Beethoven Sonata op. 96 Program Notes/Poems

Beethoven 10, op. 96 in G Major

Consider the first gesture, simple, yet profoundly philosophical. This beginning gesture sets the tone for a work that is uniquely intimate and subdued in expression for Beethoven up to this point in time. The opening gesture of op. 96, almost reminiscent of a bird call or a recitative motive, is beautifully self-contained, turning in on itself, completely lacking in the obsessiveness of other beginning motives (Beethoven’s 5th Symphony comes to mind, and even his String Quartet op. 95, which starts with an aggressive f minor motive.) Though the first movement is in sonata form, the most popular structure at the time, it differs from other movements of the time (as well as his other first movements in a lack of self-generating drive. No inner demons or psychological states flog this movement to continue. In fact, there is a quality of contentedness in all the movements except the third, which displays some of the obsession of his earlier works. The first movement is also beautifully symmetrical, with the violin and piano courting each other, exchanging the same loving gestures or mirroring each other in the same motives. This symmetry adds to the feeling of the sublime. The second movement begins with a tender hymn in the piano, but the violin doesn’t reciprocate immediately, entering instead with accompanimental figures. The movement, also in sonata form, warms up slowly from there, gaining depth and eventually becoming extremely vocal. Notes held for long periods of time are juxtaposed with sung melismatic lines that take flight from their cage of rhythm. Similar to the exquisite unending and almost unendurably long lines of the slow movements in his late quartets, this movement has a breathless quality which demands a mastery of bow control. There are moments of poignancy that cripple the zen of this movement, offering a window into the kind of pain that leads someone to achieve this kind of tranquility. The third movement is the exception to the rule in this piece (or peace!) With a focus on repeated notes and accents, it is obsessive and insistently so. The stubborn Scherzo is interrupted by a beautiful and linear Trio which is unable to escape from the clutches of the repetitive notes which end the movement. Beyond a few moments of emotional ambiguity, and a mystical variation which once again, serves as a window into an inner sanctum of intimacy and depth, the last movement is an amiable theme and variations which ends joyfully.

1.
what a lark!
world generous with
pleasant ruffling of
feathers alighting and
plastic grocery bags in our hands
crinkling, of eyes
as we exchange pleasantries
the shop windows offer
a glimpse inside
to ourselves

2.
each slow and solemn step
around the scoured, the purified
wound in the heart
waiting patiently
for for subtle changes
in topography
watching the heart alight
breaking open, breaking wide
accepting new forms, steep
mountains and deep lakes
the sun gently sloshing in

3.
the unexplainable need
to pursue, to bite at each heel
agitation and
flinging of fur
respite of leashes tangling
mingling in a ribbon song
before freedom, which
in this case is just a
cage of instinct
to bite at each heel, pursue
until picked up and brought home
howling

4.
trees lining the street
nod and wave to each other
children play hopscotch
their joy spreading
like a wide smile across
the neighborhood
dogs bark, exchange
pleasantries with each other
I drop into
trance-spun reverie,
song of self
in the sundrunk street
children and dogs
chasing each other chase
me to the present
as I yawn and head home—
what a lark!

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Ode on Jiuan-Reng Yeh

I watch her start to play the zither and lament the bastardization of my identity. Her alabaster arms tense and I watch a sculpture move fluidly. I’m fascinated by the efficiency of this instrument, the way every part is utilized. The control of pitch varying in all ways, from resonant and warm to skeletal. I hear the way she bends pitches and time, and hear a lineage from the most primitive human cries in the beginning to these ancient instruments to the way our electronic music wails now, devoid of its own existential pain. I think how my veins course with the carbonation of coke, how my sides have been formed with hot dog rolls and hamburger buns. I want so badly for my hair to be darker, for my instrument to be one that ties me to a culture that is at least somewhat mine.
The big wave gesture is the one I love the most. It takes so much control to make sure each string plucked along the way within the larger gesture is plucked long enough to resonate and each one adds and adds, representing the accumulation of life, of our cultures, mine and hers together, representative of the accumulation all humanity wants to attain and regrettably is. I see the waves, the way they stack, like sonar in electronic music. I see how she strikes with cold precision and even violence each string in the right hand and warms and bends pitch and time with the soft flesh of her left hand. This is technology and humanity at its beginning. And seeing the striking of each, I think how beauty is made from the nail and how if you listen closely, it is inescapably a part of the music. Pain is how you get the thing to sound.

