Excerpt from When the Gods Come Home to Roost, by Marc Estrin
[George, a classics professor and choral conductor, age 65, is about (by Mephistophelian means) to become 17 again.]
Whence our need for music? Vibrations pour from hollow spaces, resonating in our own hollowness, or hollowing out what has grown too thick and dense. Music opens the world like a vast balloon angioplasty. The affliction of music, the earworms, the humming and tapping, the twitching and singing and playing is like a spiritual stent forestalling athero- and ethero-sclerosis. In music, the invisible becomes audible, and utopian structures plain. For is it not curious that two notes can be at the same place at the same time? That while yellow and blue, mixed, become merely green, two notes, three, four, five, are all distinctly heard, interacting yet not extinguished? George saw in music a chance to play all the various Georges without annihilating any.
There were three basic choices: Josquin, Bach, and Beethoven. That is, timelessness, multi-time, and time-travel.
Josquin: Threaded strands of pure melody, measureless, equal, eternal, coming to closure only arbitrarily, able to spin out forever lovely. Josquin in his modern, dodecaphonic, Schoenbergian guise: homeless, ever-wandering, never resolving, always fragmentary self-approximation, moving forward without end, timeless, cadence-less, ewig, ewig, ever somehow sad.
Bach, then. Those fugues which overcome all conflict without ever having known it, tracing the implicate, intricate, interactive structures of the universe. Themes at ease with their own halving and doubling in time; themes lying 69 with one another, canzicrans; themes to write one's name with. Backward time and forward time, slow time and fast time, time turning in on itself, realm, not situation. All at once, and one in all — my goodness!
Beethoven? Perpetrator and proliferator of sonata form, nourishing hypertrophy, too much for even his great heart. Drama, conflict, statement and development, and above all recapitulation, return. Return! Yes, return — but to a heightened self, mature with experiment, experience. Return with a tail like Mephistopheles', a reflective, extended coda, still pulsing, even at
"the end", with possibility. Old Ludwig's Twin Paradox — a thematic self time-traveled away and back, and strangely younger.
Did Beethoven escape sonata form, or did he transcend it? Were his themes and variations not the inevitable heirs of such developmental turbulence? There he was in late life, like Bach above conflict, beyond conflict, beyond even the apparent chaos of the Grosse Fuge, but unlike Bach, having been it, conflict, known it more powerfully perhaps, than any human before him.
George knew he couldn't go with Josquin or Schoenberg. He wasn't melodic or tone-rowic enough. Besides, timelessness is awkward for mortals.
Bach? In a way, George was already there. He was already 64 and 19 simultaneously. He was already way fast and waaaay slow both, modern and most antique, highly structured. But he was too tense to really get on board.
Beethoven. Jah, Beethoven. B was his man, and beyond-conflict sonata his form. George was up for a bigtime recapitulation, a recapitulation on steroids, complete with any kind of coda which might follow. If old men should not marry young girls, perhaps the problem lay with the fact that there were old men. Jah.