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Music for the Queen

Welcome to My Green Vermont - A Blog by Eulalia Benejam Cobb.
By Eulalia Benejam Cobb

     When the cellist Pau Casals was a child, he played for Queen Victoria. When he was an old man, and considered the finest musical interpreter of the 20th century, he played for JFK. Now, he plays for me. He plays the Bach Cello Suites that he rescued from oblivion and perfected for years before performing them publicly. He plays the Bach Gamba Sonatas, where the long sustained notes are, to my ear, among the purest sounds ever heard in the universe.

     When Bach was a young man he walked 25 miles to hear the great organist Buxtehude play. But with the touch of a finger—in the car, the kitchen, the shower even—I can hear the best music ever written, music that for centuries only a tiny minority of human beings had access to. I’m not Frederick the Great, but I can listen to Mozart any time I want.

     Music is all around us, for us to hum along with or ignore, but it has become universally available only recently, just as brightly-colored man-made objects have a relatively short history. For millennia people lived with only the muted hues produced by natural dyes. Now bright, eye-popping color is everywhere, and many of us have grown almost blind to it. The blindness may be a defensive gesture, as today color often assaults our senses—think of the plastic swing sets, inflatable Santas, and above-ground pools defacing people’s backyards, or the expanses of gaudy merchandise in stores.

     We are assaulted by music as well, in elevators, from passing cars, from phones and computers. Handel is said to have fainted from sheer emotion when he heard the otherworldly voice of a famous castrato. What would happen to him if he walked into a typical American house and heard his own Hallelujah Chorus issuing from the kitchen radio, advertising jingles coming out of the TV, and hip hop from the kid’s bedroom? He would surely faint again, as would Fra Angelico if he walked into Walmart.

     Sometimes, especially during the ever expanding Christmas season, I too feel that I might faint if I can’t get away from all the music. There has to be silence at certain times in order to really hear at other times. It is ironic that humankind has spent so much effort making music omnipresent, and now people like me have to struggle to get away from it.

     Still, on the whole, I’d rather have it this way: Casals playing Bach, Alicia de Larrocha playing Mozart, and Winton Marsalis playing anything, all at my fingertips. Where music is concerned, technology has made me an absolute monarch, and I don’t even have to worry about hungry peasants threatening revolt.

4 Responses

  1. Correct but we do need to worry about Palestinian men, women, and children dying from starvation.

  2. You have made me think about my own Circle, Lali. I wonder if others are doing the same. In hard, lonely times, music provides the greatest solace.

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