Theme and Variations, Messiaen

dissolution
Daughters and sons, in these queer desultory days, the tiredness will seep through your bodies, a shroud you cannot shrug off, and you will long for that burnishing fire, kindled and rekindling, that knowledge that what is within you is a force you have been selected to carry, a great joy for you to contain and at the end of your life, relinquish. Daughters and sons, there will be times when you slowly approach someone wracked with sobs only to realize it is yourself and in these moments, all the things you have believed, which have condensed you into your self, will dissolve.

bells
The muddied waters of your heart may wish to ebb and flow, sloshing gently with bits of love. Daughters and sons, have you heard the church bells, crying out to each other, flung across quads and countries, so beautiful and sensible alone, yet discordant and absonant when heard together as you take a brisk walk in the morning. Their inharmonious glory a glimpse of the chaos of the universe, the cosmos in it’s ever-revolving splendor of dust, flesh, and stars.

preparations
Light-footed beasts watch as you animate your body, making preparations for what you believe is to come. Daughters and sons, I watch you agonize over the meaning of things, what you will need, who you should be. Wringing your hands, flinging yourselves across rooms and ideologies….haunted with an inconsolable hope. Daughters and sons, your minds are muddied, sloshing with bits of shadow. I see how this is changing you, suffocating you, this need to be right, this need to be perfect, this need to be ready, this need to be. Daughters and sons, it is not living to constantly prepare for another life.

breaking
In your hysteria, daughters and sons, your insistent need to believe, your need to persecute yourself, you are repeating yourself and your days, measuring that which is immeasurable, exulting in a certainty which is yet unknown. You have formed yourself around an emptiness, a void within yourself which you have adorned with all the good you find in the world, yourself a husk of all you have decided is bad, the purpose of your life a search for ways the void can strengthen enough to break through the self. You ask me for this rupture, and my daughter, my son, I will give you another. I will afflict you now with the truth you don’t ask for, the twin tigers of truth yawning their mouths wide, breaking in jaw to let you inside, the universe expecting, palpitating, contractions in my birth of revelation,

rapture
The stars throb, with each pulse, oozing more and more of their gaseous glitter, the foundations crumble, heat softening that which has been inaccessible. The ancient crow man will begin to knock with his long beak the door you’ve sealed shut, until it unhinges, gaping. You will be brought to your knees, persecuted, as the universe thrums, that great generator I have been charged with. You will be made to suffer and yet withstand the great pain of truth, the temptation of optimism leaving you with the knowledge that the only certainty is uncertainty, the only feeling you can trust, distrust.

Violin Sonata, Debussy

I
Sometimes, a thought, a clear bell sounding and I almost remember the life I want to live before the day heaps itself into my arms and I forget, submerged in a day’s endless complications. I forget the words before they enter my mind, my tongue numbed and furred with repetition. The tepid light strengthens, a day full of plans and intentions beginning, only to be interrupted by small deviations-  thousands of ripples beating against the backbone of the day.
As I set napkins for the midday meal, I am not present, my mind is replaying a dream on the back of my eyelids. Playing memories of ocean, dusty sand on my ankles, a nostalgia for what is yet to come.
At night I scrub myself clean. Watching as the raw flesh I shed circles down the drain. It is hard to endure the shock and habituation of each day, to stand still and inure the rituals of small talk, the incessant eating one must do to keep up in energy. It is hard to keep up. I dream of the water coursing through my veins, the pungent salt on my lips, wrenching me from my skin, absorbing me whole. Somewhere in my recesses of my mind, a boat is waiting, anchored safely, beating against the dock, restless.

II
A sudden disturbance in the night, a giant bird alighting across a dream, I wake with a shudder, the alarm diluted by familiar surroundings, their dullness seducing me back to sleep. But panic has seeped through, soaking me in its’ brine, sweat glinting in the moon’s pale light. My breathing is changed, short and shallow as I knock over ornate mirrors and frames, clumsily fumbling in the dark for keys, for the oblong door handle, for a way out of waking every day with each limb tired, knitted through, worn as an old shoe.
Into the cool night, the darkness a relief. Shivering madly, ecstatic in escape, yet feeling chased by my own skin, my feet know the way, hurrying forward, avoiding the bare-bulbed street lamps snaking their light towards me. That blind fury, ancient unnameable fear seizes me, clutching my body in its’ vise, a shrill alarm, disabling. That deep sadness, ancient unnameable desire, no, not unnameable, but unsayable, responds- a tender siren rattling my mind in its’ cage. The water in my body pulls me apart, threatening to rip the seams of my skin. Finally having reached the small pond, I dip a toe in, and the disquiet leaches out of me into the water. For now, I am tamed.

