IT'S SO RICH, SO BEAUTIFUL, I exulted aloud, it's such a fabulous, wonderful world, that has the Sibelius Third Symphony in it, that we can hear it, and sing with it, as we drive through the Great Valley. The landscape of Sibelius, so appropriate to a drive like this.
Allegro moderato: How is it I, who am so terrible at multitasking, and who so hate distractions while listening to music, can so easily keep this music in mind while driving 75 miles an hour? Is it because Sibelius has composed so persuasively, maintianing the forward motion but emplacing within it those suddenly unforseen events, openings in the flow for melodicles, changes of texture and apparent timing, exactly corresponding to the changes in this rolling California landscape off to the right, this steady linear landscape to the left, the skies overhead? And the punctuating climaxes — one hesitates to use that word; the peaks in a ridgeline are not "climactic," they are simply events — those events, articulating the movement as do the experienced but unconsidered events in this drive: passing a car or truck we've seen before, a familiar landmark…Of course I wasn't thinking like this during the drive; I was hearing and singing and seeing and exulting. We drove for something like nine hours: news, Sibelius, silences; flowers, orchards, fallow fields; stockyards, rest stops, truck stops; plains, valleys, hills.
Andantino con moto, quasi allegretto: impossible not to begin singing with this insinuating thing, these few adjacent notes in their supple, enchanting phrases, repeating constantly because it is their nature, and their nature is not to be fooled with; Sibelius seems to submit his composer's skills to their own existential undeniability. I think with the violas and cellos, the clarinets and bassoons, and sing with them, and the horns, their two-note punctuations, and the pizzicato basses whose own distinct rhythm expands on three against two, enlarges this compositional technique into a glimpse into the discernible but subtle geological ratios underlying the landscape…
Moderato - Allegro (ma non tanto): Fragmentation; fragmentation. The opening suddenly makes me think of the introduction to the finale of B**th*v*n's Ninth, picking up this idea and that, worrying them, setting them aside — apparently, for nothing's ever conclusive, even inconclusiveness… and this opening is just that, not an introduction but an opening into something, an opening that continues to open… and then that almost willful resolution in a tune as real as the Andantino, a folk-like march that simply strides to its arbitrary stop…
Lindsey took over a little before Bakersfield, and I looked moodily out at the Tehachapi pass with its clutter of wind-generators, and thought about the change over time: no longer able to see out to the north of the highway, that delicious oak woodland just before Tehachapi. No longer startlingly isolated, that formal cypress grove. The wind-turbines getting ever so much bigger and more numerous. The towns of Mojave and Boron now bypassed: a good thing, I suppose, since we want to get on, but I miss them.
At the four corners of Kramer Junction, the intersections of highways 58 and 395, still an arbitrary and I should think dangerous moment in the desert, we turn south. I study the road atlas, looking at the dashed lines of hoped-for streets gridding the desert off into subdivisions: just whose hopes are these, I wonder, that would destroy so beautiful a landscape? And then we come to Adelanto, City of Possibilites, where the hopes have been realized and the bedrooms-and-garages sprawl far and wide.
And, finally, Victorville, and its Steer 'N' Stein, with its life-size wooden Indian and even more terrifying life-size plastic Cowboy, and waiters carrying alarming armloads of steaks to the overweight diners noisily conversing all around us. At the next table, two women, neighbors perhaps, with four little girls and two little boys between five and ten years old, requiring repeated visits of waiters and waitresses, more sodas, ketchup, doggie boxes and bags and even cups for the extra soda; and just before they finally leave one of the little girls returns to the plastic cowboy, whose legs she'd embraced several times already, and kisses his fly and looks round with shy mischief; no one but Lindsey and I seem to have noticed.
The Travelodge was perfectly comfortable, and I get out my iPod and listen once again to the Andantino con moto, and then read a bit of White-Jacket, and fall into a fitful sleep.
HERE LET ME ADD some comments on Sibelius from other sources. First, from Alex Ross, who so admires Sibelius that he devotes a chapter to him in his book The Rest is Noise — without, however, writing particularly descriptively of the music:
…the Third speaks in a self-counsciously clear, pure language. At the same time, it is a sustained deconstruction of symphonic form… [In t]he final movement the listener may have the feeling of the ground shifting underfoot.Eric Blom, in the fifth edition of Grove's Dictionary of Music and Musicians is more discursive and, I think, persuasive, going quite to the matter of this magnificent composer:
This elliptical manner may disconcert the hearer who expects a certain amount of relaxation into decorative or transitional passages in a symphonic movement, and to him Sibelius may seem almost brutally abrupt and cursory; but familiarity with this compact and pithy style is satisfying to those who can accustom themselves to understand the general statement of a syllogism without the adduction of minor premises and conclusions.(Dropped from the Fifth Edition, alas, is a delightful paragraph quoting Sibelius as having said "ah, bah" to some inteviewer's comments on his music; I don't recall the details.
Retained, however, is the equally delightful footnote explaining the odd spelling of SIbelius's first name, which was originally Johan.
[The] French form of the first baptismal name was first used by Sibelius when as a youth he found a number of visiting-cards printed for his uncle, the sea-captain Jean Sibelius, who may himself have adopted it because of his international calling. The young musician thought that these cards should be used and, having once adopted this name, he kept it for ever after.What's in a name, Juliet asked: a great deal, I think.)