Friday, February 21, 2014

Poems which reference musical instruments: Playlist for February 14, 2014

Some Instances

By  Charles Baxter  

To be free of situations,

To live from day to day without events

And to be free from the need to narrate them.

One small detail, the blossoming crab apple,

For example, on the lengthening boulevard

Of the stanza, this very one,

That parallels the perturbation of the waves

Mid-April—the Mississippi flowing above the locks

Of Minneapolis, once called St. Anthony—

Two blocks away, the river high with snowmelt,

And where this morning I heard the call

Of what I took to be a sparrow, white-throated,

The leap of a minor third

Two octaves above middle C.

Four birds outside this afternoon. Four distinct calls

In a dispirited late daylight.

And you? “You”? Waiting to experience a moment

That has no precedent. The wish to be a child,

Or the wish to be outside of time,

The craving, that is, for a kind of death

In which one stays somehow alert...

Listening to the Schumann Violin Concerto:

Written in that last period as he descended into the madness

Brought on by syphilis when he heard the singing

Of the angels, this piece was thought to be unplayable

Until the metronome markings were ignored;

In the second movement a brief passage comes and goes

Like the frenzied clustering of bees, pure monotony,

Like madness gathering its forces. Clara, Schumann’s wife,

Asked that the piece never be performed, but one musician

Said of his music that all madness contains a kind

Of vulgarity, but even after he went insane,

Schumann’s music retained that odd nobility.

Outside, sounds of traffic, a woman’s cry from down the street.

Idea for a frightening story:

Last week I heard a scream so distant that it

Had lost its call-to-rescue and its horror—dim vehemence,

Like an auto accident seen from a train,

The blood grown small, and the outcries

As soundless as a branch in wind,

Or like a child in snow straggling behind his parents,

The drifts so deep he has trouble making headway,

Being five years old, and so he calls out to them,

“Hold!” because he cannot think of the proper word—

Probably “Wait” or “Stop,”—and when they hear

Him begging them to slow down and to wait for him,

They turn around to laugh. Their laughter makes the child

Sad and enraged, so he stops to cry,

Whereupon his parents, still amused, bring out a camera

To snap a picture of him as he wails.

He understands that his unhappiness

Was a diversion to them both, that they were bored

By children and therefore found him comical,

So there they are, laughing with delight.

Today, sixty years later, he is

Photographed, bundled in his winter coat.

Oh, and the bored laughter, behind the camera,

And the impossibility, the inconsequence

Of any sympathy.

REFLECTIVE MUSIC: Violin Concert (finale) by Robert Schumann



By  Anne Stevenson   

Whenever my father was left with nothing to do —

      waiting for someone to 'get ready',

or facing the gap between graduate seminars

      and dull after-suppers in his study

grading papers or writing a review —

      he played the piano.

I think of him packing his lifespan

      carefully, like a good leather briefcase,

each irritating chore wrapped in floating passages

      for the left hand and right hand

by Chopin or difficult Schumann;

      nothing inside it ever rattled loose.

Not rationalism, though you could cut your tongue

      on the blade of his reasonable logic.

Only at the piano did he become

      the bowed, reverent, wholly absorbed Romantic.

The theme of his heroic, unfinished piano sonata

      could have been Brahms.

Boredom, or what he disapproved of as

      'sitting around with your mouth open'

oddly pursued him. He had small stamina.

      Whenever he succumbed to bouts of winter bronchitis,

the house sank a little into its snowed-up garden,

      missing its musical swim-bladder.

None of this suggests how natural he was.

      For years I thought fathers played the piano

just as dogs barked and babies grew.

      We children ran in and out of the house,

taking for granted that the 'Trout' or E flat Major Impromptu

      would be rippling around us.

For him, I think, playing was solo flying, a bliss

      of removal, of being alone.

Not happily always; never an escape,

      for he was affectionate, and the household hum

he pretended to find trivial or ridiculous

      daily sustained him.

When he talked about music, it was never

      of the lachrimae rerum

that trembled from his drawn-out phrasing

      as raindrops phrase themselves along a wire;

no, he defended movable doh or explained the amazing

      physics of the octave.

We'd come in from school and find him

      cross-legged on the jungle of the floor,

guts from one of his Steinways strewn about him.

      He always got the pieces back in place.

I remember the yellow covers of Schirmer's Editions

      and the bound Peters Editions in the bookcase.

When he defected to the cello in later years

      Grandmother, in excrucio, mildly exclaimed,

'Wasn't it lovely when Steve liked to play the piano.'

      Now I'm the grandmother listening to Steve at the piano.

Lightly, in strains from Brahms-Haydn variations,

      his audible image returns to my humming ears.

REFLECTIVE MUSIC: Nocturne in D-flat, by Frederic Chopin

At a Symphony

By  Louise Imogen Guiney 

Oh, I would have these tongues oracular

Dip into silence, tease no more, let be!

They madden, like some choral of the free

Gusty and sweet against a prison-bar.

To earth the boast that her gold empires are,

The menace of delicious death to me,

Great Undesign, strong as by God’s decree,

Piercing the heart with beauty from afar!

Music too winning to the sense forlorn!

Of what angelic lineage was she born,

Bred in what rapture?—These her sires and friends:

Censure, Denial, Gloom, and Hunger’s throe.

Praised be the Spirit that thro’ thee, Schubert! so

Wrests evil unto wholly heavenly ends.

REFLECTIVE MUSIC: Symphony No. 9 (1st. movement) by Franz Schubert

Not Ideas About the Thing but the Thing Itself

Not Ideas About the Thing but the Thing Itself

By Wallace Stevens

At the earliest ending of winter,

In March, a scrawny cry from outside

Seemed like a sound in his mind.

He knew that he heard it,

A bird’s cry at daylight or before,

In the early March wind

The sun was rising at six,

No longer a battered panache above snow . . .

It would have been outside.

It was not from the vast ventriloquism

Of sleep’s faded papier mâché . . .

The sun was coming from outside.

That scrawny cry—it was

A chorister whose c preceded the choir.

It was part of the colossal sun,

Surrounded by its choral rings,

Still far away. It was like

A new knowledge of reality.

REFLECTIVE MUSIC:  The Heavens Are Telling by Joseph Haydn

At the Choral Concert

By  Tim Nolan  

The high school kids are so beautiful

in their lavender blouses and crisp white shirts.

They open their mouths to sing with that

far-off stare they had looking out from the crib.

Their voices lift up from the marble bed

of the high altar to the blue endless ceiling

of heaven as depicted in the cloudy dome—

and we—as the parents—crane our necks

to see our children and what is above us—

and ahead of us—until the end when we

are invited up to sing with them—sopranos

and altos—tenors and basses—to sing the great

Hallelujah Chorus—and I’m standing with the other

stunned and gray fathers—holding our sheet music—

searching for our parts—and we realize—

our voices are surprisingly rich—experienced—

For the Lord God omnipotent reigneth—

and how do we all know to come in

at exactly the right moment?—Forever and ever—

and how can it not seem that we shall reign

forever and ever—in one voice with our beautiful

children—looking out into all those lights.

REFLECTIVE MUSIC: Hallelujah by G.F. Handel

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