III
Early dawn when I awaken, unable to shake off the weariness, the sadness. Only the visitations help, retina flashes of the waves, cresting, looming. I no longer dream my dreams, inhabiting them instead, living them more fully than my life. I yearn for the feeling of sun beating on my chest, the sails of my skin pulled taut, changing the course of my life. I yearn to be pulled along, perversely out of control, to have the ocean invade me, violate me, to have the thrill of knowing that something is inevitable.

In the bath, she reclines, washing off the tyranny of everyday life. Her eyes fluttering feverishly under their lids as she thrashes in the hot water, the only sound the dripping of the faucet, the roar of the wind, as she treads water deliberately, weighed down by the swelter, joining that restless coil, tongues of the sun lambent on the ocean’s surface. The bottom of the sea calls to her, the seaweed bed flickering lazily in the shadows, slowly writhing for her.
She is swimming, she is sinking, now at the bottom, among the ocean’s dregs, the bioluminescent plankton in anarchy, raging. The skin fleeing from her body in droves, the carbon blooming in every blood vessel, bursting through.
There she lays, nestled in the seaweed where they strangle what is not there to strangle, and she is left, bloating, triumphant in the water.

Mythes, Szymanowski

Arethusa’s Fountain

The trembling mirror is broken by her body as she puts on the the shimmering liquid dress; the water enmeshing her in a gentle embrace, pressing it’s silvery depth against every curve. Her teeth shudder with cold and her back arches as the icy water pours itself into her mouth, steeps her in its molten chill. She spreads herself, augmenting in the water, now taut, now slack as she saturates in the froth. She thrashes and gasps swallowing its’ abundance. As the gooseflesh rises on her arms, the color rises in his cheeks. He stands in the shallows, watching, hungering.
His hunger becomes desperation as he longs to touch her, can’t help but touch her, caress her as the water does. He lunges for her, fumbling in the water with clumsy hands.
She thrashes and gasps at his disturbance, his savagery. Crying aloud, pushing him away, slipping as she runs, slowed by her muddied feet, the syrupy bog, pleading for the aid of her goddess. She runs on, slipping more and more, losing whole parts of herself, a big toe here, a  shin there, until only her head is left. She registers the puddle of self she is, a trembling mirror of jade wenge, a body broken into the formless infinite. She thrashes and gasps as silt and small particles tear through her. She begins to weep, at the immense loss, her tears melting away her cheekbones, jaw, face. He arrives at her meager puddle, both of them assuming her more helpless than before. She feels an insistent tug in the wind and follows it, trickling away from him a little. And there, hovering in her new self, she understands that Artemis, in her infinite wisdom, fury, and kindness, has given her a complexity in form to match her mind, has made her a woman so uncontainable as to be ungraspable by man, and she rushed away.

Narcissus

In the thick torpid heat, water pulses incessantly, lapping against him where he languishes in the tall grass. He watches as a bead of sweat lazily trickles down his back and notices for the first time it’s fine muscular shape, notices it’s gentle taper, it’s texture, somewhere between marble and oil. He stretches, watching as his supple muscles tense, absentmindedly stroking the fine gold down covering his body, this form which drives all who see it to madness. Even now, the oppressive sun beats against him, swarming him with its rays, condensing on him in an attempt to possess him; the tall grasses collectively sigh when the wind blows them away from his direction. In the water, his eyes slowly raise to meet his gaze, taking in his heavy lids with dense curled lashes, the sumptuous lips, the carved ivory bones. As he drinks himself in, he too, begins to yearn, wishes to possess, to contain himself. He contorts his body, wishing to see himself from every angle, writhing in satisfaction at the wealth of his own form, the plenitude of hair, rich follicles drenched in honey hues. How grateful he is, to have found the one who will always be with him, who could never try to leave him, the one who completely understands and agrees with him. And yet, as time passes, boredom settles like a fine dust around his weakening frame, a stagnancy that comes with a love unchallenged, an ego unchecked. Years pass and he spends them all riveted by himself. He has known every inch of himself, now no longer the youth captivating to all before. His nail beds curve with the weight they carry, thin hair fraying at the ends, the sallow lined skin matted and caked with his own waste. Unseeing mycelium grow over him, a man unnourished by the thoughts and presence of others, a man who didn’t think to look at another, and when he passes over, there will be no one to remember his love, his life. In his last sigh, he finally looks away and realizes the beauty of dependency, the hollowness of self-reliance.

