mentor in the audience marked the first and only rest point the octet had in that harrowing quarter-hour or so.
Although I knew some very important people were in the audience (both to me and objectively), it later transpired that a certain writer had heard and was moved by our performance. That in itself would have made the hours of score study and group rehearsal worth it.
“Die Leute beklagen sich gewöhnlich, die Musik sei so vieldeutig; es sei so zweifelhaft, was sie sich dabei zu denken hätten, und die Worte verstände doch ein Jeder. Mir geht es aber gerade umgekehrt. Und nicht blos mit ganzen Reden, auch mit einzelnen Worten, auch die scheinen mir so vieldeutig, so unbestimmt, so mißverständlich im Vergleich zu einer rechten Musik, die einem die Seele erfüllt mit tausend besseren Dingen als Worten. Das, was mir eine Musik ausspricht, die ich liebe, sind mir nicht zuunbestimmte Gedanken, um sie in Worte zu fassen, sondern zu bestimmte.
People often complain that music is too ambiguous, that what they should think when they hear it is so unclear, whereas everyone understands words. With me, it is exactly the opposite, and not only with regard to an entire speech but also with individual words. These, too, seem to me so ambiguous, so vague, so easily misunderstood in comparison to genuine music, which fills the soul with a thousand things better than words. The thoughts which are expressed to me by music that I love are not too indefiniteto be put into words, but on the contrary, too definite.”