a lunch concert

A 19th century concert hall is not a bad location to muse about classical longings. Imagine a hall with two stories of balconies - each balcony pompously sculpted in the round, and flanked by velvety red curtains. Imagine rows of creaky seats with fading red upholstery. And light streaming in from a frosted glass ceiling, illuminating four graceful figures on the podium: three humans and a grand piano.

The pianist caresses the keyboard with swift fluidity and in front of the imposing black piano the soprano-singer in evening-dress sways ever so lightly to the melody. The tuxedo-clad violinist seems to stand guard, resting his bow on the violin’s strings, before launching into animated action.

And for a while all is harmonious perfection – the music of course, the pleasing ensemble of two instruments and a human voice. But also the visual grace of it, of those three figures gathered around the gleaming black piano. Formally (musically and visually), it’s a matter of a pleasing unity in multiplicity, of melodious lines, of variations. Emotionally it is about unrest and longing sublimated in melody. It is “rest tempered by movement – movement tempered by rest”(1).

Of course, it is about nostalgia too. A nostalgic longing for a cultivated society of noble taste & gracious urbanity, although such a society, in that ideal, pure & disinterested form may never have existed. Bourgeois snobbery & display and stifling etiquette surely have always been part & parcel of classical concert life. And granted, it’s also a nostalgic longing for the cultivated connoisseur I myself am not.

Frankly, I don’t know where and why I contracted that kind of classical longings – “ce désir en moi qui cherche sa patrie” (2). After all I lack a fully-fledged classical or aesthetic education and belong to the post-punk generation. And what with “classical culture” having become so discredited … But even though I'm aware that classical ideals may never have really existed as we imagine them, I do feel that the longing for them remains valid. The longing for a reconciliation between unrest and order as exemplified by classical aesthetics.

As Bonnefoy remarked upon the often derided neo-classical art: « la nostalgie que portait en soi cette sensibilité tardive est plus véridiquement perpétuable que l’héroique illusion de ce qu’on appelle une haute époque » (3).

And so I sat musing in-between the pieces. My classical longings fulfilled for awhile.
Even though this was just a 35 minutes lunch-concert, with French songs I do not really care for (4) ( and with even a few cloyingly sentimental operette lieder). And despite the very old lady exclaiming very, very, loudly at each good tune “ah, ça … ça c’est jolie!” (5) . And even though afterwards I had to cycle back to work through the pouring rain.

might there be such a thing as notes nostalgia?
(1) Panofsky’s definition of classical contrapposto in the visual arts
(2) Yves Bonnefoy , “that desire within me, searching for its home”
(3) in “Un rêve fait à Mantoue – L’humour, les ombres portées » - « perhaps the nostalgia contained in a late sensitivity/sensibility can last more truly than the heroic illusion of a so-called high period". You can imagine how I cherish that Bonnefoy phrase - it has become something of a talisman to me.
(4) hmmm, the sheer bourgeois frivolity of those 19th C. song-titles! – “Le Bonheur est chose légère” (Happiness is so light a thing - well fleeting I'd personally say or elusive, but light?? ) and “Violons dans le soir” (violins in the evening) , or still “Chanson de l’adieu”
(5) Ah, but she was sweet, really
(6) About the photo: not quite the grand piano in the above described concert hall, but a beautifully gleaming piano all the same, standing in the Liège Musée d’art Moderne, in a corner of the hall, in front of large windows looking out into a very nostalgic bourgeois park. The museum-building itself was the Belgian pavilion for the 1905 World Exposition. So qua mood and intention I dare hope the photo is in tune with the above musings.


Roxana said...

yes, very much in tune :-)
and I so love your tag: woefully un-postmodern!
your post made me think of Proust and his concerts and all that 'bourgeois snobbery' imitating noble taste. and that I never despaired so much that I could not understand music as when I read about Vinteuil's sonata :-)

ffflaneur said...

ah, "la petite phrase musicale" ...

c'est tout le génie "syn-esthétique" de Proust; evoking experiences of the different senses in words ... So don't despair, you've got yourself an excellent substitute there! :-)

Reading Proust's descriptions of musical impressions is (almost ...) equivalent to the most concentrated listening to a sonata. And sharing Swann's fascination pour la petite phrase musicale, is equivalent to sharing the 'fate of a melody'.

PS and on good days i'm blithely un-postmodern

Roxana said...

ah, such praise of words and literature (of course not any words, but Proust's)... I thank you for your kind heart wanting to comfort me :-), still I am sure that 'the fate of a melody' must be something else, a mystery in itself, rejecting any translation into words or any other signification system.
alas, the gods were not so generous with me. so I'll have to take your 'almost' and accept this consolation :-)

ffflaneur said...

indeed, probably musical melody has its own mysteries... nevertheless i do look forward to "your secret melodies" --- (and yes, you can tag this as a challenge to your photographic genius! ;-))