Learning the Haydn string quartets

May 9, 2011 § Leave a comment

There are things — experiences — which cannot be recorded because they are not understood; and which are not understood because we lack the intellectual apparatus with which to comprehend them. If we had the apparatus, we could — the smarter among us, anyway, could — just maybe — invent the necessary words: language and cerebration are not one and the same, as anyone who has ever invented a word must surely be convinced; but I have no hope of ever inventing the words with which to express how important to me was the discovery of the Haydn string quartets: I am too ignorant of the technical aspects of the music; and the abstract nature of my emotional response to it escapes my ability to conceptualize it.

I have all the less hope of expressing — why, of grasping, even — the importance of the discovery because its impact is self-contained: i.e. it is important to itself only. That I am now familiar with several opera recorded by several different ensembles changes nothing — except that: Haydn string quartets are a thing onto themselves, learning about them does not make one a better lover, or a better day-trader, or a better man. 

In this, they are comparable to the experience of seeing the four-planet conjunction just before dawn in the eastern sky: all that can be said about it is — that I saw it. These words, as I write them, seem so inadequate to the weight of the experience, that I keep looking back at what I wrote with surprise, trying to spot the error.  But there is no error.  The words are precise and accurate: I have seen the four planets in conjunction; I have learned Haydn.

It follows that the only thing I can say about the experience of learning the Haydn string quartets is — incredibly — this:

“This is what I have been doing: learning the Haydn string quartets. Swathes of time over the last five months have been dedicated to listening. I have been moved, surprised, fascinated, and gratified.”

Somehow, all that can be said about it, all that I can say about it — can be said…  in just three simple sentences, simple, Spartan, unarmed; gaunt like a violin playing a high G.


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