28 June 2011

Storms, Part II

Sometimes the storm insistently summons us to come out our front doors and confront it. Such is the storm that rages throughout Beethoven’s Fifth Symphony.  “Thus, fate knocks at the door,” and this storm, fate’s emissary, demands that we acknowledge its presence and face it. We are pulled out of the safety of our homes by our acceptance of its call. Why we follow I am not sure: perhaps we mean to confront the fierce tempest, to accept its challenge and to challenge ourselves. Perhaps we are drawn by the insistence of the taunt. Perhaps we are even too afraid to refuse its dare. The tensions implicit in the demand of the summonsta-ta-ta-TAthe short bursts of eighth notes followed by a lowered, half- note held by a fermata, or extended rest, threatens our calm and security. Its persistent assertion disturbs our rest, and our homes are no refuge. During this first movement, the storm steals away my breath; I find no safety from it, know no place to hide, and yet I am irresistibly drawn outside by the insistence and power and violence of the storm. I stand vulnerable outside of the door.
I am offered some respite from the onslaught by the symphony’s second movement, to be played andante con moto (slowly with motion). It is a rather long and an even untroubled rest, and during it I look nervously about and take deep breaths. The melodies are lyrical and gorgeous, and I feel almost safe; I hope the struggle is over, though I sense it is not. Indeed, the storm has not at all dissipated; and this illusory calm does not resolve into a praise to God as at the end of the ‘storm’ in Beethoven’s 6th Symphony. Rather, what might be a peaceful resolution is transformed into a defiant stance by the insistent tensions of the cellos and basses. The night here is dark and I am far from home. I may be bloodied, but I insist unbowed.  
And with the opening bars of the Third Movement, with the threatening rumbling of the basses and a reprise of the opening insistent and portentous four-note summons voiced first in the horns and then the strings, the storm returns in full fury, and I am now out too far to find shelter to protect me from the onslaught. I am on my own, and I am all the resource at my disposal; I am not at ease. The storm beats at me, and in the final moments of the Third Movement that begins with the ominous sound of the tympani drums, a final assault of the menacing storm advances. The violins enter and churn portentously in tension with the tonic key; they rise slowly in pitch and intensity and volume, as if waiting tauntingly for an order for the final attack, and move anxiously about in uncertain and irregular melodies; the music fights with itself, gathering forces, its power bent on destruction. The violins continue to struggle upwards, but shift slowly yet steadily away from conflict and discordancy until in the final swirlings the strings reach the tonic key of C major, and there, joined by the entire orchestra, the threatening storm is transformed into a moment of triumph, and in a glorious resolution, the entire orchestra propels me seamlessly into the exultant opening chords of the magnificent fourth movement.
The storm continues to menace in this final movement, but I know I have overcome: whenever it now threatens, its tensions resolve into triumph.  I have become stronger than the storm which continues to rage. I am no longer cowed. I have triumphed. I have been battered and scathed by the storm, but this storm for now has been overcome. The last measures of Beethoven’s Fifth Symphony are filled with triumph: 29 out of the final 41 measures are tonic C major chords; I recall that I began this struggle in the key of C minor and have now come through into the major. And the final moments in this symphony speak victoriously; in the symphony’s final measure the entire orchestra plays the plain and simple C notes, and no tension or dissonant element remains anywhere. I have not only withstood the storm, but transformed it into my triumph. I am stronger now, and I am home. 


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