It is not always so easy to "be oneself." Looking back at various comments on this blog, I see scattered suggestions for me to be true to myself, which causes me undue anxiety; I wrack my brain, soul, stomach to find what I was when I was I. Am I, was I, not really myself for that short period? And why? I am now touring with Joshua Bell; we get up every night on a stage to project maybe three different selves: the identity of the music (hopefully first), and each of our respective identities, our thoughts in relation to the music, and maybe one could talk about a fourth--the identity of our intertwining dialogue. Josh's persona is quite strong; I find myself by turns dissolving into his playing and thinking, and then crystallizing back into my own self, trying to find the razor's edge, the bridge, between these states: in chemistry terms, a solute on the edge of solution. Supersaturated.
It is disquieting to imagine our identity in flux, that we are not as stable a thing as we imagine (Barthes calls each of us a patchwork of interlacing codes)... Perhaps one of the consoling things about the icons of classical music: a composer's style gives the sense of a recurring, identifiable personality between all his different pieces: the preservation of the elusive human soul-fingerprint, despite variety, in sound. Brahms is Brahms, X is X, and when Josh and I sit down to play the Five Melodies of Prokofiev, from the very first sonorities I can "feel" Prokofiev's strange beautiful breath on my ear. I love how the first, lyrical phrase is followed by a ghostly echo (identity/loss of identity?) where the piano descends into the bass (melody/non-melody)... a kind of disquieting undertone belying the almost too-easy lyricism of the first idea--a love is expressed; beneath it some ulterior motive, some dark relationship. I am partial to this side of Prokofiev, the Prokofiev of complicated (not too obvious) irony and stream-of-consciousness fragments, of digression and fantasy; I have to say it is my favorite side of his "self"; he is a friend whom I like best in a particular mood. The more bitterly ironic Prokofiev I find too bitter, too in-my-face, too simply rejecting; the pounding piano ostinatos and marches are fun but do not speak to my soul; and when his tremendous lyricism is unlaced with irony I often find it saccharine. So here I have another razor's edge: my own relationship to Prokofiev, which is personal, part of my identity ... my own agenda! I also adore his piano playing, which seems to me mainly lyrical, fanciful, evanescent--courting arrhythmia, in opposition to the oppressively rhythmic manner in which his music is often executed. Sometimes I wish only Prokofiev were permitted to play Prokofiev.
The third of the Five Melodies begins with a kind of ecstatic climax (from where? why? how?)--already a bizarre notion, an unjustified, preemptive lightning bolt--and gradually dies down to a long, still, ethereal arc; then the climax returns but softer -- an echo, an aftershock. Perhaps the form could be expressed thus:
ClIMAX... dying... dying... dead (a beautiful, sensual death) ... climax? (awake from dead? life remembered from death?)... disturbing, grinding coda...
Usually the "bigger" version of an idea would be towards the end--logically, progressively--but Prokofiev reverses this typical pattern, subtly using echo and disintegration (rather than development and ascension) as his formal motivations. Ahh, like a sinking feeling, some loss of meaning, some weird, falling, changing perspective. These asymmetries and peculiarities, these reversals of rhetoric, with the questions of tone and meaning they pose, cause me to connect these little five pieces to modernist verse, with the ambiguous alchemy of their bare-minimum words. It is not hard to move from the opening bars of the Five Melodies, for instance, to the following lines...
Let us go then, you and I
while the evening is spread out against the sky
like a patient etherized upon a table.
As Hugh Kenner points out in his wonderful book The Pound Era, the first two lines falsely promise a kind of Romantic outlook, a "conventional" love poem, while the third line deliciously delivers nonsense, antithesis, irony, the infusion of the modern, medicinal, procedural... the most un-Romantic simile imaginable. What kind of poem is it? Who is speaking? How can those lines possibly belong together? In other words, the questioning and challenging of identity, of the consistency of the self of the poem ... to what is the Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock true? ... the beauty of the shifting self, of the moment of uncertainty, of the impossibility of fixing anything in place ... and yet, behind that flux, there is a new once-removed identity, the observer self looking at, following, his own complicated changing states, savoring, knowing, dissolving.
The maid left some smooth jazz on in my hotel room here in Arizona--a pure strange accident--and while I check emails my head is bopping, it seems to make me happy. Again a crisis of self. Am I really the kind of person who can enjoy smooth jazz? And then, is it possible for me, tonight, to play the "Kreutzer" Sonata? Arizonans will know soon enough.