The Dryads and Pan

The air sizzles with heat and anticipation as Pan wakes up drenched, his body quivering at the thought of girls. He had been dreaming of them, their laughter still echoing in his half-wakened mind. He dreamed of the mischievous games they would play with him, calling to each other in their dew-dripping voices, hiding from each other so that looking at them, you might only see here, a glimmering fin, there a willowy frame, the whole forest a kaleidoscopic riot of women. Arriving at the fabled forest, the air is deflated, stale. He takes out his flute to draw forth women and mirth, to banish his loneliness…his flute made from the last girl he loved, the last girl who refused him. He draws his breath through her once-body… playing beautifully, shyly. Who will love me? Who can love me? The innocent charm of his playing draws no response and the air begins to curdle, no one answers. Plunging into self-pity, he plays a vulnerable song and a nymph, touched by this unvarnished song approaches to listen to the song his heart has sung since the day he became a monster, since the day people called him monster, gazing at his half-form, and the thought occurred to him to be one. Sensing attention, Pan catches sight of her, and begins to chase her, wretched with desire. Her empathy evaporating, she rises in the air, clutching at all that can save her from his lurching attempts. He pleads with her, alternately seducing her and taunting her when he fails to elicit a response. As she escapes, Pan picks up his flute again, and watching her, plays again a song, an ominous harbinger of the dangers of rejecting insecure volatile young men such as himself. The atmosphere comes alive with girls again as Pan leaves, materializing from the air, water, and brush to resume their lives. What for him was possibility and play, was for them an end to freedom and self-possession.

poems in response to Lou Harrison’s Varied Trio

Gending

time is a wetted brush
balanced perfectly on the edge of a bowl
ready to be lifted
to glide across surfaces
with varying heft and lightness
ease and hesitation

time is the heavy hour
until the moon turns her face

time is the grinding
of bones dried
in earthen jars
the words written
on them being
slowly loosed

time is a damp fungus
deep in the earth
unsure of which way to grow

Bow Bells

time is a violence
which when struck,
emits vibrant beauty

time is a mechanism
to make you feel
virtuous or guilty
depending on
arrival

time is a carver
shaving the world into angles
right and obtuse,
increments to fill
with meaning

time is a groove
in a record
the needle endlessly
helplessly spinning
getting sharper

Elegy

time is the wringing of hands
as we get accustomed
to the inconceivable,
death as part of life

time is the mind
threatening to split
into dark rooms
and stillborn blooms

time is a staggering weight
to carry alone
like bones dried
in earthen jars

time is routine
habits, errands, joys
and
every so often
an ache

Rondeau in Honor of Fragonard

time is fragrance
lingering too long in places,
vanishing in others

time is not time present
but always time past
a window we gaze into,
misremembering

time is innocence
equally unknowing
of past and future

Dance

time is this moment
the sun is blazing
the wind is roiling
the band is playing

time is hard to hold onto
try catching every moment
time is holding onto
each of us,
try leaving its grasp
time will keep holding

time is all we have
this moment our forever
take a bow
buy a t-shirt

13-17-37-42

13

It was an almost windless night, only the moon trembling in the pond gave any indication of life. The grass, unmoved for so long, ached to be stirred, and the trees slowly turned to stone, their leaves gouged lower and lower by gravity’s pressure.
The girl turned in her sleep.
Her stomach whined with a latent hunger and she sighed.
Her breath trailed to the open window. The leaves resting there exhaled, shrugging off the stillness, rippling into each other, igniting the grasses, sweeping the landscape into gentle elation.
The girl turned away.
Without her sighs to emanate their dance, the trees were pressed in with sadness. They tried to sigh. They stood there hanging their leaves in shame, in desperation. A lonely cucco warbled. The moon cowered in its hiding place, embarrassed by its own ostentatiousness.
Her stomach whined again, insistent. Her spine started to shake, notch by notch, Cupid was thrumming her body with his pointer finger, drawing the hunger out. The world waited for her breath, her birth.
Violently, he struck the final chord, intoning her into being. Her body hummed, she became sacred. She gasped and the world continued their dance in response, convulsing with her as she languidly writhed in her bed, her back arching into a half moon, shoulders revolving back. Her limbs stretched, spanning previously unreached lengths. Her breasts dilated, and blood pulsed in waves…red, powerful globules, surging against the vein walls, a siege of desire. The trees and grasses exulted and even the moon throbbed with need.

