Saturday, September 26, 2009

The fandango is a gift

You sit listening to Antonio Soler's magnificent fandango in D minor on an old Philips recording by the harpsichord virtuoso Rafael Puyana, digitally remastered, of course, as if that technological tweaking of the aural environment meant something musical. What nonsense. How did we become so damn restless, compulsively seeking gratification in the next new toy, invariably disappointed and bored after our initial burst of enthusiasm, like spoiled children on Christmas morning surrounded by torn and crumpled gift-wrap, untied ribbon, opened boxes, and scattered packing material, asking, "Mommy, is that all there is?"

It's amazing how the junk well-meaning friends and relatives give as gifts piles up, hidden among the dustballs under the bed, or stashed in cupboards that will remain unopened for years, or even decades. Silly, useless things, flimsy kitchen gadgets, ugly molded plastic utensils, one-job appliances requiring special batteries, vials of odoriferous toilet water, wooden objects with inspirational sayings lasered into them, easy listening CDs. You reach into a drawer and find a bar of perfumed soap someone gave you thirteen years ago, by now the scent reduced to a barely detectable wisp of lavender, and you think to yourself, "No wonder people need to rent storage space." It would be laughable if it weren't so wasteful. The hell with the book business, I wanna be a garbage-man.

Ah! -- but the music. It's lusty, it dances, it requires great strength and erotic energy to perform. Did Padre Soler know the world was about to come apart when he composed the fandango? Did he know how late it was in the The Age of Baroque? Could he sense that practitioners of his art were slipping into classicism, and that the Age of Enlightenment was about to lead to revolution in the American colonies and in France, and Romance would follow? How could he? He lived as a monk, sequestered in his simple routine at El Escorial, insulated from the intellectual currents then coursing through the European body politic. He wrote music, he served his King and his god. There was no way he could know that the last days of his era were at hand.

Quist used to tell me, "Genius blooms when and where it will. The rest of us have to deal with the world we're given, but the truly great can alter it to their will. They bear gifts, we accept them. Our job is to discern which of those gifts are worthy of our attention. Which ones will last and which ones will fall by the way. Unfortunately, most of us aren't very discerning. That's why it takes so long to separate out the masterpieces from the run-of-the-mill." I thought to myself, no, I don't think anyone can alter the world to their will, genius or not. You live in a specific time and place, and when you die, it's over. But if you're Soler, you can leave behind some beautiful music in the hope that people will always want to dance.

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