Utopian Turtletop. Monsieur Croche's Bête Noire. Contact: turtletop [at] hotmail [dot] com

Monday, May 17, 2004


I wrote X-hundred words on a classical concert last night, and I didn’t say a thing about the circumstances of the pieces. Partly I just wanted to get down my impressions of the experiece of the music-as-music. Partly I knew I had written too much already. But mostly I was responding to my experience of the music. I read the program notes before the concert -- what the composers said about their pieces, what they were thinking about, what they intended -- and I even had read a really good article in the New Yorker magazine about the Messiaen piece a couple months ago, which was one of the reasons I was so hyped to see the show. But while I was listening to the music, I got so absorbed in it that when I read the program notes again afterwards, they surprised me. This is not a typical experience for me, but then, I hardly ever go to shows that boast program notes; I hardly ever hear live classical music.

The program notes related Forrest Pierce’s pieces to poems from Rilke’s early collection “Das Stundenbuch,” which is where the titles of his concerti came from. Rilke’s book has been translated as “The Book of Hours” and “The Book of the Monastic Life.” I have no doubt that monastic life can be rich with emotional storminess, but the stereotype connotes quiet and calm and contemplative, which is how the poems I’ve read from Rilke’s book in translation come across. As I tried to describe yesterday, Pierce’s music didn’t strike me that way. If I had to relate his Blood Concerti to Rilke, I would have picked the “Duino Elegies,” with their high-strung nerves and complex textures and ultimate affirmativeness.

Alex Ross's New Yorker article does a first-rate job telling the remarkable story behind Olivier Messiaen's “Quartet for the End of Time.” Messiaen, a devout Catholic, wrote it in 1941 as a French POW in a German stalag, not as a catastrophic vision of the end of days, as the title and circumstances would lead me to guess, but as a loving revelation of Jesus' love as it will be revealed at the end of time. The long, slow, subtle, rhythmically complex melodies of the piano's duets with violin and cello in the piece's 5th and 8th movements are apparently meant to suggest timelessness. The metaphysics of timelessness are beyond me, but whatever Messiaen's inspiration, the music floated with piercingly poignant joy.

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