John David Muth
Bio Note: Classical music has been one of my most reliable coping mechanisms since I was a teenager. It helped me through many difficult moments. It was also there to celebrate my victories. At the possible high point of this pandemic, with all the other crises afflicting our country, I find I need these great musicians and the music they created more than ever.
Insomnia with Wagner
I’m so tired of COVID-inspired TV commercials, people dancing in front of cameras doing stupid tricks with golf balls and plastic cups trying to pretend they are having fun. Tonight, I want to hear your music, violin lightning and brass thunder tonality reaching through the mesosphere. Creativity was your one redeeming quality, you debt-accumulating philandering anti-Semite. I’m almost ashamed to love your music. Almost. Yours was a new kind of sound, uninhibited and unconfined, traditionalists hated it families broke up over it. Today, we’d call those people stupid. The future will say the same about us transfixed by ideology tearing at each other while the powerful look on. It’s almost 4:00 a.m. and my laptop will soon call me to work. I already hear its tentacles sliding along the office rug. Siegfried, come down from Valhalla, purge me of images of Clorox canisters, smiling people wiping down surfaces as if to show some lemon-scented bleach can save us from Gotterdammerung.
No Age for Eroica
I could have lived in your day dear Ludwig before the rape of the bankers before industrial defilement before war could destroy a city with the touch of a red button. There was promise in the shattering of the gilded aristocracy, the melting of kings. That’s reversing rapidly now. There are new kings, new nobles, a new downtrodden but no new revolution. Your music reminds me how far we could have gone. I live in a country that doesn’t care much. I live in a world that cares even less, still healthy but aging still working but increasingly obsolete, watching the Virus throw out thousands every day. I’m old enough to wonder if my turn is coming. My father walks a dirt road to the three-note motif of the Moonlight Sonata. His fingertips disintegrate, his gait becomes more labored. My owns joints begin to hurt and my vision blurs as I follow a short distance behind. He’ll be dust soon from this Virus or from age. I’ll follow him later, perhaps from the next plague but I hope you’ll be there for me playing your symphonies while I’m sucking on that plastic tube. Ode to Joy may be the last joy of an old man waiting to die.
Mahler’s Ninth Symphony
Alone for the first time in months, I sink into the strings of an adagio, the final movement of Mahler’s Ninth. I listen to this piece on solemn occasions: the loss of girlfriends I have loved, the death of my mother. It grieves for me, expresses what I cannot, even when I’m by myself. How did he feel as the subject of a dying empire, witnessing a way of life ready to end? I am beginning to understand. He died three years before the Great War, never read of poison gas or barbed wire never lived to see Austria crumble never saw the bread lines of the Great Depression the rise of fascism the murder of his family and friends. Maybe he was lucky. The violins wail and I think of my country, hundreds of thousands dead economic collapse leaders inept or insane. I am almost glad those I lost years before cannot see what we have become. The coda lingers: the last complete thoughts of a dying man who didn’t want to die. Resignation fades to silence the old CD stops spinning stairs creak from footsteps. My wife is back from her walk. I hide my red eyes in feigned sleep.
©2021 John David Muth
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