…the less I actually listen to it. Don’t get me wrong, it’s got nothing to do with fatigue. Yes, when I first discovered classical music I was as musically promiscuous as one can be, listening to every piece of classical music I could find. But now that I’ve settled down after a couple of years, I realise it’s better to know a few things intimately than many things superficially. In part I’m being picky to prevent fatigue.
Still, it’s not just that. I’m currently reading C.S. Lewis’s ‘Cosmic Trilogy’. In the first book, Out of a Silent Planet, an earnest, kindly chap named Ransom (supposedly based in part on Tolkien, who was a good friend of Lewis) ends up being kidnapped and taken to an alien planet. This planet is an unfallen world, an Eden where all rational creatures pursue what is good. The first such creature Ransom meets is a Hross named Hyoi. Ransom is perplexed that the Hrossa, unlike humans, do not have an insatiable desire for pleasure. Must one be content to only remember a pleasure? Ransom therefore asks. Hyoi replies:
A pleasure is full grown only when it is remembered … When you and I met, the meeting was over very shortly, it was nothing. Now it is growing something as we remember it. But still we know very little about it. What it will be when I remember it as I lie down to die, what it makes in me all my days till then — that is the real meeting. The other is only the beginning of it.
Listening to music so often and in such a scattered way meant a bunch of false starts. I kept beginning a process that deserved to be finished. What use is listening to Vaughan William’s London Symphony, say, and immediately moving on? It’s only now that I can truly remember, in an intimate sense, a great many pieces. What that means is hard to describe, but it emerges in the silence after listening to the music, the way music goes from being an event to something more lasting and significant (though not permanent, at least not in a fixed sense).
So there’s a few things I don’t do anymore. One of them is not walking and listening to music on my headphones. Walking is excellent for mulling things over but pretty useless for listening to music. It makes music seem mundane. There’s already too much music around us, most of it obnoxious, and the music that is good — Vivaldi at tube stations — is intended to be obnoxious. It’s good to have a break from it. Then when one gets that quiet solitary moment, it will be all the more meaningful and engaging.
Thinking about it, I haven’t listened to any music today. What I have done is play it. That’s the one exception, actually. I don’t think it’s possible to play too often. You are forced to engage with the music. And amateur though I am, I don’t think even the best concert experience can transcend the joy you feel playing a piece you love, and that you’ve struggled with for days — perhaps even weeks or months. I come out of it feeling content, and that’s a rare thing indeed.
Anyway, enough of all that. The piece I was looking at today was the Passacaglia that ends Biber’s so-called ‘Mystery’ Sonatas, and which has been transcribed for lute and guitar a few times from the original solo violin score. Here’s Nigel North performing his transcription: