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RAVEL I

Sonata for Violin and Piano No 2 in G Major

FROM ‘MARA, MARIETTA’
Part One Chapter 3

I. Allegretto

If you are violin, Marietta, am I piano? Is it to be I the hammer and you the bow? No, it cannot be so, for they say the two are fundamentally incompatible instruments, irreconcilable. But let us find out! Listen! A dance-like motif, borne now by the piano, now by the violin, weaves in and out of melodic figures.

Do you sleep
All curled up and fetal,
Or on your stomach
In freefall?

If the former, you are violin: It is an instrument of curves.

Upon awaking, do you linger
With the phantoms of sleep,
Or banish them to darkness
And bounce straight out of bed?

If the latter, you are piano: It is percussive.

In the shower
Do you let your thoughts run,
Or do you file each one away
Before moving on?

If the former, you are violin: It can slide from one note to another without disrupting the pitch continuum.

Manet, Woman at Piano, 1878

Manet, Eglantines, 1880

For breakfast, do you make do
With coffee and toast,
Or indulge in a smorgasbord of,
Say, yogurt, fruit and cereal?

If the former, you are piano: It has no variations in timbre.

Leaving for work, is your goodbye
A predictable peck on the cheek,
Or do you surprise your lover
With a new kiss every morning?

If the latter, you are violin: It can produce vibrato.

Are you comfortable packing an instant
With observation, calculation and conversation,
Or are you more at ease
Engaging your mind in one task at a time?

If the former, you are piano: It can juggle several voices while thinking of each independently.

Marietta, what kind of music would we make together? Could we accord violin and piano, deal with dissonance, create harmony? Listen! Motion and intensity are dying down, the melody is fragmenting: The piano and violin have nothing to do with each other now. With one breath, as it were, your bow, though moving up and down, sustains one long, dying tone over the piano’s softly repeating figure. The end is the beginning. Or is it the other way around?

II. Blues: Moderato

This is the blues? Yes, the mood is there in the melody; your mournful slides sound like saxophone slurs, and Matteo is playing with subtle syncopation. Oh my little Paganini, when you lay down your violin, how I’d love to kiss your collarbone!

III. Perpetuum mobile: Allegro

Out of your violin you wrench a tirade of fractured tones, unremitting in intensity. Matteo cuts into your smoking fulminations with dry, percussive chords; refusing to be interrupted, your wrist, your arm, your elbow measure out the bow with precise distillations of violence. Whence this strange fascination, this uncanny jubilation? How can you move with such unerring poise when such a demonic pulse bangs in your blood? What obsession, what idée fixe, feeds this blazing fire? Mesmerized by your shivering bow, I lose my earthly references: Your perpetuum mobile hypnotizes me.

Marietta, can you hear me?
I am here, in the eye of the storm.
Listen, there’s something I need to know.

If, when your breast heaves gently in your sleep
And the intricate elaborations of the day unravel,
A wandering albatross were to fly into your dreams and say,
‘Throw your arms around me; I’ll show you the Southern Ocean,
The frozen world from which I come’,
Would you, as you looked into his eyes, recognize me?

And if you did climb onto his back
And throw your arms around his neck,
Would you take fright,
As you glide on the updrafts of wind over waves,
At the steep drop in temperature?
Would you then wake up with relief
To the warmth of your familiar world,
Or would you hold on even tighter to his pliant body,
Trusting the warmth of his heart to heat you
As you head into Antarctica?

Franz Marc, Caliban Figure for Shakespeare’s Tempest, 1914

Franz Marc, Miranda Figure for Shakepeare’s Tempest, 1914

And if, as the wind whips the sea into a frenzy,
He were to say to you, ‘I am tired of being a stranger’,
Would you panic and wake up in a cold sweat?
And if he added, as you make for the midnight sun,
‘I may be feral and hollowed out by homelessness
But between your legs I would find a plenitude of being’,
Would you let him lie there and become human?

For if he can soar for hours without a wingbeat,
Spend most of his life without touching land,
He’d rather be a man, not an albatross.

So would you smear his breast with your blood,
Anoint his eyelids with your spittle
And burnish his wings with your cunt’s secretions?
Would you squat and piss before him,
Whip him with your hair,
And dry your fevered brow in his effulgent feathers?
And when winter brings a transparent trickle to your nostrils,
Would you scatter drops of that warm drip into his silky down?

As his shadow glides over the ice and snow,
As your breast rises and falls on your breathing,
That is what I want to know.

Hark! A cadence, an expansive chord, sustained by your relentless bow. A final flourish, then horsehair leaves catgut and in an arc swoops up: The perpetuum mobile is no more, the sonata is over.

Smiling a mischievous smile, Matteo joins you downstage. Together you take a bow. When you stand up straight he is radiant; you’re wearing a strange grin, as if embarrassed by the applause, as if it has nothing to do with you. Again you take a bow, then with quiet dignity Matteo accepts the acclaim while your restless eyes tell the audience that it cannot touch you. You’ve had enough! On your heels you turn, and lead Matteo backstage. The house lights go up.