Tuesday, April 10, 2012

The Italian Concerto

On the way home from the gym I was listening to a recording of Bach's keyboard work, The Italian Concerto, and I thought again what I remarked to someone the last time I heard it -- that this is as close to perfection as one will ever experience on the Earth.

Every idea is clear and original and wonderfully phrased, every note is exactly what and where it should be, and the tone of the piece is exultant, exuberant, but never excessive. The piece moves and is constructed the way Nature moves and makes - organically, concisely, lucidly, without an effort at show, though with results of such beauty and grace as make the concept of "show" have meaning. Taken together with the English and French Suites, the Italian Concerto is like the essential elements of Nature, lacking only an overt fire, which would diminish the effect. (Though fire there is, but glowing and subdued rather than out-flaming.)

The experience only reinforced me in my opinion that Bach is the greatest artist of our civilization. (If there is anyone to match him in another civilization, I would very much like to know who it is.)

As I drove home up toward the San Gabriel Mountains, the weather was rolling in on flat clouds of slate gray, and the temperature was dropping. It is expected to rain tomorrow, and since any storm gathers first over the mountains, I have the luxury of seeing it coming. Only this replaces the anticipation of the seasons, which are two only here: wet and dry. We are now at the end of the rainy season, before the indecision of May and the dull of June, and the full sear of summer set in.

It was nearly seven o'clock and still light out, which is for me always a cheering sign. I am one of those souls who suffers from what is called seasonal affective disorder, with its ironically appropriate acronym, SAD. This means that the long, dark, cold, dreary months of winter drain from me such spirit as I have. I am getting older, and every symptom in my body and, increasingly, in my mind reminds me of the fact.

I intend one of these days to write about the experience of aging, which I observe with a good deal of curiosity and bemusement, in the changes it is wreaking in me. It is an odd prospect -- it seems that I was young for so long and with such surety that this process, though inevitable, has no place in my life. But in my gait and memory and mood and muscles it is always there now, and there seems little I can do about it but chronicle it. It is strange, but as Hamlet said: As a stranger give it welcome.

All of these reflections were under the spell of the Bach, which was intricately played by Glenn Gould, that most exacting and eccentric of pianists. And it provoked the further reflection that, if the Mayans were right, and the world will end this December, I would just as soon be listening to The Italian Concerto when the end comes as to anything else. Except, perhaps, my children's voices telling me that everything will be all right after all.