Wednesday, November 28, 2012
a war elegy...and something else
Prokofiev said this symphony is about the tragedy of WWII. I can hear that. But I think it has some other dimensions as well.
This music is an aural location for a particular spirit of aesthetics. That location -- that sounding moment -- is distinct from spaces of meaning and artistry existing especially now. Whatever our present general aesthetic, it is unlike that earlier phase of being, circa 1948. Back then, the spirit of the times was a curiouser thing. Besides visceral memories of the war years that shade into a darkening surrealism, another quality was in the air, so to speak. A nostalgia for the fin de siècle. Today, we are farther (metaphysically) from that turn of the century. We are displaced from those ways of consciousness, those attitudes of art.
Prokofiev was nine years old at the end of the century. Those early years of a boy or girl are impressionable ones. Beauty was extant and vivid. It affected ways of being. Tchaikovsky's music still lived in the special atmosphere of Prokofiev's adolescence. An aesthetic depth and expansiveness of spirit from that time lives on in Prokofiev's Symphony No. 6.
The most audacious art opens a new door into the old House of Beauty.
This is music of Fantasy, Melancholy, and Belles-Lettrs.
The fantastic is allowed to breathe when one takes three steps sideways out of the trancing circle of the everyday. Then, the hidden spirits of things leave their prisons of matter, to blend with a dreaming human consciousness. This is music, the real thing.
The melancholic aspects of time are given voice and gesture in certain music. Some of us are sustained, even somehow justified by the beauty of melancholy. Our own spirits are freed by this music, and they go out of us to bond with a sadness on the disappearing edge of a symphonic phrase. We live within an aura of death, and certain (older) music conveys that poetic reality, sympathizes with our condition, expresses a catharsis of waiting.
This symphony is also like the lost art of letter-writing. Once upon a time, two souls exchanged works of missive art. Themes and dreams were developed with an older rhythm, a deep unfolding. Not simply reportage, those letters were confessions of how time and space are colored by unusual impressions. This symphony is like a long letter written to us by Prokofiev, a letter in which fantasy, melancholy, and beauty condition even a tragic aural document.