Sunday, January 27, 2008

Neither Death nor Maiden

It's time that I finally admitted it. I'm in love with a man.

The man is Schubert.

Last night, feeling a bit better, I went out to buy myself a piece of music as compensation for all the shit I've been through. The bus driver was listening to Ethiopean music, which at times sounded like straight zydaco, and at others (particularly on a certain Efram Tamru track) like something vaguely Asian. It was really good, but I needed my fix of Franz.

I made a mistake of asking to listen to an expensive recording of the "Death and the Maiden" quartet. A piece this popular has scores of cheap recordings available, but after listening to the sharp and deliberate takacs quartet, there was no return. These guys don't play the piece, they bite it and kick it and struggle it to the ground. Their "Death and the Maiden" is a lot more death than maiden.

There actually is no maiden in "Death and the Maiden". The piece is so named because the piano accompaniment of a song by that name is used as a theme for variations in the second movement. Death there is a aplenty. Schubert wrote the piece shortly after discovering the first symptoms of syphilis in his body. He was to die four years later at the age of 31, pretty much unknown.

On the other hand, it would be completely reasonable to state that he remains alive to this very day, so in a way there is no death in "Death and the Maiden" either. "So long as men can breath or eyes can see, so long lives this, and this gives life to thee" wrote Sheakspeare. Schubert's anger at his fate is an emotion preserved as lucidly and perfectly as a mosquito trapped in amber.

He had help. Beethoven is present everywhere in this piece. Schubert was a fan of Beethoven and during the year of the illness must have developed an interest in Beethoven's 5th symphony, with its "fate knocking at the door" motif. His quartet begins with fate literally slamming at the door, through it's a smaller, more modest, chamber-music door then Beethoven's symphonic gates.

Both door and slam fit my mood precisely today, and the takacs quartet's punk-rock take on them is perfect. Nothing is real in this world except for music. Take my word for it.

No comments: