Handel's fairy door
Maybe I’m too scattered to concentrate on reading a novel. Maybe I’m becoming too obsessed by blogging. Maybe I’m going through a phase. Whatever the case, I’ve been reading a lot of short stories lately, flipping through Anne Panning’s new collection Super America and the new anthology edited by Stephen King, The Best American Short Stories 2007.
Writer Anne Panning speculates that since we usually expect novels to end on a happy note, short stories provide a vehicle for loneliness and bleakness in a way that novel can't.
The thought crossed my mind the other day when I picked up the November 19th New Yorker and started reading Antonya Nelson’s engrossing short story, “Or Else.”
(http://www.newyorker.com/fiction/features/2007/11/19/071119f...) It’s about David, a guy who lives in the past. At one point in the story, David listens to his girlfriend talk about a man she once loved. She tells him,
“’I loved Franklin because, when we talked, I always felt as if we were wandering around in a big house, a big house with endless rooms, and every time we came to a closed door in one of those rooms we were able to open it. Open doors, open doors, one after another. That’s why I loved him.’
I thought of those doors last night, at Oratorio Society practice, while singing through Messiah. G.F. Handel’s big oratorio stands as iconic as Hearst Castle. Full of light and shadow, its vast rooms offer listeners glimpses of solitary grief and jubilant exultation. To hear the aria, “Comfort ye my people” is to walk into a room full of sun and warmth. But the chorus, “Since by man came death” opens into a dark hall of sadness while “Let is break their bonds asunder” sneers and taunts, granting passage into a black place in the human heart.
Toward the end of Messiah, the gates swing wide open into “Worthy is the Lamb,” a vast, gilded banquet hall of Baroque splendor. Death has been vanquished, Messiah declared Knight in Shining Armor. The singers are dashing off a lot of fast notes. The trumpeter picks up his horn.
Then the passage stops at a fairy door. It’s on page 226 in my Novello score.
Like Alice in Wonderland, the listener is left standing before a tiny door -- one, single violin playing a solo line that’s so delicately-wrought and unexpected, it makes one want to weep.
It’s a hallmark of a great piece of music. Open doors, open doors, one after another. That’s why I love it.