Monday, February 15, 2010

H is for Hush!

The late Heinz-Klaus Metzger like to quip that Webern was the "last composer before the advent of air conditioning", as Webern's music presupposed an acoustical background absent a layer of aero-mechanical noise, sometimes constant, other times punctuating events with turnings-on and -off. But Metzger's quip wasn't quite right, as there isn't a concert hall anywhere or of any age that doesn't emit creaks and groans that have nothing to do with climate control. Foundations are forever unsettled, wooden parquet and panelling crack, light fixtures give off whole concerts of their own, and all these noises are joined by the breathing and wheezing and coughing and sneezing and fidgeting and what-not made when real live people are present.

This was brought home to me Friday night during a performance by the hr-Symphonie under Lucas Vis of George Crumb's early Variazione. As is to be expected with this pairing of orchestra and conductor, the performance was accurate and elegant, but the form of the piece, with the "empty" space between the individual variations, almost defeated the performance, as concerts and concert halls abhor vacuums, with the audience, orchestra, and the hall itself soon filled the blanks with clearings of throats, adjustments of bodies, instruments, and chairs and all other manner of hard- and software, and one became so familiar with the noises of spots and fresnels and cracking oak ceilings in these intermediate pauses, that they soon became unadvoidable percussive additions to the actual music. And this was in one of the world's better halls.

Cagian that I am, I work hard to welcome chance and contingency into my musical life. I'm grown up enough to know about the reality of Santa Claus and the Tooth Fairy and all about the impossibility of Silence. But still... But still... But still, I have that hope (-against-hope), that dream of a platonic ideal, that fragment of belief, of experiencing music, as imagined, without the interruptions. Silence, like anarchy, is neither "real and existing" nor an ideal (as the socialists of the past put it and the capitalists of the present may well put it), but rather a tendency and an aspiration, and the task at hand is making music while knowing full well that it is.

No comments: