Sunday, July 22, 2012

Pla, the Rhapsody, and the Moonlight Sonata: El Canadell

Music plays a certain part in my childhood memories of El Canadell.
At the time, the instrument considered most effective at getting people to dance, and the most widely used one, was the barrel organ. But this contraption and its metallic and rustic notes didn’t imprint themselves on my memory: they have left in my nose the unpleasant smell of the gas lamps that lit outdoor dances.
 All the same, in El Canadell there was something of good quality: the Genover family’s piano. It was played by the two older siblings of the family—usually with four hands: Maria and Xicu. On very still days—in the terrible morning sun or at sunset, in the gentle half-light—you could hear the piano from a long way away, and in El Canadell a kind of abeyance was occasioned: the people who were going by the Genover place automatically tended to start walking on tiptoe.
Maria and Xicu would sit at the piano. Seen from afar—they played in a ground-floor parlor that had a big window facing the street—they looked like two automatons. They played stiffly and as if corseted. They were fans of select music. Maria, in addition to the playing piano, sang vaporous, sentimental ballads. Xicu, with the practice book in front of him, never tired of doing finger exercises. Cheap music is usually enjoyable, and it’s surely for that reason that those who cultivate it tend to make too great a show of it. Those who play select music are more closed to things, more difficult, and fussier. But Xicu and Maria—or Maria and Xicu—didn’t need as much persuading as corresponded to the notes they played. When an acquaintance came up to them with a friendly and pleasant look and said to them, “Oh, Xicu (or Maria), play the Rhapsody! It’s so pretty,” you contemplated the reassuring sight of seeing them—no matter how little free time they had—go over to the piano, sit down in front of the keys, open the music book, and play Liszt’s Hungarian Rhapsody No. 2. Before beginning, they looked at each other to confirm their cooperation in the performance: a serious look that turned into a weighty smile. Complete silence fell over the parlor. Everyone was concentrating. Everyone was making that face of feigned suffering that people are in the habit of making before refined music. And from the piano, with a brilliance slightly diminished by petty-bourgeois taste, came Liszt’s Hungarian Rhapsody No. 2.
This piece was quite the undertaking. It was hard to play. The furious parts gave the people—so they said—gooseflesh. But in the more contemplative moments—which perhaps coincided with an audience of greater refinement, an audience that made faces of solemnity rather than of suffering—there was another great piece: Beethoven’s Moonlight Sonata. If the Rhapsody was a work for fingers and vigor, the Moonlight Sonata was a piece for feeling. Together they made a complete musical microcosmos.
In this way, I, as a teenager in El Canadell, found myself literally saturated with the Rhapsody and the Moonlight Sonata. And there’s nothing to be done about it now: this is the select music that will waft in my memory of those days for the rest of my life. It’s the music that will bind me to El Canadell for as long as I live—as I am bound to it by a distinctive smell, very sweet, of rice powders and patchouli, a taste for roast mullet with oil and vinegar, the novels of Paul Bourget, and the form—barely glimpsed—of the calves of a few hazy, indistinct young ladies of the time.
--Josep Pla, El quadern gris

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