Tuesday, July 8, 2014

Es Muss Sein - It Must Be

From the collection of true stories, Old Trees Die Standing, by Eva M Cybulska.

Music to accompany the story: String Quartet No. 16 in F-major, Op. 135, IV (Beethoven)

For Roger, music was everything. Well, almost. Until four years ago, he had hardly known love and bodily passions. Having grown up in times of sexual secrecy and intolerance, he had learnt to suppress his homosexual longings. Although no stranger to homoerotic infatuations, he had never engaged in anything physical. Roger sublimated his sexuality into music, theatre and literature; he lived his life vicariously, but seemed content. At the age of 62, now a conductor of a local orchestra and choir, he was popular and well-respected. Various local music lovers not only flocked to his concerts, but were regular guests at his private soirées that were known for their warmth and good humour.

   Meeting Peter, the violin player, had changed all that. Roger could no longer live for himself and his music; he wanted to live for Peter. Without much deliberation or doubt, he leapt into an ocean of passionate bliss. Physical closeness and tenderness with another human being opened a wide array of experiences that had been hitherto denied to him. The couple became inseparable: they talked, walked, ate, and slept together, went to concerts and theatres, or just stayed in bed, reading books. They also shared an addiction to chocolate, and Black Magic was their favourite.

   Finding a true soul mate in this vast and indifferent world was not only deeply fulfilling — it was exhilarating! Roger’s musical creativity reached a climax and he showered his lover with numerous compositions; during the three years of their relationship, he composed more than in the previous decade — he sang his love away.

   But then came the Tristan chord — a dissonance, at first imperceptible and innocuous, but gradually gnawing away at Roger’s heart with increasing insistence. Peter began to turn up late for concerts and then failed to appear altogether, calling afterwards with profuse apologies. He poured out excuses as to why he was unable to come and visit Roger: “too busy”; “too tired”; “too ill”; “something has just cropped up…”

   “I should have guessed then!” exclaimed Roger in between sobs, when he came to see me a year later at the outpatient clinic. 
“Now I can't eat, can't sleep, can't even write music”, he added despondently.
His alcohol intake was far more than was good for him, ostensibly to get off to sleep, but deep in his heart he wanted to sink into oblivion, not to think, not to feel, not to be.
   “Sometimes I dream of Peter, and then… I see him as a death figure, dressed in grey, tattered tinsel, holding a scythe”. The last part of the sentence Roger whispered almost inaudibly. He fell silent. Then, not knowing why, I made a free association: “Like in Death and the Maiden? Schubert knew a lot about the anguish of the heart, didn’t he?” Roger looked at me with a mixture of surprise and relief. 
   “You won't believe this, but it was the quartet that Peter and I frequently listened to, especially in the last couple of months of our relationship. Perhaps we both knew that the death of our love was approaching”. He paused. “Worst of all, I then learned from another musician that Peter was getting married to that fat oboist, a rich widow in her late forties, who always played so squeakily… I couldn't believe my ears. To me Peter not only betrayed our love, he betrayed music!”
   “And this was the most painful” I interjected. 
   “It was!” he affirmed. “Peter didn't even have the courage to part decently”, he continued. “One evening he just provoked a scene between us and walked out, slamming the door behind him. This was the finale!” He looked away. “And now I feel like dirt. Old, unwanted dirt. Nothing matters any more. I don't wish him death, but sometimes I think it would have been easier to bear the grief, had he died”.

   Roger looked shrivelled and dejected. There was something unbearably vulnerable about this petit, slender man in a buttoned-up waistcoat under a buttoned-up jacket. As he was talking to me, by some involuntary gesture, he opened the top button of his shirt. “Was he trying to let some air in? Would he let me in?” – I thought to myself. Another piece of music came to mind. Somewhat hesitantly I said, “I remember another superb quartet – Beethoven's last… Es Muss Sein. Beethoven knew a great deal about love, grief and despair”. And after a pause, “Had you not loved Peter at all, had you never met him, would not your life have been a one-dimensional, sterile journey? Love also means pain, and unless you transcend this experience, as Beethoven did, you will perish. As a musician, you must know more about these things than I do!” I added emphatically. Roger became pensive. “Hmm. Beethoven was a genius, but I… can I do it?” he asked, as if speaking to himself.

   Time was up and our appointment had to come to a close. A psychiatric community nurse, who had originally asked me to see him, thought that perhaps an antidepressant might be helpful. But would it assuage his anguish, would it revive his spirit? Roger and I briefly discussed the role of medication. Perhaps an antidepressant could be better than half a bottle of Scotch and I promised to write to his doctor with a suggestion for a drug prescription. However, I stressed that drugs would only act as a kind of anaesthesia for his feelings, which were bound to simmer until he was able to transform his experience.

   When Roger came back after a month, he looked different. He seemed more at peace with himself, and had brought the score of the quartet with him – Beethoven's, of course. “Did you know that the quartet originated from quite a trivial encounter between Beethoven and his landlady, which involved something as banal as paying money? Yet, this is such sublime music! It just shows the power of the mind over the matter!” Roger looked positive. He then proceeded to tell me about his recent rehearsals and that next week he was going to have several musicians at home for a ‘Mozart Evening’. “I never took any of your tablets. It wasn’t necessary. I sleep quite well now and hardly need any whisky” he exclaimed, almost triumphantly. I was surprised and pleased. “I love talking to you, but I'm not ill and I don't need a doctor. In fact I’m very well”, he added.

   We made no further appointment; I wished him many more successful musical gatherings, and we parted. As the door closed behind him, I drifted into a reverie. A sudden knock awoke me and I thought that the receptionist had come to announce the arrival of the next patient. But it was Roger. “I forgot to say, and I thought you might like to know this, it was the Beethoven factor that did it”.