"Schop" talk on music
"The unutterable depth of all music by which it floats through our consciousness as the vision of a paradise firmly believed in yet ever distant from us, and by which also it is so fully understood and yet is so inexpressible, rests on the fact that it restores to us all the emotions of our inmost nature, but entirely without reality and far removed from their pain."
Say — was that the spirit of Arthur Schopenhauer himself, whispering these words into my ear during Saturday night's concert by the Escher String Quartet? Maybe it was just the music that made me think of the philosopher who had a strong influence, for better or worse, on musical romanticism and later, modernism. Schopenhauer's metaphysics could certainly be heard in each work on the program. It was heard right at the concert's outset, in the eerie unison opening of Mozart's Quartet, K. 428, immediately plunging us into a realm "entirely without reality and far removed from (our) pain." It was then heard in the "vision of a paradise firmly believed in yet ever distant from us" of Benjamin Britten's Quartet No. 3, a valedictory statement by an ailing composer, each of its five movements speaking its own strange language, each of the five ending inconclusively, as if to be completed in a different realm, the last a haunting Passacaglia labeled "La Serenissima," its reference to Venice and gently rocking rhythms evoking a gondola ride across the River Styx. It received its fullest expression in the "unutterable depth" of the "Heiliger Dankgesang eines Genesenen an die Gottheit, in der lydischen Tonart" (A Convalescent's Holy Song of Thanksgiving to the Divinity, in the Lydian Mode) that centers Beethoven's Quartet in A minor, Op. 132, the deaf, socially isolated composer employing an ancient mode to compose a movement of an untimeliness and otherworldliness extraordinary by even his standards.
Of course, music can do so much more than this, and does not have to engage in metaphysics to be relevant, or even great. Die-hard modernists may disagree, but music can also alleviate boredom, calm the mind, perfume the senses, tickle the funnybone, enliven the limbs and make one scream out loud from sheer ecstasy. We need it to do these things sometimes, or I should say, usually. But on Saturday night, following the horrific event of the previous day, what the Escher, along with Mozart, Britten and Beethoven, provided was exactly right. For that, and for Saturday's concert, I remain eternally grateful to music, the most potent and effective balm for the soul in the world.
(Disclosures: I volunteer as artistic director, i.e., music picker-outer, for Music In Deerfield, which presented this concert. And I flat out stole the "Schop" talk pun from an old episode of, believe it or not, Cheers.)