The main thrust of this dream (so to speak) was clearly a reproach: I need to finish memorizing that monster of a piece before I go off to the delightful Ojai Festival. And the second thrust was another reproach cum regret: that I have not yet mentioned Anne Midgette’s ambitious and wonderfully interactive blog on Think Denk! And welcome, while I’m at it, to Stephen Hough, an idol of mine since a long time. The musicological implications of this dream we shall abandon for the time being.
On one of the many beautiful days we have been given these last two weeks, I went to visit the 90-year-old composer Leon Kirchner, who recently broke his leg. I opened the door of the apartment; perplexed commotion and hubbub ranged through distant hallways. Wandering in the direction of perplexity–my general tendency, anyway–I came to the back room where he was lying. Just before I arrived, he had hit the good leg on something and it had set him bleeding pretty seriously; his legs were propped up on the bed, heavily bandaged.
“Leon,” I said, “you’re a soldier wounded upon the fields of music.”
He fixed me for a moment with his lucid blue eyes. I had no idea what would come out of my idiotic metaphor.
“And you’re Walt Whitman,” he said.
During the stunned pause while I absorbed this, a faint impatient horn from Central Park West was carried up to us on spring breezes. He had taken my stupid conceit and hung meaning upon it. And here I thought I was coming to offer HIM assistance in time of need. From Whitman’s hospital notebooks:
… that night at the church in the woods … previously, the silent stealth march through the woods, at times stumbling over the bodies of dead men in the road … between midnight and 2 o’clock we halted to rest a couple of hours at an opening in the woods — in this opening was a pretty good sized old church used impromptu for a hospital for the wounded of the battles of the day thereabout — with these it was filled, all varieties horrible beyond description — the darkness dimly lit with candles, lamps, torches, moving about, but plenty of darkness & half darkness — the crowds of wounded, bloody and pale, the surgeons operating — the yards outside also filled — they lay some on blankets, on the ground & some on stray planks — the despairing screams & curses of some out their senses, the murky darkness, the gleaming of the torches, the smoke from them too, the doctors operating, the scent of chloroform, the glisten of the steel instruments as the flash of lamps fell upon them …
Around us the room once bedroom, now impromptu workshop, the corners of the TV tray crammed with CD covers, medical implements, the midday light peering dimly through the drawn curtain, scrawled scores, an electric keyboard with a well-padded chair in disuse, books upon books, typed comments for future editing huddled between those, awaiting their moment, a walker, a Bose CD player stacked with hand-burned copies of past concerts — so many notes and thoughts about notes trying to resolve themselves — the glint off backs of CDs, the question marks on the dates of past performances, the faint snore of the disinterested dog, a life’s wounds bandaged with music and then the music itself becomes the wound.
Yes, I’ve long wanted to be Walt Whitman. A poet of the piano, American, disheveled, ambiguous, over the top, God, Leon knows me so well!, and he nailed me straight onto my deepest (possibly humiliating) desires. Just when you think you’re coming to offer someone else something, they throw a giant bucket of truth onto you.
Before I can really process all this, Leon leaps into one of his amazing branching stories. It’s like a tree of life experience that you huddle under, while the rain of the present moment leaks through.