Music, and Silence

Greatly excited at the prospect of a real live orchestral concert in the Glasgow Royal Concert Hall on Saturday evening (RSNO, Beethoven’s 4th Piano Concerto with Steven Osborne as soloist, and Beethoven’s 4th symphony), I arranged a pre-concert rendezvous with friends, printed out my e-ticket, printed out my vaccination status, carried out a lateral flow test (negative), and jumped into my car.  I left at 5.30 pm for a 7.30 show start.  I like to leave in plenty of time – I call it the CAHOOTS Doctrine (Campbell adds hours on over the schedule).  I hate being late.  And I hate that sensation of irritation one has for the man in the tractor who is holding one up; he is, after all, putting bread on one’s table.  Do you consider a two hour cushion for a forty five minute trip excessive?  Well…

I joined the tailback on the M80 shortly after the M9 turn-off.  I could see the serried phalanxes of tail lights stretching ahead for miles into the distance.  This was not simply congestion from sheer volume of traffic.  Somewhere up ahead, somebody must have crashed.  I surfed the radio stations for any travel reports but only found some very nice Scottish dance music on the accordion, the six o’clock news and then Clive Anderson on Loose Ends, and Don Giovanni from the New York Met.  Now if I were a bit more tech-savvy I might have an app on my phone.  Being warned in a dream, I might go by another route.  The trouble is, there is a prolonged section of the M80 with no exit.  I just had to sit tight, occasionally edging forward at walking pace, listening to Mozart.

Ever working night and day

Getting neither thanks nor pay…

It was a cold, dreich night, but at least it had stopped sleeting, and I was comfy in my car with the blower on.  I sat and listened to Mozart’s librettist Lorenzo da Ponte’s account of the lurid activities of that great sex pest, Don G.  I’m surprised he hasn’t been cancelled.  We were talking about cancel culture over lunch on Friday, and somebody remarked that you can’t just airbrush unsavoury facts, or people, from history.  Actually, remarked another, you can.  The powerful can suppress a truth, or eliminate an individual without trace, and within a generation the memory of the truth, or the person, is gone.  That is why people who are cavalier with the truth are such a menace. 

I edged forward another ten metres.

Should I phone my friends and tell them I’m going to be late?  But you shouldn’t use your mobile while behind the wheel, even supposing you are stationary.  Pull over on the hard shoulder and switch on the hazard lights?  But the emergency services might need the hard shoulder.  Am I being too precious?  Another hour of this, and I might do something totally crazy, like crashing through somebody’s back garden to access a side street, or obliterating the central reservation’s crash barrier to access the other carriageway.  You see, m’lud, with my fragile mental health, I really needed to hear Beethoven.

Ten more metres.  Where the devil am I?  Abeam Dunipace.  Carry on at this pace, and I might make it for Rachmaninov 2, on February 19th.    

Talking of hearing Beethoven, I’ve just read a very interesting book, Hearing Beethoven, A Story of Musical Loss and Discovery, by Robin Wallace (The University of Chicago Press, 2018).  It is a very unusual book.  Two books in one, really.  Robin Wallace is a musicologist whose late wife, Barbara, happened to be profoundly deaf.  The experiences of Beethoven’s deafness, and Barbara’s deafness, are explored in parallel, and inform one another.  The exploration gives an insight into how Beethoven might have heard the world.                                

Beethoven kept his deafness to himself for as long as he could.  He seemed to have had a sense of shame about it.  He seemed unable to express the fact that he was not at all a bad-tempered misanthrope, but on the contrary a warm-hearted and social individual.  But his deafness cut him off from his fellow men, and women.  So to some extent he was in a state of denial.  This state of denial is very common, even, perhaps especially, with presbyacusis, the almost inevitable diminished hearing of later life, and I encountered it in medical practice constantly.  Whereas people adjust to presbyopia quite easily, perhaps in their mid to late forties, and acquire some reading glasses, most people hold out against a hearing aid, until their level of disability is positively Beethovenian.  This is unfortunate, because using a hearing aid, or aids, is a skill that demands time to be acquired and perfected.  Consequently people are disappointed by the apparent uselessness of their aid, and may stop using it, and opt for social isolation.  They regard their hearing aid, even a miniature digital aid, as a badge of decrepitude. 

Abeam Denny.  I caught the seven o’clock news on Radio Scotland.  Yes, there had been a serious crash on the M80.  Here am I fretting about being late for a concert, while some poor soul has set off on a journey, never to return.  I decided to cut my losses and head for home, pulled off at the earliest opportunity, abeam Bonnybridge, and took the A872, which closely parallels the M80, northbound.  As soon as I could, I pulled over, made a phone call, and sent a text, so that people wouldn’t send out Search & Rescue.  Then I drove through Denny.  I don’t really know Denny, other than its aerial aspect, for it is the reporting point for air traffic heading to Cumbernauld Airport from the North East.  “Cumbernauld Radio, Denny inbound…”  Oddly enough, from the air it looks uncannily like Drury, the reporting point for Ardmore Airport, 12,500 miles away in New Zealand.  Sometimes I would say to Cumbernauld in a fit of absentmindedness, “Drury inbound.”

“Where?”

I really ought not to be allowed out. 

And so back home.  The best-laid schemes o mice an men / Gang aft agley…

But I still listened to some Beethoven.  I chose the Adagio sostenuto from the Piano Sonata in B flat Für das Hammerclavier, Opus 106.  Balsam.   

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