17

The club-footed boys leer and wipe their sweaty hands as the girls leap around them like impaired flamingos. Preening and prancing, tittering, guffawing, the room is frothing with feathers and possibility, everyone careening for love. This is innocence, the desire to be older, to experience, to be marked, marred. In every corner, secret maps are being drawn in hearts, secret plans that start to bubble over…extravagant dreams spinning out as the dancers circle closer and closer in this teenage ritual.
The girl turns.
She yawns, and as she raises her hand to cover her mouth, he takes it, asks, Can I? May I? And just like that, her fist of a heart cracks open a little. With careful steps, they circle around each other, each coated in gooseflesh, aware of every hair on the other, of every breath each is withholding. Hardly moving their bodies, just their hearts pounding against each other, a dance of their own, pulling them this way and that, but always closer. The color rises in their cheeks, necks dampen, and with each slow spin, her eyes dare to look a little more into his, the light in them getting brighter and brighter.
Secret plans are being drawn in their hearts. They are in the antechamber of love and it is bubbling over like the champagne in the soft flaps of their membrane, their dreams are volatile as they spin and spin and rush on, whirling past the aisle, launching into a life together as the fist of her heart cracks wide and lets him in. The moon, just a whisper tonight, hides behind the swarming clouds.

37

Every day is a dull green color. A large moss is growing over their lives, softly at first, overtaking the house, the dog, the children, smothering, sucking with its tentacled tissue and sporophytes all life underneath. Every day is the same liturgy of brushing and braiding hair, soggy bologna sandwiches, lavish amounts of detergent, 100 strokes of the swiffer, the nice dinner, honey! with sadness and a glass of wine or two or three.
The dim metallic air weighs heavy as loneliness prowls around the house with sinewy hips.

And yet, sometimes the lush fog clears, and her eyes dare to look a little into his, and the timid fist gently uncurls.

The moss encroaches, enveloping the timid fist with dense vegetation. The dust motes march down one by one. The laundry, like clockwork starts to give off its peculiar stench. The children’s stomachs growl and the dog stamps impatiently at the door. Each second being sliced away by the Sacraments of living.

The moon peers over the moss but cannot see anything.

42

The leaves of the mangosteen tree trembled violently as the house shook with the anger of raised voices. Volleying back and forth, tidal waves of irreconcilable words, irreconcilable fears rain down in the yellow kitchen. And with one breath, with two breaths, with three, they say without meaning to, the things they cannot unsay.

Bitter foul taste of bile and acid rising with regret in their stomachs.
She takes his raised hand, “May I? Can I?” She tries to help him remember, their life before the moss, a shared life of everyday comfort, not easy, but theirs.
She uncurls her heart and lays it bare for him. An open peony, each petal still smooth, she uses his hand to trace over it the secret plans and maps she had, no, not the secret plans and maps she had but the real memories and experiences they shared, etched in the grooves of her heart, a favorite record she plays all the time.

Her eyes are bright, they dare to look a little into his, but his eyes, his thoughts are inaccessible to her. The peony trembles, losing a petal, crumbling to paper. He has left this life for another, he had secret plans and maps of his own- plans that grew larger and larger, like a thick moss enveloping him. The moon cannot see him. He is enticed by another, she is left a wound in the yellow kitchen.

She is unable to sustain herself. Irreconcilable fears have become inconsolable fears. She shuffles around the house unclean as her neglected children, now without even one parent watch wide-eyed as she shouts and sobs, someonehelpmesomeonehelpmeplease. Begging barefoot in the streets, bleeding openly without dignity, without care. She is left prostrate, moaning, rocking back and forth in the grass, tormented by her imagination, the shrieking  questions taunting her with images, trying desperately to fill in her lack of knowledge. She makes secret plans and maps, drawing them in the secret chambers of her mind, militantly engraving them. The voices urge her to go find the little half-moons in the medicine cabinet.

She walks to the bathroom and as her fist closes over the knob, she is besieged. Her heart is pounding, her blood is pulsing in waves…red, powerful globules, surging against the vein walls in desire, arresting her. Live, live, live, they say. Even the moon has needs, look!  The moon, full and ablaze outside the window looks at her with no embarrassment, with pride. She lets go of the handle, seeing her own face in the mirror, with the reflection of the moon in it.

She clutches her round cheeks, polished by the moon. She dares to look all the way in her eyes. The blood in her veins sloshing, crashing in joy. Her breasts swell, dilating upward. She walks stridently outside to the moon, breaking to pieces as she goes. An arm left here by the mangosteen tree. Laughter comes out of her without being processed as she peels off her clothes like peony petals. Her eyes grow brighter and brighter, drenched in the moon’s strange light. She unfurls, effulgent with the moon, all the while, parts of her falling, a pinky toe rolling down the sewer, a gash in her thigh wide as a mouth, light filling in the broken parts, great scabs of light, shards from the moon assailing her, she stumbles, falls on her knees, prostrate again, gyrating in mad joy, arms outstretched, groping, searching desperately for the next adventure, ready for this life, the next life, the light of eternal darkness