- We can never know about the days to come but we think about them anyway. [from the Carly Simon song “Anticipation“]
Only a few weeks ago, we celebrated living in the here and now, experiencing every moment as eternity’s sunrise. That is excellent and it does not prevent us from anticipating, preparing and remembering. A key to the spiritual life and the soul’s nurturance is to let the mind be free. If at times think about the past or the future, that is because those things are important to us. Living in eternity’s sunrise is a practice, not a rigid dogma, and the human person is richest when he is free to experience a variety of things: as diversity makes for a robust species, so too does a diversity of experience make for a rich and rewarding life. So don’t feel guilty: it is OK to enjoy the excitement of anticipation.
The most important day I remember in all my life is the one on which my teacher, Anne Mansfield Sullivan, came to me. I am filled with wonder when I consider the immeasurable contrasts between the two lives which it connects. It was the third of March, 1887, three months before I was seven years old. On the afternoon of that eventful day, I stood on the porch, dumb, expectant. I guessed vaguely from my mother's signs and from the hurrying to and fro in the house that something unusual was about to happen, so I went to the door and waited on the steps. The afternoon sun penetrated the mass of honeysuckle that covered the porch, and fell on my upturned face. My fingers lingered almost unconsciously on the familiar leaves and blossoms which had just come forth to greet the sweet southern spring. I did not know what the future held of marvel or surprise for me. Anger and bitterness had preyed upon me continually for weeks and a deep languor had succeeded this passionate struggle. Have you ever been at sea in a dense fog, when it seemed as if a tangible white darkness shut you in, and the great ship, tense and anxious, groped her way toward the shore with plummet and sounding-line, and you waited with beating heart for something to happen? I was like that ship before my education began, only I was without compass or sounding-line, and had no way of knowing how near the harbour was. "Light! give me light!" was the wordless cry of my soul, and the light of love shone on me in that very hour. [Helen Keller, The Story of My Life (1804), Chapter IV.]
Music: songs and other short pieces
Music: Composers, artists, and major works
Anton Bruckner called his Symphony No. 4 in E flat major, WAB 104, "The Romantic". I hear this in the sense of an ideal state to which the composer aspires. The symphony evokes an interplay of internal voices, in contemplation of a romantic ideal, making it an excellent companion for the penultimate day of a liturgical year. Unlike Mahler, Bruckner does not seem to draw his inspiration from concrete experiences but from an idealized state of Being. While some might criticize his works for an excessive simplicity and repetition of themes, I hear the work of a composer who was enthusiastic about his ideas, which may not suit every occasion but will reward the listener who appreciates Bruckner's vision (performances conducted by Karajan, Abbado and Wand).
- The first movement, Bewegt, nicht zu schell (Allegro molto moderato), begins with a simple call by a solo French horn, underlain with a simple carpet of sound from the strings. A flute picks up the theme, which then makes its way around the orchestra (0:45). Bruckner then expresses the theme in his characteristically bold fashion (1:55). The music invokes a playful romp in nature (2:44) and then the theme returns more heavily but only for a few bars (4:16). Shortly, the music becomes contemplative (4:40). The flute and French horn foreshadow a transition (7:04) but in characteristically Brucknerian fashion, this is only a respite from the state of contemplation, which begins to end at 8:28. Finally, a more pious melody emerges in the strings (10:16). After premature hints at resolution in the strings, flute and French horn, we are right back to Bruckner's primary idea (14:34). For the remainder of the movement, Bruckner caresses his two themes. He leaves no doubt about his confidence in their merit (17:04). Taken as a whole, this first-movement suggests a single-minded playfulness (begin at 16:54 to hear this more clearly), like a child imagining her gifts at Christmas.
- The second movement, Andante, quasi Allegretto, begins with an interplay of moods between the high and low voices in the strings, with the lower voices playing their traditional foundational role. The woodwinds pick up the main theme (0:50). Three notes from a solo horn (1:20) announce a contemplative theme from the strings (1:36), which the horn continues to reinforce. Bruckner continues in the leisurely mode of contemplation. Eventually, some of the violins take up the reinforcement motif for the other violins who take up the theme, like a person having a conversation with himself. The solo flute and French horn emerge again, like the protagonist's two best friends lending support (3:43). By now, it is clear that this is an orchestration of voices from within (3:28). Bruckner continues to vary the interplay of voices (4:34, 5:38), all expressing the same vision or idea. Foreboding follows playfulness (begin at 7:49).
