At His Lyrical Best

Statue of a grieving muse at Chopin's grave, Paris (Photo: Jelle Druyts)

Statue of a grieving muse at Chopin’s grave, Paris (Photo: Jelle Druyts)

A Look at Two of Chopin’s Preludes, Which After Having Heard Them, Are The Most Valuable Things I Own

I visited Chopin’s Paris grave to thank him for his Prelude No. 13 in F-sharp. It’s the only religious thing I’ve done this year. I first heard the song on a $1 record I bought at The Ark thrift store on Milwaukee Avenue, in the basement, among the liberated collections of the deceased. According to the album jacket the piece “reveals Chopin at his best.” Aurthur Rubinstein poses awkwardly on the flip side.

In my words, Prelude No. 13 is a perfect piece of music, a lyrical, glowing expression that crackling vinyl can’t diminish. Its roving wisdom explains to me something I only remember when I’m listening to it, or sometimes when I hear it play in my head as I pass the Walgreens on Fullerton Avenue on foot. The wise old turbine of a bass line proves to me that beauty (like Paris, like Proust, like Pointillism, like Monet’s haystacks) once created, cannot disappear. All life is residue, a film of dust in the extra room. There is the dryness of a grass indented by a body perspiring and still, waiting for her to roll off his arm. A narrative voice animates the prelude, one who seems to have escaped from a tragedy, learned a lesson, a disastrous love affair finally over maybe, and then going to get a coffee, having earned the privilege of existence, to wear the jacket one wears, to listen to the traffic one hears, at least through the dizzying afternoon.

The “rain drop” prelude that follows is equally impressive, but it is not human. It is composed in the third person, a cataclysm of nature. It talks with the impartial and incomprehensible certainty of weather. The happy parts are happy, but more like a finch, unconcerned with the previous and impending terror. There is war in the arrangement, but not political war. It is the eternal war of which we cannot rid ourselves, the conflict that originates in the certainty of joy, the smug will of a survivor to teach his optimism, encouraging the very frictious antics that gave rise to the conflict he overcame. Or else its just a song. Sometimes I listen and simply hear notes that are arranged so that every movement of sound is either confirmational or revelatory.


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