Piano Keys Lake, František Kupka

You can remember what it was like: seeing the world through another set of eyes—that evening, halfway through high school, watching the snow fall outside your window. Lights out and that music playing: Beethoven. The sonatas, with titles that seemed mysterious and exhilarating: Pathétique, Appasionata, Mondeschein.

The music, it seemed, was always there for these significant moments: remembering those times, always accompanied by this music that was solemn yet ecstatic. Later on, being ushered into the other worlds of sexual activity, or studying for fast-forgotten exams, or those solitary seconds that sometimes turned into hours, the time alone, in the darkness, before sleep overtakes awareness and you still know who you are—tracing it all back to that first evening, staring at the snow: the sound of the piano, feeling connected to lives apart from your own, able to imagine what the world was like, then, feeling deeply aware of your own life, wholly there, utterly cognizant—which, of course, did not mean you were only aware of yourself; it was exactly the opposite sensation—and not realizing, not needing to know, yet, that this feeling would be increasingly difficult to capture, transitory moments of perception as a tonic for, or distraction from, the push and pull of adult life and the urgency and oddness that this new reality entailed. It was not that this music facilitated these feelings, but that it accompanied them. This was what made it central to your world, so inextricable from your soul, from the way you wanted to see yourself.


In the dark, afraid to close my eyes now, afraid of the not-quite-nothingness that awaits me there. Like a boy, again. Afraid of the dark; afraid to close my eyes.

Too much like death?

No. It was too much like life.

Sleep and death both prolonged peacefulness. The quiet, uncomplicated ability to forget suffering and self. Awake (I think, therefore I am, I think).

You know better than to try to sleep, so it’s just you and the music. Listening once again to the one person who always pulls you through, no matter what. You can listen to the symphonies or the string quartets anytime, but the sonatas, the Pathétique, especially appropriate for nights like tonight, nights when no sleep will come. That sublime suffering, the solitude, the sacred requital of this illimitable expression. The music, always the music.

After a while, before you can stop and think about it, you fall asleep.



Beethoven. Not the celebrated facsimile of the consecrated composer (the image that often accompanies this effulgent music) staring down sternly at an adoring audience—the people to whom he had dedicated his great gifts—as the applause he can no longer hear surges through a breathless auditorium, but a frail, confused old man, huddled over a candle, awakened from an uneasy slumber and called into the darkness, again, to wrestle with the terrible, silent voices that fill his head.

What sort of God would suffer a man so great to be stripped of the very faculties that once compelled his creations? That refractory grace: continuing to conceive music, in the mind, yet prevented from hearing the sweet crescendo of the final coda. Agonizing over those last movements in the isolation of a lonely hour, perhaps looking to the sky, beseeching supplication, a respite, a return of the courage that once restored him.

A man whose reputed last words were I shall hear in Heaven. Proof of God’s existence for the faithful; proof of life’s capricious, inscrutable fate, for the faithless.