Monday, May 5, 2014

Getting the feel of it

How are you this fine Monday morning?

Me, I'm exhausted. I'm probably lying in bed right now aching, and in no hurry to get up. I'll catch up with you around noon, maybe.

The reason for that might have something to do with my weekend. Saturday night I had a concert with one organization. Sunday afternoon was a concert with another group. In between I had the usual four weekend church services, also a dress rehearsal on Friday night for group one, and then on Sunday, after three services and a concert, another (three hour) rehearsal for another thing group one is doing. Group two had their dress Thursday and is now finished for the season.

So I'm probably a little less chipper than my usual Monday morning self. I say probably because I wrote this entry on Thursday night and I'm having it posted automatically at 8 a.m. Monday while I'm likely still in bed, dead to the world, because I'm a musician and I work weekends, but not necessarily Monday mornings.

Now one of the terrific things about recordings is they can capture a moment and play it back for us much later. The recording I'm going to play for you, of a sonata by Domenico Scarlatti, was made about a week ago, and I gave it a very vigorous, energetic playing, which is likely the very opposite of what I am feeling right now.

Scarlatti: Sonata in F, k.518

John Kirkpatrick, a pianist and person who studied Scarlatti's music quite a bit, wrote a book about it (at least one), and is the reason for that "k" up there (he cataloged all 555 of Scarlatti's sonatas so we could all tell them apart)--John Kirkpatrick once wrote that he thought of Scarlatti's sonatas as "leaves in a diary;" as if the man was capturing impressions, moods, occasions at the court of the king and queen he served, recording the life all around him, and making music of it instead of words.

Perhaps. I say perhaps because there have always been musicians who get uncomfortable around these ideas, particularly because musical story telling and the sharing of feelings can only get a composer part of the way there. If you can't articulate and structure what you want to say, if you can't formulate it using musical formulas and rules and customs, combined with your own idiosyncrasies, if you can't use your intellect to tame and discipline your music, you won't get very far. A feeling, by itself, can't speak for itself. Articulation is the resonator.

Still, it's amazing to what degree human beings can apparently share feelings with one another, impressions, ideas. These are all apparently invisible, inarticulate, difficult to pin down, and yet to some extent we manage to convey these things, through force of will and intellect, even over great distances in time and space. The internet has me amazed at how I can communicate with people from the other side of the globe. Mr. Scarlatti's sonata was written by a man living in Spain, 300 years ago, in a castle I've never seen, in a world I'll never experience. And yet, here it is. You can experience it, too.

Of course, some of what your are hearing might be more me than Scarlatti. It's hard to know. We do know that Scarlatti would have played it on a harpsichord rather than a Steinway. And we know that when the king acquired a piano it was later converted to a harpsichord. I'll try not to take that personally. The harpsichord is a great instrument. And I flatter myself that if Scarlatti heard me play his sonata in this bold manner on this bold instrument, he might even warm to the piano a bit. The pianos of his time were timid customers.

So on this probably cold, dreary morning, when I'm sleeping in, here's some exciting, festival music from a time long ago and far away. What occasioned it we don't know. And if we did know we might be disappointed. The reality of the specific experience probably didn't really live up to the musical memory. But he sure makes it sound like someplace you'd want to be, doesn't he?

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