Mysteries of Music

Having absently, that’s to say dozily
switched on BBC Radio 3
down in the kitchen
as is my frequent small-hours wont
I faintly recognise some emergent wisps of melody
& at first while preparing coffee
am tempted to switch it off again
as the mood of the music feels a bit downbeat
& I’m quite concerned to jerk out
of darkish dreamtrace mode – but then
it begins to gather up brighter themes
that mount in more & more endearingly familiar
spiraling patterns & I think the name Weber

– & having completed the meticulously orchestrated
ritual of coffee-making I turn up the volume
so’s I’ll go on hearing the piece from the desk upstairs
to which I carry the as near-perfect as I ever manage
cup of coffee – and a quick check with Radio Times
confirms it is indeed the Overture to Weber’s opera
‘Der Freischütz’ which my ears proceed to follow intently
as it mounts to its exhilarated climax
which arrives all too quickly for my taste
& after a downbringingly brief pause
the earnestly confidential voice of Jonathan Swain
interposes to report who was playing it
& introduce the next piece.

I reflect on the seeming oddity
that I know next to nothing about this bloke Weber
except that when I hear certain arrangements
of instrumental sounds – some of whose titles
such as ‘Invitation to the Dance’ I know
– that one mainly because swing king Benny Goodman
adapted its icerink-swirly introduction as theme tune
for his 1930s NBC ‘Let’s Dance’ big band radio shows
I’ve heard rebroadcast now & then
– & a Quintet for Clarinet & Strings
with a lot of deliciously ebullient up&down-scaled trills
I always prick up my ears on hearing the faintest breath of
– which I remember doing for example
when the wondrously versatile Indian writer Vikram Seth chose it
as one of his selections for Michael Berkeley’s Sunday noontide
Private Passions programme also on Radio 3 some years ago.

The word Weber appears unbidden
on the inbox of my mind
when his or in some way Weberlike music turns up
& I reflect that just about all the next to nothing
I know about Weber textually
is that the rest of his name is something like
Carl Maria von – which suggests he was German
or Austrian & of a perhaps somewhere aristocratic ancestry
– & reminds me I’ve never sussed why or how
Maria sometimes turns out to be a chap’s
as well as surely a lot more often a woman’s name.

More ultimately worth pursuing
are probably the mysterious ways by whose means
one person’s works can convey so much
interest & pleasure & occasionally also
irritation or even fury
& other emotional-intellectual distraction
to other people ages later
just by dint of that person having scrivened
musical notes onto manuscript pages
to be turned over & over by musicians equipped
to translate those dots into concerted sounds
which in turn may come to turn on listeners
in generation after generation that follows
– for all that such listeners
including those who find them faintly familiar
may initially at least know next to nothing
particularly accountable about the sounds
except perhaps the composer’s or arranger’s name.

So here’s thanking you for your arrangements of sounds
& looking forward to hearing from you again
esteemed Herr (or whatever designation you prefer)
Carl Maria von Weber.
And you or your shade might like to know
that I am resolving henceforth
to try harder to avoid
revisiting the confusion
I have entertained more than a few times
of your generally mellifluous tunes
& straight-aheadshaped variations
with the dodecaphonic compositions
of your near-namesake the Schoenbergian
Anton Webern
– for all that the arrangements of notes
I associate with his name
tend to sound a far cry
from yours

– as most certainly are from both of yours
the musics of Julian & Andrew
– & equally
the guitar & electric keyboard contributions
of the deceptively diminutive Mark Webber
to the high-spirited recordings & performances
of the Jarvis Cocker-fronted indie-rock band Pulp.

© Michael Horovitz, February 2012. Michael Horovitz has six poems in The White Review No. 4, which can be purchased here.