The late sun lies across
The meadow and half-lights the upturned
Faces, the thick, muscular trunks
And arms of the men, the warm,
Soft skin of the woman. She is the leader, if
Four such can have a leader.
Thus commences “Beethoven – Große Fuge”, the first of Donald Mace Williams’ four-part melodic-ekphrasis tetraptych on/in music by different composers, published in The Decadent Review: Beethoven – Große Fuge; Vaughan Williams – Tallis Fantasia; Ravel – String Quartet in F; and Brahms – Piano Concerto No. 2. The pieces assemble as chamber work in four movements, allegro, adagio, presto, andante con moto. The first (allegro) “Beethoven – Große Fuge” is after the chaotic, silence-flecked apocalyptic composition, one evoking a meandering ambivalence, as a quartet’s Icarusian limbo few steps dancing from Hades. This is the same “Große” that had Sylvia Plath exclaim in “Little Fugue” that:
He could hear Beethoven:
Black yew, white cloud,
The horrific complications.
Finger-traps—a tumult of keys.
And to the sounds of the Alban Berg Quartett playing, I seem to agree. But Williams’ narration takes the poem elsewhere with an allusion to Puccini’s Tosca, with Baron Scarpia, the police chief dead and bleeding, urging us to this with the sounds of “Große” about his ultimate fate:
her voice, so that, when that bursts through
The top of the carved frame–
When it screams “Orest!” or, to the stabbed
Police chief on the carpet, “Muori!”
But Williams doesn’t let us mourn those discordant voices, and proceeds with a Humanistic spirit that remains even after the near (futuristic) atonality of the “Fuge”:
Distinctive cries–a unity remains,
A shared idea, hope,
Conviction to which all adhere
After, even amid, the futuristic
With the allegro making way to the adagio of the second Reconstruction: “Vaughan Williams – Tallis Fantasia”; another lyrical ekphrasis exposition (that is, in the poet’s words: “dark and mysterious”), which inaugurates with how:
It moves through columned mysteries,
This holy essence, veiled by scrims
Of mist in bronze interstices
Where sunrise strikes the high, arched beams.
The original Tallis composition that Vaughan Williams themed upon was after the Psalter of 1567 for the Archbishop of Canterbury, Matthew Parker, who wrote:
Why fumeth in sight: The Gentils spite,
In fury raging stout?
Why taketh in hond: The people fond,
Vayne thinges to bring about?
The kinges arise: The lordes devise,
In counsayles mett thereto:
Agaynst the Lord: With false accord,
Against his Christ they go.
Referring to Psalm 2:1–2, where David, now king in Jerusalem as anointed by God, asking a rhetorical question as to why would God (the descendants of His kingdom) suffer opposition:
Why do the heathen rage, and the people imagine a vain thing? The kings of the earth set themselves, and the rulers take counsel together, against the Lord, and against his anointed […]
And here is Donald Mace Williams’ poetic piece as it marches in the Reconstruction, talking, perhaps, about same divine cause of grace and how:
It passes; then, amassed once more,
Rises, surrounds us with ourselves
Before it ends: all that we are,
Nothing we know. Our souls, our cells.
And so leading us in this chamber offertory towards the third Reconstruction (presto) of “Ravel – String Quartet in F”, speaking of how the Sonata form of the composition is bursting into a dance:
The open walls let evening air
into the dance
and she is the dance.
The outburst isn’t thunder
but she, demanding
why, tenacious, intense.
And how the answer is not given, as its:
Music, amnesiac, again,
but the past pulsing
beneath. All he will say
is because. And the dance now
wilder, too crazy
for Q and A.
With it, perhaps, being too forceful to be expressed as mere catechism (“Q and A”).
Claret, ennobling food and talk. At first
The men are dominant, affairs of state,
Hunting, and dogs their substance. Such insights,
Such stories, genial, never malicious,
You do not hear these days, much less such voices.
After a silence during which the faces
Lighten, redden a bit from the great wine,
A new turn on the same ideas comes,
A vibrant, teasing, questioning response
From women, caught up here, then here, till all
The company seems bright with joy, …
Brimming with delight, and then concluding with (existential) satiety:
So rich and filling, had been after all
A feast of spirits or gods, the guests dissolve,