The Classicist — A Dream Sequence
A Dream Sequence.
The composer is seated at a dark oak table, oval in shape, receiving light from the high window over his right shoulder. With his left arm fully extended he would be just able to touch the last few treble notes of the clavier.
Recently the composer has been working through the afternoons. Those who have watched the composer working have been surprised by his speed and fluency; it is almost as if he were writing a letter. He may make many beginings but, once satisfied with his direction, the notes that come are inevitably right. Gifted with extraordinary auditory imagery he hears these notes without moving to the clavier to play them. He writes a complete movement for the leading part, not stopping to fill in the accompaniment until later.
During winter these are quiet hours in Vienna, especially in the fashionable quarter where there is a fashionable time for drinking, for weddings, for funerals, and all occur every day. Perhaps because of the quietness the composer is more liable to notice sounds which do penetrate his room; normally these distractions would cancel each other out and he would not hear them.
Every afternoon there is one sound which does make him pause. The clavier vibrates very briefly in a dissonant way. Outside in the Rauhensteingasse a coach passes by. The steel tyres strike a sound from the cobbles which, on reaching a certain intensity, induce the clavier's soundboard to resonate. Although the effect is jarring, the original sound of the wheels is a pleasant one, of rich timbre - something to do with the springiness of the ashwood spokes, something to do with the rapid metronomic trot of horses, imposing set tempo.
The composer enjoys the purity, grace and precision of his afternoon street music. It makes him think of a blue steel axe ringing as it bites into sweet timber. He cannot be sure when he heard such a sound but axemen have always gone into the forest between mountains striking pure bangles of sound from trees that have grown concentrically page 3nobler year by year, a pure sound of blue steel with the harmonic overtones of graceful timber, echoed by precisely-chiselled cliffs of stone. Here in the Rauhensteingasse, the sound of the passing coach is echoed by stone houses.
The coach has turned the corner and an intersecting wind curtails the sound. Its passing has been more than a momentary interruption, for the composer pushes slightly aside the sheets of manuscript on which he has been working. As he rises from the high-backed chair we see that he is rather shorter than most men; his cheeks are a fraction hollowed - maybe it is only the effect of a shadow - and the tight pressure of his lips manifests itself in the two creases - we had not noticed them before - delineated downwards from the corners of a remarkably expressive mouth. If we should meet his gaze we would be soothed by its steadiness; the eyes are those of a child, yet very old and very wise. Chronologically his age is 35.
The composer has crossed to the window where he draws aside the lace curtains and contemplates the empty street, just as he has done each other afternoon after the coach's passing. Although the coach is out of sight we know instinctively that its occupant is a woman. She is both beautiful and a stranger.
The composer has known many women, those of London, Paris and Vienna, who have made him an idol even whilst he was still a child. They were women who moved through palaces and halls with a friction of silk and with laughter which they juggled, ever so lightly, in their swan-like throats. And they tapped to music, though some few measures in arrears, with Japanese fans of fine cane and crisp rice paper.
So many people have loved the quiet child genius - how could he help impressing so many women ?
If his perception of human nature had been misty, or his experiences of people vague, the ideal would have been less selective and thus more obtainable. But the same genius which allows him to handle fluently the intricate relationships of harmony and polyphony allows him to conceive the logical relationships in human behaviour. At the same time he feels baffled by the illogical features, the incon-page 4sistencesof the people he meets; he can no more understand an illogical world than write a wrong note.
If Count so-and-so is tone deaf and hates music, why does he keep a kapellmeister with full orchestra and trimmings? Ostentation, of course, But even so he must be crazy! The composer recognises the sham immediately; others do not. They and the Count are happy in their illogical world.
Because he is a genius the composer is able to fashion his own world. In it he achieves a happiness which, in a few scribbled bars, is so intense that he can communicate it to the lady in the coach and to us.
Standing where we are, in the moonlight and the shadows cast by romantic biographers, we recognise instinctively again, how the absence of that passer by will be the motive, potentially at least, of every andante written in that room above the Rauhensteingasse.
The composer has previously written music because he was commissioned to write it. A master in all fields - operatic, instrumental, ecclesiastic - he writes music neither on chance inspiration nor for posterity but because he is a musician. He will not usually compose a piece unless he is sure of the fee! He did once write songs for a young artist, but perhaps only for her voice.
The present work is also commissioned. Yet it will be addressed to someone quite different.
Already he has written of this aristocratic lady whom he has never seen....
"I can't describe what I have been feeling - a kind of emptiness, which hurts me dreadfully - a kind of longing which hurts me dreadfully, which never ceases, and which persists nay rather increases daily."
The composer stands beside the clavier, one hand resting on the polished top which is dulled by a fine layer of dust. The month is December, the year 1791 and the place, as we know is Vienna. These details are even less important than the dust which the composer blows softly from his fingers, amused to see how lightly it falls. He resumes his page 5place at the dark oak table strewn with manuscript. Somehow he will try to answer, with all the purity, grace and precision that his own genius masters, these same qualities he hears when the beautiful stranger passes by each afternoon. In her eyes he will see the pure glimmer of blue steel, in her walk and stature the grace of ash boughs and in the sculpture of her limbs and features the precision of chiselled stone.
Later in that month of December snow is falling heavily. A coach turns into the Rauhensteingasse. It is the same one that has traversed the street so often this winter, causing that odd acoustic response from the composer's clavier. Today the sound is muffled by snow and ceases as the coach draws up at the entrance of the composer's apartment in that fashionable quarter of Vienna where there is a fashionable time for drinking, for weddings, for funerals, and all occur each day.
It is not an ordinary kind of coach. Through its long glass windows the lilies seem made of wax.
The aristocratic lady is nowhere in sight.
But four attendants, dressed soberly in black, climb the stairs with measured steps of propriety. Before they enter the shuttered room there is just time for us to slip across to the oak table where the sheets of manuscript have now been gathered into a single pile, the waxed paper showing a white rectangle in the near-darkness. It is just possible to make out the work is a requiem.
Of the beautiful stranger to whom it sings we know nothing, except that, like the composer, she is a classicist and that the touch of her hands is cool and forever.