on the Persistence of Hearing

Dear Rose,

I’ve been thinking a lot about the questions you raised in your Kreider post, and I’m so tempted to jump in and start the long project toward building answers, to let that become the focal point of a colossal project of words, or worse, to construct a flashy and logically dense argument about time that attempts to seal the matter off, or at least brackets it for the time being. But I think what I want to do, as much as it pains the musicologist in me, is leave the questions open, and dive into some of the music we’re working on together. Not because I think the questions aren’t important, or that the gaps they suggest (how do we experience and shape time/memory as musicians? how do we reconcile our love of both new and older music with our responsibilities to composers and listeners? . . .) should be ignored, but because I think the process of rehearsing and making music together has the ability to turn these gaps into openings— opportunities to expand.

So—I just got back from practicing the first of the Szymanowski Mythes (La Fontaine d’Arethuse), and I was thinking about how your two experiences of the same recording of Liszt’s Ballade No. 2, heard years apart, were so different. La Fontaine d’Arethuse gives us a condensed version of this re-hearing experience, a chance to hear the same thing in an altered context. You begin with shimmering ripples in the piano, over which I play this:

 

 

From this place of ethereal calm, the movement develops into roiling agitation. At its breaking point (the fermata in m. 73, if I counted right), slowly, interrupted by my glassy ponticello trills in m. 77, the rippling figuration of the piano returns, at first at a lower level than before (echoing my trills), and then returning to its original level in time to re-introduce that opening violin melody in m. 97.

From what I can tell, your part from mm. 97-112 could have been copied and pasted directly from mm. 9-24. But the melody I play is altered, plunged down below the surface of your rippling figuration, and subtly bent in m. 105-107:

 

 

How does this, and the experience of the agitation before it, change how we hear the ending, what this familiar music means to us? It reminds me of Arethusa in the myth —at the beginning, ethereal and pure (a word that feels tainted now by moral judgement), and then re-emerging from subterranean depths following the agitation of her ordeal, the same but not the same. How do we interpret this story (and all its cultural freight) in our context, and turn that into music that is both true to us and to the composer? Another way of asking that question might be—if we think of this as being a song of Arethusa, is she the one singing it, or is someone else? Is it about her experience, or her appearance (beauty, purity, etc.)? What am I trying to convey in my sound? Of course it’s never so simple. But these are just a few of the questions that I've been turning over in my practice sessions, and I can't wait to re-open them in rehearsal with you this summer!

xoxoxo,

M