- The third movement offers a Scherzo (Bewegt) and a Trio (Nicht zu schnell, keinesfalls schleppend). The Scherzo opens with a declarative statement from the horns, which the orchestra quickly affirms (0:29). As in the first two movements, Bruckner expands at length on his simple theme, again evidencing more length than thematic expansion. The Trio section opens with a gentle affirmation from the woodwinds (4:09), joined by the strings (4:37). Bruckner then returns to the Scherzo (5:38) a bit more animated but essentially with the same ideas. The themes and moods from the Scherzo and the Trio then begin to weave together (7:00) but Bruckner continues to return to his main idea (7:56 and ), which could be heard as a hunting call. (Did I mention a child eagerly anticipating Christmas?)
- The fourth movement, Bewegt, doch nicht zu schnell, opens with a hint of foreboding, which quickly builds in volume and intensity. A majesterial quality begins to appear, and then the horns announce their presence, suggesting that the hunt is still on (3:04). The lower strings announce a more sanguine theme (3:23), which the woodwinds and higher strings quickly affirm (3:57). Romanticism re-emerges (5:04) but this time it struggles with a powerfully expressed theme that is ambiguous in intent: foreboding or declaration (5:42)? Bruckner pauses, it seems, to reassess (6:12). The strings, French horn and the remaining strings foreshadow a new chapter (6:38) but what is its direction? The movement continues in contrasting modes: alternately idyllic and majestic, optimistic and foreboding. The solo flute expresses an uncharacteristic hint of doubt (9:10), which the orchestra first seems poised to resolve but then leaves intact (10:45). The mood lightens just a bit as the solo flute attempts to lead the protagonist through his difficulties (11:18). A statement from the orchestra sounds a bit more positive (12:27). A none-too-subtle hint of angst re-emerges (14:04) but then the dark clouds begin to clear (15:12) as the protagonist continues to struggle with his vision of the future. The next majesterial statement is in the form of a resolution as the symphony concludes in unannounced anti-climax (18:47). Bruckner seems to have left us anticipating an uncertain future with a symphony that he titled "The Romantic" ending in a cloud of emphatic uncertainty.
Wagner, Götterdämmerung (Twilight of the Gods), WD 86 (1848), is an allegory for the end of the (old) world, prefacing a new one (performances conducted by Knappertsbusch, Solti, Boulez, Keilberth, and Fischer).
- Peter Bernstein, “What Comes Next”
May your new year be all you hope for it to be, and so too for all the world.
- Victor Borusov-Musatov, Spring Tale (1904-05)
- Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec, Seated Dancer in Pink Tights (1890)
- Norman Rockwell, Looking Out to Sea (Outward Bound)
Now, O now, in this brown land
Where Love did so sweet music make
We two shall wander, hand in hand,
Forbearing for old friendship' sake,
Nor grieve because our love was gay
Which now is ended in this way.
A rogue in red and yellow dress
Is knocking, knocking at the tree;
And all around our loneliness
The wind is whistling merrily.
The leaves -- - they do not sigh at all
When the year takes them in the fall.
Now, O now, we hear no more
The vilanelle and roundelay!
Yet will we kiss, sweetheart, before
We take sad leave at close of day.
Grieve not, sweetheart, for anything -- -
The year, the year is gathering.
[James Joyce, “Now, O Now in This Brown Land”]
The Grocers'! oh, the Grocers'! nearly closed, with perhaps two shutters down, or one; but through those gaps such glimpses! It was not alone that the scales descending on the counter made a merry sound, or that the twine and roller parted company so briskly, or that the canisters were rattled up and down like juggling tricks, or even that the blended scents of tea and coffee were so grateful to the nose, or even that the raisins were so plentiful and rare, the almonds so extremely white, the sticks of cinnamon so long and straight, the other spices so delicious, the candied fruits so caked and spotted with molten sugar as to make the coldest lookers-on feel faint and subsequently bilious. Nor was it that the figs were moist and pulpy, or that the French plums blushed in modest tartness from their highly-decorated boxes, or that everything was good to eat and in its Christmas dress; but the customers were all so hurried and so eager in the hopeful promise of the day, that they tumbled up against each other at the door, crashing their wicker baskets wildly, and left their purchases upon the counter, and came running back to fetch them, and committed hundreds of the like mistakes, in the best humour possible; while the Grocer and his people were so frank and fresh that the polished hearts with which they fastened their aprons behind might have been their own, worn outside for general inspection, and for Christmas daws to peck at if they chose. [Charles Dickens, A Christmas Carol (1843), Stave III: The Second of the Three Spirits.]