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· The Sweet Sound of Silence ·

Returned from the East, I'm afraid I have lapsed into the sweet sound of silence. Not, of course, that I have heard nothing out West or back East. On the contrary, Monday was the wettest, stormiest day on record here. I heard leaky drips in my attic and, outside, the impressive, steady howling of North-Pacific gales. My younger son even begged me hear drops falling on the stage he graced last February with the sweet sounds of music — and they weren't, of course, proper piano sounds.

But last week back East they were. On the stage of Avery Fisher Hall in New York two Saturdays ago, I heard Zoltán Kocsis play Béla Bartók's Piano Concerto No. 3 (1945), and, again, last Tuesday there, I heard Murray Perahia play Beethoven's Piano Concerto No. 1 in C major, Op. 15 (1795). Last Thursday at the 92nd Street Y, I again heard Kocsis play two Schubert sonatas [E minor (1817) and B-flat Major (1828)], these anchoring, brilliantly, a varied set of Liszt's Hungarian Rhapsodies.

What prompts my recollections, however, is my understanding that words are simply inadequate to my musical experiences. Happily, I was put onto this theme by the fitness of David Wright's program notes for Thursday's Kocsis recital. Here is Wright's trying — and admittedly failing — to catch the very essence of the middle movements of the Schubert B-Flat Sonata:

 · Franz Schubert · Again, the unexpected key of the Andante sostenuto, C-sharp minor, can be "explained" as the "minor mode of the enharmonic flatted mediant" of B flat — or one can just appreciate it as a subtle change of light, foreshadowed by the development of the first movement, which begins in C-sharp minor. It is the key of Beethoven's "Moonlight" Sonata, veiled, romantic, sensual — tendencies that Schubert counteracts by writing the left-hand accompaniment in bare four-octave unison arpeggios. Except for a more active middle section, this movement creates a kind of frozen landscape by the use of near-identical rhythmic patterns in every bar — which makes its ability to convey great, wrenching emotional shifts all the more astonishing. And what could be a greater contrast than the blithe, unpredictable Scherzo? Here nothing is what it appears to be: a theme begins, then turns out to be a digression, and vice versa. Again, analysis is futile; the net isn't made that will catch this butterfly. David Wright, 'Notes on the Program,' Distinguished Artists Series, Zoltan Kocsis, Piano, New York: 92nd Street Y, October 16, 2003, 6.

But of course it doesn't stymie the creature. The sweetest sound I heard last Saturday, for instance — in Palmer Square in Princeton — was from a waitress (a lovely soprano at Westminster College Choir of Ryder University) who, in serving me a rich chocolate fondue dessert, happily heard me and a friend say, "Yes, chocolate."

Although she only nodded, if you ever chance to hear Sarah Sweet, do. I think I've caught the essence of her style.


OK, I'm lost.

If the lovely waitress said nothing, the sound of silence might very well have been "sweet," waitresses and pubs — even in Princeton, perhaps — being what they are. Nevertheless, dear Styles, by what authority do you recommend her soprano voice?

Are you saying, as you impied in the piano recitative (italics needed; please excuse my Mac) that silence enhances the sound? That knowing when not to strike the chord, when not to speak or sing, is as important as knowing when to do so? And, further, that those who demonstrate this sensitivity enhance the aesthetic experience, though their range or repertoire or skill, or whatever words you musicians use, may be lesser than that of others who interpret the work?

Hmmmmmm. As usual, you're right.

Thanks for giving my literal mind yet one more thing to think about, here between the pages of my newspaper. Now I know why A-5 and A-6 were blank in Friday night's last press run.

Silence is golden, but noise rings up the silver.

Posted by
Mary Lee on October 28, 2003 03:17 PM

"Heard melodies are sweet, but those unheard," as John Keats says, "Are sweeter." But — for still more authority — note my son's truly silvery words on Bach last February.

Perhaps recall too the "I Love Lucy" episode in the chocolate factory. But I jest. My thanks for your kind note.

Posted by Styles on October 29, 2003 10:26 AM

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