Beauty amidst fragments of the night  

Posted by Denis Haack in , , , ,

Yesterday Margie, Anita and I drove from Toad Hall to the historic Hamm Building, built in 1915 in St Paul. On the first floor is the lovely Meritage restaurant, with sidewalk seating when the weather is nice, which it almost is now even though it is too early in the spring for that sort of thing here in Minnesota. On the corner is Heimie’s Haberdashery, where the window display always makes me want to go in but I’m never there during store hours. On the third floor is a lovely music hall where we heard the Parker Quartet in concert. After the concert we walked down St Peter Street to Ruam Mit Thai, a small intimate restaurant where we ate and talked about the music we had just enjoyed.

The concert began with Mozart’s (1756-1791) String Quartet #23 in F Major, K. 590. It was played with the passion I’ve always associated with Mozart, and the second movement ended with a single high note on the violin that was so exquisite it made my throat ache.

The second piece, played before an intermission was more modern, Henri Dutilleux’s (1916- ) Ainsi la nuit, composed in 1976. There were no program notes, so one of the members of the Quartet introduced the piece, which was helpful. In seven movements, the piece is written to evoke the mysterious and elusive, threatening and promising sounds of the night. It begins and ends with fragments, with bits of melody appearing elsewhere in the movements so that we seem to remember yet cannot know for certain. Margie and I have been opening the window in our bedroom at night, since nighttime temps have only been going down into the 40s, and the piece was like a discordant jumble of sounds I hear when something outside awakens me, the sound merging with left over memories of sounds from a dream that I can’t be sure are real. Plucked strings sounded like drops of water falling off our neighbor’s roof when it rains, landing on the ground, a bit of sidewalk, and the metal frame of his AC compressor. And then sections were like the early morning awakening of birds that we wake to each day, robins, cardinals, mourning doves, and the cacophonous chirping of English sparrows. Margie read to us the notes she had quickly scrawled while listening, the phrases marking her impressions becoming almost a poem:

A child wakes, a child cries. Rats flee into holes. A cat climbs a tree. Fog rises from a pond. Fingers turn a lock. A gas value turns on. Birds wake in a nest. Fumes drift up a stairs. A creature scratches at the door. A shade falls. A shade rolls up. A faucet drips. Eyes open. Leaves fall off a tree. A mother tumbles down a stairs. A door opens. A door closes. The wind dies. Insects hatch. The moon darkens. Coins drop into a well.

After the intermission they played Schumann’s (1810-1856) String Quartet #3 in A Major, Op. 41, #3. It was like restoring peace after the strange mystery of the night, a sweet calm, as if the sun had arisen to bring light into the corners where shadows had reigned during the darkness, a gentle reassurance that tulips would open in the sunshine and coffee could be brewed to sip in the quiet of the new day. The second movement swept us into the busyness we cannot escape, and then ended with a simple resolution of harmony so delicate it seemed to place a blessing on all that went before. I listened for that benediction to be repeated, but I did not hear it, the tension of so much to hear, to do taking over so that the grace had to be remembered if it was not to be forgotten in all that swept by.

So much loveliness, and yet our being there was possible because we bought tickets of no-shows, at the last moment before the concert began and I wondered who they were and why they hadn’t attended. How can the grace of such beauty come to one and miss another?

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